On the 5th December 1934, the Wal-Wal Incident took place which laid the foundations for the Abyssinia Crisis. A skirmish between a Somali garrison in the service of Italy, and Ethiopian troops who sought the withdrawal of Italian forces from the area, resulted in over 150 deaths and a diplomatic crisis that ended in the Italian invasion of Abyssinia the following year.

A 1928 treaty had agreed the boundary between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia. However, in 1930 Italy built a fort at the Wal-Wal oasis that was approximately 50 miles inside the Abyssinian side of the border and so contravened the agreement.

At first the Italian presence was tolerated by the Abyssinians with their only response being an increase in their military personnel in the area. However, in November 1934 a force of approximately 1000 Abyssinian soldiers arrived at the fort and demanded it be handed over: this demand was refused by the garrison’s commander.

The following day, a group of British and Abyssinian surveyors arrived at the fort and found themselves caught up in the dispute. The British withdrew in order to avoid any bloodshed, but the Abyssinians stayed and joined their countrymen in a face-off with the garrison. Although the exact cause of the skirmish that began on the 5th December is unclear, it’s generally accepted that neither side tried particularly hard to avoid it.

Despite this, both sides protested the actions of the other. While Abyssinia went to the League of Nations, Italy outright demanded compensation. The diplomatic crisis that ensued eventually led to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935.

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