Targeting Selassie

Italian bombers bombarded the village of Dessie and its residents on 6th December 1935.

The emperor's assassination was the main objective because he planned to command the defence of his nation from the northern town.

Five bombs were dropped during the hour-long attack on Tafari Makonnen Hospital, seriously damaging it but fortunately injuring just one person. 

At the time of the raid, the three Ethiopian Red Cross field hospitals stationed at Dessie were unable to flee. A sixth bomb entirely demolished the operating tent of Field Hospital No. 2, which had been erected in the park near the main hospital's structures. Ten metres from Field Hospital No. 3, which was located on a hill close to the town, bombs also detonated.

A Red Cross unit during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

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In a cable to the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), several Red Cross physicians claimed that all of these clinics could be easily distinguished by their different emblems. A few days later, Dr. Marcel Junod, who had been despatched on a reconnaissance mission to Dessie, corroborated their claims in a report to Geneva dated 17th December.

He added that he had “noted the presence of a large red cross measuring approximately eight metres by eight metres on the roof of Tafari Makonnen Hospital.

He added “I have taken photographs of this, and of two holes made by the incendiary bombs.”

Junod intended these images to serve as physical proof of an incident that he claimed violated the Geneva Convention.

Carl Gustaf von Rosen's Ethiopian Red Cross Fokker was in Dessie airfield when an air strike was launched two months later, on 9th February 1936. According to Junod, the aircraft had been "...subjected to merciless bombing by the Italian Air Force, and escaped only by a miracle..."

A wider pattern

The attacks on Dessie were part of a wider pattern demonstrating the Italian attitude towards the presence of neutral Red Cross units.

There were actually 12 air raids of varying intensities between the Dessie attack on 6th December 1935, and the attack on 9th February 1936, putting the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies operating on the Ethiopian side in some degree of danger and providing little respite for their patients and staff.

Emperor Selassie examining the damage at Dessie after the Italian attack.

The aftermath of the Italian attack on a British Red Cross hospital.

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Further reading