Attack on the hospital

Between 22 and 30 persons, predominantly Ethiopians, were killed when an Italian airstrike on a Swedish Red Cross field hospital in Dolo, Ethiopia, on 30th December 1935, destroyed it.

According to reports, the raid was part of an Italian retaliation for the previous execution of an Italian POW by Ethiopian forces or civilians.

The Red Cross deploy

After the Second Italo-Ethopian War broke out in 1935, the Swedish Red Cross organised the deployment of a field hospital to Ethiopia under the direction of doctor Fride Hylander.   Hylander and his deputy Gunnar Agge, the latter of whom had previously worked in Ethiopia as a staff physician seconded to the Imperial Ethiopian Army, both had a wealth of professional experience working in Ethiopia.

Swedish Red Cross air ambulance in Ethiopia 1935.

IMS Vintage Photos

The hospital was supposed to be located in Harrar, far from the front lines of battle, but the Ethiopian government ordered it to be divided in two, and both components were sent near the front lines, with the Swedish officials obliging.   The larger of the two hospitals was set up and running smoothly close to Dolo by 19th December 1935.

Tito Minniti

Italian pilot Tito Minniti was shot down while on a mission on 26th December 1935, near Dolo. He was then arrested, castrated, and executed, possibly by Ethiopian troops (as the Italians claimed) or by local residents (according to the Ethiopians).

The bombing

The Swedish hospital at Dolo was attacked by the Italian Air Force on 30th December 1935, four days after Minniti passed away.

During the attack, 3,134 kg of explosives, including 252 kg of mustard gas, were dropped on the hospital over the course of around 20 minutes. 42 staff members and patients were killed in the incident, while about 50 people were hurt.

Reports further state that there were between 18 and 28 dead Ethiopians, depending on the source. Nine Swedes and 23 Ethiopians were listed as casualties in the Red Cross' initial official statement. Following the attack, an Italian plane flew over the area again and dropped leaflets with the Marquis of Neghelli's signature that were lettered in Amharic and read:

Following the attack, an Italian plane flew over the area again and dropped leaflets with the Marquis of Neghelli's signature that were lettered in Amharic and read:

Swedish officials later claimed that the Swedish hospital was guarded by a five-man Ethiopian Army unit and was situated 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from an Ethiopian headquarters at the time of the attack.

However, according to Swedish officials, aside from "some visits by its head," the accompanying forces did not access the hospital's grounds.

The Swiss doctor Marcel Junod, a Red Cross official, added that there was "no doubt that the bombing was deliberate."

Swiss doctor and Red Cross official Marcel Junod


After the attack, the remaining members of the Swedish Red Cross personnel escaped to Addis Ababa and were eventually withdrawn from Ethiopia.  

Count von Rosen piloted an aeroplane which transported the deceased Swedish employees' remains back to Sweden. 

A similar airstrike was conducted against a field hospital operated by the Canadian Red Cross about a week after the incident. In the war, other hospitals were also attacked. 

The Swedish and Ethiopian delegates protested against the Italian air raids during the League of Nations' 90th session.

Additionally, the Red Cross advised that all of its hospital staff leave Ethiopia unless Italy guaranteed that they wouldn't be attacked.

Italy officially apologised to Sweden for bombing the Swedish Red Cross hospital a few days after the attack, but it also cautioned against spreading exaggerated stories about what happened. It was claimed that the bombardment was retaliation for the "atrocity committed by the Ethiopians."

The president of the ICRC Max Huber wrote a very circumspect letter to Mussolini on 7th January 1936. Huber requested assurances for adherence to the Geneva Conventions and regard for medical facilities denoted by a red cross or crescent in his letter.

The dictator responded, stating among other things that his government and army were ready to work together to ensure that the values upheld by the standards and conscience of civilised people prevailed, but that in times of war, the possibility of such "accidents" could never be completely ruled out. The fact that 13 more attacks of a similar nature occurred shows that the diplomatic efforts of the ICRC were ineffective.

The most serious of them include the airstrike on the British Red Cross field hospital in the Korem Plain on March 4 and, above all, that on the Ethiopian Red Cross Field Hospital No. 3 at Amba Aradam on 18th January 1936.

Since Sweden did not have diplomatic ties with Ethiopia at the time of the incident, the United Kingdom conducted an investigation into the airstrike on Sweden's behalf. The Swedish government officially protested the Kingdom of Italy on 15th January 1936.

Further reading