My book about the crazy gang of foreign mercenaries who fought for Ethiopia in the 1930s went to the printers last week. It has a shiny new cover in gold and marble grey, and should be in the shops some time this summer.
The Italian invasion of Ethiopia in late 1935 outraged the world. Communists saw it as proof of Fascist barbarism, liberals were shocked by the display of outdated imperialism; even the empire builders in London and Paris were reluctant to welcome Mussolini into their club.
It was a war between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a bunch of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.
Lost Lions of Judah tells the whole colourful, blood-stained story.
Cavalcade of Mercenaries
Ethiopia’s new foreign friends included Americans posing as fake French counts, Fascist Belgian soldiers, an African-American pilot duo known as the Black Eagle and the Brown Condor (they hated each other), a Cuban veteran of three failed far-right coups, an Austrian Nazi doctor, Swedish soldiers who preferred fighting communism, and an alcoholic English dropout.
The international powers backing Haile Selassie were equally disreputable. Hitler supported Selassie as part of a plot to grab back the Rhineland, and Japanese secret societies pushed a penniless Tokyo princess into marriage with an Ethiopian prince. Together, this bizarre foreign legion tried to save Ethiopia from Fascism.
The Italo-Ethiopian war started as picturesque exoticism for jaded journalists (barefoot soldiers, despot warlords, cave-dwelling priests) and ended in the abattoir of modern warfare (gas attacks, terror bombing, tortured prisoners). Haile Selassie’s foreigners waded through the blood and did their best to get rich or die trying.
If you need any further encouragement then the book has a great photo section with many rare pictures, including Austrian Nazi Dr Valentin Schuppler posing with the Ethiopian royal family, drunk English pilot Hugh de Wet looking belligerent, and a prosperous Hubert Julian snapped aboard a transatlantic liner.
All that and Evelyn Waugh as a war correspondent. Pre-order your copy now.
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