Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Mission 101: Gathering Intelligence for Ethiopian Resistance

Colonel Sandford on the left

Italy became a threat to British colonial rule in Afrika and the wider East between 1939 and 1940, as the Romans had accumulated well over four hundred thousand troops throughout North –East Afrika since their invasion of Ethiopia back in 1935-36. With the fall of France, Britain was concerned that Italy would side with Germany in a war against The Allies. Italy would be able, with their large force, to take control of the British Territories, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the route that led to oilfields and India. It was expected that they would take the Sudan and Egypt to capture access to the Nile, and Britain’s act of defense was to secure the Sudan. To do that, having Ethiopian support was considered most beneficial. On June 18th (eight days after Italy declared war) it was decided by Winston Churchill and his Cabinet that the Ethiopian Emperor would be returned to His country with the help of Britain.

Before this decision, Major-General Colin Hubbins from the British War Office, had set up a special unit, the Special Operations Executive or SOE specifically to organize and support the Resistance factions in territories occupied by Italy. The SOE aimed to support the Ethiopian Resistance. They secured a gift of ten thousand rifles from President Roosevelt, and also arranged for Maria Theresa dollars to be minted in Bombay that would pay the Ethiopian Patriots. The SOE was such a secret operation that there are hardly any records of their involvement in Ethiopian resistance to Italy. The SOE was responsible for the forming of Mission 101 and Gideon Force, the two military teams that brought the Emperor Haile Sellassie back to Ethiopia to regain His throne.

Colonel Daniel Sandford was the veteran British Solider responsible for making the initial plans that would help Emperor Haile Sellassie I return to Ethiopia, leading Mission 101. In previous service to the British realm he went to India and the Sudan and fought in France in the First World War. In August 1939 he was called back to service by General Sir Anthony Wavell who was head of Middle Eastern Command in Cairo. Made a Colonel, Sandford was placed in charge of gathering the Ethiopian intelligence which was Mission 101’s primary purpose. He was a good person for the job as he was also a friend of the Emperor, being one of the many Europeans who lived in Addis Abeba and worked for the Ethiopian Government (from 1920 to 1935), and then forced to flee the country when the Italian threat became apparent. The two maintained contact while the Emperor was in exile at Bath. Colonel Sandford had a productive farm in Addis Abeba and longed to get back to his home that he was forced to leave.

Because Sandford knew Ethiopian territory fairly well, he was the prime person to seek out chiefs and patriots across the land to stir up a native uprising. He was in charge of making the necessary military preparations and also organizing propaganda methods to excite the local uprising. But his works initially started in Khartoum where he liaised with Ethiopian exiles to form a plan for the resistance and return which was called ‘Plan X.’

According to Edmund Stevens, Colonel Sandford on Mission 101, travelled by camel or on foot throughout Western Ethiopia to the hideouts of two major guerilla forces. The headquarters of the unit was in Gojjam, and there Sandford met with Orde Wingate on November 28th 1940 to discuss He was able to move from territory to territory unharmed because of drum signals or tom-toms which the chiefs used to speak to one another in code. This way the Italians never knew he was in their midst, and he was also warned by the tom-toms when the Italians were close by. Sandford gained the trust and support of the chiefs using money and promising them political kick-backs when Ethiopia was once again free. He also organized secret routes whereby the British could distribute arms to the guerillas.

When the resistance was procured, Sandford returned to the Sudan where he met with Emperor Haile Sellassie and became His advisor. When it was time for the advance into Ethiopia by the Emperor’s army, Colonel Sandford joined Gideon Force’s leader Orde Wingate to lead the troops and safeguard the Emperor from Khartoum to Addis Abeba. Their guerilla army comprised British and Australian majors and sargeants, Sudanese, Somali and Kenyan soldiers and the Ethiopian Patriotic army that Sandford had created.

Later in the post war years Daniel Sandford returned to Ethiopia and served the Emperor as a military and political adviser. He also established the Sandford School which was a leading international school. He also received land in Derba just north of Addis Abeba, where he established a farm with coffee, prunes and stables for cattle. He was forced to leave Ethiopia when the Derg seized power from the Emperor which led to the degradation of his farm.


Life’s Reports article “How the British Ran the Italians Out of Ethiopia” by Edmund Stevens, Life Magazine

Wikipedia, Daniel Sandford British Army Officer

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