Report No. 14057 by the Military Attaché in Italy (Pillow)4

For recent report on the same subject, see Italy No. 14028–3850, August 29, 1934.

During a visit to the Ministry of War on September 19, 1934, in conversation with two officers of the General Staff assigned to the Foreign Liaison Section, casual mention was made of the Abyssinian question. The only response was a smile and a shrug, which was construed as an indication that the subject was taboo and not one for discussion. Conversation with an officer of the R. Aeronautica in the military attaché’s office on the same date elicited a like unwillingness to talk on the subject. Officers who are in position to have any authentic knowledge on this subject are expected to be discreet enough not to discuss it with military Attachés. No detraction is intended from Report No. 14028–3850, referred to above, which is the officer’s estimate based upon diligent investigation.

Colonel Stevens, the British military Attaché, doyen of the corps of foreign military attachés, who was born in Italy of an Italian mother, lived for some years in this country, and more than any other military Attaché has the confidence of Italian officers, gave me today the following information:

On September 19, 1934, he made a visit to the Ministry of Colonies for the purpose of talking about the Abyssinian situation with the Italian army officer, a friend of his, who is at the head of the Military Affairs Section of the Ministry. Colonel Stevens told this officer various things that he had heard which indicated designs on the part of Italy against Abyssinia and asked him frankly if he could give any information on the matter, as he wanted to be prepared to make a report to his own War Ministry and had been approached by several of his colleagues on the subject. The Italian officer feigned surprise and, taking a pad, said he wished to make a note of things which Colonel Stevens said had been done and of which he was ignorant. [Page 757] This officer is said to have contradicted himself several times, but, in the end gave a statement the substance of which is as follows:

Italy has no hostile intentions towards Abyssinia. Any measures which are being taken are defensive, not offensive. Abyssinia is organizing her forces and receiving shipments of arms and war material. Her preparations indicate hostile intentions, and against whom? Certainly not against British Somaliland, nor against French Somaliland from whose port at Djibouti runs the railroad to Addis Abeba, and upon which Abyssinia depends for supplies from abroad. Therefore her warlike preparations must be directed against the Italian colonies, Eritrea, or Italian Somaliland. Consequently, it is only natural that Italy should prepare to defend these colonies. Again, there is said to be a large influx of Japanese peasants into Abyssinia. How do we know but what these are Japanese officers in disguise, for service with the Abyssinian army?

This officer had no objection to Colonel Stevens communicating the above statements to his military Attaché colleagues.

Lacking any recent definite information, this negative report is submitted for such evaluation as may be given it. It is hardly thought that any military operations would be initiated during the rainy season, but that season ends in Abyssinia and the Italian colonies in October. It is reported that the King of Italy will visit Italian Somaliland in November; it may be conjectured that no break is anticipated before then, or in the near future.

Without knowledge of the political aspects of the situation, it appears to the military Attaché that the reported development of roads, airports, and other facilities in the Italian colonies is in consonance with plans for the betterment of these lands to render them habitable for the future surplus population of Italy for whom homes must be provided. While this development has been in progress for some time, it is believed that its tempo has been speeded up. Preparations for defense, and for offensive warfare should an “overt” act tempt it to the conquest of coveted lands, follows the policy of the homeland.

J. G. Pillow

Colonel, Cav., U.S.A.
  1. Copy received from the War Department, October 12, 1934; copy transmitted on October 18 to the Minister in Ethiopia as an enclosure to Department’s instruction No. 412.