The Consul at Asmara (Smith) to the Secretary of State

No. 9

Sir: I have the honor to report that I have not yet had an opportunity to visit Addis Ababa, as directed in the Department’s instruction to me dated April 18, 1942, and received on July 3, 1942. I have not proceeded yet because:

The Commission referred to in the last paragraph of the Department’s instruction has not yet arrived.
The work entailed in opening an office without furniture, without a clerk until July 20, and with only one typewriter (borrowed), while at the same time carrying on the routine work of the office has made my absence out of the question.
The evacuees from Egypt have thrown a great amount of detailed work on the Consulate.

However, I have had many talks with British and American officers and civilians in regard to the situation now obtaining in Abyssinia, and am passing on to the Department what I have gleaned.

The British are withdrawing all, or practically all, of their military forces from Abyssinia, and are apparently … permitting the country to lapse into a state of chaos. The Abyssinians have large stores of arms and ammunition, as they have not only the supplies given the Patriot troops by the British, but also the enormous stores captured from Italian sources. To disarm the country would, of course, be a difficult undertaking, for an Abyssinian would part with all his possessions rather than give up his gun. I presume the British cannot afford to spare the troops necessary for this job.

… The British have complete control of all surrounding territories,—the Sudan on the west, Kenya on the south, Italian and British Somaliland on the east and Eritrea on the north,—so have nothing to fear from outside interference. Nor can additional arms and ammunition be introduced into the country. French Somaliland is not a source of danger, as it is completely isolated. After two or three years, they may decide the situation calls for interference. In the meantime, their troops are released for action elsewhere, they may pose as liberators of conquered peoples, and are not running any military risks. …

I am enclosing a copy of a report on conditions at Addis Ababa on [in] February of this year prepared by a young military officer.18 Conditions there described still obtain, according to visitors just returning from the city. It is unsafe to be out at night, shots are often [Page 107] heard in the city streets, and apparently the Negus’ hold is very dubious in the city itself and almost non-existent in the rest of the country.

The Italian missionaries have been ousted by the present regime. The Negus wishes the French missionaries who carried on their activities in Abyssinia before the Italian occupation, to return, but as the French missionaries are Vichy French, the British oppose such return. The Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione of the Vatican suggested to the Negus that he retain a skeleton staff of forty Italian clergy, but the Negus refused this request. The Eritrean Catholic Coptics are intriguing to have only native Abyssinian priests in Abyssinia. What the outcome will be, nobody knows.

Very respectfully yours,

E. Talbot Smith
  1. Report by Capt. Paul M. Morrill; not printed.