Postcards depicting the Duke and the war
The Duke, (left) at Asmara, 1940
The mountain of Amba Alagi from a distance
The Duke from his
lookout post at Amba
Colonel Dudley Russell, General Maine and Amedeo, Duca d'Aosta
Surrender parade with full military honours
Torino, 21 ottobre 1898 - Nairobi, 3 marzo 1942
A brief summery of the life of Amedeo Duca d'Aosta
At the tender age of nine, Amedeo was sent to study at St Andrews College
in London. On his return to Italy at age fifteen, he enrolled at the military
college of Reale della Nunziatella of Naples. He soon became aware of the
rigid disciplinary measures imposed upon his fellow students in his regard.
No one was permitted to approach the prince for any reason and if there was
a need to speak with him, one would always have to stand at attention and
use the appropriate titles. This really bothered Amedeo as he saw himself as
one of the boys, and with time insisted that his friends referred to him by his
first name and that all formalities be dropped.
With the outbreak of WW1, and at the age of sixteen, Amedeo enrolled for
active duty as a private. He was assigned to the Voloire regiment, being a
cavalry-artillery unit. His father, Emanuele Filiberto introduced him to
General Petitti di Roreto with strict instructions that his boy should not
receive any preferential treatment and that he should be treated equally as
Amedeo was transferred to the front where he served his unit showing much
courage. He worked his way through the ranks and was soon promoted to
By the end of the war, with permission from his father, Amedeo followed his
uncle, Luigi Amedeo Duke of Abruzzi, to Somalia. The purpose of this was
to establish a cultivation plant of cotton, sugarcane and seeds. Together
they built a railway line and also a village which was named, Duke of
Following this, Amedeo went back to England to study at the College of
Eton; he then moved on to the University of Oxford, mastering the English
In 1921, Amedeo departed for the Belgian Congo and was employed at a
soap factory in Stanleyville as a labourer. In 1925, he returned to Italy and
received his pilot's license then returning to Africa, he accumulated many
flying hours and was awarded the silver medal of valour.
His desire to study further took him to the University of Palermo in Sicily,
were he graduated with a social science degree. His thesis on modern
societies and their influence on rural populations of occupied colonies
proved to serve him well.
Emauele Filiberto passed away in 1931 and Amedeo inherited his father's
title. Subsequent to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Amedeo became
viceroy of this region. Following the second Ital-Abyssinian war, on the
21st of October 1937, Amedeo was appointed Governor-General of Italian
East Africa and Ethiopia.
With the outbreak of World War II and with the tides of war changing, the
Italian troops under the Duke's command found themselves in retreat. With
approximately 7000 men, Amedeo withdrew to the mountains of Ethiopia
setting up a stronghold on the summit of Amba Alagi. With a force made up
of carabinieri, (Italian Police), airmen, sailors from the base of Assab, 500
regular soldiers and 3000 native troops these men held this fortress from the
17th April to the 17th May 1941.
With a force of 39000 men, Allied General Cunningham soon besieged the
Italian position. The Italians, being totally outnumbered and suffering from
shortages of food and water, were also exhausted and anguished by the
extreme cold of the Ethiopian mountains; these conditions soon changed
morale and the troops began to loose hope.
On the 14th of May, Amedeo obtained permission from Benito Mussolini to
surrender. He ordered the native troops to return to their villages informing
them that the war was over. It is recorded that no less than fifteen of these
men actually obeyed the Duke, choosing to stand by him till the last.
General Volpini was assigned as negotiator of the surrender. On his
approach to the Allied lines, together with his escorts, General Volpini's
first encounter was with Ethiopian rebels, who had surrounded the Italian
lines. These rebels with much aggression and looking for revenge after years
of occupation attacked and murdered the General together with his aids.
At noon on May 17th, conditions of surrender were agreed upon; General
Trezzani Cordero di Montezemolo represented the Italians and Colonel
Dudley Russell, on behalf of the Allies.
On Monday 19th May 1941, Amedeo, Duca d'Aosta appeared at the entrance
of the cave-command. The commander of Italian East Africa was dressed in
full military attire. With side arm holstered, the Duke marched briskly,
escorted by a South African non commissioned officer, towards the awaiting
British General, Maine.
Two columns of soldiers followed, all carrying their weapons, cardboard
suitcases tied up with string, musical instruments and all their worldly
possessions. Many had tears in their eyes, all with shaved heads and long
beards; this was by order of their leader.
Following these men were the Askari's, survivors of the Abyssinian
battalion; with them, their women, whom they had taken with them into the
Standing at attention at the military honour parade, Amedeo saluted the
flag as it was lowered for the last time.
The terms of surrender were not fully adhered to by the allied forces.
Following the military ceremony, the Italian soldiers were handed over and
left at the mercy of the native troops. Angered at the many years of
dominance, these troops proceeded to strip the demoralised Italians, taking
their clothes and belongings. Another term agreed upon was that the troops
would be permitted to follow their commanding officer; this too was not met
As a prisoner of war, Amedeo was transferred to the British camp of
Donyo Sabouk in Kenya and was registered as prisoner 11590. During the
flight to Kenya, he was briefly allowed control of the plane, never
imagining that this would be his last experience at flying.
With conditions in the camp being very poor, the fight which now faced the
prisoners was the lack of hygiene and malaria. Despite efforts by the Duke
to improve living conditions for his men, these were never met. His attempts
to convince his captors to repatriate captive civilians also fell on deaf ears.
Visits were not allowed and Amedeo lost all contact with his men.
During the month of November 1941, Amedeo began to experience
symptoms of illness. In December of that year a high fever raged through his
body and he was confined to bed. Three weeks later, being sick as he was,
the Duke was permitted to visit his troops. This would be his final
experience to partial liberty. Amedeo was escorted by car in a drive by to
greet his troops. His men all lined up against the barbed wire fences, arms
outstretched they hailed their leader and hero.
Tears rolled down the Duke's frail features, he did not bother to wipe these
as he waved to his men, devastated that he could not greet them personally.
On the 26th January, Amedeo was diagnosed with malaria and
tuberculosis; he was hospitalised for his final days in the military hospital
in Nairobi. On the 3rd March 1942, Amedeo died and was laid to rest
together with 676 of his soldiers in the Italian military cemetery in Nyeri,
At his funeral, British army officers paid respect to this fine man by wearing
Since Amedeo bore no sons, his title was bestowed to his brother, Aimone.