Massawa postcard

This postcard shows the Eritrean port of Massawa (or Massaua as the Italians wrote it) at the heyday of Italian colonialism. The photograph is taken from the causeway linking the city to Massawa’s islands.

The causeway took on a terrible and heroic importance during the Eritrean war of liberation from Ethiopia (1961 – 1991).

During the first Battle of Massawa (1977 – 1978) the EPLF managed to take the town after heavy fighting, but failed to take the island.

On 23 December the EPLF attempted a frontal assault with fighters wading through the nearby saltworks into deadly Ethiopian fire. Some 2,000 died and 400 were wounded. I believe the photograph below shows the attack – but would be pleased to have this confirmed.

Massawa 1977

With the Ethiopians protected by Ethiopian and Soviet warships, the attack failed. The EPLF began a long siege, but this too did not succeed and the leadership finally announced a strategic withdrawal.

It was not until January and February 1990 that a second attempt would be made to take the causeway and islands. On 9 February and EPLF navy (consisting of gunboats) destroyed most of the Ethiopian navy and the next day succeeded capturing the naval base and causeway in a complex land-sea assault.

Massawa 1990

Some 3,000 EPLF fighters died in this second offensive – code-named ‘Fenkil’ – and their sacrifice is commemorated by three tanks on Taulud Island.

Massawa tanksMassawa tanks