This is a sad, but little told story. In 1943, at the request of the Emperor Haile Selassie, the Royal Airforce bombed two towns – Mekelle and Corbetta.
The source for this information is an article by Aregawi Berhe, in African Affairs – the journal of the Royal African Society, from 2004.
Further details can be found in an earlier article by David Killingray.
The RAF squadron that carried out the raid may actually have been carried out by Canadians from number 8 Squadron.
This information is from a publication called Legation: Canada’s Military History Magazine.
“In this strange colonial world the Canadians experienced things never imagined when they enlisted…On Sept. 1, 1943, a request was received from the Emperor of Ethiopia for aircraft to drop leaflets in Macaille and eastern Tigre province prior to operations against rebellious tribes. No. 8 Sqdn., another Bisley unit and normally based in Aden, operated a three-plane detachment from Addis Ababa and spent several days bombing rebel concentrations and native hutments. One of the wireless air gunners was Flight Sergeant Joseph Leon Belley of Quebec City. This squadron was the destination for numerous Canadians. Indeed, as of December 1943 at least 19 members of the RCAF had been posted there.”
When in 1942–43 peasants in central and southern Tigray began to rebel out of desperation, they were met with a harsh response. Haile Selassie’s government in collaboration with the British Royal Air Force (RAF), after dropping warning leaflets addressed to ‘the Chiefs, Balabats — people of Tigre province’ on 6 October 1943, devastated the region including Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, throughout the rest of that month.
This quelled the Tigrayan peasant uprising, known as Woyane, meaning ‘revolt’.
Thousands of defenceless civilians lost their lives as a result of aerial bombardment. It is recorded that ‘on 14th October  54 bombs dropped in Mekelle, 6th October 14 bombs followed by another 16 bombs on 9thOctober in Hintalo, 7th/9th October 32 bombs in Corbetta’.
Repression did not stop there.
The people of Tigray region were forced to pay large sums of money and their land was confiscated and distributed to loyal gentry as a punishment and as a deterrent to future revolt. A new taxation system was imposed that ‘cost the peasants five times more than they had paid under the Italians’.
In the name of centralization, Haile Selassie took away regional power from hereditary leaders and gave it to loyal Showan administrators.
This predicament again raised the level of collective resentment, taking the form of ethno-nationalist sentiment against the Showan ruling class at the centre. As Gilkes rightly observed, ‘independence from Shoan (sic) rule was raised as a rallying cry and proved popular’.
The punitive measures of the central government, and especially the memory of the RAF bombardment of Mekelle on behalf of Haile Selassie’s government, became grievances rooted in popular memory.
Thank you! Finally some of our own compatriots will be forced to admit this took place.
This not much reported genocidal atrocities committed against the Tigrai people nearly 76 years ago by the British RAF with full compliance of Emperor Haile Selassie should have been universally condemned without any reservations wright then by all people with clear conscience. Even now, it is never too late for the people of Tigrai to request the British Government to ask its apology to the Tigrai people unreservedly and to fully compensate the Tigray nation for the heinous crimes it has committed against its people on behalf of the Shoan Emperor an arch enemy of the Tigrai people. The British Government should compensate fully the Tigrai nation for the total loss of human and animal lives as well as material loss incurred at current prices.
Also this sad and hideous crime committed against the Tigrai People should serve as a stern warning to those opportunist Tigrayan politicians who aspire to join Abiy Ahmed’s hotch-potch ‘Medemer’ idea of zero sum game and that of the Unitarian Chauvinists who are hell bent to destroy Tigrai if they can and to steal its proud History, Language and its Superior Culture Heritage.
Shumay, excellent well said. To add to your comment I feel the time for Tegaru to take action is now. We should consider a petition filing make those responsible both the British and the Shown Empire pay for all the misery damages and life losses they’ve caused. In humble opinion Tegaru people to the achieve this we will need to lose this stigma forgiveness and forget. If Tegaru are to be taken seriously then we must act hold those in the past accountable so down in the future the same heinous acts doesn’t repeat again.
Do you follow me!.
THANK YOU MARTIN FOR BRINGING THIS FROM HISTORICAL MEMORIES. MANY TIGRAYANS ARE ALSO REMEMBERING THAT SAD PERIOD WHERE A SUPER POWER OF THOSE DAYS WHICH BEGUN FIGHTING NAZISM AND FASCISM IN EUROPE FOUGHT OPPRESSED POOR FARMERS IN AFRICA, PARTICULARLY IN TIGRAY REGION OF ETHIOPIA WHEN THE LATTER TRIED TO MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD AGAINST THE SO CALLED EMPEROR HAILE-SELASSIE OF THAT TIME WHO LEFT THEM DURING THE 5-YEAR WAR AGAINST EX FASCIST RULERS OF ITALY AND WHO IMPOSED HEAVY TAXES ON HIS RETURN. TIGRAYANS WOULD NOT LOOK FOR ANY FINANCIAL COMPENSATION BUT AN EARNEST APOLOGY FROM THE UK GOVERNMENT WOULD COMFORT THE NEW GENERATION OF TIGRAYANS. AS MENTIONED ABOVE BY ANOTHER COMMENTER, I WONDER HOW PEOPLE LIKE DR AREGAWI BERHE (EX TPLE LEADERSHIP) WHO WROTE ABOUT THE ISSUE ARE TODAY SUBMITTING THEMSELVES TO ABIY AHMED’S HOTCH-POTCH VERSION OF UNITARY GOVERNMENT (THE SELF DEFEATING AND NON EXISTING “PHILOSOPHY” OF MEDEMER) AT THE COST ALL THE SACRIFICE PAID BY TIGRAYAN PEOPLE FOR SELF-DETERMINATION OF TIGRAY AND FOR UK STYLE HISTORICAL IDENTITY BASED FEDERATION IN ETHIOPIA AT LARGE.
Ethiopia, lets go forward in unity, one god, one destiny, one aim. Your leader is only strong and progressive if the nation/s support he or she. There are forces who gain when you are at war with yourself. Haile Selassie could not have given such an order. Be careful of what the propagandist is feeding you. Long live the Royal Kingdom of Ethiopia.”
I hear lots of fabricated stories about Haileselase and Amhara ethnic groups from Tigraian ethnic groups. But non of the stories are proved by evidences , it’s all heard from word of mouth which is not genuine! For example there is no evidence found that proves The emperor Hileselase ordered the British to bombard Mekele ( imagine who would do that for his own people) , what for??? It’s unreal!!! Yes that single situation happened by mistake from British Air Force and they were sorry about that situation. But “woyane “ is still using this for its own political propaganda!! ! As a result during their 27 years of their political power “woyane” killed many of Ethiopians by using this story!
From that what I understood and came to conclusion is :- the tigraian / “woyane” people always always hungered for power and they use strategical plans to gain that power such as
1) by spreading fabricated news to generations to spread hatred!
2)spreading hate speech about certain ethnic groups to increase the fight between the two ethnic groups which are the largest ethnic groups in number. By doing that they were distracting the Ethiopian people from focusing on the government weaknesses and from people asking for their rights. This is evidenced by their time of ruling Ethiopia for 27 years 🇪🇹 Against Ethiopians will.
3) racism in Ethiopia 🇪🇹- “woyane” now after loosing their power which is after 27 years of dominating the Ethiopian people , they are still spreading racism in Ethiopia to divide Ethiopians by ethnic groups to increase instability in Ethiopia to weaken the current government so they can gain their dictatorship power back again indirectly though!
Enough is enough, let’s not destroy your own country , let’s go forward and build appositive generation who will develop the GREAT ETHIOPIA 🇪🇹, the current generation is sick off hearing your negativity and being misled by the old generation !!! Ethiopia is one country that have many ethnic groups who lived in peace before “woyane “ regime which is also well known in worldwide !!!
Ethnicity and racism problems learnt from “woyane “!!! We need to STOP 🛑 this and build a positive GREAT ETHIOPIANS not a small suburbans !!!!
Thank you for the article, Mr. Martin. I grew up in a family familiar with the stories of the 1st Woyane movement since my grandfather was one of the rebels who fought the absolute monarchy of Haile Selassie under Blatta Hailemariam Reda’s command. History seems to be repeating itself for the third time in a row. Tigray Prevails!
Haile Selassie was an emperor, and at the end of the day, emperors are dictators who maintain their power through violence. I don’t defend feudalism, and I can not defend the bombardment of Tigray with about 100 bombs were used. But it is also disgusting how ignorant Tigrays have used these unfortunate event to preach hatred for Amharas, and focus on Haile Sellassie completely ignoring the historical context of our shared history.
After Atse Tedros died, there was a power struggle between Shoa (Menelik) and Tigray (Atse Yohannes), Wollo (Mohammed Ali) and Gojam. Yohannes first defeated Wollo, murdering thousands of Wollo Mulism POWs in the process, and having Mohammed Ali convert to Ras Michael. Than Yohannes ravaged Gojam, killing thousands, setting off a famine. Menelik wisely submitted, and Yohannes make emperor.
Yohannes died defending Ethiopia and Menelik (Shoa) became king. After Menelik died, the power struggle was between Wollo (Lij Eyasu/Negus Michael) and Shoa (Ras Teferi). Ras Teferi won (Shoa), and punished Wollo severely with high taxes.
But Gojam and Tigray still resisted, and Haile Selassie had them both bombed.
The most violent of our kings was Tedros, followed by Yohannes, followed by Menelik. The least violent was Haile Sellassie.
The main difference in these conflicts was that that Haile Selassie used bombs, and ironically, it ended the wars and many less people were killed compared to the massacres in Wollo and Gojam.