Tito Minniti
Tito Minniti was an Italian pilot who was killed after he was captured by Ethiopians during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War
Second Italo-Abyssinian War
The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a colonial war that started in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire...

 in 1935 near Degehabur
Degehabur is a town in the eastern part of Ethiopia known as the Ogaden. Located in the Degehabur Zone of the Somali Region on the Jerer River, it sits at 1044 meters above sea level. The town is the administrative center of Degehabur woreda....

. His death and alleged torture became an atrocity story
Atrocity story
The term atrocity story as defined by the American sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe refers to the symbolic presentation of action or events in such a context that they are made flagrantly to violate the shared premises upon which a given set of social relationships should be...

 justifying the use of mustard gas against the Ethiopians. Minniti was posthumously decorated with the Italian Gold Medal of Honor
Gold Medal of Military Valor
The Gold Medal of Military Valor is an Italian medal established on 21 May 1793 by King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia "....per bassi ufficiali e soldati che avevano fatto azioni di segnalato valore in guerra" .The face of the medal displayed the profile of the king, and on its reverse was a flag...



Tito Minniti was born near Reggio Calabria
Reggio Calabria
Reggio di Calabria , commonly known as Reggio Calabria or Reggio, is the biggest city and the most populated comune of Calabria, southern Italy, and is the capital of the Province of Reggio Calabria and seat of the Council of Calabrian government.Reggio is located on the "toe" of the Italian...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 in 1909. He became a military pilot
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

 of the Regia Aeronautica
Regia Aeronautica
The Italian Royal Air Force was the name of the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It was established as a service independent of the Royal Italian Army from 1923 until 1946...

 in 1933. He had attained the rank of Lieutenant when he volunteered to fight in Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 in 1935. He flew a number of missions over enemy territory.

On December 26, 1935 Minniti was flying a reconnaissance mission with an observer, Sergeant Livio Zannoni. He was forced to land behind enemy lines, probably due to engine trouble. Minnitti and Zannoni survived apparently uninjured, but were soon challenged by Ethiopians. What happened next is disputed. Both men were killed, but according to Rainer Baudendistel, "it was never established whether they died defending themselves or were killed after surrender". Anyway, the only official "testimony" of the event (an Egyptian paramedic) asserted with details that Minniti was tortured and murder by Ethiopian troops.

Atrocity version

According to one version of events, Minniti and Zannoni fought the Ethiopian soldiers who approached. Minniti attacked them with the aircraft's machine gun, killing some of them. Eventually he ran out of ammunition and was forced to surrender. Zannoni was killed, but Minniti was taken to the village of Bolali. Italian propaganda later declared that Minniti was subject to torture and mutilation before his death.

This version of events relied on the assertions of an attache' of the Egyptian Red Cross, Abdel Mohsein El Uisci, who later testified to the League of Nations and even claimed that the severed head and feet of Minniti were carried to the towns of Degehabur, Jijiga
Jijiga is a city in eastern Ethiopia and the capital of the Somali Region of that country. Located in the Jijiga Zone approximately 80 km east of Harar and 60 km west of the border with Somalia, this city has a latitude and longitude of with an elevation of 1,609 meters above sea...

 and Harar
Harar is an eastern city in Ethiopia, and the capital of the modern Harari ethno-political division of Ethiopia...

. The leader of the killers, Manghestu, took the genitals and told El Uisci that he intended to flay Minniti's body to make cigarette paper from the skin. El Uisci, again in Dagabur, had personally watched the torture of another Italian soldier: mutilaled, impaled and trasported to a stake pierced on a metal bar laying on the back of two camels.

Castration of defeated enemies was a tradition in Ethiopia, as was the taking of trophies from bodies. Italy had already raised the practice at the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

 as part of its justification for the invasion. However, Isamael Daoud (El Uisci's superior) denied the truth of his account of events (Italians complained that Daoud was in Egypt and never visited Ethiopia). Two other members of the same paramedic group working in Ethiopia, Kamel Hamed and Labib Salamah, supported El Uisci assertions.

In 1937, Journalist and historian Indro Montanelli
Indro Montanelli
Indro Montanelli was an Italian journalist and historian, known for his new approach to writing history in books such as History of the Greeks and History of Rome....

 interviewed one of the Ethiopian soldiers who murdered Minniti, who confirmed El Uisci's account.

Ethiopian version

The Ethiopian authorities asserted that the two Italians had not been killed by Ethiopian troops, but by local people angered by the bombing of their villages. The local Ethiopian commander Dejazmach Nasibu Emmanual
Nasibu Emmanual
Nasibu Emmanual, also Nasibu Zamanuael, was an army commander of the Ethiopian Empire. Along with his brother Wasane, historian Bahru Zewde groups Nasibu "among the most colourful of the first-generation intellectuals" of Twentieth-century Ethiopia...

 sent a messenger to the Italian General Rodolfo Graziani
Rodolfo Graziani
Rodolfo Graziani, 1st Marquis of Neghelli , was an officer in the Italian Regio Esercito who led military expeditions in Africa before and during World War II.-Rise to prominence:...

, giving the Ethiopian version of events and assuring him that prisoners were being treated in accordance with international law. The messenger was arrested and Graziani did not reply. Nasibu repeated the Ethiopian version in radio broadcasts.

Italian response

Instead Graziani expressed outrage at the murder and ordered immediate bombings of Ethiopian troops. Two Red Cross camp-hospitals in the area were also hit. He even ordered leaflets to be dropped, saying that: "You have beheaded one of our airmen, infringing all human and international laws, under which prisoners are sacred and deserve respect. You will get what you deserve. Graziani". The use of mustard gas was considered legitimate because of the alleged atrocity.

After the war, the bodies of Minniti and Zannoni were found 200 metres from the downed aircraft, but the remains were too decayed and damaged by wild animals for the manner of their death to be determined.


Mussolini promoted Minniti as a great Italian Royal Air Force
Regia Aeronautica
The Italian Royal Air Force was the name of the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It was established as a service independent of the Royal Italian Army from 1923 until 1946...

 hero. A heroic version of his last hours was circulated. In this version the plane was forced down by enemy anti-aircraft fire rather than mechanical problems. Undaunted, the wounded Minniti still managed to land safely and hold off the Ethiopians for as long as he could, to protect his incapacitated sergeant. The citation for his award stated that he fought "a titanic and indomitable struggle. Overwhelmed by the number and ferocity of the barbarian enemy he gloriously lost his life: a shining example of high military virtues, proud spirit of sacrifice and indomitable Italian values."

Flags in Minniti's home town were flown at half mast. His father was quoted saying "I have given a son to the fatherland in the World War and I do not regret giving the fatherland another. For the greatness of Italy I am ready to offer the lives of my other four!" The Reggio Calabria Airport
Reggio Calabria Airport
The Reggio Calabria "Tito Minniti" Airport , also known as Aeroporto dello Stretto is an airport located near Reggio Calabria, Italy.-Description:...

, near his birth place, was named after Minniti. It still bears his name. The Italian sculptor Arturo Martini
Arturo Martini
Arturo Martini was a leading Italian sculptor between World War I and II. He moved between a very vigorous classicism and modernism. He was associated with public sculpture in fascist Italy, but later renounced his medium altogether.-Futurism:Martini seems to have been an active supporter of the...

 created a memorial entitled "Tito Minniti Hero of Africa" in 1936, depicting his headless naked body tied to the tree in cruciform pose.

The legitimacy of the Italian response was much debated. In 1937, the anti-fascist writer Giuseppe Borgese
Giuseppe Antonio Borgese
Giuseppe Antonio Borgese was an Italian writer, journalist and literary critic.-Biography:Borgese was born in Polizzi Generosa, near Palermo...

gave his own version of events (he was later labeled as "traitor" because of this by the Italian Army in Ethiopia), arguing that Graziani merely seized on the incident to excuse his actions:
Ferdinando Pedriali of the official Ufficio Storico Aviazione Militare wrote that during the Italo-Ethiopian war "the killing of hundreds of the wounded and prisoners, Italian and Erytrean, was the norm, not the exception". and that these atrocities justified the use of mustard gas against Ethiopian troops.

Tito Minniti is still commemorated in his hometown every year as a military hero.

External links

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