Skip to comments.The Guns of an Emperor
Posted on 10/23/2020 5:17:26 AM PDT by w1n1
Royal Tiger Imports brings Ethiopias Arsenal to America - If you dont know by now, Royal Tiger Imports is offering for sale some of the rarest late 19th century to mid-20th century military rifles and carbines to ever make their way to the collector market. What makes them really significant is not so much the types of weapons available, as it is their remarkable and undisputable provenance to Ethiopia. One of the least studied and most important military powers in Africa, Ethiopias history was shaped by the arms its people bore.
Military history buffs have likely, at least, heard of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 that forced Emperor Haile Selassie into exile until British forces finally liberated the country in 1941. If thats all you know, the good news is theres a lot more Ethiopian military history for you to discover that will be eye-opening.
Ethiopia, called Abyssinia back then, is an ancient nation, more a peer of the Roman Empire than of Egypt. At the close of the 19th century, it had the largest and best-equipped army in Africa. Its emperors, and one empress, knew they could not hold back the wave of European colonization with swords and spears. at was going to take diplomacy and guns lots and lots of guns. For over 40 years, Ethiopia artfully played the European powers off each other, while they armed up, organized and trained a formidably large army equipped with a diverse array of metallic- cartridge repeating rifles from various nations spanning the black powder and smokeless powder eras. eir rifles were generally obsolete by European standards, but they made up in numbers what they lacked in comparative technical sophistication.
You might be surprised to know that, unlike nearly all other African nations, Ethiopia was never successfully conquered and colonized by any European power. e Italians did defeat Emperor Selassies army in 1935, but it should be noted that the Ethiopian forces were limited to infantry with some horse cavalry, while the Italians brought modern airplanes, tanks and poison gas to the battlefield. It was hardly a fair fight, and the League of Nations, of which Ethiopia and Italy were both members, did not act seriously to stop the invasion. However, despite Italys apparent victory, and their installation of a colonial infrastructure to effect their rule in this geographically huge country about the combined size of the four corners states, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, they quickly discovered a fly in the ointment.
The Ethiopians were not willing to be ruled by colonial masters. Tens of thousands of them fought on in the name of their exiled emperor, waging an aggressive rebellion that denied Italy control of the majority of the country. The rebels even tried to assassinate the top Italian general in charge, and very nearly succeeded.
WHENEVER I READ military history, I always get curious about the existing artifacts associated with the subject. When people go to museums and see the real uniforms, equipment and firearms used in a historic time or place, its natural for them to feel a direct connection with that past time through those artifacts. They were actually there, and somehow they survived to the present for us to see and sometimes even touch. Up until now, you could never find anything Ethiopian to connect you to the First or Second Italo-Ethiopian Wars, Ethiopias UN participation in the Korean War, or even the 1971 communist overthrow of the emperor or the civil war that continued until the communists were finally defeated in 1991.
I am amazed at what Royal Tiger Imports has accomplished. It really seemed impossibly unlikely in this day and age maybe in 1965, but not today. Anyone who recalls the ads in the American Rifleman magazine for surplus military guns through the 1960s will tell you it was a golden age for collectors.
The western nations, by then largely recovered from the devastation of World War II, were modernizing their armies and had a lot of obsolete weapons on hand. Plenty of them, by sale or gift, made their way into the armies of what were once called Third World nations. Ethiopia was one of them. Those countries needed arms to fight growing communist insurgencies armed with surplus weapons from the Soviet Union, Red China (as we called it then), and the satellite states they seeded around the world.
Though Cold War national interests sucked up a lot of surplus, American collectors got their share from the arsenals of the major world powers, thanks to the entrepreneurial efforts of domestic firearms importers large and small. The variety of guns available was astonishing, and naturally, the importers sought those in the best condition that they could obtain.
Sadly, the thing about surplus is, once its gone, its gone. As collectors, we havent had much reason to get our hopes up lately. The last huge caches of World War II-era guns came out of the former Communist Bloc countries in the 1990s when the Iron Curtain fell. Thats when Inter Ordnance Inc. came on the scene and made a name for themselves as importers. Among other things, I.O. Inc. bought Mosin Nagant rifles and captured Kar98 Mausers from Russia, WWI-era M95 Mannlicher straight-pull carbines from Bulgaria, and thousands of demilled parts kits from German MG-34, MG-42 and MP40 machine guns, and brought them home to the American collector market. Company CEO Uli Wiegand was in his element hunting down and orchestrating these deals. Read the rest of guns of an emperor.
Thanks for the article. I learned some new history.
I’ll take one of the British No. 5 Enfield jungle carbines please.
“Fair fight” is an old Indian phrase meaning “poor planning.”
That said, the performance of the Italians in Ethiopia was very poor.
I love Curio’s and Relics. I wonder what they are selling? The ones in the picture look like Mausers.
These guys are crazy pricey.
I know people that have bought from them, and not been pleased with what showed up.
From what I hear, there’s still plenty of surplus in the former Eastern Bloc countries and Russia...trouble is, they now know what it sells for in the US, and they want $500 per gun instead of the $25 that makes it practical to import, store and sell it at that $500 price.
The days of $65 SKS’ Mausers and Mosin Nagants is gone. *sniff*
Back in the day, I picked up a Mosin-Nagint 1891/30 and a second 1891/30 with the 3.5 power PU fixed focus scope, each was under $200. Each is extremely accurate.
But $65? Obviously I was not born early enough to get in on the really good deals.
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