Wings over Ogaden: The Ethiopian-Somali War 1978-79, Tom Cooper

Wings over Ogaden: The Ethiopian-Somali War 1978-79, Tom Cooper

This book covers one of the more obscure wars of the late 20th Century, the Somali invasion of eastern Ethiopia of 1978-79. This war is so badly documented that even after extensive research the author of this book still couldn’t find names for the commanders of many of the units involved! Part of the problem is that many of the Somalia archives have been destroyed in the prolonged anarchy in that country, while the unsettled nature of Somalia might help explain why so many participants insisted on anonymity.  

This is certainly an interesting topic, seeing one of the quickest changes of alignment during the Cold War. Well into the 1970s Ethiopia received help from the US and Somalia was in the Eastern bloc, but this began to change just before the war, after the Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in a military coup. The Americans began to withdraw their support, and the new military government looked to the Soviets for help. On the other side the Somalis found that they weren’t getting the help they wanted from the Soviets, and changed alignment during the war! This probably played a part in their defeat, as many of the Soviet advisors expelled from Somalia ended up in Ethiopia, where their knowledge will have been invaluable.

The air war is a clear example of the importance of quality training, with the US training for their Ethiopian allies much more thorough than the Soviet training for their Somali allies. After the end of the war the Ethiopians realised that their Soviet trainers weren’t as good as their former US allies. The better trained Ethiopians were able often able to defeat better equipped Somalis, and the Somali air force was soon effectively knocked out of the war.

The air war was certainly an important part of the war, but the Soviet and Cuban advisors and Cuban ground forces on the Ethiopian side were also key. We have more detail on the Ethiopian side, mainly because more archives have survived and the country has remained more stable, making it easier to track down participants in the war.

1 - Geopolitical Prelude
2 - Military Backgrounds
3 - Military Balance and Planning
4 - Invasion
5 - Switching Alliances
6 - The Rout

Author: Tom Cooper
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Tom Cooper & Helion
Year: 2015

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