Operation Flame and the Destruction of the 3rd Division

Fantahun Ayele


The Third Division was one of the eminent army units of the Ethiopian ground forces. Since its creation in the 1940s, it was based in the Ogaden for many years to repulse possible Somali invasion. Following the defeat of Somali in 1978, it was involved in many counter-insurgency operations in Eritrea, Tigray, Wollo and Northern Shewa. In May 1990, the high command worked out a plan known as “Operation Flame” to wipe out the insurgents based in Northern Shewa and southern Wollo. But the operation miserably failed and that led to the destruction of the Third Division. Using untapped archival and oral sources, this paper attempts to investigate the main reasons for the failure of the operation.


Operation flame; army division; military; Derg; command

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A. Archives

Ministry of National Defence (MOND) Archives, Administration 1223, Bä Sostägnaw Keflä Tor Yä Tänäsawen Amäts Lämämärmär Yätäquaquamä Buden Report (Report of the Committee Formed to Investigate the Mutiny in the 3 rd Division), 8/2/75 E.C.

MOND Archives, Administration 1713, Anbäsaw Sostägna Keflä Tor Selä Fätsämachäw Gedajochena Selä Agägnachäw Akuri Deloch Acher Riport (A Brief Report on the Engagements Carried Out and the Brilliant Victories Scored by the Lion 3 rd Division), 1976 E.C.

MOND Archives, Administration 1713, Yä Sostägnaw Keflä Tor Amäsärarät Enna Tägadlo (Emergence and Struggle of the of the 3 rd Division), 1982 E.C.

MOND Archives, Administration 2521, Zämächa Näbälbal 02 (Operation Flame II), 1982 E.C.

MOND Archives, Administration 4635, Yä Aser Amät A Zämächa Report (A Ten Year Operation Report), 1977 E. C.

MOND Archives, Intelligence 022-24, Yä Soasä Wotadärawi Märäja Amätawi Riport (Annual Report of the TRA’s Military Intelligence), 1982 E.C.

MOND Archives, Intelligence 295, Bä Sostägnaw Keflä Tor Selä Täfätsämäw Adma Yätädärägä Mermära (An Investigation of the Mutiny that Occurred in the 3 rd Division), 12-23/2/75 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 168, Bä Ertera Keflä Hagär Bä Hulätägnaw Abyotawi Särawit Yätäfätsämu Wotadärawi Enqesqaséwoch (Military Activities Carried out by the Second Revolutionary Army in Eritrea), 1979 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 262 Bä Soasä Genbar Yätädärägä Wegya Acher Zägäba (A Brief Record of the Engagement on the TRA Front), 16-30/07/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 262, Yä Särawitoch Enna Yä Koroch Yä Zämächa Riport (Operations Report of Armies and Corps), 9-15/04/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 262, Yä Soasä Samentawi Yä Zämächa Report (Weekly Operations Report of the Third Revolutionary Army (TRA)), 6-15/05/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 262, Yä Soasä Zämächa Riport (Report of TRA’s Operations), 10 17/07/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 262, Yä Soasä Zämächa Report (TRA’s Operations Riport), 13-19/09/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 262, Yä Soasä Zämächa Report (TRA’s Operations Report), 4-5/10/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 418, Yä Soasä Tor Asälaläf Läwt (A Change in the Positioning of TRA’s Force), ND.

MOND Archives, Operations 418, Zämächa Mäket (Operation Defend), 14/3/82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 431, Yä Zämächa Alula Yä Wegya Te’ezaz (Operation Alula Combat Order) 15/11/79 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 431,Yä Zämächa Näbälbal Report (Report on Operation Flame), 3/9/79 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 431, Yä Zämächa Mäbräq Yä Wegya Report (Combat Report of Operation Lightning) 21/8/79 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 431, Yä Zämächa Mänter Report (Report on Operation Mänter), 27/12/79 E.C

MOND Archives, Operations 493, Bä 102 gnaw Ayär Wäläd Keflä Tor Lay Yädäräsä Gudat (Damage Inflicted on the 102 nd Airborne Division), 15/09/ 82 E.C.

MOND Archives, Operations 513-514, Major General Kenfä Gäbrél Denqu to Operations Main Department, 05/12/82 E.C.

Archives, Operations 518B, Adhariw Yä Somalia Mängest Selakahédäben Gelts Worära Atäqalay Zägäba 1966 – 1971 E. C (A Comprehensive Report on the Flagrant Invasion of the Reactionary Somali Government 1974 -1978), 1970 E. C.

MOND Archives, Operations 532, Tämäsgän Chala to 3 rd Division Commander, 08/09/83 E.C.

B. Published and Unpublished Sources

Addis Zaman, Amharic Daily Newspaper, 6/13/75 E.C.

Anonymous, “Zämächa Näbälbal: Kä Karra Mesheg Eskä Märagna,” (operations Flame: From Karra Mesheg to Märagna), Ethiop, Vol. 2, No., 17, 1993 E.C.

Bahru Zewde. A History of Modern Ethiopia 1855-1991, 2 nd ed. Oxford: James Currey, 2001.

Connell, D. Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution. Lawrenceville: The Red Sea Press, 1993.

Dawit W. Giorgis. Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia. Lawrenceville: The Red Sea Press, 1989.

The Ethiopian Herald, December 17, 1989.

Fantahun Ayele. The Ethiopian Army: From Victory to Collapse 1977-1991. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2014.

Gännät Ayélä. Yä Létäna Colonel Mängestu H. Maryam Tezetawoch (Recollections of Lt. Col. Mängestu H. Maryam). Addis Ababa: Mega Publishing Enterprise, 1994 E.C.

Gebru Tareke. “From Lash to Red Star: the Pitfalls Counter-Insurgency in Ethiopia, 1980-1982,” Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 40, No. 3, 2002.

___________ . “From Af Abet to Shire: The Defeat and Demise of Ethiopia’s ‘Red’ Army 1988-89,” Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2004.

Tsägga Mogäs, “Kä Woldya Eskä Midda: Kä Mängaga Yätäfäläqäqäw Yä Särawitu Del,” (From Woldya to Midda: the Victory Snatched from the Jaws of the Army), Tobya, Vol. 3, No., 7, 1987 E. C.


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