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Amedeo Guillet

Amedeo Guillet
Nickname(s) Devil Commander
Born (1909-02-07)February 7, 1909
Piacenza, Italy
Died June 16, 2010(2010-06-16) (aged 101)
Rome, Italy
Allegiance Italy
Service/branch Royal Italian Army
Years of service 1930–1945
Rank Major
Battles/wars Second Italo-Abyssinian War
Spanish Civil War
World War II
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy

Amedeo Guillet (February 7, 1909 – June 16, 2010) was an officer of the Italian Army. He was born in Piacenza, Italy. Descended from a noble family from Piedmont and Capua. His parents were Franca Gandolfo and Baron Alfredo Guillet, a colonel in the Royal Carabinieri. Following his family tradition of military service, he enrolled in the Academy of Infantry and Cavalry of Modena at the age of 18, thus beginning his career in the Royal Italian army. Dying at the age of 101, he was one of the last men to have commanded cavalry in war. He was nicknamed Devil Commander,[1] and was famous during the Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia in 1941–42 because of his courage.


  • World War II 1
  • Later life 2
  • Documentary Film 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6

World War II

In the buildup to World War II, Aosta gave Guillet command of the 2,500 strong Gruppo Bande Amhara, made up of recruits from throughout Italian East Africa, with six European officers and Eritrean NCOs. The core was cavalry, but the force also included camel corps and mainly Yemeni infantry. For Guillet to be given command of such a force while still only a lieutenant was a singular honour.

In 1940, he was tasked to form a "Gruppo Bande a Cavallo". The "Bande a Cavallo" were native units that were recruited from Italian officers who commanded these units. Amedeo Guillet succeeded in recruiting thousands of Eritreans. His "Band", already named in the history books as "Gruppo Bande Guillet" or " Gruppo Bande a Cavallo", were distinguished for their absolute "fair play" with the local populations. Amedeo Guillet could boast at never being betrayed, and 5000 Eritreans knew perfectly well who he was and where he lived. It was during this time in the horn of Africa that the legend of a group of Eritreans with excellent fighting qualities, commanded by a notorious "Devil Commander" was born.

Guillet's most important battle happened towards the end of January 1941 at Cherù when he decided to attack enemy Russia at Isbuchenskij.

Guillet's Eritrean troops paid a high price in terms of human losses, approximately 800 died in little more than two years and, in March 1941, his forces found themselves stranded outside the Italian lines. Guillet, faithful until death to the oath to the House of Savoy, began a private war against the British. Hiding his uniform near an Italian farm, he set the region on fire at night for almost eight months. He was one of the most famous Italian "guerrilla officers" in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia during the Italian guerrilla war against the Allies occupation of the Italian East Africa.[2]

After numerous adventures, including working as a water seller, Guillet was finally able to reach Yemen, where for about one year he trained soldiers and cavalrymen for the Imam's army, whose son Ahmed became a close friend. Despite the opposition of the Yemenite royal house, he succeeded in embarking incognito on a Red Cross ship repatriating sick and injured Italians and finally returned to Italy a few days before the armistice.

As soon as Guillet reached Italy he asked for Gold sovereigns, men and weapons to aid Eritrean forces. The aid would be delivered by aeroplane and enable a guerrilla campaign to be staged. But with Italy's surrender, then later joining the Allies, times had changed. Guilet was promoted to Major for his war accomplishments and was assigned to the Military Intelligence Agency (SIM). In this role, perhaps ironically, he was chosen by the British for some very dangerous missions on Italian territory that was still under Nazi Occupation. He worked closely with an official of the services, a cadet of Colonel Harari, Victor Dan Segre, who later became his close friend and biographer. Colonel Harari was the commander of the British special unit services that tried to capture Guillet in Italian East Africa.

At the end of the war, and with the abolition of the monarchy, Guillet expressed a deep desire to leave Italy. He informed Umberto II of his intentions, but the King obliged him to keep serving his country in whatever form of government it would become. As always, he couldn't disobey an order from his King, so he expressed his desire to teach anthropology at university.

Later life

Following the war Guillet entered the Italian diplomatic service where he represented Italy in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, and finally as ambassador to India until 1975. In 1971, he was in Morocco during an assassination attempt on the King.[3]

On June 20, 2000 he was awarded honorary citizenship by the city of Capua, which he defined as "highly coveted".

On 4 November 2000, the day of the Festivity of the Armed Forces, Guillet was presented with the Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. This is the highest military decoration in Italy. Guillet is one of the most highly decorated (both civil and military) people in Italian history. In 2001, Gulliet visited Eritrea and was met by thousands of supporters. The group included men who previously served with him as horsemen in the Italian Cavalry known as Gruppo Bande a Cavallo. The Eritrean people remembered Gulliet's efforts to help Eritrea remain independent of Ethiopia.

Since 1974 Guillet had been living in retirement in Kentstown, County Meath, Ireland although latterly he had spent his winters in Italy. For some years he was a member of and hunted with the Tara Harriers and the Meath Hounds.[4][5]

In 2009, his 100th birthday was celebrated with a special concert at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.

Amedeo married Beatrice Gandolfo in 1944. The couple subsequently had two sons; Paolo and Alfredo. Beatrice died in 1990.[6]

Amedeo Guillet died on June 16, 2010 in Rome.[7]

Documentary Film

In 2007 Guillet's life story was the subject of a film made by Elisabetta Castana for RAI.[8]

See also


  1. ^ The Observer: Italians' last action hero
  2. ^ Amedeo Guillet
  3. ^ Time Magazine, Slaughter at the Summer Palace
  4. ^ The Sunday Business Post, Dublin, 26 May 2002, Book review of biography
  5. ^ Donohoe, John (11 February 2009). "Meath-domiciled Italian war hero feted in Rome on centenary birthday". The Meath Chronicle (Clyde & Forth Press). 
  6. ^ Obituary in Daily Telegraph
  7. ^ Life and photos of Amedeo Guillet (in Italian)
  8. ^ Information on documentary at the Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels.


  • Sebastian O'Kelly, Amedeo - the true story of an Italian's war in Abyssinia 2002 Paperback ISBN 0-00-655247-1
  • Victor Dan Segre, The Private War Of Ten. Guillet, Corbaccio Editore
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