Italian East Africa (1913-1941)

The Italian army went to Ethiopia in 1869 for the first time, but the Italian Empire in Ethiopia started in 1935, when Mussolini attacked and won.

The first Italian colonial plates, from 1913 until the end of the 1920s, were rectangular, with white background and the full name or just an abbreviation of the colony in red followed by a serial number on the same line, but documentation about these plates is very poor and uncertain. The colonial forces used special plates of the Servizio Militare with the letters SOM (Somalia) or T (Tripolitania: see Libya) before SM: you can find a picture of such a plate below (though it's from Libya) and other pictures are available in the page of Servizio Militare with a full description of their format.

SM plate
Picture 1: 1913-1930(?)

Later, until 1935, the Italian colonies used plates like those shown in the second (you can find another picture in the old photo gallery, picture 17), in the third and in the fourth picture, that are a front and two different rear plates. They were white on black with the name of the origin in the first line and up to 5 numbers in the second (they were on just one line in the first few years and all the front plates). The plates were made of embossed and painted steel sheet and carried the fascio as official seal. The number was serial and the letters were the origin code:

It's possible that front plates were introduced later because in some pictures the registration number is written also on the front bumper, with the number on the left followed by the letters (picture number 2).

Plate from Eritrea
Picture 2: 1930(?)-1937 (Eritrea, front)
Plate from Somalia
Picture 3: 1930(?)-1937 (Somalia, rear)
Plate from Eritrea
Picture 4: 1930(?)-1937 (Eritrea, rear)
Plate from Eritrea
Picture 5: 1930(?)-1937 (Eritrea, rear)

Between 1937 and 1941 there was an Italian governorship in Ethiopia and a new kind of Italian plates was issued. They were exactly like the previous plates, but had three coloured squares on the left side as you can see in the picture number 6: they were green, white and red like the Italian flag, with the letters AOI in western character inside: that stands for Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian East Africa). Front plates looked like old Italian front plates (see cars), were small and sometimes thay had the coloured boxes like rear plates. Note that the pictures of Eritrea (numbers 6 and 7) are a matched couple of AOI plates! The origin codes for these plates were:

(*) Some books say it's Asmara, but are wrong. I need to thank Guglielmo Evangelista for this correction!

Plate from Africa
Picture 6: 1937-1941 - Eritrea (rear)
Plate from Africa
Picture 7: 1937-1941 - Eritrea (front)
Plate from Africa Plate from Africa
Pictures 8 and 9: 1937-1941 - Harrar e Scioa (front)
Plate from Africa Plate from Africa
Pictures 10 and 11: 1937-1941 - Addis Abeba (rear and front)
Governo ER
Picture 12: Governo (1935?)
Plate from Africa
Picture 13: AOI (1936?)

Daniele Cacozza sent me a very interesting table with a complete list of all the vehicles in the Italian East Africa in December 1939: if you want to see it click here.

There was also a special plate for the Italian government, as shown in the picture number 12, taken in 1935. Unfortunately the plate is not complete in the original picture, but it seems likely that the full print was "Governo ER", (Governo means Government and ER stands for Eritrea). Moreover it seems that the coloured boxes with the letters AOI were placed on the left side of the plate, but I'm not toally sure about this due to the poor quality of the image. This is all I know about this plate.

The plate showed in the picture number 13 is very strange as it is the only known Italian plate with arabic characters. It's probably a prototype or a provisional plate issued in 1936 before the other plates and then abandoned.

The last two pictures show respectively a test plate (COLLAUDO) and a temporary plate (T.P. stands for "Targa Provvisoria"). They both were made of thick cardboard, on the left side had the letters RACI (Reale Automobile Club Italiano: it means Italian Royal Automobile Club and it was the authority that issued the plate) with the symbol of it and the code of the African province, ER in thiese cases, was placed on the second line, with the number below. As you can see in the pictures, the difference was in the colour: black for the test plates and red for the temporary plates.

Plate from Africa
Picture 14: Test plate
Plate from Africa
Picture 15: Provisional plate

In this site you can find other pictures of Italian plates used in Africa: those of the Police of Italian Africa and those of A.F.I.S.

Many thanks to to Guido Bevegni for the picture number 2, to Giancarlo Raposo for the fourth, to Ernesto Vitetti for the pictures 5 and 15, to Alessandro Libanore for the pictures number 6, 7 and 14, to Daniele Cacozza for the pictures number 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 taken from the book "L'Italia è piccola?" by Francesco Ogliari, and to Paolo Tosati for the picture number 13 taken from a movie of Luce on November 4th 1936: they all are wonderful! The picture number 3 is taken from the book "A century of plates".