The East African campaign was one of the longest of the entire First World War, lasting from the outbreak of war in 1914 until the official German surrender on 25 November 1918. During that time the German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, made his reputation, carrying out a long delaying action in German East Africa, before spending most of the last year of the war operating in Portuguese Mozambique.
What makes this book interesting is that it looks at a clash between two units of native African troops, each raised for internal security measures within their respective colonies, and never intended for use outside those areas. On the German side most troops came from the Schutztruppe, while on the British side a range of troops were used, including Black South Africans, India soldiers and the King’s African Rifles, a unit raised in Britain’s East African colonies.
We begin with a look at the history of the two units, their organisation, equipment and key commanding officers. There is one discordant note in the section on loyalty, where in the same paragraph the author describes the African troops as ‘showing a high degree of loyalty to their unit and their officers’, and that their ‘loyalty was based on self-interest and could frequently depend on which side was perceived by the African to be winning at the time’. These can’t both be true. Otherwise this section is good, giving an idea of the key differences between the two units.
We then move on to an examination of three sample battles from the campaign. As you would expect these are supported by Osprey’s usual high quality maps, and a good range of contemporary photographs. Two of the three battles took place in the far south-eastern corner of German East Africa, close to the port of Lindi. The third came much later in the campaign, after von Lettow had shrunk down his force to a core of experienced troops and invaded Portuguese East Africa. This means that there is an interesting contrast between the three, and in particular between the second battle – Nyangoa/ Mahiwa, which was the costliest of the war, and the third, Lioma, which involved von Lettow’s much reduced raiding force.
One surprising feature of this campaign is that despite often being outnumbered and lacking in supplies, von Lettow frequently went onto the offensive, in the hope of winning a major victory. Even the final battle of the three came after he had attempted to raid a British supply dump. Von Lettow’s advantages also become clear – by expanding his forces soon after the outbreak of war, he had an experienced army by the time the British mounted a large scale offensive in 1916. In contrast the British waited too long to expand the KAR, so at first the new units were inexperienced and didn’t perform well. However after a period of acclimatisation they did reach a similar standard to their opponents. The difficulties of bush warfare also become clear, with units able to slip past each other almost unnoticed in the dense undergrowth, the wet season preventing warfare for part of the year, and disease taking a heavy toll of pack animals and troops.
The Opposing Sides
Orders of Battle
Author: Gregg Adams