31/12/1917 The horrors of war in German East Africa #1917Live

The outcome of this war will no doubt be decided in Europe, but the conflict nevertheless stretches its tentacles further afield. By now Germany’s overseas colonies have mostly been overrun, but in German East Africa Lettow-Vorbeck still flies the flag for the Kaiser, despite his isolation from the Fatherland and the much larger forces the British Empire is deploying against him. Lettow-Vorbeck’s army is mostly composed of locally recruited African troops, with a small number of white German officers in command. At this stage his main goal is not to defeat his enemies but to keep his army in the field, thereby preventing the Allies from transferring the troops he is fighting to the Western Front.

The armies deployed in East Africa are tiny compared to those seen in Europe. The casualties they suffer in combat are insignificant in comparison to those seen at Verdun or Passchendaele. But this is not some kind of clean war devoid of human suffering. For the native population of German East Africa, this war has been an utter disaster. Lettow-Vorbeck is keeping his army in the field by confiscating the food supplies of the local civilian population. As a result, famine and pestilence stalk the land. Some 300,000 people have died from the famine since the war’s start, roughly 5% of the colony’s pre-war population.

Lettow-Vorbeck is not just taking the people’s food: he is also taking their men. Some of these are press-ganged into his army to make up the numbers lost in the fighting, but more are seized as labourers. The poor roads and the vulnerability of horses to the Tsetse fly mean that men make the best carriers of an army’s essentials.

The British too are press-ganging a vast number of labourers from their colonies to serve in East Africa. Like the Germans, the British are treating these labourers effectively as slaves. They are also underfeeding them relative to their African soldiers, with the result that the labourers are severely malnourished and thereby vulnerable to disease. The African labourers pressed into service by the British have a higher mortality rate than infantrymen serving on the Western Front.

image source:

British troops and African bearers (Wikipedia: East African Campaign)

See also: How The Great War Razed East Africa

25/11/1917 Negomano: Lettow-Vorbeck smashes the Portuguese #1917Live

Germany’s Lettow-Vorbeck is being pressed hard in East Africa. The Germans had sent a Zeppelin airship to bring much needed supplies to him, but it had to turn back after learning that its intended landing site had been overrun by the British. Today the Zeppelin arrives back in Bulgaria.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s supply situation is increasingly critical, with his army (mostly locally recruited Askaris) running low out of guns and ammunition. Shortage of medicine is also a severe problem, particularly of the quinine that prevents the European officers from succumbing to malaria. But today the Germans achieve a victory that will allow them to fight on.

Pressure from the British and South Africans has forced Lettow-Vorbeck to retreat his force across the border into Portuguese Mozambique. The Portuguese have made some preparations for conflict with Lettow-Vorbeck since their declaration of war on Germany last year. However they appear to have gravely underestimated their opponent. Lettow-Vorbeck attacks the Portuguese today at Negomano, smashing their force there and driving them from the field. In the process he captures a large quantity of arms and ammunition, as well as medical supplies.

South Africa’s Deventer is leading the British pursuit of Lettow-Vorbeck. He had hoped that the campaign was coming to an end, but the Germans’ unexpected victory means that the war in Africa will continue.

image sources:

German forces attack across the Rovuma river (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

Route of the L-59 Zeppelin on its unsuccessful mission (Historic Wings: Das Afrika Schiff)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

23/11/1917 Germany’s Zeppelin safari aborted #1917Live

Germany has sent the L-59 Zeppelin on a mission from Bulgaria to German East Africa, to bring desperately needed supplies to Lettow-Vorbeck‘s embattled army. After crossing the Mediterranean the airship has flown south through British occupied Egypt. To avoid interception by British aircraft, it flies at maximum speed and zig zags along the Nile to throw pursuers off course.

The L-59 manages to avoid the British but the Afrika-Schiff cannot evade the elements. The cold desert nights freeze the crewmen but they also cool the hydrogen gas that keeps the L-59 aloft. In turbulent air this morning the Zeppelin nearly crashes but the crew manage to keep her in flight. Then by day the terrible heat of the Sahara wreaks its toil on the crew, making it difficult for them to concentrate or work, in some cases even leading to hallucinations. But the airship flies on, crossing from Egypt proper to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

The L 59 is now more than half way on its journey but then it receives an unexpected message by wireless. The British have captured the intended landing site of the L-59 in German East Africa, forcing Lettow-Vorbeck’s men to retreat into the mountains. A Zeppelin landing there would be impossible. The L 59 is ordered to return to Bulgaria.

The Zeppelin’s volunteer crew beg their commander to continue the mission: they want the L 59 to fly on to crash land in the mountains, so that Lettow-Vorbeck will receive at least some of the supplies. Any of the crew who survive the crash-landing will also be able to join Lettow-Vorbeck’s army. But Captain Ludwig Bockholt is adamant that orders must be obeyed. The L 59 turns about and begins to retrace its steps.

image source:

The L-59 in flight (Historic Wings: “Das Afrika-Schiff”)

21/11/1915 Germany’s Zeppelin safari #1917Live

German possessions in Africa have been overrun by the Allies. The one exception is in German East Africa, where German forces under Lettow-Vorbeck continue to resist.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s men are desperately short of medicine, ammunition and spare parts for their military equipment. British sea power makes it impossible for Germany to supply Lettow-Vorbeck by sea. But this is the 20th century and there are now other means of travel. Germany decides to send a Zeppelin on a mission to resupply their East African forces.

Today the L-59 departs from Bulgaria on the 5,500 kilometres journey to German East Africa. This will be a one way trip as the Germans in East Africa have no hydrogen to resupply the airship. The Zeppelin’s crew, all volunteers, will join Lettow-Vorbeck’s army and the L-59 itself is to be cannibalised for military equipment. As well as medical and military supplies, the L-59 carries Iron Cross decorations.

The mission is a dangerous one. The L-59, now nicknamed das Afrika-Schiff, will be travelling across British controlled territory. And no Zeppelin has ever made such a long trip without refuelling.

images source:

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Historic Wings: Das Afrika-Schiff)

L-59 (Historic Wings: Das Afrika-Schiff)

18/10/1917 Mahiwa: Lettow-Vorbeck’s pyrrhic victory

In German East Africa the British are frustrated by the continued resistance of Lettow-Vorbeck‘s army. The Germans are completely cut off from their homeland and have been driven into the interior of the colony but are nevertheless refusing to give up the fight. The campaign is becoming a game of cat and mouse, as the British hope to catch and annihilate Lettow-Vorbeck’s force while the German commander struggles to fight on.

For the last few days the two sides have been fighting at Mahiwa in the south of the country. British Nigerian troops have attempted to block the Germans’ withdrawal but have found themselves surrounded by the enemy. The engagement turns into the largest battle seen yet in the campaign, with large numbers of British forces and the bulk of Lettow-Vorbeck’s men deployed into a desperate struggle by both sides to gain a decisive advantage.

Today the battle draws to a close. The British have failed to block Lettow-Vorbeck’s withdrawal and have suffered horrendous casualties: something like 2,700 out of the 4,900 men deployed. However for the Germans too the situation has been a disaster. Their casualties are just 500 men or so, but this represents a significant proportion of Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces. Worse, in the fighting the Germans have used up most of their ammunition in the fighting; with modern smokeless ammunition almost completely depleted they are now reliant on obsolete rifles firing black powder rounds. The Germans have also had to abandon machine guns and face a surge in desertions from their African troops.

For all that, the Germans have escaped annihilation. Lettow-Vorbeck’s war continues.

image source:

German Askaris attack (Metropostcard: Africa and Asia  1915-1919)

27/9/1917 East Africa: Lettow-Vorbeck escapes another Allied trap #1917Live

British Commonwealth forces have overrun the coastal areas of German East Africa. South Africa’s Deventer has been left to command the forces mopping up German resistance. The British authorities in London are keen to bring an end to the East African campaign as soon as possible, so that the men and ships deployed there can be moved elsewhere.

German forces under Lettow-Vorbeck are greatly outnumbered and completely cut off from Europe. They are feeding themselves by living off the land and relying on what they can capture from the enemy for military and medical supplies. The German army here is mostly comprised of Askaris, locally recruited troops, with a small number of European officers who are at perpetual risk of succumbing to malaria should quinine supplies run out.

Nevertheless, Lettow-Vorbeck is determined to fight on. His men are now concentrated in the south of the country and he is contesting Allied advances from the coast. In difficult terrain the Allies have struggled against the Germans, but today they manage to take his main base at Nahungu. However Lettow-Vorbeck and enough of his men escape that they will be able to continue resistance. For the Germans, survival is victory.

images source:

German Askaris & map

Both from The Soldier’s Burden: Bweho-Chini – 22nd September 1917, German East Africa

17/7/1917 Narungombe: a British advance in East Africa thwarted

The war in German East Africa should be coming to an end. The Germans here are heavily outnumbered and completely cut off from Europe. British Empire forces have overrun the colony’s coast but the Germans have retreated inland. Now the British attempt to follow them, under orders from London to eliminate Germany’s last overseas colony as soon as possible.

This is not purely a white man’s war. The British are fielding troops from India and their various African possessions alongside European and white South African soldiers. They have also forcibly recruited a vast corps of Africans to serve as bearers in slave-like conditions. The German army meanwhile is mainly locally recruited Askaris, with a small number of European officers.

British forces attack the Germans today at Narungombe. The Germans here are outnumbered but Lettow-Vorbeck, the overall German commander is racing to reinforce them. The fighting is confused, with brush fires reducing visibility. The Germans inflict heavy losses on the British but Lieberman, the local commander, fears being overwhelmed. He orders a withdrawal, which comes as something of a surprise to the British.

When they join forces Lettow-Vorbeck is furious that Lieberman did not wait at Narungombe for his arrival. Nevertheless the battle has so battered the British that for now they must abandon any further plans to advance.

image source:

Askaris (Delville Wood)