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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Askaris (Delville Wood)

21/5/1917 A minor success for the Allies in East Africa

The war in East Africa continues. The Germans here are cut off from their homeland but they continue to resist the Allied invasion of German East Africa. Their army is mostly locally recruited Askaris led by European officers. British Empire and Commonwealth forces are finding the war here tough going, as are their Belgian allies. Although they greatly outnumber the Germans, the terrain and climate are unforgiving and the Germans are adept at playing a game of cat and mouse.

For both sides, supplying their men is difficult. The Germans are living off the land, looting the colony’s civilian population and leaving famine in their wake. Both sides find the transportation of food extremely difficult. The colony lacks paved roads and has a very limited railway network. Supplies must be carried on the backs of men, which means that large numbers of bearers must be deployed. The British in particular have forcibly recruited a vast corps of bearers, whose numbers greatly exceed their men under arms. These bearers are underfed and suffering terribly from disease as they are moved out of their native areas. Their mortality rates are greater than those of soldiers on the Western Front.

The British have a stroke of luck today. Captain Max Wintgens has been leading a German raiding party that has spread chaos behind the Allied lines. The Allies have made great efforts to track him down, but these have been a costly failure. The British pursuit force sees a tenth of its 2,500 bearers die of disease and a greater number again become too sick to continue the campaign. Today though Wintgens himself is obliged to surrender to the Belgians, now suffering from typhus. However his subordinate officers escape with the rest of the raiders to continue harassing the Allies.

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Bearers (DW: Africa and the First World War)

Max Wintgens (Axis History Forum)

20/1/1917 Smuts leaves East Africa for London

South Africa’s General Smuts has been commanding British Empire forces invading German East Africa. At one level the campaign has gone well, with the invaders making great advances and overrunning large swathes of territory, particularly the area around the coast. But in other regards the invasion has proved less successful. A decisive defeat has not been inflicted on the Germans, whose forces in the colony remain largely intact. The British Empire forces have suffered relatively few casualties in combat but are experiencing a steady attrition from disease. Their press-ganged African bearers are experiencing an even higher attrition rate.

Now that the rains have begun, the invasion’s progress comes to a halt, giving the Germans a much needed respite. Still, with the coast overrun and the Germans confined to the interior, the process of mopping up enemy resistance should not take too long.

Smuts will not be around to see the final victory in East Africa. He is now on his way to London, to represent South Africa at the newly formed imperial war cabinet, where he intends to claim the benefits due to his countrymen for their successful invasion of German East Africa.

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Captured German Askaris, December 1916 (Africans And West Indians At War)