War in Africa

Africa 1919 - reserve

1914 - Germany had 4 colonies in Africa, small islands in the Pacific, and 400-sq mi China enclave called Kia-Chow in Shantung. The campaign in East Africa (today's Kenya and Tanzania and Rwanda and Burundi) was the longest in WWI.


Germany acquired Togoland in 1844, during the slave trade, next to British Gold Coast (Ghana) and French Dahomey (Benin). The German colony had only a small German police force in 1914. Germany had powerful wireless stations in each of the 4 African colonies, especially Kamina in Togoland, the most powerful in the world, to communication with ships. Britain wanted to destroy these wireless stations quickly, sent 2 companies of the Gold Coast Regiment to join French force. British forces in all Africa were 8,093 mostly native African soldiers, many barefoot, led by British officers.

1914 Aug. 6 - French seized Little Popo (Anecho) Aug 6, the first occupation of German territory in WWI, by 8 Frenchmen and 150 Senegalese

Aug 12 - Capt. Fred Bryant commanded joint Anglo-French force that took Lome in Togoland. On Aug 12 an African in British Gold Coast Regiment fired on the Germans north of Lome, the first shot in the African war.

Aug 22 - Bryant's force fought brief battle with Germans at Chra River. On Aug. 24 Germans blew up the wireless station and surrendered Aug. 25.


Kamerun had been another Gold Coast slave trade colony taken by the Germans in 1850. It was enlarged in 1911 with territory granted by the French in the Moroccan settlement that gave Germany access to the Congo and Ubangi rivers.

1914 Sept. 5 - French joined joint force with British and Belgians under Gen. Charles Dobell to attack Douala in Kamerun, its chief port and location of a wireless station. The force was supported by a naval squadron of 3 cruisers and a gunboat that began the attack Sept. 5.

Sept 27 - Germans blew up the wireless station and surrendered Douala, but most of the German forces retreated inland. British naval force led by Gen Dobell of small craft converted for war, with a river dredger equipped with a six-inch gun, sailed up Wuri river and took Ybassi Oct. 14, and a French force took Edea Oct. 26

1915 Jan. 2 - The British force took Dschang Jan 2, 1915. A second force of French under Gen Aymerich attacked from the east and took Dumie July 25

June 10 - A third force led by Col Fred. Cunliffe attacked from Nigeria and took Garua June 10, then turned south to crossroads town of Ngaundere June 28

German South-West Africa

This colony, later to become Nambia, was first settled by German merchant Adolf Luderitz in 1883, and became a German colony in 1884 to counter British colonization. The small enclave of Walfish Bay founded in 1878 remained British. Heinrich Ernst Goering, father of Hermann Goering, was high commissioner of the colony in 1886. The British had defeated the Boers in the first Boer War 1880-1881. In the second Boer War 1899 -1902, Lord Kitchener used brutal tactics to defeat the Boers; he burned farms, killed livestock, imprisoned civilians in concentration camps. The Boers unsuccessfully sought aid from the German colony, but the Boers were defeated and the British created the Union of South Africa in 1910 out of the former British and Boer colonies. During WWI, many Boers led by Louis Botha, PM of the Union of South Africa, and his military leader Jan Smuts, remained loyal to the British government, and agreed to provide troops to take German South-West Africa. Many Union volunteers served in Mounted Burgher Corps, similar to the Boer cavalry units of family and neighbors, wore colored bandana around neck. Arthur Harris, age 22, later to become "Bomber" Harris, served as volunteer in the 1st Rhodesia Regiment.

1914 Sept. 19 - In the Battle of Sandfontein, South Africans began to seize the Orange River boundary between the Union and the German colony in the south, but were stopped by the Germans.

Oct 9 - Rebellion began in South Africa by the Boers, started by Col. Salomon Maritz at Upington, led by Christiaan De Wet who was pursued by an army of 6000 under PM Botha, defeated, and rebellion ended by Nov. 15. Maritz escaped to Spain and returned in 1923, would lead pro-Nazi movement in South Africa until killed in auto accident 1940.

1915 Feb. - Botha led the Northern Union force from Walvis Bay to Karibib, the railroad center, that fell May 5. Jan Smuts led the Southern Force with Deventer and Berrange, took Gibeon Apr. 26.

July 9 - Botha moved on the colonial capital of Windhoek with its wireless station, that surrendered July 9, ending a campaign that cost the British only 500 casualties, Botha returned to Cape Town July 30 a hero.

German East Africa

This largest of the German colonies was commanded by Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. The colony had been first developed by Karl Peters and the Company for German Colonization in 1885, and the protectorate was confirmed by the Anglo-German agreement in 1890 that also gave Heligoland to Germany and Germany recognized British control over Zanzibar. The boundaries were drawn to include Mt Kilimanjaro in German territory at the desire of the Kaiser to have at least one snow-capped peak in his empire. Lake Tanganyika formed the western boundary with the Belgian Congo, Lake Victoria in the north bordered British East Africa near Nairobi, where a British railroad connected from the coastal port of Mombasa, and Lake Nyasa in the south bordered Portuguese East Africa. The British island of Zanzibar was off the coast from the capital port city of Dar Es Salaam, and a railroad ran west to the wireless station at Tabora.

1914 Sept. - Lettow-Vorbeck sent Tom von Prince to capture Taveta in the north, who sent his message of success back to Dar Es Salaam by African messengers on bicycles.

Sept. 3 - German cruiser Konigsberg secretly found harbor in the delta of the Rufiji 100 miles south of Dar Es Salaam.

Sept. 22 - the Konigsberg disabled the HMS Pegasus and packet ship Helmut at Zanzibar, then again went into hiding in the Rufiji delta. The British recruited H. Dennis Cutler and his pontoon seaplane to search for the ship, but it blew its radiator and had to be repaired with a radiator from a Model T. Cutler found the cruiser 2 miles up the river, but then crashed Dec. 10 and became a prisoner. The British set up a blockade of the delta with 3 cruisers. The German crew of the Konigsberg came down with malaria and typhoid. Another British seaplane flown by Lt. John T. Cull again spotted the Konigsberg on the river. The British had broken the German naval code and intercepted radio messages to and from the Konigsberg. The British found out about a plan to send a supply ship, the Kronborg, to the Konigsberg, but it was intercepted by the British and sunk, but the Germans salvaged part of its cargo. On June 22, 1915, The British built and airfield on Mafia Island near the mouth of the Rufiji delta, and two monitors towed from England were prepared to sail up the river with 6-in guns. On July 6, the monitors Severn and Mersey sailed into the delta to 10,000 yards of the Konigsberg and began firing with the airplanes overhead providing direction. On July 11, the monitors again sailed into the delta, fired on the Konigsberg, setting her on fire, and the Germans scuttled the ship. Later the Germans salvaged the ten 105mm guns, put them on RR cars, and used them against the British during the war. Capt Loof was decorated with the Iron Cross for tying down 27 British ships during the 255-day blockade of the Konigsberg.

1914 Nov 4 - At the Battle of Tanga, the British attack with a force of 8000 men was too slow, gave 1000 Germans time to build defense, and to defeat the British with the help of swarms of bees angered by the destruction of their log hives ("Battle of the Bees"). The battle became widely known in the press, with a song "Steaming Down to Tanga" written about the affair.

Nov. 28 - British battleship Goliath and a small force bombarded Dar Es Salaam that was seen as an unnecessary and brutal act on the part of the British, and raised German morale.

Dec. 25- Germans attacked and defeated British at Jassin, on the British East Africa border.

1915 - Lettow-Vorbeck increased his German force to 3000 Europeans and 11,000 askaris ( not a single askari would desert the Germans during the war). Despite the British blockade, the colony provided for itself, made gasoline from coco, vulcanized rubber with sulfur for tires, built looms to make cloth, produced dairy and livestock, made boots from leather tanned with mangrove bark, made quinine. German raids were successful, destroyed trains on the British railroad.

1915 June - British took town of Bukoba on Lake Victoria in the north and looted and destroyed, caused embarrassment world-wide for the British bad behavior.

1915 - On Lake Tanganyika, Germany had 2 gunboats, the Hedwig von Wissman 100 tons, and the Kingani 45 tons, with a 3rd boat the Graf von Gotzen 800 tons launched June 9, 1914. The Hedwig shelled Belgian 90-ton steamer Aleandre del Commune, on Aug. 22, 1914, the only Allied ship of any size that would have threatened German control of the Lake. In Britain, the big game hunter John R. Lee convinced British Sea Lord Sir Henry Jackson of a plan to haul two 40-foot motorboats from England to Capetown to the Lake. Admiral David Gamble was put in charge of the new Naval Africa Expedition, with Lee his second in command. The expedition would be led by Lt Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson. The two boats had been built for the Greek Air Force, but the British took them and Jackson christened them Mimi and Toutou, gave them three-pounder guns, and with 100 hp engines could make 15 knots, faster than the German gunboats. The expedition left England June 15, 1915, arrived at the Lake in October, waited until after the tropical rains, then were launched on the Lake Dec. 22, 1915.

1915 Dec. 26 - Mimi and Toutou defeated the German gunboat Kingani that had a 6-pounder gun.

1916 - Belgians completed construction of boat Baron Dhanis of 1500 tons, the Alexandre del Commune was repaired, the barge Dix Tonne was armed with 57 mm and 47 mm guns, the captured German gunboat Kingani was renamed Fifi with a 12-pounder. The little fleet was based at Lukaga, with Short seaplanes at Tongwe. On Feb. 9, the Fifi sank the Hedwig with one of its last 12-pound shells that hit the German engine room. In June, the Rhodiesian unit called Murray's column in the south end of the Lake advanced on German fort at Bismarckburg that was evacuated by Germans June 8. Seaplanes tried to bomb the Graf von Gotzen June 10, but did not hit anything. The Germans dismantled the guns from the Graf and scuttled the ship. The mission of the Naval Africa Expedition was a success, the British and Belgians controlled the Lake.

1916 Feb. 12 - Gen. Wilfred Malleson, the least competent general in Afrcia, lost a battle at Salaita near Taveta, with 6000 troops against the 1300 German troops led by Major Georg Kraut. Malleson bombarded the wrong trenches at the top a hill, missed the real trenches at the bottom, wasted two waves of troops against fixed machines guns.

Feb. 19 - Jan Smuts took command of the Allied forces in East Africa, with HQ in Nairobi. The British needed a quick victory, having suffered losses at Gallipoli, Loos, Mesopotamia. Smuts put together a force of 27,000, including the colorful 25th Royal Fusiliers, know as the Legion of Frontiersmen, led by Lt. Col. Daniel Patrick Driscoll. In the Legion were big game hunter Frederick Courtney Selous, 336-lb millionaire William Northrup, naturalist Angus Buchanan, photographer Cherry Keaton, Texas cowboys, an opera singer, Russians from Siberia, a Honduran general, a circus clown, a lighthouse keeper from Scotland, an Arctic explorer, and a lion tamer who was afraid of lions. The Legion had been sent from England without training, 1166 strong. The 129th Baluchis made of Indians and sepoys had been sent to Africa after they were blown up by the mine at Givenchy Dec. 19 on the Western Front, and afterward inflicted themselves with hand wounds to avoid fighting (318 such casualties by Aug. 1915). Also joining Smuts were Portuguese (Portugal had declared war on Germany March 9) and South Africans and Rhodesians. Smuts advanced on Salaita and Longido and Moshi by mid-March, 1916, but Lettow kept retreating and avoided a fight.

1916 Mar. 18 - At the Battle of Kahe, Smuts attacked Kahe but Lettow had taken a strong defensive position, inflicted heavy casualties, then withdrew that night. The tropical rains began to fall, and Smuts army began to fall ill to disease.

Apr. 2 - van Deventer had been sent south to take the Central Railroad, won a small victory at Lolkisale Arp. 2, but lost half his force to disease, was slowed by rain and mud, half his horses and mules killed by the tsetse flies. Major Kraut with 4000 troops attacked van Deventer with 3000 at Kondoa Irangi on May 9, then retreated, and van Deventer took a month to recover, could not help Smuts advance on Tanga.

Apr. 30 - The German supply ship Marie von Stettin slipped through the British blockade with badly needed supplies for Lettow

July 7 - Smuts took Tanga after Germans evacuated the town.

Aug. 6 - Smuts took Morogoro and now controlled the Central Railroad. The Belgians had sent an army of 10,000 from the Congo led by Gen Henri Tombeur, some from Lake Kivu where the Mountains of the Moon were a major source of the Nile, and joined by a British army of Charles Crewe, advanced south and took Kigoma July 28, and Ujiji (where Stanley found Livingston) on Aug. 2, thus controlling the western end of the Central Railroad, then took Tabora Sept. 19 as the Germans retreated southeast. The Belgians mistreated German civilians captured from Tabora, supposedly forced to pull wagons and load manure with bare hands, so in Europe, Germany imprisoned 23 prominent Belgian citizens.

Dec. - by Christmas, the Rhodesians pushing up from the south had taken Bismarckburg and Langenburg, and the Portuguese had pushed up from Mozambique, the Belgians had taken the west, and the British controlled the eastern ports, after the capture of Dar es Salaam Sept 3. Lettow and his 3000 Germans were surrounded by 80,000 allied troops. Disease had taken a heavy toll on both British and Germans, from dysentery and typhoid and guinea worm (from bad water) and chiggers (sand fleas infected the toes and nails of feet) and especially malaria carried by the female anopheles mosquito. Germans wore high-necked uniforms with long sleeves and pants, suffered less than British with open shirts and shorts.

1917 Jan.- Lettow retreated to the Uluguru Mts, and Smuts pursued, but was defeated by ambush and small battles.

Jan. 4 - Selous killed on a patrol. There was widespread news of his death in America, although little was known of the East Africa campaign. The Selous Game Preserve in Tanzania was dedicated in 1922 where he was killed.

Jan. 20 - Smuts was replaced by Gen. A. Reginald Hoskins.

1917 Sept. 21 - Germany sent the zeppelin L-59 with supplies for Lettow from Bulgaria. On Nov. 22 over Egypt, the zep received a feint radio message ordering it to return to Bulgaria, and it arrived at Jamboli Nov. 25, traveling 4220 miles in 95 hours, the longest sustained flight up to that time.

1917 Oct. 17 - The Battle of Mahiwa was the last big battle in East Africa. The British lost half of its 4900 troops, Germans lost 500 of its 1500, so Lettow claimed a "splendid victory" but his forces were getting smaller and he could not risk another such battle. He decided to release his women and prisoners and invaded Portuguese Mozambique with 2200 troops, crossed the Rovuma Nov. 25.

1918 Aug. - Lettow's German and African troops crippled by the world-wide flu epidemic.

1918 Sept. 28 - Lettow recrossed the Rovuma back into East Africa, and after the Nov. armistice, surrendered to the British, was taken to Dar-es-Salaam, then by ship to Cape Town and Rotterdam, then to Berlin.

1919 - In Section VIII of the Versailles Treaty, "Reparation and Restitution," Germany was required to return the skull of Sultan Mkwawa to Great Britain, but it was never found until 1954. The British wanted to reward the service of the Wahehe who had been defeated by the Germans in the 1890s and who had helped the British in the East Africa campaign.




revised 10/1/06 by Steven Schoenherr | WWI Timeline | Links | Topics | Maps | Reserve