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  • The African Fronts

    Up till now there has been surprisingly little attention at ACG for one of the most exciting theatres in WW1 (four actually): The African Fronts.
    I hope to end that omission here by starting this thread and providing some basic framework as well as some pointers in its first post.

    Germany had four colonial possessions in Africa in 1914: Togo; Cameroon; South West Africa and German East Africa.
    At the outbreak of the war their situation seemed to be hopeless, facing these factors:
    • The colonies were thousands of kilometers away form the Reich
    • the connecting seas and oceans were guarded by the Royal Navy, so support from the Fatherland would be out of the question
    • they were sparsely populated and garrisoned by Germans
    • they were practically surrounded by Entente colonies, with a more numerous population
    Perhaps the best what could be achieved given these odds, was to try and tie as many Entente troops in Africa which then would be unavailable for the fronts in Europe. The trick would be hold on till Germany has won the war in Europe, after which a peace congress would be organised and the situation in Africa could be redressed. In order to make this work there are several possible strategies:
    1. Wage a conventional war, as far as such a thing is possible in Africa. In the face of the above factors, would this be a viable strategy, certainly if the war was going to last longer?
    2. Wage a guerrilla war.
    3. Incite a revolt amongst the indigenous populations, set them up against their colonial overlords. Of course this is a two sided sword: how would you manage to control your own population?
    NB, these are only a couple of possible scenario's.
    So what happens/ happened next?
    Reflections on all sides are appreciated: Allied; German; civilian; indigenous; economic; what would you have done; how did it happen in history?
    BoRG

    You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

  • #2
    Isn't this where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn came in?
    ARRRR! International Talk Like A Pirate Day - September 19th
    IN MARE IN COELO

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    • #3
      Originally posted by jose50 View Post
      Isn't this where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn came in?
      Very original angle indeed but yes, a bit further along the (time)line in German East Africa's waters, riverine warships slugged it out and this is where the 'African Queen' was set.



      One of the surprising, if not to say exciting aspects of WW1's African Front
      Last edited by Colonel Sennef; 05 Apr 10, 10:55.
      BoRG

      You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

      Comment


      • #4
        East Africa was one of the little reported and unknown theater of operations of WWI. It was also one of the theaters that the Germans had a lot of success, thanks to Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. He was the leader of German resistance in Africa and a major thorn in the side of Britain, Belgium and France in Africa. A first class military professional.
        "Ask not what your country can do for you"

        Left wing, Right Wing same bird that they are killing.

        you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Half Pint John View Post
          East Africa was one of the little reported and unknown theater of operations of WWI. It was also one of the theaters that the Germans had a lot of success, thanks to Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. He was the leader of German resistance in Africa and a major thorn in the side of Britain, Belgium and France in Africa. A first class military professional.
          Fully agree.
          And then consider that German East Africa was the relatively best reported of the four African fronts.

          Von Lettow-Vorbeck as a guerrilla leader covered an area bigger than T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia).
          I expect and hope that within our lifetime (next 50 year or so) a major movie will be made of Lettow-Vorbeck in East Africa, like David Lean did for Lawrence of Arabia in the desert.
          Having said that, I found von Lettow-Vorbeck as a writer not nearly as interesting as T.E. Lawrence in his 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.

          BoRG

          You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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          • #6
            I remember in maybe the mid 90s playing a fun little wargame included in an issue of Strategy and Tactics(?) It was called Sideshow I believe. It was extremely fun for my 17 year old self and 16 year old cousin I remember and it actually taught me a lot, before then I think I only even knew there was fighting in Africa because of some episodes of "The Young Indiana Jones."
            Кто там?
            Это я - Почтальон Печкин!
            Tunis is a Carthigenian city!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Stryker 19K30 View Post
              I remember in maybe the mid 90s playing a fun little wargame included in an issue of Strategy and Tactics(?) It was called Sideshow I believe. It was extremely fun for my 17 year old self and 16 year old cousin I remember and it actually taught me a lot, before then I think I only even knew there was fighting in Africa because of some episodes of "The Young Indiana Jones."

              Young Indiana Jones, now that brings back sweet memories
              And you are right, many of them were set in Africa during WW1: in Gabon (escorting Schweitzer into alien detention), in the Congo and German East Africa IIRC.
              IMO very well made series, entertaining, historically correct and with a often philosophical deeper layer. Indy got to meet all sorts of historical people, like Albert Schweitzer, Jan Smuts, Frederick Selous and von Lettow-Vorbeck who all shared with him their vision on life and their wisdom
              BoRG

              You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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              • #8
                By the way here is a review of the "Sideshow" game I was talking about:

                http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardga...t-africa-1914-

                Well not so much a review, but a description it was in Issue 135 of S&T.

                Last edited by Stryker 19K30; 06 Apr 10, 07:50.
                Кто там?
                Это я - Почтальон Печкин!
                Tunis is a Carthigenian city!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Sideshow: The Campaign for German East Africa 1914 -1918

                  Originally posted by Stryker 19K30 View Post
                  By the way here is a review of the "Sideshow" game I was talking about:

                  http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardga...t-africa-1914-

                  Well not so much a review, but a description it was in Issue 135 of S&T.
                  Wow, that is impressive!
                  I had a look at the board and IMO it represented the wide empty spaces of the conflict in Africa very well
                  Equally impressive were the 50 gameturns of one month
                  Space and timewise it thus seems to give full credit to (some of) the characteristics of the campaign in German East Africa.
                  I was equally taken in by the magazine's nice cover of the river crossing.
                  Indeed a colourful game in many ways
                  BoRG

                  You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by MajorSennef View Post
                    Up till now there has been surprisingly little attention at ACG for one of the most exciting theatres in WW1 (four actually): The African Fronts.........
                    Hello MajorSennef,

                    I surely do not want to hijack your very interesting thread - indeed I do hope to see some great posts - but may I say that it was not "four" Fronts but rather "five" - I do need to show respect to my Greatgrandfather who fought in China besides having had his share in DSWA.
                    As in regards to the military involvement as such - I might tend to say that the defense of Tsingtau against the Japanese was more outstanding then the battle achievements of Lettow -Vorbeck. Which however has no say - in regards to the amazing effect - that Lettow's guerilla warfare managed to bind IIRC almost 200,000 Commenwealth and Colonial troops to Africa - that were not available as such to other fronts.

                    Below is a Foto of a Schutztruppler of a German reinactors group - together with an USMC of 1917.
                    http://www.altearmee.org/Bilder2007.htm



                    Regards
                    Kruska
                    Last edited by Kruska; 20 Jun 10, 18:17.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Kruska View Post
                      Hello MajorSennef,

                      I surely do not want to hijack your very interesting thread - indeed I do hope to see some great posts - but may I say that it was not "four" Fronts but rather "five" - I do need to show respect to my Greatgrandfather who fought in China besides having had his share in DSWA.
                      As in regards to the military involvement as such - I might tend to say that the defense of Tsingtau against the Japanese was more outstanding then the battle achievements of Lettow -Vorbeck. Which however has no say - in regards to the amazing effect - that Lettow's guerilla warfare managed to bind IIRC almost 200,000 Commenwealth and Colonial troops to Africa - that were not available as such to other fronts.

                      Below is a Foto of a Schutztruppler of a German reinactors group - together with an USMC of 1917.
                      http://www.altearmee.org/Bilder2007.htm

                      Regards
                      Kruska
                      Hallo Kruska,

                      Please don't worry about the hijacking. I asked for creativity and I see you contributed in a very creative way. Nice site you linked to BTW
                      I would like to focus on your remark how Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (PLV) tied 200,000 Commonwealth and colonial troops to Africa.
                      There is a school that states that these ‘troops’ wouldn’t have been sent to the Western Front anyway, them being for the main part local levies and porters. Following this argument, PLV did not tie anything/very much to Africa.

                      I can follow this school's argument, but would, like you, maintain that aside from porters many of PLV’s opposing forces where composed of South African, Indian and other British and French colonial troops who did serve in the trenches of the Western Front.
                      So IMO, PLV with the little he had achieved a success out of proportion. Besides, but I would have to look into that a bit deeper: PLV could very well have been quite a morale booster for the German and Central's home front, much like Lawrence of Arabia was for the Entente’s war effort.

                      On top of that: what other options did PLV have realistically open to him?
                      ‘Sit still and hope for the best’ as the German civil authorities would have liked him to do?
                      IMO he eventually made the right choice waging the guerrilla war that he managed to maintain till well after the end of WW1, unlike his counterparts in South West Africa; Cameroon and Togo.
                      BoRG

                      You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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                      • #12
                        Interesting biography of PLV here.

                        He did tie up a lot of forces guarding forts and railroads, plus those pursuing him. This wikipedia article claims 400,000 plus 600,000 bearers (near end). Sounds to me like someone counted up every single guard, cook, and clerk within 1000 miles of PLV as being part of the effort. The rest of the article gives a nice overview of the campaign.

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                        • #13
                          Young Indiana ... that was a great series. There were 4 or 5 episodes about Africa, and they were the best ones, IMHO.

                          East Africa was a study in itself, the other three were nothing special. And here is some trivia for you; Micheal Palin of Monty Hall fame went on a journey from "Pole to Pole" in the 1990s, and traveled down that big lake. The largest and best ship operating on that lake was the one that they Germans had brought in and then scuttled during this very campaign.

                          I forgot the name of that ship.

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                          • #14
                            The elements

                            Originally posted by Exorcist View Post
                            Young Indiana ... that was a great series. There were 4 or 5 episodes about Africa, and they were the best ones, IMHO.

                            East Africa was a study in itself, the other three were nothing special. And here is some trivia for you; Micheal Palin of Monty Hall fame went on a journey from "Pole to Pole" in the 1990s, and traveled down that big lake. The largest and best ship operating on that lake was the one that they Germans had brought in and then scuttled during this very campaign.

                            I forgot the name of that ship.
                            Exorcist, I share your enthusiasm for Young Indiana, in fact just ordered all three DVD sets at Amazon

                            I never seize to be amazed by the big role riverine operations play in the East African campaign. But taking the nature of land travel in Africa into consideration, it is easy to understand why travel, let alone campaigning, over water is so much more preferable.

                            As with regards to your remark on Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole episode, my memory serves me ill, but he may have sailed with the Liemba, (originally the Graf von Götzen) a ship that indeed was scuttled by the Germans in 1916 but salvaged by the British navy divers a couple of years after the war, rechristened Liemba and put into active service again. Given the very high level of German engineering I would not be surprised if it still sails.

                            Liemba.jpg

                            Now that we have entered the realm of the elements in the African fronts, at some later stage in this thread I would like to delve into the role of airpower in the campaigns as well.
                            It was only during my earlier posting in Africa that I got the idea to take flying lessons.
                            The physical impression that Africa gave me was that it is so huge and it takes you so long to cover a distance over land, that flying is the preferred mode of transport in Africa.
                            I really would like to delve a bit deeper into this aspect to see what role planes played in reconnaissance and perhaps even bombing of enemy forces and/or resupplying own.
                            Last edited by Colonel Sennef; 10 Apr 10, 11:17. Reason: adding picture
                            BoRG

                            You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Great thread...I 'll just recommend two of several books:

                              "Tip and Run" by Edward Paice
                              and "The Ghosts of Africa" by William Stevenson (Historical novel)

                              Regards,
                              Bartlesby

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