The legendary German general of the bush war in Africa
For many the Great War means the Western Front, that gruelling, slogging stalemate of attrition that was the mud and blood of trench warfare. Yet this was truly a ‘world war’ fought between nations, many of whom were imperial powers with footholds, interests or colonies across the globe which were often in close proximity to those who were now their enemies. Conflicts took place on land, sea and in the air; the battlegrounds could be tropical jungle or bleached desert. For many of those interested in the war of 1914-18 these so called ‘side-show’ campaigns are, liberated from the standstill of the European theatre, of special interest. These were mobile wars where the talents of good commanders found the potential for expression and where often exotic terrain and colonial troops brought unique colour and singular events into being. Never was this more applicable than in East Africa where British and German territories lay ‘cheek by jowl’. The men who fought these campaigns included Africans, both black and white, who knew the bush well and were equal to its challenges. The author of this book was one of the most remarkable commanders in the entire war not only in the East African Campaign, for he was never truly beaten in battle though quite often the odds were decidedly against him. This was a German with a genius for guerrilla warfare whose achievements could rival the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia. Inevitably, his account of his experiences during the First World War, originally published shortly thereafter, make essential and riveting reading for all those interested in the subject. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.
This march was bound to entail the unpleasant consequence that, at the very best, all communication between Headquarters and the various units would cease. Anyone who has experienced these night marches knows also how easily some parts of the force may become entirely detached and cannot be reached for ever and a day. Fortunately I had at least some knowledge of the ground, as we moved across country to the new road, while we heard continuous heavy firing going on on Reata and Latema Mountains. A few stragglers who had lost their way in the bush came towards us; when we said we were Germans they did not believe us, and disappeared again.<br>
On the new road we found the dressing station. Here, too, the reports of the numerous wounded were so contradictory and obscure that one could only gather the impression of very heavy fighting in the bush at close quarters, but failed to learn anything of its various phases or results. By and by we got through on the telephone to Major Kraut, who, with part of his detachment, was on the Kahe-Taveta road, on the south-west slope of Reata Mountain. On the heights the fire had gradually died down, and his patrols had found no more trace of the enemy on Reata Mountain. Early in the morning of the 12th Major Kraut found some of his detachment again in their old positions on the hills: the enemy had fallen back to Taveta.<br>
When I arrived at Reata Mountain at six in the morning the great quantity of booty was being collected. Very great confusion had occurred in the close-quarter fighting by night. English dead, who were lying in the bush far in rear of the front of Kraut’s Detachment, proved that certain detachments of the enemy had got behind our line.
Individual snipers, hidden away among the rocks, maintained a well-aimed fire, and could not be dislodged. It was, however, clear that the enemy had been repulsed with heavy casualties. Both our own wounded and those of the enemy were got away without a hitch, and so were the prisoners. With the detachments that were moving from the vicinity of Himo through the dense bush to the Kahe-Reata road we had no communication, and could expect to have none for several hours more.<br>
In this situation it was regrettable that I had ordered the troops forming our left wing, who had been posted between Kitovo and Himo, to withdraw to the Kahe-Reata road. After giving up the high ground held by our left wing the Reata position would in time become untenable, the more so as it had no supply of water, which had to be brought up from a place an hour’s march further back. It was impossible to turn back the units of the left wing to reoccupy the Himo-Kitovo area as we were at the moment completely out of touch with them, and, as has been mentioned, there was no expectation of regaining it for hours to come. I decided to evacuate the Reata position, and after the battlefield was cleared I returned with the line that was nearest to the enemy to the water south-west of Reata Mountain. In the course of the day the other detachments reached the Kahe-Reata road at different points further to the rear and encamped.<br>
Headquarters moved to New Steglitz Plantation. The buildings are situated halfway between Kahe and Reata, on a slight elevation affording a distant view over the forest, which is particularly dense along the Kahe-Reata road. On the way I met Captain Schoenfeld, who reported that he had mounted his 4-inch gun out of the Königsberg near Kahe village on the south bank of the Pangani. After our withdrawal the enemy occupied Reata Mountain and for a while fired into the blue with light guns and rifles.<br>
During the next few days we observed the advance of strong hostile forces from the direction of Taveta to Himo, and the pitching of large camps at that place. Against the Little Himo, a mountain in front of our line which we were not holding, the enemy developed a powerful attack from the east, across a perfectly open plain, which, after a long and heavy bombardment of the empty hill, ended in its capture. Unfortunately, we were unable to move our troops sufficiently rapidly to come down upon this attack out of the thick bush. From the Little Himo the enemy frequently bombarded the Plantation building of New Steglitz with light artillery.<br>
Some weeks before, after a successful buffalo-hunt, I had enjoyed a hospitable hour in the few rooms of this building. The native who had guided us on that occasion had deserted to the English. Now it provided decidedly cramped accommodation for Headquarters and the telephone exchange. I myself was lucky enough to find a fairly comfortable shake-down on the sofa, with the cloth off the dining-table. Telephone messages and reports came in day and night without ceasing; but they did not prevent us from making the material side of our existence tolerably comfortable.