British Campaigns in Africa and the Pacific: 1914—1918
by Edmund Dane
The Fall of Tsingtau (extract)
by Jefferson JonesThe African and Chinese battles of the First World War
Historian Edmund Dane wrote some excellent concise histories of various theatres of the First World War and the first work in this unique volume from Leonaur is one of them. There is much interest among students of the period in the campaigns fought in Africa which drew into conflict the regular troops of the principal protagonists together with a colourful array of colonial and imperial troops on both sides. This book covers Botha’s campaign in South-West Africa, the East African Campaign which pitted Smuts against the exemplary generalship of von Lettow-Vorbeck and the campaigns in Togoland and the Cameroons. Dane includes in his book’s title the campaign in the Pacific and although the single chapter dedicated to this topic is of undeniable interest the contemporary reader may judge the piece too short. To remedy this we have included an in depth work on the siege and fall of Tsingtau in China by an American journalist who was an eye-witness. This was a vital outpost for the Germans in the region. The Royal Navy was involved and the South Wales Borderers were engaged; the main assault, however, was undertaken by Imperial Japanese forces. The author’s forecasts as to Japan’s ambitions in the region turned out to be chillingly accurate.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
When war was declared in August, 1914, the Germans in East Africa were ready. Though construction had been kept back by native troubles, by administrative complications, and by engineering difficulties, the thousand miles of central railway from Dar-es-Salem to Ujiji had just been completed and opened for traffic, and, whether by design or by accident, there were in the colony a number of German officers who had come out to assist in the celebration of the event. They were, needless to say, extremely useful in increasing the native levies, and as a reserve. The German planters and settlers fit for active service, some 3,000 in number, were of course called out. Of guns, machine-guns, rifles, ammunition, and military stores of all kinds there had been a steady accumulation, for the chances of replenishment from oversea were at best uncertain.<br>
But besides the forces actually in the territory, the German administration had not ceased to carry on a propaganda among the Arabs of the Eastern Soudan, and confidently, and as it proved correctly, reckoned upon raising an appreciable total of auxiliaries in that quarter. In contrast with their attitude towards the Mohammedans along the coast, the Germans in these remote inland districts gave themselves out as firm friends of Islam, had provided for distribution a stock of green flags decorated with a crescent and a star, and neglected no means to turn fanaticism to profit. Appreciating, too, the importance of the Great Lakes as a line of communication, they had been careful to ensure for themselves a superiority in armed vessels. On the lakes means for shipbuilding and ship repairing had been set up. Materials and parts of war craft, shipped from Germany and transported up from the coast at great labour and expense, were “assembled “on these lake-side slips. The result was that, Lake Nyassa excepted, Germany had command of these inland waters.<br>
Not the least, however, of the German advantages was the fact that Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, commandant of the forces in East Africa, was a military leader at once intrepid and resourceful. He had grasped the supreme value of sound administrative work in campaigning, and most of all in campaigning extended over so enormous an area, and he had very clearly realised the conditions under which the coming struggle must be fought. The one mistake into which he fell, a mistake common to all Germans at this date, was anticipation of a rapid German success in Europe.<br>
Calculating upon that and knowing that the British, his chief antagonists, were ill-prepared, his plan was an offensive against contiguous British possessions, so that when the war as a whole had been concluded there would be the accomplished fact of a German occupation of these regions. The plan, as it proved, was a mistake. It made an inroad upon his resources he could not, as was later discovered, afford.<br>
Acting upon this plan, he disposed the troops under his command into three bodies: The first and strongest, under Major Kraut, was to operate across the northern frontier against British East Africa, occupy Mombasa, and Nairobi, and seize the Mombasa-Kisumu railway. The second, under General von Wehle, and with bases at Mwanza and Bukoba, was to attack northwards along both shores of the Victoria Nyanza, but, as its main purpose, to invade and occupy Uganda. The third, entrusted to Count von Falkenstein, was to operate to the south against Nyassaland and Northern Rhodesia, and seizing the frontier posts, to cut off communication between South Africa and the Lake region.<br> Contrasted fortune attended these enterprises. The operations against British East Africa, to begin with, met with a measure of success. On the other hand, the offensive by von Wehle turned out a failure, and that of von Falkenstein suffered an even more complete check.<br>
In August, 1914, the British had on the East African station only two light cruisers, Astrœa and Pegasus, and some guard ships. The cruisers, and this was the first hostile act in the campaign, on August 8 bombarded Dar-es-Salem and sank a floating dock and the survey ship Mowe. Later, as already noted, Astrœa was told off to escort transports from Capetown, and it was probably knowledge of that fact which caused the German cruiser Königsberg, swifter and more powerful than either of the two British ships of the cruiser class, to appear at Zanzibar. Pegasus, at the moment undergoing refitment, was disabled by Königsberg’s attack and the guard ships Cupid and Khalifa sent to the bottom. Owing partly to these losses, a blockade of the coast was not established until February, 1915, nearly six months after the outbreak of war. This delay, had they been ready to take advantage of it, was a great point in the Germans’ favour.<br>
Not, however, until later was blockade running seriously attempted, and the loophole left during the first six months cannot be said materially to have affected the course of the land struggle. What would have affected it, and decisively, would have been a German command of the coast such as would have prevented the landing of British reinforcements. In British East Africa the total of troops when war broke out was so slender that they barely sufficed for a defensive, and from the landward side the nearest British bases were El Obeid in the north, and Buluwayo in the south.<br> Practically, then, the British campaign depended upon the sea. The Germans, however, were never able thus to command the coast, and apart from that command their preparations and efforts were in truth a gamble turning upon their fortunes in Europe.