The First World War was inevitably a global conflict because the rush by the principal powers of Europe to establish trading bases and colonies, principally during the 19th century, guaranteed it would be so. In Africa, German and British settlers were close neighbours and at the outbreak of hostilities were ready for immediate confrontation. National and imperial forces were dispatched to augment local military operations. This book concerns the struggle for East Africa. It was written, drawing on memory and diary entries, by a British senior staff officer, a brigadier-general, who was central to the organisation of the British campaign and who has left posterity a concise, thorough and detailed historical overview of it from the British perspective. This book qualifies as a campaign history rather than a first hand account and is recommended to readers seeking that perspective on this interesting ‘sideshow’ theatre of the war.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The attack on Tanga was a miserable failure. Delays occurred which did away with the element of surprise on which the success of the enterprise, as planned, largely depended. The enemy were able to get troops down from the Moschi area to defend the town, which they did successfully, defeating the attack with heavy loss. There was nothing to be done but re-embark the troops and depart to British East Africa. Whether the failure was due to bad staff work, failure on the part of the troops, want of whole-hearted co-operation on the part of the navy, or a combination of all three, need not be discussed here. Considering the numbers of troops available for the attack it is not surprising that the failure to take the place was regarded by the Protectorate force as confirmation of the estimate they had formed of Indian troops. This estimate was still further confirmed by what took place in an action at Longido, on the west of Kilimanjaro at about the same time. A mixed force of Protectorate and Indian troops came in contact with a German force there, and the behaviour of some of the Indian troops did not favourably impress the Protectorate men.
After another action at Jassin, on the border near the coast, at the end of the year, which was also a failure, though very nearly a success, as had been the attack on Tanga in spite of unfortunate happenings, the force had to resign itself to a defensive role for many months. A successful attack was made on Bukoba, on the west shore of Lake Victoria, and there were many minor actions along the frontier, some successful, some the reverse.
For the greater part of the year 1915 the situation changed very little, the two forces faced one another, neither being sufficiently strong to risk an invasion in force. The Uganda railway, the only line of communication between the interior of the country and the coast, was very vulnerable, and that it should be preserved from serious damage was of vital importance; its defence was, therefore, one of the chief tasks of the force. For many miles the track runs through thick bush country, almost uninhabited. The bush grows close up to the line and stretches for many miles on each side, on the south right down to the German frontier. The enemy mode of attack was to send raiding parties from their posts along the frontier to lay mines in the permanent way. The activity of these raiding parties was curtailed by the absence of water in the bush, for they had to carry sufficient to last them to the railway and back.
The mines they laid were arranged to explode when a train passed over them, and to minimise the damage empty vans were run in front of the engines, so that if an explosion did occur the damage was done to a comparatively unimportant van and not to a vitally important engine. To prevent these raiding parties reaching the line at all was impossible, the most that could be done was to hold all important points, such as bridges, with fixed garrisons, and patrol the line constantly with parties of armed men, with the twofold object of intercepting the raiders and discovering and rendering harmless any mines they had laid. There were a good many encounters with raiding parties either on the line, or in the bush when they were being followed up on their way back, or intercepted on their way to the line. Following up was very difficult; it was very hard to find tracks in the dry bush. Bloodhounds were tried, but the dryness of the bush was too much for them also.
As a general rule the raiding parties came from the enemy posts on the frontier, did their work and went straight back, but one party discovered a water hole to the north of the line and settled down there for some days. Our troops knew there was a party about, but naturally hunted for them to the south of the line. It was a bold and resourceful move on the part of the Hun. He caused a good many derailments with his mines, in spite of careful patrolling, but no really serious damage was done, and the defence of the railway was a success. The loyalty of some of the Indians in British East Africa came under suspicion at this time. The railway was using wood as fuel for their engines. This was cut and collected by Indian contractors, who, with the natives employed in cutting the wood, lived in huts along the railway. These men were suspected of harbouring the enemy raiding parties, and some were tried and severely punished. There was extra reason for doubting the loyalty of some of the Indians in the country as a great deal of correspondence with the seditious party in India was going on. But it is a little difficult to see what an unarmed Indian is to do when a German with a party of armed men comes to his hut and demands water and shelter.
In the latter part of the year the energy of the force was directed towards preparing for an advance into German territory, and as soon as sufficient troops could be made available. There are not many lines by which any considerable force can pass from British to German East Africa or vice versa. Along the coast an advance is possible, when, for about eighty miles, the dry bush country intervenes. Beyond this there are the two routes, one on either side of Kilimanjaro. The route that had most attractions for the general in command of the force was that to the east of the great mountain. It led straight to Moschi and the head of the Usambara railway. By it Tanga could be reached down the valley of the Pangani River, or an advance made over practicable country to the Central railway, and the main settlements of the German colony. The enemy knew that it was only a matter of time before an advance would be made, and that we were only waiting until sufficient troops could be collected to ensure success.
The starting of a railway from Voi, a station on the Uganda railway about a hundred miles from Mombasa, showed him by what route the advance would be made. To oppose such advance the enemy took up a position on the north-eastern spurs of Kilimanjaro, at Taveta, an area actually on the British side of the frontier. In addition to the railway the road from Nairobi to Longido was put in order that a force might be placed there to advance south-eastward round the mountain, and cut in behind the Taveta position, the idea being that the two advances would be made together; the main force from rail-head on Taveta, the subsidiary force from Longido. The Longido route was not a very favourable line for the advance of a large force as there were doubts about the supply of water.
By the end of November the G.O.C. was able to report that the arrangements for the concentration of the force, as soon as the fresh troops arrived, were complete; the railway was well advanced; camps were ready, and transport had been collected. There was already a considerable force at rail-head facing the enemy in the Taveta position, with an outpost on a detached hill at Salaita. Early in December the enemy succeeded in surprising the detachment at Salaita, drove them out, and occupied the hill themselves. There they remained until the general advance took place three months later.