A unique assessment of the Great War in sub-Saharan Africa in all its theatres
The great conflict fought between 1914 and 1918 set Europe ablaze, but, as the definition of ‘world war’ implies, embraced battlefields where the colonial interests of the protagonist nations inevitably collided. How this occurred on the continent of Africa has always fascinated military history students of the period, not least because these campaigns unconfined by the stagnation of trench warfare, as was the case on the Western Front, were fought over exotic terrains by national, militia and native forces often commanded by able and imaginative officers on both sides. Much focus has been given to the campaigns in East Africa, which features in detail in this book, but also included is the campaign fought in the arid landscape of South-West Africa (now Namibia) and those which took place in Equatorial Togoland (Ghana Volta) and The Cameroons in West Africa. The ‘South African Rebellion’ is also described. The author of this book, John Buchan, a writer of great talent and economy of phrase, was primarily known for his superlative adventure fiction. However, he was commissioned to write a multi-volume history of the First World War which enabled him to reveal his talent as an historian and from which this single volume edition has been selectively edited. Buchan’s text, appearing in this form for the first time in this Leonaur edition, includes many excellent maps and has been further enhanced by photographs and illustrations which were not present in earlier publications of the text.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
From Banyo the enemy’s position on the mountain looked grim and stupendous, huge rocky boulders standing out prominently right up to the very top, and the sides of the mountain bristling with strongly built sangars. We began our attack early on the morning of 4th November. The infantry, advancing from different directions, covered by the fire from our three guns, worked their way up slowly and doggedly foot by foot, climbing over rocks and tearing their way through the thorny scrub and long grass, under a heavy rifle and Maxim-gun fire from the enemy’s sangars (breastworks), and concealed snipers among the rocks. By the evening most of the companies had managed to struggle halfway up the hill, there getting what shelter they could from the incessant fire of the enemy aided by the light of fireballs and rockets. Officers and men, exhausted and drenched with rain, hung on determinedly to the ground gained.
At dawn on the morning of the 5th they started climbing once more. Our troops having got directly under the first line of sangars, the enemy, in addition to rifle and Maxim-gun fire, started rolling down rocks and throwing dynamite bombs. All that day our men gradually worked their way up, capturing a small stone redoubt and sangar here and there. Owing to the paucity of gun ammunition, the covering artillery fire could not afford the infantry the essential assistance so imperatively necessary on these occasions.
Fortunately, a convoy arrived on the afternoon of the 5th bringing with it two hundred more rounds of gun ammunition, which, hurriedly sent out, enabled the guns to fire somewhat more rapidly till the upward advance of the infantry and their proximity to the summit rendered it too dangerous to continue their fire.
Darkness set in early that evening—at 5 p.m. Heavy clouds rolled up from the west, and an hour or two later a terrific thunderstorm burst over the mountain. Heavy firing and the explosion of bombs and fireballs still continued. There seemed reason to fear that owing to the exhaustion of our men from want of sleep and violent physical exhaustion they would never succeed.
A misty morning prevented our seeing what was happening as dawn broke on the morning of the 6th, but as only intermittent firing was going on success seemed assured, and sure enough as the mist dispersed a white flag could be seen on the top of the hill and our men silhouetted against the skyline.
The enemy completely demoralised by the determined advance of our men despite heavy losses, had during the night of the 5th-6th broken up into small scattered parties and fled in several directions. Owing to the darkness of the night, the noise of rain and thunder, and their knowledge of the intricate nature of the country, the majority of the enemy parties had managed to worm their way down the hill without being intercepted by our infantry, only, however, to run up against the detached posts of our mounted infantry who were guarding all roads in the vicinity. These enemy parties then fired a few wild shots and scattered into the long grass which covers the whole country, and where it is difficult to follow up and capture them.
On the top of the mountain an extraordinary sight presented itself. Scattered in all directions were broken furniture, burst-open trunks and tin boxes, blankets, bedding, clothes, tins of food, broken bottles of wine and beer, smashed-up rifles, gramophones, telephones, and a medley of every conceivable sort of thing. There were two fine cement-built reservoirs of water, a vegetable garden, caves converted into granaries and filled with mealies and guinea corn, cattle, pigs, and sheep browsing about, and chickens galore.
This was very clear and conclusive proof of the conviction of the Germans that the mountain was impregnable, and that they meant to hold it indefinitely and continually worry us.