Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First World War Series- Part 4

The Battle for German East Africa
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was the commander of the German forces in the German East Africa campaign and over a period of four years fought the most successful guerrilla operation in the history of modern warfare. With a force that never exceeded about 14000 men he kept in check a force of over 300,000 British, Belgian, and Portuguese troops. Lettow-Vorbeck's plan for the war was quite simple he knew that East Africa would be a sideshow to Europe but he was determined to tie down as many British troops as he could to keep them away from the Western Front. 

He disregarded orders from Berlin and the wishes of the colony's Governor, Heinrich Schnee, to keep the colony neutral and as soon as war was declared began his preparations. His chief protagonist was the South African General J. C. Smuts who a few year earlier had fought a similar campaign against the British in the South African. The biggest contrast between the two forces was their make up, Lettow- Vorbeck favored professional German Staff officers leading African Askari and over the course of the campaign he forged this body of men into a formidable fighting force that easily out fought, out marched and out witted the British. Smuts by contrast was saddled with a ragtag army of a mixed bag of Indian Battalions, a core of South African regulars that were the backbone of the force and a colorful bunch of aged volunteers, named somewhat optimistically, the  Legion of Frontiersmen (see below)

Undefeated in combat, Lettow-Vorbeck was the only German commander to successfully invade British territory during the First World War. He finally received a message from the allied General Jacob van Deventer, informing him that an armistice had been signed. He agreed to a cease-fire and marched his forces north to Abercorn (now Mbala) where he surrendered his undefeated army, arriving there on 25 November. His remaining men then consisted of just thirty German officers, 125 German non-commissioned officers and other enlisted ranks, 1,168 Askaris, and some 3,500 porters. He returned to Germany where he and his Officers were welcomed as hero’s and paraded in their tattered colonial uniforms through Brandenburg Gates that were decorated in their honor. 

The Legion of Frontiersmen

Assembled by the South African War veteran, Colonel P.D. Driscoll D.S.O., they were officially known as the 25th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) but in East Africa, they simply became known as “The Old and the Bold” Even allowing for the fact they came from a  nation noted for fostering eccentric characters, it’s hard to imagine a more colorful and diverse group of adventurers than are found in this gathering.Their number boasted F.C. Selous, the noted hunter and naturalist; a large number of late members of the French Foreign Legion; a dusting of millionaire; one royal servant from Buckingham Palace; a circus clown; several cowboys from Texas; a handful of musicians from the dance band at the Empire; a lighthouse keeper from Scotland; an opera singer; a professional strong man; an Irishman who had been sentenced to death by the President of Costa Rica and who had, presumably, escaped; a band of Mounties; a music hall acrobat; a lion tamer and last but by no means least, an ex-general of the Honduran Army who designed and built them an experimental bomb throwing device which nearly annihilated the entire British High Command, who rather unwisely, showed up to witness it’s test firing. Whatever their reasons for volunteering one thing is for certain- they were easily the most romantic and remarkable group of fighting men ever to depart British soil to go into battle abroad!

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