Mimi and Toutou arrive on the shores of Lake Tanganyika

The best source currently available for the journey of the Mimi and Toutou from Furungume to the Lake is the October 1922 National Geographic article written by Frank Magee. Spicer-Simpson himself submitted a series of notes and a lecture on the Expedition, but this has generally been agreed to be so filled with hyperbole and self aggrandizement that it probably offers little that is not covered better elsewhere. read more

The Battle of Lake Tanganyika, how the war on the lake was won…Part 2

Fungurume, lying some 100 miles further up the line from the Katanganese capital of Elizabethville (Lubumbashi), was the final railhead of the great Cape to Cairo rail project, a concept that had been the visionary quest of Cecil John Rhodes, master empire builder, and one of the greatest Sons of England.

Despite these august credentials, the end of the line, which Furungume truly was, was a miserable place. It happened also to be the epicenter of the regional copper read more

The Battle of Lake Tanganyika, how the war on the lake was won…Part 1

Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, in charge of Royal Naval operations against Germany’s overseas empire during the early part of WWI, sat in his Admiralty House office pondering with interest an appointment with an African hunter that had been pending for some time. Sir Henry had been informed that John Lee had arrived in London a day or two earlier and was  en-route to the Admiralty with an intriguing proposal to unlock the balance of naval power in Africa.

The read more

The Seige of Eland’s River and the Rhodesia Regiment

The last major action of the Anglo/Boer War involving the Rhodesia Regiment was in fact an all empire affair that included troops from Rhodesia and the various territories of Australia. This was the iconic Siege of Elands River that occurred between August 4 and August 16 of 1900.

The event probably lives on more fitfully in Australian military lore than African, since the structure and traditions of that institution remain alive and venerated, but is by no means forgotten read more

A summary of the East Africa Campaign of World War I

A German Schutztruppe Askari flag bearer

African Imperial history has in recent years become something of a discredited subject. The basic reason for this, I suppose, is that the political and social landscape of Africa has been so radically altered by independence that very little tangible trace of the period remains. It is also true that all the many failings of indigenous African administration have tended to be blamed on colonialism, and continue to be blamed on colonialism, to the extent that there is almost no aspect of that epoch that is not besmirched by association with one or other of the undeniable evils of that period.

It is not my intention, therefore, to write in defense of European colonial expansion, or indeed to deride it, but to suggest that all of it, the good and the bad, is interesting, and worth sustaining as a part of Africa’s history.

The East Africa Campaign of World War I

One of the most interesting episodes of  the African colonial period in my opinion is World War One, and the continental ramifications of an ostensibly European conflict. The Great War in Africa was fought largely by colonial troops, and most of these were men of colour, although a good number of South Africans and Rhodesians were also involved.

There were two principal fault lines that existed in Africa at the declaration of war in 1914. It was here that the two main European antagonist met. The first was in Southern Africa between German South West Africa (now Namibia) and what was then the British Union of South Africa; and the second, and perhaps more important, was in East Africa between British East Africa (now Kenya) and German East Africa (now Tanzania). Campaigns were fought in both arenas. The South West Africa, however, was a relatively clean and quick campaign that exacted a minimal loss of life on either side, and was concluded in the favour of the Allies. The Germans offered occasionally stiff resistance, but otherwise were overwhelmed by a superior South African force. The Germans also tended to take the view that there was little to be gained in diverting resource to the colonies in order to retain territory when an Axis victory in Europe was inevitable.  Thereafter Germany’s overseas territories would be returned along with all the acquisition of all French, British and Belgian possessions.

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Paul Emil von Lettow Vorbeck, German Commander, African Hero

Commerative poster of Von Lettow Vorbeck

The East Africa Campaign of World War One threw up a number of great personalities. The Campaign is filled with military and civilian characters that contribute verve and colour to one of the most interesting campaigns of World War I. Not least of these were the two principal commanders, General Jan Christian Smuts and Colonel, later General Paul Emil von Lettow Vorbeck.

Von Lettow Vorbeck was precisely the same age as his campaign counterpart, both men being born in the same year of 1870. Unlike Smuts, however, von Lettow was born into the minor Pomeranian nobility from which vantage he could look back on a family history of military service. He joined the German Corps of Cadets at age twenty and was soon commissioned as a lieutenant in the Imperial German Army.

From there von Lettow was posted in China before seeing action in the notorious massacres of the Herero during a period of suppression in the German African colony of South West Africa. He was later to command the German colonial Shutztruppe in Cameroon before assuming command of German forces in East Africa in April 1913.

The territorial garrison at that time comprised a small core of some 260 German nationals commanding a force of 2500 or so local Askari levies. This, it has since been acknowledged, was the strength of the German military system in Africa at the time. A reliance on native fighting men and good, and at times excellent German command, created a force resilient to local conditions, knowledgeable of local geography and susceptible to good leadership if the right levels of training and indoctrination had been applied.

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