This pack is suitable for students completing independent study on World War 1 in Africa or for teachers to work through the material as part of taught lessons.
The East Africa Campaign of 1914-1918 by Dr Anne Samson
The war in East Africa started on 8 August 1914 when the British ship HMS Astrea bombed the wireless station at Dar-es-Salaam in German East Africa. The war ended on 25 November 1918 when the Germans under General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered to the British at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia.
Seven territories were directly involved in the fighting: Belgian Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo), British East Africa (Kenya), German East Africa (Tanzania), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Nyasaland (Malawi), Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), Uganda. Soldiers came from Britain, India, Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria, West Indies, Congo, Belgium, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Germany, Portugal and the territories directly involved in the fighting. In addition to the soldiers, many carriers or porters were commandeered or employed to carry food and equipment for the soldiers. It is estimated that 75 per cent of the men suffered from malnutrition, malaria, dysentery and blackwater fever.
There was no trench warfare as experienced on the Western Front. The war in Africa is noted for being a mobile war where very few battles were fought. There were mostly skirmishes. The biggest threat to the soldiers was the environment – disease, lack of food and wild animals. Although the French used black soldiers in Europe, the British refused to. However, the British did use black troops in East Africa, notably the King’s African Rifles, West African Field Force and the Cape Corps which were Coloured (Mixed-race) people from South Africa. The German force was mainly black Askari (soldiers/warriors) who were officered by white Germans.
Between the outbreak of war and February 1916, there was very little fighting in East Africa although the Germans were able to occupy the town of Taveta in British East Africa. In 1916, fighting increased in intensity when South African troops which were led by the Deputy Prime Minister, General Jan Smuts, arrived in the theatre. When he left in January 1917 he commented that there were only ‘mopping up’ operations to be completed but these continued until the war ended in November 1918.
The Germans were cut off from Germany when the last of the wireless stations was put out of action but were able to receive information through blockade runners which managed to get through the British blockade and through Portuguese East Africa whilst Portugal was neutral. The Germans also tried to send a zeppelin to East Africa but it failed to arrive because of communication issues.
There were also naval encounters in East Africa. The most famous are the sinking of the Königsberg in the Rufiji Delta, a task which took eight months to complete, and the struggle for Lake Tanganyika where the British sent two boats overland from Cape Town to Albertville (Kalemie) in Congo to support the Belgians. Other struggles took place on Lake Nyasa and Lake Victoria at Bukoba.
Aeroplanes, too, played their part. There was an airfield at Maktau in British East Africa from where the British observed German manoeuvres or located the German forces. Sea planes were used in the location and sinking of the Königsberg and the Belgians used planes to bomb the German base at Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika.
Dr Anne Samson is the co-ordinator of the GWEAA (Great War E Africa Association) and author of two books on the First World War in East, Central and Southern Africa. She is also Chairman of the Friends of The National Archives, London.
Books on the East Africa campaign
Edward Paice, Tip and run (2004)
Anne Samson, World War 1 in Africa: The forgotten conflict of the European Empires (2012)
Links to resources
Map of the East Africa Theatre
Harry Fecitt, various articles on http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/
A list of books, novels, poetry and film on the campaigns in Africa – freely available online books are linked where available.
Documents sourced from The National Archives, London