A German Guerrilla Chief in Africa

David Rooney describes the extraordinary exploits of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the German soldier who kept the Allies tied down in Africa throughout the Great War.

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, circa between 1900 and 1920. By Walther Dobbertin.The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914, which led directly to the outbreak of war in Europe, had dire consequences in Africa as well - not least for the German and Austrian settlers in German East Africa, modern Tanzania.

Germany had annexed this territory as recently as 1885, after the German nationalist Karl Peters had travelled through the country, which was nominally under British suzerainty. By offering crates of guns or gin - those powerful agents of colonial expansion - Peters had obtained the thumbprints of many chiefs on bogus documents which purported to hand over their land to Germany. For political reasons in 1884 Bismarck decided to accept these dubious deals. At the same time, he consolidated his hold on German South West Africa,(Namibia), and the Cameroons in West Africa. After only thirty years of German occupation and development, as soon as war was declared in August 1914, all these territories were vulnerable to British attack.

While Britain had begun to develop Kenya, building the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi, Germany had developed the port of Dar es Salaam, and had built a railway from there to Tabora, and onwards to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika. Germany also built another line, from the port of Tanga along the mountain range which led up to Taveta and Moshi close to Mount Kilimanjaro. Here, where the majority of German settlers lived, the most significant initial fighting was to take place.

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