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Outfoxing the Allies in German East Africa

By Charles Berges
Summer 2003 • MHQ Magazine

Led by imaginative commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, vastly outnumbered German and native forces were able to tie down more than 300,000 Allied troops in East Africa during World War I.

The contemporary view of World War I is of a protracted blood bath, with immense armies locked in stalemate from Switzerland to the English Channel. It is an image of tens of thousands of men sac­rificed in futile attacks by obtuse com­manders who seldom visited their own fronts. This view is essentially correct. Yet in peripheral theaters of war, far from general headquarters, opportunities ex­isted for bold, imaginative, winning tac­tics by charismatic commanders. Great results could be achieved with small loss of life. The most famous of these leaders was T.E. Lawrence. Another, almost for­gotten today, was Paul Emil von Lettow­-Vorbeck, who led a successful four-year guerrilla campaign against Britain, Bel­gium, and Portugal in East Africa.

The enormous territory that was once German East Africa is today the inde­pendent states of Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. Bordered by the Belgian Congo and Rhodesia to the west at Lake Tan­ganyika and to the north and south by British and Portuguese East Africa, re­spectively, the land had become a Ger­man colony in 1889.

The Germans had thrown themselves into the development of their possession with all their customary energy. Admin­istrators, engineers, teachers, and settlers poured in. By the end of the 19th century, the colony was thriving. Towns, hospitals, and schools were built and staffed. Land was cultivated into banana, coffee, rice, and rubber plantations. Two fine harbors, at Tanga and Dar es Salaam, were improved and linked to the interior by rail. Besides police, the colony boasted a small military force, the Schutztruppe (Protective Force), of about 2,500 men, the majority being native infantry, or askaris (askar is the Arabic word for soldier). In January 1914, Lt. Col. Lettow-Vorbeck arrived in Dares Salaam to take command of the Schutztruppe.

Born in 1870 into a military family, Lettow-Vorbeck was destined for the army from childhood. After graduating from a military college, he was commis­sioned and served in China during the Boxer Rebellion, then in German South­ west Africa, where he was wounded dur­ing the Heraro uprisings. Tall and spare, his air of command was softened by a natural courtesy and civility. Although he was a professional soldier and the son of a general, the strutting arrogance of the Junker class was no part of his make­ up. Given the time and place, he was to demonstrate surprisingly advanced views on race relations. En route to his new post, his ship stopped at Mombasa and, with his excellent English and man­ners, he charmed the British colony.

Once at Dar es Salaam, Lettow-Vorbeck wasted no time. He began a strenuous tour of the colony by train, motorcar, boat, and horseback, concentrating on the borders with Britain and Belgium. He met and listened to the settlers, many of whom were army and navy re­servists. Their backgrounds and knowl­edge of the terrain were soon to prove invaluable. Most of Lettow-Vorbeck’s en­ergies were devoted to correcting the de­ficiencies in his new command.

The basic unit of the Schutztruppe was the field company, 160 to two hundred askaris, 16 to 18 German of­ficers and NCOs, plus several hundred carriers. The units were self-sufficient, designed to live in the bush for long periods. The askari s were well disci­plined and dependable, but the force, having been trained to deal with native uprisings, was poorly prepared and equipped for 20th-century warfare. Per the German army’s table of organi­zation, each company possessed two 7.92mm Maxim machine guns, but used obsolete black-powder Mauser Ml871/84 rifles. Lettow-Vorbeck’s task was to rearm the force with modern Mauser Gewehr 98s and redirect their training. He began to recruit new field companies and integrate the police askari. He also recalled detachments scattered through­out the colony and concentrated them about Mount Kilimanjaro, near the British-German border.

All this activity was impelled by Lettow-Vorbeck’s sense of an impending world war. In such an event, the colony would be completely isolated and its tiny force could not defend the German bor­ders. But, Lettow-Vorbeck reasoned, by being constantly on the attack he could draw off large numbers of enemy troops who might better be employed else­where, for instance in Europe. Concen­trating the bulk of the Schutztruppe near Mount Kilimanjaro, where only 50 miles of bush separated his forces from British East Africa’s strategic Uganda Railway, would facilitate attacks against the line at small cost to him, but require large numbers of British troops to defend its 440-mile length.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s reorganization and strategies, however, appalled the gover­nor of the colony, Dr. Heinrich Schnee. Although aware of the possibility of war, he believed that his protectorate should have no role in it-a view shared by his British counterpart. It would be un­seemly if natives saw white men fighting each other. He expressly forbade Lettow­-Vorbeck to continue his troop concen­trations or plan aggressive action. While Lettow-Vorbeck recognized that Schnee was his superior, he believed that he had a higher duty to his fatherland. He sim­ply ignored the man.

When war came, the British made the first move. Their plan called for a diver­sionary attack at Longido, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, with a major am­phibious landing at Tanga, the more im­portant of the two German harbors and the nearest to the British East African port of Mombasa. Eight thousand men were assembled at Bombay for the operation, which included a battalion of Regulars from the Loyal North Lan­cashire Regiment, and the Kashmiri Rifles, made up largely of Ghurkas. The rest, the bulk of the force, were recruited from the Indian Princely States and were of the poorest quality. They were ill­ trained and ill-equipped, and unused to their officers and each other.

Designated Expeditionary Force B, the troops were loaded onto transports, but because the German fast cruiser SMS Konigsberg was known to be in the area, they remained in Bombay Harbor for up to two weeks until warships were avail­able for escort duty. There followed a hellish two-week voyage. Packed like sar­dines, the seasick sepoys were given unaccustomed food and no exercise. Even on arrival at Mombasa, no attempt was made to bring them ashore for condi­tioning. The force commander, Maj. Gen. Arthur Aitken, had exactly one staff member with knowledge of the African continent, Captain Richard Meinerzhagen. An intelligence officer who had served with the King’s African Rifles, Meinerzhagen was handsome, well edu­cated, and totally ruthless. He tried to warn Aitken that the Schutztruppe was a force with which to be reckoned. Aitken, however, brushed away the ad­vice, confidently predicting that “the In­dian army will make short work of a lot of niggers,” and the convoy, escorted by two cruisers, sailed for Tanga.

The landing was planned for Novem­ber 3, 1914, the same day as the Longido attack. From the outset, however, secu­rity was nonexistent. Everyone in both colonies knew of the impending landing. Among the better informed was Lettow­-Vorbeck, who had just inspected Tanga’s defenses and reinforced the garrison. Force B arrived off the Tanga coast on the morning of November 2. For the British there were long delays while the captain of the cruiser Fox called for a mine­ sweeper to clear the harbor (there were no mines) and Aitken and his staff pondered the best location for a landing.

They finally chose a promontory, Ras Kasone, about two miles from the town. Disembarking troops and supplies, a ma­neuver that the force had never practiced, proved exceedingly slow. Two battalions were finally landed about midnight. No probing patrols were sent out. Had they been, they would have found Tanga de­serted. The local German commander considered the town indefensible , had pulled his troops out, and was encamped a couple of miles away. The British could have simply walked in.

Lettow-Vorbeck, meanwhile, was 200 miles inland, at Moshi, the in­ land terminus of the colony’s Northern Railway. On receiving a telegram that the British had appeared off the coast, he, his staff, and a field company were entrained for Tanga within the hour, fol­lowed by more reinforcements.

Yet for all his quick reactions, Lettow­-Vorbeck would never have been in time except for massive British assistance. Disembarkation proceeded at a leisurely pace, and as the entire force and its sup­plies were not ashore until the early evening of November 3, Aitken post­poned an attack until the next morning. Lettow-Vorbeck arrived at the Tanga terminus outside of town at 3 a.m. on No­vember 4. He and two of his officers rode through Tanga on bicycles nearly to the beach at Ras Kasone and stared at the transports and HMS Fox. No one chal­lenged them. Lettow-Vorbeck returned to Tanga, brought his entire force into town, and made his dispositions. All was silent. 

The British advance didn’t begin until 3 in the afternoon. The troops blundered through completely unreconnoitered bush and plantations until they were within 600 yards of the German positions. There they  met  intense rifle and machine-gun fire . Despite heavy losses, the staunch North Lanes and Kashmiri Rifles pressed forward and ac­tually gained the town. Fighting was severe, and they were forced back by two newly arrived field companies from Moshi. HMS Fox fired her six-inch guns, apparently without any spotting, hitting a German hospital and dropping shells onto her own troops. The situation was made more chaotic for both sides by in­furiated bees, which, driven from their nests by bullets, attacked Briton and German with complete impartiality. Fol­lowing a sustained machine-gun bar­ rage, the entire German line rose and charged. The Indian troops, pinned down from the start, immediately bolted toward the beach and were felled in droves by enfilading fire.

As darkness approached, the bush was full of parties of disorganized and disori­ented sepoys. Realizing that his own troops were exhausted, and worried about Fox’s guns, Lettow-Vorbeck withdrew his force from town. He then led a patrol back and encountered a patrol led by Meinerzhagen. Fire was exchanged without casualties. From his observa­tions, Lettow-Vorbeck was convinced that the enemy was soundly beaten.

This was confirmed the next morning when Meinerzhagen appeared under a flag of truce, bringing medical supplies. He was received with courtesy and arranged the release of wounded British officers on their oath that they would not fight against the Germans again. As it was obvious that the British were re­embarking, Lettow-Vorbeck promised not to  open fire as long as they were prompt. Meinerzhagen accompanied German officers to the beach to confirm the departure. For some reason, Aitken did not reload his supplies, leaving a tremendous amount of booty for Lettow­-Vorbeck–enough rifles and machine guns to arm three companies.

So ended the Battle of Tanga. Lettow­-Vorbeck had beaten a force eight times the size of his own. It was the making of his reputation. He was the hero of the hour, a winner, and all the naysayers and irresolutes in the colony swallowed their fears and backed him resolutely. Settlers and natives rushed to join his units. Kaiser Wilhelm II sent his personal congratulations along with a promotion. General Aitken, mean­while, was sent home in disgrace, was reduced to half-pay as a colonel, and retired.

Lettow-Vorbeck was to fight one more traditional action before chang­ing his tactics. In December, the British had taken Jassin, a small fish­ing village and sisal plantation two miles inside German East Africa. He personally led the counterattack, which was repulsed by Indian Regu­lars. Lettow-Vorbeck then laid siege, and the garrison surrendered after two days. But at Tanga and Jassin, the colonel had lost a large proportion of his best officers, with no hope of re­placements. He therefore decided to avoid pitched battles and conduct a purely guerrilla campaign, largely against the Uganda Railway. Small fighting patrols and demolition par­ties crossed bush and desert to blow up locomotives and tear up track in a very successful series of operations. The ubiquitous Captain Meinerzhagen kept some of the line safe by posting poison notices around wells and littering the periphery with the bodies of dead birds and animals.

Far to the southeast, meanwhile, the British had been waging a campaign to destroy Konigsberg. The ship was sometimes recalled at sea, rendezvousing with German supply ships, or in the vast delta of the Rufiji River, which had been surveyed by the Germans prior to the war. They had discovered several chan­nels that could accommodate a warship. Konigsberg was in one of these lairs on September 18, 1914, when her captain, Commander Max Loof, received word that a British cruiser, HMS Pegasus, had entered Zanzibar Harbor, a mere 100 miles to the north. He put to sea on the next favorable tide and, at full speed, entered the harbor at 5 a.m. Pegasus was undergoing extensive boiler repairs and immobile. Loof easily shot her to pieces, and the cruiser quickly sank.

On her return to the Rufiji, Konigs­berg developed her own boiler problems. Loof conned his ship back up the delta, anchored and elaborately camouflaged his vessel, and set up observation posts, interlocking fields of light artillery fire, and machine-gun nests to cover the channel. He then had the offending ma­chinery disassembled, brought ashore, and dragged by native labor one hundred miles to the machine shops at Dar es Salaam. The repairs and replacement parts were fabricated with alacrity and returned to the ship by the same method. On October 30, 1914, before the parts could be reinstalled, however, a lookout from the cruiser HMS Chatham who had climbed to the top of a palm tree spotted Konigsberg’s mast. Chatham signaled other warships and all possible exits were blocked.

An impasse developed. Konigsberg could not get out; the British could neither enter the delta channels nor bring their guns to bear without spot­ters. A seaplane had been brought in from South Africa and the pilot managed to locate and report Konigsberg’s posi­tion, but soon crashed and was captured. Both sides now settled into a long siege, with the bottled-in enemy cruiser tying down a significant proportion of British naval strength.

This deadlock was finally resolved when the British decided to send two monitors, originally intended for the Gallipoli front, to the Rufiji. Named Severn and Mersey, they were dreadful sea vessels, nearly unmanageable in poor weather, but their shallow drafts would allow them to navigate in the delta, and their 6-inch and 4.7-inch guns were more than a match for Konigsberg. Ac­cordingly, the monitors were towed from England to Malta, to Suez, down the canal to the Red Sea, then around the African coast to Mafia Island, on which the British had built an airstrip. The monitors were made battle-ready, and on July 5, 1915, they began their trip up the Rufiji.

The Germans, who had been made aware of British intentions, gave Severn and Mersey a hot reception as they passed upstream, but both ships man­aged the run without significant damage and anchored in a position where they were safe from shore guns. The moni­tors fired as circling aircraft gave them the range. Konigsberg had shore obser­vation posts and replied. The fire was quite accurate, and both Mersey and the German cruiser sustained hits. So as not to be stranded by a falling tide, the mon­itors returned to Mafia for rest and refit. 

They were back on July 11. This time, there was no contest. Kdnigsberg’s re­turn fire was on target, but she began to receive heavy hit after heavy hit. Soon the ship was ablaze, the crew was evacu­ated, and the cruiser was scuttled, set­tling into the Rufiji mud.

During the siege, at Lettow-Vorbeck’s request, Commander Loaf had reluc­tantly released about a hundred sailors and marines to the Schutztruppe. The entire ship’s complement was eventually inducted into the land force under their own officers. By some happenstance, none of Kdnigsberg‘s main batteries had been damaged, and Lettow-Vorbeck had the 10 105mm and two 88mm guns re­moved and dragged to Dar es Salaam, where they were fitted with carriages and then distributed throughout the Schutztruppe. He now possessed the heaviest field artillery in Africa.

During the early part of 1915, Lettow­ Vorbeck had used the relatively quiet time after the Battle of Tanga to galva­nize German East Africa to vastly in­crease the production of foodstuff, cloth for uniforms, and leather for boots. The colony responded with a will and devel­oped a high degree of self-sufficiency, manufacturing its own motor oil, tires, and an effective anti-malarial drug in liq­uid form, dubbed “Lettow’s Schnapps.”

Lettow-Vorbeck set up a recruitment and training center at Tabora, in the colony’s interior , for Europeans and na­tives eager to join the Schutztruppe. At peak strength, the force totaled 3,000 Europeans and 11,000 askaris. In the interest of getting the best results from the best people, Lettow­-Vorbeck began integrating black askaris into white companies and whites into black units. His view was “black or white, the superior man will always outwit the inferior.” Soon the Schutztruppe was fully integrated. Whatever their original opinions, during sharp skirmishes and ambushes, the races learned to appreci­ate each others’ qualities. A mutual trust developed. Led by competent officers and inspired by their charismatic com­mander, who lived with them and shared their hardships, the Schutztruppe devel­oped an esprit de corps that remained undiminished throughout the war

Such a feeling of solidarity was absent in British East Africa. Since Tanga, hos­tility had existed between the settlers and the military. Particularly resented were British Indian officers, with their pukka hauteur. Everyone treated the se­poys like coolies. They, in turn, despised the King’s African Rifles. For the colony’s civil servants, life continued its leisurely prewar pace, with the governor spending his time fishing.

German attacks on the Uganda Rail­way, meanwhile, were unceasing. In a single two-month period, 38 locomotives were destroyed, as well as much rolling stock. Lettow-Vorbeck himself led a patrol of about eight men plus carriers that destroyed one locomo­tive. He later commented that while dy­namite was plentiful, the explosives he had been gifted at Tanga were far supe­rior. Encounters between British and German patrols were quite common. At the same time the opponents often had to deal with various factors besides each other, such as enraged rhinos and ag­gressive lions. One British officer ob­served, “It was like fighting in a zoo.”

British attempts to penetrate German territory in strength invariably failed. A particularly dismal affair was an opera­tion under Brigadier General Wilfred Malleson, who on February 12, 1916, led a force of 6,000 men well supported by field guns in an attack on a German-held hill near Salaita, just inside British East Africa. The Germans were led by Major Georg Kraut, one of Lettow-Vorbeck’s most experienced officers. Kraut, whose force included 1,300 askaris and Europeans, two field guns, and nu­merous machine guns, had first con­structed dummy trenches around the crest of the hill, and then deployed his men in concealed positions at its foot.

Prior to advancing, Malleson’s artillery plastered the dummy trenches with high explosives. His force then moved for­ward, with newly arrived and inexperi­enced South African troops at the fore. They were subjected to a withering fire from Kraut’s concealed guns, followed by an askari bayonet charge. The South Africans wavered, then scattered and ran for their lives. The situation was saved only by a Baluchi regiment that stoutly held the charge.

The unhappy state of British arms was about to change dramatically with the arrival of a new com­mander in chief, Jan Christian Smuts. Of Afrikaan stock, Smuts had been a Cambridge scholar prior to the Boer War. During that conflict, he became a Boer guerrilla leader. Smuts was mentored by Louis Botha, probably the best of the Boer generals. When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1911, Botha be­came prime minister and Smuts a leading member of his cabinet. In 1916, he was appointed a lieutenant general in the British army and sent to East Africa. Like Lettow-Vorbeck before him, Smuts wasted little time on welcoming receptions or official visits. He immedi­ately began a personal reconnaissance of the front around Mount Kilimanjaro. He approved a plan of encirclement devel­oped by one of his subordinates. Besides the British troops in place, Smuts had brought a force of 25,000 South Africans, aircraft, and a wealth of field guns. He had an overwhelming host and was a commander of intelligence, resource, and daring. Unfortunat ely, his opponent was a commander of genius.

On March 5, 1916, Smuts launched a two-column attack around the eastern and western slopes of Kilimnjaro. The objective was Moshi, and the intention was to trap Kraut’s force in a pincer. When the South Africans entered Moshi on the 13th no Germans were to be found. The only sign of the former occu­pants was the removal or destruction of anything of use to the invaders; even the railroad tracks had been carried away.

Smuts pressed eastward down the line, trying to trap Lettow-Vorbeck by enveloping him between columns. Each time, he was confronted with the Ger­man’s signature: an easily defensible po­sition well entrenched, with artillery registered on all approaches. The on ­coming British would be met with a hail of machine-gun and shell fire, suffering many casualties. After working around the flanks, they would find the German position deserted. This tactic would be repeated innumerable times.

Two weeks after Smuts commenced his campaign, the rainy season began, a two­ month deluge that flooded every river, destroyed every bridge, and turned every road and trail into a morass. In Smuts’ words, “I had read about it and heard more, but the reality surpassed the worst I had read or heard.” His sup­ply system broke down, and his troops went on half rations or less. Their reduced resistance and exhaustion left them even more vulnerable to malaria and dysentery; tsetse flies killed baggage animals by the hundreds. Still Smuts pressed on remorselessly. When Tanga was captured in July, there was nothing left of value. In the west, meanwhile, the Belgians crossed Lake Tanganyika and pressed eastward against stub­born German resistance. In September they captured Ta­bora, Lettow-Vorbeck’s training center and the colony’s seat of government. Having seized an enormous and fertile territory the Belgians then ended operations and settled into a comfortable occupation.

On September 3, 1916, Dar es Salaam fell to Smuts’ force, reduced now to skeletons by starvation, blackwater fever, and parasites. The ratio of sickness to battle casualties was 34-to-1, and thousands had to be invalided home.

The Germans had fared better, by virtue of being more accustomed to the climate, being better fed, and wearing uniforms that left only the face and hands exposed. Nonetheless, they were not im­mune to casualties and sickness. Lettow­-Vorbeck himself suffered from malaria and parasites, but kept going. One of his officers commented on his stamina after seeing him return from a 12-hour tour in the bush: “He arrived dragging his horse behind him, both of them foot­ sore, and I am not sure which one more resembled a skeleton. One thing is cer­tain. The horse will not last the next 24 hours, but the colonel will.”

With the capture of Dar es Salaam, Smuts believed his mission was accom­plished. Most of the colony was in Allied hands, and  both  railroads and harbors were secured, although his troops were in no condition for any further advance. Declaring himself the winner, Smuts ap­pointed his most competent subordinate and fellow Afrikaner, Brigadier General Jaap Van Deventer, to command. Then Smuts embarked for England, leaving a finely tuned, disciplined, fearsome enemy force somewhere in the bush. To replace his wasted South Africans, Van Deventer began to receive fresh troops–a brigade from Nigeria, regiments from the Gold Coast and the West Indies. Increasingly, the campaign was one of black men fighting black men in a white man’s war. In September 1917 Van Deventer, having received ample supplies and rein­forcements, began a two-column south­ ward advance with the object of catching Lettow-Vorbeck. Promoted to major gen­eral in August, the German commander, meanwhile, had begun arranging his de­tachments in echelon. This made it difficult to ascertain the rear of his force and more likely that the British would encircle only a portion of his units, thus subjecting themselves to a cross-fire. The two sides fought many skirmishes and one fierce battle, at Mahiwa, in the southeastern part of the colony. Casualties were heavy on both sides, but Van Deven­ter could absorb his losses more easily than could the Germans.

Lettow-Vorbeck was now desperate for supplies and sought fresh fields and relief from the ever-advancing British. Portugal had declared war on Germany in 1916, and on November 25, 1917, the Schuz­truppe forded the Rovuma River and entered Mozam­bique. The invasion of Por­tuguese East Africa had begun. Obtaining food and ammu­nition were Lettow- Vorbeck’s priorities. While two German blockade runners had success­ fully brought in much-needed materiel, especially shells for Konigsberg’s salvaged guns, Lettow-Vorbeck had been obliged to rely on booty from captured stores. Mozambique was to prove a rich hunting ground. The Germans’ Rovuma crossing had been challenged by a Portuguese column of one thousand troops, most of whom were killed in the subsequent fight. They had been well-equipped, and thus provided Lettow-Vorbeck with hun­dreds of new rifles and several machine guns, all with adequate supplies of am­ munition. Foodstuffs, medical supplies, and clothing were included in the haul. In Lettow-Vorbeck’s words, “It was a per­fect miracle that these troops should have arrived so opportunely as to make the capture of the place so profitable to us.” Mozambique was a very fertile area.

Corn, cereal, and fruit grew in abundance, and domestic animals and wild game were plentiful. The native population was friendly, regarding the Portuguese as cruel oppressors. They brought the Germans food and intelligence. For nearly a year, the Schutztruppe ram­paged through the countryside, destroy­ing forts, scattering or capturing garrisons, and living quite well off the land. When British columns joined the Portuguese, the old pattern of endless skirmishes, rear-guard actions, and am­ bushes played on. As the pressure be­ came too great, Lettow-Vorbeck again crossed the Rovuma, re-entering Ger­man East Africa in September 1918. As always, his askaris marched to one side, their wives, children, and the carriers to the other. Lettow-Vorbeck next invaded Rhodesia, much to the dismay of British authorities and the horror of settlers, who had been educated in the beastli­ness of the Hun.

On November 13, 1918, as Lettow­-Vorbeck was planning yet another raid on a British supply depot, one of his officers brought him a captured dispatch stating that an armistice had been declared in Europe. As the general had received no news from home in many months, he assumed that Ger­many had won. He was quickly disabused of the notion in a letter from Van Deven­ter outlining the terms of the armistice and the arrangements for the surrender of the Schutztruppe. Lettow-Vorbeck’s thoughts may easily be imagined as he re­ceived more details: the abdication of the kaiser, the mutiny of the German fleet at Kiel, and the very real possibility of revo­lution. So it was finally over, in a manner that Lettow-Vorbeck had never dreamed of. On November 25, he marched into Abercorn, Rhodesia, at the head of the Schutztruppe, now pared down to 1,400 men and, after a short for­mal ceremony, ordered his force to lay down their arms. Lettow-Vorbeck had fought brilliantly for four years and had tied down some 300,000 Allied troops in futile efforts to capture him. With a force never numbering more than 14,000 men, he repeatedly achieved his strategic and tactical goals. Now it was all over.

The admiration of the British for their former foe knew no bounds. Lettow­-Vorbeck and his officers were treated with extreme courtesy, and the German commander himself received a respect verging on veneration. On his arrival at Dar es Salaam, a car was put at his dis­posal, and with an accompanying British officer, he had the freedom of the town. The askaris of the Schutztruppe had fought with skill and bravery throughout the war and had maintained a steadfast loyalty to their commander. They had re­ceived no pay since the beginning of hos­tilities, and Lettow-Vorbeck now made every effort to correct this omission. He telegraphed Berlin time and again, but received no response. An appeal to the British for a loan was politely refused. The only remaining option was to issue IOUs, to be redeemed at some future date. So great was Lettow-Vorbeck’s standing with his men that they accepted these chits without question. Fifty years would pass before any of them was honored.

Lettow-Vorbeck returned to Germany early in 1919. As the only undefeated German general, he received a hero’s welcome wherever he appeared. His name was a household word throughout the country, and his exploits were a balm to a proud and humiliated people.

Leaving the army, he married and raised a family, and later entered poli­tics, serving as a conservative member of the Reichstag. While intensely right­ wing, he distrusted the Nazis, and when Adolf Hitler offered him the ambas­sadorship to Great Britain he refused. World War II cost the lives of both of his sons, and in the war’s hungry aftermath, he survived by carving wooden statues and by receiving regular food parcels from his old adversaries, Jan Smuts and Richard Meinerzhagen.

Lettow-Vorbeck died in 1964 at the age of 94 and was buried with full military honors. The German gov­ernment eventually voted to pay his askaris. Because few of them had kept a record of service, they were put through the German manual of arms, the suc­cessful completion of which resulted in a pension.

At the seafront in Dar es Salaam, peo­ple tend to meet at the Askari Monu­ment, the best-known landmark in the city. Erected by the German govern­ment, it depicts a heroically charging askari-a tribute to those brave men and their brilliant commander. MHQ

CHARLES BERGES is a physiotherapist and student of military history living in Brooklyn, New York. This is his fourth contribution to MHQ.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2003 issue (Vol. 15, No. 4) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Outfoxing the Allies in German East Africa

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