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Thread: Imperial German army in East Africa (early 20th century)

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    Junior Member Spike 762's Avatar
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    Default Imperial German army in East Africa (early 20th century)

    I am not the author of these photographs, and do not claim to be.

    All European powers had colonies, and Imperial Germany had claims in East Africa. There's a lot of truly fascinating history behind German colonialism, and it was a big part of World War One. Here are some original photos and awesome paintings of the German troops, and their local "Askari" bretherin.





































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    1) Gen Lettow-Vorbeck
    2) A German Schutztruppe from German East Africa
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    I think I know everything, but I don't lightfire's Avatar
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    any info on this battle?

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    Very interesting topic.Superb pictures,many thanks.

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    Junior Member MostlyHarmless's Avatar
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    Great stuff. In what capacity did the African troops serve with the German colonials? Where they friendly with one another?

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    Default German Cruiser Konigsberg

    1) In her Glory
    2) Rufiji Delta, Tanganyika circa 1948

    http://www.manitobamilitaryaviationm...rgIncident.pdf
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    Senior Member nemowork's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lightfire View Post
    any info on this battle?
    Its probably the Battle of Tanga in 1914 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tanga Definately one of the British armies least fine moments, the British took over a thousand casualties for a few dozen German, many of them due to disturbing hordes of Bees.

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    Junior Member Spike 762's Avatar
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    To answer some of your questions, the Germans and locals worked very closely together, and were well known to be excellent, professional fighters. Germany did not equip it's colonial partners with second-rate equipment, they gave the Askari's all the latest and greatest military technology.. in this case, it would be the Gew88 rifle (later, small numbers of Gew98's), the Kar88 carbine, artillery systems, uniforms and training. In many of the pictures, you can see the Askari troops in the same uniforms and with the same equipment as their German counterparts.

    Of course where ever there is colonialism, there is resistance. This happened mostly in West and South West Africa, where the German colonies weren't very strong, and were still young when World War One broke out. When the British army was sent to subdue them, the toughest resistance was met in East Africa, where German General Paul von Lettow was able to successfully operate against the British all the way until the end of the war. He, his (relatively) few Germans, and mostly Askari force conducted raids on the Allied forces, and evaded capture until the wars end. Von Lettow became very famous for his successful military operations in the East African theatre of WWI, although the only effect that it had on the war in Europe was drawing away British manpower, naval power and attention.

    As for that battle picture, it could be from the initial British invasion. Britian had a strong convetional force (as well as some poorly equipped and poorly trained) locals of their own, and they would be the only enemy of that size to face the African German forces.

    The British landing at Tanga (Battle of Tanga) was a total disaster for the Allied force, heavy and accurate artillery and rifle fire disrupted the landing so badly that the operation was aborted. The British were forced to land 3 days later elsewhere.

    To give an idea of how the German and Askari troops could work together, in October of 1917, the German forces defeated the larger British force at Mahiwa... German losses were 100, compared to 1,600 British who fell. In the larger picture, the British forces had 45,000 men who could not subdue 15,000 in 4 years of cat-and-mouse.

    -Spike

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    Senior Member Silent Reader's Avatar
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    Translations for those interested:

    Quote Originally Posted by Spike 762 View Post
    On the sign: "The world is big, the world is [???] / Who knows, if we will see each other ever again"
    "Battle at Tanga Nov 3-5 1914: Attack of the Royal North Lancashire and Kashmir-Riffles against the 6th and 16th Company of the Imperial Protectionforces German East Africa"
    "About the fighting in German East Africa: On Nov 8, 1914 Englishmen who landed near Tanga had to flee from the fire of the German protection forces back to their ships"
    "Major General von Lettow-Vorbeck, the hero of German East Africa"
    Swahili warrior of the German protection forces"
    "Retreat of the German protection forces of Cameroon to Spanish colonial territory near Mani (?) at the end of January 1916."
    "About the fighting in German South-West Africa: The German protection forces annihilates three squadrons of English cavalry near ??? / September 25, 1914"

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    Senior Member Silent Reader's Avatar
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    btw I also found this:


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    An interesting topic. I've to admit I don't know very much about our former colonies. It's not mentioned and tought very extensively in history lessons at school at least not in my case. I'm sometimes really astounded in which regions of the world the people are still named Rudolf or Herman after all the time.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Silent Reader View Post
    "About the fighting in German South-West Africa: The German protection forces annihilates three squadrons of English cavalry near ??? / September 25, 1914"
    ??? = Sandfontein
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    Senior Member el borracho's Avatar
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    Von Lettow-Vorbeck is an amazing soldier, I have mentioned him in other threads (most recently here: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums...d.php?t=156082). He was skeptical of Hitler and the Nazi regime, and was unwise enough to voice those concerns early on which led to him falling out of favor with the Reich officials. However, his record of patriotism spoke for itself, so lieu of exile or execution he was quietly brushed aside during the second world war. That was probably best for the allies since his guerrilla-style tactics and knack for making the best of a bad situation would have been put to extremely good use in the final desperate years of the war.

    He even returned to Africa in the 50's to keep his promise to repay his colonial troops their lost wages. The old askaris turned out in droves to show their support for their old commander. This created a problem as many of them had no documents to back their claim as former soldiers of the Fatherland, so Von Lettow-Vorbeck handed each claimant a stick and gave them the manual of arms in German. An old soldier never forgets those basic commands, those that passed received their compensation.

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    Stinky McSmells a lot Evolv5's Avatar
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    Found this interesting link: http://www.germancolonialuniforms.co.uk/

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    Member lag's Avatar
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    wow. very nice paintings and pictures. thanks for posting gents. very interesting!

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    Quote Originally Posted by lightfire View Post
    any info on this battle?
    source: Brassey's Book of Military Blunders

    The Battle of Tanga - 1914


    Steaming down to Tanga...

    From the outset the British regarded the campaign against the Germans in East Africa in 1914 as a minor operation.

    It could, they felt, be safely left to their Indian Army. Regrettably the Secretary of State for India was to take this attitude of insouciance a stage further: in his opinion such a trifling venture could be quite happily assigned to second-rate troops. In choosing a commander, however, the British slipped badly from the second-rate standards they had set themselves, appointing a bungler - Major-General Aitken - whom few would have rated so highly.

    Aitken was a soldier more suited in style and appearance to the colonial campaigns of the nineteenth century. He had a supreme confidence in his own ability and that of his troops. Thirty-five years in India had convinced him that Indian soldiers would soon make mincemeat of a 'lot of ******s'. He preferred to base his campaigns on prejudice rather than reasoned argument, stressing the weaknesses of 'Blacks' and 'Huns', and refusing advice from anyone professing local knowledge or intelligence.

    In fact, no one in the expeditionary force sent from India knew anything of their destination, which was the port of Tanga. During their brief stay at Mombasa, Aitken was offered the help of Lieutenant-Colonel B. R. Graham of the King's African Rifles, but refused, preferring to stick to his Indian troops. When Graham warned Aitken that the German native troops (Askaris) should not be underestimated, the General disagreed, saying they were untrained and that he would thrash them all well before Christmas.

    Expeditionary Force 'B'
    Aitken's description of his troops as 'magnificent' was touching if hardly accurate. Of the 8,000 men under his command, only the North Lancashire Regiment and the Gurkhas were anything other than mediocre. The Indian troops were some of the worst in the Indian Army, being untrained, ill-equipped and poorly led. Some had only recently been issued with modern Lee-Enfield rifles and did not understand how to use them properly.
    There were soldiers from all parts of India, speaking twelve different languages, following different 'faiths and commanded by men who, in some cases, had never even seen their units before the embarkation at Bombay. Aitken's Intelligence Officer, Captain Meinertzhagen despite his name an Englishman - described the Indian troops as, 'the worst in India ... I tremble to think what may happen if we meet with serious opposition. The senior officers are nearer to fossils than active energetic leaders.'

    The soldiers may have been of poor quality, but the treatment they received during the voyage from Bombay to Mombasa served to reduce morale to rock bottom. Because of a delay in sailing, the soldiers spent sixteen unnecessary days aboard the transports in crowded conditions and appalling heat. When they finally embarked no consideration was given to the differences in caste, religion or dietary needs. Most of them spent the voyage either seasick in their bunks or suffering from diarrhoea brought on by eating food to which they were unaccustomed. When it was suggested to Aitken at Mombasa that he should allow his men ashore to recuperate from the effects of the voyage he pooh-poohed the idea and said that it might alert the Germans. It was safer to take his men straight on to Tanga.

    See them shortly landing...

    Although the expedition was supposed to be secret, the Germans had every possible warning that it was coming. The labels on the crates in Bombay dockyards announced, 'Indian Expeditionary Force "B", Mombasa, East Africa', and headlines in the British and East African press heralded the imminent arrival of the force. In addition, there were the plain radio messages between the convoy and Mombasa and the letters from German residents in British East Africa to their friends in Tanga.
    The German commander, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, had a lot to thank the British for. The fleet even travelled down the African coast in sight of land, just in case any Germans might have missed it.

    Sailing ahead of the main force, the cruiser HMS Fox under Captain F. W. Cauldfield entered Tanga harbour to discuss the status of the town with the German Governor, von Schnee. Von Schnee had been in the habit of arranging truces with the Royal Navy in order to save Tanga from bombardment. But with Aitken's convoy not far behind, Cauldfield had come to tell the Germans that all truces were cancelled. Von Schnee was missing, but the local commissioner, Herr Auracher, told the captain that he would need time to consult higher authorities. The ingenuous Cauldfield then asked Auracher if the harbour was mined and, not surprisingly, the German replied that it was full of mines. Leaving the trusting naval officer waiting, Auracher rushed off to send a message to Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck that the British had arrived.


    He then donned an army uniform, raised the German flag, and went off to join his military unit. After a while, Cauldfield began to suspect that Auracher was not coming back so, returning to the Fox, he ordered a tug to begin the laborious task of minesweeping. When the rest of the convoy arrived they had to endure the frustration of waiting while a variety of logs, oil cans and, for all we know, old boots, were swept from the harbour. There were, in fact, no mines, but Auracher had won valuable time for von Lettow-Vorbeck to begin entraining his troops for Tanga.


    Foes unsympathetic...

    The landing and its aftermath could easily have come from the pen of Evelyn Waugh (it was recently fictionalized by William Boyd in An IceCream War). Cauldfield, convinced that there were unknown hazards at Tanga, persuaded Aitken to land at a point a mile farther down the coast, out of sight of the town.

    This proved, in fact, the worst possible place to land, being a mangrove swamp full of leeches and water snakes and covered by a miasma of mosquitoes and tsetse flies. Into this horror the miserable Indian troops were plunged, 'fresh' from their experiences on the voyage.

    Little Wonder that they were ready to jump at every shadow and panic at every sound. Meinertzhagen landing with the first troops at 10 pm, made himself a bed in the garden of a dwelling designated 'The White House', with a mattress filled with 'nice bits of lingerie' taken from the house, and blankets consisting of a large Union jack and a German flag.

    By the time the British troops were fully ashore the Germans had 48 hours in which to make their preparations. As soon as Aitken ordered the advance on Tanga a number of things started to go wrong. Although outnumbered by eight to one, von Lettow-Vorbeck was not without hope, remarking on 'the clumsiness with which English troops were moved and led in battle'.

    As the British advanced towards Tanga through the cocoa plantations they could not see any Germans waiting for them. In frustration, three British officers climbed up a small hill to see better and were immediately shot dead.

    Suddenly, a German bugle was heard and the Askaris rushed to attack the 13th Rajputs, who simply turned and ran, leaving their twelve British officers to be killed on the spot.
    When Meinertzhagen tried to stop the panic, an Indian officer drew a sword on him and had to be shot. Brigadier Tighe, commanding the Imperial Service Brigade, signalled to Aitken, watching from the deck of one of the ships, that his men were facing 2,500 German rifles. In fact there were just 250 Askaris. This first assault had cost the British 300 casualties, mostly officers and NCOs. So panicky were the Indian troops by this stage, that when a rifle went off by accident 100 Rajputs rushed all the way back to the beach, some of them standing up to their necks in the sea.

    Meanwhile, the British transports had been landing masses of military supplies on the beaches, irrespective of whether they were needed or not. The scene was one of pandemonium. Since no scouting was taking place none of the British had any idea of the Germans' position or numbers. Aitken had in any case decided to use his full strength in the next attack. Spearheaded by his best troops, the North Lancs and the Gurkhas, with the Indian regiments bringing up the rear, he renewed the attack on Tanga. Curiously enough, he had refused the offer of a naval bombardment to soften up the German positions, partly because he did not want to damage civilian property, but mostly because he did not actually know where the Germans were and did not like to admit it.

    The Germans had set up a strong defensive position, linked by field telephones and fronted by barbed wire. There were snipers in the baobab trees and machine guns at intervals on the ground. It was a formidable challenge for even the best troops. But by this time many of the Indian soldiers were in a state of collapse from heat stroke or thirst, having already drunk the contents of their water bottles even though it was only midday. As they approached their invisible enemies the Askaris shouted insults such as 'Indians are insects'.

    The Imperial Service Brigade, which contained the weakest units, found themselves wading through fields of corn eight feet high, while unseen Askari snipers in the trees drilled holes in the tops of their heads. The Indians were also terrified by the clouds of smoke issuing from the black-powder rifles of the Askaris.

    In one part of the field matters were going better for the British. The North Lancs and Gurkhas had routed the Askaris and captured the customs house and hospital in Tanga, marking the fact by raising a large Union jack.

    The Battle of the Bees
    But elsewhere the Indians were about to face an even greater enemy than the Germans. Hanging from the trees across the battlefield were hives of hollow logs containing African bees, a particularly large and aggressive form of the insect. Infuriated by the noise and the bullets, the bees emerged in clouds from their hives and descended on the advancing Indian troops. At once panic spread, with troops fleeing towards the safety of the sea pursued by bees, which stung them as they went. Refreshingly impartial, some bees stayed to sting the Askaris, but the main attack was directed at the British troops. One engineer was stung 300 times while another, unconscious from a wound, returned to consciousness to find himself being dive-bombed by hundreds of bees. To the hysterical British soldiers it seemed as if the bees were yet another cunning German trick. Even The Times later wrote that the bee hives had been used as weapons by von Lettow-Vorbeck. When asked about this the German merely smiled, saying 'Gott mit uns.'
    (God with us)

    On board the HQ boat the appearance of hundreds of British troops on the beach, waving their hands above their heads and leaping into the sea, must have been an astonishing sight. 'You don't suppose they're being driven back?' asked a bright staff officer. On the beach one British officer could hardly bear to report the cowardly behaviour of his troops, remarking, 'I would never have believed that grown-up men of any race could have been reduced to such shamelessness.'

    Furious, Aitken ordered an immediate naval bombardment, which had to be stopped when the only hit recorded in Tanga fell on the hospital, crammed with British dead and wounded. The other shells fell into the retreating British lines, causing further casualties. The Indian troops were shooting so wildly that they were doing more damage to their own side than to the Germans. One North Lancs soldier commented, 'We don't mind the German fire, but with most of our officers and NCOs down and a bloody crowd of ******s firing into our backs and bees stinging our backsides, things are a bit 'ard.'

    Back to old Mombasa steams Force B again

    The British suffered over a thousand casualties in this one attack and overall lost 800 dead, 500 wounded and 250 missing . Against this von Lettow-Vorbeck's losses were light - 15 Europeans and 54 Askaris killed and wounded. His success was complete, the more so when Aitken promptly re-embarked his troops, abandoning all their equipment. After the British had gone von Lettow-Vorbeck was able to equip new regiments with British rifles and machine guns and had enough food, coats, blankets, motorbikes, telegraph equipment and other supplies to last him for a year.

    The evacuation of the wounded was arranged by Captain Meinertzhagen, who found the Germans magnanimous in victory. 'You English', they told him, 'are really quite incomprehensible. You regard war as a game.' As if to prove the point a group of men from the North Lancs Regiment amused themselves by swimming in the sea while the evacuation was taking place, horrifying the Germans with this breach in protocol. What the Germans would have thought of the British sailors who rowed into Tanga harbour at the height of the fighting, hoping to buy some food in town, is anyone’s guess.

    But the travails of General Aitken and his Indian troops were not ended. Arriving somewhat chastened back at Mombasa, they were refused permission to land by customs officials unless they paid a five per cent ad valorem tax. It was the bayonets of the North Lancs Regiment which managed to convince the customs men that 'Expeditionary Force "B" had come to stay. But for General Aitken there was no happy ending. Kitchener, the Secretary for War, refused to see him on his recall to Britain and he was reduced in rank to Colonel and retired on half pay.

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