First World War - German East Africa
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German East Africa comprised the territory occupied today by Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. Although the hit-and-run campaign conducted there by Colonel (later General) Paul von Lettow Vorbeck ended in his surrender to the Allies on 25 November 1918, this clever bush strategist and his overall total of 14,000 men had managed to tie up, pin down, evade and exasperate an Allied force of some 373,000 men for four long years. Once von Lettow Vorbeck had beaten off an initial landing by British and Indian forces at the beginning of November 1914, he stayed brilliantly on the run. Captured supplies and ammunition maintained his small force - never more than 4,000 at any one time, including a couple of hundred white German officers. German settlers came to join him from time to time, too.

Ranged against them were three battalions of the King's African Rifles (1 KAR from Nyasaland - now Malawi- 2 KAR from Kenya and 3 KAR from Uganda), Indian Army officers, Indian and British troops, and a huge force of well over 600,000 carriers - of whom something like 1 in 15 died of disease or accident. The King's African Rifles were supplied with men from Britain's central and eastern African colonies. (See Sgt Miydiyo, Uganda:4 KAR, and Colour Sgt Kumani, Nyasaland:1 KAR). During the course of the First World War upwards of 30,000 Africans served as fighting soldiers with KAR - 19,000 of them from Nyasaland alone, and 9,000 from British East Africa (now Kenya).
Kings African Rifles with Maxim gun
Kings African Rifles with Maxim gun
© Imperial War Museum

In 1915 the German East Africans attacked British East Africa, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). In 1916 an Allied force of almost 20,000 KAR, Indian and white South African soldiers invaded German East Africa. But a combination of difficult roadless country, rains, mud and sickness neutralised their effectiveness and killed many of them. By the end of that year the motley Allied force inside German East Africa included the Gold Coast Regiment, 3 KAR, two regiments each from Kashmir and Baluchistan, and the 40th Pathans. Still they couldn't find von Lettow Vorbeck.

The following year (See Sgt Adam el Hashim (Kenya: 1/3 KAR)), von Lettow Vorbeck and his men were chivvied into Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) - but they turned the tables by attacking both their unwilling hosts and the British, before emerging in Northern Rhodesia towards the end of 1918. After the 11 November general armistice, it took the British two weeks to trace their enemy so that they could tell him the war was over. He still had 1,750 men ready for action, along with a gaggle of camp followers. In his net of bush bamboozlement von Lettow Vorbeck had, over his 4-year campaign, tied up almost a million men from the Gold Coast, The Gambia, Nigeria, South Africa, British East Africa, Uganda, Zanzibar, the Belgian Congo, Portuguese East Africa, India, the West Indies and Britain.
German E Africa
German SW Africa