Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

The War in East Africa

The war in East-Africa was a war on far away soil. The large distance to Europe made communications hard so there was no clear direction or aim. Colonial rulers largely had to improvise their actions of war. Local troops could not expect any reinforcements from the motherland, as the European fronts claimed most of the attention and manpower the colonial powers could spare. After all, East-Africa did not have priority. Most colonies were hardly thirty years old, were underdeveloped and infrastructure was mostly insufficient.

The German goal was the harassment of their troops, rather than confronting them. On the seas, the small German fleet manoeuvred in a likewise manner; evading the Royal Navy while harassing the transports that were so much needed on the European front. The main goal was to obstruct any form of support from the colonies.

The reason why imperialist European powers were willing to break the promise of African neutrality, as was agreed upon at the Conference of Berlin in 1885, was mainly the hope of conquering land in order to get a better negotiation position in the ultimate peace negotiations in 1919. In addition, imperialist rivalry sometimes appeared stronger than a wish for peace and even with some fraternity of powers battling the same enemy, cooperation between various colonies was cumbersome.

In the colonies, military presence existed of relatively small groups of local soldiers under command of European officers. Most colonial troops were meant to deal with local uprisings, rather than fighting a foreign power. They were locally recruited as the colonial government hoped that they would be able to cope with the East-African climate. The terrain of battle was hot and dry with seasons of extreme rain. This created a fertile ground for Malaria mosquitos and Tsetse flies, both of which would raise the death toll to extraordinary high rates. Mortality of infected pack animals would make armies dependent on human carriers for their goods, thereby decreasing its capacity and efficiency.

In the early years, German attempts to dodge confrontations with the superior forces of the British and Belgians appeared to be successful. The prevention of a British amphibious landing at Tanga and attacks on the Uganda railways in the border regions made Great Britain draw colonial troops from other colonies, mainly India and South-Africa, to aid the war in East-Africa. A superior power forced the Germans back to the far south of their colony. The German army, while dodging British and Belgian forces, was driven back to the southern borders of their colony. They crossed the border and entered Portuguese Mozambique. The decision of the German army to make a move towards British Rhodesia in a search for supplies led to the end of the campaign. Slow communications made German commanders ignorant about the bad situation in Europe. It was on 13th November 1918, that the news of the armistice of 11th November reached the leading German officers and an armistice was signed; the formal German surrender took place two weeks later.

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