THE GREAT WAR IN AFRICA 1914-1918 by Byron Farwell


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Farwelrs Eminent Victorian Soldiers (1985)--about eight British generals who were active during Victoria's reign--had the good fortune to focus on eccentric individuals. His new military history focuses on events at the expense of intensely colorful soldiers. The difference is telling. Unlike Africa's great, raging WW II battles with Montgomery's desert rats fighting Rommel's panzer divisions, the Great War's four African campaigns against the Germans were more fragmented and exotic, with the British (Australians, mostly), French and Belgians trying to capture the four German protectorates: Togoland, the Cameroons, German South-West Africa, and German East Africa. The battle records are often scanty and illiterate. Even so, Farwell finds more than enough detail, filling paragraphs with fine bits of fact like a paleontologist sweeping up fossil shards. Better than half the book is just such detail as might interest an armchair British battle historian, but which will have US battle buffs reconnoitering for the story lines. Among the more rousing moments is the saga of the Konigsberg, a menacing German cruiser tightly pressed in German East Africa by British men-of. war awaiting the first sounding of the imminent declaration of war. Eventually the Konigsberg is engaged by two shallow-draft gunboats, and the two tiny ships exchange over a thousand shells with the German ship before the Konigsberg is scuttled. In other battles, lions, elephants, bees, fleas, tsetse flies and malaria play as big a role as armaments, with one rhino attack interrupting British-German patrol fire. Also fascinating are the stories of the true African Queens--Mimi and Toutou, a pair of small gunboats that engage in a major battle on Lake Tanganyika; and the pursuit of General Lettow-Vorbeck and his troops by General Jan Smuts. Bright patches of storytelling amid much military archaeology.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1986
ISBN: 0393305643
Publisher: Norton