Masterly study reconfirms the significance and staggering human cost of the 1914–18 campaigns in East Africa.
Considered by many then and now as a “sideshow” to World War I’s European theater, the battle waged by Great Britain and its allies against the Germans in their respective East African colonies claimed more than 100,000 lives and cost a veritable fortune (£2.8 billion in today’s money). And not everyone thought it was a minor field of conflict: “The Great War was more occasioned by conflicting colonial ambitions in Africa than by German and Austrian schemes in the Balkans and Asia Minor,” argued British explorer Harry Johnson in 1919. It started badly for the British, who ran into immediate German resistance when they tried to secure the coast for shipping. Determined not to let the British cross the border into German East Africa, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck rebuffed them in the famous battle of Tanga. For four years, the German commander defied incursions by Allied troops in vastly superior numbers led by British generals Arthur Aitken, Michael Tighe and Reginald Hoskins, as well as South African commander Jan Smuts. He did not surrender until November 25, 1918, two weeks after the European armistice. English scholar Paice, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, puts enormous amounts of research to excellent use in his first book. The intricate narrative shows South Africans overcoming their resentment from the Boer War to join with the opportunistic Portuguese on the side of the British. In addition, a million able-bodied Africans were pressed into work as carriers for these armies over difficult, insect-ridden terrain. At least 95,000 died, alongside 11,189 British troops.
An authoritative summing-up of a grim, complex and little-known part of World War I.