General Smuts

Name ID 576

See also

Map and Guide to Tanzania
Page Number: 07a
Extract Date: 1914

World War I

At the outbreak of World War I, the German troops were outnumbered by the British but it took the whole war period to defeat the valiant German Commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck - creator of the famed askari battalions - who started the hostilities by attacking Taveta in August 1914. German troops kept the initiative for a long time but they were unable to resist the constantly improving fighting ability of the Allied Forces.

In 1916 General Smuts with British, Indian and South African forces occupied the northern border, Belgian troops commanded by Colonel Tombeur reached Tabora from the west, and with a force crossing the Kagera from Uganda, the Allied troops prepared for the final assault; in November 1917 German troops were thrown behind the Ruvuma and found themselves totally defeated in November 1918. Lettow-Vorbeck had outwitted the Allied troops for 4 years with such brilliant tactics that, together with his officers, he was allowed to surrender in honourable conditions.

Tanganyika had again had to suffer the consequences of the war. Vast areas were turned into wasteland and economic life broke down once again with thousands of African troops having succumbed to famine, malaria and other diseases.

Extract ID: 4029

See also

Samler Brown , A and Gordon Brown, G (Editors) South and East African Year Book and Guide for 1920, 26th issue
Page Number: 520-521E d
Extract Date: 1916

History of East Africa : The War with Germany in East Africa 1916

1916, - Later in the year, 1915, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was appointed to the command and measures were taken to connect the Uganda railway at Voi with the German line from Tanga at a point near its inland terminus. Owing to the ill-health of General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, Lieutenant-General Smuts was nominated to the chief command and landed at Mombasa on February 19th, 1916.

Prior to this, our forces advancing along the railway extension above mentioned, had driven the enemy from Serengeti Camp (January 24th), but General Smuts found them still strongly entrenched on British soil behind the Lumi River with their centre on Taveta, S.W. of Kilimanjaro Mountain, and their right on Lake Jipe.

The immediate plan of campaign centred around the snow peak of Kilimanjaro, of which the fertile slopes form the richest and most desirable portion of the German Colony. Fifty miles to the N.W. Longido was already in the hands of a British column under General Stewart, whose objective was a flanking movement, around the western slopes of the mountain, to the enemy's rear. On March 7th General Smuts bridged the Lumi River ten miles north of Taveta and on the following day, by fine strategy and hard fighting, forced the Germans from the swamps and forests which they had been fortifying for eighteen months. On the following day they were driven from Salaita. van Deventer occupied Moshi, the German railway terminus, on the 13th, where he was subsequently joined by General Stewart's column from Longido.

The main body of Germans retreating from Taveta took up strong positions at Kahe station and along the Ruwu River, another body entrenched on the Latema-Reata Nek and were only dislodged after the fiercest fighting (March 19th). The Kahe position was turned by van Deventer on the 21st and on the following day the enemy were in full retreat down the line, destroying the bridges behind them. With the capture of Arusha, the occupation of the Kilimanjaro district was completed.

The second phase of the war opened after a brief interval devoted by General Smuts to the organization of the positions gained. It was soon evident that fighting would no longer be confined to one area.

In April, Belgian troops from the Congo, moving via Uganda, entered the German province of Ruanda, situated at the N.E. of the Colony, and Kigali, the capital of that rich and populous province was entered on May 6th. Germany had declared war on Portugal on March 10th, 1916, and forces were moving on the Rovuma River which forms the southern boundary contiguous to Portuguese territory. In May an independent British column, under General Northey, operating in the south-west from Rhodesia and Nyasaland, completed the investment of the German land frontier.

Having finished his preparations, General Smuts detached van Deventer early in April to proceed in a south-westerly direction at right angles to the German railway which was to form his own line of advance. On April 19th van Deventer, "after ceaselessly marching and fighting", and with the loss of most of his transport animals, seized the important position of Kondoa Irangi, where he was heavily counterattacked with superior forces by the German Commander-in-Chief on May 9th-11th. All attacks were repulsed, but it was only after the advance of a second British Column on his left that van Deventer again moved forward.

In the meantime General Smuts had been fighting his way towards the sea. On his left were the Pare and Usambara Mountains which sloped prepitously to the railway at their base; on his right was the Pangani, an unfordable river, running parallel to the mountains, and the strip, about 15 miles wide, between was densely clothed with bush. The main advance was along the Pangani, the main German defences had been prepared on the line of railway and in this way the enemy was manoeuvred out of one strong position after another. Zame was occupied, May 25th; Micocheni, May 30th; Mombo, June 9th; and Wilhelmstal, an important town north of the line, on June 12th. Tanga itself fell on July 7th, after slight resistance, practically completing our possession of the Usambara Railway, although some bush fighting was still required to clear the district of small bodies of the enemy.

Prior to this it had become evident that the Germans intended to retire on the Central Railway, via Handeni, and General Smuts with his main column crossed the Pangani in pursuit at the end of May. The advance was on a parallel line with that taken by van Deventer but 120 miles further east. This column captured Handeni (June 20th), situated at the head of a light railway and defeated the Germans at Lukigura River (June 24th) after an advance of about 200 miles. Difficulties of transport and sickness made a halt necessary, and the British force remained encamped at the foot of the Nguru Mountains till early in August.

van Deventer now moved forward again (June 24th), seized Dodoma, 85 miles to the south, the first point reached on the Central Railway and commenced to push the Germans along the line eastward towards Mpapwa and westward towards Kilimatinde, both of which he occupied in due course. A further advance eastward to Kilossa (taken August 22nd) brought van Deventer into touch with the British main column who had fought its way from the Lukigura, across the Wami River (August 18th), dislodging the enemy force from the Nguru Mountains.

Part of the defeated forces joined the German troops resisting van Deventer's eastward advance along the railway and assisted in the stubborn resistance he encountered at Kilossa (captured August 22nd); the main body retreated from the Nguru Mountains to Morogoro, the last point held by the Germans on this section of the railway and their provisional seat of Government. This important town was occupied by the British on August 26th, and the remnant of the German forces escaped southward to the Uluguru Mountains where preparations for a determined stand had been made. The German force from Kilossa had also retreated south towards Mahenge.

Without any halt to recuperate and to replenish the almost exhausted transport General Smuts continued the pursuit into the mountains , from which the Germans were driven to Kissaki on the Mgeta River. This position was captured on September 15th, and the enemy retired to a defensive line between the Mgeta and Rufiji Rivers, when, pending the reorganization of the attacking forces he was left unmolested.

The capture of the port of Tanga on July 7th brought the naval and military forces into close touch for the first time; an advance was made by combined forces to the southward, the ports of Pangani, Sadani (August 1st), and Bagamoyo (August 15th) were taken, and on September 4th, Dar-es-Salaam, the former seat of Government, surrendered. Naval forces completed the occupation of the coast line by the capture of Kilwa (September 7th), Lindi and Mikindani (September 16th), and Kiswere (September 18th).

Meanwhile a Belgian force about 10,000 strong, under General Tombeur, had seized Usumbura, at the head of Lake Tanganyika on June 8th and, pushing forward, had, in conjunction with the British, cleared the enemy from between the two lakes and completed the occupation of the lakes themselves, the British capturing Mwanza, on Lake Victoria (July 14th-15th), and the Belgians Ujiji and Kigoma, on Lake Tanganyika (July 29th) at the lake end of the Central Railway. (For naval fighting in the lake, see p.672). Rolling stock was brought across the lake from the Belgian Congo terminus at Albertville and a systematic advance along the line to Tabora commenced. A Belgian column from Ruanda on the N.E.; the British from Mwanza, due N., and a second British force starting from Kirando, a lake port 220 miles south-west of Tabora, cooperated in this movement. After considerable fighting Tabora fell on September 11th.

In the South-West the third attacking force, under General Northey, had cleared the frontier between Lakes Tanganyika and Nyasa of the enemy by the end of May, captured New Langenburg on June 8th, 1916, and Bismarcksburg at the foot of Lake Tanganyika. The force then advanced in a N.W. direction through Malangali (where the Germans were routed "in a brilliant little action" July 24th), on Iringa, occupied August 29th, a military station about 160 miles from New Langenburg and 120 miles south of the Central Railway.

Summing up the position in October, 1916, General Smuts wrote, "with the exception of the Mahenge Plateau they have lost every healthy or valuable part of their Colony".

The effect of climate on the health of the troops, the losses of animals and the bad state of the wheeled transport necessitated a thorough and prolonged rest and refit. It was decided to send home all white troops affected by the climate with the result that nearly 12,000 were evacuated. Kilwa, a port south of the Rufiji position was prepared as a base and a considerable force transported there by sea.

Extract ID: 3532

See also

Samler Brown , A and Gordon Brown, G (Editors) South and East African Year Book and Guide for 1920, 26th issue
Page Number: 520-521E e
Extract Date: 1917

History of East Africa : The War with Germany in East Africa 1917

1917. - General Smuts relinquished his command on January 20th, and was succeeded by Lieut.-General A.R. Hoskins, C.M.G., D.S.O. in may, Major-General J.L. van Deventer, C.B., was appointed to the command.

The fighting throughout 1917-18 had emphasized the difficulties which were so evident in the final stages of the second Boer war, those of rounding up a mobile enemy, with no civil population to defend and provide for, whose main object is to avoid decisive fighting, and who is favoured by a great extent of broken and roadless country in which to manoeuvre.

The British forces advanced early in January and many desultory engagements ensued, in one of which, at Behobeho, the gallant Captain F.C. Selous, D.S.O., was killed (January 4th), but no considerable body of the enemy was definitely disposed of. Later in the year the German forces broke up into small parties, and apparently living on the country, dispersed over a wide area. Some columns of the enemy, which succeeded in slipping through our positions, endeavoured to re-kindle the war in the north, these were rounded up by Belgian troops, brought back from the Congo Free State, who captured their commander on may 22nd, and drove the remnant of the forces back into the British, to whom they surrendered in October.

In June the enemy were officially reported (1) near Kilwa; (2) west of Lindi; (3) in the Mahenge district; (4) at Songwa, 60 miles north of the Portuguese border; (5) in the neighbourhood of the southern border of British East Africa; (6) in the Luchulingo Valley within Portuguese territory; and the war resolved itself into innumerable attempts to surround those elusive forces by means of mobile columns, hampered by every difficulty of terrain, climate and transport. Of the above forces the main body (1) and (2) under von Lettow Vorbeck, with the pick of the German troops, was 4,000 to 5,000 strong. No.3, under Tafel, comprised 2,000 to 3,000 rifles; No.5, under Naumann, consisted of 600 men; and No.6, under von Stuermer, was rather weaker.

Increasing pressure was maintained as the war advanced from all sides; at the end of September, half of the German forces were reported behind the parts of Lindi and Kilwa, they were attacked from the north and dispersed southward in small parties. Another important body still held the Mahenge plateau, previously mentioned, but the town of this name was captured by a Belgian force on October 9th, after severe fighting in the Kalimoto Hills and elsewhere. In the same month the Rhodesian column, under General Northey, pushed the Germans from their administrative centre at Liwale.

The cumulative effect of the harrying without rest to which the German forces had been subjected for many months was becoming apparent. The Mahenge plateau was cleared of the enemy, and captures and surrenders greatly depleted the attenuated forces still holding the field.

Early in December the remnants of the German forces, evacuated their colony by crossing the Rovuma River into Portuguese territory. They numbered 320 whites and 2,500 black troops, with a considerable reserve of trained native porters of good fighting stock, many of whom were, from time to time, drafted into the fighting line. Tafel, unaware of this movement, when driven from Mahenge and on his way to join forces with Vorbeck, was rounded up and capitulated (Nov. 28), there was no longer organized resistance within the limits of the colony. In the last six months of 1917, 1,618 Germans and 5,482 Askaris had been killed or captured.

Extract ID: 3533

See also

Samler Brown , A and Gordon Brown, G (Editors) South and East African Year Book and Guide for 1920, 26th issue
Page Number: 520-521E a

History of East Africa : The War with Germany in East Africa

At the outbreak of war the German authorities May have regarded the position of their premier Colony with considerable equanimity although it must inevitably be cut off from outside communication; for it had been organized against any attack that could be made without those extensive preparations for which, according to the German war programme, the essential factor of time would be lacking. Indeed for the first year of hostilities the Germans were strong enough to carry the war into their neighbours' territories and repeatedly attacked the railway and other points in British East Africa.

The forces at the disposal of the German Command May never be accurately known. Lieutenant-General Smuts at one time estimated them at 2,000 Germans and 16,000 Askaris, with 60 guns and 80 machine guns, but this should prove to be below the mark. The white adult male population in 1913 numbered over 3,500 (exclusive of garrison), a large proportion of these would be available for military duties. The native population of over 7,000,000, comprising practically all the warlike races of Central Africa, formed a reservoir of man-power from which a force might be drawn limited only by the supply of officers and equipment. There is no reason to doubt that the Germans made the best of this material during the long interval of nearly eighteen months which separated the outbreak of war from the invasion in force of their territory (+).

In his final despatch of May, 1919, General van Deventer places the German forces, at the commencement of 1916, at 2,700 whites and 12,000 blacks. Lord Cranford, in his foreword to Captain Angus Buchanan's book on the war, writes - "At his strongest von Lettow probably mustered 25,000 to 30,000 rifles, all fighting troops", with 70 machine guns and 40 guns. After eighteen months of continuous fighting General van Deventer estimated the enemy's forces at 8,000 to 9,000 men (*).

Another point bearing on the war and duly emphasized by General Smuts in his lecture before the Royal Geographic Society (Jan., 1918), was the extraordinary strength of the German frontier. The coast line offered few suitable points for landing and was backed by an unhealthy swamp belt. On the west the line of lakes and mountains proved so impenetrable that the Belgian forces from the Congo had, in the first instance, to be moved through Uganda. On the south the Rovuma River was only fordable on its upper reaches. And the northern frontier was the most difficult of all. Only one practicable pass about five miles wide offered between the Pare Mountains and Kilimanjaro, and here the German forces, amid swamps and forests, had been digging themselves in for eighteen months.

(+) The Hon. H. Burton, speaking in London, Aug., 1918, said : "Nothing struck our commanders in the East African field so much as the thorough, methodical and determined training of the German native levies previous to the war".

(*) The force which evacuated the Colony in Dec., 1917, was estimated at the time at 320 white and 2,500 black troops; 1,618 Germans were killed or captured in the last six months of 1917, 155 whites and 1,168 Askaris surrendered at the close of hostilities.

Extract ID: 3489

See also

Miller, Charles Battle for the Bundu: The First World War in East Africa
Page Number: 331
Extract Date: 1929

Anniversary dinner of the BEAEF

Certainly his own life had witnessed more than its share of changes since his triumphal return to Germany thirty-four years earlier. Almost inevitably, that life had been an anticlimax, although not without its moments. For a brief time he had commanded a Reichswehr division-appropriately named for him-and helped suppress a Communist uprising in Hamburg, but this was the last military action of his career. In 1920 he resigned from the army and entered politics, serving for ten years as a deputy in the Reichstag. He also wrote several books, and his personal memoirs of the East African campaign may have found as many readers in England as in Germany.

For von Lettow was anything but forgotten by his onetime foes. In London in 1929, he was the guest of honor, seated next to Smuts, at an anniversary dinner of the British East African Expeditionary Force.

Extract ID: 4399

See also

Miller, Charles Battle for the Bundu: The First World War in East Africa
Page Number: 331c
Extract Date: 1950's


When peace came, the seventy-five-year-old General was destitute, subsisting for a time on the food parcels sent to him by Meinertzhagen and Smuts. With Germany's postwar recovery, however, he presently came to enjoy comfortable circumstances again. And even in his ostensibly declining years, his mind remained as alert as it had been on the day when he ordered the 13th Field Company to counterattack at Tanga.

Extract ID: 4401