former German posession in the African Great Lakes region between 1884–1919

German East Africa was a German colony that existed for some three decades from the 1880s to the end of World War I (1918). It was nearly 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi), larger than any European country except Russia or any American state except Alaska.

Regions edit

Map of German East Africa

All of what was once German East Africa is now part of other countries:

  • Far the largest piece is Tanganyika, the part of today's Tanzania which is on the African mainland.
  • Rwanda, now a separate country
  • Burundi, now a separate country
  • 1 Kionga Triangle. A small border area, the only German territory south of the Ruvuma River, that is now part of Mozambique.  

After being defeated in World War I Germany was forced to give up all its colonies. That did not mean the colonies became independent; they were just taken over by European powers that had been on the winning side. In East Africa Britain got Tanganyika, Belgium got what is now Burundi and Rwanda, and Portugal got the triangle.

Since World War II all the former colonies in the region have become independent, with Tanganyika uniting with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. Zanzibar is an island that is not far off the coast just north of Dar es Salaam.

Germany exerted influence in Zanzibar as well until 1890. Then in the "Heligoland Zanzibar Treaty" (a name coined by Bismarck to dismiss the treaty that his successor had made), Germany gave up its claim there and Britain transferred Heligoland to Germany.

Destinations edit

The main towns of importance to the colonial administration were:

City Hall, Dar es Salaam, built in 1898
  • 1 Dar es Salaam. This became the colonial capital in 1890 and was Tanzania's capital until the 1970s. It is also Tanzania's largest city and the mainland's main port.  
  • 2 Bagamoyo. This was the colony's capital from 1885 to 1890. Today it is just a minor town 70 km north of Dar es Salaam; it is somewhat down-at-the-heels, though it does have a lively arts scene and some good beaches. It is also the closest port to Zanzibar.  
  • 3 Kigoma. This port on Lake Tanganyika was the main German base in the area; today it is a provincial capital and still an important port. The ship that the Imperial German Navy built to dominate the lake still sails from Kigoma; today it is the ferry MV Liemba.  
  • 4 Tabora. This was the largest town in the interior of the German colony, taken by the Belgians in 1916.  
Former military building in Moshi
Now a secondary school
  • 5 Moshi. This was a German military base.  
  • 6 Iringa. This was a German military base.  
  • 7 Morogoro. This inland town was an administrative center under the Germans, and still has some buildings from that period. Today it is a regional capital and popular as a base for treks into the nearby mountains.  
  • 8 Lindi. This town has a long history as a trading centre and today attracts visitors mainly for its fine beaches. It was an administrative centre under the Germans, and still has some buildings from that period.  
  • 9 Bujumbura (Burundi). A lake port, largest city and former capital of Burundi. It was a military base in the German period.  

There are other places in the region that may be of interest.

  • 10 Kigali. A lake port, today the capital of Rwanda.  
  • 11 Gitega. An inland city, today the capital of Burundi.  
  • 12 Olduvai Gorge. This site has some of the oldest proto-human fossils and tools ever discovered. There is a museum.  
  • 13 Kilwa. This was once an important trading city-state and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Arab and Swahili ruins going back to the first millennium CE. The great Berber traveller Ibn Battuta visited it in the 14th century.  

First World War campaign edit

During the First World War there was a campaign in this region. The Germans and their African allies faced great disadvantages: they were vastly outnumbered, it was almost impossible for Germany to send supplies or reinforcements, and they were surrounded by colonies of enemy powers — British Kenya and Uganda to the north, and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to the southwest, the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) to the west and Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) to the south. On the east, the British held Zanzibar, and they were in control of the sea so they could bring in troops from India. Despite all this, German forces were able to hold out for the duration of the war, and did not surrender until news of the armistice in Europe reached them.

The British argued there should be "no war in Africa"; all the whites needed to work together to keep the blacks under control. The German governor accepted that notion and was willing to allow British troops to land to "keep the peace", in particular to help suppress troublesome tribes. The military commander, von Lettow, took the position that in wartime he was no longer under the governor's authority, and part of his job was to resist any British incursion. Among other things, he broke with colonial tradition by arming his tribal allies.

In the listings below, the blue links are to Wikivoyage articles with current travel information. The Wikipedia links (little "W" at the end of a listing) are to historical information.

In late 1914 the British tried to invade, but were thrown back.

  • 2 Tanga. The first battle of the campaign was fought near this town. The British sent an invasion force from India, mainly sepoys (Indian troops with British officers). The Germans had askaris (African troops with German officers) plus forces from allied tribes, mainly Masai. The British were routed and the Germans captured a lot of equipment.
    Except for the Zulu victory at Isandlwana, this was the first time Africans defeated a European power.
  • 3 Mount Kilimanjaro. The Germans fortified this mountain; the British attacked it but were driven off. Some ruined fortifications can still be seen.  
  • 4 Jassin. The British established a base here to protect their border, but the Germans captured it in January 1915.  

The Germans won those battles, but at a cost their small army could ill afford. For the rest of the war they fought a guerrilla campaign, and did quite well at that. They even raided into Kenya, attacking the Uganda Railroad.

  • 5 Lake Tanganyika. A series of naval engagements were fought on the lake in 1915 and 1916; the British won.  
  • 6 Battle of Tabora. In late 1916, the Belgians invaded with some British support. They took Tabora, the most important town of its region, in mid-September.  
  • 7 Rufiji River delta. The German cruiser Königsberg did some raiding in the Indian Ocean and sank two British ships, but then she was pursued by a British squadron she had no hope of defeating. She took refuge in this delta where she was found by the British, blockaded, attacked and eventually scuttled. Her men and some of her guns were then used in the land campaign or on the lake.  
  • 8 Battle of Mahiwa. In October 1917 the main German force was retreating south with a British force, mainly South African and Nigerian troops, in pursuit. At Mahiwa, the Germans turned and fought. They won even though they were seriously outnumbered; they took took heavy casualties, but the British lost far more men.  
  • 9 Battle of Ngomano (Portuguese East Africa). After Mahiwa the Germans continued their retreat from superior British forces, and crossed into Portuguese territory in what is now Mozambique. The Portuguese tried to stop them at the border, but the Germans had several advantages — veterans versus inexperienced troops, numerical superiority, and a skilled general. The Portuguese force was completely routed.  

Before Ngomano the Germans were running low on supplies, most importantly food and ammunition. However they captured a lot at Ngomano and afterwards ravaged the countryside of Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), mostly unopposed. This gave them enough to keep them going for the rest of the war.

They returned to German East Africa in early 1918. Late that year they invaded Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. Their last victory was taking Kasama, then and now a provincial capital, on November 13. They surrendered on the 14th when word of the armistice in Europe reached them.

Like Alexander the Great, the German general Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was never defeated in the field. This is a claim few other generals could make, and thoroughly amazing given the disadvantages he faced. Part of that was because of the fierce personal loyalty of his Askaris (native troops, mostly serving under European officers). He was an unusual man who spoke good Swahili and, unlike most colonial commanders, was willing to promote some natives to officer rank; as he put it "We are all Africans here."

An excellent historical novel covering the campaign, mainly from a German point of view, is William Stevenson's The Ghosts of Africa (ISBN 0-345-29793-8). C.S. Forester's novel The African Queen (ISBN 0-316-289108) and the movie based on it also take place in East Africa during the war.

See edit

  • National Museum of Tanzania (Dar es Salaam). This museum has exhibits on all of Tanzanian history, including the German period and the campaign in East Africa during the First World War. Its most famous exhibit is the skull of the Nutcracker Man, 1.75 million years old and found in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge.  
  • Askari Monument (Dar es Salaam). This monument commemorates the Askari, native troops who mostly served under European officers. Most of the German forces in East Africa during the First World War were Askari. In the Second World War, Tanganyikan Askari fought for Britain and her Allies.  
Chambeshi Monument
  • Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Lion of Africa). Lettow-Vorbeck commanded German forces in the East Africa campaign. There are sculptures of him with Askari soldiers at at Mühlenteich (near the Bismark castle at Friedrichsruh) and in the Hamburg district of Jenfeld. Project Gutenberg has his memoirs in English.  
  • 14 Chambeshi Monument (Lettow-Vorbeck Memorial) (Northern Rhodesia). This spot, in what is now Zambia, is where Lettow-Vorbeck and his main force were on November 14, 1918 when official word of the November 11 armistice in Europe reached them. He agreed to a cease fire, then marched his troops to Abercorn, now called Mbala, for the formal surrender.    
  • National Army Museum (London, England). This museum has an exhibit on the East Africa campaign.  
  • War Memorial (Bujumbura). This monument mainly commemorates the East Africa campaign.
  • MV Liemba. This ship was built for the Imperial German Navy before the war, intended to dominate Lake Tanganyika. After more than a hundred years, she is the only ship of that navy still in service; today she is a ferry and a tourist attraction. The ship that the lead characters conspire to sink in The African Queen is based on her.

See also edit

  • British Empire — the empire on which "the sun never set", due to its great extent
  • French Empire — French colonies from the early 19th century to the 21st century
  • World War I — while this war only lasted a few years, it had a huge impact on world history and proved to be only the first of two such devastating wars
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