Africa Imperial History

Siege of Elands River: 4 – 16 August 1900

August 1, 2012
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Download article as PDF Map: Siege of Eland’s River Staging Post 4-14 August 1900 Map: Battle of Eland’s River 4 August 1900 With the capitulation of Johannesburg and Pretoria by early June 1900, the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in South Africa, Lord Frederick Roberts VC, divided the Western Transvaal operational theatre into districts, with the sole objective of mopping up pockets of Boer resistance.  The Marico District, including the towns of Mafeking, Zeerust, Lichtenburg and Rustenburg, was assigned to Maj. General Robert Baden-Powell, his force including 1,100 Rhodesia Regiment troops, Southern Rhodesia Volunteers and BSA Police. Boer Generals Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet continued to believe that victory might still be within the grasp of their respective […]

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Operation Quartz: Zimbabwe/Rhodesia on the brink

April 18, 2012
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Download article as PDF Ceasefire and Elections The closing chapter of Rhodesian history was decided in Lancaster House, London, between 10 September-15 December 1979. There, in what has been described by some as the Funeral Parlour of the British Empire, the principal protagonists in the unfolding drama of the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia Bush War brought the curtain down on this, the last substantive act in the drama of British imperial disengagement. It was a moment of profound delicacy. The Rhodesian conflict had been deliberately regionalised in an effort (a) to attack and destroy external guerrilla forces in their bases of operation in both Mozambique and Zambia (also in Angola during Operation Vanity in February 1979), and (b) to so reduce the national […]

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Robert Bell Smart the Royal Engineers Signals Unit

January 27, 2012
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Download article as PDF I was recently contacted by Eleanor Smart regarding a collection of photographs belonging to her and concerning her father who served in East Africa during WWI. What follows is her own description of the circumstances of Robert Bell Smart, and a selection of his photographs. Robert Bell Smart.  Born in Glasgow July 1890. Died in Paisley Sept. 1962  My father started his working life as a telegraph boy in the Post Office in Glasgow. In 1915 he enlisted in the Royal Signals, or The Royal Engineers Signals Unit, as Sapper R B Smart.  Not sure exactly. He was sent to France. This bit he never spoke of, so I don’t know where he was or what […]

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ZAPU in the Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle

January 6, 2012
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This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleAs the armed wing of ZAPU withdrew to ponder lessons learned, the detained leadership within Rhodesia settled into what seemed likely to be a sustained period of restriction. For Joshua Nkomo the prospect was particularly dreary. Somewhere between the claims of his apologists of untainted zealotry, and his protagonists insistence on his innate corruptibility, lies the truth of what motivated Nkomo. At the very least he was a comfort loving soul. He was not a flint hard, ascetic ideologue like Robert Mugabe, nor a spiritually driven humanitarian like Ndabaningi Sithole, and for him to be transported with the rudiments of life to an […]

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Rourkes Drift and Isandlwana: Key sites of the Anglo Zulu War of 1879

January 1, 2012
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Download article as PDF Deep in the signature countryside of Zululand – undulating grassland punctuated by rubble crowned kopjies and shallow river valleys – lie two key sites in the mythology of the black/white struggle for Southern Africa. The Anglo/Zulu War in many respects was the beginning of the end of black independent monarchy in Southern Africa. It came about as a consequence of a number of factors, some political and some visceral, but all of which were defined by one simple defining principal.: the simple fact that an aggressive and expanding British Empire could not tolerate the existence alongside it of of an independent, militarily vigorous, politically cohesive and culturally intact black mass such as the Zulu. Whatever might […]

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THE OPERATIONS ON LAKE TANGANYIKA IN 1915

December 27, 2011
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Download article as PDF By COMMANDER G . B. SPICER-SIMSON,. S.O., R.N. Wednesday, 28th March, 1934, at 3 p.m. ADMIRAL SIR WILLIAM GOODENOUGH,. C.B., M.V.O., in the Chair. The Chairman, in introducing the Lecturer, said that Commander Spicer-Simson had had a very varied and adventurous career. He saw service in China; he was on the Boundaries Commission in North Borneo; he made a triangulated survey of the Upper Yangtze; and between 1910 and 1914 he was the Director of the Gambia Survey. In 1915 he was sent out with a small party of officers and men on the expedition to Lake Tanganyika, which, if it was a minor operation of the War, was nevertheless one of great importance. Lake Tanganyika […]

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Ian Henderson and the Hunt for Dedan Kimathi

December 4, 2011
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Download article as PDF During the course of 1956 an extraordinary drama played out in the forests of the Kenyan Aberdare Range, as two men, Dedan Kimathi, a Kikuyu Mau Mau forest leader, feared in equal measure by friends and enemies alike, and Ian Henderson, a local Special Branch member and guerrilla hunter extraordinaire, enacted a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that marked the final death throe of one of Africa’s first authentic liberation struggles. The Mau Mau is one of those historic events that has the capacity to be all things to all people To the white settler community of the time, anguished by a sudden and catastrophic rebellion against their very existence, the Mau Mau represented a reversionist, primal […]

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I Can Never Say Enough About the Men

September 8, 2011
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Download article as PDF I had noticed in my general browsing of the web that a new book associated with the East Africa Campaign of World War I had been published, strongly titled I Can never Say Enough About the Men. It did not drift into my orbit, however, and I found no opportunity to read it until I was contacted by Andrew Kerr, the author of the book, with a request to review it on behalf of the Great War in East Africa Association. This I gladly agreed to do and shortly afterwards a copy arrived in the post. At a glance I found a richly illustrated narrative configured along the lines of a standard regimental history that dealt, […]

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The Shangani Patrol

August 13, 2011
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Download article as PDF As Rhodesian Administrator Leander Starr Jameson rode into the smoking ruins of Bulawayo in the aftermath of the first phase of the Matabele War he somewhat naively expected to find Lobengula waiting to surrender formally. This would have crowned an impressive advance with a clean victory and wrapped up the war in favour of the BSA Company with a minimum of dispute. However, with no formal surrender in hand and the King still at large,the game was still wide open. Technically the threat of an official decree from Sir Henry Loch on behalf of the Imperial Government remained. Neither Jameson nor Lobengula had expected such a swift advance on Matabeleland, and Lobengula could certainly not have […]

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A brief history of Rhodesia

August 13, 2011
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Download article as PDF The colony of Rhodesia was born on 13 September 1890 with the arrival in the vicinity of present day Harare, then Fort Salisbury, of some 500 hand-picked volunteers who made up the British South Africa Company Pioneer Column. This represented the culmination of several years of political manoeuvre and capital adventure in the great game known at the time as the Scramble for Africa. >>Rhodesian Parliament Golden Jubilee A brief background to the occupation of Mashonaland In 1885 all the major powers of Europe met in Berlin to discuss, among other issues, how best to partition Africa between them with a minimum of conflict and according to a series of predefined rules. The Berlin Conference decreed, […]

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The amaNdebele and modern African imperial history

August 12, 2011
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This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe educated rather than the raw native very often becomes a nuisance to his white neighbours…Report of the Land Commission The end of the First World War did indeed usher in a change in British imperial policy. A general revaluation of the moral certainties of old coincided with the emergence of a class of educated natives worldwide who were the first among their respective peoples to actively deal with the challenges and seek the benefits of an open society. The global imperial map was rearranged under League of Nations Mandate which saw foreign territories fall under a Sacred Trust, a term that redefined […]

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The aftermath of the Matabele Rebellion

August 6, 2011
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This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleMatabeleland should be treated as a portion of Mashonaland lately occupied by the Matabele – Leander Starr Jameson The trust placed in Cecil John Rhodes by the amaNdebele leaders was the trust of desperation, and it was by no means absolute, and bearing mind that Rhodes was a proven master of negotiation the terms of peace were as mixed as they were many. Underscoring the settlement, however, was the sense commonly felt among the rank and file of the amaNdebele, and one that Rhodes himself could not fail to acknowledge, that the amaNdebele had not literally surrendered, but had in fact agreed to […]

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Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists

August 4, 2011
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Download article as PDF The Africa@War series is being launched this year as a joint venture between 30 Degrees South publishing of SA and the Helion Group of the UK. It covers African warfare in the post WWII period, which, as we all know, is a very rich period in this particular field. The first book to be released in the series is Prof. Richard Woods treatment of Operation Dingo, the attack on the ZANLA Chimoio base in late 1977. Next is Battle for Cassinga by Mike McWilliams followed by two written by myself, France in Centrafrique and Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists. The Selous Scouts The story of the Selous Scouts has been covered comprehensively in Commanding Officer Col. […]

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The Matabele Rebellion

July 20, 2011
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This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleHow can the white men punish them? Where are the white police? There are none left in the country.[i] The uprising was mooted to begin on the evening of the full moon of March 28 1896, no hint whatsoever of which reached the ears of white settlers and administrators in the territory. Even long time residents of Matabeleland such as the Rev. Charles Helm of the Hope Fountain Mission remained convinced that the defeat of the amaNdebele had been absolute. In a conversation with Frederick Selous, who had recently been appointed cattle inspector for the districts between Umzingwani and Insiza, Helm let it […]

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The death of Mzilikazi and the arrival of the white man

Thumbnail image for The death of Mzilikazi and the arrival of the white man May 14, 2011
This entry is part 9 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 9 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe Matabele Mission died in due course of depletion and internal discord, proving only that no man or woman in Matabeleland would dare to commit to anything that competed with the stern residue of Mzilikazi’s rule. However the political importance of the mission was that it introduced the younger generations of Moffat and Khumalo to one another, meaning that when Lobengula ascended to the amaNdebele throne, and when John Moffat took over the role of family patriarch, a continuum of the trust enjoyed between the fathers of these two men would play out in the later transfer of political power from black rule […]

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Mzilikazi, the Zulu, the Griquas and the Boer

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This entry is part 6 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 6 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele As Robert Moffat’s wagons slipped over the southern horizon and disappeared Mzilikazi turned back towards enKungwini to face arguably the greatest series of challenges to the long term survival of the amaNdebele that he had confronted thus far. The first of these was the long awaited settling of scores with the Zulu that came soon afterwards as Mzilikazi had always feared that it would. Two years earlier the short but shockingly violent reign of Shaka Zulu had been brought to a predictably bloody end by his assassination at the hands of his younger half brother Dingaan, and other disaffected elements within a […]

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The fight at el Wak, Northern Province, Kenya 23rd August 1926

Thumbnail image for The fight at el Wak, Northern Province, Kenya 23rd August 1926 March 26, 2011
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt The background In the summer of 1926 No.4 Company of the 3rd King’s African Rifles (3 KAR) was stationed at Wajir and Mandera in Kenya’s Northern Frontier Province.  The company commander sent out regular patrols to monitor security activities along the border with Italian territory.  Jubaland had been ceded over from Kenya to Italy on 29th June 1925, purportedly as a reward for Italy joining the Allies in the Great War, and was recognised as the Italian colony of Trans-Juba.  The colony had its own Governor and postage stamps.  On 30th June 1926 Trans-Juba was incorporated into the neighbouring colony of Italian Somaliland. The […]

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A parting of the ways

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This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series History of Malawi

Download article as PDF This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series History of MalawiThe day for Africa is yet to come. Possibly the freedmen may be an agency in elevating their fatherland. David Livingstone. John Chilembwe’s impending visit to the United States generated enormous interest among his friends, family and congregation. Booth had so emphasised the redeeming potential of black America that expectations were very high. Why Joseph Booth went to the personal expense (the expense for Chilembwe was not inconsiderable either, for he made a contribution, although small, which would have consumed all the little money he possessed) of inviting Chilembwe on what was, after all, a purely speculative venture, is difficult to discern. It is […]

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The Maruka Patrol: The Central Highlands of British East Africa September to October 1902

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This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Harry FecittBackground In 1901 the colonial authorities in British East Africa (now named Kenya) had completed a railway line from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria.  Ferries then transported passengers and goods across the lake to and from Port Bell in Uganda.  Having thus spent nearly 500 million pounds sterling (nearly US$800 million) in today’s money, the authorities wanted to make the railway pay its running costs.  To help towards this goal prime areas of land in the Central Highlands were selected to house white settlers. However the Central Highlands were populated by indigenous people living in tribal societies, and they […]

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The Action Around OK Pass, Somaliland Protectorate, 1st to 3rd March 1919

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This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Harry FecittDuring the Great War internal security still had to be maintained throughout the vast British Empire.  One continuous problem facing the British was the ongoing insurgency in the Somaliland Protectorate inspired by the Dervish leader Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, the so-called ‘Mad Mullah’.  This insurgency had been running sporadically since 1901 and adjacent Italian territory had often been used for refuge by the insurgents when British operations in Somaliland appeared to be succeeding.  But by 1919 the situation was changing in that the Mullah was hiring Yemeni stonemasons to build sturdy forts within parts of the Protectorate that he controlled, and his followers were settling […]

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Fighting the Aliab Dinka Southern Sudan, November 1919 – May 1920

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This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt

Download article as PDF This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Harry Fecitt  In southern Sudan in 1919 the Aliab Dinka, Bor Dinka and Mandari tribes inhabited an area west of the upper White Nile river.  The tribesmen tended to be tall and fit-looking cattle herders who were adept at using spears.  They had little if any time for western conventions such as wearing clothing or paying tax demands.  The shared governing authority in the Sudan was a joint Anglo-Egyptian condominium in which the British held the higher administrative posts and Egyptians the lower ones. But nobody did much to help the tribesmen, who were expected to pay tax and to provide labour for the Hakuma (government) […]

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The Imperial Tussle: Missionaries give way to a Protectorate in Nyasaland

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This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series History of Malawi

Download article as PDF This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series History of MalawiThe arrival on the lake of the British missionaries pitched the Portuguese on the coast into a fit of apprehension tinged with paranoia lest this be the vanguard of a concerted British strategy to rob them of their interests in the interior. Tensions between Lisbon and London had been steadily building since the days of Livingstone which had been amplified by the determined refusal of Portugal since the 1840s to implement any real practical measures to stamp out the slave trade in Africa. In point of fact the arrival on the lake of the missionaries did indeed force the British Imperial Government to ponder […]

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David Livingstone and the discovery of Lake Nyasa

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This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series History of Malawi

Download article as PDF This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series History of MalawiThe road to development, peace and Christian enlightenment in Nyasaland, as it was in most other facets of British interface in Africa, was paved with good intentions. The original architect of that road was David Livingstone. No man had more profoundly noble intentions than he, but one of the many tragedies of the John Chilembwe affair was the fact that those who took up the burden of the David Livingstone’s work after his death, and in fact those who, such as William Jervis Livingstone, carried his name, where among those identified as the worst offenders in a catalogue of abuses against the Nyasaland blacks. […]

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A Night of Killing: The Story of John Chilembwe

Thumbnail image for A Night of Killing: The Story of John Chilembwe December 28, 2010
This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series History of Malawi

Download article as PDF This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series History of MalawiThe evening of the 23rd of January 1915 settled on the Shiré Highlands of the Nyasaland Protectorate without obvious mishap or portent. January, traditionally the wettest month of the year, could on occasions be drenched by upwards of 10 inches of rainfall, however, on this particular evening, the sky was sheer, the moon high and the stars clear and bright. The air was humid and still, the night warm. It was an African night. A chorus of reed frogs sang shrill and electric, counterpoised against the bored monotony of barking dogs. The steady rhythm of iron against wood. Conversations loud and uninhibited, strung out […]

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Proof that it wasn’t just white against black!

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Download article as PDF (Some interesting comments and observations on the theme of this article can also be found here) I was browsing through the photographs on the Rhodesian Military Facebook page, and noticed a comment attached to a picture of a black Rhodesian soldier manhandling a black guerilla corpse, that this was…‘Proof that it wasn’t just white against black!’ I hope that one of the results of this war will be some arrangement or convention among the nations interested in Central Africa by which the military training of natives in that area will be prevented, as we have prevented it in South Africa. It can well be forseen that armies may well yet be trained there, which under proper […]

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Ian Smith, Prime Minister Rhodesia 1964-1979

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Download article as PDF In September 2002 I had a very interesting experience. At the time Rachel and I were living in Harare and were owners of a small guest house in Avondale. On one particular evening I fell into conversation over a few beers with a guest by the name of Anthony Oberdorfer. The discussion quickly turned to the subject of Rhodesia, and then on to Ian Smith, who at that time was commenting fairly frequently to the press over the matter of the ongoing farm invasions. His appearance had prompted renewed murmurs from central government that he deserved to be tried as a war criminal, to which Smith had memorably replied that should he stand in the upcoming […]

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Why the Native Regiments and Askari Corps of Africa fought

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Download article as PDF Colonialism as an institution has been blamed for almost every ill affecting the developing world, particularly Africa, which has limped along with the aid of this crutch for two generations. Africa’s imperial history is as varied as every other aspect of its history, and the colonial experience itself varied from territory to territory. The Germans were probably among the more able and sophisticated of the European colonisers of the late 18th and 19th centuries. In this regard they were similar to the British. The Germans were relative latecomers, but they contributed enormous resources to the development of their colonies in the short period that they owned them, and left behind relatively sophisticated social and economic infrastructures. […]

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A summary of the East Africa Campaign of World War I

August 24, 2010
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Download article as PDF African Imperial history has in recent years become something of a discredited subject. The basic reason for this, I suppose, is that the political and social landscape of Africa has been so radically altered by independence that very little tangible trace of the period remains. It is also true that all the many failings of indigenous African administration have tended to be blamed on colonialism, and continue to be blamed on colonialism, to the extent that there is almost no aspect of that epoch that is not besmirched by association with one or other of the undeniable evils of that period. It is not my intention, therefore, to write in defense of European colonial expansion, or […]

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Cecil John Rhodes the Empire Builder and Capitalist

July 17, 2010

Download article as PDF Rhodes’ huge territorial ambitions Africa in the 19th century was filled with opportunity, and no less filled with opportunists. The potential to make or break were equally spectacular, and nowhere more so than in South Africa. The great diamond discoveries of Kimberley in 1866 followed by the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 both helped to establish South Africa as the principal arena of capital adventure and war in the 19th century British Empire. In 1870, and into this pot-boiler of opportunity, stepped a slight, sickly and unremarkable youth by the name of Cecil John Rhodes. The son of an English parson, Rhodes had been dispatched to the Natal Colony in the hope that a period of time […]

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Paul Emil von Lettow Vorbeck, German Commander, African Hero

July 16, 2010

Download article as PDF The East Africa Campaign of World War One threw up a number of great personalities. The Campaign is filled with military and civilian characters that contribute verve and colour to one of the most interesting campaigns of World War I. Not least of these were the two principal commanders, General Jan Christian Smuts and Colonel, later General Paul Emil von Lettow Vorbeck. Von Lettow Vorbeck was precisely the same age as his campaign counterpart, both men being born in the same year of 1870. Unlike Smuts, however, von Lettow was born into the minor Pomeranian nobility from which vantage he could look back on a family history of military service. He joined the German Corps of […]

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