Subtitle: Operational Art and the German East African Campaign, 1914-1918
Author: Kenneth P. Adgie
Monograph rept.; School of Advanced Military Studies United States Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2003
Paperback, 22x28 cm, 71 pages, 1 map
This monograph analyzed whether Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck used operational art to defeat British forces in the East African campaign of World War I. British forces were superior in quantity of men and equipment, but slow moving and heavily dependent on secure lines of communication. Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces maintained an asymmetric advantage in mobility, knowledge of terrain, and responsive logistics. An analogy was suggested that the U.S. Army in the twenty-first century is similar to British forces in 1914, and the nation s future adversaries could potentially use Lettow-Vorbeck’s unconventional warfare and asymmetric tactics woven together in a comprehensive campaign plan. This monograph reviewed the origins and characteristics of operational art.
The Armys emerging doctrine, Student Text 3-0, Operations defines operational art as the use of military force to achieve strategic goals through the design, organization, integration, and conduct of theater strategic, campaigns, major operations, and battles and serves as the entry point for discussion. A synthesis of Shimon Naveh and James Schneider’s theories revealed five primary characteristics of operational art and was used as the criteria to evaluate the research question.
The five characteristics were: operational objectives, operational maneuver, disruption, operational approach, and operational logistics. The East African campaign was analyzed from the perspective of Lettow-Vorbeck linking his strategic aim of forcing the British to commit forces to a secondary theater of operations to his limited resources. The four-year campaign was divided into three phases based on Lettow-Vorbeck’s operational objectives and the correlation of forces. Significant tactical vignettes were examined as part of an over arching campaign plan.
So long as we continue to resist, so long the enemy must pour resources into Africa and thus weaken his reinforcements in Europe. We were a knife in his side, and the more we turned it, the more he bled.
Lettow- Vorbeck, January, 1918
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was the son of a Prussian General, but his career was not a traditional Junker career. He was a member of the German General Staff when he deployed as part of an international force sent to China to quell the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. This was followed by duty in German South West Africa as adjutant to General Trotha and the brutal crushing of the Herero Rebellion. Working with British, Boer, and native forces provided a unique perspective and appreciation of the differences between the fields of Europe and the jungles of Africa. Shot and blinded in one eye he was invalided back to Germany by way of German East Africa. His career took another twist when assigned as commander of a Kriegsmarine battalion at Wilhelmshaven. This presented Lettow-Vorbeck an opportunity to appreciate the capabilities of small vessels, littoral operations, and the firepower available from the sea. In January 1914, Lettow-Vorbeck returned to German East Africa as the military commander. His small force of two hundred Germans and less than two thousand Askaris distributed across the colony in sixteen companies was designed to secure the European settlers not fight a war. War clouds on the horizon prompted Lettow-Vorbeck to begin an immediate reconnaissance of the German colony, and establish a training regime for the willing but unready Schutztruppe.49
Potential enemies surrounded German East Africa. To the north, British East Africa and British Uganda connected by the Mombasa port and Ugandan railroad that ran from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria. To the west lay Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, the two largest fresh water lakes in the world. The former separated the two British colonies, the latter separated Lettow-Vorbeck's western flank from the Belgium Congo and most of British Rhodesia. Lake Tanganyika, over four hundred miles long and between ten and thirty miles across, covered most of the western border. Germany, Britain, and Belgium each had a ferry service operating on the lake. To the southwest, lay British Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and to the south lay Portuguese East Africa.50 German East Africa's six hundred mile eastern border was the Indian Ocean controlled by the Royal Navy. Mount Kilmanjaro dominated the border between British and German East Africa, and spewed forth-smaller ridges, valleys, and draws that presented both attacker and defender numerous options and challenges.
The country's interior was a mixture of fertile highlands, disease laden river valleys and jungles, dry savannah, and low-lying coastal plains. The countries two largest cities resided on the Indian Ocean. Tanga, the northern port city and terminus of the German Northern Railway that stretched 270 miles from the Indian Ocean to the foothills of Kilmanjaro, resided on the British-German border. Dar es Salaam, the colony capital, resided halfway down the coast and controlled the Central Railway. This rail line connected the capital city to Lake Tanganyika - a distance of 760 miles. Its inaugural opening celebration was scheduled for 6 August 1914.
Britain declared war on Germany August 4, 1914 and word quickly passed around the globe. Germany had five overseas colonies: Kia-Chow in China, Togoland, German South West Africa, Cameroon, and German East Africa.51 British foreign policy viewed these detached outposts as valuable and worthy objectives. Publicly, their seizure prevented German surface raiders from using them as ports, and protected neighboring colonies from future Hun invasions. Privately, Britain saw these colonies as choice territory that added to their overseas holdings, and could prove useful as bargaining chips at the peace table.52 On 8 August 1914, the cruisers Astrea and Pegasus entered the Dar es Salaam port, fired the opening salvo of the war, and destroyed the German wireless tower. The Great War had come to Africa.
Fifteen hundred soldiers of the King's African Regiment garrisoned British East Africa. British war aims focused on securing their colony, allow the export of raw materials, eliminate German raiders from the Indian Ocean, and conquer German East Africa for use in peace negotiations or profit. The means available to both sides was equal at the war's outset, but Lettow-Vorbeck realized that his force could only increase through recruitment while the British had numerous regiments postured throughout the hemisphere. Lettow-Vorbeck's plan required a disparate force ratio if he was to succeed in his aim. His analysis of the aim reconciled with tactical resources available is best described in his own words:
It was to be considered that hostile troops would allow themselves to be held only if we attacked, or at least threaten the enemy at some sensitive point. It was further to be remembered that, with the means available, protection of the colony could not be ensured even by purely defensive tactics, since the total length of the land frontier and coast line was about equal to that of Germany. From these considerations, it followed that it was necessary, not to split up our small available forces in local defenses but on the contrary, to keep them together, to grip the enemy by the throat and force him to employ his forces in self defense.53
Lettow-Vorbeck developed several operational objectives to accomplish his aim. First, the interdiction of the Ugandan railroad that was critical to landlocked Uganda, British troops in the interior, and the Mombassa port. This would force the British to commit troops to protect an exposed vulnerability. Second, the British must be prevented from using Mombassa as a naval base. Third, Tanga and Dar es Salaam must be secured. If the British seized the ocean terminus of the Northern or Central Railway than the enemy could introduce and sustain forces in German East Africa indefinitely. Finally, economy offeree objectives throughout the remainder of the colony: preventing Belgium from crossing Lake Tanganyika and landing ground forces on the colony's western flank, preventing British Rhodesia from threatening a two front war, and securing the countries interior to ensure a continuous flow of men and logistics.
Lettow-Vorbeck's theater design allocated forces and areas of operation to accomplish these operational objectives. Major Kraut, Lettow-Vorbeck's most experienced and proficient leader, was assigned his colony's Northern Railway as a base of operation with a line of operation projecting into British East Africa, the Ugandan rail line, and Mombassa. Major General Wahle, a retired German officer visiting his son, was assigned the task of maintaining the lines of communication and logistics around the Central Railway, and controlling the movement of supplies throughout the theater. Count Falkenstein was assigned the southwest region. Lieutenant Commander Zimmerman of the German Navy was assigned Lake Tanganyika and its three German vessels. He was to prevent the free movement of Allied troops and supplies either attacking the western border, or moving by ferry from Uganda to South Africa. Finally, Captain Max Loof, Commander of the Koenigsberg, conducted raiding operations against British shipping in the Indian Ocean. Lettow-Vorbeck never gave Loof instructions, nor would have Loof accepted any. The Koenigsberg conducted operations for a year without any detailed coordination with German land forces.55
The British envisioned a Napoleonic decisive battle where mass and superior firepower would overwhelm the Germans. Their campaign plan specified securing Tanga as a base of operations; proceed along the Northern Railway destroying pockets of resistance, then turn south thru the interior of German East Africa until they reached the Central Railway. The British would then repeat the process heading east toward Dar es Salaam. This campaign plan would accomplish both of Kitcheners war aims: bring the entire colony under British control, and deny German raiders their ports.56
The British bombardment of Dar es Salaam on 8 August 1914 prompted Lettow-Vorbeck to move several companies to that region. The British took no further action, and the Schutztruppe defended the port by emplacing dummy minefields with empty drums and logs. Lettow-Vorbeck used the lull in operations to prepare the theater for an extended conflict. His biggest concern was logistics and how to sustain a distributed force across difficult terrain. Lettow-Vorbeck was convinced that the effort required transporting and supplying a company in Africa equated to the effort needed to supply a division in Europe.57 To facilitate his operation, Lettow-Vorbeck directed the building of roads from the rail lines to supply depots, and the Schutztruppe adopt the colonialist method of using native carriers vice pack animals or mechanical transport.58 This decision, not taken by the British until the third year of the war, had far reaching consequences. Lettow-Vorbeck also conducted extensive reconnaissance of the road network vicinity Tanga and Dar es Salaam. Small villages and plantations lined both railways and owned predominantly by retired German soldiers. This proved a boon to the Schutztruppe in terms of manpower, recruitment, safe havens, and supply depots.
A few isolated incidents occurred between 8 August and 2 November 1914. At the outset of the war, Lettow-Vorbeck ordered the Ugandan rail line telegraph wires cut and rail stations destroyed. These actions, focused vicinity Kilmanjaro, were short duration missions. The British responded as predicted, and Brigadier General Stewart arrived with four thousand soldiers of the Indian Expeditionary Brigade. Stewart deployed these soldiers across the four hundred mile border with half this area being desert. The Schutztruppe's northern force began small-scale attacks near watering holes to create gaps in the British picket line and continued their attacks against the Ugandan rail line. Lettow-Vorbeck seized Taveta, a British town a few miles north of the borders that sat astride the main avenue of approach between Kilmanjaro and the Pere Mountains and was the gateway into German East Africa.59 The Germans also achieved their first operational objective on 22 August 1914 when the German ship Wissmann and Kingani sank the Belgium and British ships on Lake Tanganyika. The Germans completed the Götzen a few months later, and these three ships were a fleet in being that effectively guarded their western border for the next two years. 60
The British reaction to the threat to the Ugandan rail line was to increase the number of troops committed to British East Africa. Three additional brigades arrived in Mombassa during October 1914 bringing the British strength up to twelve thousand men. These units came from across the empire, a majority from India, and none acclimatized to the oppressive equatorial heat and rugged terrain. Major General Atkins commanded the British forces and his orders stated, "The object of the expedition under your command is to bring the whole of German East Africa under British authority." 61 His units were a disparate collection unaccustomed to each other, and the complex plan exceeded their ability. Atkins envisioned a brigade attacking Longido as a deception while two brigades attacked Tanga by land and amphibious assault. Longido is nearly two hundred miles from Tanga and controls no key terrain. Tanga was critical to the Germans and would be stoutly defended.
The Battle of Tanga was a tactical fight with operational and strategic implications. Lettow-Vorbeck's spy network permitted him to know the exact location of the British land and sea forces moving south. 62 His intent for the defense of Tanga was to "collect all available troops as rapidly as possible toward the obviously impending attack on Tanga." 63 The British feint at Longido was defeated 3 November. Lettow-Vorbeck gathered these soldiers and others along the Northern Railway and moved them two hundred miles overnight to augment the forces in Tanga. This concentration of forces brought the Schutztruppe strength to over one thousand, but he faced a British contingent numbering eight thousand.
The British selected a poor landing site for their amphibious force, and friction began to take its toll. The British attack was delayed twenty-four hours until 4 November 1914. Tanga, a town with solid brick houses and surrounded by dense hedges or cleared ground, was ideally suited for a defense. The British attacked in the finest European tradition of lines and columns. German machine guns and snipers disrupted the British attack, but the weight of numbers permitted the British to gain a foothold. Both commanders maintained a reserve to commit at the decisive moment. Unfortunately, Atkins positioned himself aboard a ship and his reserve was kept within two hundred yards of the front lines remaining under fire throughout the battle. Lettow-Vorbeck's reserve consisted of two companies that moved the length of the Northern Railway, de-trained within the sounds of the guns, and immediately entered the fray. The German commander committed them into the rear and flank of the British forces and their enfilade fire broke the attack. The British retreated, reloaded the ship, leaving tons of supplies on the beach. […]
II. OPERATIONAL ART
III. THE EAST AFRICAN CAMPAIGN
IV. THE ARMY VERUS AN ASYMMETRIC ENEMY