World War I: The African Front: An Imperial War On The African Continent, by Edward Paice
In a way, this book does not quite live up to its title. To be sure, it is a very good book about World War I in East Africa, but this book claims to be a look at World War I’s African Front, and it is less ambitious than that. Perhaps a comparison would make this easiest to understand. If we looked at a book that claimed to talk about the African Front of World War II and all it included was a discussion of the battle over Egypt, it may be a good book (as this one is), but it would not be what it says given the fact that there was fighting in Somaliland and neighboring areas as well that would have to be taken into consideration. This book barely mentions World War I in Togo, Camaroon, and Namibia and focuses on the battle for control of German East Africa and the drama that was involved there. The author speaks eloquently about imperial warfare in this area and what it entailed and the stresses that the war put on different empires and the relationships between the UK and Belgium and Portugal, which were unequally yoked allies with a great deal of mutual bad blood.
This book is a long one at more than 400 pages and is divided by year. The book begins with a list of illustrations, maps, acknowledgements, glossary, and a discussion of the people focused on in this book. After that there is an introduction and then the first part of the book begins with five chapters on 1914 that discuss the opening German attacks, the phony war, a failed assault and its aftermath, and the marking of time that followed. After that, the author discusses the warfare along the Tanzanian coast and in the west where Belgium got involved, and also the destruction of the Konigsburg and the involvement of the Portuguese in 1915. The discussion of 1916 involved a military build-up, raids and advances and retreats, as well as the attempt by South Africa’s troops to gain a final phase of victory while logistics proved to be a massive struggle. In 1917 the author discusses raids, German efforts to avoid being captured, and the propaganda war. Finally, 1918 includes three chapters on the hunt of the German army as it moved into Portuguese West Africa and then sought to invade Northern Rhodesia in the search for ammunition and supplies that ended with a surrender. After that there is an epilogue about the postwar experience of the German leaders as well as appendices that discuss the orders of battle from 1914 to 1918, notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Ultimately, the ending of this book is somewhat anticlimactic. Germany was simply unable to provide resources to its wayward and starving colonial army and though the German colonial forces were brave and led well, it was not surprising at all that they should be forced to come to terms when Germany itself lost the will to resist the Allied forces arrayed against them. This book has a lot of negative things to say about imperialism, regardless of what variety one is talking about, and is especially pointed about the disagreements that existed between people and the struggles faced by the imperial armies in getting enough carriers to provide logistics support for the conflict that went on far longer than anyone predicted would be the case. The book has a lot of humor but a great deal of that humor makes fun of the leadership of the imperial nations and the way that their best-laid plans ended up not working out that well and even then there is a sense of futility about the deaths and injuries that resulted from an imperial war that went far beyond what anyone expected.