World War I in Africa looks afresh at the strategies of the German and Allied campaigns, and at the great rivalry between General Jan Christian Smuts, who took on the German forces in East Africa, and General Lettow-Vorbeck, celebrated as the only German general to occupy British territory and whose troops finished the war undefeated. Although this book is presented as a multi-national study of the war in Africa, its key strength lies in the author’s intimate knowledge of internal politics in South Africa, writes LSE’s Mahon Murphy.
“Ah, I wish to hell I were in France! There one lives like a gentleman and dies like a man, here one lives like a pig and dies like a dog,” Lord Cranworth, settler in British East Africa once stated (p. 154).
Apart from Hew Strachan’s book on Africa during the First World War, there have not been many recent publications that have dealt with the conflict in Europe’s African colonies. That trend has been shifting, and with the centenary of the war and the historiographical shift to colonial history, gender studies, transnational and colonial history, there is an expected glut of publications that will look in depth at what was previously considered a side show. With this in mind one may be forgiven for thinking that it is actually the conflict on the Western Front rather than in Africa which is in danger of being forgotten.
Anne Samson’s new book on the First World War in Africa builds on her previous publication on the conflict and South Africa. This new book offers a more comparative look at the war and focuses in on the actual places of conflict in German East Africa and German South West Africa. Strachan’s standard work takes an in-depth look at the military campaigns. Samson seeks, however, to draw out the “humanness” of the war through a study of the influences of individuals rather than a military machine. This is certainly not a new approach to the conflict in German East Africa. The conflict there was awash with well-studied characters from the undefeated in the field: General Paul Lettow-Vorbeck and the eccentric British Naval Officer Spicer-Simson. However, what Samson delivers is a fascinating insight into the interplay between these various characters and how decisions taken on the ground, affected the outcome of the war. The Great War in Africa is presented here as a battle of wits between the various war, colonial, and foreign offices and those in the immediate line of fire (p. 43). Continue reading