While there are various colonial leaders who exhibited brilliance in their fields or who have been reported to have been widely loved by the local populace, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that in many cases, the local populace didn’t have much of a choice. Facing overwhelming military power, they could either fight back or resign themselves to getting the best deal they could. This was likely a choice faced by many who eventually became Askari (soldiers) for different colonial powers. In Germany’s case, those Askari members of the Schuztruppe were better paid than the locals in the armies of the other colonial powers. Under Lettow-Vorbeck’s leadership they were also the most effective guerilla army in history (conversely, without their sacrifice and discipline Lettow-Vorbeck would have been defeated handily). End Disclaimer.
This pursuit was one which spanned the continent and included the longest naval battle in history (9 months) as the British blockaded the Rufiji delta in pursuit of SMS Konigsberg. While the battle ended with the destruction the German cruiser, it took several British ships away from their broader mission of destroying axis commerce around the continent for nearly a year. While much of the book carries an army-centric focus, Gaudi’s thorough depiction of this fight is a notable one for naval enthusiasts as we see one of the first uses of aviation in maritime warfare. Critics of this book point out Gaudi’s inaccuracy in his varying descriptions of SMS Konigsberg as a battleship when it was really a cruiser, but honestly, I am in the Navy myself and I took his shifting descriptions as more of an artistic license in attempting not to be overly repetitive.
And indeed this naval battle is emblematic of von Lettow-Vorbeck’s overall strategy: to execute a fighting retreat in which he is never defeated or captured. In this guerilla campaign he was wildly successful and stands as the only undefeated Axis general of World War I.
Historian Edwin Palmer Hoyt described Lettow-Vorbeck’s campaign as “the greatest single guerrilla operation in history, and the most successful." He did this largely by eschewing the traditional army tactics of the previous century and decentralizing his command in order to attack British supply chains and force them to commit greater and greater forces. His success did come at a high price, however, as his highly disciplined, nail-tough Askari forces (porters and soldiers) died in untallied numbers (although much less proportionately than their adversaries). There’s much evidence though that he was widely respected by his men as seen in a return trip to Tanzania later in his life as an 80 year old retiree in which he was greeted with cheers by again former soldiers and hoisted above their heads.
See our 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.
Key References (for further study): For the life of me, I can't get the book covers to line up in an ordered manner--I eventually just gave up.