British troops suffered an ignominious and unecessary defeat at Tanga in East Africa. Their nemesis in this case went by the name of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. Four four years, Lettow-Vorbeck held off at least 200,000 British, French and Portugese soldiers with a force that rarely exceeded 11,000 Askari Africans and 3,000 Germans. His East African Campaign rates as one of the most successful guerilla campaigns of modern history – quite possibly of all time.
When you do a little bit of digging on the man he emerges as quite a character. On the surface an old-school Prussian, he challenges that image by his style of command. Innovative and thoughtful he was clearly a superb tactician and a man who knew how to inspire loyalty – not just from his German subordinates, but also from the Askari soldiers under his command. Lettow-Vorbeck spoke their language fluently and treated them no differently to his German troops. Interestingly, he also ensured that those with sufficient potential received commissions – often from the ranks.
After the war, he resigned from the army and played little or no part in the turbulent politics of Weimar Germany. What really made me smile was his response to being courted by the Nazis. Hitler reportedly offered him the post of ambassador to Britain – an approach based solely on his war record. The old general’s response is not explicitly recorded, but there is a story (possibly not apocryphal) that he told Adolf to go fuck himself. 🙂
A salute then to the old general – a soldier of the old school and the closest thing to an honourable enemy one is likely to find in modern conflict.