On this day in 1914

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.

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A interesting post, and one that’s exposed some gaps in my knowledge. I’d always been under the impression that the early to mid-Victorians (at least here in Britain) had generally looked askance at the medieval period as one of violence, lawlessness and despotism. This sad state of affairs was ended by the arrival of the Tudors who proceeded to introduce a properly constituted legal system, trade and the beginnings of modern government. Havig read what you say about the Church I can’t help but agree – although it’s not an argument I’ve come across before.

The Time Travelling Victorian

As I’ve done my work in New Orleans and read about the 19th century, I keep running into the Medieval past.  This was surprising to me initially.  With all the emphasis on progress and industrialization going on in 19th century America, why would the Medieval world, with its connotations of darkness and backwardness, have resonance?

In my career prior to Goddard, I was a religious studies scholar, and I primarily worked on American Catholicism.  I was keenly interested in how religion gave immigrants and other minority groups a sense of identity and the psychological bulwark to resist forces of oppression and assimilation.  (These are admittedly still interests of mine, but I’ve come to realise that religion as boundary maintenance is a universal phenomenon, not one limited to the modern period.)  One of the things Catholicism had working for it as an immigrant faith was its emphasis on the continuity of…

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From left to right (front): Chamberlain, Dalad...

From left to right (front): Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the Czech government found itself compelled to accept the dictates of the Munich Agreement.  The policy of ‘Appeasement’ – giving Hitler what he wanted in the hope that it would avoid another war – had reached its most notorious extreme.  The ‘treaty’ signed between Nazi Germany, Britain, France and Italy provided for the immediate annexation of the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland to Germany under the pretext that this was the will of the ethic German Sudeten population.  The Czech government was presented with this as a fait accompli and warned that it must either accept or face war – Czech representatatives were barred from the negotiations and simply told to ‘sign here or else…’

Given that most of the Czech border defences were in the Sudetenland I can well understand their relectance to sign.  With hinsight though it seems that the Czech army was better prepared to face an invasion that at first thought and German military ‘punch’ was not as strong as originally assumed. Nazi re-armament was not scheduled to be complete until 1941.  In short, Hitler’s Germany was not ready for a war. That said, President Benes of Czechoslovakia knew they couldn’t hold for long without potential allies and those evaporated like morning mist with the signing of the Munich Agreement.  It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if Britain and France had refused to agree with Hitler.  War in 1938 might well have gone very differently indeed – an idea Harry Turtledove explores well in his counterfactual series ‘Hitler’s War’.

On this day in 1938