Dawn hadn’t even fully broken over the small town of Taveta in British East Africa (now Kenya) when the artillery barrage began on February 12th, 1916.
By the standards of the Great War, the two-hour shelling of German Schutztruppe holding the small strategic lookout (Taveta was near Mount Kilimanjaro and had been seized by Germany early in the war) was little more than a pleasant morning wake-up call. But by the standards of the war in Africa, it was part of a full-blown massive offensive by a combination of Boers, Brits, Rhodesians, Indians and Africans – well over 73,000 men – to wrestle away East Africa from the Kaiser’s grip.
The 6,000 men of a South African brigade, supported by Indian-based artillery, charged at Taveta up Salaita Hill, where British intelligence had suggested that the artillery had been pounding the front-line of a few hundred black African German troops. In reality, the artillery had landed behind the front-line and instead of a few hundred defenders, 2,300 men awaited the Entente attack. Knowing discretion to be the better part of valor, the South Africans quickly retreated with minimal casualties.
Salaita Hill would be another reversal for the Entente in an endless campaign against the forces of German Gen. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck – a campaign that would last beyond the end of the First World War.
The voracious appetite of the Entente for German colonies defined the earliest months of the war in Africa. German possessions in central and southwest Africa fell with relative ease as trained British regulars were able to beat German Schutztruppe (protection forces); often little more than ill-equipped black volunteers or aging white settlers. Coupled with the introduction of forces from South African Boers and British Indians, the conquest of German Africa appeared to be proceeding as a neat and orderly little war. Continue reading