Germany's Exit from Africa


By Lewis R. Freeman

[The World's Work, October 1915]

Three years ago at a water hole in Damaraland, South Africa, I met a German officer on leave who painted in graphic words a picture of Germany's African ambitions.

The heat and fever he had gone through had made him talkative:

"If England was not a dunderhead," he said, "why did she not take all of Southwest Africa instead of only Walfisch Bay? Any time up to twenty years ago she could have done this, but because there was much desert, and little rain, England, with her shop-keeper's spirit, said "No; it is worthless. It will not pay. It took Germany to see—and to act upon the knowledge—that Southwest Africa could be made to dominate all of South Africa. England never had the sense to see that she could save 3,000 miles of distance and two weeks of time by going from this coast straight to Rhodesia and the Transvaal instead of around by Cape Town. But England lost more than a railroad short-cut by her stupidity. Ultimately, it will cost her all this end of the continent.

"What do you call these?" he said, opening up a pocket map and running a finger along criss-crossed lines which were traced inland from Swakopmund and Luderitz-Bucht. "Railroads, eh? Yes, they are railroads; but doesn't it occur to you that they are also knives pointing at the hearts of the Transvaal and Cape Colony? What else could a railroad beyond the diamond mines back of Luderitz-Bucht be? The commerce of that desert for the next hundred years will not be sufficient to pay for the water that will have to be condensed on the coast and relayed out along the line for the engines. Yes; well, some day those knives may be driven home right where they are pointed, and then what will those clever British colonizing methods you talk about amount to? But it may well be that we shall never have to go to the trouble of cutting down the plums which the obliging English have planted here for us. More likely that, ripe and juicy, they will fall into our laps of their own weight. Clever you call the English, eh? It was clever to beat the Boers and take their country, yes. But stupid not to crush them when they were down, and daft to put them on their feet again and give them more than they had before. Some day this viper at the bosom will bite, and then—Germany will know what to do."

Realizing that it was the window of a man's, or rather a nation's, soul which chance had opened up to me, I resolved to make the most of the opportunity.

"Your logic is as mixed as your metaphors," I said in a studied effort at the provocation which I knew to be the only thing that would keep the man from bridling his tongue. "The Boers are contented and loyal, and even the natives of the Belgian Congo, in spite of all that has been said about 'rubber atrocities,' are better disposed toward their rulers than those of Damaraland."

"The Belgian Congo. Faugh! What is that?" and he snapped his fingers contemptuously. "By whose suffrance does Belgium hold the Congo? The reversionary rights are France's, you say. But what is France's to-day Germany has but to march to Paris to make hers to-morrow. A week, a month at the most, and the new empire which ma belle France boasts is greater than that conquered by the first Napoleon lies at our feet. I suppose you think that Germany suffered a setback in the Morocco affair. Most of the world does think so. But what did we have in Morocco? Not a kilometer of territory, not a special right. So. Well, we renounce what we have in Morocco—nothing—and get for it many thousands of kilometers of the French Kameruns. That was a bargain which even you Yankees might be proud of. And when the time comes for us to take what we want in Morocco—or in any other part of French Africa, for that matter—we will take it—in Paris."

A good deal more in the same vein my outspoken guest gave expression to in the three days which elapsed before a point was reached where the assistance of a Commissioner was available in rounding up his effects and getting him on to rail-head, but these several statements from his diatribe of the first evening are sufficient to my present purpose. The significant points indicated by them are, first, that Germany believed herself able to take, and, when the time was ripe, ultimately intended to take, many, if not all, of the holdings of France and Belgium in Africa; and, second, that, largely through Boer disaffection, the conquest of British South Africa was deemed feasible.

Now let us trace briefly the history of Germany's colonial ventures in Africa and see what of her ambitions she did realize, what she might have realized without going to war, and, finally, what she probably will realize as a consequence of going to war.

The territory brought under the red, white, and black banner in the decade and a half from 1884 to 1900 was remarkable. It included a number of groups and isolated islands in the South Pacific, nearly one third of New Guinea, the so-called lease of Kiao-chau, and upward of a million square miles in Central and South Africa. It is with the latter that we are now concerned.

Germany's appearance as a colonizing power in Africa was greeted in no unfriendly spirit by either France or Great Britain. Each of the latter felt that it was already possessed of about all it could comfortably look after, and both realized that another shoulder under "The White Man's Burden" in the Dark Continent might make the load easier for all. Moreover, it was readily granted that the really splendid work of German explorers and scientists in opening unknown Africa made the Fatherland a legitimate participant in its division. At that time no nation cared much what happened to the fever haunted jungles of the Gulf of Guinea which became the Kameruns, nor yet to the blinding deserts of the Southwest coast; but in giving up the Zanzibar hinterland to Germany, Britain abandoned her cherished hope for an "All Red" zone for the Cape-to-Cairo railroad, as well as a strong right to an extensive territory of great potential value. These concessions, it should especially be borne in mind, were made to Germany on the understanding— implied if not expressed—-that she was to confine her colonial activities to Central and South Africa, and that no other nation's "spheres"—and above all North Africa—should be encroached upon.

For nearly twenty years Germany, with characteristic energy, devoted herself to the development of her new colonies without exciting more than sporadic suspicions that she was not "playing the game." Then the temptation to make a bid for Morocco—dominating, as it does, both the Cape and Mediterranean routes to Australia and the Orient—became too strong for the Kaiser, and, with rattle of tongue and sabre, he launched from a clear sky his bolt to the effect that he proposed in the future to recognize only the authority of the native ruler in Northwest Africa. France, realizing that a German foothold there meant a strangle-hold so far as she was concerned, shivered and drew near to England in the Entente of 1904. MILITARY RAILROADS IN THE DESERT

Europe breathed easier for a year or two; but the cloven hoof had been revealed, and even casual travelers began to remark the curious fact that several of Germany's apparently innocent ''commercial" lines were being laid down to and through country which had very scant commercial prospects. Neither did fortified bridgeheads, and magazines, and block-houses with artillery emplacements at points where there were no settlements to defend tend to bolster up confidence in the peacefulness of Germany's penetration. France and England kept their eyes open during the next half decade, however, and the Kaiser's attempted coup at Agadir in 1911—really an effort to start another Tsingtau—found them presenting a united front. Europe shook to its foundations and peace trembled in the balance for a few days, but the air-buffers of diplomacy again absorbed the shock and the great crash was deferred a little longer.

It will be interesting to note here that Germany and Austria were ready to launch a comprehensive trading movement in Tripoli at the very moment of the Agadir incident, and it was Italy's belief that this move was a forerunner of Austrian occupation which induced Rome to anticipate it by the Tripolitan campaign of 1911-12. This attempt on the part of Austria to "double-cross" Italy was the one most important of the several causes which operated to force the latter out of the Triple Alliance and ultimately into the camp of the Allies.

Germany accepted with the best grace possible a large slice of French Equatorial Africa in satisfaction of the "rights" she renounced in Morocco, Italy put an end to Austria's African ambitions by taking Tripoli from Turkey, and, so far as the Dark Continent was concerned, the stage was set for the climacteric act. THE TEMPTATION OF MOROCCO

Despite these demonstrations of the unbounded ambitions of the Kaiser in Africa—perhaps, indeed, as a consequence of them—Britain and France were willing, up to the very outbreak of the war, to allow Germany to add to her territory in that continent up to a maximum of something like 2,000,000 square miles, provided only that the extension were effected fairly and peacefully. This was clearly stated by Sir Harry Johnston in an address before the Royal Geographic Society last February. "From 1910 to the outset of the present war," said this greatest of African authorities, "we viewed with actual favor a much enlarged German Africa provided that Germany left the Mediterranean regions alone." The new territory which France and England were willing that Germany should acquire, it will be well to explain, would have had to be obtained by purchase and exchange, principally from Belgium and Portugal. But the lure of the incalculably valuable Morocco was still more than the Kaiser could withstand, and that, with who knows what in the way of the gold fields of the Rand, the diamond mines of Kimberley, and the control of Suez, was among the stakes he saw on the table when he played his first card in the form of the Austrian ultimatum to Servia. THE DEFENSE OF EAST AFRICA

Immediately after the outbreak of the war it seemed that the German colonies of Africa, cut off by sea and hemmed in by enemies, would fall easy prey to the British and French. Only too quickly, however, the Allies learned that here, as in Europe, German thoroughness and prevision had been greatly underrated. Everywhere were seemingly inexhaustible supplies of arms and munitions, forces were always more numerous than had been anticipated, all places that there was any chance of defending had been fortified, while the "commercially indefensible" railroads gave good warrant for their existence on strategic considerations. Repeated raids were made northward from German East Africa in the hope of cutting the Uganda Railroad, the artery of British East Africa, and for a time it appeared to be inevitable that the Kaiser's forces would overrun and occupy Nyassaland, to the south. The German always leaves his railroad base reluctantly, however, and is never at his best far away from it. In time help from Rhodesia relieved the pressure on Nyassaland, and fresh troops from India established a safe defensive line for the protection of the Uganda Railroad. It is a fact, nevertheless, that the first year of the war has not seen the German East African forces put upon any general defensive, and that a very stout resistance may be expected from them even should it prove practicable. ultimately for the British to send expeditions from all four sides—the sea and the lake districts, Nyassaland, and British East Africa—at once.

The metre-gauge railroad from Dar-es-Salaam to Lake Tanganyika was completed only a few months prior to the outbreak of the war. The main trunk is 800 miles long and runs through the heart of the colony. The 600 miles which I traversed in 1912 were unusually well built and efficiently administered, and much, of course, has been done since then to heighten the road's military usefulness. This line will give the Germans great mobility in repulsing flank attacks from the north and south, and it is not going to prove an easy matter to cut it by advances from either of these directions. More likely it will succumb to expeditions from the coast and Tanganyika, which, fighting their way mile by mile, gradually "eat it up" from both ends. Barring a complete German triumph in Europe, the British conquest of German East Africa is inevitable, though many months of fighting must elapse before it is effected. THE LOST KAMERUNS

Although completely ringed by British or French colonies and the sea, the Germans in Togoland and the Kameruns have, by using every means at their disposal from poisoning wells to inciting revolt in the enemy's country, managed to put up a shifty and not ineffective resistance. The fact that all this region is practically impassable jungle, making operations away from the railroads and rivers almost out of the question, operated for a while strongly in favor of the German defensive. Incipient trouble with some of the border tribes—the consequence of German intrigue—hampered the British operations for a time, but the native troops of both the British and French colonies rose bravely to the occasion, and the scattering resistance of the Teutons has now resolved itself into a feeble guerrilla warfare. The end of the first year of the war may, indeed, be said to find Germany's colonies on the Gulf of Guinea practically conquered.

There remains now to consider only German Southwest Africa and the remarkable part played by the Boers in the conquest of it, perhaps, from the British standpoint, the brightest page of the war yet turned. That Germany, considering her faultiness of vision as to the drift of thought and sentiment in other parts of the world, should have held high hopes of rallying the Boers to her side in the event of a war with Britain is by no means surprising. Certainly we in America felt that England was storing up trouble for herself in "destroying," as we used to put it, "an independent nation." This was my own feeling when I visited South Africa in 1905, and what I observed on that occasion did not entirely eradicate it. It is true that the outstanding thing, even then, was the splendid effort the British were making to wipe out the memories of the past and put their new subjects squarely on their feet. But labor troubles were acute (it was the year of the Chinese riots on the Rand), crops short from drought, trade dull, unemployment general, and not all the war wounds yet healed over.

"Our people are slow to anger, but slow also in cooling from anger," a prominent Boer merchant said to me; "and though most of us will not deny that we are being well treated, I fear that another generation will have to be born before the Boer can be brought to love the power that broke him." THE MIRACLE OF BOER RECONCILIATION

But seven years later I returned to the Transvaal, and lo—the miracle had been wrought! War feeling was all but dead, the Union of South Africa had been formed with the broad, brilliant, big-hearted Botha at its head, trade was humming, industry expanding and, wonder of wonders, the Burghers prosperous and contented. I looked up the same man (he was now a banker) whose words I have quoted above and reminded him of what he had said. "Yes, I remember what I told you—what I thought—at that time," he said. "There is still an ache in some of our hearts for things the war cost us. But the sense of justice is highly developed in the Boer, and "we cannot deny that under the fair, square, helpful regime of the British we have become better off in ten years than we would have been in fifty under Paul Kruger. They have left us our language, self-government—everything, in fact, we had before—and have brought us progressiveness and prosperity. A new national feeling—an Imperial one, I mean—is developing among the Boers, and in time it will be as strong as the old one for which we poured out so much blood."

My friend did not say in so many words that his people would fight for their new country, as they had done for their old; but from the time of this visit I have never doubted that, should the call ever come, such would be the case. A MIGHTY TASK IN THE SOUTHWEST

The task of conquering such a country as Southwest Africa—especially with its railroads strongly held, as it was known they were in this instance—was one which might well have given pause to the keenest of European-schooled strategists. The problem was that of destroying or capturing upward of 10,000 of the best trained soldiers in the world, generously supplied with modern arms and munitions, aeroplanes and wireless facilities, fighting an elaborate defensive, prepared years in advance, and themselves holding the railroads. What the result would have been had not events shaped in a way to allow the use of Boers and other colonials in this zone it would be hard to say, but one may be reasonably safe in assuming that a decision would have been arrived at in Europe earlier than in Southwest Africa. BOTHA'S CAMPAIGN

Botha opened his campaign by sweeping the traitor, Maritz, out of Old Colony, clearing the frontier, and beginning the construction of a railroad to connect the 8,000-mile system of the Union with railhead of the German line in Damaraland. Then, with his own borders safe against raids, he started his expeditionary forces from Cape Town to the Southwest coast, where, the way having been opened by naval demonstrations, landings were made without difficulty at Luderitz Bay and Swakopmund. The forces, about 50,000 in number, were divided into four armies, the Northern, the Central, the Southern, and the Eastern. General Botha commanded the Northern Army, and the other three were ultimately united under the command of General Smuts.

Preparations for an advance occupied the next two months—the landings were made in December and January—the great problem being that of commissariat, and especially water supply. Sir George Farrar, Assistant Quartermaster General, who gained his experience in desert transport in the Boer War, and who lost his life in the course of the campaign, is given the credit for the remarkable organization which made possible Botha's sweeping successes. The water problem was solved by the construction of additional condensing plants on the coast, and a supplementary supply brought in tank steamers from Cape Town. In March the advance inland commenced, General Botha moving up the railroad from Swakopmund toward Windhoek, 250 miles inland, while Sir Duncan Mackenzie operated on the line from Luderitz Bay. The general plan of campaign was for Botha to crumple up the main German defensive as he advanced on Windhoek, while Mackenzie; after taking the diamond fields and Warmbad, was to slant northward and unite with Botha for an attack upon the capital. WINDHOEK

This was the identical plan that the Germans had expected, and, as they thought, provided against; it was Botha's way of carrying it out they failed to reckon with. No properly schooled general, the Teutons figured, would cut loose into a waterless desert when he had the means at his disposal to rebuild and utilize a destroyed railroad. The Boer War should have taught them better. Botha did, indeed, rebuild and utilize to the utmost the railroad as fast as it fell into his hands,, but, secure with his splendidly organized transport at his back, began also to "cut corners" and execute swift flanking movements which quickly stultified the orthodox strategy of the Germans and rendered the greater part of their defensive preparations of no avail. Several, plucky stands were made early in the campaign—one against General Mackenzie, at Gibeon, cost the Germans 200 men, a number of field pieces, and a great herd of cattle; but before long, as a consequence of the lightning advances of the tireless Colonials, the defenders were at their wits' ends to retreat fast enough to escape capture. Two hundred miles in three days by a troop of Boer cavalry, and seventy miles in two days by infantry, are records which one not familiar with what De Wet and this same Botha had done in 1900-01 might well consider incredible. The relentlessness of the pursuit forced the Germans to retreat northward without making a stand in defense of their capital, and Windhoek was occupied by Botha, without opposition, on May 12th.

Still destroying the railroad and mining the outlying passes, the Germans backed off toward Otavifontein and Namutoni, with the apparent object of making the latter the base for a final dispersal northward into the wilds of the Portuguese colony of Angola. Anticipating the enemy's plans, General Botha, on the occupation of Otavi, decided on making a supreme final effort to head him off. General Brits marched his column forty-five miles in sixteen hours, and General Lukin covered forty-eight miles in twenty hours, in throwing out the net, and even more remarkable records are attributed to a command under General Mybrugh which passed the main German force to the right, and, after a sharp engagement, occupied the Tsumeb terminus of the railroad in the line of the enemy's retreat. The occupation of Namutoni…by General Brits closed the net completely. Outmarched, outfought, outgeneraled, and outnumbered, the Kaiser's commander, Colonel Franke, had no alternatives save those of annihilation or surrender. The formidable force of more than 10,000 men which the German commander-in-chief and governor of the Protectorate, Dr. Seitz, mustered at the outbreak of the war had dwindled by this time to 204 officers and 3,293 men. The men of the regular forces were interned, and the reservists of the Landwehr and Landsturm, with all commissioned officers, were paroled. The liberality of these terms, considered in connection with the fact that Colonel Franke's sword was returned to him by General Botha, might well be taken to indicate that the reports of well-poisoning and kindred atrocities on the part of the Germans were somewhat exaggerated.

It may be mentioned that Germany's defense of Southwest Africa—or, more correctly, that country's "paper" plan of offense against British South Africa—besides the cooperation of the Boers, also contemplated the bringing of huge numbers of reservists from among the million and a half Teutons in Southern Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Stores and arms in enormous quantities were provided in Africa, a large number of steamers suitable for transport concentrated at Santos, Santa Catharina, Montevideo, Rosario, Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, and Valdivia when the war broke out, and swarms of reservists are reported to have assembled in answer to the call. At no time, however—not even after the sinking of Cradock's fleet off Coronel—was German sea power in the South Pacific and South Atlantic sufficiently strong to warrant the risk of taking the final step in this boldly conceived plan.

The immediate, or even the potential, value of Southwest Africa is not great in comparison to that of many other parts of the incalculably rich continent of which it forms a part. Its area is 322,348 square miles, or about, six times the size of England. Much of this region is desert, however, with only a negligible rainfall, and even the best of it is pastoral rather than agricultural in nature. The diamond mines in the Luderitz Bay hinterland have produced as high as $5,000,000 worth of precious stones in a year, but beyond these,, and copper deposits of unknown extent in Otavi, the mineral wealth of the region, is not great. All in all, General Botha is probably about correct in saying that the best effect of his conquest will be the getting rid by the Union of South Africa of a troublesome and undesirable neighbor.

To speculate upon the future of Southwest Africa—of all of once-German Africa in fact—would be idle at this time. England unquestionably intends to make the conquest permanent. The whole of southern Africa appears as a red patch on the new maps, and General Botha has announced his intention of inaugurating a colonizing movement to settle the best of the available land with British subjects from the Union.

Germany, on the other hand, has taken the loss with a good deal of equanimity, coolly maintaining that the temporary alienation of all of her colonies was expected, and that their ultimate fate—and the fate of all overseas Great Britain and France as well—will be decided in Europe. Among Botha's discoveries at Windhoek was a German map of "Africa after the Peace of Rome in 1916" showing all of that continent south of the Equator marked "Deutsche." I may also add that it is the belief in well informed circles in London that, in the event of a "deadlock" peace, the least price for which Germany would evacuate any part of Belgium would be the Congo Free State, and that the "equivalent" of that part of northern France now occupied by the Kaiser might be Morocco. However, each side is too far from being beaten at the present moment to make a guess of what either honestly believes would be its maximum concessions or minimum demands more than a hazy adumbration of what may ultimately be given or asked. There is one big, outstanding thing, however, that nothing which may occur on the battlefields or in the chancelleries of Europe can materially alter. An object lesson of great and far-reaching significance has been given to Germany and the world in the putting to the acid test, side by side, of the "humanitarian" and the "repressive" systems of colonial policy. Nowhere else in the world could so graphic, so conclusive, a test have been made, for here, with their frontiers marching through a dozen degrees of latitude, were lands exemplifying the two greatest extremes modern history furnishes of the application of the mooted policies. In Damaraland, between the years 1904 and 1907, as the consequence of the killing of a single child, the Germans wantonly did to death 30,000 Herero's, a simple pastoral tribe of scant fighting capacity. Never since Nero and Attila had there been a parallel to Von Trotha's infamous order of extermination, "Within German borders," read the proclamation of this Teutonic barbarian, "every Herero, with or without rifle, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will take no more women or children. I will drive them back or have them fired on."

For several years Germany seemed actually to be trying to make Damaraland a "white man's country" by killing off the blacks. It has reaped in failure the logical harvest of this sowing of brutality.

In the Transvaal and Orange. Free State, on the other hand, we see a spirited, brave, and patriotic people left crushed, bleeding, and impoverished by a war which they were not without much warrant in believing to have been forced upon them unjustly, reconciled, strengthened and converted into "Defenders of the Realm" by a policy of broad humanitarianism. The consequences of these two divergent policies now stand recorded for the world —and especially for the Germans—to read.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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