Carrying the War Into Africa
Where the Biggest Prize is at Stake and The Biggest
Gains Have Been Made
[The Independent; February 21, 1916]
The biggest prize in the Great War is Africa. However the conflict may come out there will be but comparatively slight change in the map of Europe. In Asia the chief issue at stake is which shall control Turkish and Persian territory. But the fate of practically the whole continent of Africa depends upon which side wins. If the Allies are victorious they are not likely to restore to Germany any of her African colonies. If Germany is victorious she can take her pick of the British, French, Belgian, Italian and Portugese possessions. If the war is a drawn game and settled by bargaining, the peace terms will be some compromise between these extremes, but probably involving a shift of territory larger than any of the belligerent countries of Europe.
The struggle for the possession of Africa, which had occupied the European powers for twenty-five years, seemed to have come to a close in 1912, when France declared a protectorate over Morocco and Italy conquered Libya. The partition of Africa was complete except for the tiny state of Liberia under the protection of the United States and Abyssinia, which was still in dispute…. In figures it was as follows:
THE PARTITION OF AFRICA
French . . . . . . . . .
The world breated more freely when the long process of patitioning came to an end, for more than once it had brought Europe to the verge of war. One such critical occasion came in 1898 when a dashing French captain encountered a square-jawed young Englishman at Fashoda in the hart of Africa. Captain Marchand had come overland from the French Congo. Sir Herbert Kitchner had steamed up the White Nile from Khartum. Neither man would give way, so two flags, the French and the Egyptian, were hoisted side by side over the mud-flat in the midst of the swamp. In France and England there was clamor for war, but cooler counsel prevailed. France swallowed her pride and withdrew from Fashoda, leaving England in undisputed possession of the Nile valley.
The same sensible system of compromise was later adopted in the division of the territory along the Mediterranean. By mutual agreement it was arranged that France should be free to take Morocco and England Egypt at any time they chose, and that Spain should have the strip of Morocco territory opposite Gibralter and Italy should be allowed to conquer Tripoli for herself. The Anglo-French treaty was signed in 1904, but the secret clauses which provided for the ultimate disposition of Egypt and Morocco were not disclosed until 1911, when Germany, suspecting that she was being shut out in the cold, sent a cruiser to the Moroccan port of Agadir, and demanded "a place in the sun." Within the last few months we have heard from English sources that war was then thought to be imminent and inevitable. The Brtish fleet was ready for instant action when germany backed down and consented to accept a bit of Congo land from France in compensation for refraining from interference with French designs on Morocco. According to the treaty signed at Algeciras in 1906 by the European Powers and the United States, the independence and sovereignty of the Sultan of Morocco was to be respected and his territory maintained intact. But when within six years thereafter Morocco was invaded by the French and the country divided between France and Spain nobody in America seems to have suggested that it was the duty of our Government to intervene in behalf of the sanctity of treaty obligations. Perhaps this is because it was generally recognized that it was not possible for the French or anybody else to rule Morocco worse than she had been ruled for centuries by her own sovereigns. Some people would say that shutting Germany out from final partition of Africa was not fair and many people would say that it was not good politics, but they would agree that Morocco, like all the other waste places of the world, must be taken in hand and cleaned up by somebody.
In accordance with the secret clauses of the Anglo-French treaty of ten years before Egypt has now been incorporated into the British empire. On December 18, 1914, the Khedive Abbas Hilmi was deposed by the British and Hussein Kamil, his uncle, made Sultan of Egypt, thus definitely separating Egypt and the Sudan from the Ottoman empire. This is, of course, merely a paper change since Egypt has ever since 1883 been governed from London and greatly to her advantage. It is questionable if the pyramids, during the "forty centuries" that they have looked down upon Egypt, have ever seen it so peaceful and prosperous as it has been under British rule. Everybody except her envious rivals is glad now that Egypt has never kept her promise to evacuate Egypt.
The Suez Canal has been strongly fortified in anticipation of an attack from Turkish and German forces now rumored to be preparing in Palestine. A year ago the Turks attempted the conquest of Egypt, but by the time they had crossed the desert of Sinai they had not the strength left to capture the Canal.
On the other side of Egypt, the western frontier, the British outposts have had to meet some sharp attacks from the Senussi, a militant Moslem sect. Their activities in Tripoli have driven the Italians out of the hinterland and now they have only a precarious hld on the coast cities.
At the outbreak of the Great War efforts were made by both the Belgian and German governments to prevent central Africa from becoming involved in the conflict. The conference of Powers called by Bismarck at Berlin in 1885 to establish the Congo Free State decided that free trade in time of peace and neutrality in time of war should prevail thruout the region watered by the Congo and its tributaries including Lake Tanganyika, an area of a million and a half square miles. On August 7, 1914, the Belgian Government asked France and Great Britain to declare their Congo colonies neutral in accordance with the berlin convention. France was willing, but Great Britain refused on the ground that it was impractical and that hostilities had already begun in Africa. The German Government on its part solicited the United States, as one of the signatries of the berlin convention, to arrange an agreement among the belligerents to exclude the Congo basin from war. Such an appeal to us was natural since the United States had taken an active part in launching the Congo Free States and was the first to recognize its flag. Germany was the second. But our Government excused itself from undertaking the negotiation of such an agreement on the ground that the Senate had never ratified the Berlin convention.
In Africa, as in Europe, each side accuses the other with having begun it first. Obviously the temptation to pounce upon interior stations, still unaware of the war, was too strong to be resisted, and there were raids over the border on several frontiers early in August.
But it was by an ironical coincidence in the "Harbor of Peace," Dar-es-Salaam, that hostilities definitely opened. On August 8, 1914, the British cruiser "Pegasus" appeared before Dar-es-Salaam which is the chief port of German East Africa, and bombarded the city and shipping. On November 28 and January 13 the bombardment was repeated in spite of the protests of Germany that such attacks upon an unfortified city were in violation of international law. In one of the raids the surveying vessel "Möwe" was sunk. The name reappeared recently attached to the much larger vessel which captured the "Appam."
German East Africa is not an island, yet there have been "naval engagements" on all four sides of it, that is, on lakes, Nyanza, Nyasa and Tanganyika as well as the sea. Tanganyika, which separates the German colony from the Belgian Congo to the west is the longest lake in the world. A railroad 780 miles long has recently been completed which connects it with the coast at Dar-es-Salaam. On this railroad and in the heart of the country is Tabora, which has now been strongly fortified to resist the British attack. Big guns have been brought from the cruiser "Königsberg," which the British fleet ran to earth, and rifles have been obtained thru Portuguese territory. In this way 4000 white soldiers and 30,000 natives have been armed to meet the British invasion. That the British Government is aware of the difficulty of the conquest of a territory nearly twice the size of Germany is shown by the fact that Sir Horace Smith-Borrien was ordered from France to take charge of the expedition, but on account of his illness General Smuts will replace him.
All of the other German possessions in Africa have now been conquered. The Kamerun colony, which was attacked on three sides in August, 1914, held out till February, 1916, altho there were probably not two thousand Germans in the colony. The early invasions of Kamerun from British Nigeria on the west and from French and Belgian Congo on the east did not do much, and the conquest was accomplished by a joint British and French force which followed up the two railroad lines from the coast. On the first of January they took Yaunde, the last tenable post in the interior. The Governor and his soldiers escaped into the Spanish enclave of Rio Muni.
Togoland was the first of the German colonies to capitulate, which is not surprizing when we know that the German army in this colony consisted of only sixty Europeans and four hundred natives. The joint French and British force which was sent in against them lost seventeen per cent of its men before the Germans surrendered, August 26, 1914.
German Southwest Africa was conquered by General Botha, Premier of the Union of South Africa, with a force of 50,000 men, half Boer and half British. This was more that ten times the number of German troops defending the colony, nevertheless it was a considerable achievement to conquer a territory about the size of all of our Atlantic states put together, especially since he also had a rebellion on his hands at the same time. General De Wet with a small number of irreconcilable Boers tried to take advantage of the opportunity to reestabiish the Boer Republics. It was understood that the Kaiser had promised to guarantee their independency if they would rebel. Colonel Maritz, who commanded the Union forces on the northwestern frontier, at once joined with the Germans from over the border. But General Botha and General Smuts acted with promptness and energy. The rebellion was soon crushed and De Wet captured. He was tried for high treason, convicted—and released. The South Africans practise mutual forgiveness more than any other people, and somehow it seems to work.
The conquest of German Southwest Africa was a motor car campaign, just the thing for an open aird country. When the Germans took possession of the terrltory in 1884—it was the first fruit of their expansion policy—the British held possession of Walfish Bay, the only good harbour on the coast. But the Germans put in expensive harbor works at Swakopmund and so made of it a far better port than Walfish Bay. The South African forces then advanced along the railroad lines and on May 12, 1915, captured Windhuk, the capital, 129 miles from the coast. Here they found a wireless stations, completed just before the war, of such power that it could with one relay communicate directly with Berlin.
The campaign in German Southwest Africa cost the Union $80,000,000, but it is worth it. The Germans have spent more than that on public works in the colony. They were just beginning to get their money back when they lost it. In the casualties of the campaign the two races by chance shared almost, equally; 126 British killed, 126 Boers killed, 273 British wounded, 275 Boers wounded.
When Portugal at the beginning of the war declared her sympathies with the Allies the Germans invaded the Portuguese colony of Angola from German Southwest Africa and, captured the border fort of Naulila in December, 1914.
To sum up the situation, as it stands, after a year and a half of war: Germany has lost all her African possessions except one; Great Britain and France acquired at comparatively small cost in life and money over two million square miles of territory, that is, an area equal to two-thirds of the United States. The rich and fertile lowlands of the tropics are capable of producing wealth incalcuable and there are immense tracts of healthful plateaus where communities of the highest civilization may flourish. No wonder that the long struggle for African territory becomes fierce as it nears the end. We know what a wild rush there was in Oklahoma when the last of the public lands was opened for settlement. The present war is the last chance at the last of the continents on which the Powers may stake out their claims.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald