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CDG 58 – World War I in Africa, 1914By Andrew H. Hershey | Admin | Published: July 12, 2013 at 10:58 am
The article below is an abridged version of Combat Decision Game #58, “World War I in Africa, 1914,‚ÄĚ written by Andrew H. Hershey. Additional text and illustrations appear in the September 2013 edition of¬†Armchair General¬ģ magazine, where you‚Äôll also find additional interactive articles based on the German Glider Assault on Fort Eben Emael, 1940, and Erwin Rommel defending France, 1944. On newsstands now.
This CDG places readers in the role of Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, leading the Schutztruppe (colonial security troop unit) in the colony of German East Africa in an attack on the large British invasion force that recently landed on the Tanga Peninsula.
Armchair General¬ģ challenges YOU to take command of this historical battle. Here’s how to get in on the action:
READ the article carefully
Winning solutions will be announced in the January 2014 issue. However, those eager to read the historical outcome and analysis can log on to armchairgeneral.com/cdg after September 3, 2013.
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WORLD WAR I IN AFRICA, 1914
The war in Europe quickly spread to the African colonies. With Britain, France and Belgium allied against Germany, the scattered German colonies were vulnerable targets for invasion. Although the belligerents‚Äô military forces in Africa were significantly smaller and less well-armed than the massive, powerful armies on World War I‚Äôs Western Front, the fighting, which featured European as well as native African troops, was often sharp and deadly. The Allies virtually surrounded the German colonies on land and had the significant advantage of control of the seas, which allowed the British Royal Navy to land Allied troops at will on the coast of each Germany colony.
After successful campaigns in August and September against German colonies in West Africa along the Atlantic Ocean coast, British commanders in early November turned their attention to German East Africa on the Indian Ocean coast. In a two-pronged invasion, a force moved overland from British East Africa across the German colony‚Äôs northern border, while a larger force conducted an amphibious landing to capture the important port of Tanga.
Armchair General¬ģ takes you back to November 4, 1914, near Tanga, German East Africa, where you will play the role of Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commander of the German colony‚Äôs Schutztruppe (colonial security troop unit). Your mission is to attack and defeat the large British invasion force that has landed on Tanga Peninsula intending to capture the port and town of Tanga.
This is a truly daunting mission. The British invasion troops outnumber the 1,000 German and Askari (native African) soldiers you have available for the mission by nearly 8-to-1 and are supported by the naval guns of the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Fox lying at anchor off the peninsula. You will need all of your tactical and leadership skills if your smaller force is to win the battle for this vital port. If you fail and the British capture Tanga, it will open the way for them to overrun all of German East Africa ‚Äď and with the fall of Germany‚Äôs last colony here, the British will win World War I in Africa. Britain and the other Allied colonial powers will then be free to transfer troops, resources and war materiel from Africa to reinforce their forces fighting on Europe‚Äôs Western Front.
GERMAN EAST AFRICA
To reach Germany and other world markets, the resources must travel by rail on the Usambara Railway, which runs from the colony‚Äôs western border at Lake Tanganyika to ports on the Indian Ocean coast. Tanga is one of only two ports (the other is Dar-es-Salaam) capable of handling modern trade shipping, which makes it strategically significant ‚Äď and a target for British invasion.
Tanga comprises some 900 buildings, about 100 of which are stone construction. (See map) The railroad loops around the town on an elevated embankment on the east side, forming a semicircle that terminates at Tanga Harbor‚Äôs main jetty. To the northeast of town beyond the embankment lies Tanga Peninsula, a flat coastal plain ending in 30-foot cliffs dropping into the Indian Ocean. Southeast of the three parallel roads leading to the end of the peninsula the landscape is broken into a series of hedge-bordered rubber tree and coconut plantations and numerous beehive farms.
Two days ago, November 2, a British amphibious force aboard 14 freighters protected by HMS Fox arrived off Tanga Peninsula after a month-long sea voyage. However, instead of landing and immediately moving to capture Tanga, the British were slow getting ashore. The following day they conducted only a tentative, easily repulsed probe toward town. They spent the night encamped near their initial landing sites.
The enemy‚Äôs absence of any attempt to seize the tactical initiative seems inexplicable to you, but fortunately this lack of aggressiveness gave you the time you desperately needed to move several of your Schutztruppe companies to Tanga to prepare for an attack that will throw the invaders back into the sea.
Your Askari troops are professional soldiers who are extremely loyal to you because of the respect with which you treat them, and they are loyal to the German colonial administration that provides them with proper pay, medical care, housing and military equipment. All of your troops are trained to German army standards in tactics and doctrine, but since you arrived in German East Africa last April, you have rigorously conducted additional exercises to create a highly motivated, extremely effective fighting force.
Leading each company of 150-200 soldiers (plus 150-200 noncombatant native porters who transport supplies and provide manual labor) are 10-16 officers and NCOs. Every company includes a headquarters section, three rifle platoons of 50-60 men each, and a machine-gun section armed with two Maxim-design Maschinengewehr 1908s ‚Äď the same model used by front-line German troops in Europe.
Fourteen of your Schutztruppe companies are armed with the older but still effective model 1871/84 Mauser bolt-action rifles that fire black-powder cartridges, while the remaining six companies carry up-to-date model 1898 Mausers with smokeless powder bullets. Like your machine guns, the 1898 Mausers are the kind currently used in Europe. Your artillery, however, is older and very meager ‚Äď fewer than two dozen model 1891 C73 88 mm field guns support your entire Schutztruppe brigade.
Your brigade must defend all of German East Africa. You have already positioned four of your companies at the colony‚Äôs northern border near Mount Kilimanjaro in response to the overland invasion from British East Africa. With another eight companies protecting key locations throughout the colony, you have only eight companies left ‚Äď three German and five Askari, for a total of 1,000 troops ‚Äď with which to oppose the much larger enemy invasion force at Tanga.
The British amphibious unit, 7,800 soldiers of the Indian Expeditionary Force B (IEFB) commanded by Major General Arthur Aitken, is composed of eight infantry battalions, one pioneer (engineer) battalion, and one company of mountain artillery, supported by a host of supply and service personnel. The IEFB infantrymen are armed with bolt-action Lee-Enfield rifles and Vickers machine guns, both of which are comparable to your troops‚Äô weapons. However, the infantry battalions vary widely in skill, training, experience, leadership and combat effectiveness.
Only five of the eight battalions are ‚Äúregulars‚ÄĚ commanded by British officers and NCOs, and only one (2d Loyal North Lancashire) is made up of European soldiers. The remainder of the battalions consist of soldiers from India, a British colony. Moreover, three of the four infantry battalions in the IEFB‚Äôs Indian Service Brigade are led by Indian officers and NCOs, and the training, morale and effectiveness of these battalions are low. The 27th Bangalore Brigade, with its four regular infantry battalions led by British officers, is the IEFB‚Äôs most effective combat unit. The IEFB will likely receive additional fire support from HMS Fox‚Äôs main armament, consisting of two 152 mm and eight 120 mm naval guns.
Upon reaching Kange after sundown yesterday and receiving Baumstark‚Äôs update on the situation, you commandeered a bicycle and under cover of darkness conducted a solo reconnaissance of Tanga and the surrounding area. You confirmed that the British are encamped on the peninsula near their landing sites and have not tried to move troops into the town despite the fact that Baumstark‚Äôs withdrawal left it undefended overnight.
You also spoke with civilian residents closely watching the British landings who report that the off-loading of the British ships has been chaotic, and although several thousand troops are ashore, the British have not yet landed any of the IEFB‚Äôs artillery guns. This is key information since it means your attackers will face only rifles and machine guns.
You peddled your bicycle back to Kange as fast as you could and have now arrived about two hours before dawn. You quickly gather your company commanders to present to them three courses of action. While the final decision is yours, you want to hear their frank opinions to help you decide which plan promises the greatest chance of success.
Course of Action One:
Captain Baumstark agrees with this plan: ‚ÄúColonel, if we strike ‚Äėhard and fast‚Äô as you say, this plan will work. Yesterday I beat back their half-hearted attack on Tanga with only a handful of troops. We opened fire on them and they turned and ran like gazelles toward their camp.‚ÄĚ
Dr. Auracher, the Tanga district government administrator who is also commander of an Askari company, has doubts, however. ‚ÄúBaumstark,‚ÄĚ he interjects, ‚Äúthose enemy troops did turn and run, but they were Indian Service Brigade soldiers, not regulars. After yesterday‚Äôs debacle, the British undoubtedly will stiffen their ranks, re-establish discipline and get their men better prepared to fight. Moreover, even if our attack succeeds, we may just be pushing the enemy back under the cover of fire from the British cruiser‚Äôs naval guns. Our attacking troops would then be exposed to a heavy bombardment from the ship‚Äôs guns.‚ÄĚ
Course of Action Two:
Captain Schmidt, a German Schutzen company commander, speaks next. ‚ÄúColonel, this is an excellent plan to destroy the enemy attack force. However, since the restricted width of the area where the British will strike prevents them from using their entire force, they will still have hundreds ‚Äď perhaps thousands ‚Äď of uncommitted troops in reserve. These could be thrown against the rear or flank of our counterattack force and disastrously turn the tables on us.‚ÄĚ
Baumstark replies, ‚ÄúSince the attack by the Indian Service Brigade failed, today‚Äôs assault will surely be launched by the enemy‚Äôs best troops, the regulars of 27th Bangalore Brigade. The reserves therefore will be the same demoralized troops that botched the job yesterday. Even if they were to try to attack our counterattacking force from the rear or flank, we could bring forward our reserve German Schutzen companies to deal with them.‚ÄĚ
Course of Action Three:
Dr. Auracher seems enthusiastic about this plan. ‚ÄúYes, Colonel, my Askaris are perfectly suited to this kind of combat ‚Äď a stealthy approach followed by a violent surprise attack! Many of the enemy troops are already badly shaken by their defeat yesterday and are undoubtedly disoriented by the unfamiliar environment. The terrifying effect of five companies of Askaris screaming battle cries and suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere will send the entire enemy force into a panicked rout.‚ÄĚ
You allow Schmidt to have the last word. ‚ÄúColonel,‚ÄĚ he says, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt doubt the terrifying effect a surprise attack will have, and we all know that the Askaris‚Äô close-quarter combat skills and fighting spirit are legendary. However, this plan splits our already outnumbered force into two separate elements. If the British officers manage to rally their troops, their advantage in numbers alone might allow them to overpower one or both of our forces.‚ÄĚ
With dawn less than two hours away, you end the meeting and send your company commanders to prepare their troops for combat. ‚ÄúGentlemen,‚ÄĚ you announce as they turn to leave, ‚ÄúI will send you my attack order within 15 minutes.‚ÄĚ
What is your decision, Lieutenant Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck?
Click here to download a pdf of the map and submission form for Combat Decision Game No. 58.
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