von lettow vorbeck

General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (20 March 1870 – 9 March 1964).

Starting in 1914, he led a relentless guerrilla campaign in German East Africa that is considered  one of the most effective in military history.

With a force that never exceeded 14.000 men (many of whom were non-front line units and local porters), he managed to keep in check a force of over 300.000 British soldiers.

In November 1918, still oblivious to the Armistice that had been signed 2 days before, he captured the town of Kasama and kept advancing towards Katanga, to the south-west of his position. On the way he met a local British magistrate, who informed him of the Armistice. He then decided to surrender.

He had virtually never been defeated on the field since the beginning of the war.

July 11th, 1915 - Königsberg Destroyed in the Rufiji River Delta

Pictured - The scuttled wreck of the Königsberg - sans guns. 

After a failed attempt to destroy the German light cruiser Königsberg on the 6th, the Royal Navy tried again on the 11th.  Mersey and Severn, the two British gunboats that had entered the Rufiji River to attack the besieged enemy warship, had learned from experience.  Seaplanes flew reconnaissance high overheard the swampy river delta to spot the German ship, which had been bottled up in the Rufiji, in German East Africa, since September 1914. 

With her forward observation and gun posts destroyed on the 6th, the Königsberg could only fire blindly at her attackers, while the two Royal Navy gunboats pinpointed their fire with accurate reports from the air.  Within two hours the Königsberg had been put out of commission.  Captain Max Looff recognized the inevitable and at around 2 in the afternoon he gave the orders to scuttle the ship.

With the destruction of the Königsberg, German naval presence ended in the Indian Ocean.  The Royal Navy was the unquestioned master of the seas throughout the world.  In fact, the Königsberg was the last German war vessel anywhere on the high seas.  The penultimate German raider, the Kronprinz Wilhelm, put in at Newport News, Virginia, in March.  So passed the threat of surface raiding ships to the Allied merchant fleets.

As for the Königsberg, the wreck rusted in the Rufiji, eventually sinking into the river mud decades after the war.  33 German sailors had died, mostly due to disease.  Looff and the survivors marched off to join the forces of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the resourceful German commander of resistance in East Africa. Later they returned to strip the wreck of her guns.  Von Lettow-Vorbeck used them as the backbone of his artillery force for the rest of the war, and the sailors fought as infantrymen for the rest of the war in Africa.


Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (20 March 1870 – 9 March 1964) was a general in the Imperial German Army and the commander of its forces in the German East Africa campaign. His exploits in the campaign have come down “as the greatest single guerrilla operation in history, and the most successful. In 1900, Lettow-Vorbeck was posted to China as a member of the international alliance forces to quell the Boxer Rebellion. He won the Pour le Mérite with oak leaves.