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.

January 20, 1917 - General A.R. Hoskins Succeeds Jan Smuts as Imperial Commander in East Africa

Pictured - Welcome to the jungle.

The East African campaign was one of World War I’s longest, stretching from the very beginning of the war to beyond its very hand. The tiny German army and its commander, von Lettow-Vorbeck, were slippery opponents. It was a campaign of manuevering, where far more men (and most of them African porters), died from disease than in combat.

“The period from September 1916 to November 1917 saw the occupation of much of German East Africa, mainly by the King’s African Rifles and West African units. Here a unit of the KAR advance along the Rufjii river. After much elaborate manoeuvring, the German forces were gradually pushed southward but were never decisively beaten in battle.”

Britian’s Imperial commander in the theatre, South African Jan Smuts, was promoted to Lieutenant General in January 1917, but his chief intelligence officer did not have kind words for his boss: “Smuts has cost Britain many hundreds of thousands of lives and many millions of pounds by his caution…Smuts was not an astute soldier; a brilliant statesman and politician but no soldier.” Smuts preferred marching to frontal attacks, but this played into Lettow-Vorbeck’s Fabian strategy. On January 20 he was replaced by General A.R. Hoskins.


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.