The Forgotten Front: The East African Campaign 1914-1918

By Parsons, Timothy | African Studies Review, April 2005 | Go to article overview

The Forgotten Front: The East African Campaign 1914-1918


Parsons, Timothy, African Studies Review


Ross Anderson. The Forgotten Front: The East African Campaign 1914-1918. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, 2004. Distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing, P. O. Box 257, Howe Hill Road, North Pomfret, Vt. 05053. 352 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $45.00. Cloth.

In The Forgotten Front, Ross Anderson has produced the definitive history of the First World War's East African campaign. This is the story of how roughly ten thousand Germans and their African soldiers tied down several hundred thousand British and allied forces for the entire four years of the conflict. It is also the story of how the supposedly "civilized" colonial powers drew tens of thousands of African soldiers and laborers into a war that did not concern them and spread disease, famine, and devastation throughout what is now modern Tanzania. To date, there is no other English-language monograph that covers the East African fighting in its entirety. Although the British government's official history of the first two years of the campaign appeared in 1941, World War II delayed the remaining volumes permanendy. Hubert Moyse-Bartlett's King's African Rifles (1956) and the German commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck's autobiography (English translation, East African Campaigns [1957]) cover World War I in East Africa from the British and German perspectives but provide only a narrow view of the overall conflict. Anderson, a veteran of the British and Canadian armies and the holder of a Ph.D. in history from the University of Glasgow, aims to remedy this historical gap by covering the "fighting and operational aspects" of the entire campaign. He also correctly widens the scope of his narrative beyond the British and German forces to consider the Belgian and Portuguese role in the East African war.

Anderson's book is an old-style narrative military history. His primary actors are politicians, generals, and divisions. Based on material from British and German archives, The Forgotten Front consists of chronological chapters that take the reader through the strategic background of the war in 1914 to the end of the fighting four years later. Although Anderson's close attention to precise troop movements reads in places like an account of a chess match, there is much to recommend this book. A particularly startling revelation is his convincing argument that the East African campaign began in 1914 when General Sir E. G. Barrow, the military secretary to the India Office, took it upon himself to redefine Britain's strategic objectives from the straightforward occupation of German naval bases to territorial conquest. …

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