The Great War in Africa and Asia
Africa was dragged into the First World War because it was almost completely controlled by European powers. While militarily Africa was a sideshow, there was fighting there as Entente armies conquered Germany’s African colonies. Moreover, both sides mobilised Africa’s resources and manpower, touching the lives of vast numbers of Africans, and proving the value of empire as a strategic resource. Because of appalling communications, the major military difficulty was not defeating the enemy but reaching him. The war here involved small columns operating with little artillery support, the machine gun being the heaviest weapon used in most engagements. Troops from Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal (from 1916) assaulted Germany’s African colonies in Togoland (Togo), Cameroons (Kamerun), South-West Africa (Namibia) and East Africa (Tanganyika/Tanzania). Locally recruited soldiers and porters played a vital part in these campaigns. In Togoland on 12 August 1914, a sergeant-major of the West African Frontier Force fired the first shot of the African war; on 25 November 1918, two weeks after the war had ended in Europe, the last German-led forces in East Africa surrendered at Abercorn.