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First German Afrika Korps


First German Afrika Korps

During the Second World War in Germany, the prospect of the return of old colonies and the acquisition of new colonies on the African continent seemed very likely. In anticipation of the new African order, the translators learned Swahili, Arabic, and other African languages.

The victories of the Afrika Korps in 1941-1942 did their job. In the Wehrmacht, the spirit of the colonial conqueror was revived, closely associated with the name of General von Lettow-Vorbeck, who commanded the suppression of popular uprisings in Africa and China. For the German forces, the African campaign of World War I was a tremendous success, as it was the only colonial campaign in which German forces were not defeated until the end of the war. General von Lettow-Vorbeck is considered one of the finest guerrilla commanders in history.

General von Lettow-Vorbeck

In April 1914, Lieutenant Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck was appointed commander of the German forces in German East Africa, which at the beginning of the First World War consisted of 261 German officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, as well as 4,680 natives.

The main source of recruiting for Lettow-Vorbeck was the recruitment of volunteers. In total, he was able to collect about 12,000 people, mostly natives, but well trained and disciplined. No reinforcements from Germany arrived in Africa. Realizing that East Africa is a secondary theater of military operations and not of particular strategic importance, he nevertheless sought to pin down as many British soldiers as possible by fighting in it, thereby alleviating the position of the German army on the Western Front. Avoiding open confrontation with the outnumbered British forces, he launched a guerrilla war, the main target of which was British forts and railways in Rhodesia and Kenya.

African legionnaires in the service of the Germans

In March 1916, the British made another attempt to defeat Lettow-Vorbeck, sending against him a detachment of 45,000 men under the command of Jan Smuts. The detachment had tremendous opportunities for replenishing personnel during battles. Knowledge of the terrain and climate helped Lettow-Vorbeck hold out for a long time, while inflicting serious losses on the British. It is a known fact that in the battle of Machiva in October 1917, he lost 100 people, and the British lost 1,600. Avoiding clashes with the main forces of the British, he raided Mozambique, defeating several Portuguese garrisons.

In August 1918, Lettow-Vorbeck, after resting, returned to German East Africa, where he continued the hostilities until November 14, when he learned from the documents found in the British prisoner of war Hector Crowde that an armistice had been concluded between Germany and the Entente. In this regard, on November 23, the Lettow-Vorbeck army, by that time consisting of 30 German officers, 125 German non-commissioned officers and soldiers, as well as 1,168 natives, surrendered.

Partisans of the German Afrika Korps

According to modern estimates, the total military and civilian casualties of Africans at that time amounted to about 500,000 people. After the First World War, the "Africans" under the leadership of von Lettow-Vorbeck distinguished themselves in Hamburg when they participated in the Kapp coup. With the Nazis coming to power, the "Africans" found their place of honor in the hierarchy of veterans and in SA, and the 69th Infantry Regiment from Hamburg received a traditional mentor in the person of a retired general.


Lettow-Vorbek did not approve of the policies of the Nazis, although they tried to use his popularity and the glory of an invincible commander for their own purposes. In particular, Lettow-Vorbeck appears in the film “Riders of German East Africa” (1934).

General von Lettow-Vorbeck with Wehrmacht officers

He categorically refused the post of ambassador in London offered to him by Hitler, so during the Second World War General von Lettow-Vorbeck was in Schleswig-Holstein, in the estate of Count Waldersee, the former commander-in-chief in China. In 1952 he moved to Hamburg and the following year visited the former German East Africa. Von Lettow-Vorbeck died in 1964 in Hamburg. The future President of the Bundestag von Hassel, who was then appointed Minister of Defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, delivered a patriotic speech at the grave of General von Lettow-Vorbeck.

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