Sunday, September 13, 2015

World War I: Africa and Asia (1914–1918)

A total of 36 nations fought in World War I, and combat extended to the colonial possessions of the principal powers-although on a small scale compared with the titanic struggle in Europe. The great powers fought on the peripheral fronts hoping to shorten the war and gain territory. In fact, the peripheral action probably served only to prolong the war, by drawing troops and materiel away from the major theaters. 

As formidable as Germany's European-based army was, its ability to defend most of its colonial possessions was limited. The British planned to capture all of the German colonies throughout the world, ostensibly with the objectives of preventing German warships from gaining access to ports and of protecting Allied colonies from German aggression, but also of reaping the rewards of imperial expansion at the expense of Germany. In Africa, German colonies included Togoland, Cameroons, and German Southwest Africa on the continent's west coast, and German East Africa on the east.
On August 7, three days after England declared war, four companies of British-led native troops from the Gold Coast (Ghana) and a unit of French-led native troops from Dahomey (Benin) invaded Togoland on their own initiative. After 20 days of sporadic combat, German colonial officials surrendered the colony. The immediate dividend of this victory was the capture of wireless (radio) stations that regulated the operation of German surface vessels raiding in African waters. 

A combination of French, British, and Belgian colonial troops invaded Cameroons on August 20, 1914, from the south, the east, and the northwest. By sea, they also attacked in the west. German resistance was more formidable than it had been in Togoland. The German Cameroonian Army was a small but capable force of 12 companies. It withdrew to a stronghold at Mora and held out there against repeated attacks through February 18, 1916. With its defeat, Cameroons fell to the Allies. 

British regulars were withdrawn from South Africa for western front duty on August 10, 1914. To take their place, the white civilian residents of South Africa formed four irregular units and invaded German South West Africa (Namibia), beginning in September 1914. The British irregulars enjoyed a superiority of numbers that enabled them to gain control of all major ports; however, invasion of the interior was delayed by an uprising of pro- German South Africans, who had fought against the British during the Second (Great) BOER WAR (1899- 1902). It was not until January 1915, by which time the ranks of the British irregulars had grown to 50,000, that an offensive was launched to put down the rebellion. It was quelled by February-except in Cameroons, where many Germans continued to fight a guerrilla war of sporadic skirmishes. The Germans in South Africa surrendered on July 9, 1915. 

By the beginning of the 20th century, Germany had made a few colonial inroads into China and among the Pacific islands. These holdings included Qingdao (Tsingtao), a harbor town in the Chinese province of Guizhou (Kweichow); the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, and the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific; and Western Samoa, Neu-Pommern (New Britain), and a portion of New Guinea in the South Pacific. Japan entered the war at the end of August 1914, honoring an alliance with Britain. Beginning in September, it launched an attack on Qingdao, eventually with the support of Allied warships. The port fell on November 7. Simultaneously with the attack on Qingdao, Japanese forces invaded the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, and the Marshalls, all of which fell by October.

The German colony of Western Samoa yielded to a force of New Zealanders, supported by Australian, British, and French warships, at the end of August 1914 without having offered any resistance. In September 1914, Australian troops invaded Neu-Pommern and took over all of German New Guinea in a matter of weeks. 

Territory consisting of present-day Rwanda, Burundi, and continental Tanzania constituted German East Africa. In contrast to Germany's other colonial holdings, it was defended not only ably but also with genius and determination, by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964). This officer possessed great skill in guerrilla warfare and commanded a force of askaris, superb European-trained native African troops. Lieutenant Colonel Lettow-Vorbeck was dispatched to German East Africa early in 1914. With limited supplies and a small army equipped with outmoded weapons, Lettow- Vorbeck nevertheless resolved to strike preemptively. As soon as war was declared in Europe, he staged a series of raids against the British railway in Kenya. Next, he attempted to capture Mombasa. 

Although he was driven back by September 1914, he successfully defended against a British amphibious attack on the port town of Tanga in northeastern Tanzania (then called Tanganyika) during November 2-3, 1914. Lettow-Vorbeck inflicted heavy losses on the British and also captured a large cache of badly needed arms and ammunition. He forced the British, themselves poorly supplied, into a defensive posture, which tied up a disproportionate number of men. Even after the Royal Navy sank in the Rufiji-River Delta the German cruiser Königsberg-the vessel on which Lettow- Vorbeck depended heavily for support-the German commander refused to give up. He put his men to work salvaging most of the stricken vessel's guns and even commandeered the Königsberg's crew as land troops. 

To deal with Lettow-Vorbeck, the British put a large force of British and colonial troops under the command of South African general Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950). The operations of this invasion army were coordinated with those of a Belgian invasion from the west and with those of an independent British invasion from Nyasaland in the south. Hopelessly outnumbered, Lettow-Vorbeck met this formidable threat with cool patience, employing delaying tactics to keep the invaders exposed to the merciless jungle. He made an ally of a hostile climate and terrain; in the end, tropical diseases caused far more Allied casualties than German bullets. Lettow-Vorbeck's askaris were accustomed to the climate and therefore less vulnerable to regional disease. 

Their losses notwithstanding, the British continued to pour men and resources into the invasion. Lettow-
Vorbeck slowly yielded to the advance, ensuring that the invaders paid dearly for every mile they claimed. At frequent intervals, he turned on his pursuers with surprise counterattacks carried out with lightning speed. At Mahiwa, during October 15-18, 1917, although outnumbered four to one, he inflicted 1,500 casualties on the British, sustaining no more than 100 himself. Nevertheless, it was clear to Lettow-Vorbeck that the superior numbers of the British would ultimately drive him out of German East Africa. He decided not to make a useless stand in defense of a lost cause but instead invaded the Portuguese colony of Mozambique in December 1917. By looting Portuguese garrisons, Lettow-Vorbeck was able to supply his 4,000-man army sufficiently to enable him to raid as far south as Quelimane on the coast during July 1-3, 1918. Here, he turned back north and reentered German East Africa during September and October. By this time the war was all but over in Europe, but Lettow-Vorbeck, out of communication and isolated, had no knowledge of the fate of his countrymen on the western front. He launched an invasion of British-held Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and took the principal city of Kasama (in modern Zambia) on November 13, 1918-fully two days after the Armistice had officially ended the war.

After taking Kasama, Lettow-Vorbeck began to hear and heed rumors of the German surrender in Europe. He opened negotiations with the British, and on November 23, 1918, Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered his undefeated army at Abercorn (Mbala, Zambia). His was the last German force to lay down its arms in World War I. On the day of his surrender, Lettow-Vorbeck's entire army consisted of 155 Europeans, 1,168 African askari troops, and 3,000 other Africans. 

Further reading: Justin J. Corfield, Bibliography of the First World War in the Far East and Southeast Asia (Lewiston, N. Y.: Edwin Mellen, 2003); Hermann J. Hiery, The Neglected War: The German South Pacific and the Influence of World War I (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995); Melvin E. Page, ed., Africa and the First World War (New York: St. Martin's, 1988); Helmuth Stoecker, ed., German Imperialism in Africa: From the Beginnings until the Second World War (Leiden, Neth.: Brill Academic, 1987).

World War II: Outbreak and Early German Conquests (1939–1941)

The Heinkel He-111 entered service in 1935, and the B model served with distinction in the Spanish Civil War, where it was fast enough to fly unescorted. Nearly 1,000 He-111s were in service at the start of the war; they formed a significant part of the Luftwaffe's medium bomber strength early in the conflict, although they were roughly handled during the Battle of Britain in spite of carrying nearly 600 lb of armor. Later versions had better defensive armament and were used in various roles, including torpedo bombing. Approximately 7,450 He-111s were built before production ended in 1944.

At 4:30 on the morning of September 1, 1939, Hitler's Luftwaffe (air force) commenced the bombing of airfields all across Poland. Simultaneously, a German battleship "visiting" the Polish port of Danzig opened fire on Polish fortifications, and the Wehrmacht (army) surged across the Polish frontier. The rapid combined air, sea, and land assault was the essence of blitzkrieg (lightning war), and the superbly trained and equipped German forces swept aside the valiant but outgunned and outnumbered Polish forces. On September 27, Warsaw fell to the invaders; the next day, the town of Modlin surrendered. In a single action, 164,000 Polish soldiers became prisoners of war. By early October, the last organized Polish force, at Kock, had been crushed. It mattered not at all that two days after the invasion both France and Britain honored their treaty obligations to Poland by declaring war on Germany. 

As agreed in the Non-Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany, Stalin also invaded Finland, which the Soviet Union annexed on March 12, 1940, after a brief but bloody war.
So it began again, a war sparked by nationality conflicts in east-central Europe and provoked, in part, by a German stab at continental hegemony that expanded into a global conflict touching every continent. It was more a total war than even WORLD WAR I had been, since the belligerent powers' civilians not only contributed to their war efforts but also became targets for their enemies. Subject populations also became targets. Most horrific was Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe, but Germany also attacked Slavs and other ethnic, social, and political groups deemed inferior by or a threat to Nazi ideology. Stalin expanded the Russian terror against the Ukrainians to the conquered Poles. Even in the Pacific, the Japanese- American conflict at times degenerated into brutal race war. Indeed, World War II all but eliminated the age-old diplomatic distinction between combatants and noncombatants, with the result that not only would its death toll greatly exceed that of the Great War, but also civilian casualties would vastly outnumber those of the military. 

Yet again the war in Europe developed into a contest between a German-held Europe and an Allied coalition attacking on its periphery. Again, the United States kept clear of the conflict until its own sovereignty was insulted by direct attack. But unlike the last war, the Italians quickly joined the Germans rather than remaining neutral, and the Soviet Union-itself soon invaded by Germany- did not collapse as imperial Russia had. Instead, Joseph Stalin's Russia held out while France fell to the Nazis, and thus ultimately the Soviets instead of the French joined the British and the Americans in the wartime conferences of the "Big Three." Although Japan, joining the Axis powers, invaded China and Southeast Asia and provoked the entry of the United States into the war, it also managed to remain neutral toward Russia. In turn, the anti-Fascist Allies, while determined to reduce Germany to rubble, nevertheless simmered with tension over varying strategies and war aims. In fact, World War II was in many ways a label for several parallel or overlapping wars, and the central conflict in Europe overlay a three-way struggle for power among Nazism, democracy, and communism. Once Germany fell and Japan was bombed into submission, these subterranean struggles among the Allies burst into the open in a new kind of war and an odd sort of peace. 

While Poland reeled and withered under blitzkrieg, no significant fighting took place in the West. Although France and Britain had declared war on Germany, they took little action, and, in its first months, World War II on the Western Front was derisively described by the British as a "Sitzkrieg" or, more commonly, the "Phony War." France and England did cooperate in an attempt to mine and occupy Norwegian ports to close them to German Uboats. The German navy and Luftwaffe, however, were quick to occupy Denmark and then, with the help of Norwegian turncoat Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), took over Norway as well, installing Quisling as head of a Nazi puppet regime. The British military hurriedly evacuated Norway on June 6, 1940, and, at the insistence of Parliament, Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) appointed his harshest critic, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), First Lord of the Admiralty in his war cabinet on September 3, 1939. 

Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, and Norway had all fallen under Nazi control when, on May 10, 1940, German forces surged into Holland, Luftwaffe bombers almost totally leveling Rotterdam. Simultaneously, German ground forces advanced through Belgium, marching around the northern end of the Maginot Line. Within 10 days, sweeping ineffectual French resistance aside, the German armies reached Abbeville, on the French coast, just below the Straits of Dover. 

The invasion of France cut the Allied armies in two, with French forces to the south of the invaders and British to the north. Belgium had little choice but to surrender, which it did on May 28, 1940; the British Expeditionary Force, which had been dispatched to the continent, now faced almost certain annihilation or capture. By means of a heroic and massive amphibious operation, most of the British forces made a hair's-breadth escape across the English Channel from the coastal town of Dunkirk. This evacuation not only saved the British army from complete destruction but also rescued Britain from imminent invasion. 

Despite the lightning speed with which France had been overrun, Premier Paul Reynaud (1878-1966) wanted to continue the war. He was voted down, however, and chose to resign rather than accept an armistice. His vice premier, a popular hero of World War I, Marshal Henri Phillipe Pétain (1856-1951), sued for peace, asking Hitler for an armistice, even as Pétain's World War I subordinate and protege, Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle (1890- 1970), broadcast to France from London (where he happened to be stationed at the outbreak of the war) an appeal to the French people never to surrender. Despite de Gaulle's plea, on June 22, 1940, Pétain signed an armistice by which two-thirds of France was yielded to German occupation. The rest of the country was to be administered by Pétain from Vichy as a German puppet. 

The fall of France left Germany master of the European continent, and it left England to stand alone against Nazi aggression-although de Gaulle, operating from England, worked feverishly to organize the "Free French" resistance against the Nazi occupation of his homeland. 

Winston Churchill, who had replaced Chamberlain as prime minister on May 10, 1940, appealed to President Roosevelt for aid from the United States. On November 4, 1939, Roosevelt had secured repeal of a U. S. arms embargo on belligerent nations. In response to Churchill's appeals, on December 8, 1940, he proposed instituting the Lend- Lease program, which was passed into law in March 1941. This gave the president authority to aid any nation whose defense he believed vital to the United States and to accept repayment for such aid "in kind or property, or any other direct or indirect benefit which the President deems satisfactory." The United States, not yet in the war, was rapidly on its way to becoming the "arsenal of democracy." 

From August 8 to August 18, 1940, the Luftwaffe began the first phase of the Battle of Britain, mainly by attacking coastal areas and ports. The British Royal Air Force (RAF), although outnumbered, outflew the Germans and inflicted severe losses on the attackers. From August 24 through September 5, the second phase of the battle began with attacks concentrated on RAF bases. These attacks were far more effective, but, at Hitler's direction, the Luftwaffe shifted its strikes from the RAF bases to the civilian population, with massive bombing raids on London during September 7 through September 30. 

In the meantime, the British responded by bombing Berlin (August 24-29), which caused relatively little damage but did have a profound psychological effect on the Germans and was instrumental in Hitler's (militarily poor) decision to concentrate on civilian targets instead of wiping out the RAF. Once the Germans had lost momentum, British forces were able to destroy vessels massed for an invasion of Britain (Operation Sea Lion) during September 14-15, thereby preventing a rapid German victory. Sporadically, from November 1940 to May 1941, a number of English cities, including London, were subjected to the "blitz," an intensive nighttime bombing campaign. Designed to break the English will to fight, it served only to strengthen the people's desire to resist and to win. 

During 1940-41, war also raged in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and in Africa, theaters in which Germany's ally Italy fought with poor success. Japan, which, on September 27, 1940, had formally signed a threepower pact with Germany and Italy to form the Rome- Berlin-Tokyo Axis, was fighting in China, India, and Indo-China. At the end of 1941, by attacking Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Japan would bring the United States into the war. 

On June 22, 1941, without warning, Germany suddenly abrogated the nonaggression pact with the USSR by invading the Soviet Union and penetrating deep into Soviet territory. On December 8, 1941, the day after Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the United States joined Britain in its lonesome and perilous stand against the Axis. But the year closed with Germany, in a phrase Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) had used to justify his nation's aggression in the late 19th century, very much "in the saddle."

Further reading: P. M. H. Bell, The Origins of the Second World War (London: Longman, 1986); Alan Bullock, Hitler, a Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper & Row, 1962); Guy Chapman, Why France Fell: Defeat of the French Army in 1940 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969); David Irving, Hitler's War (New York: Avon Books, 1990); Julian Jackson, The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940 (London: Oxford University Press, 2003) and France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944 (London: Oxford University Press, 2001); John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: Viking, 1989); John Lukacs, The Last European War, 1939-1941 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977); B. J. C. McKercher and Roch Legault, eds., Military Planning and the Origins of the Second World War in Europe (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001); Alexander B. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2003); Richard Storry, A History of Modern Japan (London: Cassell, 1962); A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1982) and (ed.), History of World War II (London: Octopus Books, 1974); H. P. Willmott, Empires in the Balance (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1982).

Sinai - WWI

Ottoman troops, 1914, Gaza. The empire was defeated in World War I and partitioned by the Great Powers, notably Great Britain and France. Ottoman officers who successfully defended Gaza during the first battle.

The British in India and Egypt and the Russians in Central Asia were successful in suppressing the sultan's call for a Pan-Islamic movement. One might say, however, that to the extent that the powers had to maintain large garrisons at home to keep their Muslim subjects from revolting, the call had more success than has generally been admitted. Perhaps its greatest direct success came in Libya, where the Senusis responded by resuming their revolt against the Italians early in 1915, using Ottoman officers and German money to force the Italians to leave most of the desert areas and to concentrate in the coastal areas that they had taken in the early years of the Tripolitanian War. They also began to attack the British in Egypt's western deserts, and, though they were beaten in open battles, they carried on a destructive guerrilla warfare from a base at the Siwa Oasis until it was taken by the British late in 1916.

The Ottomans were encouraged to move into Egypt not only by the deposed Khedive Abbas Hilmi, who assured the sultan that his subjects would rise in revolt, but also by the British, who occupied the port of Akaba, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, thus posing a serious threat to the Ottoman positions in Syria as well as the Arabian Peninsula. In direct response Cemal Paşa was made governor of Syria with the job of organizing and leading an expeditionary force to drive the British from Egypt. After he arrived in Damascus, he started to introduce major reforms in the hope of securing Arab assistance, but emerging Arab nationalism led to local resistance. Cemal was therefore forced to take stern measures to prevent an open revolt from frustrating his plans for Egypt. Thus even as new roads and schools were built, leading nationalist agitators were imprisoned and executed and general suppression followed. His move against Egypt was no more successful than his effort to conciliate the Arabs. He marched a force of some 80,000 men across the wastes of the Sinai Desert in January 1915, but the British had successfully suppressed Arab movements in Egypt through a combination of force and promises for some kind of Arab independence in the future. So Cemal was not greeted with the expected Egyptian uprising, and strong British resistance forced him back from the Suez Canal without any success. Thereafter, the Ottoman threats to the canal and to Egypt were limited to a series of raids, mainly under the command of a Bavarian colonel, Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein. He was helped by a young German major, Franz von Papen, whose subsequent rise to power in Germany led him to a role in the Nazi triumph, after which he was sent back as German ambassador to the Turkish Republic during World War II.

Soldiers in the Arab Army during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918. They are carrying the Arab Flag of the Arab Revolt and pictured in the Arabian Desert.

Beginnings of the Arab Revolt
In the meantime, with McMahon's promises in hand Şerif Hüseyin proclaimed the Arab Revolt on June 5, 1916, soon following with a declaration of himself as "King of the Arab Countries," though Allied objections, particularly on the part of France, subsequently caused him to modify this to no more than "King of the Hicaz." The Ottoman army in Arabia was stationed in the Yemen, at the Holy Cities, and along the new Hicaz Railroad, which connected Medina with Damascus, and it assumed a mainly defensive role. Hüseyin organized the bedouins under his control into a guerrilla army entrusted to the command of his son, Emir Faysal, with the advice of several British officers, including T. E. Lawrence, whose later claims to have inspired the movement seem somewhat exaggerated. The immediate effect of the revolt was to cut the Hicaz Railroad and overrun the Ottoman garrisons at Mecca and Cidda. All the other towns in the Hicaz soon were also under rebel control with the exception of Medina, which remained under siege, and the Yemen was entirely cut off. Another Arab force commanded by Emir Faysal was organized to move north to assist a British push from Egypt into Syria. But with the barren wastes of the Sinai Desert as well as a strong Ottoman army in Syria, now commanded by von Sanders and Mustafa Kemal, the British took their time. Though the Arab Revolt concentrated in the Arabian Peninsula disrupted the Ottoman position there, it had yet to make the significant overall contribution the British expected.