World War I in East Africa, 1916-1918
At the outbreak of war, the imperial powers in East Africa were unprepared for a major campaign. Although the colonies possessed little strategic value in themselves, the dynamics of imperial rivalry quickly generated armed conflict. The East African campaign evolved haphazardly from neutralising German wireless communications and naval facilities to a wildly over-ambitious plan to conquer the whole of the colony with scant forces. The British wanted to keep any potential spoils for themselves, but were also strongly influenced by the expansionist policies of South Africa, largely propounded by Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. By September 1916, the British forces, commanded by Smuts, had occupied the bulk of German East Africa with all the railways, towns and ports in their possession. However, he had failed to bring the German Schutztruppe to battle and it remained a powerful and well-motivated force. Furthermore, his reliance to manoeuvre and reluctance to fight battles led his troops ever-deeper into enemy territory and dependent on inadequate lines of communication. Smuts continued his advance until January 1917 when he left for the Imperial War Conference. His forces were in terrible condition and unfit for further offensive operations. He was succeeded by the British General Hoskins for a bare three months, but, who nevertheless instigated badly needed reforms and reorganisation. In May 1917, the South African, General, van Deventer assumed command, an appointment that he would hold until the end of war. Van Deventer continued to build on Hoskin’s work while instigating an aggressive policy of fighting hard battles whenever possible, while concurrently trying to destroy German food supplies. These methods were continued throughout the remainder of 1917 and until November 1918 when the war ended with the Schutztruppe being pursued from Portuguese East Africa into Northern Rhodesia.