I’ve written before about the First World War in German East Africa and the general Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck.  One of the first actions of the war was the Battle of Tanga starting on the 3 November.  Nowadays Tanga is a vibrant town and the centre of Sisal production on the coast.  As it is only 80Km from the Kenyan (or British East Africa as it was then) border and the terminus of the East Usambara railway from Kilimanjaro to the coast, it was considered to be strategically important.   There was an initial plan to bombard the town but the British managed to extract an agreement from the towns people not to intiate any local agression.   In an astonishing betrayal of trust the British decided that they would in fact launch an attack on the city.  They believed that the harbour was mined so an amphibeous attack was ordered 3 Km south of the town.  There had been no initial reconnaissance.  It was only by chance that the 8,000 ill prepared Indian forces were not wiped out there and then.  The following morning the British Commander, Aitken ordered them to march on the town.  The local German garrison broke up the advancing parties and by the middle of the afternoon they were assisted by a number of swarms of bees, which gave rise to the alternative name for the battle as the ‘Battle of the Bees’.  Despite being outnumbered by over 8 to 1 Von Lettow ordered a counter attach and the British were forced to retreat back to their ships, leavning behind guns, rifles and over 600,000 rounds of ammunition.

In an typical display of gentlemanly behaviour the  German and British commanders met under a white flag and with a bottle of brandy compared notes on the battle and ensured that all the casualties were treated.  It was an early display of the methods that Von Lettow was to use throughout the four years of the war which he finished undefeated.

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