Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

From Kaiserreich

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (born on March, 20 1870 in Saarlouis, Germany) is a German general, colonial administrator and politician. Widely known for having been the only undefeated military commander during the colonial campaigns of the Weltkrieg, he was made Generalfeldmarschall and became the first Statthalter of Freistaat Mittelafrika, before engaging in politics as the Chairman of the Nationalliberale Partei (National Liberal Party).


Early Life

Born to a military family in Saarlouis, Rhine Province, Lettow-Vorbeck studied military science as an artillery officer. Joining the 4th Footguards Regiment in 1888, he was Sekondeleutnant in 1889, Premierleutnant in 1895 and Hauptmann in 1901. From 1900 to 1901, he was posted to China as a member of the international alliance forces to quell the Boxer Rebellion. Between 1904 and 1908, Lettow-Vorbeck went to Deutsche Südwestafrika as aide of Chief of Staff Martin Chalet de Beaulieu to participate to the repression of the Herero uprising. As a lieutnant-colonel, he was made commander of the Second Seebataillons of the Kaiserliche Marine from 1909 to 1913, posted in Wilhelmshafen. When the Weltkrieg broke out, he was Commander-in-Chief for the Schutztruppen of Kamerun, since April, 13 1914.


In 1914, Lettow-Vorbeck was appointed the commander of the small German garrison of 3000 soldiers and twelve Askari companies in German East Africa. With the beginning of the war in August, knowing the need to seize the initiative, he ignored orders from Berlin and the colony's governor Dr. Heinrich Schnee: Schnee had insisted on neutrality for German East Africa. Lettow-Vorbeck promptly disregarded the governor, nominally his superior, and prepared to repel an amphibious assault on the city of Tanga, where between November 2 and 5 of 1914, he fought one of his greatest battles. He then assembled his men and almost nonexistent supplies to attack the British railways in East Africa. He scored a second victory over the British at Jassin on January 18, 1915. While these victories gave him badly-needed modern rifles and other supplies, as well as critical boost to the morale of his men, von Lettow-Vorbeck also lost numerous experienced men in these pitched battles, among them the "splendid Captain Tom von Prince", whom he could not easily replace.

Lettow-Vorbeck's plan for the Weltkrieg was quite simple: knowing that East Africa would never be anything but a sideshow, he determined to tie down as many British troops as he possibly could; this would remove them from the Western Front, and in this way, might contribute to Germany's victory. Lettow-Vorbeck knew he could count on his highly motivated officers (their casualty rate was certainly proof of that). As a consequence of costly personnel losses, he afterwards avoided direct engagements with British soldiers, instead directing his men to engage in guerrilla raids into the British provinces of Kenya and Rhodesia, targeting British forts, railways and communications — all with the goal of forcing the Entente to divert manpower from the main theatre in Europe.

He gathered some 12,000 soldiers, most of them Askari, but all well-trained and well-disciplined. He realised the critical needs of guerrilla warfare in that he used everything available to him in matters of supply, he used the crew and artillery of the German cruiser SMS Königsberg (sunk in 1915 in the Rufiji River delta) which had a capable crew under commander Max von Looff, as well as its numerous guns, which were converted into artillery pieces for the land fighting, which would be the largest standard land artillery pieces used in the East African theater.

In March 1916, the British under Jan Smuts launched a formidable offensive with 45,000 men. Lettow-Vorbeck patiently used climate and terrain as his allies while his troops fought the British on his terms and to his advantage. The British, however, kept on adding more troops and forcing Lettow to yield territory. Nevertheless, he fought on, including a pivotal battle at Mahiwa in October 1917 where he lost 519 men killed, wounded or missing and the British 2,700 killed, wounded or missing. After the news of the battle reached Germany he was promoted to Generalmajor. The British would recover their losses and continue to hold an overwhelming manpower advantage; for the Schutztruppe it was serious, there were no reserves to again fill the ranks.


Von Lettow now began a forced withdrawal to the south, with his troops at half rations and the British in pursuit. On November 25, 1917 Lettow’s advance column waded across the river Rovuma into Portuguese Mozambique. In essence he cut his own supply lines and the Schutztruppe caravan became a nomadic tribe. On their first day across the river they attacked the newly replenished Portuguese garrison of Ngomano and solved all their supply issues for the foreseeable future. When they captured a river steamer with a load of medical supplies, including quinine, at least some of their medical problems were no more. For almost an entire year they had now lived off the land, but mainly with provisions captured from the British and Portuguese; they had replaced their old rifles with new equipment and acquired machine guns and mortars after capturing Namakura in July 1918. At the end they had more ammunition than they could carry.

On September 28, 1918 von Lettow again crossed the Rovuma and returned to German East Africa with the British still in pursuit. He then turned west and raided Northern Rhodesia, thus evading a trap the British had prepared for him in German East Africa. On November 13, he took the town of Kasama which the British had evacuated, and continued heading south-west towards Katanga. Finally rallying Katanga by early 1919, he managed to remain there for what was left of the Weltkrieg. In 1921, the British magistrate Hector Croad appeared under a white flag and delivered a message from the allied General van Deventer informing him of the armistice. General von Lettow-Vorbeck, the only undefeated military commander of the Weltkrieg, could now come back to his motherland, with his hundred of still living soldiers.

Governor of Mittelafrika

Lettow-Vorbeck, crowned with his glory of his long and undefeated campaign in Africa during the Weltkrieg, far more romantic and heroic than the bloodbaths in European trenches, earned him a great popularity and an international recognition, as various honors and medals in Germany but also great respect from his former enemies, Britain and South Africa. As a reward, von Lettow-Vorbeck was named governor of the new colony of Kongo. Having in charge the pacification of its huge demesne, von Lettow-Vorbeck began to act as an almighty lord, thus unofficially enabling the autonomous status of the future Freistaat Mittelafrika. In 1925, taking advantage of the dismemberment of the British Empire, he ordered the invasion of British Uganda, Nigeria and Gold Coast. As most of British personnel in Africa was moving to Canada or to National France, they couldn't react. In exchange of the recongition of the German borders in Rhodesia, the German Empire officially recognized the newly independant South African Union. Along with the occupied territories in China, Africa was the richest and biggest part of the German colonial empire.

After the proclamation of the Free State of Central Africa by Reichskanzler Alfred von Tirpitz on November, 2 1925, by decree of the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Lettow-Vorbeck became the first Statthalter, who had been promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, assisted by his friend Wilhelm Solf. Together, they managed to put in place a true military and economic authonomy, along with a legislation of protection of the Native populations, under the inspiration of Lettow-Vorbeck, ever grateful to the Askari soldiers who fought with him. Despite of that, the country was continually plagued by a huge budget deficit and sporadic Native revolts. After Wilhelm Solf decided to retire to German Samoa, Lettow-Vorbeck gave his resignation as Statthalter, on February, 26 1934.

Entry in German politics

When Lettow-Vorbeck came back to Germany in 1934, he immediately resigned from the army: considering himself as an old man who had a difficult life, and that he had done everything he could to serve Germany and its Kaiser, the aging Generalfeldmarschall vowed to live a peaceful life. He didn't knew that the old Nationalliberale Partei, fervent German nationalists but also defenders of democracy, were still searching for a new figurehead since the death of their Chairman Gustav Stresemann in 1929. Well-known for his patriotic thoughts, Lettow-Vorbeck was quickly convinced to rally the NLP, quickly becoming the party's chairman, mixing liberalism, soft nationalism, militarism and even republicanism, which consider Lettow-Vorbeck as some sort of providential man...From the deserts of Africa to the Reichstag, where will Lettow-Vorbeck stop his political ascent?


Erich Paul Remark has announced that Lettow-Vorbeck would be a major supporting character in his future alternate history novel, Führrereich. "Using [someone like] Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck as a character in an alternate history will be very innovative", the writer stated.

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