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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

Paul von Lettow Vorbeck is one of the most interesting and least known characters in 20th century German history. He was born the year Prussia went to war with France in 1870. Von Lettow Vorbeck was very much a son of the Imperial  and newly united Germany which formed at the conclusion of that conflict. His origin was of lower noble birth, and like many Germans of this station, it gave him a straight line into the officer corps of the military. He had a storied career and was considered a hero at home

 In his early years he put down the Boxer Rebellion in China and was given assignments in Germany's prosperous African colonies, ending up in German East Africa in the spring of 1914. He was effectively second in command of the entire colony, behind only the colonial governor himself. Well by late summer the First World War broke out, and the governor of German East Africa was concerned. His colony was surrounded by colonies of his enemies and thoughts were that if war came, the colony should simply surrender. The idea was that when Germany won the war, the colony and its infrastructure would be intact and profitable business could immediately resume. However, von Lettow Vorbeck balked at this idea. He knew that it would be better to resist. Making Africa a combat theater would keep British troops and supplies away from the Western Front. So immediately von Lettow Vorbeck took his meagerly equipped but well trained German-Askari(native African soldiers) and prepared to repel a British invasion at port of Tanga.

 The British used Indian troops to invade Africa and when they landed, the smaller German and Askari force was able to defeat them soundly in two battles early in the war. This gave von Lettow Vorbeck's troops supplies and arms. Germany was blockaded and so any supplies needed had to be taken from the enemy. Von Lettow Vorbeck decided to conduct asymmetrical warfare and retreated into the wilderness with his troops. He was able to recruit almost 10,000 new soldiers to augment, effectively tripping his force(facing 150,000 plus British troops). For the next three years he conducted hit and run raids and never lost a battle during the war, the only commander who could boast such a record. His tactics and strategies have been a model for guerrilla warfare ever since. He returned home a hero and despite Germany's defeat, he was given a victory parade in 1919. He continued to serve for a short time putting down several coup attempts before retiring in the 1920s.

 Politically, he was inline with many nobles and remained a strong nationalist and a strong monarchist. When the Nazi party emerged as the dominant nationalist party, von Lettow Vorbeck remained with the smaller German Nationalist Peoples Party(DNVP) headed by Alfred Hugenberg. When Hitler came to power in 1933 and abolished all parties, many of the DNVP members joined the Nazi party. Indeed the leader of the DNVP had worked with the Nazis in coalitions for many years. Von Lettow Vorbeck refused because he did not trust nor like Hitler. In 1935 Hitler sought to use the charismatic former war hero and offered him the position as ambassador to the British government. Many state that Von Lettow Vorbeck briskly refused Hitler's offer. Some 20 years after the end of the Second World War it came out that he actually told Hitler to "Go F&%# Himself".

Nothing ever happened to him for this or his other outspoken anti Nazi statements. He died an old man at 94 in Hamburg in 1964. He was simply too big for Hitler to get rid of, and I think he knew it.

Von Lettow Vorbeck around the First Wold War

Von Lettow Vorbeck initially commanded a small force or 5,000 men made up of half German and half native Askari soldiers. With this force he twice defeated the British in open battle before recruiting 10,000 more volunteers to his campaign.

Germany lost the First World War, but Von Lettow Vorbeck was given a victory parade in Berlin. He never lost a battle to the British, Portuguese, and Belgian opponents.

As an older man, still dressed in his colonial uniform.

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