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World War I: A Global Struggle

The Middle East, Mediterranean, & Africa


World War I: A Global Struggle

W Beach, Helles, on January 7, 1916 just prior to the final evacuation.

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Previous: 1916 - A War of Attrition | World War I: 101 | Next: 1917 - America Joins the Fight

War Comes to the Colonies

Formed in early 1871, Germany was a later comer to the competition for empire. As a result, the new nation was forced to direct its colonial efforts towards the less preferred parts of Africa and the islands of the Pacific. While German merchants began operations in Togo, Kamerun (Cameroon), South-West Africa (Namibia), and East Africa (Tanzania), others were planting colonies in Papua, Samoa, as well as the Caroline, Marshall, Solomon, Mariana, and Bismarck Islands. In addition, the port of Tsingtao was taken from the Chinese in 1897.

With the outbreak of war in Europe, Japan elected to declare war on Germany citing its obligations under the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1911. Moving quickly, Japanese troops seized the Marianas, Marshalls, and Carolines. Transferred to Japan after the war, these islands became a key part of its defensive ring during World War II. While the islands were being captured, a 50,000-man force was dispatched to Tsingtao. Here they conducted a classic siege with the aid of British forces and took the port on November 7, 1914. Far to the south, Australian and New Zealand forces captured Papua and Samoa.

Battling for Africa

While the German position in the Pacific was quickly swept away, their forces in Africa mounted a more vigorous defense. Though Togo was swiftly taken on August 27, British and French forces encountered difficulties in Kamerun. Though possessing greater numbers, the Allies were hampered by distance, topography, and climate. While initial efforts to capture the colony failed, a second campaign took the capital at Douala on September 27. Delayed by weather and enemy resistance, the final German outpost at Mora was not taken until February 1916. In South-West Africa, British efforts were slowed by the need to put down a Boer revolt before crossing the border from South Africa. Attacking in January 1915, South African forces advanced in four columns on the German capital at Windhoek. Taking the town on May 12, 1915, they compelled the colony's unconditional surrender two months later.

Only in German East Africa was the war to last the duration. Though the governors of East Africa and British Kenya wished to observe a pre-war understanding exempting Africa from hostilities, those within their borders clamored for war. Leading the German Schutztruppe (colonial defense force) was Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. A veteran imperial campaigner, Lettow-Vorbeck embarked on a remarkable campaign which saw him repeatedly defeat larger Allied forces. Utilizing African soldiers known as askiris, his command lived off the land and conducted an ongoing guerilla campaign. Tying down increasingly large numbers of British troops, Lettow-Vorbeck suffered several reverses in 1917 and 1918, but was never captured. The remnants of his command finally surrendered after the armistice on November 23, 1918, and Lettow-Vorbeck returned to Germany a hero.

The "Sick Man" at War

On August 2, 1914, the Ottoman Empire, long known as the "Sick Man of Europe" for its declining power, concluded an alliance with Germany against Russia. Long courted by Germany, the Ottomans had worked to re-equip their army with German weapons and used the Kaiser's military advisors. Utilizing the German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau, both of which had been transferred to Ottoman control after escaping British pursuers in the Mediterranean, Minister of War Enver Pasha ordered naval attacks against Russian ports on October 29. As a result, Russia declared war on November 1, followed by Britain and France four days later.

With the beginning of hostilities, General Otto Liman von Sanders, Ever Pasha's chief German advisor, expected the Ottomans to attack north into the Ukrainian plains. Instead, Ever Pasha elected to assault Russia through the mountains of the Caucasus. In this area the Russians advanced first gaining ground as the Ottoman commanders did not wish to attack in the severe winter weather. Angered, Ever Pasha took direct control and was badly defeated in the Battle of Sarikamis in December 1914/January 1915. To the south, the British, concerned about ensuring the Royal Navy's access to Persian oil, landed the 6th Indian Division at Basra on November 7. Taking the city, it advanced to secure Qurna.

The Gallipoli Campaign

Contemplating the Ottoman entry into the war, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill developed a plan for attacking the Dardanelles. Using the ships of the Royal Navy, Churchill believed, partially due to faulty intelligence, that the straits could be forced, opening the way for a direct assault on Constantinople. Approved, the Royal Navy had three attacks on the straits turned back in February and early March 1915. A massive assault on March 18 also failed with the loss of three older battleships. Unable to penetrate the Dardanelles due to Turkish mines and artillery, the decision was made to land troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula to remove the threat (Map).

Entrusted to General Sir Ian Hamilton, the operation called for landings at Helles and farther north at Gaba Tepe. While the troops at Helles were to push north, the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps was to push east and prevent the retreat of the Turkish defenders. Going ashore on April 25, Allied forces took heavy losses and failed to achieve their objectives. Battling on Gallipoli's mountainous terrain, Turkish forces under Mustafa Kemal held the line and fighting stalemated into trench warfare. On August 6, a third landing at Sulva Bay was also contained by the Turks. After a failed offensive in August, fighting quieted as the British debated strategy (Map). Seeing no other recourse, the decision was made to evacuate Gallipoli and the last Allied troops departed on January 9, 1916.

Previous: 1916 - A War of Attrition | World War I: 101 | Next: 1917 - America Joins the Fight

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