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The only known surviving example of an extraordinary map depicting the border regions of British and German East Africa (modern Kenya and Tanzania), showcasing an immense amount of militarily useful information, made expressly for field use by British officers in the during WWI’s East Africa Campaign, bearing manuscript annotations marking battles and skirmishes, printed in the cyanotype technique, almost certainly at the British Army HQ in Nairobi, likely under the supervision of the legendary intelligence operative Lt. Col. Richard Meinertzhagen.

Place and Year: [Nairobi: British Army East Africa Headquarters], September 17, 1914.
Code: 65425

Cyanotype, with neat contemporary manuscript additions in pen (Good, some wear along original folds and small holes at some fold vertices; tack marks in corners; some reinforcements with old tape on verso; still pleasing for a map of its kind), 54 x 66 cm (21 x 26 inches).


This is certainly one of the most extraordinary military maps we have ever encountered.  It is an original British military campaign map, depicting the central borderlands between German East Africa (modern mainland Tanzania) and British East Africa (modern Kenya), made in September 1914, near the beginning of World War I.  The East Africa Campaign, fought between Britain and Germany, from 1914 to 1918, was one of the most extraordinary, yet underappreciated aspects of the First World War.  Unlike the war in Europe, the conflict here was largely a frontier guerrilla campaign, pitting the severely outnumbered forces of the ingenious German commander, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, against the, initially over-confident, British forces, who eventually came to be led by the hard-charging Afrikaner general, Jan Smuts.


The present made, based on detailed reconnaissance of the Serengeti Plain, shows a wealth of information critical to military movement, not commonly available on published topographical maps.  Moreover, it features manuscript additions regarding key battles, made by the hand of a British officer engaged in the action, likely an officer of the East African Mounted Rifles.  The map was printed in the beautiful, yet inexpensive and technically undemanding, cyanotype (blueprint) method, almost certainly at the British East Africa Army Headquarters in Nairobi.  It was likely made under the close supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Meinhartzhagen, the flamboyant and highly controversial British intelligence officer, who ran the HQ’s mapmaking division.  The map was clearly made to specifically serve as a guide for the British invasion of German East Africa in November 1914 (which was unsuccessful), key aspects of which are represented on the map.  However, the map, being exceedingly useful, was retained to be used during the successful second British invasion of German East Africa, in March 1916.  The map is, by afar and away, the best map of the WWI East Africa Campaign we have ever encountered, and the fact that it was carried and used during key engagements of the conflict, makes it a precious artifact of this extraordinary aspect of military history.  Not surprisingly, we have not been able to trace any references to this map, let alone any mention of other examples.


The map is a masterpiece of frontier military cartography, providing all manner of useful information for solders on the move in a guerilla warfare environment.  All details are presented clearly, and everything portrayed is necessary information, there are no superfluous, distracting details.  The scope of the map extends from Arusha and Moshi, in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro (the highest point in Africa) and Mount Meru (both of which are depicted), in the south; Taveta, in the southeast; and the up to Nairobi (the capital of British East Africa), in the north; and then down over to the Ngorogoro Crater / Lake Natron area, in the southwest.  The prime focus of the map is, as the title suggests, the ‘Anglo-German Border’ lands.  Throughout, the map depicts all of the mountains, ridges and lakes that pierce the Serengeti Plain, which are clearly expressed through hachures, marking the elevations of key peaks.  Importantly, the map delineates a section of the route of the Uganda Railway, the lifeblood of the British presence in East Africa, which, in its totality ran from Mombasa to Kampala (Uganda).  The railway would figure prominently in the conflict in 1915 and early 1916.


While much of the general topography of the region was already well known from published, readily available topographical maps, the present map features copious additional information necessary in order to survive while traveling on horseback through the Serengeti.  A knowledge of the terrain in this region was critical, far more so than in most other areas.  A slightly disorientated unit of soldiers could easily find themselves in a cul-de-sac, as helpless quarry for an enemy ambush.  Moreover, especially during the dry season, sources of water could be difficult to locate, as the Serengeti became a virtual equatorial desert.  Being able to follow predictable paths through the plains, with regular access to water, was the difference between life and death.


As noted in the ‘Legend’ below the title (lower left), the map clearly labels tracks taken from ‘English maps’; a ‘German Military Plan’; as well as routes that are ‘doubtful’.  Along the tracks are symbols indicating the level of access to water, being ‘much, ‘little’, ‘no’ and ‘permanent’.  At the bottom are labeled ‘Tracks given by D.C. Ngong thus’, ‘These may be relied upon as giving dry weather conditions’, seemingly intelligence supplied by a Masai tracker in the employ of the British.  Critically, the numbers that appear along the tracks indicated the mileages between key points.  Also noted, is virtually every town and village, taking special note of settlements highlighted on German maps, as well the locations of German military outposts, in addition to Masai camps.  Some areas also feature notes describing the physical nature of the country.


While the East Africa Campaign was a fight between two European colonial powers and their Askari (indigenous African) soldiers, in reality, the territory of the Serengeti Plain was (as it is today) under the practical control of the Masai people, a noble nation of nomadic, fierce warriors.  Cooperation, or at least a courteous respect, for the Masai was a necessary element of survival in the region.  Indeed, it was well worth forging bonds with the Masai, who were excellent trackers, with an unparalleled knowledge of the territory, in addition to being superb military tacticians.  Accordingly, the map features a “Glossary of Useful Masai Words” (upper right), including phrases: “is there water”; “do you know the road” and “I want food now”. 


Importantly, labeled below the Masai glossary, is a manuscript ‘X’ indicating ‘Scraps’, which refers to the locations of military altercations (in some cases full battles) between the British and German forces.  Seven such events are noted throughout the map, most marked with dates.  Three of these ‘Scraps’ refer to events during the early part of the war.  The first, labeled ‘23.9.14’ (dated only six days after the present map was printed!), refers to a German raid into the Ingito Hills region of British East Africa.  The second, marked ‘3.11.14’, in the vicinity of Longido, refers to the Battle of Kilimanjaro, a decisive engagement in which the first British invasion of German East Africa was stopped in its tracks.  The third, undated, ‘Scrap’ shows the location of a skirmish in the Longido vicinity.


The second set of ‘Scraps’ refers to engagements during the early part of the second British invasion of German East Africa, which occurred in a drawn-out manner through 1916.  This invasion proved to be operationally successful, even as if it was, arguably, strategically disadvantageous for Britain.  The first altercation is marked ‘20.01.16’, just north of Longido; the next is marked as ‘March 1916’, at Magasini, just northeast of Mount Meru; the third is noted as ‘March 1916’, at Garagua; and the final ‘Scrap’ is recorded at Kahe, also in ‘March 1916’, located in the far lower right of the map.


As will be discussed later, from that point onwards, the action of the East Africa Campaign moved southwards, beyond the scope of the present map. 


Meinhertzhagen’s Map Room


At the beginning of World War I, the British Army Headquarters for East Africa, in Nairobi, set up a special mapping department.  As already noted, accurate mapping and geographical intelligence was not only useful, but absolutely necessarily, to carry out military operations.  The department was closely linked to the military intelligence unit of the HQ, as many of the best geographical sources, especially regarding the German side of the border, were obtained through clandestine methods.  The map room produced many excellent maps, such as the present work.  However, very few of the works are thought to survive, as they were considered to be ‘top-secret’ and produced in small quantities for the use of select commanders.  Many of the examples would have perished in the field, while others would have been intentionally destroyed after their incidental use had transpired.  Moreover, for security reasons, few of the maps would have been included in despatches to London.  We do, however, know that the map room produced very high quality maps, as their virtues were repeatedly extolled in both army despatches and in authoritative accounts of the East Africa Campaign.


The head of the Nairobi HQ’s mapping department was Lieutenant Colonel Richard Meinhertzhagen (1878 - 1967), an intelligence offer and larger than life figure, who variously garnered intense admiration, animosity and controversy wherever he travelled.  Meinhertzhagen was a fabulously talented cartographer, geographer and artist, whose works were praised even by his numerous enemies.  He was one of the great Big Game hunters of his generation, as well as a world-renowned ornithologist.  He was also a congenital liar, a thief, and a murderer, who definitely killed a tribal chief in cold blood, in 1905, and probably murdered his own wife, in 1928, at a remote Scottish cottage.

As T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), a onetime colleague of Meinhertzhagen, wrote in his memoir, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926):

Meinertzhagen knew no half measures. He was logical, an idealist of the deepest, and so possessed by his convictions that he was willing to harness evil to the chariot of good. He was a strategist, a geographer, and a silent laughing masterful man; who took as blithe a pleasure in deceiving his enemy (or his friend) by some unscrupulous jest, as in spattering the brains of a cornered mob of Germans one by one with his African knob-kerri. His instincts were abetted by an immensely powerful body and a savage brain...”

Meinhertzhagen was, at least on paper, superbly qualified to aid the British effort in the East Africa campaign.  He had spent the years 1902 to 1906 as a member of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) based in Nairobi, where he extensively explored and mapped what is now the southern part of Kenya, as well as some the areas across the German colonial border.  He had many contacts with the Masai, as well as British ranchers and hunters in the region, so had stellar first-hand sources on geographic intelligence. 


As soon as Meinhertzhagen was redeployed to Nairobi, in early 1914, he was placed in charge of the map room, and immediately pressed his sources.  While the present map is signed by an unidentified ‘C.H.W.’ and dated ’17.9.14’, it was likely made under Meinhertzhagen’s close supervision, using many of the geographic sources that he had personally acquired.  The manuscript sketch, on which the present map is predicated, was then duplicated by the cyanotype method, an ideal technique for quickly turning out a small number of copies during an active wartime situation.  The present map is thus one of the few surviving maps made by this highly regarded and consequential mapping operation. 


While Meinhertzagen’s WWI maps of the East Africa were specifically praised in army despatches, his intelligence with regards to the capabilities of the German forces in the region were way off of the mark.  He overconfidently promised his superiors that the KAR and its Indian auxiliaries would easily crush any opposition.  As it turned out, the Germans successfully repelled the first British invasion of German East Africa, in November 1914.  While Meinhertzhagen became the head of intelligence at Nairobi HQ, and somewhat redeemed himself with his subsequent actions, in 1916, the new commander of the regional army, General Jan Smuts, detested him and sent him packing to England in November 1916.


The WWI East Africa Campaign


The East Africa Campaign was perhaps the most extraordinary, yet an almost completely forgotten, aspect of World War I.  In essence, a German force, that never numbered more that 14,000 troops, held down a British-Allied force that, at its height, numbered 300,000 men.  The reason that the conflict has since escaped popular memory is likely that it was the only theatre of the war where Germany had gotten the better of the British forces.  As a result, British historians were loathe to discuss this ‘embarrassment’, while German figures very much wanted to forget WWI altogether.


On the eve of the war, Germany possessed Deutsch-Ostafrika, a colony it had established in 1885, and which comprised all of modern mainland Tanzania (Tanganyika), Rwanda and Burundi.  This vast land of 7.5 million indigenous inhabitants was ruled by barely 5,000 Germans.


Immediately to the north, was British East Africa (modern Kenya), with featured the great port of Mombasa and its new, bustling capital, Nairobi.  The colony was anchored by the Uganda Railway, which connected Mombasa and Nairobi with Kampala, and which was considered to be one of the great strategic assets of the British Empire. 


When World War I broke out in Europe, many on both sides actually hoped that the respective parties in East Africa could remain neutral, while the conflict was fought elsewhere.  However, this proved to be incredibly naïve.   


The fact was, neither side was well prepared for mass conflict.  The Germans could only count on the Schutztruppe (Protection Force) of 260 Europeans and 2,470 Askari solders, in addition to 2,700 irregulars (German settlers).  It was made clear from the outset that there would never be any chance of reinforcements from Germany.  Moreover, the German arsenals were full of outdated guns that were low on ammunition.


On the other side, the anchor of the British army in East Africa, the King’s African Rifles (KAR), could count about the same strength as the Schutztruppe.  However, the British knew that they could, in time, count upon thousands of Indian auxiliary troops, as well as reinforcements from South Africa.  Moreover, they were much better armed than the German side.  Beyond that, they could count on the assistance of their Belgian allies (from the Congo) and their Portuguese allies (from Mozambique), although their capabilities were questionable.

One factor that everyone, including the German political command, underestimated was Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870 - 1964), the commander of the Schutztruppe.  He would prove himself to be one of the greatest guerrilla fighters in world history.  He trained his small Askari force into a highly motivated, skilled unit, specialized in lightening, stealth operations of asymmetric warfare.  Lettow-Vorbeck knew from the outset that upon the arrival of the British reinforcements, he would be hopelessly outmanned and outgunned, such that he would have a zero-percent chance of winning a conventional war, or firmly holding on to German territory.  Thus, his goal was to wage a guerrilla war, drawing vast quantities of British resources into East Africa, and then pinning them down, so that they could not be redirected to fight Germany in Europe.  He managed to carry out his design, and, as the late military historian Edwin Palmer Hoyt remarked, Lettow-Vorbeck mounted the “the greatest single guerrilla operation in history, and the most successful.”

Upon the start of hostilities in East Africa, Lettow-Vorbeck drew first blood.  He ordered some of his detachments to make forays across the border into British East Africa, as shown on the present map with action near the Ingito Hills dated ‘23.9.14’.

However, the British mounted a powerful reprise, in the form of a two-pronged operation to invade German East Africa.  At the beginning of November 1914, the so-called British ‘Force B’, consisting of 8,000 Indian Expeditionary troops, mounted a naval invasion of the German port city of Tanga.  Meanwhile, a force of the KAR, the so-called ‘Force C’, invaded German East Africa to the west of Mount Kilimanjaro, aiming to strike the German HQ at Neu Moshi.  A few of the key engagements of the ‘Force C’ invasion are shown on the present map. 

To the absolute shock and horror of the British HQ in Nairobi, both the Tanga and Kilimanjaro expeditions failed spectacularly.  Even though the British forces outnumbered the Germans 8:1 at Tanga and 4:1 in the interior, they severely underestimated the abilities of the opposition.  The spectacle was described as one of “the most notable failures in British military history.”

The British spent 1915, licking their wounds, while Lettow-Vorbeck went on the offensive.  He orchestrated as series of during raids deep into British territory in Kenya and Uganda.  This seemed to have the effect of paralyzing the British, compelling them to stay within their fortified bases, while they lost control over their own countryside.  By late 1915, the Schutztruppe was making regular raids upon the treasured Uganda Railway, which had the effect of cutting off all communication between Nairobi and Uganda.  This, more than anything, angered Whitehall, and extreme measures were henceforth taken in an effort to take Lettow-Vorbeck out, once and for all!

General Jan Smuts (1870 - 1950), himself a former Afrikaner guerilla fighter, was appointed the new commander of the British East Africa HQ.  He was given an army of 73,000 met with a mandate to hunt down and destroy the Schutztruppe.  As shown on the present map, in March 1916, Smuts invaded German East Africa.  This time, Britain’s overwhelming force quickly succeeded in taking much of the country.  However, what the British did not yet realize is that this was all proceeding to Lettow-Vorbeck’s plan.  The wily German commander progressively withdrew his forces further and further south into German territory, all the while conducting small, lightening raids upon British positions.  While these raids were small, they had the effect of terrifying the opposition, while stealing much needed stores and ammunition.  As the British were draw further and further south, they required ever more men to guard their supply lines.

The British campaign in East Africa suffered a self-inflicted blow, in January 1917, when the competent Smuts was called to London to serve in the Imperial War Cabinet.  He was replaced with less vigorous leadership.  While the British and Belgians actually continued to gain territory at the Germans’ expense, once again, they were being drawn deeper and deeper into  trap.  At one point, Britain and her Allies had 300,000 men engaged in the campaign at some level.  Meanwhile, Lettow-Vorbeck inflicted a severe defeat upon the Portuguese at the Battle of Ngomano (November 25, 1917) in northern Mozambique.  With the victory at Ngomano, the Schutztruppe gained vast quantities of much-needed supplies and ammunition, sustaining them for many months. 

The guerilla fighting continued, and in August 1918, Lettow-Vorbeck invaded British territory in Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia).  There he fought quite successfully until, on November 14, 1918, he was given a telegram informing him of the Armistice that ended World War I (on Western Allied terms).  While Lettow-Vorbeck was undefeated, and had actually bettered his opponents, he was compelled to surrendered to the British at Abercorn, Northern Rhodesia, on November 25, 1918. 

Due to his astounding feats, even Lettow-Vorbeck’s opponents referred to him as the ‘Lion of Africa’, and in spite of history’s amnesia, he remains one of the greatest frontier fighters of all time.  While technically victorious, and gaining Tanganyika (Mainland Tanzania) as a war prize, Britain found the East Africa Campaign a bitter pill.  Whitehall was deeply embarrassed by the number of men and resources it had expended, and the Exchequer was horrified that the campaign had cost the equivalent of over £13 billion in today’s money.

References: N/A – Unrecorded.