It’s relatively common knowledge that the first shots of WW1 in Africa took place in East Africa on 8 August 1914 against Dar es Salaam, followed by Grunshi’s retaliatory shot in West Africa on 12 August and then the German attack on Taveta (in today’s Kenya) on 15 August.
What is less well-known is what happened in the south. On 13 August, the British ‘naval’ contingent on Lake Nyasa attacked the German Herman von Wissman in dry dock effectively winning Britain’s first naval engagement of the war.
Even less known, are the attacks on Portuguese East Africa (today’s Mozambique) and West Africa (Angola), These took place on 24 August and 18 October 1914 respectively. More has possibly been written on the German attack on Naulila, Angola than on the incursion into PEA, not least because the attack on occurred during the hiatus in South Africa’s attack on the German colony to deal with the outbreak of the Afrikaner Rebellion.
What is remarkable about these German attacks on Portuguese territory is that Portugal was neutral at the time and even more remarkable that the attacks failed to draw Portugal into the war. Portugal officially entered the conflict on 9 March 1916. Yet, in Africa, two expeditionary forces had been sent out in 1914 to protect Portuguese interests and on Portugal’s declaration of war, another two expeditionary forces were sent out. It was rather touch and go in East Africa when the first German attack took place, as this was without sanction by Governor Schnee who hastily smoothed flapping elephant ears (literary licence) to calm things down.
Portugal’s involvement in the East Africa campaign has not been looked on favourably by British military commentators and officers then or more recently – it wasn’t brilliant to say the least, but when considered in view of the political machinations going on, what these forces did achieve was quite remarkable. British forces Commander in Chief Jaap van Deventer had to be very creative in how he engaged the Germans in Portuguese East Africa to not ruffle allied feathers but still bring the German force to book.
In Angola, the attacks resulted in war trial tribunals setting precedents for later legal cases and years of unrest still experienced today.
There’s still so much to discover about the Great War in Africa – Belgian Congo too was attacked by German forces on 15 August 1914 at Kivu.
Perhaps in time, more memorials for these little known conflict areas will come to light.