Battle of Mahiwa
The Battle of Mahiwa fought between German and British Imperial forces was a battle of the East African Campaign
East African Campaign (World War I)
The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions which started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917...

 of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The battle began when South African and Nigerian troops under Lieutenant General Jacob van Deventer engaged a column of German forces under the command of General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was a general in the Imperial German Army and the commander of the German East Africa campaign. For four years, with a force that never exceeded about 14,000 , he held in check a much larger force of 300,000 British, Belgian, and Portuguese troops...

 at Mahiwa in German East Africa
German East Africa
German East Africa was a German colony in East Africa, which included what are now :Burundi, :Rwanda and Tanganyika . Its area was , nearly three times the size of Germany today....

. The Germans were able to inflict massive casualties upon van Deventer's army, forcing it to withdraw. Despite the massive number of British casualties, the Germans also lost a large percentage of their forces and were ultimately forced to withdraw from their positions and continue their guerrilla war.


With Kurt Wahle's force at Nyangao separated from the main von Lettow-Vorbeck's main body, the British sought to cut off the force and destroy it. Thus they hatched a plan to cut off and surround Wahle's column by flanking it with a force of Nigerians. They would then commit a large body of soldiers on a frontal attack and encircle the force.


A force of three battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

s of Nigerians was sent against Wahle's troops at Nyangao and engaged him there on the 15th. Von Lettow-Vorbeck, brought up reinforcements to Wahle and pitted his additional four companies
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 against them. The Nigerians soon were threatened with encirclement and suffered severe casualties. A larger force had been sent by the British to attack the Germans from the opposite side but was also met with stubborn resistance when the Germans withdrew from Nyangao on the 16th and dug in on the ridge at Mahiwa 2 miles (3.2 km) from their previous position. Despite the attacks from the newly arrived British force, the Germans were able to hold their ground and counter attacked on the 17th and 18th forcing the British to withdraw with heavy casualties.


The British forces were defeated with very heavy losses taking over 2,700 casualties and were forced to withdraw. Although von Lettow-Vorbeck had inflicted the greatest number of casualties on the Allies in the African Theater
African theatre of World War I
The African Theatre of World War I comprises geographically distinct campaigns around the German colonies of Kamerun, the Volta Region of Ghana, Togo, South-West Africa, and German East Africa.-Overview:...

 since the Battle of Tanga
Battle of Tanga
The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force “B” under Major General A.E. Aitken to capture German East Africa during World War I in concert with the invasion Force “C” near Longido on the slopes of...

, the battle did not go as well as he had hoped. Although the German army suffered only between 500 and 600 casualties, it was over thirty percent of the force engaged. The German supplies were extremely limited and four days of fighting had expended over 850,000 rounds, nearly his entire supply of smokeless cartridges. Without sufficient ammunition for their modern weapons, the German force was reduced to using old Mauser Model 1871
Mauser Model 1871
The Mauser Model 1871 adopted as the Gewehr 71 or Infanterie-Gewehr 71 was the first of millions of rifles manufactured to the designs of Paul Mauser and Wilhelm Mauser of the Mauser company.During 1870-71 trials with many different rifles took place, with the "M1869 Bavarian Werder" being the...

's which used black powder cartridges. Low on supplies and fearing another assault, General von Lettow-Vorbeck decided to withdraw from German East Africa and invade Portuguese East Africa where he hoped to regain strength by capturing supplies from the ill prepared Portuguese Army there.
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