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Battle of Mahiwa

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Title: Battle of Mahiwa  
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Subject: Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, East African Campaign (World War I)
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Battle of Mahiwa

Battle of Mahiwa
Part of World War I
Date 15–18 October 1917
Location Mahiwa, German East Africa
Result German victory
 German Empire  British Empire
Commanders and leaders
German Empire Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
German Empire Kurt Wahle
Sir Jacob van Deventer
1,500 men[1] 4,900 men[1]
Casualties and losses
500–600 killed and wounded[1] 2,700 killed and wounded[1]

The Battle of Mahiwa fought between German and British Imperial forces was a battle of the East African Campaign of World War I. 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 at Mahiwa in German East Africa. 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 Lettow-Vorbeck's main body, the British hatched a plan to cut off and surround Wahle's column by flanking it with a force of Nigerians.[2] They would then commit a large body of soldiers on a frontal attack and encircle the force.[1]


A force of three battalions of Nigerians was sent against Wahle's troops at Nyangao and engaged him there on the 15th.[2] Von Lettow-Vorbeck brought up reinforcements to Wahle and pitted his additional four companies against them. The Nigerians were soon 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.[2] Despite the attacks from the newly arrived British force, the Germans were able to hold their ground and counterattacked on the 17th and 18th forcing the British to withdraw with heavy casualties.[3]


The British forces were defeated with very heavy losses taking over 2,700 casualties and were forced to withdraw.[1] Although von Lettow-Vorbeck had inflicted the greatest number of casualties on the Allies in the African Theater since the Battle of Tanga, 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.[4] The German supplies were extremely limited and four days of fighting had expended over 850,000 rounds,[4] 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'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.[4]



Coordinates: 10°21′00″S 39°16′00″E / 10.35°S 39.2667°E / -10.35; 39.2667

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