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Togoland Campaign

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Subject: Middle Eastern theatre of World War I, Military history of Togo, Togoland, Military operations in North Africa during World War I, History of Togo
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Togoland Campaign

The Togoland Campaign (9–26 August 1914) was a French and British invasion of the German colony of Togoland in west Africa, during the West African Campaign of the First World War. German colonial forces withdrew from the capital Lomé and the coastal province and then fought delaying actions on the route north to Kamina, where a new wireless station linked Berlin to Togoland, the Atlantic and South America. The main British and French force from the neighbouring colonies of Gold Coast and Dahomey, advanced from the coast up the road and railway, as smaller forces converged on Kamina from the north. The German defenders were able to delay the invaders for several days at the battles of Agbeluvhoe and Chra but surrendered the colony on 26 August 1914. In 1916, Togoland was partitioned by the victors and in July 1922, British Togoland and French Togoland were established as League of Nations mandates.


Togoland, 1914

The German Empire had established a protectorate over Togoland in 1884, which was slightly larger than Ireland and had a population of c. 1,000,000 people in 1914. A mountain range with heights of over 3,000 feet (910 m) ran south-east to north-west and restricted traffic between the coast and hinterland. South of the high ground the ground rises from coastal marshes and lagoons to a plateau about 200–300 feet (61–91 m) high, covered in forest and high grass and scrub, where farmers had cleared the forest for oil palm cultivation. The climate was tropical, with more rainfall in the interior and a dry season with little rain in August.[1] Half of the border with Gold Coast ran along the Volta river and a tributary but in the south, the border for 80 miles (130 km) was beyond the east bank. The Germans had made the southern region one of the most developed colonies in Africa, having built three metre-gauge railway lines and several roads from Lomé the capital and main city. There was no port and ships had to lie off Lomé and transfer freight by surf boats. One line ran along the coast from Anekho to Lomé, one ran from Lomé to Atakpame and one from Lomé to Palime. Roads had been built from Lomé to: Atakpame and Sokode, Palime to Kete Krachi and from Kete Krachi to Sansame Mangu and in 1914, were reported to be fit for motor vehicles.[2]

German military forces in Togoland were exiguous, there were no German army units, only 693 [3]

Gold Coast, 1914

West Africa, 1914–1918

Sir Hugh Clifford, the Governor of the Gold Coast, Lieutenant-General Charles Macpherson Dobell, commander of the West African Frontier Force and Lieutenant-Colonel R. A. de B. Rose, commander of the Gold Coast Regiment were absent in July 1914. W. C. F. Robertson was the acting-Governor and Captain Frederick Carkeet Bryant was acting-Commandant of the Gold Coast Regiment.[3] The Gold Coast Regiment had one pioneer, seven infantry companies with a machine-gun each and a battery of four QF 2.95-inch Mountain Guns, with 1,595 men including 124 carriers and c. 330 reservists. There were four "Volunteer Corps" with c. 900 men and 1,200 police and customs men. The Defence Scheme for the Gold Coast (1913) provided for war against the French in neighbouring Ivory Coast and the Germans in Togoland; in the event of war with Germany, the colony was to be defended along Lake Volta and the north-eastern frontier against the possibility of a raid, which was the most that the Germans in Togoland were thought capable.[5]

The plan also provided for an offensive across the lake into the north of Togoland, before making a thrust south to the more populated portion of the colony. On 29 July, a Colonial Office telegram arrived at Accra, ordering the adoption of the precautionary stage of the Defence Scheme and Robertson forwarded the information to Bryant the next day.[6] Bryant dispensed with the Scheme, which had not been revised after the wireless station at Kamina was built and by 31 July, had mobilized the Gold Coast Regiment along the southern, rather than the northern border with Togoland.[7] In London on 3 August, Dobell proposed an advance if war was declared, along the coast road from Ada to Keta and thence to Lomé, which was fewer than 2 miles (3.2 km) from the border. Bryant had reached the same conclusion as Dobell and had already organised small expeditionary columns at Krachi and Ada and assembled the main force at Kumasi, ready to move in either direction.[8]


Anglo-French offensive preparations

On 5 August 1914, a day after Britain declared war on Germany, the Allies cut the German sea cables between Monrovia and Tenerife, leaving the radio station at Kamina the only connexion between the colony and Germany.[9] The same day the acting-Governor of Togoland, Major von Döring sent a telegram to Robertson proposing neutrality, in accordance with articles X and XI of the Congo Act, which stated that colonies in the Congo Basin were to remain neutral in the event of a conflict in Europe.[10] Von Döring also appealed for neutrality because of the economic interdependence of the west African colonies and their common interest in dominating local populations.[11] On 6 August, the Cabinet in London refused the offer of neutrality and Bryant on his own initiative, after hearing that the French in Dahomey wished to co-operate, sent Captain Barker and the District Commissioner of Keta to von Döring, with a demand the surrender of the colony and gave 24-hours to reply. Next morning the British intercepted a wireless message from von Döring that he was withdrawing from the coast to Kamina and that Lomé would be surrendered if attacked.[12] A similar proposal for neutrality from von Döring had been received by the Governor of Dahomey, who took it as a declaration of war and ordered an invasion, according to a plan to seize Lomé and the coast, which had been drafted in ignorance of the wireless station at Kamina, only 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the Dahomey border.[13]


Capture of Lomé

Togoland, 1914

Late on 6 August, French police occupied customs posts near Athieme and next day Major Maroix, the commander of French military forces in Dahomey, ordered the capture of Agbanake and Aneho. Agbanake was occupied late on 7 August, the Mono river was crossed and a column under Captain Marchand took Aneho early on 8 August; both moves were unopposed and local civilians helped to see off the Germans, by burning down the Government House at Sebe. The c. 460 colonists and Askaris retreated inland, impressing civilians and calling up reservists as they moved north.[9] Repairs began on the Aneho–Lomé railway and the French advanced to Porto Seguro and Togo before stopping the advance, once it was clear that Lomé had been surrendered to British forces.[14] The British invasion began late on 7 August, the British emissaries returned to Lomé by lorry, to find that the Germans had left for Kamina and given a Herr Clausnitzer discretion to surrender the colony up to Chra, 120 kilometres (75 mi) inland, to prevent a naval bombardment of Lomé. On 8 August, the emissaries took command of fourteen British soldiers and police from Aflao; a telegraph operator arrived by bicycle and repaired the line to Keta and Accra.[14]

The British flag was raised and on 9 August, parties of troops arrived having marched 50 miles (80 km) in exhausting heat.[14] Over the border, Bryant had arranged to move the main force by sea and embarked on the Elele on 10 August. Three other companies had been ordered to Krachi, to begin a land advance to Kamina. The Elele arrived off Lomé on 12 August and the force disembarked through the surf.[Note 1] Arrangements were made with the French, for a converging advance towards Atakpame by the British and the French from Aneho, a French column under Maroix from Tchetti in the north and the British column at Krachi under Captain Elgee. Small British forces on the northern border, were put under the command of Maroix and ordered to move south, as c. 560 French cavalry were ordered across the northern border from Senegal and Niger, towards Sansane Mangu from 13–15 August. The British force at Lomé comprised 558 soldiers, 2,084 carriers, police and volunteers, who were preparing to advance inland, when Bryant received news of a German foray to Togblekove.[16]

Advance to Kamina

The Battle of Bafilo was a skirmish between French and German troops in north-east Togoland on 13 August. French forces had crossed the border between French Dahomey and Togoland on 8–9 August and were engaged by German troops in the districts of Sansane-Mangu and Skode-Balfilo. The French company retreated, after facing greater resistance than expected.[17] After the capture of Lomé on the coast, Bryant was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, made commander of all Allied forces in the operation and landed at Lomé on 12 August, with the main British force of 558 soldiers, 2,084 carriers, police and volunteers. As preparations began to advance northwards to Kamina, Bryant heard that a German party had travelled south by train the day before. The party had destroyed a small wireless transmitter and railway bridge at Togblekove, about 10 miles (16 km) to the north. Bryant detached half an infantry company on 12 August and sent another 1 12 companies forward the next day, to prevent further attacks.[18]

By the evening, "I" Company had reached Tsevie, scouts reported that the country south of Agbeluvhoe was clear of German troops and the main force had reached Togblekove; at 10:00 p.m. "I" Company began to advance up the road to Agbeluvhoe. The relatively harsh terrain of bushland and swamp impeded the Allied push to Kamina, by keeping the invaders on the railway and the road, which had fallen into disrepair and was found to be impassable by wheeled vehicles. Communication between the parties was difficult, because of the intervening high grass and thick scrub. The main force moved on from Togblekove at 6:00 a.m. on 15 August and at 8:30 a.m., local civilians told Bryant that a train full of Germans had steamed into Tsevie that morning and shot up the station.[19] In the afternoon the British advanced guard met German troops near the Lili river, who blew the bridge and dug in on a ridge on the far side.[Note 2] The demolitions and the delaying action, held up the advance until 4:30 p.m. and the force spent the night at Ekuni rather than joining "I" Company as intended.[21]

Von Döring had sent two raiding parties with 200 men south in trains, to delay the advancing Allied force.[22] "I" Company had heard the train run south at 4:00 a.m., while halted on the road near Ekuni, a village about 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Agbeluvhoe. A section was sent to cut off the train and the rest of "I" Company pressed on to Agbeluvhoe. A local civilian guided the section to the railway, where Lieutenant Collins and his men piled stones and a heavy iron plate on the tracks, about 200 yards (180 m) north of the bridge at Ekuni and then set an ambush. One of the trains of 20 cars was derailed by the obstacles placed on the tracks and the other train was halted by the rest of "I" Company at the Battle of Agbeluvhoe. In the fight between German troops in the railway carriages and the British, Pfähler was killed, the Germans were defeated and lost a quarter of the force.[23][24]

Battle of Chra, 22 August

A radio mast at Kamina

Despite the skirmish in the north-west at Bafilo and the action at Agbeluvhoe, Allied forces advancing towards the German base at Kamina, had not encountered substantial resistance. The last natural barrier south of Kamina was the Chra river, where Von Döring chose to make a stand. The railway bridge over the river was destroyed and the approaches to the river and village were mined. On 21 August, British scouts found 460–560 German police troops entrenched on the north bank of the river.[23] The West African Rifles, supported by French forces from the east, assembled on the south bank and during 22 August, Bryant launched a series of assaults on the German entrenchments, which were repulsed and in which the British suffered 17 percent casualties.[20][25] Lieutenant George Masterman Thompson, became the first British officer to be killed in action in the First World War.[26]

Although the Germans had repelled the Allied force from a fortified position, which was easy to supply, French troops were advancing from the north and east towards Kamina unchecked and a British column was advancing on the station from Kete Krachi in the west.[24] On the morning of 23 August, the British found that the German trenches had been abandoned. German forces from the Chra had withdrawn to the wireless station and during the night of 24/25 August, explosions were heard from the direction of Kamina. French and British forces arrived at Kamina on 26 August, to find that the nine radio towers had been demolished and the electrical equipment destroyed. Von Döring and 200 remaining troops surrendered the colony to Bryant; the rest of the German force had deserted.[23] The Allied troops recovered three Maxim machine-guns, 1,000 rifles and c. 320,000 rounds of ammunition.[27]



Before the wireless station at Kamina was destroyed, 229 messages were passed between Germany, the navy and colonies following the outbreak of war.[24] The first military operations of British soldiers during the First World War occurred in Togoland and ended soon after British operations began in continental Europe.[28] In December 1916, the colony was split into British and French occupation zones, which cut through administrative divisions and civilian boundaries.[29] Both powers sought a new partition and in 1919, Article 22 of the Treaty of Versailles partitioned former German colonies between the Allies.[30] In July 1922, British Togoland and French Togoland were created from former German Togoland, as League of Nations mandates.[31] The French acquisition

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