Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Horns of the Beast - James Stejskal

This review has been submitted to Military History Monthly Magazine.

Title: The Horns of the Beast
Author: James Stejskal
ISBN: 978-1-909982-78-9
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014
Pages: 140
Photos/ Maps: 64/9

Very few have heard of the Swakop River Campaign in South-West Africa (SWA). Undertaken by South African troops against the forces within the German colony, it was concluded by the Allies in July, 1915. Relatively speaking it was a minor campaign when compared to the European and Turkish conflicts or even, for that matter, the East African campaign in what is today Kenya and Tanzania. Nevertheless, it was important for a number of reasons: it resulted in South Africa being responsible for SWA, it isolated the German surface raiders operating in the Far East and it reduced the German presence overseas.

For the Allies, victory was a forgone conclusion as the German forces were heavily outnumbered and they could not rely upon indigenous forces due to heavy handed policies which had both subdued as well as alienated their relationships. Additionally, German tactics were flawed and poorly executed by their commanders. Psychologically, the German officers were defeated almost immediately and this negativity transferred itself to their responsible forces. Finally, the physical environment in the region was not conducive to guerrilla style warfare being dry and, for the most part, open.

The author has done a good job at analyzing the challenges faced by both adversaries. The South African’s, while heavily outnumbering the Germans, were hampered by poor logistical planning as well as a revolt amongst those Boers who felt that they should not be fighting on behalf of the British Empire. It would have been interesting to have had more information on the nature and extent of this revolt as it was very significant to the timely execution of their mission. The Germans also allowed themselves to be distracted by a confrontation with the Portuguese colony of Angola (with whom they were not even at war). While successful, it removed a significant number of badly needed forces for the period of the three months that these troops were engaged.

Overall, a short but interesting read. The author finishes with photos and notes on the present day conditions of the different battlefields. Recommended for those interested in some of the more peripheral battlefields of WW1. 

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