The Journal of Military History 67.4 (2003) 1307-1308
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The Battle of Tanga 1914. By Ross Anderson. Stroud, U.K.: Tempus Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-7524-2349-5. Photographs. Annexes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 158. $24.99.
Part of an attractive Battles and Campaigns series, this study of an often ignored World War I amphibious landing in East Africa demonstrates the growing promise as well as continuing limitations of much military history. In this case, Dr. Ross Anderson, a former British army major, has managed a prodigious quantity of research looking at the battle from a variety of perspectives. He has located and utilized not merely more British material than many previous authors, but also evidence of the German operations in defense of their East African colony. Particularly impressive is his inclusion of many German and British photographic images associated with the operations.
Anderson has made an admirable effort to analyze the circumstances leading to the battle, as well as details of the battle as it unfolded in November 1914. Rightly, he has emphasized critical difficulties in both civilian and military planning for the British attack and the German defense of what was perhaps their most significant colonial possession. He makes mention of unlearned lessons regarding British amphibious operations and also comments on German command and control. While Anderson is not loathe to draw conclusions, he is perhaps not as specific as he might have been about the British failure to draw conclusions which might have aided in later operations, such as the invasion in the Dardanelles merely a year later.
Those unfamiliar with the German East African campaign (as well as many who are) will be well pleased with Anderson's discussion of the tactics—and sometimes the clear lack of them—displayed by both sides during the British invasion and the German defense of the port town. He provides several maps of the developing military situation on the ground, although some occasionally are as difficult to read as they are helpful. More valuable are the sixty-plus photographs which introduce most of the key personages and places the author discusses.
Nearly half of the photos are of the Indian and African soldiers who were the backbone of both armies engaged in the battle. That Anderson has located and presented so many of these is a particularly engaging and valuable aspect of his book, but the great disappointment is that he does very little to illuminate this battle from the perspective of these ordinary soldiers. Anderson is content to concentrate on the staff and field commanders almost exclusively, leaving their troops to fight the battle silently in the background. This is where the book fails to meet the standard set by recent work, such as that by Timothy Parsons and Kevin Brown, who have demonstrated that even for Africa it is possible to rescue the rank and file from the obscurity of an occasional photo in an otherwise quite conventional approach to military history.
A reorientation of thinking toward the subject and a little additional research might have brought The Battle of Tanga up to a standard that would have allowed Anderson to achieve the very best in contemporary military [End Page 1307] history. One can hope that perhaps his promised broader account of the East African campaign for this same series will remedy this oversight.
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, Tennessee