World War I: Other Campaigns

Figure 1.--

World War I was begun and eventually settled on the Western Front. The figting on the Eastern Front was critical in preventing the Germans from forcing a conclusion at the beginning of the War. There was also fighting in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia although the term world war is probably a gradiose title for what occurred outside of Europe. There were, however, engagements in many other theaters which are scarely remembered today. They were not of the dimensions of World war II, but they did occur. German Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck led a campaign in East Africa. The Germans had little chance of suceeding in Africa because of the Royal Navy's command of the seas. The campaigns were, however, quite remarkable. A Turkish Army essentially froze in the Sarikamish campaign. A British Indian army was destroyed by the Turks at Kut in modern Iraq. The Austro-Hungarian Army suffered enormous losses in Galacia, especially around Lemberg (Lviv) that severely weakened it. Campaigns were fought in the Balkans. Naval engagements were fought in the South Atlantic. [Strachan] The Japanese and British cooperated in China and the Pacific to seize German colonies.


The campaign on the Western Front dominates most World war I histories. And it was on the Western Front that the outcomne of the War was determined. There were, however, several other campaigns in Europe that had varying degreees of importance in affecting thevoutcome on the Western Front.

Eastern Front

World War I was begun and eventually settled on the Western Front. Of all the other campaigns, it was the fishing on the Eastern Front that was most important. The figting on the Eastern Front was critical in preventing the Germans from forcing a conclusion at the beginning of the War. The Russians, true to their treaty obligations, with the commencemebnt of hoistilities, drove west with their huge but cumbersome army into Germany (East Prussia) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Lithuanian and Poles had decisevely defeated the Teutonic Knights near Tannenburg haltuing German expansion east (1410). Thus it was a location indelibly engrained in German history. Germany braced for the invading Russian Army. The Germans under Hindenburg and Ludendorff met a Russian army under Samsonov (August 26, 1914). The Germans smashed the Russians, taking 100,000 prisoners. Such was the scale of the Russian defeat that Samsonov shot himself. A scond Russian army under Rennenkampf was to have joined up with Samsonov. The Germans soon engaged that army and destroyed it in the Battle of the Mansurian Lakes. Hindenburg and Ludendorff became German national heros. The Austro-Hungarian Army suffered enormous losses in Galacia, especially around Lemberg (Lviv) that severely weakened it.


The war began in the Balkans. Most World War I histories, however, give little attention to the fighting in the Balkans. Several campaigns were fought in the Balkans. The initial Austria-Hungary campaign against Serbia failed and the bulk of the Austrian Army had to be deployed in the east afainst the Russians. After bitter fighting, Sebia was occupied. Germany had to commit troops to the campaign. The Serbian Army, however, did not surrender and was transported to Greece where they continued the war. After the Russian collapse, the Central Powers did succeed in defeating Romania.



A Turkish Army essentially froze in the Sarikamish campaign. The Turks used the war to launch a genocidal campaign against the Armenians.

Galipoli (1915)

The Australians were used along with New Zealand, British, and French troops in the costly Gallipoli campaign (1915). The concept was to releave the Russians who at the time were ill equipped and suffering enormous losses. The Australians 4 1/2 months of training near Cairo, the Australians were transported by ship to Turkey. They were deploye on the Gallipoli peninsula, together with New Zealand units. The landings were made at ANZAC Cove (April 25, 1915). They gained the steep slopes above the beach. Then the capaign became an Allied effort to break out and a Ottomon attemp to elinate the Allied beachhead. The fighting turned into a costly stalemate continued throughout the remainder of 1915. Finally the Allies withdrew (December 19-20). The Allies might have done this earlier, but a withdrawing force was very vulnerable. The Allies executed a successful deception campaign and managd to evacuate with minimal casualties.

Middle East

There was fighting in the Middle East during World War I after the Ottoman Empire entered the war. The best known campaign was fought in Egypt and Palestine. The Ottoman Empire entered the War primarilty to recover territory lost to the Russians, but the Empire also bordered on Egypt which was a British protectorate. The Suez Canal in Egypt was a critical artery of the British Empire. Egypt was also a former Ottoman Empire. The Middle Eastern campaigns were primarily fought by the Ottoman Empire with limited German support. The primary Allied forces were the British and Empire forces, especially the Australians and Indians. The Ottomans after entering the War launched an attack on Suez across Sinai which failed (1915). The British began building up forces in Egypt. The Ottoman forces launched a second attack across the Sinai (1916). These two offensives did not result in heavy casualties on either side by the standards of World War I. The British buildup was delayed by the Galipoli Campign. While building up forces in Egypt, the British dispatched Major Lawrence to Arabia to assist the Arab Revolt. The result was the fall of Aqaba and a major disruption in the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs staged hit-and-run attacks on supply lines and tied down thousands of Ottoman soldiers in isolated garrisons throughout Palestine, Jordan, and Syria. The British failed to take the heavily defended Ottoman fort at Gaza. This resulted in major changes to the British command. General Allenby was given command and substantial reinforcements. Allenby renewed the offensive intp Palestine (1917). The Arab Army, a mobile irregular formation, was a distraction the Ottomans had to deal with. The British Egyptian Expeditionary Force smashed through the Ottoman lines and finally captured Gaza. They then captured Jerusalem (December 1917). There was another Middle Eastern front to the east in Mesopotamia which at the time was an Ottoman province. Shortly after the outbreak of the War, the British sent a small force to protect Abadan, part of Persia. One of the world's earliest oil refineries was located there. British operational planning included land troops in the Shatt-al-Arab. A reinforced Indian 6th (Poona) Infantry Division from the British Indian Army was designated as Indian Expeditionary Force D (IEFD). The Ottomans when entering the War were primarily focused on the Cauvauses and wimming territory back from the Russians. Tghey did not anticipate the British opening a front bin Mesoptamia. The Ottomans, however, managed to destroy a British Indian army at Kut in modern Iraq. British Empire forces reorganized and captured Baghdad (March 1917). The Middle Eastern campaigns were important principally for keeping Suez open.for the Allies. Otherwise they were of only periferable importance to the War. They were, however, of great impoetahnce yo the subsequent history of the Middle Easr, ebding Ottoman control over the Arabs and reoplacing it with British and French colonial control.


Germany as part of the "Scramble for Africa" seized several colonies in both East, South, and West Africa. Germany was only united in 1871. It was the strongest power in Europe and especially after the assession of Kaiser Wilhelm II felt colonies were an important matter of national prestige. German Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck led a campaign in East Africa. The Germans had little chance of suceeding in Africa because of the Royal Navy's command of the seas. The campasigns were, however, quite remarkable. Fighting in Africa began in West Aftrica soon after war brike out in Europe. A mixed French and British Empire force invaded German Togoland in West Africa (August 1914). The Germans responded in East Africa. German units in South-West Africa (Naminia) attacked British South Africa (August 10). Perhaps the most remarkable campaign of the war in Africa was the Battle of Lake Tanganyika. The Lake sat between the Belgian Congo (Zaire) and German East Africa (Tanzania). The Germans at the outbreak of the war dominated the Lake because of several small gunboats. Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson was given the task of attacking the Germans. Spicer-Simpson was quite a character. He insisted in wearing skirts and his men had no confidence in him. His career in the Royal Navy was lack luster at best. He proceeded to attack the Germans who though their gunboats made them virtually untouchable on the Lake. The problem he faced was that the British had no gun boats on the Lake. Spicer-Simson and 24 men managed to transport two launches (Mimi and Toutou) all the way from London. They landed at Cape Town and then dragged the launches 2,000 miles by train, oxen, traction engine, and sheer human power asll the way to Lake Tananyika, along the way crossing the 2,000 meter high Mitumba Mountains. Transporting the launches along was an amazing achievement. Once on the Lake he attacked the larger German gunboats (Kingani and Hedwig von Wissmann). He sank one and captured the other. Spicer-Simson declined to give battle to the much larger Graf von Goetzen, but the Germans were forced to scuttle her. [Foden] Few prople have heard of this battle, except for dilligent World War I scholars. It probably sounds vaguely familiar, however, to the casual reader. That is because C.S. Foster vaguely based his 1935 novel, The African Queen on the battle and we have all of course seen the film. As is often the case, the actual historical account is more interesting and exciting than the novel/movie.

South Atlantic

Naval engagements were fought in the South Atlantic. [Strachan]


The Royal Navy's command of the sea made German colonies in the Asia/Pacific area vulnerable. The Japanese and British cooperated in China to seize Tsingtao.

The Pacific

Royal Navy command of the sea made the German Pacific island territories vulnerable. New Zealand occupied German Samoa (Western Samoa) (August 30). An Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed on the island of Neu Pommern (New Britain) which was part of German New Guinea. Some of the German Pacific islands were transferred to Japan. Japan turned these islands into important naval bases and they played a role in World War II.


Foden, Giles. Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure: The Bizaarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Knopf, 2005), 241p.

Strachan, Hew. The First World War.


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Created: 5:21 PM 4/28/2005
Last updated: 3:29 AM 4/25/2013