Italian Colonial Wars (1882–1936)

by Mitch on August 29, 2011 0 Comments

Like the British, the Axis powers, though less wholeheartedly, sought to stretch their enemy’s resources, in particular in East Africa and the Middle East. In East Africa, Italian forces took advantage of Britain’s distraction to invade British Somaliland from Ethiopia on 5 August 1940, and conquer it easily. The previous month they had penetrated into Kenya and had occupied frontier towns in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Italian forces were larger than the British Empire forces in the area, but they were isolated from reinforcements. In September, despite the threat posed to Egypt by Italians in Libya, the British C-in- C Middle East, General Wavell, sent the 5th Indian Division to the Sudan. The 1st South African Division was formed in Kenya. After Wavell’s successes in the Western Desert in December, the 4th Indian Division was sent up the Nile as well.


There was a number of reasons why the ...

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French West Africa

by Mitch on August 28, 2011 0 Comments

French West Africa ( Afrique occidentale française) was by 1913 a federation of eight French colonial possessions in Africa that extended, on an East-West axis, from Senegal on the Atlantic coast to the border of Chad and, on a North-South axis, from the northern border of Senegal and Algeria to the Ivory Coast. The explosive growth of the French Empire after the mid-1880s necessitated the consolidation of political authority in an effort to coordinate policy and eliminate intercolonial rivalry, ultimately resulting in the creation of three colonial federations: French Equatorial Africa, French West Africa, and French Indochina. French West Africa, created in 1895, was the largest and most geographically diverse of the three, combining the colonies of Senegal, Ivory Coast, French Sudan (present-day Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso) and French Guinea into a single administrative unit. Later additions included Dahomey in 1899 (present-day Benin) and Mauritania in 1904. As in the ...

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Carl Peters, (1856–1918)

by Mitch on August 28, 2011 0 Comments

Explorer, adventurer, and colonial enthusiast behind the colonization of German East Africa. Convinced that Germany’s economic survival depended on the acquisition of colonies, in March 1884 Peters helped found the Gesellschaftfür Deutsche Kolonisation (Society for German Colonization), a colonial lobby that was absorbed three years later by the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (German Colonial Society). Not content with Germany’s recent colonial acquisitions in South West Africa, Togo, and Cameroon, Peters carved out a German sphere of influence in East Africa in late 1884 by signing treaties with interior tribes. Although initially unsanctioned by the German government, in February 1885 Otto von Bismarck made Peters’s protectorate official and granted him and the newly created German East Africa Company a charter to administer the new colony. Over the next several years he took part in expeditions to explore the interior and extend the German protectorate deeper inland.


After the creation of ...

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by Mitch on August 25, 2011 0 Comments

King Habibullah Khan with the military men of Afghanistan in early 1900s.

Historically, Afghanistan’s army evolved from traditional beginnings, but it was not until the reigns of Amir Dost Muhammad and Shir Ali Khan in the early nineteenth century that a process of modernization began. However, the army lacked the modern weaponry of the neighboring states and did not have a modern officer corps, for officers were appointed on the basis of loyalty rather than ability. Western technology and ideas only came to Afghanistan through means of prisoners of war or foreign mercenaries. Army troops were paid partially in cash and partially in kind and almost always in arrears, and recruitment was often accomplished through the seizure of able-bodied men, regardless of age. A militia of riflemen and tribal irregular forces enhanced the regular army. The modernization process was continued by Amir Shir Ali, who obtained a number of ...

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by Mitch on August 21, 2011 1 Comment

The USS Boston's landing force on duty at the Arlington Hotel, Honolulu, at the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, January 1893. Lieutenant Lucien Young, USN, commanded the detachment, and is presumably the officer at right.


A group of eight major islands located in the Pacific Ocean 2,500 miles off the California coast, Hawaii became the first overseas territory of the United States in 1898. Throughout the nineteenth century, Hawaii served as central crossroads of the North Pacific for whaling and the Asia trade. The islands’ strategic location in the central Pacific made Hawaii of major importance to all great powers, especially the United States.


Since the 1820s, American protestant missionaries turned planters and businessmen helped to maneuver the kingdom of Hawaii, which had been politically unified in 1810 under Kamehameha the Great, into a position of a culturally and commercially dependent protectorate of the United ...

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by Mitch on August 18, 2011 0 Comments

3-view drawing of HMS Dreadnought in 1911, with QF 12 pdr guns added.


As revolutionary a development for transportation over water as the advent of the railroad for transportation over land. In combination with railroad transportation, in fact, shallow-draft steam-driven riverboats that could negotiate narrow waterways with or against the current were as vital in opening up the interior of the United States on rivers such the Mississippi and the Ohio as in penetrating the African continent by way of the Congo and Nile. The first successful steamship, the Charlotte Dundas, towed barges on the Forth and Clyde Canals starting in 1801. Without either the vast interior or an interconnecting river network of the United States, however, Britain took the lead in building ocean-going steamships. The first passenger steamer crossed the English Channel from Brighton to Le Havre in 1816, and, in 1825, the 120-horse power Enterprize made Calcutta in ...

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by Mitch on August 18, 2011 0 Comments

A cosmopolitan city of the Ottoman Empire, Salonica was peopled by Jews from the Iberian Peninsula; Orthodox Christians, mostly Greeks, some Bulgarians; Ma’mins, Jewish converts to Islam; Vlachs, Christians speaking a Romance language similar to Rumanian; gypsies; and Western Europeans, mostly Italians.


The assumptions of racial nationalism, which shaped European thinking in the nineteenth century, did not reflect how the inhabitants saw themselves. Religion dictated their identities and it was through the efforts of a minority of educated elite imbued with the European nationalist creeds that the people were converted and mobilized. The Macedonian struggle in the late nineteenth century, which dominated life in Salonica, began as a religious conflict among its Christians, but turned into a way for nationalists to introduce national identities: Greek, Bulgarian, and even “Macedonian.” This threatened the cosmopolitan identity of the city. Hellenic and Bulgarian nationalists fought over Salonica, but were also divided among ...

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French Foreign Legion

by Mitch on August 18, 2011 0 Comments

Officially named the Régiment Étranger, the French Foreign Legion was the most storied and durable mercenary force attached to a regular army. France had a long history of employing foreign mercenaries before the creation of the legion; of 102 line regiments in the French army before the revolution, 23 were made up of foreign nationals. The French Foreign Legion was established in 1831 by Louis Philippe to mop up refugees coming into France after the Revolution of July 1830 made it illegal for foreigners to enlist in the French army. The Legion quickly became a home for foreign adventurers, social misfits, and every kind of criminal.


The Legion also became a military workhorse of French colonialism, seeing action for the first time in Algeria in 1832. In 1835–1836 the Legion served in the Carlist Wars in Spain, where it fought well yet was so decimated that it had to ...

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Native Askari (1896)

by Mitch on August 10, 2011 0 Comments

The employment of indigenous troops in European colonial armies was commonplace throughout the nineteenth century. It offset the military cost of empire, and was often employed as a tactic to elevate one group of peoples over another. The askari raised by the Italians in Eritrea were, by all accounts, well trained and disciplined. Although they were not provided with the newest repeating rifles, it is clear their performance at Adowa exhibited a high level of professionalism. Likewise, the British Indian sepoy regiments were certainly professionals of the highest calibre, and French colonial troops, such as the Zouaves of Algeria or Senegalese Tiralleurs, were considered elite troops.


The majority of Albertone's brigade at Adowa was composed of askari battalions, and while their formations broke against Ethiopian attacks, it was only after their ammunition ran out and their position became untenable several hours after the initial contact.


Baratieri's Forces at ...

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Belgian Congo WWII

by Mitch on August 7, 2011 0 Comments

The Congo was also characterized by the extraordinary development of huge mining industries (particularly in the province of Katanga, well known for its copper, and in the Kasai region, famous for its industrial diamonds). From the 1920s on, heavy investments in the exploitation of the colony’s rich mineral resources transformed the Congo into a major actor in the world economy. During both world wars, the Belgian Congo played a great role as purveyor of raw materials for the Allies, while the Congolese troops also engaged in warfare against the German and Italian forces.


Believing the war lost and over, King Léopold refused to lead a Belgian government-in-exile. Instead, he stayed in-country while the Belgian government was trapped in Vichy. A rival government-in-exile formed in London in July that sharply criticized the king and continued to fight the German occupation with whatever personnel escaped and military resources were provided by ...

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African Resistance

by Mitch on August 4, 2011 0 Comments


Menelik II ruled Shoa, a kingdom in the south. His rise to the throne was the result of internecine warfare that plagued Ethiopia for decades. His armies were perhaps the best equipped in Africa.


The battle of Adowa has a special place in the history of Africa and of nineteenth-century European imperialism. Historians portray it as a unique victory of African arms over European armies. For Ethiopia (Abyssinia), the battle was a triumph that guaranteed the independence of the African state until 1935. For that matter, the victory led to the collapse of the Italian coalition government of Francesco Crispi (1818-1901), and the ascendancy of a rival coalition of the left led by Giovanni Giolitti (1852-1928).


In the context of Ethiopian history, Adowa represented yet another defence of the country's independence from foreign invasion. Two decades earlier, an Egyptian army under Ismail Pasha (1830-1895) suffered a similar ...

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