How the Great War Raged over Three Continents by 1915

Alex Browne

3 mins

23 Jan 2019

When visualising World War One, images of the trenches along the Western Front, or perhaps the exploits of ace fighter pilots come to mind. But while the main antagonists were indeed European, this was truly a global war.

Developments in January 1915 show this, with fighting taking place over three continents as rival nations clashed in a bid for worldwide influence.

1. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck victorious at Jassin

On 19 January General von Lettow-Vorbeck took Jassin which was held by the British on the frontier between British and German East African colonies.

Great War poster of Lettow-Vorbeck leading African soldiers. Above: “Colonial Warriors’ Donation”; below a facsimile of Lettow-Vorbeck’s signature.

Although Jassin was weakly defended von Lettow-Vorbeck was prompted by the battle to conserve his men and equipment as he was outnumbered by a long way and not easily able to acquire more ammunition.

Thereafter, he did’t confront the British colonial forces directly and with only around 10,000 men he waged a guerrilla campaign, which kept hundreds of thousands of enemy troops occupied in East Africa and away from the European theatre.

This has since been described as potentially one of the most successful guerrilla campaigns of all time.

The first shot fired by British forces in the First World War was fired by an African soldier in Africa. Historian David Olusoga presents three 1418 Now art commissions that will highlight the often overlooked role played by African soldiers.Watch Now

2. Continental frustrations

French offensive action on the Western Front continued into 1915 and on 13 January the Battle of Artois ended. The French had advanced by less than a mile since the beginning of the offensive. However, this came at a significant cost, with French soldiers dying in their thousands.

On the other side of the continent, the Russians found themselves fighting on three separate fronts.

Whilst re-taking some land from the Germans in the northern tip of the Eastern Front, they also frustrated the Austrio-Hungarian offensive through the Carpathian mountains, and also claimed a decisive victory over the Ottomans in the Caucusus.

Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson sits down with Dan to discuss his stunning new film They Shall Not Grow Old. Watch Now

3. Conflict in Oman

British and Indian soldiers were defending Muscat where the British supported the Sultan Taimur bin Feisal. Taimur did not however command the loyalty of all groups within his country.

When the British began interfering in the highly profitable arms trade in the region many people became resentful and rallied behind the Imam of Oman who resented the extent to which the British influence the sultan.

Backed by the Germans and Ottomans the discontented groups in Oman attacked, Muscat where the sultan was based.

The British Empire soldiers were able to resist the attack but it was indicative of a growing struggle for influence in the region: between local leaders and the empires of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.

Even in 1917, the Germans would lay claim to much of Africa. This map was according to ‘Germany’s Future’, (Berlin, 1917).

4. German air attacks against Britain

January would also mark the first ever bombing raid on the British mainland, with the start of the German strategic bombing campaign. Here, the use of Zeppelins terrified the British people.

On 19 January Germany launched its first Zeppelin airship raid on Britain. A main target for these terrors of the sky was Great Yarmouth, where they dropped several bombs and inflicted great damage.

In practical terms this impact was small but in terms of German strategy it was believed that attacking civilian targets would break the British morale and bring the war to an early end. January 1915 marks the start of ‘the First Blitz’.