Who's Who - Arthur Aitken

Arthur Edward Aitken (1861-1924) was the British commander who led the first notable incursion of the war into German East Africa, albeit disastrously, at the Battle of Tanga.

Often referred to as "the battle of the bees" on account of the swarms of angry bees that interrupted fighting (both sides fleeing for cover), the Battle of Tanga was fought in early November 1914.

Aitken, An Indian army officer, had been handed command of Indian Expeditionary Force 'B' and instructed to capture German East Africa.  Despite the fact that his force consisted of approximately only 8,000 ill-trained reserves Aitken was supremely confident that his men would "make short work of a lot of niggers".  So confident indeed, that he forbore to undertake even rudimentary reconnaissance of the area.

Matters turned out quite differently however.  The German defence forces, which comprised many native troops, were led by Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who had been careful to train his men in the Prussian manner.

Lettow-Vorbeck, who never suffered a defeat during the war, lured Aitken's men further inland from their landing sites at Tanga harbour where they were met with enfilading fire.

Utterly routed, Aitken's troops beat an ignominious retreat.  The British hushed up the details of this defeat for several months.

"Plugstreet" was British slang to describe the Belgian village of Ploegsteert.

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