In the 1880s, following the ‘Scramble for Africa’, Germany acquired a large colonial empire in Africa, which consisted of Togoland (modern Togo), Kamerun (Cameroon), Deutsch–Südwest-Afrika (Namibia), Deutsch-Ostafrika (modern mainland Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi). For around three decades, Germany’s African colonies played a key role in the country’s global trading economy, while the German presence had a profound effect upon the native peoples of the colonies, in many places transforming the landscape (through the building of railways, plantations, etc.). The African colonial connections gave rise to a small, but highly influential group of German politicians, businessmen and academics, whose interests were channeled through the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft (DKG), a society founded in 1887 to promote German overseas expansion.
During World Wat I, conquering Germany’s African colonies was a priority for Britain and her allies. This was eventually accomplished, although the Entente forces faced surprising difficulty in taking over Deutsch-Ostafrika and Kamerun; the skill and bravery of the German forces in Africa was a rare source of pride for Germany in the context of what was an unprecedented disaster for the country. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) saw Germany lose all her colonies, which were divided between British and French trusteeship. The legality of the loss of Germany’s African colonies was questioned by many Germans, most of all those affiliated with the DKG, who still referred to these lands as ‘German colonies’ and longed for the day when they could regain possession of these lands, either through diplomacy or force.
Upon the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933, Adolf Hitler and his top lieutenants were not especially sympathetic to the notion of regaining the African colonies. They were far more interested in projecting German power in Europe, and saw the African ambitions as an unnecessary, and potentially costly, distraction. It was in this context that Nazis disbanded the DKG, seeing it an archaic nuisance.
However, many of Hitler’s key backers, especially in the business community, were great enthusiasts of Germany regaining its ‘place in the sun’. In addition to any symbolic significance, reacquiring the German African colonies would give the military-industrial complex access to vital minerals and tropical resources that were otherwise in short supply. While Hitler was never keen, their lobbying eventually succeeded in raising the colonial question to a high place on the Third Reich’s agenda.
In 1937, the Nazis created the Reichskolonialbund (RKB) (English: State Colonial League), a an organization whose mandate was to “keep the population informed about the loss of the German Imperial colonies, to maintain contact with the former colonial territories and to create conditions in opinion favourable to a new German African Empire”. Led by old African hands, the RKB was highly influential in Nazi industrial and academic circles.
Following Neville Chamberlain’s complete capitulation to the Nazis at the Munich Conference (1938), many in Berlin believed that Britain, and by extension France, could be badgered into agreeing to virtually any diplomatic concession, in return for not having to face the German war machine. The RKB proposed that Germany should request that Britain and France return all of Germany’s African colonies in return for continued peace. While no formal German demands of this kind were ever made, the notion was seriously entertained at the highest levels.
The outbreak of World War II only seemed to strengthen the hand of German colonial interests, as Britain and France looked pathetically weak, with many believing that the Entente forces could be either quickly vanquished or forced into a peace on terms heavily favouring Germany, including the return of its former African colonies. Moreover, while the Belgian Congo was never controlled by Germany, the Africa hands in the Third Reich coveted this vast and minerally rich territory, under the justification that it was ‘too big a colony for such a small country’.
The Present Work in Focus
In preparation of the possible German return of its former African colonies (and perhaps its takeover of the Belgian Congo), the RKB realized that it needed up-to-date intelligence on the situation on the ground in the African lands in question. Germany had relatively little knowledge of affairs within the Belgian Congo and much had changed in the twenty years or so since they left their own colonies.
The Nationalsozialistischer Bund Deutscher Technik. Arbeitsgruppe “Kolonialstrassenbau”
As the basis of their proposed future endeavours, Goerner and Krüger prepared the present work, either in late 1939 or early 1940, which is the period’s best overview of state of the roads in Deutsch-Ostafrika, Kamerun, Togo, Deutsch-Südwestafrika and the Belgian Congo.
“The first part of this booklet contains excerpts from the annual reports of the mandate governments on administrative activities in the German colonies. The road system takes up little space in these reports, corresponding to the low level of activity that the mandate governments have developed in road construction, the sections dealing with the road system save you having to look through the numerous reports. The second part of the booklet deals with road construction in the Belgian Congo. The original report was published in the treatises of the Royal Belgian Colonial Institute by an official of the colonial administration“.
Accordingly, the work follows with the relevant sections on Deutsch-Ostafrika (pp. 1-15); Kamerun (pp. 17-34); Togo (pp. 35-58); Deutsch-Südwestafrika (pp. 59-65); and Belgisch-Kongo (pp. 67-170).
Highlights include the reproductions and adaptations of several of era’s most important transportation maps of the colonies in question. These include theGraphische Dartstellung der täglichen Verkhersdichte des Autoverkhers in Gebeit von Deutsch-Ostafrika im Jahre 1935. (p. 6), a fascinating ‘flow map’ depicting the traffic volumes along key routes;
Cameroons Province 1930 (p. 25); the folding Cameroons under British Mandate 1935 (between pp. 30 and 31); the folding Road Map of British Mandated Togoland (between pp. 48 and 49); the folding The Gold Coast with Togoland (between pp. 50 and 51); as well as four transport maps of the Belgian Congo, including E.J. Devroey’s large folding Congo Belge Carte routiere (1938) (between pp. 70 and 71). The work is additionally illustrated with photographs and charts placed within the text.
The hopes of the German Africa lobby were raised when the Wehrmacht totally rolled over Belgium and France during the Blitzkrieg invasions of these countries (May 10 to June 25, 1940). However, colonial concerns were crowded out in the frenzy that followed the victory, and Germany’s failure to break Churchill’s resolve at the Battle of Britain (July 10 to October 31, 1940) essentially killed any realistic notion of Germany regaining her colonies. Britain would not trade them way, and Germany no longer possessed the military power to take them by force. The African ambitions were completely extinguished in 1943 when Martin Bornmann dissolved the Reichskolonialbund, deeming its purpose to be of “kriegsunwichtiger Tätigkeit” (“activity irrelevant to the war”).
A Note on Rarity
The present work is rare, as only a small number of examples were made, reserved for private circulation within high-level Nazi governmental and academic circles; examples were not sold or disseminated publicly.
We can trace examples held by 11 institutions, although only a single example is held outside of Germany and Austria (being at the Northwestern University Library, Evanston, Illinois). Moreover, we cannot trace any records of any other examples as appearing on the market.
References: Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek (Vienna): AC06760416; Northwestern University Library: TE115 .S77 1939; Staatsbibliotek zu Berlin: Ofb 16/16; Deutsche Nationalbibliotek (Leipzig): Signatur: 1942 A 769; OCLC: 1138636448 / 180631369 / 916450894; Afrika: Handbuch der praktischen Kolonialwissenschaften, vol. 15 (1943), p. 195; Karl KRÜGER, Afrika (1952), p. 481; Franz HESKE (ed.), Zeitschrift für Weltforstwirtschaft, vol. 17-18 (1954), p. 23; Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen des Deutschen Instituts für Länderkunde (1955), p. 127. Cf. Louis W. ROGER, ‘Colonial Appeasement, 1936-1938’, in Revue belge de philologie et d‘histoire, tome 49, fasc. 4 (1971), pp. 1175-1191.