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Historic Kilimanjaro

askariThere probably are not that many military history enthusiasts likely to read this, but for those among you who would make the pilgrimage to Gettysburg, to the beaches of Normandy or the islands of the South Pacific, then Kilimanjaro is about as interesting a battle site as you could hope to find anywhere…

World War One only probably has a handful of years left before its slips completely beyond the realm of living memory. Among those like me who have gleaned the story through History Channel or snippets of information that I have picked up in my travels, it might come as a surprise to know that some of the most iconic battles of the War were fought in the area immediately surrounding Kilimanjaro.

As one example, Ndarakwai Camp in Western Kilimanjaro, a popular apre climb safari destination, has a number of old trench systems that served both the British and the Germans in the campaign for control of the country during the difficult years of 1914 – 1918.

Colonial Struggle…

The nation of Tanzania began life as an outpost of the German colonial empire. It was known then as German East Africa, or Tanganyika, and was a close neighbor to Kenya, or British East Africa, which at that time also included Uganda. When war broke out between Britain and Germany in 1914, it was not long before war broke out between German and British East Africa. The railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi and beyond became the focus of German attacks, and later the railway line from Moshi to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga became the German line of retreat once the colony had been invaded.

The Kilimanjaro district, with its coffee farms, pleasant climate and clean altitude had long been the main focus of white settlement in German East Africa. Besides this the geography of flat plains interspersed with low and isolated hills was the perfect defensive landscape for both sides. A number of important battles were fought east and west of Kilimanjaro, and the towns of Moshi and Arusha the headquarters of the German High Command.

Colonial Brigades…

Another interesting aspect of the War in East Africa was that it was fought by British and Commonwealth forces. This by definition meant fighting men drawn from every colony or former colony (except America) in the Empire. Much of the heavy fighting was done in the early stages by men of Indian origin, and in later stages by local black levies and various native colonial regiments from all over the continent.

Lost History…

You would definitely draw blank looks from your climb or safari guides in Tanzania if you brought up the subject of World War One around the campfire or in the mess tent. The subject is not widely taught and the old battle sites are neither preserved nor marked in any particular way. However a little bit of background reading, and a keen sense of geography, will help you pick out some of the more notable sites on Google Maps which in turn will lead you to them. A good place to start is at Ndarakwai Camp where their chief game scout Thomas is surprisingly knowledgeable about the colonial coming and goings in the region.

In a land where the last vestiges of colonial history have been scrubbed off the landscape, it is sometimes interesting to imagine a place like Tanzania as a pawn in the global/strategic games of a by-gone era. Scratching around the battle sites of the period is definitely something worth doing if you get a chance…

If you are interested in the battlefields of East Africa, and you would like some pointers drop me a line…

By Peter Baxter | Permalink | 14 comments | January 1st, 2010
Tags: Stories
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By Dennis Morrod | January 3rd, 2010

I read with more than a passing interest the article: Historic Kilimanjaro regarding the military actions surrounding the mountain over the decades. In more recent history of course (living memory)600 British Royal Marines were sent to Tanzania in 1963 from England and 500 more via Aircraft carrier from Singapore, after the army revolted. I; we toured the length and breadth of the country disarming the military, climbing along the way – Kili. That was my first of many ascents of the mountain but I always remember the intensive military activity that we took part in during 1963 (even the Canadians were involved).

By paul | March 12th, 2010

hello,i am planning in Hiking Kili in September,going alone,hoping to connect with other hikers to do the Lemosho route, appears to be the most successful route.
if anyone else is hiking around the same time woudl be great if we could form a group.
all the best….have fun

By James | March 19th, 2010

Hi Paul,

I’m planning a trip in Sept too and I wouldn’t mind taking the ‘most successful’ route. You can write me at to discuss further.

By Tyler | March 25th, 2010

Paul and James,

My roommate and I are considering a Kili summit in September 2010 on Lemosho route as well. Let me know if you are interested in forming a group. We live in Washington DC.


By paul | March 28th, 2010

James, and Tyler,
glad to hear from you…
i will send u an email shortly,…hopefully we can connect.!
keep in touch.

By ajiz | October 17th, 2010

someday I want to be able to Kilimanjaro, the writings here more and makes me interested in it, hopefully can be done,,

By Paul | January 19th, 2011

I am leaving UK to climb Kili on Feb 18th 2011 with a group of friends. We are taking the Rongai route. Anyone else going at the same time?

By Thadey | January 21st, 2011

you’re welcome i waiting you bat the fest thing you have to do now send to me only 1oo us
That’s advance.
haw about equipment do you have or you came to hire?
i will enjoy to do with me

your good Guide Thadey

By David Draude | February 13th, 2011

We start 17th Feb 2011, we all Expats living in Tanzania, going up Marangu route David, Maryon, Claire & Pierina. Good Luck

By Angie | February 22nd, 2011

My boyfriend just made it back from climbing Mt. Kili…emphasis on the Kili!! Four people were killed during his climb. You never hear of this but apparently it happens quite frequently. Perhaps the tour operators should be 100% transparent in what they tell the climbers, not 100% closed-mouth about this so-called safe climb. Trip of a life time…end of a life time more like.

By eric | February 23rd, 2011

climbed it this past June with no climbing experience. We had amazing guides though! @Angie-it is a safe climb, and frankly quite easy. I had never climbed before and made it to summit with no problems at all.

By angie | February 28th, 2011

Hi Eric,

I’m glad you summited with no problems! Way to go!! My boyfriends trek also had rather bad weather, wet tents, no ground sheets, just poorly planned in general. When the reached the summit it was -20, very unseasonal for this time of year apparently. He also came back very grumpy and ticked off. The tour was not as it was described to be…accomodations, etc., and he has been to aftica on a hunting safari twice. So….I hope everyone has a better experience, but PLEASE be careful.

By Catherine | March 9th, 2011

My brother is planning to climb kilimanjaro with this company in September. I was relly excited for him but after reading Angies comments on here about things being poorly planned and not as described I am now rather apprehensive. You don’t mention the company your boyfriend went with Angie but I wonder if anyone reading this has used Footloose Adventure Travel before and can recommend them?

By Shu | March 19th, 2011

Hi Angie…Climbed Kili in September 2010 and had the most incredible experience of my life. Went with Ntaba Tours with the owner/tour director..Robin Mountain and three others. We did the Machame Route..We had wonderful guides, tents and everything else to make it a successful adventure. With any luck I would love to do it again, this time the Western Breach. Although Robin is not planning another Kili this year, Ntaba offers some fantastic tours of South Africa…I will be joining him once again, this Oct… no training required…CapeTown, Kruger and Victoria Falls! Check out his website…Ntaba Tours


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Climb Kilimanjaro on Add Adventure Trips to Kili Trek for Trip of a Lifetime
If you travel all the way to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro its worth taking atleast a few days ontop...

Shu on Historic Kilimanjaro
Hi Angie...Climbed Kili in September 2010 and had the most incredible experience of my life. Went wi...

Catherine on Historic Kilimanjaro
My brother is planning to climb kilimanjaro with this company

angie on Historic Kilimanjaro
Hi Eric, I'm glad you summited with no problems! Way to go!! My boyfriends trek also had rather b...

eric on Historic Kilimanjaro
climbed it this past June with no climbing experience. We had amazing guides though! @Angie-it is ...