A compact history of a little-known WWI battle that inspired a
well-known film. The battle for Lake Tanganyika may not be as
thoroughly covered by historians as the battle of Verdun, but
seizing control of the lake was strategically important to Great
Britain, as Foden (the Whitbread Award-winning The Last King of
Scotland, 1998, etc.) shows in this meticulous, engaging and
gracefully written account. In control of Lake Tanganyika, the
Germans were poised to overrun the Belgians, who had entered the
war as allies of Britain. As Britain's great naval leaders were
otherwise engaged, the Admiralty decided in 1915 to dispatch the
clumsy, eccentric and egomaniacal Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey
Spicer-Simson to rout the Germans. Desperate to become a hero-but
practical enough to wear a skirt in the African jungle
heat-Spicer-Simson led a motley crew that hauled two 40-foot
mahogany gunboats (the Mimi and the Toutou) overland, then sailed
them up the darkest Congo. Battling disease-carrying insects,
boat-rattling hippopotami and natives craving "food that once
talked," the men witnessed an Africa that no longer exists, a
forbidding and enticing place Foden describes in vivid detail.
Eventually, the boats destroyed the Graf von Gotzen, the mighty
German ship commanding the lake. Spicer-Simson backed off from
challenging one other German ship, but that didn't preclude his
rising to mythical status when he returned home. If threads of this
adventure sound familiar, it's because they eventually became the
woof of C.S. Forester's 1935 novel and John Huston's 1951 film The
African Queen. In an epilogue, Foden follows the story's journey to
the depths of the Congo. Pleasant and engaging-as historical
document, travel journal and film footnote. (Kirkus Reviews)
At the start of World War One, German warships controlled Lake
Tanganyika in Central Africa. The British had no naval craft at all
upon 'Tanganjikasee', as the Germans called it. This mattered: it
was the longest lake in the world and of great strategic advantage.
In June 1915, a force of 28 men was despatched from Britain on a
vast journey. Their orders were to take control of the lake. To
reach it, they had to haul two motorboats with the unlikely names
of Mimi and Toutou through the wilds of the Congo. The 28 were a
strange bunch -- one was addicted to Worcester sauce, another was a
former racing driver -- but the strangest of all of them was their
skirt-wearing, tattoo-covered commander, Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.
Whatever it took, even if it meant becoming the god of a local
tribe, he was determined to cover himself in glory. But the Germans
had a surprise in store for Spicer-Simson, in the shape of their
secret 'supership' the Graf von Gotzen . . . Unearthing new German
and African records, the prize-winning author of The Last King of
Scotland retells this most unlikely of true-life tales with his
customary narrative energy and style. Fitzcarraldo meets Heart of
Darkness, this is rich, vivid and flashmanesque in its appeal -
military history at its most absorbing and entertaining
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