And the loss of the Naval Guns of the King’s African Rifles Artillery
Section at Ngominyi.
By mid-October 1916 the Nyasaland-Rhodesia Field Force
(see HERE) under General Edward Northey had swung eastwards. Roger’s Column was in the Hange area,
Hawthorn’s Column had crossed the Ruhuje
River but then withdrawn back to the
Mkapira area and Murray’s
Column was moving towards Hawthorn’s location.
Northey had established his headquarters at New Langenburg (now named Tukuyu) and his columns were dominating
the local enemy units that opposed them.
Iringa had been taken (see HERE) and British eyes were turned towards
Mahenge as the next objective (See Map 1).
But the Germans had different ideas. Coming down from Tabora onto Northey’s 300-kilometre long Line of Communications was a formation of
three columns under Major General Kurt Wahle.
Wahle’s men had been fighting the Belgian advances through Ruanda-Urundi
(now the two nations of Rwanda
and Burundi) and from across
Lake Tanganyika (See Map 2). The eleven Field Companies with Wahle had not
been beaten in their three serious encounters with the Belgian Congolese troops
and his men were fit and confidant.
Further east and coming down from confronting
South African General van Deventer’s 2nd Division in the Kidatu area
was another German formation of ten companies under Major Georg Kraut. The Mahenge Plateau was the destination for
both Wahle and Kraut, and neither of them was being aggressively pursued by
Belgian or British forces. A series of
collisions between Northey’s columns and the arriving German forces was
African Rifles Artillery Section
In Nyasaland two
Royal Navy breech-loading guns, fitted to wheeled mounts, joined the old black
powder muzzle-loading guns that were being operated by the 1st Regiment
of the King’s African Rifles (1 KAR), a Nyasaland-based infantry unit composed
of locally-recruited tribesmen. Together
all the KAR artillery pieces were named the King’s African Rifles Artillery
Section. Two officers from the artillery
department of the South African Mounted Rifles, the permanent military force in
were attached to the KAR and joined the Artillery Section. These two officers were Captain C.H.B. Clark
and Lieutenant A.M. Bones, and they trained the Askari, as African soldiers of
both sides were named, in artillery procedures.
The two naval guns, pulled by oxen, were initially part of
Hawthorn’s eastern column but they were a prime artillery asset and Northey deployed
them where he saw fit. Towards the end
of August at Wuasa south-west of Iringa the guns came into action supporting Murray’s and Roger’s
Columns (Rhodesian and South African troops with companies of Northern Rhodesia
Police and 1 KAR) as they pushed the withdrawing enemy further backwards.
Then as the British columns moved towards more
difficult terrain where the naval guns could not go, and as the approach of
Wahle’s formation became evident, Northey ordered Captain Clarke to take his
Section back from Iringa to Ngominyi on the New Langenburg road.
Ngominyi stores depot
At Ngominyi Captain Clark commanded a garrison
consisting of his gun teams and 30 or 40 Askari from 1 KAR. Ngominyi was an attractive target to the
enemy not only because of the guns inside the perimeter but also because a
large British depot of food and equipment was stored there. These stores had been laboriously carried by
porters from Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia,
and the depot was meant to sustain Northey’s columns as they advanced. Boxes of .303 ammunition, tins of corned
beef, biscuits, jam, tea and sugar were in the depot along with a small
storekeeping staff, a few South African engineers and some sick soldiers. There was also a military wireless station
On 21st October a German commander
approached Ngominyi, he was Leutnant Zingel from Wahle’s formation. He reconnoitred Captain Clark’s
position. On the 23rd October
Major W. Baxendale, a Southern Rhodesia Reservist serving in the British South
Africa Police (BSAP), was ordered to move from Old Iringa towards
Ngominyi. He took with him another
officer, four European soldiers, 56 Askari and a machine gun. However 200 men of the German 26th
Field Company were waiting and Zingel sprang a good ambush on the British
patrol. Walter Baxendale was shot
through the heart and killed, along with Sergeant George Charles de Willis
Taylor, British South Africa Police (BSAP), and four Askari whose names do not
appear to have been recorded. The other
four Europeans were wounded and three of them captured along with a number of
other Askari. The fourth European,
medical orderly Corporal E.A. Green, escaped with the remaining Askari but the
enemy seized the machine gun.
A new personality from Wahle’s formation,
Major Max Wintgens, then appeared at Ngominyi and besieged it. Wintgens had with him:
the 8th Field
Company (commanded by Hauptmann Bauer)
the 24th Field
Company (Leutnant Siebel)
A-Company (Vizefeldwebel Morchen)
Ruanda B-Company (Leutnant Lang)
(Leutnant Wahle – possibly the General’s son)
3.7-centimetre guns of Battery Vogel
8 machine guns.
The Germans occupied higher ground than did Clark’s
defenders and began firing into the British position. Inside the Ngominyi perimeter British
casualties mounted. The telegraph wires
into and out of the depot were cut by the enemy, but Clark
used his wireless set and requested that a doctor try to get through to him to
treat the British wounded. Two
medical officers heard the call, one declined to assist but the other, Surgeon
Captain E.G. Storrs
of the Northern Rhodesia Medical Service, took an African guide and infiltrated
into the Ngominyi perimeter on the night of the 28th October. He immediately started treating the
wounded. Surgeon Captain Storrs may have
been helped by the fact that a German assault on the perimeter at dusk,
supported by six machine guns on higher ground, had been beaten back by
improvised grenades assembled by the South African engineers. The enemy had then withdrawn to re-group.
That night Captain Clark gave all the defenders the choice
to leave the perimeter if they wished.
Around 30 men took up the offer and exfiltrated out into the night in
twos and threes, heading for the nearest British units. At dawn the end came for the diminished garrison
as the 8th and 29th Field Companies charged in with the
bayonet. The breech mechanism levers of
the naval guns were beaten out of alignment to render them useless. The British officers then fought to the last
defending their guns. Lieutenant Bones
was killed and Captain Clark was mortally wounded, he was last seen throwing
his empty revolver at an approaching German.
Both men were bayoneted. The
German Leutnants Hess and Siebel were credited with capturing the guns and 200
rounds for them. Wintgens lost Leutnant
Lang and an Askari killed. Hauptmann
Bauer and an Askari were wounded, Bauer severely.
Wintgens emptied the depot, allowing his men to eat
luxuries that they had not seen since they had withdrawn from the Central
Railway. The stores, the wireless
station and the guns were removed, although the wireless station was destroyed
a fortnight later when the porters assigned to it were needed for more vital
loads. Max Wintgens was an honourable
man, and after the new casualties had been treated the Germans released Surgeon
Captain Storrs and provided an escort whilst the wounded were carried to Iringa
hospital. For the gallantry that he
displayed at Ngominyi Eric Gleadon Storrs was awarded a Military Cross. Captain
C.H.B. Clark was awarded a posthumous Mention
(The British Official History states that the two naval
guns were main armament weapons salved from HMS
Pegasus that was sunk by the Konigsberg
harbor. However this is a debatable
point. A German source indicates that
the guns could have been 12-pounder 12-hundredweights. Perhaps they were field guns kept aboard
Royal Navy ships for use by landing parties.)
On 9th October a patrol from Roger’s Column,
110 kilometres north-west of Iringa, met a mounted patrol of the 4th
South African Horse sent down from Kilimatinde on the Central Railway at the
orders of General Smuts. Three days
later Roger’s men had their first contact with advancing enemy troops as the
Germans moved towards Mahenge. The
action was at the Kiganga ford over the Great Ruaha
River, and the 2nd South
African Rifles had 2 men wounded but they killed 4 enemy Europeans and captured
another and an Askari. The remainder of
the enemy from the 7th Field Company withdrew quickly.
Northey did not wish to withdraw from Iringa because the
local Wahehe tribesmen had welcomed the British and were enlisting as irregular
scouts, so he reinforced the area with Baxendale’s Northern Rhodesia Police who
had been operating near Bismarckburg on Lake Tanganyika. Roger concentrated his column at Iringa from
Hange, leaving detachments at Muhanga and Dabaga.
A Military Cross
for an Aide de Campe
Northey’s personal military assistant, cavalry officer
Lieutenant W.W. Honywood, then saw for himself what was happening when the car
he was driving had a contact on 20th October near Madibira. The car had a machine gun mounted on it but
was ambushed by an enemy patrol, probably from Leutnant Wahle’s C-Company. Two men in the British party were wounded. William Wynne Honywood was later awarded a Military Cross with the citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty when patrolling with an armoured car. He opened fire on a large enemy force, and
wounded six of them. At great personal risk, under heavy fire, he placed one of
the wounded men in the car, and returned, having obtained valuable information.
Smuts’ force arrive at Iringa
As the threat to
Ngominyi developed Baxendale was sent on his fatal mission that has been
described. Major Flindt and 100 of his 2nd
South African Rifles were left to defend Iringa, hopefully only until men from
Smuts’ force to the north arrived. Roger
with 80 riflemen and two machine guns moved towards Ngominyi, meeting the
survivors from Baxendale’s group on the way.
At Mahansi near Ngeiro’s, 11 kilometres north-east of Ngominyi, Roger
ran into an enemy position and was held up.
Behind him South African troops from the Central Railway had finally
arrived and secured Iringa.
The first troops from the north into the town were
Lieutenant Colonel Freeth’s 7th South African Infantry, 250 men
strong with 6 machine guns, and two 10-pounder guns of the Centre Section, 28th
Mountain Battery, Indian Army. They
arrived on 23rd October. Next
day they were followed by 70 men of the South African Motor Cyclist Corps under
Lieutenant Colonel J.M. Fairweather.
Fairweather took command and ordered Freeth with 80 of his men, 2
machine guns and the Indian mountain guns to move forward and join Roger.
The action at
Mahansi near Ngeiro’s
At Mahansi Roger and Freeth heard of the fall of Ngominyi
and realising that they would be the next to be attacked they dug themselves in
at the southern end of a long ridge lying west of the road. The surrounding countryside was densely
bushed, swampy to the east and a higher ridge line was behind them. Next morning, 30th October, some
of Wintgen’s men pushed through the bush on the British west flank and scaled
the dominating ridge, from where they opened fire. Later this force put in repeated attacks but
accurate shooting by both the Indian mountain gunners and the 7th
South African Infantry drove the attackers back. However enemy fire stampeded the British
cattle herd which had been brought along as meat on the hoof, and to the dismay
of the hungry defenders the animals careered off into the bush. The Germans had managed to repair one of the
captured naval guns for use in this action.
Next day enemy firing commenced at dawn and lasted all
day, but without an attack being mounted.
A reconnaissance patrol sent out the following morning, 1st
November, found that the Germans had withdrawn.
The South Africans at Mahansi lost 2 men killed and 10 wounded. The dead were probably 129 Private A. Hooper,
7th South African Infantry, and 67 Private Rudolph Gideon Venter, 2nd
South African Rifles. Wintgens lost 1
Askari killed and 6 wounded.
The key weapon in the successful British defence at
Mahansi had been the mountain guns of the 28th (Lahore) Mountain Battery. The Indian gunners were anaemic from
under-feeding and badly needed clothing and boots, whilst their mules were in a
bad state as grain had not been issued for the last six months of heavy
marching. But the gunners wanted to
fight. During the action the Section
commander, Captain E.R.C. Wilson, Royal Artillery, was severely wounded and
Lieutenant E.A. Eden MC (East Africa Volunteer Artillery) took over
command. Ammunition and stores had to be
carried over open ground under enemy fire, and 1192 Gunner Vir Singh was killed
and six other gunners were wounded. On
the first day the Section fired 95 shrapnel shells with fuze settings from 1 to
4 against the enemy attacks. Later
Edward Rickard Carew Wilson was awarded a Military
Cross and Edwin Arthur Eden was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.
471 Havildar Sant Singh, 561 Lance Naik Fateh Ali and 412 Gunner Narain
Singh were awarded the IndianDistinguished Service Medal.
General Smuts, the Allied Commander in Chief in the
theatre, now issued an order that on no account must Freeth allow the troops
with him to be surrounded and captured.
As Freeth was out of rations anyway, this protective command from the
most senior South African in the field was not needed, and both Freeth’s and
Roger’s columns withdrew to the Iringa area.
Northey’s worst fears had been realized, the Germans were wreaking havoc
on his lines of communication. However
to the east at Mkapira a battle had been fought that temporarily removed some
enemy pressure from Northey’s now out-numbered command.
Kraut’s men had moved nearer to the British
position at Mkapira. Here two British
columns under Colonels Hawthorne with his 1 KAR Askari and 1st South
African Rifles, and Murray with his BSAP Southern Rhodesians and Northern
Rhodesia Police (NRP) had entrenched energetically on a flat-topped hill
overlooking the Ruhuje
River. An overlooking feature 2,300 metres to the
west and named Picquet Hill was occupied by an observation post. The mountain guns of the South African
Mounted Rifles (SAMR) 5th Battery
were well dug-in and camouflaged. The
south-east half of the perimeter was occupied by Murray’s
Column and the lower north-west half was defended by Hawthorne’s men; here the ground sloped down
to an area of swampy lagoons bordering the river. Hawthorne
commanded the defence.
On 21st October British scouting
patrols reported enemy approaching. At
dawn next day the Germans seized Picquet Hill and placed a 6-centimetre gun
near the crest, firing shells into the British perimeter. The SAMR mountain guns were under orders not
to disclose their positions and so they did not return fire. Kraut now besieged the British
perimeter. The German troops in the
the 5th, 10th
(Leutnant Mauck), 16th,
19th and 25th (Hauptmann Galbraith) Field Companies,
the 5th Schutzen
Company (European reservists under Oberleutnant von Schrotter)
the 8th Schutzen
Company (Company Meyer) was normally employed as mounted scouts and consisted
of 50 Europeans and 60 Askari. However
tsetse fly had killed many mounts and the company operated dismounted.
17 machine guns
one 6-centimetre gun under
L-Company of armed
police. This company was sent on a
forward reconnaissance towards Mahenge.
Kraut’s tactics were to surround the British
position, block the supply routes leading to it, and wait for Hawthorn’s men to
consume all their rations and then surrender because of hunger. After an initial heavy burst of fire by the
besieging troops one German machine gun was moved forward to act as a sniping
weapon. Luckily a British ration convoy
had arrived on the 21st October and hunting parties had brought in
elephant meat that was being dried out in the sun. Even so Hawthorne
ordered a reduced scale of rations to be issued daily to all the troops.
The enemy machine gun close to the perimeter
would shoot down the British wireless masts as soon as they were put up, whilst
the field gun opened fire regularly at 0800 hours each morning. Once the exact position of the gun’s muzzle
flash was observed the SAMR mountain guns were allowed to retaliate. One morning at 1000 hours the mountain guns
suddenly engaged the German weapon, hitting a top corner of the gun shield and
killing or wounding most of the detachment, including Leutnant Kuhn. This excellent example of counter-battery
fire did not stop the enemy from firing the gun, but it was never used as
effectively as before. Lieutenant Harold
Swifte, SAMR, had observed for this shoot from an exposed position and he was
later awarded a Military Cross.
Kraut had thought that the swamps and lagoons
between the British perimeter and the river to be impassable, but they were not
as many were drying-out quite rapidly.
Lieutenant H.T. Barrett of the Nyasaland Field Force Intelligence
Department went out into the swamps each night and reconnoitered the adjacent
Meanwhile scouts from Murray’s side of the
perimeter were also going out under cover of darkness to plot the enemy
positions facing them. On the night of 27th October two BSAP scouts,
A 173 Private A.S. Peters and 1634 Private R.G. Hill, made a spectacular
capture of two enemy Askari which resulted in both of them receiving the Imperial Distinguished Conduct Medal. Their similar citations state:
For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty in carrying out dangerous reconnaissances. On one occasion, accompanied by another man,
he penetrated the enemy's position and captured an outpost, obtaining most
valuable information, which enabled a successful attack to be made.
Using this information Hawthorne decided to take the fight to the
enemy. He knew that he could not safely evacuate his baggage columns, wounded
and sick men and his wireless station unless he soundly defeated Kraut’s
force. A surprise attack was planned, Murray’s men would attack across the open ground before
them whilst Hawthorne’s
troops simultaneously attacked Picquet Hill.
Captain J.E.E. Galbraith (Royal Fusiliers and
KAR) with his ‘D’ Company 1 KAR was operating outside the perimeter protecting
the British supply route near Kisinga, and he was also tasked to engage the
enemy forces in that area at the same time.
He was reinforced with a KAR 7-pounder muzzle loading gun from Lupembe
and by ‘A’ Company of the NRP under Major C.H. Fair. Kraut expected Hawthorne to fight his way back along the
Lupembe road, and the 25th Field Company was positioned five
kilometers west of Hawthorn’s position.
Kraut’s command post with 16 Field Company, Company Meyer and half of 5
Field Company was located one kilometer west of the British perimeter; the
other half of 5 Field Company was deployed to the east of the river. The SAMR mountain guns within the perimeter
were tasked with engaging the area of the enemy command post whilst Galbraith
and Fair attacked the 25th Field Company from the west.
The operation was timed to commence at 0530 hours on 30th
October. In the early hours Hugh
Treherne Barrett guided ‘CR’ and ‘AR’ Companies of 1 KAR undetected through the
swamps to the rear of the German positions.
For this he was awarded a Military
Cross with the citation:
He reconnoitred the enemy's
position, and subsequently guided a column three miles by night, enabling them
to deploy unobserved between picquets of the enemy to within 250 yards of the
The 1 KAR
Captain Alexander Harcourt Griffiths (Duke of
Cambridge’s Light Infantry and KAR) now assaulted and captured Picquet Hill
with his ‘CR’ Company, earning a Distinguished
He led his column in a most gallant manner against a strongly entrenched
position and captured a field gun. He has consistently shown great coolness and
On his left Major G.L. Baxter’s ‘CR’ Company found that the
Germans facing it were not easy to subdue.
Baxter withdrew to attack again from a flank but the enemy position was
not taken until 0730 hours when Lieutenant Philip Edmund Mitchell charged in
with half of ‘H’ Company 1 KAR, winning a Military
conspicuous gallantry in action. He gallantly led his half company in a charge,
and captured an enemy machine gun, together with several prisoners.
499 Colour Sergeant Magomera, 1 KAR, won an African Distinguished Conduct Medal:
Came across under heavy fire to
Colonel Hawthorn in order to describe the position to him, returned and led his
half Company in a charge, capturing two prisoners himself.
The Germans facing Griffiths and Baxter had been the 5th
Schutzen Company which then fell back on to the 19th Field Company,
two kilometres away.
British South Africa
men was the enemy 10th Field Company which had previously garrisoned
Iringa. Murray’s plan was that No 1 Section of ‘A’
Company BSAP, reinforced by seven men from ‘B’ Company, would make a silent
bayonet attack without covering fire. No
2 Section would move in support and Captain G.N. Beaumont’s 1 KAR Company would
advance with No 2 Section and guard the west flank.
No 1 Section under Lieutenant H. T. Onyett
advanced in extended order with fixed bayonets.
At first light the enemy advance picquet spotted the approaching troops
and opened fire, then withdrew and fired again.
Onyett’s men cheered and rushed forward 550 metres beyond the picquet
position and into the main German trench line.
Fierce bayonet fighting now took place as enemy trenches were cleared,
and the survivors of the 44 BSAP men who had advanced came under strong
pressure from enemy counter attacks. But
No 2 Section under Lieutenant J.H. Vaughan arrived and a heavier weight of fire
drove the Germans rearwards. The enemy
Askari ran but the Europeans stood their ground until they were dead or
Harry Thomas Onyett, BSAP, was awarded a Military Cross:
For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty. With a small party, he captured an enemy entrenched position
held by 150 rifles and three machine guns.
Four Imperial Distinguished Conduct Medals were
awarded to BSAP men.
462 Sergeant Major
gallantly led an attack against enemy machine guns and succeeded in capturing
two guns. He was severely wounded. He
has previously done fine work.
A/70 Corporal J.L. Beith:
August, 1915, to June, 1918. He has been in the field since August, 1915, and
has performed continuous good work in action throughout, more especially in the
fight at Mkapira in October, 1916, where he was wounded. He had previously been
wounded at Bismarckburg in June, 1916.
1875 Corporal A.E.J.D.
a party which had gone through the enemy's lines, and completed the capture of
the enemy position.
A79 Private D. Wisener:
He led a small party into an enemy
machine gun emplacement and killed thegun team. He was wounded three times.
officers were later awarded the Distinguished
Colonel Ronald Ernest Murray DCM, BSAP: He set a splendid example of gallantry and
able leadership during a successful assault on very superior forces of the
James Edward Evans Galbraith, 1 KAR, and Major Charles Henry Fair, NRP, who had
engaged Kraut’s troops from the west also received Distinguished Service Orders.
The cost At 0830
hours the ground previously occupied by the enemy was swept but only a few
stragglers were found, the rest of the German troops near the perimeter having
rapidly withdrawn to a rallying point.
Kraut had feared that a general attack was developing onto all his
were dug for the 5 European and 37 Askari enemy dead discovered, and 82
prisoners were taken. It was estimated
that 60 more of the enemy had been wounded before or whilst they fled. They left behind 3 machine guns and the
6-centimetre field gun. The dead
Europeans were: Unteroffizier Klagge, Feldwebel Nickel, Segeants Mieth and Most,
and Obermatrose Czech. German Askari Staff Sergeant Hamis and
Sergeant Nasoro were also killed.
Stabsartz Barthels and Sanitatssergeant Krieg were wounded and captured,
along with four other Europeans, but Hawthorne
released the two wounded medical men.
1 KAR had
lost 2nd Lieutenant William George Stanbury Booty (Nyasaland Field
Force and KAR) killed, and Lieutenant H.L. Hartill (Royal West Surrey Regiment
and KAR) wounded, plus 2 Askari killed and 12 wounded.
had lost 4 men killed: 1656 Private Arthur Leonard Bradbury, A298 Private James
Curran, A72 Private Felix Joseph Hampson and 1650 Private Jack William
Judson. At least two other BSAP soldiers
Kraut’s threat had been blunted, but as more of Wahle’s
men moved into the British rear areas further actions had to be fought on
Northey’s vulnerable lines of communication.
dead British Europeans are buried in Iringa Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
Cemetery, Tanzania, with the exception of Rudolph
Gideon Venter. He and Gunner Vir Singh
are commemorated on the British and Indian Memorial in Nairobi
(South) CWGC Cemetery, Kenya. The dead German Europeans and Askari are
commemorated on a German memorial adjacent to the CWGC cemeteries at Moshi (Above), Tanzania
and, if it still exists, on a German memorial at Iringa. The African Memorial in the centre of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, commemorates the dead KAR
Askari and porters
History. Military Operations. East Africa
August 1914 – September 1916. Compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles
An Account of the Part Played by The First
Regiment of the King’s African Rifles in the Conquest of German East Africa by
Colonel H.P. Williams.
A Narrative of the Right
Section, 5th Mountain Battery, South African Mounted Riflemen by Battery Quartermaster Sergeant
J.G. Maker. (Article in the Journal of the South African Military History
Society, Volume 4 No 1.)
History of the Northern Rhodesia Police by
Colonel Tim Wright.
King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett.
Chapter XII of the unpublished Part II to the Official History. Military
Operations East Africa.
of the 1914-1918 Campaign with Northern Rhodesian Forces an
article by Captain R.W.M. Langham MC published in the Northern Rhodesia Journal.
History of the Indian Mountain Artillery by Brigadier
General C.A.L. Graham DSO OBE DL psc.
History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The Forgotten Fronts and the Home
Base 1914-18 by General Sir Martin Farndale KCB.
Die Operationen in Ostafrika by Ludwig Boell.
Vier Jahre Weltkrieg in Deutsch-Ostafrika by Wilhelm Arning.
(Gratitude is expressed to Per Finsted of Denmark for his collaboration in
translating details from the German sources in his usual excellent style and
for his research into the origins of the two naval guns.)