The 1st Cape Corps in German East Africa:
17th February 1916 to 20th December 1917
The raising of the Cape Corps
Africa entered the First World War internal
politics dictated that only white men would be armed; the Africans and
Coloureds (people of mixed race) would be recruited in their thousands but only
as unarmed railway labourers or transport workers. However the large Cape Coloured community
wished to send men to fight, and after the conclusion of the successful
campaign in German South West Africa (now Namibia) the South African
government offered to raise an infantry battalion of Coloured men for overseas
service. The British government accepted
the offer and agreed to class the men as Imperial Troops, which meant that Britain would
pay the costs. Terms of service were
equated with those of the black British West Indies Regiment and the rate of
pay was one shilling per day, similar to the rate for British soldiers but much
less than the rates paid to white colonial troops. The unit establishment was fixed at 30
officers and 995 other ranks organized into four double-companies.
A Cape Corps War Recruiting Committee was formed with its
headquarters at Cape Town and on 25th
October 1915 it called for volunteers throughout South
Africa; interestingly the one place where sufficient
volunteers were not immediately found was in Cape Town.
The recruits had to meet stringent physical and medical requirements and
were based for training in barracks at Simons Town on the Cape Peninsula. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Morris was
selected to command the unit and was given a free hand in choosing his
officers. Major C. N. Hoy was appointed
Second in Command. Nineteen European
Warrant Officers and senior ranks were recruited to fill key appointments such
as Regimental and Company Sergeant Major, Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant,
and Platoon, Signals, Medical and Machine Gun Sergeants.
The battalion sailed from Cape Town
on 9th February 1916 aboard HMT
Armadale Castle, disembarking at Kilindini, Mombasa eight days later. Two troop trains carried the men to Kajiado
south of Nairobi. What remained of February was spent in
marching down across the German East Africa
border to Longido West where a temporary camp was made. The Cape Corps
was now part of Major General J.M. Stewart’s 1st East Africa
Division that was tasked with advancing south whilst the theatre commander,
General J.C. Smuts, advanced the bulk of his forces from the east.
General Stewart moved off on 5th March and his
divisional column including the transport was several kilometers long. The Cape Corps,
as yet untried and untested, was nominated to be the rearguard. Because of the ‘stop-start’ nature of long
military convoys the first leg of 50 kilometres took 16 hours of marching to
complete, under a hot sun and over dusty, dry ground. Two days later the withdrawing German
rearguard inducted the battalion onto the battlefield by firing a few shots
towards the evening camp site.
Corps was brought forward
on 9th March to advance on and attack Ngare Nairobi where a German
post was thought to be located, but on arrival the enemy had gone. The battalion then commenced what was to be a
long spell of duties as Lines of Communication troops.
Work on the Lines
of Communication, April to November 1916
For the next nine months of 1916 the Cape Corps
was employed on routine but necessary duties behind the advancing British
troops. Men guarded bases, patrolled
roads, built bridges and provided individual officers and soldiers for posts on
administrative, transport and provost staffs, and for duties in hospitals. During this period many members of the
battalion, as in all other British units, went down with a variety of tropical
ailments which killed some of them. Due
to General Smuts’ preoccupation with offensive tactics and his total lack of
interest in logistical requirements, rations were often in short supply and
sometimes were not issued at all.
Locally recruited undernourished and overworked African porters were
literally dropping dead on the march as they carried supplies to the forward
troops over very difficult and often swampy, crocodile-concealing terrain. This shortage of decent food caused
debilitation amongst the Cape
Corps which resulted in a
loss of resistance to diseases.
In late July the South African General Louis Botha and an
entourage visited East Africa to see General
Smuts. German stay-behind troops were
active in the area of Kangata, and a Cape
Corps road-clearing party
swept the roads on the day before Botha’s visit. An enemy mine was located and 220 Private D.
Demos dug the mine out and demolished it.
Demos received a Military Medal for
this act, the first award that was made to the Cape Corps.
Duties on the Lines of Communication held their own dangers, especially when
enemy groups were mounting attacks.
Lieutenant J.C. Hosack was shot one night when out on patrol, but his
death was the result of friendly fire from a British unit that had not been
informed of Hosack’s patrol. Another
member of another patrol, 672 Private I.C. Solomon, went missing, presumably
taken by a lion.
diligence and willingness to tackle any duties had favourably impressed Smuts
and Botha, and the unit establishment was increased up to six
double-companies. A training camp was
opened at Tanga where men discharged from hospital treatment, plus drafts of
new arrivals sent up from the Depot at Cape
Town, were field-trained prior to being sent forward
to the battalion.
Above: Berthon boats being carried by porters to the Rufiji River
Fighting on and
near the Rufiji River, December 1916 to March 1917
In December 1916 the Cape
Corps marched south towards the Rufiji River
leaving a unit Depot at Morogoro. The
Depot’s task was to feed replacement men forward as casualties occurred in the
battalion, which was now a part of General P.S. Beves’ Force Reserve. Infantry action was imminent and eagerly
awaited. On 2nd January 1917
Beves ordered Lieutenant Colonel Morris to cross the Rufiji near
Makalinso. Morris was allocated 500 of
his own Cape Corps men with four machine guns, a
two-gun Section of the Kashmir Mountain Battery, and a detachment of the
Faridkot Sappers & Miners with six collapsible Berthon boats. The guide was the famous South African Major
P.J. Pretorious DSO, who before the war had owned a nearby farm.
Setting off at 1400 hours Morris’ men marched hard through
the night for nearly 50 kilometres, cutting a route through the bush for the
gun-mules to use and laying a telephone cable as they moved. Three of the boat porters collapsed and died
on the journey. As dawn approached
Pretorious advised moving the crossing point four kilometers westwards to Kipenio
as his scouts suspected that the Germans occupied Makalinso. At the river the Cape Corps
secured the area, the Kashmiri guns were positioned for action, and the boats
were silently assembled and launched. By
0700 hours Morris was able to report by telephone that his whole force was
across the river and entrenched. The
battalion signalers tapped into a nearby enemy telephone cable discovered by
Pretorious’ Scouts and intercepted useful information.
One exciting event was the charge of a herd of hippopotami
through the Cape Corps position. The men stood-to assuming that an enemy
attack was in progress, but the only casualties were amongst the small herd of
meat-on-the-hoof cattle that stampeded into the bush. As only three or four beasts were found again
the soldiers had even less rations than usual.
A dawn bayonet attack was then launched by 100 Cape Corps
soldiers under Captain Cunningham on the German position at Makalinso. This took the enemy by surprise and 4
Europeans, 10 Askari and 19 porters in the position were killed, wounded or
captured without loss to the Cape
The fight at
The British advance followed-up the withdrawing enemy. The German formation commander tasked with
delaying the British was Captain Ernst Otto and he positioned the 25th
Field Company in the Mkindu area; this company was tasked with fighting a
delaying battle. The Cape Corps,
less ‘A’ Company, was sent forward to reinforce elements of the Nigerian
Brigade that had advanced to Mkindu.
‘A’ Company under Major C.G. Durham with two machine guns and two
Kashmiri mountain guns was sent to attack an enemy position at Nyakisiki.
Whilst searching for the enemy position south of Mkindu one
of the few British aeroplanes in the theatre was brought down when a German
bullet punctured its fuel tank. Both sides attempted to seize the plane but the
undamaged pilot walked through the bush in the right direction and reached
safety with the Nigerians.
On 20th January 1917 Lieutenant Colonel Morris
was appointed commander of a column consisting of the Cape Corps
(under Major Hoy), the 2nd Nigeria Regiment and a two-gun section of
the Kashmir Mountain Battery. The column
was to attack the enemy position that had been located at Kibongo. Meanwhile the 1st Nigeria Regiment
and two Nigerian mountain guns marched to outflank the enemy position and block
the withdrawal route. The 3rd
Nigeria Regiment was held back as a reserve.
Right: Lt WS Heaton MC
Morris placed the 2nd Nigeria Regiment as his
reserve and advanced with the Cape
Corps in the lead
deployed into bush formation – two platoons abreast leading, a platoon guarding
each flank with two machine guns in support, and the main body in the
centre. From first light enemy outposts
opened fire before hurriedly withdrawing to the main German position on a
ridge. The enemy troops withdrew from
their first trench line but sat tight on their second one, delivering
counter-attacks on the Cape
Corps flanks that were
beaten off after stiff fighting.
The key to the German position was a small hill which
Lieutenant Hayton of ‘B’ Company successfully attacked with a section of his
platoon. The remainder of ‘B’ Company
and two machine guns joined Hayton and dug-in under hot fire. The enemy mounted two counter-attacks on the
hill but both were driven off by the Cape
Corps machine guns and
the Kashmiri mountain artillery. During
this fighting for the hill Major F.E. Bradstock commanded the firing line and
was severely wounded. The Battalion Medical Officer, Captain R.P. McNeil, South
African Medical Corps, assisted by the Padre, Captain Alan Earp-Jones, and
Medical Sergeant Cairns evacuated wounded men whilst under heavy enemy fire.
By 1200 hours the Germans had withdrawn as their flank and
rear were being threatened by the 1st Nigeria Regiment. The Cape Corps
counted the cost which was 4 men killed, 2 other men dying of wounds and 2
officers and 6 men wounded. Lieutenant
W.J. Allen, East Africa Intelligence Department and working with the battalion,
was also killed. Both Frederick Edgar
Bradstock and Robert Patrick McNeill were awarded the Military Cross.
1144 Sergeant F.J.C.
Cairns received the Military Medal,
as did machine gunner 1179 Private E. Le Brun.
Service Order was awarded to George Abbott Morris and Charles Norman Hoy.
Meanwhile Major Durham’s attack on Nyakisiki had proved to
be a hard fight, and reinforcements were sent forward from the 30th
Punjabis and the 130th Baluchis, whilst heavy artillery support was
provided by 4-inch ex-naval guns positioned 12.8 kilometres to the rear. Under pressure the Germans withdrew leaving
behind a fully-equipped field hospital containing 16 European and 200 African
sick and wounded men, plus 5 uninjured German female nurses.
For gallantry displayed in the action at Nyakisiki 480
Sergeant P.D. Schoor was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During an advance this
N.C.O. rendered valuable assistance to his officer. He showed a total disregard
for his own safety under fire, and set a splendid example He took charge of
several important patrols up to the time he was wounded.
The seasonal heavy rains then descended very heavily and
were more intense than they had been during the previous nine years. Tactical military movement ceased as the
priority now was survival. Convoys of
porters carrying rations struggled through swamps and along flooded trails, but
could never deliver sufficient food forward. As the Cape Corps
history states: Practically naked they
(the porters) toiled with their loads through torrents of rain, slimy, sticky
clay and mud often to their middles, and sometimes up to their necks in
it. They died like flies . . . .
The bad weather did not stop parties of Germans appearing
and mounting minor attacks, as they knew the best routes to take, and so
constant alertness was required. But the
sickness rate increased so much that by the time the Cape Corps
was ordered back to Morogoro in late March only 5 officers and 165 half-starved
men were fit for duty. Nearly 50 men had died of disease and nearly 300
officers and men had been medically repatriated to South Africa. Over 1,000 men were being treated or were
convalescing in East African military hospitals, or had been detached to
perform Lines of Communication duties.
Clothing and boots had been worn out and not replaced due to transport
difficulties, and many of the soldiers were dressed in rags.
German raiding parties, April to September 1917
The Cape Corps, now called the 1st Cape Corps as
a 2nd battalion had been raised in South Africa, was given four
weeks to re-organise and re-train at Morogoro before it was called upon to deal
with a serious situation. The German
Captain Max Wintgens had decided to break away from his higher command in the
south east of German East Africa, and he took
his formation of field companies back into the central part of the country
where many of his Askari had been recruited.
Four hundred men and 4 machine guns of the 1st Cape Corps
under Major Hoy were sent to join the British and Belgian troops that pursued
Wintgens, his successor Captain Heinrich Naumann and Lieutenant Joseph
Zingel. Lieutenant Colonel Morris and
more men followed. The Germans raided as
far north as the Moshi area and even threatened to cross into British
East Africa. The last band
of raiders was not finally eliminated until 1st October 1917, and
the Cape Corps was in at the kill. During this hectic period the Cape Corps
enhanced its growing reputation as one of the toughest and hardest-marching
British units in the theatre.
Awards to the 1st Cape Corps for actions on these
operations included a Companionship of the Order
of St Michael and St George for Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Morris; a Bar to
the Distinguished Service Order for
Major C. N. Hoy; two Distinguished Conduct Medals and Military Medals for 829 Corporal H.J. Fredericks and 980 Corporal
The recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medals were:
278 Sergeant H.W.
Abrahams: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to
duty. During the attack on a difficult and important objective he displayed
great courage and initiative, and in the consolidation of the same showed
marked qualities of skill and leadership, rendering valuable assistance.
1134 Sergeant S.W. Dunn: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to
duty. As interpreter and organiser of runners he has performed excellent work
during operations, which resulted in the surrender of an enemy officer and his
party. He has shown marked ability, and has carried out his several duties in a
Wintgens-Naumann-Zingel raids will be the subject of a separate article.)
Operations in the
Lindi area, October to December 1917
By October the 1st Cape
Corps had re-built its strength to
over 1200 men and the battalion was ordered to join the British troops fighting
in the Lindi area in south-east German East Africa. The heaviest and most intensive and costly
fighting of the campaign had recently occurred in the Mahiwa-Nyangao area, and
the strong, fit Cape Corps soldiers provided a welcome boost to the
battle-weary British columns advancing westwards.
The 1st Cape Corps
joined No 3 Column commanded by Brigadier General H. de C. O’Grady. Also in the
column was the 1st 2nd King’s African Rifles (KAR) which
had absorbed the remnants of the 3rd 2nd KAR as both
units had taken heavy casualties in the recent fighting. Other column troops were a Stokes Trench
Mortar Section, an Ammunition Column, a Signal Section and an Indian Field
Ambulance. Because No 3 Column contained
only two battalions this placed a lot of strain on the infantrymen, as each day
they were either leading the advance or acting directly in support of it.
On 6th November 1917 1st
Cape Corps was leading No 3 Column’s advance
from Nyangao when at Mkungu contact was made with enemy troops under the very
capable leadership of Major Georg Kraut.
The forward companies were ‘A’ on the right and ‘B’ on the left. The Germans aggressively attacked ‘A’ and ‘B’
Companies through dense bush and then worked around the battalion’s
flanks. The Cape Corps
began to lose men. The Mortar Officer
Lieutenant Charles Frederick Abbott and Platoon Commander Lieutenant Ivor Arthur
Melville Guest were killed, whilst Lieutenant John Zuill McNeil was mortally
wounded and Lieutenant R. Colson was severely wounded. ‘D’ Company was moved forward to support the
left flank and saw some desperate fighting.
Right: Lt CF Abbot killed in action at Mkungu
2nd Lieutenant Sivert
Vause Samuelson earned an immediate Military
Cross with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty. He, though severely wounded, beat off a strong enemy attack,
reinforced by several machine guns, and remained fighting with his platoon
until relieved. He showed great determination, and his courage and cheerfulness
afforded an excellent example to his men.
On the other flank ‘B’ Company
called for support from ‘C’ Company and Lieutenant William Smith Heaton was
also awarded a Military Cross: When in command of a platoon he kept his men
under splendid control, and showed great devotion to duty. Later, he rushed and
captured an enemy machine gun. He has at
all times set a most inspiring example, and has rendered services of the
Lieutenant G.L. Ware’s platoon was
detailed to be the column commander’s body guard, and during the fighting the
Brigadier ordered Ware, along with Lieutenant W. Power, to take an enemy-held
ridgeline. Ware achieved this but Walter
Power was killed.
This was the hardest day’s fighting
that the 1st Cape
Corps had yet seen. Apart from the previously named officers 3
others were wounded; 11 soldiers were killed or mortally wounded, 46 were
wounded and survived and 13 were missing.
Other more exhausted and weakened units may have crumpled or broken
under Kraut’s continuous probing and attacks, but the Cape Corps
men wanted to be where they were and the battalion fought back and held its
ground. In mid-afternoon the Germans
used their remaining heavy artillery which caused most of the unit’s porters to
drop their loads and run to the rear.
The fighting continued until nightfall when the battalion withdrew 50
metres and dug-in on a ridge.
Six of the senior ranks later
received Distinguished Conduct Medals:
Corporal I.W. Arendse: For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty. This N.C.O., when his officer and a machine-gun crew had been
either killed or wounded, and the gun out of action and left dangerously near
the enemy exposed to heavy machine-gun fire, made gallant attempts to recover
it, ultimately succeeding in doing so, and thereafter efficiently handling it
against the enemy. Every time this N.C.O. has been in action he has been highly
152 Company Sergeant Major C.
Calvert: When in command of a platoon he kept his men
under splendid control, and showed great devotion to duty. Later, he rushed and
captured an enemy machine gun. He has at
all times set a most inspiring example, and has rendered services of the
1465 Sergeant Henry P. Damon: Under heavy machine gun and rifle fire he rendered great assistance in
placing his men, and in controlling the fire in the most effective manner. On
this occasion he displayed marked resource and initiative, and on all previous
occasions his fine soldierly spirit and example have proved a great incentive
to his men.
331 Sergeant Swartz was in charge of
‘D’ Company’s Lewis Gun Section: This
N.C.O. has accomplished sterling work. He has displayed great devotion to duty,
and has always set a fine example. On one occasion his officers having been
wounded, he helped to consolidate the line at a critical time, bringing up
ammunition under heavy fire. His patrol work has been splendid.
9 CSM D.J.
This warrant officer has shown
great devotion to duty. He took the place of a wounded officer, and coolly and
efficiently commanded a machine-gun section, during a day's fighting, and
subsequently he set a splendid example to his men, whom he has always had under
excellent control. He is a very valuable warrant officer.
When severely wounded he remained with and
kept in action his machine gun until relieved, and when his comrades wanted to
carry him out of action he refused their assistance, telling them to remain
with the gun.
Left: German machine gun captured by the Cape Corps in the Lindi area Continuing the advance
Lieutenant G.R. Barnard took out a 20-man patrol but was hit and badly
wounded. The Nigerian Brigade then came
up on No 3 Column’s right, and an attack was planned for the 8th
November which the Nigerians would lead.
But the Germans were not going to relinquish ground easily and the
Nigerian attack was repulsed with the loss of 150 casualties.
Cape Corps was then relieved by the 2nd
2nd KAR and warned-off for an evening attack westwards. This time the Kashmiri guns and the Stokes
Mortars were deployed in support and these weapons killed many enemy as they
withdrew before the Cape
Corps assault. During this attack Lieutenant Heaton captured
the machine gun that is mentioned in his citation. The attack succeeded; 2nd
Lieutenant J. McNeil and 4 men were killed or died of wounds and Major Hoy and
6 other men were wounded. Major
Bradstock took over command of the battalion until the Second in Command, Major
W.R. Cowell, came forward.
November it was the turn of the Cape
Corps to lead the column and
Nangoo was seized without a fight, but well-camouflaged enemy snipers
continually caused casualties behind the forward companies. At Nangoo there was a German hospital with 28
patients, most of them casualties from bombing raids mounted by the few British
aeroplanes in the Lindi area.
The Makonde Plateau
News of a
German airship on its way to re-supply the enemy on the Makonde plateau drove
the British command to get troops quickly up the 600-metre high escarpment and
onto the plateau. (The airship, Number
L.59, had flown from Bulgaria
but was ordered to return to base when over the Sudan.) At Tschiwata on the plateau a German hospital
containing over 1,000 sick and wounded Europeans and Askari surrendered to the
column. Thirty three British European
prisoners of war were released here, mostly non-commissioned officers. Three of them had been in German hands for
three years. Forty four Indian and
African prisoners of war were also released.
Germans were retreating they stood and fought where it was advantageous to do
so, and on the 15th November 2nd 2nd KAR was
leading the column and advanced into an enemy position and had a tough
fight. The column, led by 1st
Cape Corps, energetically fought the Germans
back to Namwindingis on 18th November where another big hospital was
seized containing around 1,000 of the enemy.
Many of the 272 enemy Europeans were unwounded and glad to be out of the
war. By now the German commander,
General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, had shed the sick and the faint-hearted from
his ranks, and he was moving with a dedicated hard-core of 2,000 Europeans and
Askari towards Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). Also in the hospital were 25 British, 5
Portuguese and 2 Belgian officer prisoners of war, left behind by von Lettow.
No 3 Column
was then given a rest, but patrolling continued. On 21 November a Lieutenant E.P. Stubbs took
the surrender of an enemy party led by Max Loof, the Captain of the Konigsberg, who
had been fighting in the infantry role with his men since their cruiser had
been sunk in the Rufiji Delta. Loof’s
men had destroyed and abandoned the last of their Konigsbergguns three days previously. Edgar Percival Stubbs was later awarded a Military Cross.
Cape Corps continued mopping-up enemy
stragglers until the end of November.
Then at Lieutenant Colonel Morris’ request a Medical Board examined the
battalion and recommended that it be repatriated to South Africa. Battle
casualties in the Lindi area had not been high, but around 100 men per week had
been admitted into hospital, mostly with malaria. The 1st Cape
Corps was moved back to Dar Es Salaam from where it sailed aboard HMT Caronia to South Africa on
20th December 1917.
and more distant battlefield was waiting over the horizon for the 1st
Casualties in German East Africa
service in German East Africa the 1st Cape Corps
lost 5 officers and 31 men killed in action or died of wounds. One officer and 126 men died of disease or
through accidents. Twelve officers and
94 men were wounded in action.
The dead are
buried in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries along their line of
march and in Dar Es Salaam,
many British human remains were centralised after the war. Those with no known grave are named on
Memorials in Nairobi, Kenya
and Dar Es Salaam.
Awards Apart from
those already mentioned in the text these awards were made for the fighting in
Major William Ralph Cowell (Battalion
Second in Command) was awarded a Distinguished
Service Order. Captains J.V. Harris
(OC ‘B’ Company) and J.H. Tandy (Adjutant) received the Military Cross. 278 Sergeant
H.W. Abrahams DCM received the Military
Medal, as did 161 Lance Corporal M.C. Le Roux.
Two men who held the Regimental
Sergeant Major’s appointment were awarded Distinguished
1049 Sergeant Major F.W.E. Betts: As Sergeant-Major he has rendered
conspicuous good service, and displayed great devotion to duty on all occasions
throughout the campaign.
1092 Company Sergeant Major (Acting
Regimental Sergeant Major) D.F. Twynham: He has always carried out his duties as Sergeant-Major with consistent
determination, has rendered valuable service throughout the operations, and is
in no small measure responsible for the high efficiency of his battalion.
Story of the 1st Cape
Corps (1915-1919) by
Captain Ivor D. Difford. (Downloadable HERE
Empire at War, Volume IV by Sir Charles Lucas KCB KCMG.
History. Military Operations, East Africa
August 1914 – September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles
Nigerians In German East Africa by Captain W.D. Downes MC.
(Downloadable HERE )
Chapter XIV of the unpublished Official History. Military Operations, East Africa Part II.
History of the Indian Mountain Artillery by Brigadier
General C.A.L. Graham DSO OBE DL psc.
History of the 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles. (WO161/75).