Units in Action, March to mid-June 1916
in March 1916
In February 1916 the
South African General Jan Smuts arrived in British East Africa, now Kenya, with
thousands of recently enlisted but inadequately trained and poorly disciplined
South African mounted and infantry units. Smuts was determined to quickly knock
the Schutztruppe, or German East Africa military force, out of the war.
Thereafter, the German territory, presently divided into Tanzania, Ruanda and
Burundi, could be occupied by the Allies.
Invasions of German East Africa were planned in the south from Northern
Rhodesia and Nyasaland, now named respectively Zambia and Malawi; in the
north-west and west from Uganda and the Belgian Congo, now named the Democratic
Republic of Congo; and most importantly from British East Africa to the north.
Facing all these attacks
was the experienced and professional German commander Colonel Paul von
Lettow-Vorbeck with sixty companies of infantry organised into nineteen abteilungen (formations), each named
after its respective commander. The core of the Schutztruppe was its African
infantry field companies supported by units of European reservists and former
civilian rifle club members. Each
company usually had two or more machine guns.
German artillery ranged from light revolver-cannon to 4.1-inch naval
guns salvaged from the cruiser Konigsberg
that had been sunk in the Rufiji River delta. Von Lettow realised that his best
contribution towards Germany’s war effort would be to attract as many Allied
units as he could to oppose him in East Africa. It would also commit a
considerable amount of scarce Allied shipping to supporting the British effort
in the theatre.
As the East African
campaign progressed, administrative planning was to become more important than
actual combat. Von Lettow’s staff approached this aspect with professional
efficiency. After fighting short actions to cause British attrition, the
Schutztruppe withdrew, using prepared interior lines of communication where supply
dumps were in place and where thousands of African civilians could be mobilised
for porterage and the digging of new defensive positions. In comparison, the
ex-guerrilla leader Jan Smuts knew far more about politicking than about
commanding three divisions of troops, and he rejected administrative advice
from the few British professional staff officers that he employed.
Africa – from Nairobi to Dar-es-Salaam
Smuts was fixated on
knocking von Lettow out of the war within six months, and he refused any
discussion on aspects of logistics such as resupply, casualty treatment and
evacuation, and transport. This last
subject was critical because of the lack of good roads in German East Africa
and the scarcity of British motor vehicles.
Hundreds of thousands of overworked African porters were dragooned into
carrying supplies for both sides, but the British never managed to raise
sufficient numbers and the men themselves contributed to even more supply
problems because they also had to be regularly fed. A favourite marching song
of the porters was:
are the porters carrying the food for the porters / carrying the food for the
porters / (repeated appropriately) / carrying foods for the porters carrying
Several Indian Army
units, including Imperial Service and Volunteer units, had been in East Africa
since September 1914 when Indian Expeditionary Force ‘C’ under Brigadier-General
J.M. ‘Jimmie’ Stewart, C.B., A.D.C., appeared in the theatre. Many more had arrived two months later with
Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ under Major-General A.E. Aitken, and others were
individually arriving in 1916 as they were re-deployed from France and
Egypt. The South Africans held
inflexible racial attitudes and most of them regarded sepoys as having the same
standing as ‘coolies’ or labourers. Some Indian Army battalions had proved to
be inadequately trained, prepared and led for offensive operations, and they
had been relegated to duties on the lines of communication. Yet there were
others who were actually fighting harder and more professionally than the South
African troops. This article briefly describes the actions of the more
aggressive Indian battalions between March and June 1916.
Above: Pangani Valley at dawn
The fight for
the Latema-Reata Nek
Before German East
Africa could be invaded, a pass, or nek,
through the Latema-Reata range of hills west of Taveta, had to be seized. The military railway from Voi, located on the
Uganda Railway line from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, could then be pushed through
the nek to join the existing German
Usambara Railway that ran from Tanga on the Indian Ocean to Moshi, west of
Taveta. General Smuts’ plan was for the
2nd Division to attack the nek whilst
the South African Mounted Brigade rode through the Mount Kilimanjaro foothills
to attack Moshi. The 3rd South African Division
would be held in reserve.
Three Indian Army units
took part in the British attack on the nek
on the 11th and 12th March 1916. The
Cossipore Artillery Volunteers (known in East Africa as the Calcutta Volunteer
Battery) and the Indian Volunteer Maxim Gun Company provided fire support. The third Indian unit was the 130th King
George’s Own Baluchis (Jacob’s Rifles).
The 130th Baluchis, a regiment with a previously outstanding record, experienced
a bad start to the Great War. In Bombay, a Mahsud sepoy attacked the
second-in-command, Major Norman Ruthven Anderson, with a bayonet. Major
Anderson died of his wounds, and the regiment was posted to Burma, a
backwater of the war. In Rangoon, the
two Pathan companies mutinied and announced their refusal to fight their Turkish
co-religionists. Around 200 men were court martialled; one Indian officer and
one non-commissioned officer were executed, and the remainder were sentenced to
various terms of hard labour.
A previous British commander
in East Africa, General Richard Wapshare, had specifically requested that the
regiment be posted to his theatre, and it had arrived in February 1915 – made
up to War Establishment by the attachment of a double-company from the 46th Punjabis. The regiment had performed well in East
Africa but had the misfortune to be part of two unsuccessful attacks at Mbuyuni
and Salaita, both conceived and commanded by Brigadier-General Wilfrid
Malleson, the commander of the 1st East African Brigade. At Salaita, where South African infantry
broke and fled at the sight of attacking German Askari, the 130th Baluchis had
fought a hard and isolated action, saving the situation for the South
Africans. Now the regiment was to be
used in yet another of Wilfrid Malleson’s unimaginative frontal attacks.
Left: The British memorial to Indian Army sepoys at Moshi
At 11.30 hrs on 11th March,
the 1st East African Brigade attacked the southern end of Latema ridge from the
east. The 130th Baluchis attacked on the
right with 3rd King’s African Rifles to its left; the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment
being retained in reserve. Three German field companies with two more in
reserve defended the Latema-Reata position. The sepoys came under effective
enemy fire when they were 900 metres from the nek, and the attack ground to a halt 550 metres further forward. The
Baluchis were stopped not just by enemy light pom-pom guns and machine guns but
also by many of their own artillery shrapnel shells that burst overhead. Around 16.00 hrs in the afternoon, Wilfrid
Malleson reported sick with dysentery, General Michael J. Tighe, D.S.O.,
commanding the 2nd East African Division, took over the attack, and South
African reinforcements began to arrive.
The Rhodesians were
ordered forward to revitalise the attack at 18.00 hrs and they succeeded in getting
men onto the Latema ridgeline. Then a decisive German counterattack pushed most
of the Rhodesians off the hill. On the left the King’s African Rifles lost
their commanding officer; most of the British Askari were pushed back by an
enemy attack from Reata. On the right the Baluchis repulsed a German attack,
but the sepoys were now short of water and ammunition, and they fell back to
seek replenishment. At midnight Tighe ordered the 5th and 7th South African
Infantry to attack. Small elements of both battalions gained the ridgelines of
Latema and Reata and stayed there, meeting up with isolated Rhodesians and K.A.R.
Askari. But the bulk of the South Africans became confused in the darkness and
withdrew. Furthermore, on his way back from the nek, the commanding officer of the 5th South African Infantry, who
also commanded this latest attack, dissuaded the Baluchis from mounting a
bayonet assault, which they had been ordered to do.
During the night the
Germans quietly withdrew most of their defenders, because von Lettow feared
being outflanked by the South African mounted troops that were advancing to the
north. At dawn Tighe’s patrols found a few isolated groups of British defenders
still holding pockets on the ridgeline whilst the Germans could be observed
withdrawing to the west. The battle was over. The Baluchis had lost Major
George Newcombe and two sepoys killed. One sepoy dead from wounds, eleven were
severely wounded and thirteen lightly wounded. One African machine gun porter was
missing. A total of 40,000 rounds had
been fired, 6,000 of them by the machine gun section. In papers written well after the event, one
of the Baluchis’ officers admitted that much of the night had been spent
unwittingly exchanging fire with an isolated group of Rhodesians.
Above: Mkalamo Bridge, looking across the Pangani onto the battlefield
of the 1st East African Division
General Smuts’ plan
envisaged the Germans withdrawing westwards through Arusha and down to the
German Central Railway that ran from Dar Es Salaam on the coast to Lake Tanganyika.
Consequently Brigadier-General Stewart, commanding the weak 1st East African
Division, was ordered to advance from Longido, south of Nairobi, to cut the
supposed enemy route to Arusha. Four
Indian Army units were in 1st Division: the 27th (Bengal) Mountain Battery; the
29th Punjabis; the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis; and the East African
Squadron of the 17th Cavalry. The
mountain gunners and Punjabis had arrived as part of Indian Expeditionary Force
‘C’ in August 1914 and by now were well used to the theatre conditions; whereas
the Baluchis had recently arrived from France.
The only brigade in 1st Division
was the 2nd East African Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General S.H. Sheppard,
D.S.O., R.E., and the Punjabis and Baluchis in the brigade served alongside the
25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), the South African Cape Corps and four
companies of the 1st King’s African Rifles from Nyasaland. The division was not involved in serious
fighting during its march through the western foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro,
and the Moshi to Arusha road was cut and blocked as ordered. The division then marched towards Moshi
where, despite displaying an enormous Union Jack, it came under fire from South
African troops who were busily looting the town.
General Smuts criticised
the length of time that Stewart, an experienced North West Frontier soldier,
had taken on his march through the western Kilimanjaro foothills. This was not
entirely fair to Stewart, as a British reconnaissance plane flying from Mbuyuni
had reported incorrectly that Stewart was not yet on the Moshi to Arusha road. Stewart
was blamed for failing to trap the Germans before they reached Kahe to the
south of Moshi, although that had never been his primary task. Stewart’s real
problem was that he had argued with Smuts, requesting an additional two days
for his march from Longido; Jan Smuts did not like argumentative subordinates,
especially when they were British generals.
Generals Stewart, Malleson
and Tighe were now returned to the Indian Army for redeployment. ‘Jimmie’
Stewart ended the war commanding the British garrison in Aden. Stewart had been let down by the lack of
aggression and speed displayed by the commander of his mounted troops,
Lieutenant-Colonel F. Jollie, 28th Cavalry, Indian Army; Jollie was also
returned to India. Wilfrid Malleson, who
had left his brigade commander’s post, ostensibly because of illness when the
Latema-Reata attack ground to a halt, later re-surfaced with a promotion as
commander of the British forces in Bolshevik Russian Transcaspia. Michael Tighe had been appointed to be
Inspector of Infantry in India and Jan Smuts took pains to praise Tighe’s
service in the East African theatre.
Above: Indian Army Mountain Battery gunners in German East Africa.
Whilst the battle of
Latema-Reata Nek was in progress, the Indian Army’s 28th (Lahore) Battery had
been marching with its six mule-packed 10-pounder screw guns in support of the
South African Mounted Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General J.L. van
Deventer. The battery had arrived in
East Africa in November 1914 with Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’. It did not come into action as it advanced
from Lake Chala to Mamba Mission and then down the Himo River, but many gunners
were affected by malaria from the prevalent mosquitos.
Having secured Moshi,
General Smuts discovered that the bulk of the Schutztruppe had not moved west
but had withdrawn down the Usambara Railway.
The 1st and 3rd Divisions were ordered to ‘left wheel’ and advance
through thick bush towards Kahe Station, south of Moshi. The 28th Mountain Battery was in action on 17th
March as it supported South African attacks on the mostly undefended hills of
Unterer Himo, Kifumbu, Soko and Euphorbian.
It also performed effective counter-battery fire against German guns
deployed on Rasthaus Hill. Two days later the 3rd South African Brigade, with
the 28th Mountain Battery in support, ran into the first serious opposition to
the general advance. Abteilung Otto (9th
and 24th Field Companies) was well dug in covering a cleared area two and a
quarter kilometres south of Euphorbian Hill.
The 12th South African Infantry led the advance and was suddenly
punished by heavy enfilade fire. Around
ten South Africans were killed and thirty more, including the commanding
officer and his adjutant, were wounded before a withdrawal was organised under
the effective covering fire of the mountain gunners. Lieutenant Edwin Arthur Eden, East African
Volunteer Artillery attached to the 28th Mountain Battery, received a Military
Cross for gallantry displayed in this action. Lieutenant Eden and several of
his gunners were amongst the wounded.
attack at Store
General Smuts now began
to appreciate the difficulty of advancing formations of men through thick bush.
He decided to concentrate his infantry on an advance directly towards the Ruwu
River whilst he sent van Deventer’s mounted brigade around to the west to deny
the Germans a withdrawal route down the Usambara Railway and Pangani River
valley. Sheppard’s brigade marched through Masai Kraal to a location named
Store, where the brigade entrenched. Reconnaissance was ordered and a patrol
from the 129th Baluchis approached a river. No 32 Lance-Naik Alim Khan (127th Queen
Mary’s Own Baluch Light Infantry, attached to 129th Baluchis) scouted forward
and walked into a five-man enemy picquet. Four of the enemy did not survive the
Lance-Naik’s marksmanship and the fifth man fled. For this action Alim Khan was admitted to the
2nd Class Indian Order of Merit with the general citation: ‘For gallantry and
devotion to duty in the field.’ That
day, 20th March, Sheppard had been appointed commander of the 1st Division in
place of Stewart, but because of the uncertainty in the air about German
intentions he remained with his old brigade headquarters.
Above: Indian Army 29th Punjabi sepoys resting after the Soko-Nassai battle, March 1916
During the evening of
the same day, in an attempt to discover British locations and intentions, von
Lettow ordered an attack on what he assumed was a light enemy screening force
south of Store. The Germans attacked with several Field Companies and pushed
the British screening outposts back until the entrenched 2nd East African
Brigade was met. At that moment, around 22.00 hrs, a relief was being conducted
in the trenches between the Punjabis and the Baluchis, and many extra men were
in the British firing line; also the ground forward of the trenches had been
cleared of bush to a distance of 100 metres. The Germans mounted repeated
attacks, as usual making good use of bugles for battlefield signalling, but the
British position was not penetrated. After five determined attacks had been
stopped by the rifles and machine guns of the Indian sepoys, the Germans
withdrew at around 01.00 hrs on 21st March, taking their wounded and most of
their dead with them. Von Lettow lost three company commanders that night,
Lieutenants von Stosch and Freiherr Grote dying of wounds while Captain Augar
suffered a foot amputation. The 2nd East African Brigade’s casualties numbered
around thirty men and thirty animals.
Deventer’s mounted brigade was taking advantage of the full moonlight to move
from Moshi, halting before daybreak west of the Pangani River opposite Baumann
around Kahe on 21st March
At dawn, the South
African Horse failed to find crossings over the deep and fast-flowing Pangani
and moved north towards the Kahe railway bridge, which a German demolition
party blew before the horsemen arrived. Some intrepid South Africans swam the Pangani
to seize the vital ground of Kahe Hill. The Germans now used two of their
heaviest artillery pieces, the Konigsberg’s
salvaged 4.1-inch naval guns. One of the guns was mounted on a railway wagon
and the other was hauled alternatively by oxen and large African labour gangs.
They fired on Kahe Hill whilst German infantry attacked it, but the South
African defenders held their ground. Van Deventer had left his two radio sets
behind at Moshi and had no direct communications with Smuts. However a British
plane flew over the battlefield, observing and assessing situations on the
ground and dropping reports onto Smuts’ headquarters. Sheppard had no contact
with van Deventer at all.
Above: Indian Army sepoys cross the dropped German railway bridge over the Ruwu River at Kahe,1916
East of the Pangani,
Sheppard’s 1st Division was advancing directly on the Ruwu River bridge which
carried the main dirt road running south from Moshi. The division advanced with the attached 2nd South
African Brigade on the right and the 2nd East African Brigade on the left. The battlefield was confined by the Defa
River on the west and the Soko-Nassai River running in from the north-east to
join the Defa. Both rivers were strongly running and housed aggressive
crocodiles. The German main road running north to south down the battlefield
was both the axis of advance and the boundary between the two brigades. Support was provided by South African
13-pounder field guns, British howitzers and the Indian Army’s 27th (Bengal)
Mountain Battery. Two armoured cars manned by men from the Machine Gun Corps
(Motors) operated on the main road.
Sheppard’s reconnaissance patrols had failed to realize that the main German
defensive position was not on the Ruwu River but on the Soko-Nassai river line
which lay to the northwest of the Ruwu. Considering the dense bush and lack of
good maps, this intelligence error was understandable, but it also came as a complete
surprise to Sheppard. The Germans had a good field of fire and their many
machine guns quickly caused attrition right across the British front. The
German artillery observers were using prepared platforms in trees and they
brought down accurate fire. Sheppard ordered his men to dig in whilst he
attempted to outflank his enemy.
The British artillery
observers could not at first see their fall of shot due to the dense bush, and
so artillery fire was of little use to the infantry until mountain guns were
brought forward into the firing line. The men of the 27th Mountain Battery
fired 292 rounds, mostly over open sights whilst in full view of the enemy. The
guns received continuous bullet strikes on the shields. For distinguished conduct in the Field this
day, Subadar Sher Baz was appointed to the Order of British India. Two
non-commissioned officers received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
No. 702 Havildar Bhan
SOKO RIVER, 21st March 1916. As No. 1 of
his gun in the infantry firing line, displayed great coolness and determination
in the working of his gun under heavy fire, setting an excellent example to his
men. No. 1141 Lance Naik
Sundar Singh: At SOKO RIVER, on 21st March 1916. Went forward as
telephonist with the Battery Commander into the infantry firing line and did
excellent work under heavy and accurate enemy gun and rifle fire, which he
utterly disregarded, and kept the telephones working the whole day.
Sheppard ordered two
companies of the 29th Punjabis to advance south-eastwards across the
Soko-Nassai River. The Punjabi jawans achieved this objective but were then held
up by effective enemy machine gun fire and the density of the bush. Lieutenant Harry George Rodney Bowes-Scott
and nine sepoys were killed and machine gun officer Lieutenant G.S. Darby and
sixty-five sepoys were wounded. No. 4
Company of the 129th Baluchis, under Captain H.J.D. O’Neill, was ordered to
extend the line to the left and locate the German right flank. O’Neill did this but he and several of his
men were wounded when their own machine gun jammed whilst they were charging an
enemy gun. At 17.00 hrs that evening,
the Punjabis and Baluchis east of the Soko-Nassai were withdrawn back across
the river. Captain Henry Terence
Skinner, 29th Punjabis, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
On the right of the
advance the South African Infantry was stopped and could not progress, but
courageous individuals returned fire aggressively. On the main road, the armoured cars attracted
heavy enemy fire and their commander was mortally wounded whilst firing from
his gun turret.
Sadly, while 1st
Division fought and bled before the Soko-Nassai River, the South African Horse
to the west was busy looting Kahe station and village, which included the
Kilimanjaro Hotel. Van Deventer declined to move south and block a German
withdrawal. More than a few South African senior officers appeared to dislike
risking their men’s lives in direct confrontations, but preferred manoeuvring in
order to force enemy withdrawals. This played into the hands of the astute and
professional von Lettow, who did not wish to stand and fight for long. The
Germans had very limited military manpower and other resources, but they did
have the whole of German East Africa to withdraw into.
That evening, faced with
the prospect of a move by van Deventer around his left flank, and having
received a report suggesting that Kissangire to his rear was being threatened,
von Lettow ordered his abteilung
commanders to silently break contact and withdraw down the Usambara Railway. This
they did with professional military efficiency whilst the 1st Division licked
its wounds and the South African Horse slumbered. British dawn patrols found the Germans gone
and an abandoned and destroyed Konigsberg
4.1-inch gun. It had been too heavy to
drag away speedily.
rains set in
fighting on the 20th and 21st March, the British lost forty dead and 220 men
wounded; thirteen sepoys had been killed, seventy-seven wounded, and three were
missing. The German casualty figures between the 18th and 21st March probably
totalled 200 men killed, wounded or missing.
As very heavy rains set in, Smuts halted his advance on the Ruwu River
and sent most of his troops back to higher ground near Moshi and Taveta.
Further south, the Germans were back-loading stores down to the Central Railway
that ran from Dar Es Salaam to Lake Tanganyika, and were digging extensive
at Kahe was the best chance that the British had to destroy the Schutztruppe in
1916, and the chance was squandered.
From now on debilitation through disease, climatic conditions and
malnutrition caused by inadequate logistic support would shrink the British
forces. During April, Brigadier-General Sheppard talked about the Soko-Nassai
action with the commanding officer of the 2nd Bn The Loyal North Lancashire
Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel C.E.A. Jourdain, D.S.O. Jourdain’s unit, which had arrived as part of
the 27th Bangalore Brigade in Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’, was the only
regular British Army battalion in the theatre. Sheppard said that he now saw
the need for infantry companies to have their own sections of machine guns
always with them during fighting in thick bush, and that field guns were more
useful when brought forward into the firing line than they were when firing
without effective observation from the rear. He also saw a use for controlled
rifle volley-firing when engaging a fleetingly-glimpsed enemy in thick bush.
Sheppard also commented that ‘General van
Deventer lost a chance of defeating the Germans badly when near Kahe.’ However, in his report, General Smuts dealt
mildly with his old Boer War comrade’s failure, and promoted him to command a
new 2nd Division.
van Deventer and his mounted troops were despatched westwards on an epic trek
through the mud to seize Kondoa Irangi.
Indian Army units supporting this move were the 28th Mountain Battery
and the Indian Volunteer Maxim Gun Company. A section of the
mountain gunners often marched and fought alongside the machine gunners. Jacob Louis van Deventer was to end the war as
the commander of the East African theatre.
of the 1st Division
In late May the rains
eased sufficiently for General Smuts to continue his pursuit of the
Schutztruppe down the west flank of the Pare Mountains. A major reorganisation
had taken place and 1st Division was now commanded by Major-General A.R.
Hoskins, a former Inspector-General of the King’s African Rifles. The division now contained columns instead of
brigades. Sheppard commanded the River
Column, destined to follow the Pangani River, which included the 130th Baluchis, 2nd Kashmir Rifles (Imperial Service Troops), the
27th Mountain Battery less one section and the 17th Cavalry squadron.
Hannyngton, D.S.O., commanded the Centre Column which was to follow the track
of the Usambara Railway. The Indian units under Hannyngton’s command were the
40th Pathans recently arrived from France, the 129th Baluchis, and a half-battalion
of the 3rd Kashmir Rifles (Imperial Service Troops). A third column,
appropriately named Eastern Column, marched south from Mbuyuni towards the
Ngulu Gap in the Pare Mountains, and this column contained a section of 27th
Mountain Battery that supported the 3rd King’s African Rifles. The 29th
Punjabis and the Calcutta Volunteer Battery were positioned as part of the
The Kashmir Rifles, when
attached to 1st East African Brigade, had been in action on 23rd March against
a German blockhouse on the Ruwu River south of Taveta; the Calcutta Battery
fired in support. After some further adventures, the Germans withdrew.
The fight at
Centre Column advanced
without serious opposition to Same, where it turned east to join up with
Eastern Column and then advanced down the east side of the Pare Mountains as
one unified column under Hannyngton.
River Column slogged its way down the banks of the Pangani River, often
having to hand-cut tracks for the mounts and supply wagons, until near
Mikocheni the river swung east towards the mountains. Here was an uncompleted wooden bridge at a
location quickly named German Bridge. Four enemy field companies were in the
area and a defensive position had been sited.
Heavy German artillery support came from a Konigsberg gun mounted on a railway truck.
On 30th May, Sheppard
sent the 2nd Rhodesian Regiment in a frontal attack on the enemy position
whilst 130th Baluchis and 27th Mountain Battery ascended partway up the
mountainsides on the left flank to support the Rhodesians. The Germans fought but did not stay long, as
Hannyngton’s enhanced Centre Column was advancing on the other side of the
mountains to cut them off. German Bridge
was captured with a total British loss of eleven Rhodesian casualties.
The action at
On 1st June, River and Centre Columns met at
Bwiko but had to halt for four days as the British advance had out-run its
replenishment capability. Behind the
leading battalions, railway track destroyed by the enemy was being repaired by
the Indian Army’s 25th and 26th Railway Companies (Sappers & Miners), and
bridges and roads were constructed or repaired by the 61st King George’s Own
Pioneers and the Faridkot Sappers & Miners (Imperial Service Troops). Casualties,
and sick men whose numbers increased dramatically each week due to disease and
debilitation, were carried by the carts and trucks of the Indian Field
Ambulances as far as the railheads prior to evacuation.
From Bwiko, Hannyngton’s
column advanced down the railway whilst Sheppard’s again hacked its way down
the Pangani River. From Mombo, southeast of Bwiko, a hand-powered trolley line
ran southwest to Handeni, and the Germans were moving equipment and supplies
down this line and onwards by porter towards the Central Railway. Aerial
reconnaissance flown by 26th Squadron Royal Flying Corps reported an enemy
defensive position at Mkalamo, where the trolley line crossed the Pangani.
Improvised bombs were dropped onto this position.
Mkalamo was approached
on 9th June. Lieutenant-Colonel P.H. Dyke commanded the advanced troops and his
regiment, 130th Baluchis, was in the lead with the 29th Punjabis in support,
the latter unit having been brought forward from Divisional Reserve. A company
of the 61st Pioneers and a section of 27th Mountain Battery were also up with
Dyke. The main body of the column was about four kilometres to the rear. The
British were on the west bank of the river which at this point was
fast-flowing, thirty metres wide and teeming with crocodiles that lay in wait
for men, horses, mules and oxen. Abteilung Doring (Nos. 1, 3 and 16 Field
Companies with a platoon of No. 5 Field Company) was entrenched in thick bush
just west of the trolley line bridge.
Dyke had been advancing
along the river bank but, at around 11.30 hrs, German gunners on hills to the
east spotted him and engaged the column. To avoid this fire Dyke veered his
advance away from the river into thicker bush. Here at around 13.00 hrs the two
leading companies of Baluchis under the second in command, Major H.D. Moore,
stumbled onto No. 3 Field Company’s trenches and were engaged at close range. Moore
tried to find an enemy flank but lost men quickly, including 2nd Lieutenants
Roderick Spicer Russell Porter and Lawrence Benjamin Myers mortally wounded and
machine gun officer Lieutenant Cousins severely wounded. But the Baluchis held
their ground and beat back counter-attacks by Nos. 1 and 16 Field Companies.
Dyke tried to find an
open enemy flank by sending forward four companies of 29th Punjabis on the
right of the Baluchis and three companies on the left, one Punjabi company
being retained as rearguard. To counter this, Doring extended his flanks. The Indian
mountain guns came into action but the bush was so thick that targets could not
be identified. The Baluchis were fighting fierce close-quarter actions and the
Punjabis were trying to find the Baluchis’ flanks and the enemy rear, but thick
bush continued to impede both observation and movement as well as machine gun
and rifle bullets, which were deflected or absorbed.
The column’s main body
now came up and Sheppard took command of the battle. However he did not take
control, as his men were either fighting individual battles or trying to orientate
themselves in the bush. No. 2 Company Kashmir Rifles was sent to reinforce the
Punjabi left flank and it repulsed an enemy attack mounted by No. 3 Field
Company, but not before German Askari had overrun the column medical aid post. As
dusk fell the Germans pulled back and the British column dug itself in.
Doring had fought a
useful action and during the night his abteilung
made a clean break down the trolley line towards Handeni. The Baluchis had lost
eleven men killed and twenty wounded, the other units involved lost a total of
six killed and fourteen wounded. The low
number of casualties was attributed to the enemy Askari firing high, as they
usually did in thick bush. The Germans
were thought to have lost thirty or more men killed, wounded and missing. For gallantry displayed both at Ruwu River
and Mkalamo, Captain John Valentine MacDonald, M.D., Indian Medical Service,
attached to 29th Punjabis, was awarded a Military Cross.
The long road
On 18th June, after skirmishing down the
trolley line, Sheppard’s column entered Handeni unopposed, but his units and those
in Hannyngton’s column were losing many men daily to malaria and other
diseases. General Smuts kept pushing his
troops forward in the hope of achieving his knockout blow, but his opponent had
the upper hand tactically and the Germans maintained this initiative until
after the war in Europe had ended thirty months later.
Today the Kahe
battlefield can be easily visited and all the major geographical points can be
located. The rivers are now only trickles and not torrents, but crocodiles
remain a hazard. The British buried or cremated their dead where they fell, but
the Europeans were reinterred in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Moshi
Cemetery. An adjacent German memorial, stark but atmospheric, commemorates
European and African Askari dead of the Schutztruppe, whilst a stone memorial
commemorates the dead Hindu, Sikh and Moslem soldiers of the Indian Army. Sadly
today metal parts in the cemetery, even from the Cross of Sacrifice, find their
way into the yards of local Asian scrap metal merchants.
Charles Hordern (compiler), Military
Operations East Africa Aug 1914 to Sep 1916 (HMSO, London 1941); Gen. Paul
von Lettow-Vorbeck, My Reminiscences of
East Africa (Hurst & Blackett, London c. 1920); W.S. Thatcher,
4/10th Baluch Regiment in the Great War (University Press, Cambridge 1932);
Brig.-Gen. C.A.L. Graham, DSO, OBE, DL,
The History of the Indian Mountain Artillery (Gale & Polden, Aldershot
1857); Maj.-Gen. Rafiuddin Ahmed, History
of the Baloch Regiment 1820-1939 (Baloch Regimental Centre, Abbottabad
1998); Andrew Kerr, I Can Never Say
Enough About the Men – A History of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles throughout
their World War One East African Campaign (PMC Management Consultants Ltd,
2010); Richard Head & Tony McClenaghan,
The Armies of the Indian Princely States, Volume 4, Sappers and Miners – Part 1
(Military Press, Milton Keynes 1999); Major-General D.K. Palit, VrC, Jammu and Kashmir Arms (Palit &
Dutt, Dehra Dun 1972); R.M. Maxwell,
Jimmie Stewart – Frontiersman (Pentland Press, Edinburgh & Falkirk
1992); Edward Paice, Tip & Run. The
Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa (Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
London 2007); Major F.C.C. Yeats-Brown, The Star
and Crescent, Being the Story of the 17th Cavalry from 1858 to 1922(Pioneer Press,
Allahabad 1927);The Archdale Papers in the Liddle Collection (Leeds
University); East Africa General Routine
Orders (National Archives, Kew); War Diaries: 29th Punjabis, 130th Baluchis, 2nd Bn The Loyal North
Lancashire Regiment (National Archives, Kew); Medal Index Cards (National
Archives, Kew); London Gazette.
(An edited version of this article appeared in a
recent edition of Durbar, the journal
of the Indian Military Historical Society: