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German East Africa, October 1916 to January 1917


The 129th Baluchis during 1914 and 1915


In 1914 the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis was a Class Company Regiment comprised of 4 companies of North-West Frontier Pathans, 2 companies of Hill Baluchis and 2 companies of Punjabi Mussalmans.  On 8th August 1914 the regiment mobilised as part of the Ferozepore Brigade of the 3rd (Lahore) Division and 16 days later embarked for France; Double Companies were formed for operational deployment.  War Establishment was achieved by the posting-in of a Double Company of the 127th (Queen Mary’s Own) Baluch Light Infantry.

The 129th Baluchis fought well and hard in Flanders, and on departure from Europe after 12 months’ service in the trenches only 4 British and 5 Indian officers plus around 20 sepoys remained from the original contingent.  The regiment embarked for East Africa, arriving at Mombasa, British East Africa (now Kenya) on 5th January 1916.  With a strength of 13 British and 14 Indian officers and 740 sepoys the regiment joined the 2nd East African Brigade.

After a month of acclimatisation and theatre training the 129th Baluchis took part in the British 1st Division’s advance from the north into German East Africa (now Tanzania).   Sharp fighting was soon experienced on the night of 20th March 1916 when the German commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, ordered some of his Field Companies to attack the entrenched perimeter camp manned by the 2nd East African Brigade.  The attack was successfully repulsed, the Baluchis recovering 3 enemy bugles from in front of the trenches; the bugle was an integral part of German battlefield communications.

Heavy seasonal rains now halted operations and the Baluchis started suffering losses from the biggest enemy in the theatre – the debilitating climate.  Dysentry, malaria and other fevers laid men low, jigger-fleas burrowed under toe nails, and crocodiles, snakes and predators were encountered along river banks.  When the rains ceased the sun overhead was harsh and relentless. 

The British theatre commander, the South African General Jan Smuts, was a former guerrilla leader turned politician and not a professional soldier.  He totally failed to organise an effective logistical support system for his troops who were dependent on rations and supplies carried on the heads of thousands of under-nourished, under-clothed and poorly administered local African porters.  The result was that the British Indian, African and European soldiers regularly existed on half-rations, and often they received less than that.  Although special ethnic rations for Indian troops were sent from India the British East African supply system was incapable of efficiently distributing them; the sepoys had to exist on whatever rations appeared and often the time allowed for food preparation and cooking was curtailed due to General Smuts’ insistence on pressing on to defeat the enemy.  Sadly this defeat never happened as the Schutztruppe, as the local German army was named, became adept at withdrawing before British encircling moves arrived.

The 129th Baluchis took part in the advance of its Brigade down the Pangani River and then southwards towards the German Central Railway.  This railway line linked Dar Es Salaam on the Indian Ocean with Lake Tanganyika in the interior.  The regiment halted at Handeni, north of the railway, from where it was despatched to Tanga on the coast.  Here the Baluchis embarked for Bagamoyo, just north of Dar Es Salaam.  On 31st August 1916 the march on Dar Es Salaam began, and after minor skirmishing en route the Baluchis led the way into the captured town on 5th September.


The enemy coastal towns in the south of German East Africa were now occupied but movement away from the coast was not made except at Kilwa.  Here preparations were in hand to move a British force inland to block the withdrawal of the Schutztruppe units that were fighting along the Rufiji River.  In late September the 129th Baluchis was landed at Kilwa.


The deployment to Kibata


Lieutenant Colonel H. Hulseberg DSO, (127th Baluchis attached to 129th Baluchis), commanding officer of 129th Baluchis, was ordered to lead a column consisting of his regiment and the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1/2 KAR) to Kibata.  Kibata was located in the centre of a ring of hills lying three days march north-west of Kilwa.  The Germans had built a substantial stone fort there, and General Smuts planned to seize the fort and surrounding area to prevent Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck and his Schutztruppe from withdrawing southwards.  However von Lettow was aware of how difficult the terrain was around Kibata and he initially welcomed his enemy’s interest in the area, as he knew that the ground would suck-in more and more British troops to defend ridgelines and crests.

On 11th October, the second day of the advance, 1/2 KAR was leading the column just beyond the Matandu ford when contact was made with an entrenched enemy position at Kimbarambara.  The KAR attacked, with support provided by 129th Baluchis, and the Germans retreated, leaving behind a dead Askari plus two other Askari and two Europeans who were captured.  1/2 KAR was a newly-formed battalion and this was its first action; one Askari was killed and another was wounded.

On the following day the Baluchis took the lead and fought a similar action at Nyambondo where the advance guard of veteran sepoys under Lieutenant V.G. Robert encountered a well-sited ambush.  Robert’s bush sense had caused him to order the sepoys out into attack formation just before the enemy opened fire.  Subedar Mir Kambir Khan (127th Baluchis attached to 129th Baluchis)

(he had previously been recommended for the Order of British India for: “has rendered valuable assistance during marches and trying and difficult circumstances.  He was present at the occupation of Dar Es Salaam and other seaport towns”.)

pushed his men forward into thick grass where the enemy charged them.  Mir Kambir Khan ordered his men into the kneeling fire position and he himself killed one enemy European and wounded another.  The sepoys’ effective use of their rifles stopped the enemy attack and the Germans withdrew, leaving behind their brave but dead commander, Ober-Leutnant Steffans.  One Baluchi, 872 Sepoy Khaim Khan, had been killed.  On 14th October Kibata was reached and the empty fort seized.  The local German commander, Major Julius von Boemcken, had decided to secure the important German supply depot at Liwale to the south-west rather than defend Kibata fort.  This fort had been initially designed as a base from which rebellious tribesmen armed with spears and bows could be subdued, and the British were to find that the building could not be defended against modern artillery because a ring of higher ground surrounded the location.  


The first German move against Kibata

After this successful seizure of Kibata Fort 1/2 KAR was left to garrison it whilst the Baluchis were withdrawn southwards to the Mitole area where they patrolled widely.  A feature of this terrain was the large coconut plantations that often provided liquid for thirsty sepoys.  In late October 1/2 KAR was ordered to leave two platoons and a machine gun at Kibata whilst the remainder of the battalion marched ten kilometres to Kitambi.  This order was carried out on 28th October, but then the Germans saw an opportunity to inflict a defeat on the small British garrison, and sent 400 troops under Captain Hans Schulz to seize Kibata.       

When news of the enemy move arrived at the British headquarters at Kilwa, a detachment of 100 sepoys of the 129th Baluchis relieved the main body of 1/2 KAR which was at Kitambi, allowing the KAR Askari to march quickly back across the hills to Kibata.  After some heavy machine gun exchanges Schulz’s troops were forced back from the area of the fort on 8th November, and 1/2 KAR dug itself in.  The next morning British patrols discovered that the enemy had withdrawn; von Lettow realised that more companies had to be withdrawn from their Rufiji River positions to the north before a successful attack on Kibata could be mounted.  Communications with Kilwa were established via signals posts on Red Hill to the south-east and on Ssongo Ssongo island off the coast.  Lieutenant Colonel Hulseburg returned with his 129th Baluchis on 17th November and he took over command of Kibata from the commanding officer of 1/2 KAR, Major G.J. Giffard.  Temporary Major H.V. Lewis MC assumed command of 129th Baluchis.

The German attacks start at Kibata

Lieutenant Colonel Hulseburg saw that Picquet Hill to the north-west of the fort was the vital ground, and the bush was stripped off the hill and two strong redoubts were constructed near the summit.  The Baluchis garrisoned Kibata whilst 1/2 KAR patrolled and skirmished in the outlying region.  Soon information was brought in that indicated an imminent German attack.   Unconfirmed rumours amongst the local villagers suggested that heavy artillery was being dragged up the hills by German labour gangs; a German 4-inch gun required a gang of 600 Africans to move the gun and its ammunition.


Left: Picquet Hill from Big Hut Hill

 
On 6th December enemy troops advanced on Kibata, driving in the KAR outposts on Ambush Hill and at Coconut Village.  The Baluchis were manning the Picquet Hill redoubts and holding 100 sepoys as a reserve, along with a KAR company.  On the next day at 0630 hours the KAR positions at Palm Village and Single Palm Village were attacked from the east, but these turned out to be diversions to occupy the defence whilst the main attack was mounted against Picquet Hill.  Plain Hill and Big Hut Hill were being held by detachments of Baluchis, and on the former Jemadar Fateh Haider IOM was directing the fire of a machine gun.  A shell hit the gun, killing Fateh Haider and wounding two sepoys. 

The German guns then came into action against the two redoubts, obviously hoping to blast the Baluchi defenders off Picquet Hill.  A 4.1-inch gun recovered from the sunken cruiser Konigsberg, a 4.1-inch howitzer and a lighter field gun targeted the redoubts all morning.  The German artillery commander was naval Lieutenant Hans Apel from the Konigsberg’s crew.   Enemy machine guns raked the British positions.  More than 100 shells hit in or around No 2 Redoubt which was less than 40 metres by 20 metres in area, causing heavy loss to the Baluchis.  Men were costantly being dug out of collapsed trenches – Major Lewis was buried once, Lieutenant C.W. Palin three times, and Lieutenant M.I.L. Smith was shot in the head.  Five sepoys were killed.  Major Lewis later wrote to his mother:  “An hour before dark, this developed into an intense bombardment, and except for the size of the shells, I never experienced such a hot one, even in France . . . We lost heavily in the redoubt . . . however our men stuck it like heroes, though there was little left of the trenches”.

During the afternoon the guns engaged targets elsewhere, but at 1730 hours they resumed bombarding Picquet Hill.  Thirty minutes later enemy field companies attacked No 2 Redoubt but were repulsed by the sepoy defenders, the German Askari just failing to commit themselves totally to the attack.  However one enemy company dug itself in on the western slope of Picquet Hill.  This enemy position was named the Lodgement, and from there German machine gunners were able to put a water supply point below them out of reach of the British troops.

Lieutenant C.W. Palin was awarded a Military Cross with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in defending a redoubt. Although three times buried by falling parapets, he kept his men together under the most intense fire and maintained hold of his position. 

44 Lance Naik Fateh Khan was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal for gallantry on a night patrol on 7th December, with the citation:  When in command going close up to the enemy trenches and bringing back useful information in spite of the close-range fire he was subjected to
Above: The Mwengei road where the German heavy guns were

A 1/2 KAR detachment under the command of Captain Alan Caldicott (10th Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and 1/2 KAR) was sent up onto Picquet Hill to strengthen the defence during the attack.  The Askari assisted materially with the defence but Captain Caldicott was shot dead.  At last light the surviving Baluch defenders evacuated their wounded and withdrew to recover whilst the KAR took over the defence of Picquet Hill.  “C” Company 1/2 KAR had planned to make a night attack against the Lodgement but this was called off when it was seen that the young Askari had been badly shaken by the intensity of the German artillery fire.

Next morning, 8th December, after intermittent shelling during the night the Germans attacked No 2 Redoubt from the Lodgement.  Heavy rain fell onto the battlefield whilst effective enemy artillery and machine gun fire was delivered from Ambush Hill.  The young KAR Askari wavered before responding to their fire orders and defending their postions.  However some of the enemy got up to the redoubt’s outer obstacles, and at the KAR’s request 60 Baluchis under Captain C.S. Browning reinforced Picquet Hill, but before the sepoys arrived the Germans had been beaten back.  Simultaneously the Germans attacked Plain Hill and Big Hut hill, attempting to prevent those locations from supporting the Picquet Hill defences.  Meanwhile the enemy artillery pounded the fort, knocking chunks out of the walls.

The British defenders at Kibata now dug themselves in deeply, and a Western Front style of trench-warfare commenced.  Meanwhile reinforcements were arriving.


Indian mountain artillery arrives

After a 58-kilometer forced march, completed in 34 hours of pouring rain and routed over a series of razor-backed ridges, reinforcements reached Kibata.  The 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of the KAR (2/2 KAR) arrived at 0200 hours on the 9th December accompanied by a section of two guns of the 27th (Bengal) Mountain Battery.  The 10-pounder guns, named “screw guns” because the barrel could be unscrewed into two pieces for ease of transport, and their ammunition came in on the backs of mules.  The Indian gunners came into action on Village Hill and 2/2 KAR reinforced Picquet Hill with 60 Askari and a machine gun.  The remainder of 2/2 KAR camped in between Mango Hill and the fort in what was named Happy Valley.  However this was not an idyllic campsite as German artillery observers soon called down fire and the battalion made a hasty move to Fort Hill.

Lieutenant Colonel Filsell of 2/2 KAR took over command at Kibata and he ordered an attack on the Lodgement timed for 2200 hours on 9th December.  Meanwhile the Indian mountain gunners fired shrapnel over the Lodgement.  The attack was led by Captain C.S. Browning of the Baluchis who assaulted with his company of sepoys and two platoons of 1/2 KAR.  The attackers ran through heavy enemy fire to the Lodgement defences where, although some sepoys entered the enemy trenches, Captain Browning was shot dead at point-blank range whilst on the enemy parapet.  The German defenders were then reinforced from a feature to the west named the Hump, and they mounted a violent counter-attack, forcing the British troops to withdraw to No 2 Redoubt.

These two men later received an Indian Order of Merit 2nd Class with the citations:

Subadar Sarbiland (127th Baluch Light Infantry attached to 129th Baluchis): For gallantry during the first night attack by us on the Lodgement.  After the death of the British officer (Captain Browning), he maintained the attack for twenty minutes under the enemy’s entanglement until casualties and want of ammunition compelled him to retire. (Unit citation.)

Above: The hill where Kibata Fort once stood from the south

659 Sepoy Munsib Dar: For conspicuous gallantry in action on the 7th December 1916.  He was continuously with his guns which were situated in the open under heavy shell and machine gun fire.  He kept down the fire of two hostile guns and stopped their being employed against a redoubt.  He has since died of his wounds. (Gazetted citation.)

The German artillery continuously engaged all the British positions around Kibata on the 10th December, and on the following day a small field gun was covertly brought up to within 550 metres of No 1 Redoubt.  When this gun opened fire it scored a direct hit on the position, killing a KAR officer and his machine gun team, and wounding several other Askari.   

On 12th December German machine guns fired heavily on British positions east of the fort and onto the hospital.  The Senior Medical Officer, Captain A.N. Dickson, Indian Medical Service and Medical Officer for 129th Baluchis, had to run into the open waving a Red Cross flag.  Captain Dickson later received a Military Cross with the unit citation:

During the whole of this period this Medical Officer showed great devotion to duty.  Though unwell himself, he frequently had to operate during intense fire, on one occasion the hospital coming under enemy’s machine-gun fire.  When Major Money, 129th Baluchis, was hit on PICQUET HILL, he at once moved out under rifle and machine-gun fire to the picquet to give what help he could.  I have previously sent this Officer’s name in for an honour.  During most of the time he was Senior Medical Officer of the Post.

During the following day a 4.1-inch howitzer was used against No 1 Redoubt, but the damage caused was not serious.  The mountain gunners replied when they could but the heavier German guns were well out of range of the 10-pounders.

The regular enemy artillery bombardments caused attrition and up to 12th December 129th Baluchis had lost 1 British officer, 1 Indian officer and 10 sepoys killed; 42 sepoys wounded and 7 sepoys missing.  The Section 27th (Bengal) Mountain Battery had lost 5 gunners wounded and 10 mules killed.  ‘A” Section 139 Indian Field Ambulance had lost 1 sepoy and 2 porters wounded. 

On 13th December the Baluch lost two experienced officers on Picquet Hill when Major C.A.G. Money (130th Baluchis attached to 129th Baluchis) was killed by machine gun fire and 4189 Colour Havildar Mohamed Sadin was hit and died of wounds.  Mohamed Sadin received promotion to Jemadar on his death-bed in recognition of the services he had rendered to the regiment.              
                                                       
Very rudimentary medical support was provided by unit Medical Officers and “A” Section 139th Indian Field Ambulance.  There was a complete lack of equipment, and bandages were so scarce that sometimes they were only changed weekly.  Operations including amputations were carried out using a door as a table.  Evacuation was extremely difficult and painful, and the opinion at Kibata was that it was better to be killed than to take a bad wound.  Hunger was a factor affecting the morale and stability of the wounded, as supply convoys of porters and mules were arriving with ammunition as the priority loads, and so all ranks were on short rations during the fighting.


Trench warfare and further reinforcements


By now the Askari and sepoys in and around Kibata were well dug-in.    The recent recruits became used to the shelling and they quickly adapted to trench warfare.  The distance between British and German trenches varied from 70 metres to 370 metres.  Trench periscopes were used and saps dug to cover movements towards the Lodgement.  Snipers on both sides had telescopic sights, the Germans having the advantage because they occupied much of the higher ground.  Heavy rain fell necessitating constant trench repairs and revetting, the rain and the mud making working conditions difficult.

After dark on 13 December Brigadier General H. de C. O’Grady (52nd Sikhs) arrived with his headquarters staff to take command at Kibata.  The Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company also arrived under the command of Major R.E. Berkeley, (Loyal North Lancashires).  His eight .303-inch Maxim guns were deployed tactically in four sections each containing two guns; the company was also equipped with trench mortars.  Major A.J.T. Farfan, Royal Garrison Artillery, marched in with another section of his 27th (Bengal) Mountain Battery.  The defensive firepower at Kibata had been greatly increased.  1/2 KAR took over all positions on Picquet Hill on 14th December.

However German attention was now concentrated towards the south-west of Kibata where another British advance was forming up.  The Gold Coast Regiment  supported by the 40th Pathans mounted a determined attack on the German positions along the ridgeline west of Kibata.  The Gold Coasters and Pathans took ground and then held it in fierce fighting that left a third of the British troops killed or wounded.  Nearly 50% of the officers in these two units became casualties.  


Capturing the Lodgement


Although the German infantry and some guns were heavily involved in fighting the Gold Coasters, artillery fire still hit the KAR and Baluchi positions at Kibata on 15th December.  The Indian mountain gunners responded by bombarding the Lodgement whilst the Baluchis prepared a night attack, using Mills hand grenades for the first time in East Africa.  At 2300 hours Major Lewis led his Baluchi assault team towards the Lodgement.  The sky was dark but moonlight was expected to appear 15 minutes later.

Ten young barefoot Mahsud pioneer bombers carefully and quietly took the lead and threw their grenades into the Lodgement.  Under this cover the other Baluchi troops tore out of the ground the sharpened bamboo stakes that protected the enemy trenches.  Heavy British machine gun fire supported the attack and the mountain gunners put shrapnel above the Hump.  With lanes made through the defences the bayonet attack then surged in.  Enemy artillery responded by battering No 2 Redoubt and severely shaking the 1/2 KAR Askari defending it, but that was not going to stop the Baluchis who bayoneted the enemy soldiers that they found in the Lodgement trenches.  The Germans fell back, leaving 11 men dead and 4 captured; the Baluchi casualties were 13 wounded, including 1 British and two Indian officers.  The Lodgement was occupied by “A” Company 1/2 KAR and a section of Loyal North Lancashire machine guns. 

Major H.V. Lewis MC later received the Distinguished Service Order with a unit citation:   Arranged and commanded the bombing party on the night of 15/16 December 1916, against the enemy, who had secured a lodgement on an important tactical point on our picquet position.  The seizure of the latter would have endangered our security in rear.  The action was successful, the position taken.  It was greatly due to this officer that the achievement was a success.  He already possesses MC and one bar.


Left: The visible remains of Kibata Fort


Lieutenant W.S. Thatcher received a Military Cross with the citation: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led a bombing party with great gallantry, driving the enemy out of his position and securing an important tactical position. He was wounded.

Jemadar Ayub Khan IOM (124th Baluchis attached to 129th Baluchis) was awarded an Indian Order of Merit 1st Class with the unit citation:  Acted with great gallantry in a bomb attack against an enemy position on night of 15/16 December 1916.  Wounded.

The following five men received the Indian Order of Merit 2nd Class (unit citations are shown):

Subadar Muhammad Afzul (124th Baluchis attached 129th Baluchis): Led his men with gallantry and greatly assisted 2nd Lieutenant W.S. Thatcher in a bomb attack.  Slightly wounded.

3151 Havildar Mirza Khan; 436 Sepoy Mirjan; 4656 Sepoy Abdullah Khan; 4469 Lance Naik Ghuljam Khan (the latter two being sepoys of 124th Baluchis attached 129th Baluchis) had similar citations: Formed one of the party in a bomb attack on an enemy position on night 15/16 December 1916. The attack was a success.

453 Naik Sahib Jan IOM received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal for the gallantry that he displayed during the successful attack.

Lieutenant Colonel H. Hulseberg received a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order.  


Stalemate at Kibata


Now both sides maintained their positions in and around Kibata, but neither side was strong enough to successfully assault the other’s main defences.  The British kept the Union flag flying on Kibata fort and the German gunners tried to knock it down, succeeding on one occasion.  Brigadier O’Grady and his Brigade Major, Major J.G. Cadell (45th Sikhs), climbed back up the walls under enemy fire and restored the flag.  Later the Brigadier became a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) and the Brigade Major received a Distinguished Service Order.  (The flag belonged to 1/2KAR and that unit later presented it to 129th Baluchis “as a small token of esteem that we feel for your magnificent regiment . . . it was the bravery and devotion of your regiment which saved the situation and kept the flag flying” who displayed it in India in the regimental officers mess.)

Christmas Day saw a British BE2C aeroplane of 26 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, fly from its base at Kilwa to drop a large parcel of 6,000 cigarettes outside Kibata fort.  The plane was piloted by Lieutenant The Honourable Bernard H.E. Howard, and his observer who dropped the parcel was the future author Lieutenant Leo Walmsley.  After first assuming that the BE2C was bombing them by mistake the Kibata defenders were extremely cheered, as they had been out of cigarettes for a fortnight.

The 129th Baluchis had by now lost many officers and men to sickness and most of the regiment marched out of Kibata on Boxing Day 1916 to locations around Chumo, from where patrolling became the main activity.  Another KAR battalion, the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Regiment (1/3 KAR), had marched in on 18th December and the three KAR battalions took over all infantry responsibilities at Kibata.

On 1st January 1917 the two 5-inch howitzers of the 14th Howitzer Battery arrived at Kibata.  A massive labour effort had been put in to making a passable road over which the howitzers could be moved.  A Royal Navy 12-pounder gun had been supporting the Kibata defences from Kitambi, but that gun created so much smoke when it fired that immediate German counter-battery fire was returned.  The 12-pounder was moved back to the coast and the gun crew became a Royal Navy Lewis light machine gun detachment supporting infantry operations.


The German withdrawal from Kibata

At the beginning of January 1917 Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck withdrew six of his nine companies from the Kibata area and moved them towards the Rufiji River.  British intelligence scouts observed this and reported that the enemy was thinning-out around Kibata.  On the 6th January Brigadier O’Grady’s Headquarters ordered a general advance and 129th Baluchis marched back to Kibata to participate.  Supported by the howitzers, mountain guns and Loyal North Lancashire machine guns the KAR units took Platform and Observation Hills and Palm Tree Village, followed by Ambush Hill, Cocunut Village and Kommando Berg Hill.  The Baluchis stayed in reserve for these attacks, which succeeded without heavy fighting.   The German priority now was to withdraw north to meet General Smuts’ main body of British troops that was fighting for crossings over the Rufiji.   

Following up the German withdrawal

As the Germans withdrew to Mwengei 129th Baluchis followed them up supported by two KAR companies and a section of the mountain battery.  At Mwengei, from where the German heavy guns had been firing, a serious fight developed.  The road was hilly and thickly bushed on either side, necessitating good picqueting drills which slowed the advance.  As the Baluchis approached the location where the German 4.1-inch naval gun was being hauled away by African labour gangs, the withdrawing enemy formation, Abteilung Schulz, entrenched itself and fought. 

At dawn on 12th January a patrol of 20 men under a havildar advanced into a machine gun ambush sprung by the enemy’s 18 Field Company, and three guns opened fired at 150 metres range.  Ten sepoys were killed and seven were wounded, the four survivors escaping into the bush.  One of these survivors ran back to report the incident to Captain G.A. Phillips VD who was operating in the area with a larger patrol.  Evacuation of the wounded lying in the road was requested but could not be performed in daylight; after dark the new Regimental Medical Officer, Captain A.H. Brown, Indian Medical Service, courageously went out with stretcher bearers to bring the wounded in. 

Captain Phillips sent a 12-man patrol up a steep and narrow ridge named Mbindia Hill that dominated the road, but this patrol was also machine gunned, losing two killed and four wounded.  The German 18 and 30 Field Companies were well established in two lines of trenches, with four machine guns covering the British approaches.  Progress could not be made that day, so Lieutenant Roberts with 50 rifles and a Loyal North Lancashire section of two machine guns were sent up to join Captain Phillips.  The mountain gunners fired on the ridge and the German 4.1-inch gun retaliated by killing and wounding several of the African porters in the Baluchi transport column.  A British aircraft was sent up to bomb the enemy, but as the draft Official History states:” The aeroplane did not appear for several hours and then could effect nothing, having expended its bombs in error on some other hills far to the northward”.

The following morning, 13th January 1917, Brigadier O’Grady arrived with an additional gun of the 27th Mountain Battery.  Captain Phillips was ordered to assault the enemy position on the ridge.  He planned a two-phase afternoon attack and deployed 30 rifles with two machine guns onto a ridge east of the enemy’s position, from where they could and did fire onto the German left flank and rear.  Two other machine guns were positioned to be able to fire onto the first objective and then to be quickly switched onto the second objective whilst the first was being assaulted.  At 1400 hours drenching rain fell chilling the sepoys.  At 1430 hours the mountain guns fired onto the second objective, and at 1500 hours two mortars of the Loyal North Lancashires fired onto both objectives.

At 1505 hours No 1 Company under Lieutenant Thatcher and Jemadar Sikandar Khan attacked the first objective.  The ridge was so narrow that file formation had to be used, slowing down movement.  Two enemy machine guns came into action but the effective British covering fire interrupted the aim of the German gunners.  After being pinned down 25 metres from the first trench line, Lieutenant Thatcher successfully assaulted it but was shot down with a serious wound.  Jemadar Sikandar Khan pushed on with No 1 Company but ran into ‘friendly’ mortar fire as the range of the mortar bombs had been reached.   Luckily for the sepoys at that moment a bomb exploded on the mortar line, stunning a Loyal North Lancashire mortar man, and the mortar fire was curtailed. 

Major Lewis saw Lieutenant Thatcher fall and he immediately sent up Lieutenant Roberts to take over command.  Reserves, mortars and a machine gun were moved forward to support the second phase but by now Lieutenant Robert’s and Jemadar Sikandar Khan’s men were unstoppable and they swept into the second line of trenches, killing or evicting the defenders whom they pursued along the ridge.  Unfortunately the two machine guns that had been deployed to the east then jammed, as they had been heavily fired throughout the attack, and so the retreating Germans who were crowding the road got away without further losses.  The mules of the mountain gunners were so debilitated by a diet of very poor forage at Kibata that they could not move quickly, and had to be frequently halted, so the screw-guns also could not be brought to bear on the retreating enemy. 

Right: Kibata village spring - a source of water on the battlefield





The Baluchis had lost 2 men killed, and 1 British and 1 Indian officer and 12 sepoys wounded.  This had been a very successful attack.  The second position captured had been the firing location for the Konigsberg gun, which now could not be dragged swiftly enough away from the advancing British troops.  Two days later scouts found the gun, abandoned and destroyed.  The King’s African Rifles now took up the pursuit of Abteilung Schulz.  As the regimental history of the 129th Baluchis states:   “So ended the fighting that had begun on 6th December.  By the time it was finished the regiment had lost about two-thirds of its original strength in fighting or in sickness, but it had lived up to its high reputation”.

Lieutenant V.G. Robert received a Military Cross with the unit citation: For gallantry during the attack on MBINDIA HILL.  When 2/Lt W.S. Thatcher was wounded this officer carried on the attack and pursuit, and by his fine example led on the men against the enemy’s hidden position in the bush, until all our objectives had been gained and the enemy put to rout.

The following were Mentioned in Despatches for their gallantry, initiative or resourcefulness at Mwenge:

Captain G.A. Phillips VD; Captain R.S.P. MacIvor (Adjutant); Jemadar Sikandar Khan; 2630 Colour Havildar Alim Shah (124th Baluchis attached 129th Baluchis); 3659 Havildar Imam Din; 757 Sepoy Misri Khan; 225 Naik Mohamed Rahim (127th Baluchis attached 129th Baluchis); 290 Havildar Sardar Shah (Burma Military Police attached 129th Baluchis).  

Conclusion

The Kibata fighting was a true all-arms effort, the sepoys of the 129th Baluchis often sharing defensive positions with the KAR Askari and attacking alongside them, whilst the Sikh mountain gunners, Indian medical personnel, British howitzer gunners, Loyal North Lancashire machine gunners, African porters and road labour gangs, and a volunteer Royal Flying Corps crew all provided necessary support. 

Nobody won at Kibata.  The Germans failed to take it, but General Smuts failed to trap his adversary, as the Germans side-stepped Kibata when they later withdrew south from the Rufiji.  The Kibata fighting distracted the British away from the German crop-collection programme as perhaps Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck hoped it would, and allowed Liwale to remain as an important Schutztruppe supply base when that location should have been seized by a British attack. 

The long war of attrition in the disease-ridden heat, dust and swamps of the East African bush dragged on, but not for General Smuts who moved on to a far more pleasant post in London.  The often half-starved and debilitated British sepoys, Askari and surviving European personnel tightened their belts, scraped the mud off their boots and followed the Schutztruppe’s tactical withdrawals.  A British gunner on the Rufiji, Sergeant Dan Fewster, wrote to his mother in Hull summing up the situation:  “Mosquitoes, tsetse fly and all other crawling insects are here by the million.  At night the yelping and howling of wild beasts keeps us awake.  We are having a bad time with fever.  The gun can only be fired with help of two cooks and a servant”. 

Commemorations

Major Charles Arthur Gilbert Money and Captain Charles Stuart Browning were first buried at Kibata at night to avoid enemy artillery attention, then transferred to Kilwa Kivinje military cemetery, and later re-interred in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery, Tanzania. 

The Indian officers and their sepoys were buried where they fell and are commemorated on the British and Indian Memorial in Nairobi South Cemetery, Kenya. 

  Sources:


§        The 4/10th Baluch Regiment in the Great War by W.S. Thatcher.
§        War Diary 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis October –
November 1916 (WO 95/5341).
§        War History – 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles (WO 161/75).
§        War Diary 2nd/2nd King’s African Rifles (WO 95/5341).
§        Draft Chapters XIII and XIV of Part II of the Official History, East African Campaign (CAB 44/5).
§        Tip & Run.  The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa by Edward Paice.
§        A Hull Sergeant’s Great War Diary by Dan Fewster.  Edited by Robert B. Sylvester.
§        So Many Loves by Leo Walmsley.
§        Shells & Bright Stones. A biography of Leo Walmsley edited by Nona Stead.
§        Reward of Valour.  The Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918 by Peter Ducker.
§        The Indian Distinguished Service Medal by Rana Chhina.
§        East African General Routine Orders (WO 123/288).
§        The Cross of Sacrifice Volume I compiled by S.D & D.B. Jarvis.
§        London Gazettes and Medal Index Cards and Commonwealth War Graves Committee records.

Above: 129th Baluchis Karachi 1911 British Officers
Above: 129th Baluchis Karachi 1911 Indian Officers

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