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1st/2nd KAR (The 1st Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles) in the Narunyu Action

German East Africa, 18th September 1917



Introduction


In July 1917 the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1st/2nd KAR) was in the Lindi area of southern German East Africa (GEA), now named Tanzania.  The battalion recruited soldiers from Nyasaland, now Malawi, and also from Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique.  The Regimental Depot was at Mbgathi near Nairobi, British East Africa, now Kenya.  The battalion had been raised in 1916 and had fought in actions at Kibata, near Kilwa in GEA, and around Lindi.  The battalion strength was 33 British officers, 35 British Warrant Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), and 690 rank and file.  Eight machine guns and 8 Lewis light machine guns were carried by the battalion.  Lieutenant Colonel G.J. Giffard DSO (Queen’s Regiment) was the Commanding Officer.

For more photos click HERE

Left: A German Schutzen Company

The British general advance


On 3rd August 1917 a British general advance was ordered against the whole of the enemy positions south-west of Lindi.  The Main Column, led by Brigadier General H. de C. O’Grady (formerly 52nd Sikhs, Indian Army) attacked a strong enemy position on Tandamuti Hill and was repulsed with very heavy casualties.  1st/2nd KAR was in the Reserve Column and was not seriously involved in the fighting, although a prisoner from the German 14th Field Company was taken by ‘B’ Company who then became heavily involved in a fire fight with the enemy.  ‘C’ Company came up in support and engaged an “enemy” that it met who later turned out to be 3/4 KAR; luckily casualties were light but chaos ensued in both battalions’ transport as porters dropped their loads and fled.  Meanwhile the German troops commanded by Major Georg Kraut broke contact and withdrew.


Six days later a column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A.J. Taylor DSO (8th South African Infantry) advanced.  1st/2nd KAR was the vanguard followed by the 8th South African Infantry (now reduced by sickness to well under 200 men), the 27th (Bengal) Mountain Battery, Indian Army and two companies of 3rd/4th KAR.  1st/2nd KAR succeeded in its mission of crossing the Lukuledi River unobserved and in occupying and entrenching a position about 2.5 kilometres east of Narunyu.  ‘C’ Company was tasked with reconnoitring Narunyu but the company became heavily engaged with the enemy in difficult country, and returned to camp.  Enemy reconnaissance parties followed up and German artillery began to shell the battalion position, hitting two porters.  This was followed up by a German infantry assault onto ‘D’ Company’s section of the position, but six of the battalion’s machine guns broke up the attack.

The following day more enemy artillery fire from a 4.1-inch gun (a naval gun recovered from the sunken cruiser Konigsberg in the Rufigi River delta) and a smaller field gun caused Colonel Giffard to move his battalion position to another location nearer the river; a secure water source was vital if the battalion was to hold its ground.  That evening the Main Column with General O’Grady came up on the other side of the river but met so much enemy opposition that it retired.

Above: A KAR company in march order

On 12th September Lieutenant W.A.C. Allison, (East Africa Mounted Rifles), led out a ‘D’ Company patrol, but he encountered enemy Askari in a dense sisal plantation.  One of the British NCOs was wounded, as were two Askari; the Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant M. Kennedy was lucky to survive when a bullet missed his skull but pierced his ear.   Allison withdrew his patrol back to camp.  Another patrol that went to the south encountered an impassable swamp.  It was established that the German position at Narunyu was almost impregnable, as it was covered to the north by a steep escarpment, to the east by a large sisal plantation, to the south by the swamp and to the west the ground was open with short grass, perfect for effective defensive fire.


1/2 KAR advance to contact

On 17th September the battalion advanced on a compass bearing to the north-west; the men were glad to be moving as the trenches had been permanently wet and uncomfortable due to the heavy rain that was constantly falling.  On reaching the trolley line running down the Lukuledi Valley a halt was made for the night. This trolley line had been used by German estate owners to get their produce to Lindi harbour, but now it was used by the British to move supplies forward from the harbour, and by the Germans to withdraw casualties and supplies away from the British advance.

The next morning the advance continued with 1st/2nd KAR leading the Column but now on a compass bearing of 262 degrees; the aim was to approach the enemy from an unexpected direction.  ‘A’ Company was Advance Guard followed by the Main Body consisting of ‘B’ Company, 4 machine guns, three platoons of ‘D’ Company, 4 machine guns, 1st Line Transport (porters carrying immediately needed ammunition and supplies), the remaining platoon of ‘D’ Company, and the Column Stokes (trench mortar) guns.  The 25th Battalion The Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) was the Rear Guard.  After marching for 2,500 paces through dense bush the compass bearing was altered to due south – the direction to Narunyu.

At 0930 hours the main road between Mingoyo and Mtua was reached and an enemy picquet was driven off.  1st/2nd KAR now deployed from march order (a column) into bush formation, a more dispersed configuration that was tactically suitable for engaging the enemy.  More enemy picquets were encountered and dispersed but the bush became much thicker and march order had to be resumed at noon.  Enemy snipers engaged the column from shambas (areas of farmland) on the right and one white sniper was located and killed there.

Right: German Askari attack

The battle at Narunyu


‘A’ Company supported by ‘B’ Company, commanded by Captain P.T. Brodie (2nd Rhodesia Regiment), and 2 machine guns advanced and became engaged from the right flank.  The enemy formation here was Abteilung Rothe, and the 1st/2nd KAR advance had seperated the 19th Field Company from the Tanga Company.  Lieutenant A.S. Targett (King’s African Rifles & formerly 17th Lancers) was sent forward with one platoon of ‘C’ Company to hold the edge of the shambas.  The Germans then tried to get around ‘A’ Company’s left flank but this brought them in front of Brodie’s ‘B’ Company and the machine guns had useful shoots, inflicting casualties on the enemy and pushing him back.  Targett’s platoon was then attacked and at 1400 hours the remainder of ‘C’ Company moved forward in support.  ‘B’ Company was then withdrawn into reserve.

Around this time Brigadier O’Grady and Lieutenant Colonel C.G. Philipps MC (West Yorkshire Regiment), commanding officer of 3rd/2nd KAR, tried to reach the 1st/2nd KAR and Fusiliers’ location with a small escort party, but they could not penetrate the German positions.

For the remainder of the daylight hours the fighting was static, the Germans not displaying any inclination to attack; however 1st/2nd KAR was constantly taking casualties from enemy machine gun fire.  Schutztruppe machine gunnery was invariably better than the British gunnery because well-trained and experienced German whites aimed and fired their guns; but the British were now starting to also deploy whites as the Numbers 1 (the aimers and firers) on KAR gun teams. 

Above: The old German gaol at Lindi

During this static period the local German commander, Major General Kurt Wahle, brought forward his reserve, Abteilung von Chappuis, which consisted of the 9th Field Company and the 4th Schutzen Company (white reservists from former shooting clubs).  No doubt the presence of the Schutzen company contributed to the casualties that Giffard’s battalion was taking. 

At 1700 hours No 4 Company of 3rd/2nd KAR arrived from the north to join 1st/2nd KAR and the Fusiliers.  The company commander, Captain H.W. Mellor (15th Royal Fusiliers), reported to Colonel Taylor; Taylor told Mellor to leave his company outside the column defensive area as a  reserve.  This was not a good idea.  Mellor ordered his rear platoon commander, Lieutenant T.M.P. Hughes (South Wales Borderers) to put out a rearguard.  Hughes failed to do this because he did not know what a rearguard was. 

As dusk drew close Giffard marked out a new perimeter about 550 metres behind the firing line, but there was no time to entrench.  At 1800 hours ‘A’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were withdrawn from contact onto the perimeter, ‘C’ Company with 4 machine guns being the battalion reserve.  The Royal Fusiliers held the west face with ‘D’ Company.  This withdrawal to the new perimeter just forestalled an attack that Wahle had ordered 9th Field Company to make on the old British position.  Then as night descended on the battlefield the German theatre commander, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, arrived on the scene with the 3rd and 11th Field Companies and he attempted to take command of all the German units surrounding the British perimeter.

Above: Lindi Harbour

At 2200 hours the Schutztruppe opened heavy fire on all faces of the perimeter and advanced to within 50 metres of the British positions.  Enemy bugles were blown and an attack seemed imminent.  All troops on the perimeter line returned fire for about 20 minutes, supported by the machine guns and Stokes mortars.  This return fire appeared to break up the enemy’s attack formations and he withdrew with what appeared to be serious losses.  In his reminiscences von Lettow comments on the confusion that reigned during the hours of darkness, and the inability of his companies to distinguish each other from the British troops.  For the British things were much simpler – if anything moved outside the perimeter then it was engaged with fire.

The 1st/2nd KAR Medical Officer, Lieutenant Oscar Cecil Lawrence Hughes, Royal Army Medical Corps, had been killed earlier in the day and all the battalion’s casualties were being ably tended to by Sergeant Gibson, an African dresser (medical orderly).  Sergeant J.W.H. Parker, attached to the battalion from the Fusiliers, had also been killed along with 10 Askari.   Captain P.T. Brodie, Captain C.T. Soames (East African Mounted Rifles), 871 Sergeant W. Thomson (2nd Rhodesia Regiment) and 44 Askari were wounded.  Two porters were killed and four were wounded; none of the wounded could be evacuated.  Patrick Tait Brodie was awarded a Military Cross.


Right: Spencer Tryon, his medals can be found on the link at the top of the page

Sergeant Thomson was a battalion personality.  He was 54 years old and held the Egyptian Campaign Medal and the Khedive’s Star, earned for former service in the Scots Guards.  The gun teams were devoted to him for his fearlessness in action.  He had been hit in the head whilst firing a machine gun and the gun was knocked over on top of him; undaunted he re-mounted the gun and continued firing throughout the action with only a field dressing around his head.  For this display of gallantry he received a Military Medal.  Another winner of the Military Medal was 1930 Private Puta (spelt Mputi in the unit war history) of ‘D’ Company for his gallantry in serving out ammunition to his comrades in the firing line under extremely heavy fire.  His citation stated: He showed the greatest devotion to duty and carried out his task with utter disregard for danger.

A lull in the fighting now followed and the German Askari could be heard talking.  The British Askari jeered at them asking why they continued fighting without pay (by this time the Germans had run out of rupee coins and were paying with paper chits).  There were lively exchanges of conversation, descriptions of rations issued were shouted out, and the enemy Askari were interested to know if the British Askari had fought at Kibata, as they respected the close-quarter fighting abilities of the British troops there. 

The Fusiliers had lost one man killed (12890 Private J.G. Carter), three rank and file wounded (1852 Sergeant L. Evans, 42745 Private W. Clows and 15051 Private J. McCallum); the battalion Padre, Temporary Chaplain Grade 4 Hugh William Hutchings was also wounded, and he was soon to receive the Military Cross.

Above: A street in Lindi in 1917

No 4 Company of 3rd/2nd KAR, outside the perimeter on the orders of Colonel Taylor, suffered casualties and porters discarded 11 ammunition boxes when the enemy advanced at 2200 hours.  The lack of a rearguard allowed the enemy to close with and attack the company.  Lieutenants T.E. Robb (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) and C.O. Gilbert (East African Mounted Rifles) and Sergeants J.C. Clark (20th London Regiment), H.A. Walker (20th London Regiment), and B.H. Hubbard (Machine Gun Corps) were wounded.  (Lieutenant Pask Hughes’ lack of knowledge of what a rearguard was is a typical example of the time – British officers and NCOs fresh from French battlefields were, by necessity, being immediately deployed into the bush without being taught bush tactics or the language of their Askari.)  


Re-supply attempts

The 1st/2nd KAR ammunition stocks were very low, ‘C’ Company being down to 5 rounds per man.  A convoy from 3rd/2nd KAR under Major R.C. Hardingham, MC & Bar, (Middlesex Regiment), with two other officers, attempted to get through with ammunition and supplies.  The machine gun and company porters of 3rd/2nd KAR were used to carry the loads with two platoons of No 2 Company provided for escort.  The convoy was badly ambushed near the perimeter after German Askari had misled it by calling out that they were KAR.  Robert Cecil Hardingham was mortally wounded, Lieutenant  Charles Henry Bernard Going (2nd Rhodesia Regiment) was killed and Lieutenant C.E. Lane (King’s African Rifles) was wounded.   The escort NCOs rallied their men and fought back but most of the porters had by then returned to the 3rd/2nd KAR camp with their loads; 13 loads that had been discarded were found in the bush during the following day.

The next day, 19th September, another 3rd/2nd KAR company under Captain S. Tryon (East African Mounted Rifles) did get through with much-needed ammunition and supplies.  Spencer Tryon was later awarded a Military Cross.  British patrols established that the nearest enemy positions were now 300 metres away from the perimeter and so the opportunity was taken to evacuate the casualties.  The 1st/2nd KAR porters made several attempts to draw water from the Lukuledi River but they kept being scattered by enemy fire; finally at around 1000 hours they got through and brought water back into the perimeter where it was badly needed.  Over the next two days the Germans continued to fire a machine gun from the shambas, but Column Headquarters came forward, located a new column defensive position and ordered trenches to be dug and wire defences to be laid.  German losses at Narunyu were recorded as 6 Askari and 2 porters killed, 3 Germans, 49 Askari and 6 porters wounded, and 6 Askari and 3 porters missing.  3rd/2nd KAR’s European casualties have been listed above; the battalion’s Askari casualties were 9 killed, 31 wounded plus 9 porters wounded.  The British dead had initially been buried where they fell; the Askari did not move but the European remains were later moved to Mtama Cemetery, 65 kilometres south-west of Lindi, and finally to Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery, Tanzania.

Above: The old German Boma at Lindi

Captain Angus Buchanan MC, (25th Royal Fusiliers), later wrote of Narunyu:  It was here that one saw, and realized, the full fighting courage to which well-trained native African troops can rise.  The first-second King’s African Rifles was one of the original pre-war battalions, and magnificently they fought here; and we, who were an Imperial unit, felt that we could not have wished for a stouter, nor a more faithful regiment to fight alongside of. (In fact 2nd KAR had been disbanded for reasons of economy 19 months before the Great War started, and most of the redundant Askari had moved to GEA to join the German forces, who welcomed them.)

On 27th September 3rd/2nd KAR relieved 1st/2nd KAR who moved back to a reserve position where proper cooked meals could be obtained; pre-cooked food had been carried forward into the perimeter but it had often been mouldy on arrival.   The battalion relaxed a little whilst deficiencies in clothing and equipment were replaced.  Many more battles lay ahead. 

SOURCES:

-War History – 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles (WO 161/75).
-Draft Chapter XVIII of the unpublished Part II of the Official History, Military Operations, East Africa (CAB 44-10).
-War Diary of the 25th Battalion The Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), 1917 May-September (WO 95/5325).
-War Diary 3rd/2nd Battalion King’s African Rifles, 1917 August-September.  (WO 95/5323).
-Arnold, John; Spencer William; & Steward, Keith.  The Award of the Military Medal to African Soldiers of the West African Frontier Force & the King’s African Rifles from 1916 to 1919.  Published by the author and compilers, London 2010.
-Buchanan, Captain Angus MC.  Three Years of War in East Africa.  Naval & Military Press reprint.
-Capell, Lieutenant Colonel A.E.  The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa.  Naval & Military Press reprint.
-Jarvis, S.D. & D.B.  The Cross of Sacrifice Volume I. Officers who died in the Service of British, Indian and East African Regiments and Corps 1914-1919.  Roberts Medals 1993.
-Maton, Michael.  Honour The Officers. Honours and Awards to British, Dominion and Colonial Officers During the First World War.  Token Publishing Limited 2009.
-Moyse-Bartlett, Lieutenant Colonel E, MBE.  The King’s African Rifles.  Naval & Military Press reprint.
-Von Lettow-Vorbeck, General Paul.  My Reminiscences of East Africa.  Battery Press reprint.
-Wilson, C.J.  The Story of the East African Mounted Rifles.  East African Standard Ltd 1938.
-Commonwealth War Grave Commission records; Medal Index Cards; and the London Gazette.

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