Belgian Congolese military support for the Northern
Northern Rhodesia (now named Zambia) was formed in 1911 as an
administered territory by the amalgamation of the two territories of
North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia.
However Northern Rhodesia was not administered by Britain but by the private British South Africa
Company, as was Southern Rhodesia (now named Zimbabwe). But there was a difference in the way that
the Northern and Southern Rhodesias were
governed. Southern Rhodesia had a much
larger white population whose interests were represented on a Legislative
Council that could promote Ordinances which became law if the British High
Commissioner for South
Africa assented. In Northern Rhodesia legislation was
embodied in Proclamations, as it was in the Native Protectorates, as they were
then called, of Swaziland, Bechuanaland (now named Botswana) and Basutoland
(now named Lesotho). A British Resident
Commissioner for both Rhodesias
represented the High Commissioner in South Africa
and the Imperial Government in London,
and worked alongside the British South Africa Company’s Administrators.
There was also one other big difference between the Rhodesias – Northern Rhodesia had a border with
German East Africa (GEA – now named Tanzania). This border ran from the southern end of Lake
Tanganyika south-east to the Songwe River that was the northern Nyasaland
border with GEA. From here the northern
Nyasaland border ran on to the northern end of Lake Malawi. This rough line between the two great lakes
became known as the ‘Northern Border’ to those living south of it, and because
of its isolation it was a vulnerable British area.
The British South Africa Company was not permitted to form
armies and so it raised two police forces that were capable of limited military
actions. In Southern Rhodesia the force
was titled the British South Africa Police (BSAP), and in Northern
Rhodesia the title was a more straightforward one, the Northern
Rhodesia Police (NRP).
In August 1914 the NRP consisted of 31 European officers and
non-commissioned ranks and 768 African non-commissioned officers and men. The Force headquarters was in Livingstone, a
long way away from the Northern Border.
The force had two parts, The Town and District Police and the Military
Branch. Twelve Europeans and 328
Africans were in the former with the remainder being in the Military Branch. A
mobile Column of the Military Branch was stationed at Livingstone.
The men were recruited mainly from the Ngoni and Bemba
tribal groupings plus a few from the Wakunda and Yao communities. Initial engagements were for four years, and
a man had to serve for three years in the Military Branch before he could be
accepted as a Town and District policeman.
Thus all members of the NRP received military training, and this
experience was to prove very useful in the opening engagements on the Northern
Front. The European personnel were
recruited from the BSAP and so came well-trained and with relevant experience
of local conditions.
For signalling the NRP held 5-inch heliographs. The rifles were single-shot .303-inch Martini
Metfords with triangular bayonets plus some older Martini-Henrys, and there was
a .303-inch Maxim gun detachment. The men wore dark blue jerseys and khaki
shorts (see right) on operations and went barefoot.
Head dress was a black fez that was discarded on operations. The equipment worn allowed a blanket and
rations for five days to be carried, along with water and ammunition. The NRP was the only military unit in the
territory as a European volunteer unit had not yet been formed.
Colonel F.A. Hodson commanded the NRP in 1914. Operational direction came from Colonel
A.H.M. Edwards CB MVO who was based in Salisbury,
Southern Rhodesia. He was Chief Commandant of Police and
Volunteers for the two Rhodesias. Co-operation between the BSAP and the NRP was
strong, as they both worked for the same employer.
The first move in
The southwest corner of
Northern Rhodesia touched the Caprivi Zipfel, a strip of German South West Africa territory.
A joint operation between the NRP and the BSAP on 21st
September 1915 saw the occupation of Schuckmannsburg, the eastern German
administrative post in the Caprivi Zipfel.
There was no gunfire, although a German police Askari had to be forcibly
disarmed. Some German mules were seized
and they were shortly to be very useful to the NRP on treks to and around the
Initial action on
the Northern Border
In GEA the Schutztruppe, as the army was called, was
commanded by the very able and effective Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. On the outbreak of war he did not wait for
political direction but ordered previously-arranged offensive action to take
place all along GEA’s borders with British and Belgian territory.
At the outbreak of war 2 officers and 99 men of ‘D’ Company,
NRP Military Branch, were at Kasama; the officer commanding ‘D’ Company was
also responsible for the Town and District police posts at Abercorn (21 men),
Fife (7 men), Luwingu, Mporokoso and Fort Rosebery. The Abercorn and Fife garrisons were strengthened from Kasama, and an NRP
officer and 20 men started patrolling the border. Initially the Germans used most of their
troops in the eastern border area for an unsuccessful invasion of Nyasaland.
Above: The Northern Border
In early September Lieutenant J.J. McCarthy’s Abercorn
garrison was threatened by an enemy armed police detachment led by Oberarzt
Westhofen, a medical officer based at Bismarckburg (now named Kasanga). Westhofen commanded 4 Germans, 52 Askari, 60
armed porters (the Germans trained their porters so that they could become
Askari when needed), around 250 irregular troops named Hilfskrieger (‘Ruga
Ruga’ to the British), and a 3.7-cm quick-firing gun (a Revolverkanone). The ‘Ruga Ruga’ liked to loot and rape, and
were feared by the local villagers. The
British telegraph line between Abercorn and Fife
was constantly cut, the patrols led by Kriegsfreiilliger Unterweltz are
recorded as having cut it five times.
On 5th September McCarthy and his 40 men at
Abercorn were attacked. The local prison
had been converted into a defended post and the NRP defeated the German
attack. Meanwhile the 3 officers and 80
men of the NRP Mobile Column based at Livingstone were marching up to the
Northern Border. The Mobile Column under
Major H.M. Stennett used a train to move north of Ndola and then marched quickly, arriving in
Kasama on 5th September. On
arrival Stennett was given a request for support sent by the Resident
Magistrate at Abercorn, and so the Mobile Column speed-marched 160 kilometers
in 66 hours to reach Abercorn at 0300 hours on 9th September.
Three hours later the Germans attacked Abercorn again, using
their field gun to fire 40 shells; two of the defenders, Privates Chasesa and
Madi, were killed. The fighting lasted
throughout the day but again the Germans were beaten back. The following morning saw an enemy withdrawal
that was followed up by McCarthy to the Lumi River
on the border. Long-term prisoners in
the gaol had volunteered to carry McCarthy’s Maxim gun during the follow-up,
thereby earning remission of the balance of their sentences after the war. Westhofen lost 3 men killed and 4 others
Town and District policemen were now re-called from rural
posts throughout Northern Rhodesia, the
District Commissioners being left with Messengers to represent their
authority. A new Mobile Column was
formed at Livingstone and the NRP training depot moved to Kasama.
When Abercorn was attacked the British District Commissioner
at Kawambwa acted without higher authority and requested assistance from the
nearest Belgian military post at Pweto on Lake Mweru. In the Belgian Congo
the military force was named the Force
Publique and it was organized for internal security operations and equipped
at a very basic level with old Albini rifles.
However in Katanga,
adjacent to Northern Rhodesia, an effort was
being made to raise the capabilities of the units located there, and they were
armed with modern Mauser rifles. The
Belgian 1st Battalion was being assembled at Kitope between Lakes Tanganyika
and Mweru and the 3rd Battalion was based at Pweto on the north shore of Lake Mweru. The military commander in Katanga, Major
Frederik Olsen, immediately reacted and a company of the 1st
Battalion under Lieutenant Leleux was in Abercorn on 22nd
September. Three days later Olsen
arrived with the remainder of the battalion.
The 3rd Battalion was to follow. Some of the Belgian Askari were organized
into cyclist companies, using pedal-cycles for transport.
Initially the Belgians in the Congo had hoped to remain out of
the war, just as Governor Schnee had hoped to in GEA. However von Lettow’s instructions to the
Schutztruppe had resulted in German attacks on Belgian territory, both across
Lake Tanganyika and further north from Ruanda, and so Belgium ordered
that the Congolese borders be defended but that aggressive actions into GEA
should not be mounted. Assistance in
defending the Northern Rhodesian border with GEA was officially approved, as an
enemy threat to the mines on the copperbelts in Northern Rhodesia and Katanga was
A Belgian post was established at Sumbu in Northern Rhodesia
at the south-west end of Lake Tanganyika. There were no further German intrusions into
Northern Rhodesia during the next four weeks, and Olsen’s men were on the point
of returning to Katanga when
enemy raiders landed from two steamers, the Hedwig
von Wissman and the Kingani, on
the southern shore
of Lake Tanganyika. The villages of Kituta and Kasakalawe were
raided on the 17th and 19th November respectively. At Kituta two small trading steamers, the Good News and the Morning Star, destroyed. The stores of the African Lakes
Corporation, a trading and transportation company, were looted and
At Kasakalawe the enemy seized 145 kilometres of telegraph
wire and a stock of metal supporting posts, but on 20th November
Major Stennett with 50 NRP soldiers and 150 Force Publique Askari fought to
drive the Germans back into their boats, which were protected by guns on the
steamers. In this contact 2 Belgian
Askari were killed and 10 others wounded, whilst a German and two Schutztruppe
Askari were wounded. The Germans claimed
to have captured four heavy machine guns.
Another small trading steamer, the Cecil
Rhodes(see above) , was damaged (seven months later the German steamer Goetzen returned to tow off the Cecil Rhodes and sink her).
Above: Force Publique Inspection, Irebu
Whilst political negotiations between the Allies were
finalized the Belgian 1st Battalion was based at Mporokoso, where it
stayed until it moved back to Abercorn in early February 1915. Belgian and NRP troops then shared the
garrisoning of the GEA border between Lake Tanganyika
and the Saisi river. Mporokoso had not
been a good station for the Belgians as the local villagers, fearing the
cannibalistic reputations of some of the Force Publique Askari, had fled into
the bush and so no crops were available for the Belgian troops to
Attacks on Fife
A German stand-off attack on Fife
fort was mounted on 6th December 1914 using around 250 men, a
3-pounder gun and 3 machine guns. The
gun fired 80 shells from a range of 1,800 metres and half of the shells landed
on the fort or in the compound. The
enemy then withdrew having killed 102 Private Ndarama, NRP, who was directly
hit by a shell.
Exactly three weeks later the Germans approached Fife again, and the NRP reacted swiftly. Lieutenant Cussans and Temporary 2nd
Lieutenant R.M. Smith led half a company out at 2200 hours onto the
previously-held enemy position on the West Ridge. Contact was made on the crest and fire
exchanged for 15 minutes. Then seeing
that he was about to be outflanked Cussans led a bayonet charge straight into
the enemy ranks. The German troops
withdrew in disorder leaving one Askari dead and another taken prisoner. Smith had been severely wounded and Private
Kanyanla received a shoulder wound. For
the gallantry he displayed during this night action Lieutenant Arthur Charles
de Cussans was awarded a Military Cross
(the citation was not published). Lance
Sergeant Dandalika and Lance Corporal Mpepera both received a promotion for
their conduct during the action. When
Lieutenant Ronald Maskelyn Smith recovered from his wounds he was promoted to
Temporary Captain and given the vital task of organizing porter transport in Northern Rhodesia, for which he was later awarded a
Military Order of The British Empire.
In mid-February 1915 the white Volunteer unit the Northern
Rhodesia Rifles (NRR) Mobile Column arrived at Fife
(see: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/296401.htm). The seasonal rains now set in and restricted
large operations, but small patrols and raids continued.
During early 1915 von Lettow-Vorbeck organized a rapid
expansion of the Schutztruppe and new units began to appear in the south-west
of GEA. On the Allied side it had been
agreed that the Belgian troops in Northern Rhodesia
came under the command of the senior British officer in the area, and the
Belgians enthusiastically participated in joint operations with the NRP to
unsettle the enemy.
In late February 1915 McCarthy with a NRP patrol killed one
Ruga Ruga and captured 11 others. Three
weeks later on 17th March he was camped on the Samfu River near the
border along with 61 Belgian Askari, 2 European and 4 African NRP soldiers when
a German force of 5 Europeans and 150 Askari attacked his camp. The Allies beat of the attack capturing one
enemy European and killing another and also killing 3 Askari. The Belgians lost 3 Askari killed. Private W. Bacon NRP was also killed. The captured German officer was the commander
of the Bismarckburg police, Reserve Lieutenant Haun, and he was severely
wounded. (After Haun’s capture
Bismarckburg was reinforced by a platoon of the German 10th Field
Company, which was enlarged with recruits until on 26th May it
became the 29th Field Company.)
On 24th April 1915 Lieutenant G.P. Burton, NRP, with 82 of
his men and 50 Belgian Askari, attacked a transport column 34 miles inside
enemy territory. The German commander
was Gefreiter d.R. Monich of the Bismarckburg detachment. Several enemy porters and many loads were
captured by the British, but in follow-up operations in the vicinity of the
had to bayonet-charge his way through an ambush. Lieutenant Maurice Daffarn, NRP, was mortally
wounded by a bullet in the neck.
Corporal Geza and Lance Corporal Chikusi, NRP, were both promoted for
their performances during the fight.
However during Burton’s
patrol some of the NRP rifles jammed and one burst. This incident and other previous ones led to
an urgent request to the British South Africa Company for the NRP to be
re-armed. The Company negotiated the
recovery of its war-time military expenditure with the British government.
Right: Major JJ OSullevan DSO Northern Rhodesia Police
The last sizeable joint operation occurred on 21st
May 1915 when McCarthy set out from Zombe to attack a German camp reported to
be 14 kilometres away on the Samfu
River. He took with him 12 of his own NRP men and
125 Belgian Askari with 2 Belgian officers and Sous-Officier Verscheuren plus a
machine gun; the Belgians were the 3rd Company of their 1st
Battalion. Finding the camp deserted
McCarthy returned to Zombe but was attacked on the way. The enemy force was commanded by Lieutenant
von Debschit and the German fire killed 2 Belgian Askari and wounded 13 others,
one of whom later died. Sous-Officier
Verscheuren was also mortally wounded.
Belgian Askari Staff Sergeant Borazi and NRP Sergeant Mwombera evacuated
Verscheuren under heavy fire. (The
picture of Borazi doing this is displayed in the Belgian
for Central Africa.) Sergeant Mwombera was granted a cash award by
the British South Africa Company. 399
Private Kambowe, NRP, was also killed in this fight. Von Debschit had displayed tactical ability
and fought well with a small number of troops, and he suffered no casualties.
The attacks on
The distance between the Abercorn and Fife
garrisons was about 150 kilometers, and the British decided to construct
another fortified post in between those two towns. This was necessary to prevent infiltration by
Runga Runga groups who attacked the villages in the area. A location was chosen on a rocky knoll in
between the Rivers Saisi and Mambala; the English name for the location was
Saisi but to the Germans it was Jericho Farm.
The new post overlooked the river crossings used by the Stevenson Road that
linked Lakes Tanganyika and Nyasa. The
farm house was converted into a strong fort that was surrounded by a ring of
Colonel Hodson, NRP, was the first post commander and he led
over 430 Allied troops:
214 officers and men from the NRP.
14 European Volunteers of the NRR.
A BSAP Detachment manning a 7-pounder
muzzle-loading mountain gun.
206 officers and men of the 1st
1 Belgian 4.7-cm Nordenfeldt gun.
3 machine guns (2 British and 1 Belgian).
Hodson deployed his troops on patrols on and across the
border and had several successful contacts, which obviously more than irritated
the enemy. On 28 June 1915 the German
24th and 29th Field Companies, supported by a field gun
and 100 Ruga Ruga irregulars, took advantage of the early morning mist and
surrounded Saisi. The enemy used their
field gun, skirmished with the British outer defences, and then withdrew after
dusk; a serious attack was not delivered as it was realized that more guns were
needed to reduce the fortifications.
Enemy casualties were listed as 3 Germans and 4 of their Askari killed,
and 2 Germans and 22 Askari wounded. The Belgians had 6 Askari wounded. One
Northern Rhodesia Rifleman, 121 David Alexander Wood, was killed and 3 NRP
Privates, 559 Buleya, 1184 Msapenda and 842 Mulundi, were also killed or died
Left: Entrenching at Saisi
Captain J.J. O’Sullevan followed-up the enemy withdrawal and
found some graves in German territory.
These were opened up and ammunition boxes containing 5,000 rounds were
found but no bodies were in the graves. It
was obvious that the enemy intended to return.
More defensive trenches were dug at Saisi and a fence of felled thorn
trees was placed beyond the trenches.
Hodson, who had overall command of British and Belgian troops in
Northern Rhodesia, now moved to Fife with 1 officer and 30 NRP soldiers and 10
Volunteers. O’Sullevan was placed in
command of Saisi.
The retired German General Kurt Wahle was visiting his son
in GEA when war broke out and he had immediately volunteered to serve under von
Lettow-Vorbeck. Wahle was first employed
to organize the Lines of Communication and then placed in charge of the
southern area of operations. He now
planned a second and larger attack on Saisi.
With 89 Europeans, Nos 18, 23, 24 and 29 Field Companies of
Askari, a 200-strong company of Arabs, two 1873-pattern field guns and 6
machine guns, Wahle entrenched around Saisi during the early hours of 25th
July 1915 and besieged the post. For the
first 48 hours the Germans shelled Saisi but did not cause much damage. However water ran short as it was normally
carried up from the two rivers that were now dominated by German trenches (see
sketch map). This problem was contained
by the courageous actions of groups of defenders who crawled down to the rivers
at night to slowly fill clusters of water bottles.
Right: 7 Pounder Mountain Gun
The BSAP 7-pounder gun was a British 2.5-inch mountain gun
which was jointed between the breech and the muzzle to split the barrel into
manageable mule-loads. This type of gun
was known as a ‘Screw Gun’. The barrel
was rifled with eight grooves with progressive curves and this meant that a
degree of accuracy could be achieved.
The BSAP gun team demonstrated this by hitting a German gun on its
muzzle and putting it out of action.
When the telegraph line to Saisi was cut by the enemy on 25th
July Hodson had ordered a relief force to leave from Abercorn, which was about
50 kilometres distant from Saisi. The
relief troops were 270 Askari of the Belgian 1st Battalion under
Major de Konick and 50 NRP men under Captain C.H. Fair. On 28th July the relief force
encountered German troops blocking the route north of Saisi, and engaged them
in a fierce fight. This action
distracted Wahle and drew away some of his troops from the siege. The next day 34 of the relief troops broke through
into the Saisi perimeter; the remainder of the relief force continued to fight
Wahle’s men north of Saisi.
On 31st July Wahle invited the Saisi garrison to
surrender, but O’Sullevan refused to consider the idea. That evening around 1,500 enemy troops
mounted an attack on the British perimeter supported by heavy covering fire. But the German Field Companies and the Arabs
declined to charge beyond the outer thorn fence, as the British defensive fire
was also heavy. The defenders’ trenches were never threatened. The siege continued but no further attacks
were mounted. On 3rd August,
having consumed his supplies, Wahle broke off the battle and marched his men
away. The Germans were believed to have
lost 5 Europeans and 28 Askari killed.
The Belgians lost 5 Askari killed and 3 wounded. The British had lost one man killed, 1185
Private Malizani, NRP; a figure for British wounded personnel was not recorded.
For his gallantry in commanding the defence of Saisi Captain
John Joseph O’Sullevan, NRP, was promoted to Major and awarded a Distinguished Service Order (a citation
was not published).
withdraw their troops
The Germans made no further attacks into British territory
after their withdrawal from Saisi. Raids
to secure lengths of telegraph wire continued however, and the captured
telegraph stores were used to run a new German line between Neu Langenburg, now
named Tukuyu, and Iringa.
Left: Map of Force Publique locations near Northern Rhodesia
The Belgians then requested that their units in Northern
Rhodesia, the 1st and the 3rd Belgian Battalions, be
returned to the Congo to
prepare for a Belgian offensive against GEA west of Lake
Victoria. By 3rd
November the two battalions were back in the Congo, but a Belgian detachment
remained in reserve at Mporokoso.
The NRP alone could not have kept the enemy out of Northern Rhodesia. Belgian military assistance was quickly
delivered and was effective, and the Congolese Askari wanted to fight. Later in the East African campaign the
Belgians invaded GEA on two fronts and also supplied troops to be landed on the
southern coast of GEA, as well as providing battalions to pursue Naumann’s raid
into north-eastern GEA. Belgium
deserves more recognition for the military contribution she made in the Great
War East African campaign.
The Northern Border
after the Belgian withdrawal
Despite BSAP reinforcements arriving it was decided that
Saisi could not be held and it was evacuated before the end of October
1915. Recruiting for the NRP continued
and later a NRP Service Battalion was formed that fought during the operations
inside GEA. New recruiting areas had to
be opened as traditional ones could not or did not want to supply sufficient
NRP recruits. Barotseland in the west of
Northern Rhodesia became a new source of
However Northern Rhodesia’s
biggest manpower challenge was to supply porters to support operations on the
Northern Border and inside GEA. Several
thousand Northern Rhodesian villagers were employed as ‘1st Line’
porters (marching close to the fighting troops) in German and Portuguese East
Africa, whilst tens of thousands of porters worked on the supply routes from
the Northern Rhodesia railway line up to and across the Northern Border.
A change in direction on the Northern Border came when
Brigadier General Edward Northey was appointed to command the
Nyasaland-Rhodesia Field Force (see: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/344964.html). Up to this point in time the Northern
Rhodesia and the Nyasaland forces had not been
communicating with each other effectively or co-ordinating military
action. Northey’s arrival heralded a new
intent to apply professional military procedures prior to a British invasion of
southern German East Africa.
In January 1916 Lieutenant Colonel Harry March Stennett,
Northern Rhodesia Police, was awarded a Distinguished
Service Order; a citation was not published.
Above: Ndola (Kansenshi) CWGC Cemetery. (A CWGC photo.)
All the Allied dead were buried where they fell. After the war the British European dead were
re-buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot in Ndola Kansenshi
Cemetery. The African dead of the Northern Rhodesia
Police are commemorated by name on the Livingstone Camp Memorial. Un-named and unknown dead Northern Rhodesian
porters are commemorated by the Abercorn Memorial. All these locations are in Zambia.
History of the War. Military Operations,
East Africa, August 1914 - September 1916 compiled
by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
Story of the Northern Rhodesia Regiment edited by W.V.
History of the Northern Rhodesia Police by Tim
Patrols by Colonel Colin Harding CMG DSO.
Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.
Empire at War by Sir Charles Lucas KCB KCMG.
The website of the South African Military History Society.
Exhibits in the Royal
Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.