German East Africa 24th July 1916 The Union Central African Imperial Service
Contingent and the 1st
King’s African Rifles fight the Imperial German Navy
Central African Imperial Service Contingent
the outbreak of war in East Africa in August 1914 the military commander in
German East Africa (now named Tanzania), Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck,
ordered aggressive action to be taken against the adjacent British and Belgian
territories. On the borders in Nyasaland
(now named Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (now named Zambia) local British units
assisted by Belgian Congolese troops repulsed German intrusions. The British troops then had to dig-in and
defend their borders as they were not strong enough to move into German territory.
the conclusion of the successful South African invasion and seizure of German
South West Africa (now named Namibia) in 1915, which was assisted by small
numbers of British artillery guns, armoured cars and aeroplanes plus the Royal
Navy, Britain asked South Africa for help on the ‘Northern Borders’ of
Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. There
had also been an African uprising in Nyasaland
in January 1915 and that concerned the British authorities in the region who
needed more troops in the Protectorate.
concurred and a group of 264 men, many of them being military tradesmen from
logistical and support units, was sent to Nyasaland. The group was titled the Nyasaland
Imperial Service Contingent.
action was followed by the raising of two new infantry regiments in Johannesburg named the 1st
and 2nd South African Rifles.
These were also classed as Imperial Service units which meant that Britain paid
for them. Many white South Africans and
Rhodesians who had served during the German South West Africa campaign and been
subsequently discharged now volunteered for the new regiments. Both regiments of the South African Rifles
were organised into four squadrons sub-divided into troops; each squadron
contained 110 men. Although they were
infantrymen and not mounted units they drilled in a single rank. They were issued with a Short Magazine
Lee-Enfield rifle and wore either shorts or trousers, although some officers
were allowed to wear the uniform of the Imperial Light Horse. The badge was a springbok’s head facing to
Above: South African troops assemble a captured German 75mm Mountain Gun in 45 seconds
artillery battery had been formed in Karibib, German South West Africa, using
six captured German 75mm Quick Firing mountain guns. The personnel in the battery were volunteers
from the Artillery Brigade of the South African Mounted Rifles. Originally named the 1st Mountain
Battery the title was changed to 5th Battery,
South African Mounted Rifles (the Official History refers to the unit as
the 5th South African Mounted Rifles). Pairs of guns were allocated to Right, Centre
and Left Sections of the battery. Mules
pulled the guns and carried ammunition.
Around 100 Herero tribesmen from German South West Africa plus some Cape
Coloured (mixed-race) animal handlers from the Cape were attached to the
battery and accompanied it on operations.
The Hereros were to stand up well to the rigours of the campaign but the
Cape Coloured men were to suffer from poor health.
two infantry regiments and the battery plus Medical, Supply and Signals
detachments were formed into the UnionCentral African Imperial
Service Contingent. These men were
to experience hard conditions and tough fighting and were to serve longer in
the field than most of the thousands of South African troops that served under
General Smuts further north in British East Africa.
Local health and safety hazards
German East Africa attacks from tropical insects were the most immediate and
serious problem for the white troops.
Malarial mosquitoes were ever-present near water, and jigger fleas
burrowed under toe nails and laid their offspring. The eggs of putsi flies penetrated the skin
to incubate into maggoty worms, and bees swarmed and stung viciously when they
felt threatened. Lion, rhinoceros, elephant, crocodile and snakes could and did
fatally attack unfortunate soldiers and porters. Legions of red ants would quickly race up a
man’s body and painfully bite him, whilst if a soldier brushed against a plant
known as the ‘Buffalo Bean’ the fluff released from the bean settled on and
severely stung exposed skin. Meanwhile the tropical sun and violent downpours
of rain combined to weaken the constitutions of men who rarely received full
rations because of logistical difficulties.
Having survived these hazards the British soldier then had to confront
Germans who wanted to kill him.
situation on the ‘Northern Borders’
November 1915 the 47-year old British Brigadier General Edward Northey (Right) was
appointed as ‘Commander of the Combined Forces on the Rhodesia-Nyasaland
Frontier of German East Africa’. His
command was titled the Nyasaland-Rhodesia Field Force and it numbered
around 2,600 men. The major units were:
the Northern Rhodesia Police – African armed policemen.
the 1st King’s African Rifles – African infantrymen
based in Nyasaland.
the British South Africa Police – a predominantly European
regiment from Southern Rhodesia.
European Volunteers – the Northern Rhodesia
Rifles, the Nyasaland Volunteer
Force and the Southern Rhodesia
the 1st and 2nd South African Rifles
the 5th Battery, South
African Mounted Rifles
Royal Navy detachments on Lakes Tanganyika and Nyasa.
African infantry regiment, the Rhodesia Native Regiment, had recently
been formed in Southern Rhodesia and was in
German troops facing Northey’s command numbered around 1,500 with 3 field guns
and 14 machine guns. German defended
posts were located from east to west at Ipiana (5 Field Company under Hauptmann W. Falkenstein), Igamba (a detachment of 5 Field Company under
Leutnant R. Nave), Luwiwa (L Company
under Hauptmann H. Aumann) and then further west at Namema near Bismarckburg on
Lake Tanganyika (29 Field Company under
Oberleutnant G. Franken). Most of the
Europeans carried modern rifles but the Askari carried the older black-powder
arrival of the German blockade-runner Marie
April 1915 a German ship the Rubens had successfully landed war material
for von Lettow’s forces near Tanga, despite being chased and attacked by the
Royal Navy. This delivery of badly
needed cargo had been a massive morale-booster for the Schutztruppe, as the
German colonial army was called. New
Field Companies had been formed with the delivered weapons. Almost a year later another German ship the Marie
evaded the Royal Navy blockade of the German East African coast and landed a further
supply of arms, ammunition and military stores at Sudi Bay
just north of the German border with Portuguese East Africa. Whilst under inneffective fire from three
British warships the Marie successfully unloaded her cargo and
passengers and slipped out to sea again.
important part of the Marie’s cargo was an artillery consignment of four
10.5-cm howitzers and two 7.5-cm mountain guns, plus ammunition for those guns
and for the guns that the Germans had recovered from their sunken cruiser the Konigsberg.
Also a group of German artillery specialists had landed from the Marie,
and the Union Central African Imperial Service Contingent was soon to discover
how lethal the new guns could be when handled professionally.
Above: Sketch map showing the eastern area of the British advance in 1916
General Northey’s deployments
preparation for his advance General Northey placed columns in British bases
opposite the four enemy defended posts.
At Karonga under
Lieutenant Colonel G.M.P. Hawthorne (Kings Liverpool
Regiment and 1KAR):
Two hundred men of the 1st
South African Rifles.
‘AR’, ‘CR’, ‘F’ and ‘H’ companies and the Head Quarters of 1KAR
commanded by Major G.L.Baxter (Cameron Highlanders).
Two 12-pounder naval guns salvaged from HMS Pegasus. (Part of the
KAR Artillery Section and manned by 1KAR.)
One 7-pounder muzzle-loading gun (KAR Artillery Section).
Eight machine guns.
A Field Wireless Section.
At Fort Hill under
Major R.L. Flindt, (2nd South African Rifles): Two squadrons 2nd
South African Rifles.
‘BR’ and ‘D’ companies of
1st King’s African Rifles. Two guns
of the 5th Battery, South African
Mounted Rifles (now pulled by oxen as several mules had died of sickness).
Two 7-pounder muzzle-loading
guns (KAR Artillery Section).
Two machine guns.
A Field Wireless Section.
under Lieutenant Colonel E. Rodger, (2nd South African Rifles): Two
squadrons and the Head Quarters of the 2nd South African
‘E’ Company of the Northern Rhodesia Police.
Two guns of the 5th
Battery, South African Mounted Rifles.
Two 7-pounder muzzle-loading
Six machine guns.
A Field Wireless
At Abercorn under
Lieutenant Colonel R.E. Murray DCM (British South Africa Police):
Two companies of the British South Africa Police.
‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’
companies of the Northern Rhodesia Police.
(The letter ‘R’ in a 1KAR
company title showed that it was composed of mobilised reservists.)
British logistical arrangements
support the columns thousands of local African porters named ‘Tenga Tenga’ were
recruited to carry supplies forward. The
effective provision of supplies at the right place at the right time was to be
a continual problem for the staff, just as it was for the staff of General
Smuts’ far larger force that was simultaneously invading German
East Africa from the north.
A porter ate the equivalent of his own load – 25 or more kilograms –
within three weeks if full rations were issued, so supplies had to be sent
forward for the porters as well as the troops.
The porters sang a long marching song that went: ‘We are the porters
that carry the food for the porters that carry the food for the porters that
carry the food . . . . for the Askari’.
British line of communications started in Durban
port, South Africa; went by
sea to Chinde port in Portuguese East Africa via Beira;
then went up the Zambezi River to Chindio where a railway was used to reach Blantyre in Nyasaland. Lorries were then used to Zomba where porters
carried loads to Fort Johnston; from there steamers went up Lake Nyasa to its head, where porters took over
again. The distance from Durban to Karonga was
over 2,600 kilometres. South Africa sent military engineers to
construct motorable roads and to bridge or run ferrys across rivers in German East Africa after the British advance. However there were some steep and high
mountain ranges to be crossed in German territory, and so there was a
never-ending demand for more ‘Tenga Tenga’ to be provided.
Northey waited until the heavy seasonal rains were nearly over, moved his head
quarters up to Karonga, and ordered his four columns to advance during the last
week of May 1916. All of the four enemy
posts were occupied without a fight as the enemy either withdrew beforehand or
exfiltrated through the surrounding British cordons. This was not part of the General’s plan, as
he had hoped to inflict heavy defeats at each location and especially at
Luwiwa. Hoping for a decisive battle at
New Langenburg Hawthorn’s and Flindt’s columns were ordered to march
there. The oxen being used to pull the
Section of 5th Battery guns with
Flindt could not manage the rough terrain facing it, and so it was withdrawn
and sent round to join Hawthorn’s column.
Langenburg was occupied by Flindt on 29th May, but again without a
fight as the enemy had slipped away leaving civilians behind to be
interned. Trenches had been dug around
the town, protected by fields of sharpened bamboo stakes, densely packed
together. Northey now reduced his area
of operations by ordering Murray
to leave garrisons in Bismarckburg and Namema and to march the 320 kilometres
to Rungwe. Telegraphic discussions with
Smuts decided Northey to advance on Iringa, as denying that town to the enemy
would assist British operations to the north.
and Flindt’s columns combined into one and advanced northwards into the Poroto
mountains. This involved steep ascents
for the marching troops and porters as the hills rose up to 2,000 metres above
the level of Lake Nyasa. This climbing was very hard on the ‘Tenga
Tenga’ whose actual rather than theoretical daily ration was usually 0.6
kilograms of rice and a pinch of salt.
Meat was issued when available, and this usually occurred when unfit
oxen had been condemned or a hunting party had shot game. Strips of elephant meat were dried in the sun
to provide easily-packed protein that could last some time before becoming
unpalatable. Many ‘Tenga Tenga’ were not
initially issued with blankets, and they suffered severely from cold in the
mountains; this led to desertions and reduced volumes of supplies moving
Union Central African Imperial Service
Contingent early casualties
the first week of June 1916 there were three recorded deaths in the 2nd South
Sergeant (Signals) John Morgan Evans. 57 Private F. Nicholson 301 Private J. Ramsay
deaths must have been linked to a contact that Rodger’s enlarged column had in
the Poroto mountains on 6th June.
A German rearguard was overtaken and 4 Germans captured along with a
field gun and camp equipment. There were
no recorded deaths amongst the white members of the 5th Battery, South African Mounted Rifles or in the 1st
South African Rifles.
the mountains ‘BR’ Company 1KAR under Captain A.C. Masters (South Wales
Borderers) attacked and routed the rearguard of a German force under
Oberleutnant Falkenstein, capturing a light field gun for a loss of 2 Askari
killed. Hawthorn was ordered to advance
north from Neu Utengule on a track leading to Tabora on the German Central
Railway. On 10th June his
advance guard caught up with and destroyed the enemy rearguard that Rodger had
already clashed with. Four Germans, two
of them wounded, and 12 enemy Askari were captured whilst 5 enemy Askari were
killed. 1KAR lost Lieutenant A. D.
Powley (Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve) and 2 Askari killed and 5 Askari
656 Lance Corporal John, 1KAR,
was later awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal:
For conspicuous bravery at Hyamanga, 22 miles north of New Utengule,
German East Africa, by carrying messages from his company to column
headquarters, a distance of 300 yards over flat open ground, under close fire
of the enemy at 200 yards range.
Previously mentioned in despatches for gallantry in action.
now the supply chains of ‘Tenga Tenga’ porters were unable to keep contact with
the fighting columns. Northey
reconstituted Flindt’s column and decided to build-up supplies before advancing
again. This allowed the withdrawing
Germans to make a clean break. Having
discerned Northey’s intentions of seizing Iringa the enemy prepared defensive
positions at Madibira and Malangali. The
ground chosen at Malangali was on a broad ridge about five kilometres long
lying between parallel streams. At the
eastern end rose the Pakene rocks which provided excellent observation posts
over the undulating bush-covered ground below them. A strong defence was arranged around the
rocks which were about 450 metres north of the road to Iringa.
action at Malangali
German commander at Malangali was Hauptman Braunschweig. He had under his command 5 and 10 Field Companies,
L Company, a 100-man detachment of German sailors from the crew of the sunken
cruiser Konigsberg; and one of the 10.5-cm guns recently landed at Sudi
Bay. Braunschweig’s men had a total of 9
machine guns. The German manpower
figures were 250 men with modern rifles (10 Field Company and the sailors) and
450 men with black-powder rifles.
Intelligence Agents learned of the enemy preparations and Northey ordered Murray’s Column to march
on Madibira to the north, whilst two columns advanced on Malangali:
Rodger’s Column ‘BR’ company of 1KAR.
Two squadrons of
the 2nd South African Rifles. Two
Sections (4 guns) of the 5th South African Mounted Rifles. Six machine guns.
The remaining 5 companies
of 1KAR. One squadron of the 1st South African Rifles. Two squadrons of the 2nd
South African Rifles.
One Section (2 guns) of the 5th Battery South African
Mounted Rifles. Four 7-pounder
Eleven machine guns.
British plan was that Rodger would advance east along the road from Buhora
moved south of the enemy to attack Braunschweig in the rear. Both columns were to attack at 0800 hours on
24th July 1916. Unknown to the
British Braunschweig had issued orders to start a withdrawal from Pakene rocks
that same morning. It may be that this
occurred because of a revolt of Wahehe tribesmen in the German rear area, and
also because of Murray’s
advance towards Madibira to the north.
had planned a night-march to take him to his attack start line by 0800 hours,
but the ground his men traversed was so broken by ravines and the night was so
black that he was compelled to halt until dawn approached. He then resumed his journey but came under
enemy artillery fire that killed porters and wounded South Africans. As the pieces of the mountain guns were being
transported suspended from poles, each pole-end being on the shoulder of a porter,
confusion reigned for a time until the gunners and porters were
re-organised. The British advance was
led by Baxter who arrived at the Iringa road after 1100 hours, when at least
one Field Company had left the enemy position.
Baxter established a block on the road with companies covering both
Rodger attacked on time
from the west and got up onto the ridge, but could not cross open ground to
press home an assault on the Pakene rocks position because of effective enemy
fire, particularly from the German howitzer.
ordered Baxter to attack the rocks from the rear with the 1st South
African Rifles and ‘CR’ Company 1KAR. Baxter halted a strong German counter
attack but could not move forward because of heavy enemy machine gun fire.
George Lewis Baxter was later awarded a Distinguished
At the engagement at Malangali on the 24th July, this
officer was in command of part of the force which was attacked by the enemy in
far superior numbers. He showed great
ability in the disposition of his forces, and by his coolness under heavy and
accurate maxim and rifle fire, maintained the confidence of his men and
repulsed the enemy with considerable losses.
He also assisted No. 108 Rifleman A.A. Vial (1st South
African Rifles) to bring off 2nd Lieutenant McKenzie, who was
severely wounded, under a heavy and accurate machine-gun fire. Rifleman A.A. Viall received a Distinguished
For gallantry and devotion to duty in assisting Major Baxter to bring
in a wounded officer under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire.
Section of the 5th Battery’s
mountain guns came into action against the enemy machine gunners, but it was
very swiftly out-gunned by the German 10.5-cm howitzer. Some of the German artillery specialists that
had landed from the Marie in Sudi
Bay were either with
Braunschweig or had trained his gunners.
The German gun quickly hit a South African Rifles machine gun team and
both of the 5th Battery guns,
killing or wounding the crews and putting the weapons out of action.
3081 Corporal M.C. Henry, South African
Mounted Rifles, received a Distinguished Conduct Medal:
For gallantry and devotion to
duty. Although severely wounded he helped a comrade away under heavy shell fire
which had hit all his detachment.
An enemy attack was now mounted from the east onto
‘AR’ Company of 1KAR that was blocking the Iringa road. German troops who had withdrawn earlier from
the rocks had turned around on hearing the gunfire and retraced their steps to
attack the British. During this very
heavy fighting several KAR officers were killed or wounded. At one point an enemy machine gun team of
seamen infiltrated between ‘H’ and ‘AR’ Companies.
Lieutenant E.K. Borthwick (Nyasaland
Volunteer Reserve and 1KAR) responded and was awarded the first of his two
For gallantry and determination when in command of a machine gun
engaged in thick bush fighting. An enemy
gun was brought 25 yards in rear of him, but he switched on his gun, killing
four of the team and capturing the gun. He
later gave excellent supporting fire to our advance.
The German sailors were
very aggressive but understandably lacked the infantry bush-fighting skills
possessed by the Askari of both sides.
Two 1KAR Askari with Borthwick were awarded African
Distinguished Conduct Medals.
666 Private Chilingi. Seeing a
body of the enemy advancing and fearing they might recapture the machine gun
captured by Lieutenant Borthwick’s team, asked leave to charge, and fixing
bayonets led the remainder of the team and drove back the enemy. The country being thick and broken he could
not see the strength of the enemy and might well have been going to certain
496 Corporal Gowani. This
Non-Commissioned Officer brought Lieutenant May, when wounded, away under a
heavy fire. He then returned to 2nd
Lieutenant Borthwick’s machine gun and behaved with conspicuous gallantry and
by his example encouraged the team to advance under heavy fire to an advanced
The Germans were now ordered to charge ‘AR’ Company
but the men refused to get up and face the British fire that was being placed
upon them. One enemy officer was
observed riding down the road to Iringa at full speed on a donkey. By now the dry grass underfoot was alight,
creating smoke and burning the casualties that were unable to move. Ammunition began exploding as the flames
burned into the pouches of the dead and wounded lying on the ground.
After some delay Flindt arrived with more riflemen to
strengthen the road block position, allowing Baxter to continue his fight
against the enemy in the rocks. To the
west Rodger remained inactive. Two more
Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to the South African Rifles for
Rifleman H. Cairnduff:
For gallantry in action. When his troop was ordered to retire from a
position enfiladed by machine-gun fire, he returned and brought in two wounded
105 Rifleman J.E. Thomas:
For gallantry in bringing the Medical Officer
to the firing line under heavy fire at close range, and under similar
conditions assisting to bring in a wounded comrade.
around 1700 hours Rodger sensed that the Germans may have gone, and he ordered
Master’s ‘BR’ Company 1KAR, his usual advance guard, to advance into the
rocks. Masters did this, finding only
dead Germans, but then for an inexplicable reason Rodger’s mountain guns
shelled the position. Whilst Masters and
his Askari took cover Hawthorne
thought that the rocks must still be occupied by the enemy, and so he dug-in to
await the next dawn. Early-morning
patrols found Rodger, who had followed-up Masters, in possession of the Pakene
rocks. The Germans had slipped away to
the north, leaving behind the 10.5-cm howitzer which had lost a wheel. The howitzer’s breech block had been removed
Iringa War Cemetary
action fought at Malangani was inconclusive but both sides paid a price. Twelve British Europeans were killed in
action or died of wounds:
Captain D.B. Mackintosh, Black Watch and 1KAR. Captain R.J.R.
Hearn, South African Rifles. 2nd
Lieutenant H. V. Petherbridge, Nyasaland
Volunteer Reserve and 1KAR. 295
Private S. Beeston, South African Rifles. 161
Private E.V. Burton,
South African Rifles. 65
Private W.K. Lynn,
South African Rifles.
695 Private E. Mills, South African Rifles.
513 Private H. Elford, South African Rifles.
616 Private E. Frost, South African Rifles.
Sergeant W.R.V. Wray, 5th Battery,
South African Mounted Rifles.
534 Bombardier A. Lammas, 5th Battery,
South African Mounted Rifles. 532
Gunner E.V. Pinnock, 5th Battery,
South African Mounted Rifles.
1KAR Askari were killed and 27 were wounded.
The 1KAR wounded officers were: Lieutenants J.I.C. May and F. Mackenzie,
(Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve), and Major C.W. Barton CMG, DSO (Northamptonshire
Regiment, Column Staff Officer).
wounded from 5th Mountain Battery were: Corporals O. Turner and M.C.
Henry; Gunners J.R. Heath, W. Fisher, O.F. Nash, F.W.E. Tothill and J.A.
At least 1 officer and 10 men
of the South African Rifles were wounded.
Germans and 6 Askari were taken prisoner;
13 Germans and 19 Askari were found
Total German casualties were
estimated to be well over 100 all ranks.
Many of the enemy dead could not be easily located for burial in the
densely-covered and broken ground. A
stench of putrefaction remained in the area for some time.
had been the first serious experience of combat for the Union Central African
Imperial Service Contingent. A halt was
made whilst ‘Tenga Tenga’ parties evacuated the wounded and replenished all the
columns. Northey was concerned about
Hawthorn’s exposed right flank, and Masters was sent with his 1KAR ‘BR’
Company, two machine guns and four 7-pounder Muzzle-loading guns south to Njombe
to “keep the enemy (2 Field Company)
in the Lupembe area occupied”.
the Germans needed to be respected. On
the 4th August 1916 Masters unsuccessfully attacked a German
position near Lupembe that contained 250 of the Schutztruppe. Lieutenant E.G. Cooper (King’s Liverpool
Regiment and 1KAR) and 6 Askari were killed, and Masters, along with a white
Nyasaland Volunteer and 27 Askari were wounded.
Northey halted further British movement northwards and sent Hawthorn and
his column to remove the enemy from Lupembe.
After medical treatment the wounded Alexander Charles Masters returned
to the battlefield and was later awarded a Military Cross and a Distinguished
Commemoration of the dead
Europeans were buried on the spot and after the war their remains were moved to
Iringa Commonwealth War Graves
Commission Cemetery, Tanzania.
Dead Askari and ‘Tenga Tenga’ plus any
Hereros and Cape Coloured men who may have died lie in unmarked graves in the
Tanzanian bush and their names are not recorded.
Official History. Military Operations East Africa
August 1914-September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett.
Cohort of the Tropics. A Story of the Great War in Central
Africa by Owen Letcher.
They Fought for King and Kaiser. South Africans in German
East Africa 1916 by James Ambrose Brown.
A Narrative of the Right Section, 5th Mountain Battery, South
African Mounted Riflemen by Battery Quartermaster Sergeant J.G.
Maker. (Article in the Journal of the
South African Military History Society, Volume 4 No 1.)
Account of the Part Played by The First Regiment of the King’s African Rifles
in the Conquest of German East Africa by Colonel H.P.
Cinderella’s Soldiers – the Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve by Peter Charlton.
Die Operationen in Ostafrikaby Ludwig Boell.
My Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul Von
General Northey’s Despatch in the London Gazette dated Tuesday 25 September 1917.
Military Badges of the British Empire 1914-1918 by Reginald H.W. Cox.
The Armed Forces of South
Africa 1659-1954 by Major G. Tylden.