The north-eastern coast of German East Africa in December
After the decisive German victory at the Battle of Tanga in
early November 1914 Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ (IEF ‘B’) retreated by sea
from Tanga in German East Africa (GEA) to Mombasa in British East Africa (BEA). In BEA the Force amalgamated with IEF ‘C’
that had been there, defending the Uganda Railway, since October. The IEF ‘B’ commander, Major General A.E.
Aitken, was ordered back to London on 17th December and Major General R.
Wapshare took over command of British troops in the theatre. Brigadier General M.J. Tighe CB CIE DSO
commanded troops in the Mombasa Area.
British morale was low but across the GEA border south of
Mombasa German morale was high. The
professional and no-nonsense German commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck,
had won both a battle and the confidence and cooperation of the settlers in
GEA. German Schutztruppe (local army)
patrols then crossed the BEA border in several places, especially on the Indian
Ocean coast north of Tanga. This caused
a panic-stricken rush northwards of BEA African civilians from the border area,
resulting in the British civilian authorities having to shelter and feed 5,000
In December 1914 Brigadier Tighe sought to end this refugee
problem by re-asserting British authority in BEA territory and by occupying
German territory across the border towards Tanga. On the German side Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck
was making plans of his own for a confrontation with the British. The outcome was to be a series of military
actions that terminated in another dramatic British defeat but also in an
expensive German victory. The final
result was to be a reprimand from London for General Wapshare and a painful
re-assessment of Schutztruppe capabilities and tactics by Colonel von
Above: Vanga Waterfront
The activity in December 1914
In mid-December the main British base on the BEA coast south
of Mombasa was at Msambweni near Gazi, where good beaches allowed re-supply
from ships’ boats. Outposts were located
10 to 15 miles further south at Kikoneni and on the River Ramisi. The area further south was unhealthy for
Indian and European troops because of malaria, and tsetse fly killed animals
that were taken there. The Germans
patrolled into the abandoned British territory but their main bases were south
of the border at Duga and Kilulu.
General Tighe planned an operation to seize control of lost
British territory that involved around 1,800 soldiers with six machine guns,
supported by 5,500 porters. The British
combat troops involved were:
Grenadiers (Indian Army) • 2nd
Kashmir Rifles (Indian Imperial Service troops) • Jind
Infantry (half a battalion) (Indian Imperial Service troops) • ‘B’ and
‘D’ Companies 3rd King’s African Rifles (KAR - BEA Troops) • Arab
company (to become the Arab Rifles – BEA troops) • A Scout
company (BEA Troops) • Two
machine gun sections
British troops available on 17th December when the advance
Msambweni: the Kashmiris, the two KAR companies and a machine gun section. - At
Kikoneni and the upper Ramisi ford: Jind Infantry. - At Mwele
Mdogo: Scout company (Arabs and Africans) under Lieutenant Jones. - Troops
afloat were on the ships Barjora and Rheinfels: one section No. 28 Mountain
Battery, one section naval 3-pounder guns. - Troops
from Mombasa were: 101st Grenadiers, one
section machine guns, the Arab Company under Major Wavell, a Brigade Signal
Section and two sections of No. 139 Indian Field Ambulance.
Naval demonstrations were requested particularly at Moa and
Manza Bay in attempts to prevent German reinforcements from moving
capture of Mafia Island
On 10th January 1915 four
companies of 1 KAR and a Grenadier company attacked Mafia Island near the mouth
of the Rufiji River south of Dar Es Salaam in GEA. After a sharp little fight the island was
garrisoned by a company of the 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry,
Indian Army, and on 14th January the attacking force returned to
Mombasa (1). This was to prove fortuitous for Brigadier
Tighe on the southern BEA coastline.
first German probing attacks on Jasin
Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck had been
planning his own operation in the Jasin area and he had moved six companies by
rail from Moshi near Mount Kilimanjaro to Tanga. There they married up with three other
companies in the area south of Jasin.
On 10th January 1915 an enemy probing attack was made against
Jasin that was pushed back (2),
and two days later a German Field Company of Askari and a half-company of
European reservists attempted to envelop Jasin from the north. The defenders, two companies of Kashmiris
assisted by a KAR company from Umba Camp, resisted the attack. Two companies of Jind Infantry arrived as
reinforcements from Umba accompanied by a section of 28 Mountain Battery that
had just been landed and they removed an enemy group that had occupied a sisal
factory located 900 yards to the west of the main defensive position.
British response was to reinforce Jasin with another company, from which 40 men
were detached to man a strongpoint in the sisal factory. Meanwhile Colonel Vallings had fallen sick
and the Commanding Officer of the 101st Grenadiers, Lieutenant
Colonel P.H. Cunningham, had taken over command at Umba. Four days later the Germans attacked again
with three companies but they were driven off, however von Lettow-Vorbeck had
achieved his reconnoitring objectives and he was ready for a serious attack.
On 17th January the force from
Mafia Island arrived off-shore with the four 1 KAR Companies that were aboard
scheduled to replace the two 3 KAR Companies who had been working very hard in
the coastal area for several weeks.
Left: The British Fort at Vanga
final German attack on Jasin
By the next day, 18th January,
only one 1 KAR company was ashore when a strong enemy dawn attack was launched
on Jasin. On that day the Jasin garrison
consisted of two companies of Kashmiris (184 men with 40 of them in the sisal
factory) and one of Grenadiers that was joined by another company of Grenadiers
from Umba as the attack started (a total of 138 Grenadiers, stated to be
Konkani Mahrattas), plus 9 KAR Machine gunners and 5 signallers. Lieutenant Colonel Raghbir Singh, 2nd
Kashmiris, commanded the position.
Colonel Cunningham at Umba saw the Jasin
signal rockets and immediately sent up ‘B’ Company 1 KAR and the two 3 KAR
companies. Captain G.J. Giffard, the
Queen’s Regiment and KAR, was the senior officer. Finding that the Jasin position and the sisal
factory were surrounded and that his progress was checked by enemy on a ridge on
the right bank of the Jimbo River, Giffard ordered an attack across the
river. The two 3 KAR companies crossed
the river and fought against the enemy on the ridge, gaining a good foothold
there, but no ammunition was sent forward to them and after two hours of hard
combat they fell back across the river.
Giffard had led his 1 KAR company in an attempt to relieve the sisal
factory but that failed, and he also re-crossed the river to request
Meanwhile the sepoys in the main defensive
position resisted the strong enemy attack, but the defensive position had not
been well planned and was unsatisfactory as adjacent sisal plants allowed the
enemy to make a concealed approach, and the garrison’s water source was located
30 yards outside the position perimeter.
The Kashmiri sepoys in the sisal factory
were undoubtedly lacking in fire discipline as by 1100 hours they had fired their
last round (3). To quote from the Official History:
“They had no
thought of surrender. Led by Subadar
Mardan Ali, they charged out with bayonets and kukris, scattering into the
bush, and eventually 29 of the 40 (sepoys) reached Umba Camp.”
Mardan Ali, along with Sepoys Billu and
Saif Ali, later received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal. In fact some sepoys including Mardan Ali got
through to Jasin Post, the main defended location, and were later captured
fighting on the Jimbo River
On receiving Giffard’s report Colonel
Cunningham sent forward ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies 1 KAR (‘E’ Company remained in
reserve at Umba Camp), two companies of Jind Infantry, and the section of the
28th Mountain Battery. The
mountain gunners were quickly exchanging fire with German machine guns at 300
yards range and taking a toll of the Schutztruppe’s European machine gunners,
and when enemy bayonet charges were made on the gun positions the gunners fired
40 rounds in 5 minutes on the fuse setting “shrapnel zero”.
Giffard ordered a resumption of the
previous attack across the Jimbo River.
On the right 1 KAR’s objective was the sisal factory. Throughout the East Africa Campaign the Jind
Infantry never failed to attack when ordered, and on this occasion their
mission was to assault in the centre and to relieve Jasin Post. The two 3 KAR companies, now understrength
because of casualties suffered earlier, did likewise on the left, their
objective also being to relieve Jasin Post.
At noon the Jind Infantry fired three
volleys into the bush across the river and the 120 sepoys charged. But German Askari were concealed and waiting
and in a short time 36 sepoys were shot dead and 21 others were wounded,
including the Jind Commanding Officer Major General Natha Singh and the unit’s
one British officer with it at that time, Captain H.E. Macbrayne (4),
15th Sikhs. The Jind men
withdrew across the river, and Subadar Harnam Singh later received an Indian
Order of Merit, 2nd Class, for the gallantry he displayed before
he was severely wounded and taken prisoner.
On the British left flank the two 3 KAR
companies, now weakened by casualties lost in the earlier attack, again
established themselves across the river on the ridge but they were alone as the
surviving Jind sepoys had retired and the 1 KAR Askari had been
outflanked. Finally a message arrived
from Colonel Cunningham ordering a withdrawal and the Askari, now surrounded,
broke away from the ridge on animal paths in the bush and returned to Umba
camp. Reinforcements ordered from
Samanya and Bwaga Macho had got lost in the bush or clashed with the enemy and
finished up at Umba Camp.
Brigadier Tighe then arrived at Umba and
called off further action for that day; he believed that Jasin Post had
sufficient ammunition and supplies to last for several more days. Two Kashmiri sepoys, Bal Bahadur Chetti and
Dal Bahadur Thapa, volunteered to get a message through the enemy lines to
Jasin Post during the hours of darkness.
Their attempt failed as they were seen and fired at but they returned
with useful information; both men later received the Indian Order of Merit,
fall of Jasin Post
At dawn on 19th January the
German companies surrounding Jasin Post opened fire with rifles, several machine
guns and three field guns. The Kashmiri
troops lost their fire discipline and returned fire effectively but furiously,
rapidly expending the ammunition stock.
Many of the Grenadiers were new replacements from India sent to make up
the Tanga losses and they were suffering from the effects of the tropical climate,
malaria and low morale. Most would not
raise themselves to return fire and those that did mostly fired blindly into
the air. The KAR machine gun had a stoppage and remained out of action. The water supply within the perimeter ran
out. Colonel Raghbir Singh was killed
and that event increased the general demoralisation within the post.
Captain G.J.G. Hanson, a Special Service
Officer with the Kashmiris, was the senior officer in the post and at around
0800 hours, deciding that further resistance was useless, he ordered a white
flag to be raised. Jasin Post had
surrendered. The 2nd Kashmir
Rifles in the Post (not including the sisal factory) lost 12 men killed and 13
wounded; the 101st Grenadiers lost 6 killed and 4 wounded. There were probably many more minor shrapnel
wounds that were not recorded at the time (5).
Meanwhile reinforcements were arriving from
Mombasa but Brigadier Tighe did not initiate further military activity. Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck sent for Captain
Hanson and the senior officer with the Grenadiers, Captain J. Turner, and
complemented them on their defence, returning their swords. He then paroled (6) them in exchange for a wounded German officer and his wife captured on Mafia
Island. Hanson and Turner returned to
the British lines but their sepoys remained in German hands as prisoners of
The two KAR companies were the vanguard of the British
advance, followed by the Kashmiris and Grenadiers. By 20th December enemy outposts, generally
manned by coastal Arabs, had been driven back across the Umba River and Umba
Valley Camp was constructed by the British to the north of and near the mouth
of the river. On the following day the
KAR entered Vanga to find the former German occupants gone.
KAR patrols then crossed the border to reconnoitre the
defended village of Jasin, known to the Germans as Jassini, and on 23rd
December a 3 KAR attack captured the lightly-held position but the attackers
were ordered to withdraw into British territory. The following day the enemy reoccupied the
village. On Christmas Day at 0600 hours
the two KAR Companies and a Grenadier company mounted a surprise bayonet attack
on Jasin and captured it, killing seven of the enemy including the German
commander who was still wearing his pyjamas when he died. British losses were two killed and three
wounded. But again the victors, under
Captain T.O. FitzGerald, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and KAR, had to
withdraw; however they withdrew with the dead German officer’s substantial
Christmas provisions, as it would have been a shame to leave them behind.
Thinking that he had established British control over the
border area General Tighe established a coastal base at Goa, near Umba Valley
Camp, where he could receive sea-borne supplies and thus not be reliant on so
many porters. Three companies (two
during daylight and a third sent from Umba to add more strength at night)
garrisoned Jasin which was found to be deserted, and four more companies
occupied a new camp at Samanya, whilst further inland half of the Grenadiers
plus Wavell’s Arabs and a machine gun section occupied Bwaga Macho. Lieutenant Colonel H.A. Vallings, 29th
Punjabis, commanded the troops in Umba Camp area. This situation remained unchallenged and
unaltered until the second week of 1915.
General Wapshare ordered a return to the
healthier ground around Msambweni and Gazi, resulting in the British having
lost many men killed, wounded, taken prisoner and diseased for no gain
whatsoever (7). From London Lord Kitchener sent a telegram to
General Wapshare stating:
“You are entirely
mistaken to suppose that offensive operations are necessary. The experience at Jasin shows you are not
well informed of the strength of the enemy . . . you should concentrate your
forces and give up risky expeditions . . . in East Africa, where we cannot
reinforce you sufficiently to be sure of success.”
British morale was again shaken. The KAR, the Jind Infantry and the Kashmiris
had not let the side down, and the mountain gunners had excelled themselves,
killing and wounding many enemy Europeans.
But the British had made two fundamental mistakes: Jasin Post was sited
in an undefendable location, and the attacks against the enemy-held ridgeline
south of the Jumbo River were scattered and piecemeal instead of being
concentrated and using maximum force.
Sepoys and Askari paid the price for these errors of military judgement.
Above: German Graves from the Jasin fighting
German consequences of the Jasin fighting
Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck had won another
battle and had gained precious booty in the form of captured rifles and
equipment. He had used conventional
military tactics but this had cost him 200,000 rounds of ammunition and seven
of his Regular German Army officers were dead, along with 20 local Europeans
and 61 Askari; 31 other Europeans, including the Colonel himself, and around 150
Askari had been wounded. The
Schutztruppe could not sustain losses of both ammunition and men on this scale
because the Royal Navy had so far prevented GEA from receiving supplies and
reinforcements by sea.
After appreciating his situation the
Colonel changed the Schutztruppe’s tactics to those more suitable for a war of
attrition. He did not indulge in large
battles until late 1917. Instead he
fought delaying actions on favourable ground, utilising the vast civilian
African manpower available to him in GEA to dig defences and carry
supplies. After a delaying action had
caused Allied casualties and disrupted an advance the Schutztruppe would
withdraw on interior lines of communication, falling back onto pre-positioned
supply dumps. Meanwhile the Allies were
lengthening their lines of communication every week, constantly creating more
logistical problems for themselves.
Colonel (later General) Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his men would still
be in the African bush fighting the British in November 1918 after an Armistice
had been agreed in France and Flanders.
Left: The Jasin Memorial Panel
The Indian dead from the Jasin fighting are
commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Tanga (Jasin)
Memorial that occupies part of the screen wall in the Tanga Memorial Cemetery,
Tanzania. The German European dead are
buried under a large concrete slab near Tanga European Cemetery. The Askari of both sides were buried where
APPENDIX. GALLANTRY AWARDS FOR THE JASIN FIGHTING 1. Indian
Order of Merit, 2nd Class
Subadar Harnam Singh, Jind
his gallant conduct at Jasin on the 18th January 1915. He rallied a small party to cover a
retirement and held the enemy in check until his party were all killed and he
himself severely wounded and taken prisoner.
No 310 Sepoy Bal Bahadur
Chetti and No. 1275 Sepoy Dal Bahadur Thapa, both 2nd Kashmir
gallant behaviour on the night of the 18th-19th January
1915, at Jasin, in volunteering to carry a message to Jasin Post. The post was surrounded by the enemy and the
errand was one of great danger. At
night, with two Africans, they proceeded in a dug-out through the mangrove
swamps adjoining the post and, though unable to get through the enemy’s
outposts, which were in a close ring round the post and fired on them, remained
out all night and brought in useful information.
2. Indian Distinguished
No. 1211 Gunner Mehr Khan,
28th Mountain Battery.
gallantry in going back about 40 yards four times under the close fire of 3
machine guns, to bring up the side shields of his gun, which had been left
Mardan Ali, 2nd Kashmir Rifles.
held on to his post until the last round according to orders. Brought in his belt boxes of ammunition. He was a most cheery and useful NCO
throughout the fight and carried the flag of truce to the enemy (prisoner). No. 1091 Sepoy Billu, 2nd
Kashmir Rifles. No. 6 Sepoy Saif Ali, 2nd
Other sepoys who received
the Indian Distinguished Service Medal at the same time as those listed above,
and whose awards therefore may be related to the Jasin fighting are:
Seven Askari were awarded
the African Distinguished Conduct Medal for acts of gallantry performed during
the Jasin fighting:
No 258 Private Bule; No.
278 Corporal Matukutu; and No 262 Private Tabu.
All three men shared a common citation:
conspicuous gallantry in rescuing wounded during the retirement from Jasin on
18th January 1915. They each
in turn engaged the pursuing enemy in hand to hand combat, and succeeded in
bringing off their wounded comrades without the loss of a single rifle.
Yuzbashi Effendi Said
on several occasions shown conspicuous bravery.
On 18th January 1915, he withdrew his company with great
skill from Jasin Ridge, after their ammunition was expended, and though heavily
pressed by the enemy he brought back all the wounded with safety.
No 566 Sergeant Juma
conspicuous bravery in crossing the Suba River (near Jasin) by himself, and
succeeded in finding a path by which he brought up the section within 50 yards
of the enemy. He maintained his position
under heavy machine gun fire until his ammunition was exhausted.
No. 152 Lance Corporal
Kiblagat Arap Tumogan.
conspicuous bravery in saving a maxim gun from falling into the hands of the
enemy during the retirement from the Jasin Ridge on 18-19th January
No. 1925 Colour Sergeant
George Williams DCM received a Bar to his DCM, see the following note.
citation for a Victoria Cross
No. 1925 Colour Sergeant
George Williams, 3 KAR, was already cited for an African Distinguished
Conduct Medal for courage and enterprise displayed in the Tsavo Valley in
September 1914, and he received that award later in 1915.
After Jasin Brigadier
Tighe cited him for a Victoria Cross:
‘D’ Company on the 18th after Lieutenant Dean had been wounded and
the Effendi killed. He succeeded in
extricating the Company and machine gun under a very heavy rifle and machine
gun fire after all the ammunition had been expended. This NCO has frequently come to my notice for
acts of gallantry and skill. (8)
However this citation created
an argument of protocol between the Colonial and the War Offices centred on who
was responsible for initiating KAR awards, and the end result was that George
received nothing but his first African Distinguished Conduct Medal. Sadly George Williams was killed in action in
Portuguese East Africa during the last year of the war.
John Arnold (compiler). The African DCM. (Orders and Medals
Research Society 1998). ·
Rana Chhina. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
(2001, InvictaIndia). ·
Peter Duckers. Reward of Valour. The Indian Order of Merit,
1914-1918. (1999, Jade Publishing Limited). ·
(compiler). History of the Great War.
Military Operations East Africa, Volume I, August 1914-September 1916.
(Reprint 1990, The Battery Press, Nashville). ·
Andrew Kerr. I can never say enough about the men.
(PMC Management Consultants Ltd, India 2010). ·
General Paul Von
Lettow-Vorbeck. My Reminiscences of East
Africa. (Reprint by Battery Press, Nashville). ·
Charles Miller. Battle for the Bundu. The First World War in
East Africa. (1974, Purnell Book Services Ltd). ·
Edward Paice. Tip & Run. The Untold Tragedy of the
Great War in East Africa. (2007, Weidenfeld & Nicholson). ·
Keith Steward FRGS.
Article: An African Hero Who Deserved the
Victoria Cross: Colour Sergeant George Williams KAR, DCM and Bar. In the Journal of the Orders and Medals
Research Society, March 2005. ·
War Diaries and other
documents in the National Archives: HQ Mombasa Area, December 1914 and January
1915 (WO95 5360); 1st Battalion The King’s African Rifles, January 1915 (WO
5369); Record of the 3rd Battalion The King’s African Rifles During
the Great Campaign in East Africa 1914 – 1918 (WO106/273).
An article by the author describing the Mafia
Island operation can be found on-line at:
The Official History does not mention this
initial attack but the 3 KAR Record does. (3)
Standing Orders for Umba Force stipulated that
300 rounds per man should be maintained on every position. In the case of the sisal factory it may have
been that some of that ammunition was stored in Jasin Post.
Captain MacBrayne was a Special Service Officer
with the Jind Infantry. (5)
In his book I Can Never Say Enough About The Men
Andrew Kerr quotes a statement that of the 135 Kashmiri prisoners 115 were
The Germans in East Africa, often not wanting to
be encumbered by prisoners, frequently paroled them on the understanding that
these men would not serve operationally again whilst the war lasted.
Official History gives these British casualty figures for the Jasin fighting:
Killed: 2 Indian officers, 74 sepoys and 15 Askari. Wounded: 5 British officers, 3 Indian officers,
39 sepoys and 48 Askari. Captured: 263
sepoys, KAR MG Section 1 European and 7 Askari, 31st (Indian) Signal Company 2
Europeans and 3 sepoys (a Captured total of 276 all ranks). Missing: 1 Askari.
Citation in Mombasa Area War Diary January 1915,
in Brigadier Tighe’s report on Jasin.
The actual VC citation would have been more polished and better phrased.