This Day In History

  • 1860 New Zealand. As relations with the Maoris deteriorate, 4 companies of the 40th Regiment (later 1st South Lancashires) disembark at New Plymouth, on transfer from Tasmania.
We are funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

Please help by clicking the buttons below.

2nd Loyals in East Africa 1914-17

 A Lancashire Infantry Museum Narrative History

© Lancs Inf Museum & Harry Fecitt MBE TD 

‘The Loyal North Lancashires, too, have borne the heat and burden of the day from the first disastrous landing at Tanga.  Always exceedingly well disciplined, they yield to none in the amount of solid unrewarded work done in this campaign.’

From Robert Valentine Dolbey’s: Sketches of the East African Campaign.

When the Great War started in August 1914 the 2nd Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was stationed at Bangalore, southern India, one of the 52 British Regular Army Battalions then serving in the sub-continent and Burma.

Most British Regular Army units were soon despatched to various war theatres, with British Territorial Army units sent out to replace them in India. 2nd Loyals were no exception, although they, alone of all the British battalions, were to find their war in the disease-ridden swamps, forests and plains of equatorial East Africa.

german-east-africa_edited-1

British and German East Africa, now Kenya and Tanzania respectively.

British East Africa (now Kenya) had the large hostile territory of German East Africa (now Tanzania) on its southern border, and troops from India were despatched to defend it.  Indian Expeditionary Force ‘C’ (IEF ‘C’) provided the first reinforcements in September 1914 and the units in this force, all from the Indian Army, were quickly in action protecting the Uganda Railway line that ran from the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean up to Kisumu on Lake Victoria.Sketch map of BEA and northern GEA_edited-1

Then Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ (IEF ‘B’) was formed, under Brigadier General A.E. Aitken, to invade the German territory and hopefully knock it out of the war.  All the units in this force were from the Indian Army or from Indian Princely States, except for 2nd Loyals, which, as it turned out, was to be the sole British Regular Army unit to serve in East Africa during the Great War.

IEF ‘B’ consisted of two infantry brigades – an Imperial Service Brigade (most of the troops came from Princely States) commanded by Brigadier General M.J. Tighe CIE DSO CB, and the Bangalore Brigade commanded by Brigadier General R. Wapshare which contained 2nd Loyals, commanded by  Lieutenant Colonel Charles Jourdain DSO.  Additional troops, termed Divisional Troops, included a mountain battery, a Pioneer battalion, railway construction and operating companies, and an Imperial Service sapper and miner (field engineer) company.

The Tanga Landings

In mid-October 1914 IEF ‘B’ sailed from India for East Africa.  India had already found troops for France, Egypt and Mesopotamia and so the battalions allocated to IEF ‘B’ were mostly inexperienced in military operations.  At least one unit had not handled machine guns before embarking; also some units which had never sailed before boarded their ships two weeks before final departure.  This confinement aboard, with consequent poor and often non-ethnic rations, combined with totally inadequate training on machine guns, the key weapon, did not bode well for the future.

After a brief stop at Mombasa when only senior and staff officers went ashore, the expeditionary ships sailed down the coast to Tanga, a port in northern German East Africa, and the terminal of the Usambara Railway which started at Moshi, overshadowed by Mount Kilimanjaro in the German hinterland.  It was planned that the battleship HMS Goliath would accompany IEF ‘B’ to Tanga but she broke down at Mombasa, which meant that her 12-inch guns were not, in the event, available to support the infantry landing.  Meanwhile IEF ‘C’ was tasked with a creating a diversion on the British – German border away to the north-west that would draw German attention away from Tanga.

The landings at Tanga were delayed by the Royal Navy’s insistence on warning the Germans there of the cancellation of an unofficial truce that had not been ratified by London; General Aitken should have insisted on immediate landings but he complacently believed that his Indian troops would easily defeat the German African troops.  The Germans in Tanga used the delay well; they organised their local troops for defence and they informed their commander in Moshi, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, of the British arrival. Von Lettow immediately started sending reinforcements down the Usambara Railway to Tanga.

During the night 2nd-3rd November 1915 the 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment) and three companies of the 61st (King George’s Own) Pioneers were landed at Tanga, advancing on the town at dawn.  General Aitken had ordered his mountain battery not to disembark as he thought that the ground was unsuitable for its deployment, and he did not want the navy to shell the town and destroy the buildings that he intended to use.  But the German 17th Field Company was waiting for the British advance and it beat the two Indian battalions back with effective machine gun fire.  The German Schutztruppe, as the locally-recruited army was named, was in fact a formidable fighting force that was well-armed with machine guns manned by Europeans, whilst the riflemen were African Askari recruited from the martial tribes of territory; the Askari were not proficient marksmen but they were adept at ferociously using their bayonets in the thick bush that then covered most of East Africa.Sketch map of the Tanga action_edited-1

The British landings continued and on 4th November a British general advance was again made on Tanga town once all the troops had been given breakfast; supporting fire came from the mountain battery firing ineffectively from the deck of its ship.  Instead of using 2nd Loyals as his reserve to exploit suitable situations as they developed, General Aitken placed his only British regular battalion in the centre of his attacking line.  The advance was through bush and agricultural plantations and visibility was poor.  Some Indian units that had stood-to for disembarkation throughout the night were by now too exhausted after their long confinement aboard ships to be effective.  German troops harassed the advance and tree-top beehives broken by small arms fire released angry bees onto both sides – giving rise to the name by which the action has been known ever since – the “Battle of the Bees.”

B Beach at Tanga, where 2nd Loyals landed to take part in the ill-fated Battle of the Bees. Pictured in 2008 by the author.

B Beach at Tanga, where 2nd Loyals landed to take part in the ill-fated Battle of the Bees. Pictured in 2008 by the author.

German resistance, now strengthened by the arrival of reinforcements released after the failure of IEF ‘C’’s diversionary attack in the north-west, was centred on the strongly-built railway workshops on the left of the British advance.  Here the 101st Grenadiers fought valiantly, charging the workshops several times but always being repulsed by very effective German machine gun fire; the unit lost 11 officers and 130 sepoys killed in action, and all had fought gallantly.  On the British right flank Nepalese and Dogras of the Kashmir Rifles and sepoys of the 13th Rajputs penetrated into the town but did not have enough men to combat the fierce German resistance.  Belatedly General Aitken allowed the navy to use 6-inch guns against the town but the fire was not controlled by observers and it endangered Indian as well as German troops.

In the centre strong resistance was met when the attacking line reached a railway cutting that ran in a curve from the workshops to the port.  Here enemy machine gun fire demoralised the 63rd Palmacottah Light infantry who broke and fled back to the beach, whilst the 98th Infantry declined to advance.  This left 2nd Loyals without support, nevertheless the battalion fought across the cutting and all the rifle companies entered the town; however Colonel Jourdain stayed near General Aitken’s headquarters group, perhaps because he was ordered to.  In the town the Loyals fought fiercely but without a commanding officer, and when sounds of a German advance from the railway workshops were heard the company commanders conferred and decided to pull back to avoid encirclement.  Many Lancashire soldiers were killed by enemy machine gun fire during the withdrawal over the steep-sided and exposed railway cutting.  Meanwhile the Indian troops on 2nd Loyals right also fought withdrawal actions back across the railway cutting.

The steep-sided railway cutting in Tanga, where 2nd Loyals suffered many casualties during the withdrawal. Pictured by the author in 2008

The steep-sided railway cutting in Tanga, where 2nd Loyals suffered many casualties during the withdrawal. Pictured by the author in 2008

IEF ‘B’ re-grouped west of the beaches that they had landed over and the many stout-hearted troops prepared for another assault on the town the next day.  An evening counter-attack by the Germans was beaten back by 2nd Loyals’ musketry and machine gun skills.

In fact, if General Aitken had reconnoitred after dusk he would have discovered that the town was empty of Germans as they had also pulled back a few kilometres; Tanga was waiting to be occupied, but the British failed to send reconnaissance patrols forward and missed their chance.  That night General Aitken and his senior staff officers conferred.  Whilst the majority of the British infantry units could and would still fight, the rear-echelon units on the beaches had become demoralised by the sounds of battle and the sight of fleeing and wounded sepoys; the total of 900 British casualties suffered so far was a shock to all.   General Aitken listened to his senior staff officers, themselves totally shaken by the ferocity of the German defence, and a decision was taken to withdraw the next day.  German superiority in infantry fighting and machine gunnery had won the day.

On 6th November IEF ‘B’ re-embarked without interference from the Germans who were unaware of the withdrawal until it was nearly over.  The operation was secured by 2nd Loyals, the final unit to re-embark.  The Royal Navy refused to carry machine guns in case they damaged the small landing boats (although no damage had been reported on the initial landings), and the force’s remaining guns plus many other valuable store items were left on the beach for the enemy.  The most severely wounded British soldiers were left in German hands.

Of 2nd Loyals, four officers, including the Medical Officer, and 47 soldiers had been killed in action; one officer and 39 men had been wounded and evacuated; and one wounded officer, 17 wounded men and four unwounded men had been taken prisoner – a total of 113 casualties out of the 831 officers and men who had sailed from India.  Later nine men were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their gallantry.  In recognition of the firm grip that he had exerted on the battalion, particularly during the withdrawal, the Regimental SerGerman East Africant Major, Owen Almond, was commissioned; sadly he was to be killed in action the following year.

British East Africa

IEF ‘B’ steamed to Mombasa, where British East African customs tried but failed to charge duty on certain items of military stores. Soon afterwards it was merged with IEF ‘C’ to be deployed in defence of the British East Africa – German East Africa border; the Uganda-German border, and the Uganda Railway.   2nd Loyals marched through Nairobi, but was then dispersed in company groups around territory, being used as a ‘fire-fighting’ unit to support threatened areas in the Protectorate.

To Colonel Jourdain’s increasing aggravation the removal of his battalion’s specialist troops to man other hastily improvised units now began.  The only regular unit in British East Africa was the 3rd Battalion King’s African Rifles (3KAR), plus elements of 1KAR from Nyasaland (now Malawi),and 4KAR from Uganda; these KAR Askari were splendid bush fighters but there was no British army infrastructure in East Africa to support the fighting troops.  Individuals were posted from 2nd Loyals to man signals, provost, transport and training units as well as formation headquarters and new KAR battalions, whilst bodies of men were posted into new combatant units.   No 1 Light Battery, known as Logan’s Battery after its commander, was formed from 2nd Loyals soldiers using two naval 3-pounder guns; later the battery was issued with two naval 12-pounder 8-hundredweight guns and re-titled No 6 Field Battery.  The battery saw action on Lake Victoria where it manned the light guns on Royal Navy lake steamers before fighting during the advance into German East Africa.

A local mounted infantry unit, Cole’s Scouts, absorbed over 70 officers and men from the Loyals.  When Cole’s Scouts was disbanded a new unit, The Mounted Infantry Company, was formed jointly from men of 2nd Loyals and the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), a war-time service unit from England.  Later The Mounted Infantry Company only contained men from 2nd Loyals and it fought as part of the British advance into German East Africa.  During 1915 2nd Loyals formed the 8-gun Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company, which after wasting away mainly through illness was re-formed in late 1916 and then in 1917 (when 2nd Loyals was re-located to Egypt) re-badged as 259 Company, Machine Gun Corps. It was to fight on in German East Africa until the end of 1917.

During 1915 detached 2nd Loyals companies fought actions against German intruders on the Indian Ocean coast and also along the south-eastern shore of Lake Victoria, whilst the main body of the battalion fought against German raiders attacking both the Uganda Railway and the new military railway branch line that was being built from Voi, north of Mombasa, towards Moshi in German territory.

Far more deadly than the Germans were the diseases that laid low and even killed many of the Loyals.  Malaria became endemic, backed up by Beriberi and Black Water Fever.  Jigger fleas burrowed under toe-nails whilst poisonous snakes, wild carnivores and charging elephant and rhinoceros lurked in the thick bush.  The extremes of cold, drenching tropical downpours and intense equatorial sunshine at altitude wreaked havoc with the health of British soldiers used to more temperate climates.  In constant streams men were medically evacuated either to hospitals in the highlands of British East Africa or down the coast in hospital ships to convalescent hospitals in South Africa.

New drafts of men arrived from the depot in India but the battalion was always under-manned, and always over-worked because of its professional abilities.  But Colonel Jourdain, not always a popular man, maintained a tight grip on discipline and always looked after the interests of his men.

On one occasion Colonel Jourdain managed to concentrate about half of his battalion in order to take part in an amphibious landing at Bukoba, on the German-held western shore of Lake Victoria.  A force that included elements from half a dozen units landed on 22nd June 1915 from a Royal Navy flotilla consisting of lake steamers; Brigadier General L.J.M. Stewart commanded.  This time a successful diversionary operation had drawn away the bulk of the German troops towards their border with Uganda.  After fighting for two days Bukoba town was taken and the important German radio communications mast there demolished; the force then withdrew back across the lake in good order.

SS Usoga was one of the steamers used to land the British assault force at Bukoba on Lake Victoria. Pictured in a 2008 by the author, laid up and looking forlorn.

SS Usoga was one of the steamers used to land the British assault force at Bukoba on Lake Victoria. Pictured in a 2008 by the author, laid up and looking forlorn.

On 14th July 1915 the 2nd Loyals machine guns, Logan’s Battery and two of the rifle companies were involved in a battle along the military railway branch line at Mbuyuni.  Sadly the Brigade commander, not a friend of 2nd Loyals, was inexperienced in modern infantry fighting and he ordered a frontal attack that failed; he also unnecessarily ordered the machine guns forward into inferior fire positions and the crew of one gun all became casualties.  During the withdrawal from this failed attack the gun was lost, much to the Brigadier’s displeasure and he insisted on court-martialling the gun detachment commander.  Colonel Jourdain adroitly framed the charge to minimise the personal damage, and two years later the corporal concerned was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The Mounted Infantry Company, riding mules, was engaged in some fierce actions against German raiding parties during 1915, losing several men but also inflicting significant casualties on the enemy.  A Military Cross and three Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded for gallantry displayed during these actions.

Operations and activities during 1916

By January 1916 2nd Loyals was worn out by the physical demands of 14 months in the East African theatre; many men had contracted malaria more than once.  Now thousands of fresh but inadequately trained and poorly disciplined white South African troops were arriving in preparation for an invasion of German territory.  South Africa’s invasion of German South West Africa (now Namibia) had been successfully concluded and large numbers of white South Africans volunteered for further service in East Africa.  These new units included artillery batteries, motor transport units, engineers, conventional marching infantry and many mounted units; sadly the latter were to repeatedly lose their mounts to tsetse fly fever.

The first major operation in 1916 for 2nd Loyals, The Mounted Infantry Company, No 6 Field Battery and The Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company was the attack on Salaita Hill, just east of Taveta on the British-German border, on 12th February 1916.  Once again the same Brigadier mounted the same style of frontal attack which failed when one of the new South African battalions broke and fled at the sight of hundreds of bayonet-wielding German Askari noisily charging at it through the bush; 30 fleeing and probably wounded South Africans went missing and were never seen again, doubtless having been eaten by the carnivores in the bush.  A German counter attack was delayed by the effective fire of The Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company and finally stopped by a heroic lone stand made by the 130th (King George’s Own) Baluchis (Jacob’s Rifles).

The Latema-Reata Nek battlefield, typical East African landscape over which 2 Loyals campaigned. Pictured by the author in 2008 from the position from which Logan's Battery fought

The Latema-Reata Nek battlefield, typical East African landscape over which 2 Loyals campaigned. Pictured by the author in 2008 from the position from which Logan’s Battery fought

A new British theatre commander, the South African General Jan C. Smuts, now took over and pushed forward. During the battle of Latema-Reata Nek, just west of Taveta, on 11th and 12th March 1916, 2nd Loyals was not involved but The Mounted Infantry Company, The Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company and No 6 Field Battery fought.  The same Brigadier produced the same frontal-attack plan until it stalled and he reported sick, (he was then returned to the Indian Army by General Smuts).   Isolated groups of British soldiers fought similarly isolated groups of Germans throughout the night on the sides of the Nek until the German commander’s will broke, and he withdrew.  A Loyal North Lancashire machine gunner and a detached signaller from the battalion both won Distinguished Conduct Medals for their parts in the fighting that night.

General Smuts pushed his troops forward into German East Africa where von Lettow was waiting to fight some well-planned rearguard actions.  German military manpower was a decreasing military asset and von Lettow’s tactics were now to withdraw on interior lines of communication and avoid costly battles, whilst causing the British as much attrition as possible.  No 6 Field Battery, the Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company and The Mounted Infantry Company marched with the British advance down the German Usambara Railway line and the Pangani River valley, but 2nd Loyals did not.

The fact was that 2nd Loyals was worn out. Medical Boards declared that most men needed rest and recuperation, and so after posting all the fit men into the machine gun and mounted infantry units the remainder of the battalion was shipped down to South Africa and the more pleasant climate of Cape Town.

As the three remaining Loyals-manned units marched deeper into enemy territory the supply problems began to multiply.  General Smuts took no interest in logistics – he was only there to capture the German province within 6 months!  The ammunition and rations required by the fighting troops were delivered from British East Africa along the military branch railway from Voi that now connected with the German-wrecked Usambara Railway south of Moshi.  But from the constantly advancing railhead thousands of under-nourished and under-clothed African porters then carried the supplies on their heads.  The numbers of these porters who died on the march through exhaustion and illness have probably never been accurately calculated – they were available and they were expendable.  But there were never enough of them and the result was that the British fighting troops constantly received only half-rations, and sometimes only quarter-rations. Physical debilitation now affected most British soldiers.

The Loyal North Lancashire machine gunners, mounted infantrymen and artillerymen soon began to waste away from malnutrition and constant fevers.  All three units fought together at the battle of Kwa Di Rema on the Lukigura River on 24th June 1915, where a small but decisive British victory was for once achieved due to a successful outflanking movement that the machine gunners took part in.  But immediately after the battle the Mounted Infantry Company had to be  disbanded because it was under strength and without trained reinforcements; the fit men were mostly posted to the machine gun company.

No 6 Field Battery and the machine gunners continued the advance into German East Africa down to the Rufiji River. The field battery was the next to be disbanded, as the terrain was too difficult for the guns to be moved efficiently; also by that time the British artillery staff had decided to standardise on the South African 13-pounder gun.  This left the machine gun company which by September, after fighting in actions on the Dutumi and Wami Rivers, was reduced to under 30 rank and file. The company was ordered to march back to Dar Es Salaam, where after a Medical Board it was disbanded.

2nd Loyals in South Africa and the return to East Africa

On 8th May 1916 Colonel Jourdain with 15 officers, 5 Warrant Officers and 516 other ranks boarded the SS Professor at Mombasa.  The ship reached Durban on 18th May where the battalion disembarked, immediately sending 37 sick men to hospital.  After enjoying tea and a concert provided by the Mayor and residents the battalion entrained for a three-day rail journey to Cape Town.  On arrival the band of HMS Essex played all the companies to their barracks in Simonstown.

In Simonstown all the soldiers were medically examined and weighed, and extra rations of oatmeal, sugar, condensed milk and oranges were authorised.  Lord Buxton, the Governor General of South Africa inspected the battalion on 26th May and gave a complimentary speech. Ill-health still troubled the unit. On 28th May one officer and 137 men were in or attending hospital.  Nevertheless Colonel Jourdain, whilst resting his troops, also trained them and on 31st May he held an officers training exercise in the hills overlooking the barracks.  Unfortunately that evening Major H.A. Robinson, the Senior Major, suddenly died from a heart attack; he was buried the next day at Simonstown.

The battalion had now been away from its base in India for nearly two years, with no prospect of it returning.  So during June the 2nd Loyals Depot at Bangalore was moved back to the Regiment’s home in Preston, Lancashire, and the authorised wives and families returned to England.

In South Africa, the battalion continued recuperating and training, and all ranks enjoyed the warm local hospitality offered to them, although the numbers of men sick from fever remained high.

Nevertheless, in August 1916 2nd Loyals returned to Mombasa, landing there on the 20th of the month.  Some sick men had been left in South Africa, where some were to die, but drafts of men had arrived from England.  The battalion strength was now 21 officers, 31 warrant officers and servants, 71 corporals and lance corporals, 4 drummers and 404 privates.

The first operation that 2nd Loyals was involved in was a landing at Bagomoyo, German East Africa, followed by a march down the coast to capture Dar Es Salaam, the German capital.  After a three-day advance the city was reached on 4th September, the Royal Navy having captured it the previous day; because of the large number of their non-combatants in the town the Germans chose not to defend it.

A week later 2nd Loyals was again moved by sea down the coast to Kilwa where it was deployed on security duties against enemy raiding parties.  However the unit health rapidly relapsed into the old pre-South Africa pattern, with often a hundred or more men being sick with fever each day.  The recuperation period in South Africa had in fact had little effect on the severely weakened constitutions of men who had spent too long out in the field in a tropical climate.

In November 2nd Loyals was ordered to re-form a machine gun company of 120 men and to then prepare the remainder of the battalion for a transfer to the Egyptian theatre.  With difficulty the unit Medical Officer selected the fittest 120 men and the second Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company was formed.  At the end of December 1916 2nd Loyals departed German East Africa aboard the transport Elele for Egypt via Aden.  Five sick soldiers were to die on the voyage.  In Egypt on 9th February 1917 a battalion strength return listed 20 officers and 802 other ranks, but of those 2 officers and 293 other ranks were in or attending hospital.

Still soldiering on in East Africa were over 250 men of the regiment who were either machine gunners, military specialists, staff officers, warrant officers or sergeants serving with KAR battalions, or who were in hospital.  The East Africa theatre was to keep some men of 2nd Loyals fully occupied until the war was over.

The second Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company

The second Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company was commanded by Major Robert Berkeley, and he was quickly given orders to march to Kibata, a location in the hills north-west of Kilwa.  At Kibata a fierce battle was raging which was more akin to the battlefields of France and Flanders than the African bush.  British troops were dug-in on a series of low hills near the masonry-built Kibata Fort but German troops with heavy artillery were occupying a surrounding ring of higher hills.

The enemy was using 4.1-inch guns that each needed teams of 600 Africans for hauling and ammunition carrying, although labour supply was not a problem as the Germans applied their colonial laws and procedures in the areas of German East Africa that they still occupied.  Some of these guns had been salvaged from the sunken German cruiser Konigsberg in the Rufiji River delta, and others had arrived on a supply ship from Germany that evaded the Royal Navy blockade of the coastline.  The defenders of Kibata, Baluchis from India and Askari from Nyasaland, were having a tough time as any movement during daylight hours attracted accurate enemy artillery fire.

The company marched out with its 40 mules carrying the guns, 120 First Line porters carrying ammunition, spare parts and water for the gun cooling systems, and the 500 Second Line Porters, a tactical distance to the rear, carrying reserve ammunition, trench mortars, baggage, rations, tentage and soldiers’ kits.  It took nearly four days of hard marching on slippery, muddy, rain-drenched tracks for the Company to reach Kibata. Even before it arrived one detached Loyals officer had been killed there during a German attack.  Another detached Loyals signaller had been awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal at Kibata whilst the company was on the march.

Immediately on arrival a section of the company’s guns was deployed to support an attack being made that night, 15th December, by 129th Baluchis on a German-held feature named the Lodgement.  The Baluchis attacked silently, grenaded the Lodgement and then assaulted it with the bayonet, killing or evicting all the defenders.  A section of Loyals machine guns immediately moved up into the captured position.  The following morning the Germans put intense artillery fire onto the Lodgement, and the machine gun company detachment commander there, Lieutenant Norman MacDonald, was mortally wounded whilst attending to one of his wounded machine gunners; he died on 25th December at Kibata as continuous torrential rain made safe casualty evacuation impossible.

On 1st January 1917 the two 5-inch howitzers of the 14th Howitzer Battery arrived at Kibata.  Many hundreds of African labourers had put in a massive physical effort in pouring rain to make a passable road over which the howitzers could be moved.  The arrival of these two large guns signalled the end of German hopes of destroying the British garrison.  A few days later Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck withdrew six of his nine field companies from the Kibata area. The German priority now was to withdraw north to meet General Smuts’ main body of British troops which was fighting for crossings over the Rufiji River.  British intelligence scouts observed this and reported that the enemy was thinning-out around Kibata.  On the 6th January Brigadier Henry de Courcy O’Grady, the British commander in Kibata, ordered a general advance that the Loyals machine gunners supported with overhead fire.  The KAR Askari quickly took the hill crests previously occupied by the Germans.

As the Germans withdrew northwards 129th Baluchis followed them up supported by two KAR companies, a section of a mountain battery and machine gun and mortar detachments of the 2nd Loyals Machine Gun Company.  At Mwengei, from where the German heavy guns had been firing, a serious action developed.

The 2nd Loyals Machine Gun Company supported the Baluchis in some heavy fighting.  A British aircraft was sent up to bomb the enemy, but as the draft Official History states:” The aeroplane did not appear for several hours and then could effect nothing, having expended its bombs in error on some other hills far to the northward”.  Eventually the Germans withdrew, abandoning and destroying their 4.1-inch naval gun.

The 2nd Loyals Machine Gun Company fought in the Mtumbei Valley, south of the Rufiji, in support of the Baluchis until mid-February, when orders were received to return to the coast.  On 21st February 1917 the Company arrived back at Kilwa.  Here it found that since 15th February it had been transferred to the Machine Gun Corps with the title of 259 Machine Gun Company.  All the soldiers and the wartime-commissioned officers were transferred to the Machine Gun Corps; the Regular Army officers retained their Loyal North Lancashire Regiment identities whilst being on attachment to the Machine Gun Corps.  The 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Machine Gun Company had only operated for two and a half months, but those months had been eventful, marked by fierce fighting over rugged terrain during excessive tropical rainfall.

259 Machine Gun Company was now ordered to embark for Mombasa where it took the train to Nakuru, a town 8,000 feet high in the hills.  A recuperation period followed, and then training programmes were completed on Lewis Guns and mortars as the company was issued with both weapons in addition to the machine guns.  Major Berkeley received a Distinguished Service Order and two Military Crosses were awarded.

For the last half of the year 259 Company was involved in heavy fighting in the southern part of German East Africa.  This culminated in a massive four-day battle at Mahiwa where the company was firing its weapons at close range in thick bush; over 500 German troops were killed but the British suffered similarly and several officers and men of 259 Company were killed and wounded.  Later six men were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry.

After this action the British authorities decided to repatriate all remaining European and Indian troops from East Africa, leaving the fighting to the Askari who could withstand the local conditions.  259 Machine Gun Company left East Africa on 10th December 1917.  On reaching England the Regular Army officers were posted back to 2nd Loyals and all others were posted elsewhere within the Machine Gun Corps.

The end of a ‘Sideshow’

At the end of 1917 Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck withdrew a very slimmed-down and tightly selected Schutztruppe southwards into Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).  For the final year of the war he stayed ahead of his British adversaries who followed him from German East Africa and Nyasaland; several times he was brought to bay by British columns, but he always extricated his troops and lived to fight another day.  As the war ended he had marched his men back into German territory, around the head of Lake Nyasa, and he was in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) advancing towards Portuguese West Africa (now Angola).  There were no British troops in his way and he would have been able to operate indefinitely in Angola by capturing Portuguese supply dumps, as he had done in Portuguese East Africa.  But the Armistice in Europe, when the news of it trickled through to Northern Rhodesia, led to the surrender of the Schutztruppe, the disbandment of the German Askari, and the repatriation to Europe of the German, Austrian and Hungarian officers and senior ranks.

Sadly the world-wide Spanish Influenza epidemic then killed many brave soldiers of both sides who had survived four years of brutal bush warfare.

In history books the Great War East Africa Campaign is referred to as a ‘Sideshow’.  Such it may have seemed to be, to observers in Europe, but to the men fighting in the bush it was a battle of survival against the climate and the conditions as well as a fierce enemy who could be just behind the next tree, with his bayonet lunging towards your belly.

Probably up to 50 men from 2nd Loyals saw the war end in East Africa.  They had become important parts of the British military machine in the theatre and they were needed in their staff or specialist appointments until the end.  Some stayed even longer, such as the 2nd Loyals Bandmaster who became the 3KAR Bandmaster in Kenya, and a Warrant Officer who became the KAR Quartermaster also in Kenya; they completed their military careers with the KAR in a strange land that they had come to understand and appreciate.

Plaque in Nairobi Cathedral commemorating the men of the 2nd Loyals who fell in the East African campaign.

Plaque in Nairobi Cathedral commemorating the men of the 2nd Loyals who fell in the East African campaign.

But there were others who had no choice in the matter. They were the 134 officers and men of 2nd Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and 259 Company, Machine Gun Corps, who were buried in East Africa or off its coast at sea; other comrades of theirs lie in graves near hospitals in South Africa.

SOURCES:

Colonel H.C. Wylly: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919.  (Naval & Military Press).

War Diary, 2nd Bn The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 1914-1917. (WO95 5339).

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern (compiler): History of the Great War. Military Operations East Africa, Volume I, August 1914-September 1916.  (Battery Press).

Unpublished drafts of Military Operations East Africa, Volume II in The National Archives, Kew. (CAB 44 series).

Leo Walmsley: So Many Loves. (The Reprint Society, London 1945).

Operations near Lake Victoria:  http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/424043.html

Cole’s Scouts:  http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/300122.html

2nd Loyals Machine Gun Companies:  http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/410022.html and  http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/442901.html

Robert Valentine Dolbey: Sketches of the East African Campaign http://archive.org/details/sketchesoftheeas10362gut