In common with the other regiments of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) the 4th Regiment, recruited from Uganda, started the Great War with only one battalion. By the end of the war the 4th Regiment had six battalions. This is an account of the life of the 4th Battalion, designated on official correspondence as 4/4 KAR.
As white units became worn out and ineffective because of the effects of the East African climate, tropical diseases, and debilitation caused by an inadequate supply system, a rapid expansion of the King’s African Rifles was commenced in early 1916. A fourth battalion of Ugandan soldiers was raised on 1st May 1917.
4/4 KAR was initially based at Mbagathi, outside Nairobi in British East Africa (now named Kenya). This was a massive depot where recruit training was centralised for all the KAR regiments except the 1st. 1 KAR continued to use its bases in Nyasaland (now named Malawi). A large group of officers and senior ranks from the British Army was sent from Britain to Mbagathi. These Europeans first had to learn the local command language, Swahili, before being allocated to training battalions as instructors or to operational units as company officers, company sergeant majors (CSMs) or non commissioned officers (NCOs).
The Ugandan recruits were taken from their villages to the 4 KAR barracks at Bombo, Uganda, and then moved by ferry across Lake Victoria to Kisumu, and then by train down to Nairobi. As new battalions were formed experienced Ugandan NCOs and soldiers from the older battalions were posted in, but by 1917 many of the experienced men had been killed, wounded or were coming up to their discharge dates. Therefore the new battalions had to quickly identify and train their own NCOs from the ranks of the recruits.
Hunting Naumann and his raiders
On 10th August 1917 4/4 KAR was given two hours notice to assemble for operations a party of 480 recruits with two machine guns.
Six months earlier, on 6th February, Hauptmann Max Wintgens at Gumbiro in southeastern German East Africa (GEA, now named Tanzania) had marched away, without authority from the Schutztruppe commander, and headed for northern GEA. Wintgens had taken with him four Field Companies containing 50 Europeans, 450 Askari, 12 machine guns and two 3.7-centimetre field guns. After defeating or avoiding British forces who opposed him Wintgens caught typhus in May and was left behind and taken prisoner near Tabora. Captain Heinrich Naumann then took over command of Wintgen’s column and continued marching north. Naumann was a hard and ruthless leader, perfectly suited to command the raiding forays that he now directed.
In early August Naumann was in the Moshi – Kondoa Irangi area and contemplating a move on Nairobi. Hot on his heels was the hard-marching South African Cape Corps, a coloured regiment, but other troops were needed to hem the raiders in, and 4/4 KAR was sent to assist. Major H.A. Lilley left Nairobi on 12th August with 450 men of 4/4 KAR, travelling by rail through Voi and Kahe to Korogwe in GEA. For the next month detachments of Lilley’s Askari moved between Korogwe, Kahe, Wilhelmstal, Mgera and Handeni. Neumann’s men were on the move but nobody on the British side knew where the enemy would strike next. A successful German raid hit Kahe station on 28th August, causing severe consternation both amongst rear-echelon officers in Nairobi and in Wilhelmstal, where a British civilian administration was trying to organise the governing of captured GEA territory.
Naumann’s raiders, now totalling 32 Europeans and 384 Askari with seven machine guns were finally worn down and surrounded. Captain Joseph Zingel with 9 Europeans, 100 Askari and irregulars, and 230 followers surrendered to the Cape Corps at Wanyoki on 2nd September. Naumann and the remainder of his raiders were brought to bay a month later, 4/4 KAR being deployed to attack the eastern end of the enemy position at Luita. Cavalry, Mounted Infantry and the Cape Corps manned a cordon. The Germans were being shelled by the 24th (Hazara) Battery, Indian Army, and when a 4.5-inch howitzer manned by the Royal Marine Artillery arrived on the scene, Naumann surrendered on 2nd October before 4/4 KAR attacked. He had done a good job, attracting many allied units away from the battlefields of southern GEA.
4/4 KAR under Lieutenant Colonel Lilley, as he now was, returned to Mbagathi as an experienced and field-trained unit. In November the battalion was moved to Lindi on the southern GEA coast.
On 16th November 1917 4/4 KAR was concentrated at Lindi and deployed on Lines of Communication security duties. The battalion marched over 50 miles to Ndanda and took over the duties and the camp of 3/4 KAR. The battalion strength was 31 British officers, 19 British NCOs and 632 Rank & File. Road making was the first duty, but on 10th December the unit reverted to field training and by the end of the month was building a new camp at Mingoyo. This was in the area of Schaedels Farm, where a large holding area for KAR battalions had been established. On 19th January 1918 an advance party left for Port Amelia in Portuguese East Africa (PEA – now named Mozambique). Five days later the main body embarked on the SS Hymettus and disembarked the next day in Port Amelia.
Port Amelia Force (PAMFORCE), commanded by Brigadier W.F.S. Edwards CMG, was being formed to counter the German move into PEA. Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s slimmed-down Schutztruppe of 2,000 combatants had entered Portuguese East Africa from German East Africa by crossing the Rovuma River in late November 1917. The Germans had acquired arms and ammunition by seizing Portuguese military posts, and had obtained food from villagers. The Germans scrupulously paid for their food, albeit with cloth looted from Portuguese stores, and to the villagers this was a welcome change from Portuguese colonial repression and confiscation.
The British did not mount operations during the first quarter of 1918 because of heavy rains and so until mid-March the battalion garrisoned outposts Near Port Amelia and patrolled inland. A contact near Namarika on 13th March resulted in two 4/4 KAR Askari being killed and one succumbing to wounds. Three days later a patrol captured a German white and an Askari. For gallantry displayed in this action 3825 Sergeant Musa Hawar was awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).
This type of patrol activity continued for the remainder of March, with six more Askari being hit, three of them fatally. Then other British units arrived.
4/4 KAR was placed in a column named ROSECOL after the commander, Lieutenant Colonel R.A. de B. Rose DSO (Worcestershire Regiment & Gold Coast Regiment). The other units in the column were the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR), the Indian Army 22nd Derajat Battery of mountain artillery and a detachment from the re-formed KAR Mounted Infantry Company. Porters from the Sierra Leone Carrier Corps provided transport support. The other column in PAMFORCE was titled KARTUCOL and it contained the first two battalions of the 2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1/2 and 2/2 KAR). In April PAMFORCE was ordered to advance westwards.
Confronting the British advance from Port Amelia (now named Pemba) was a German formation commanded by the Bavarian gunner Major Koehl, one of von Lettow’s most able subordinates. Koehl’s units were No 6 Schutzen Company and the 3rd, 11th, 13th, 14th and 17th Field Companies. These six companies each had at least two machine guns, and a captured Portuguese field gun was also deployed.
On 9th April two companies of 4/4 KAR under Major H.S. Pinder were the advance guard as the force approached Rock Camp, just east of Medo. Five contacts were made that day with the withdrawing Schutztruppe rear guard, resulting in two Ugandan Askari being killed and ten others receiving wounds. CSM Napha and Private Kulinima Kayuma both won Military Medals for brave actions. The next day the battalion moved into the Force Reserve role.
On 12th April the sounds of a very heavy battle in the swamps south of Chirimba Hill were heard, as the Nyasaland Askari of KARTUCOL walked into an area ambush and fought back. 4/4 KAR remained on the axis behind the GCR, who moved to join in the battle. Koehl’s men withdrew to the west and southwest as dusk fell.
On the following day ‘D’ Company patrolled further to the west and after two miles (3.2 kilometres) was held up by two enemy machine guns. Captain W. Robertson took his ‘C’ Company out in support and drove the Germans back a mile (1.6 kilometres). During this fighting Lieutenant A.F. Woodhouse (Special List and KAR) was killed and three Askari were wounded.
On 15th April the force moved west with Major Pinder again commanding an advance guard of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies. Four contacts were made, during which one Askari was killed and another wounded. This was attritional fighting, the vanguard company always knowing that it was only a matter of time before an enemy ambush was sprung from the thick bush on either side of the track. The Germans defended water sources until the last minute, making the British troops expose themselves in attacks or else go thirsty. In the tropical climate a good water source just had to be seized before night fell, and the dense bush prevented the British from putting in quick flank attacks. Observation posts on the rocky outcrops dotting the landscape ensured that the Schutztruppe could always monitor PAMFORCE’s approach by observing dust on the road or smoke from cooking fires in the evening.
Heavy Fighting at Kinjiri River
Two days later Major Pinder was again commanding the advance guard but this time with ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies. Near Kinjiri River three Schutztruppe companies stood and fought on ground of their own choosing. The 4/4 KAR Askari deployed off the track into elephant grass nine feet (2.75 metres) tall. Now the Ugandans could not see the Schutztruppe positions but the German machine gunners knew exactly where the British Askari were and where they were moving to, and the elephant grass was constantly raked by fire. Lieutenany Colonel Lilley deployed with ‘B’ Company to support the firing line, and ‘A’ Company moved forward also as soon as it arrived. 4/4 KAR was taking severe casualties.
Captain William Brown Robertson gained a Military Cross: For conspicuous gallantry in action. He did invaluable work throughout the day in the firing line as a company commander, personally bringing back reports on the situation time after time. At nightfall, when the line had to be withdrawn, he showed great initiative in picking out a new line for his company, personally bringing in batches of men under heavy fire, and thus forming a new line. He set a very fine example of cool courage to his men.
R275 Corporal Yusuf Kagwa received an African DCM: For the display of conspicuous gallantry in action at Nkinjiri 17 April 1918, when he repeatedly brought up ammunition to the firing line under very heavy rifle and machine gun fire, showing an utter disregard of danger. He has at all times set a fine example. Sergeant Dhoka Ganzi was awarded a Military Medal for bravery.
The Gold Coasters now got their Stokes guns (medium mortars) into action and started to reduce the volume of German firepower being delivered onto the Ugandans. Finally the enemy withdrew but the Stokes gun crews had lost 4 men killed and 24 men wounded. In these intense short-range actions the Sierra Leone porters, transporting bombs forward to the Stokes guns and wounded back to the dressing station, could easily be targeted by enemy machine gunners.
4/4 KAR’s losses were much heavier. Lieutenant R.E. Power (Special List and KAR), Sergeant E. Matheson (Gordon Highlanders and KAR) and 12 Askari were dead. Captain A.E.J. Nicholl, Lieutenant H. Stevens, Company Sergeant Major G. Vanhinsbergh (17th Bn The London Regiment and KAR) and 72 of the Rank & File were wounded. The battalion dug in for the night and next morning a dawn patrol located only a small enemy post west of the river. The GCR then relieved 4/4 KAR who moved back a mile to re-group.
On 28th April 4/4 KAR was again vanguard on the approach to the Mkuti River and had three contacts. That night as the battalion encamped a German party of 30 rifles with a machine gun opened fire and exploded a mine in the river bank. One Askari was killed and another was wounded.
Sadly the 4/4 KAR War Diary for May 1918 has not survived, and the battalion’s progress has to be gleaned from GCR accounts. On 5th May the battalion was advance guard as Milinch Hills were approached. These hills were occupied by the Germans and patrols were sent out to determine enemy positions, which turned out to be very strong. However Koehl decided not to fight and withdrew, leaving 4/4 KAR to occupy Milinch Hills without opposition.
Behind PAMFORCE the lines of communication to Port Amelia were now 140 miles (225 kilometres) long. Convoys of porters were having difficulties on the deteriorating track, despite the efforts of South and East African Road Corps men who laboured to keep the track open. The result was that less convoys were arriving on time, the Askari were constantly on short rations, health declined and debilitation set in. Just ahead Koehl’s men were falling back onto dumps stocked by foraging parties, and the Schutztruppe was eating heartily.
On 9th May scouts reported that the entire Schutztruppe was moving towards Lusinje. 4/4 KAR was tasked with marching to Msalu Boma, 27 miles (43.5 kilometres) southeast of Lusinje. The Ugandan Askari used a single-file track to reach and occupy Msalu Boma but the Nyasaland battalion that followed them was ordered to march four abreast in order to force a convoy track through the bush. This was hard work for hungry, weakened men.
ROSECOL closed up at Msalu, where the biggest threat was from hungry lions. 4/4 KAR lost one Askari sentry killed and another badly mauled by the animals. These encounters did not improve morale amongst the unarmed porters.
The Ugandans took the lead again on 23rd May as ROSECOL followed up Koehle’s formation, and the next day, advancing at 0600 hours, 4/4 KAR ran into a very stubborn German rearguard that defended every tactical point on the route. Only two miles of track was gained on that day.
By the end of May ROSECOL had chased Koehl’s men across the River Lurio.
On 1st June 1918 PAMFORCE disbanded and the GCR started marching back to Port Amelia for repatriation. The remaining units came under the command of EDFORCE, which was the title of the columns now controlled by Brigadier Edwards. 4/4 KAR was ordered to march to join FITZCOL, a new column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel T.O. Fitzgerald (King’s Own and KAR), which it did on 19th June at Balama. Two days later at Namuno the Ugandans joined up with 3/3 KAR which had been recruited in British East Africa (now named Kenya). The two-battalion column was now complete.
FITZCOL crossed the Lurio River on 23rd June, using a single pontoon bridge. The mules of the Indian mountain battery were swum across. On the last day of the month the column reached Nampula where Brigadier Edwards had located his headquarters. An issue of new clothing was made to the Askari and gunners to replace the tattered remnants that they were wearing.
The battle at Namirrue
On 4th July FITZCOL marched out towards the Lighona River. ‘D’ Company 4/4 KAR under Lieutenant R.H. Home (Uganda Volunteer Reserve and KAR) remained to garrison Nampula. The 22nd Derajat Pack Battery of mountain guns had been struck off the column strength on 1st July and ordered to march to the coast for repatriation to India.
The Lighona River was crossed on 14th July and the column marched towards its next river, the Namirrue, in an attempt to intercept the Schutztruppe which had been creating havoc as far south as Nhamacurra just north of Quelimane. Von Lettow’s men were reported to be heading north. The Namirrue was reached on the 20th, and the next day distant gunfire was heard from the direction of Namirrue Boma. The German advance guard was attacking a 2/3 KAR company under Captain F.H. Bustard (Northumberland Fusiliers and KAR) that had been detailed to garrison Namirrue.
Lieutenant Colonel Fitzgerald marched his men towards the sound of the guns, unaware that the main German column was just behind him. The Askari were allowed a few hours sleep that night and on 22nd July FITZCOL’s baggage was left on the right bank under the escort of two platoons of ‘A’ Company 4/4 KAR. The remaining infantrymen crossed the river using a ford, with 3/3 KAR in the lead. After meeting sporadic resistance as it crossed a series of ridges 3/3 KAR was heavily engaged at 1700 hours. As darkness was approaching Lieutenant Colonel Fitzgerald ordered his two battalions to entrench where they were, in separate locations.
At 1900 hours a heavy German attack under Major Kraut was launched. Captains Goering, Spangenburg and Poppe assaulted from different directions. The Germans penetrated the 3/3 KAR perimeter which was not yet completely dug or manned and rampaged through the position, killing many British Askari and scattering the remainder. The Commanding Officer of 3/3 KAR and seven of his officers were captured and the battalion was destroyed as a fighting unit.
A few stragglers ran into the 4/4 KAR perimeter and warned of an impending enemy attack which was soon delivered onto the front and right faces of the position. German machine guns were brought up to within 50 yards (45 metres) of the perimeter trenches. But the Ugandans held their ground. 3626 Sergeant Ramadan Kheiralli gained a DCM: For the continuous display of personal bravery and coolness in action. He has consistently been brought to notice for utter disregard of danger in walking up and down the firing line under heavy fire giving orders and controlling his men. He has set a very fine example to his platoon.
After 20 minutes of hard fighting the Schutztruppe withdrew. Lieutenant Colonel Fitzgerald also decided to withdraw what remained of his column back to the river. The depleted ‘A’ Company 4/4 KAR led the way, fought off an attack en route, and sited a position on the left bank covering the ford. The remainder of FITZCOL joined ‘A’ Company and repelled another enemy attack lasting 15 minutes that was mounted at 2300 hours. The column then crossed the ford and joined the baggage escort.
The following morning saw FITZCOL withdrawing further up-stream to re-organise. The Askari had been without adequate sleep and rations for two days. This withdrawal sounded the death-knell for Captain Bustard’s 2/3 KAR company which was now shelled into submission by the Germans, its water supply having been cut off and many men having been killed or wounded.
The final weeks in Portuguese East Africa
After Namirrue FITZCOL did not fight again. About half a company remained of 3/3 KAR and that was employed on the line of communication until the end of the war. 4/4 KAR marched across a lot of Portuguese East Africa but did not encounter the enemy. On 28th September the battalion was back in the Port Amelia area, having marched a distance of 1246 miles (2005 kilometres) during the previous 107 days – an average of 11.75 miles (18.9 kilometres) per day.
4/4 KAR was then shipped up to Dar Es Salaam, railed to Kilossa and then to Tabora, and employed on garrison and training duties at Ipole and Kitunda. On 12th November the Askari of this hard-marching battalion enjoyed a General Holiday to celebrate the signing in Europe of an Armistice. (Their Ugandan brothers in 1/4 KAR in Northern Rhodesia were still fighting, as news of the Armistice was slower to arrive there.) 4/4 KAR was disbanded in early 1919.
On 7th February 1919 Lieutenant Colonel Harry Arthur Lilley was awarded a Distinguished Service Order. His Adjutant, Captain Arthur Jeffereys Nicholl, was awarded a Military Cross, as was Temporary Captain John Bartlemore Short.
- War Diary 4th/4th KAR (WO 95/5326).
- The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett MBE.
- The Gold Coast Regiment in the East African Campaign by Sir Hugh Clifford KCMG.
- Historical Record of 22nd Derajat Pack Battery, Frontier Force.
- Tip & Run by Edward Paice.
- My Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul von Lettow Vorbeck.
- Recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1914-1920 compiled by R.W. Walker.
- London Gazettes and Medal Index Cards.