Author name: Harry Fecitt

Leading on from Howard’s initiative please may I introduce myself. This is a best done by reference to an internet site Harry’s Africa where you will see some biographical detail and the results of some of my research into African military history, especially the Great War period Reference to another site, in the Great War Forum (, should you have the stamina to plough through it, will show you the Great War East African battlefields that I have visited and photographed: Recently I have turned my research attention to German & Portuguese East Africa as operations in those countries are not fully covered by an official history, and so much interesting & important military information lies unperused in the UK National Archives. The results of some of this work can be seen at and I am particularly interested in the roles played by the African, Indian, West Indian, Cape Coloured and Arab soldiers of both sides during the East African WW1 campaign. Nearly all books on the campaign tend to highlight the activities of white units, yet most of the heavy fighting was done by darker-skinned soldiers. I wish to actively support any activity that leads to more public awareness of the Great War East African campaign. I have tried to interest people in battlefield tourism in East Africa, but I failed to make significant progress – now I prefer to leave that to the specialists. I can provide some of the historical information if required. (I believe that a first step should be a guidebook containing good military information about the units involved, so that the guidebook becomes a reference book to interested parties around the world, even if they never visit East Africa.) As the centenary of the Great War approaches I am determined to do my best to try and make the general public aware that the Great War did not just happen in France & Flanders. To this end I have started contributing to another site named Harry’s Sideshows ( You will see an interesting comment there on German plans to promote a Turkish invasion of Sudan & Uganda aimed at supporting von Lettow’s resistance in East Africa. What time is left, and I hope for quite a bit of it, will be spent in trying to commemorate through words the gallant actions of soldiers of all creeds & cultures on both sides of colonial & imperial struggles around the world. At first I wanted to write a book or two, but my belief now is that most publishers will only entertain scripts about unknown war theatres if the accent is on sensationalism and the writing is dumbed down to the level of today’s casual reader. So I concentrate on writing short articles. I do not copyright my work and I see it being ‘lifted’ by several others. That is good – the word is being spread. I hope that we can collaborate in as many practical ways as possible.



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July 1916 to September 1917


In 1914 the 57th Rifles, a one-battalion regiment, sailed with the Lahore Division to France where it fought until December 1915 when it was despatched to Egypt. On the voyage to France the regiment had converted from an eight to a four company unit but retained the class composition of one rifle company each of Sikhs, Dogras, Pathans and Punjabi Mussulmans. After six months’ service on minor operations in Egypt the regiment embarked for East Africa, landing at Mombasa on 12 July 1916. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James Willans DSO was the Commanding Officer and his regiment consisted of eleven British Officers including the Medical Officer, 21 Indian Officers, 843 Indian other ranks and 40 followers. The scale of machine guns in East Africa was one for each rifle company. Lewis Guns had not yet been issued in the theatre. German Field Companies were issued with at least two machine guns.

Initial deployment

The British commander in German East Africa was the South African General Smuts, and he was driving his three divisions, two of them being composed mostly of South Africans, southwards towards the German Central Railway that linked Dar Es Salaam on the Indian Ocean to Lake Tanganyika on the Belgian Congo border. However the British lines of communication near Tanga were being successfully attacked by German troops operating in the British rear area. The 57th Rifles was quickly despatched by train up the Uganda Railway to Voi, then westwards along a recently built military rail line to Kahe Junction and then down the German Usambara rail line to Mauri, the British railhead.

From Mauri the regiment marched eastwards to Korogwe and skirmished with enemy troops who were African Askari organised into Field Companies under German officers and non-commissioned officers. On 19th July three companies of the 57th Rifles advanced on the undefended German port of Pangani, occupying it at the same time as the Royal Navy arrived by sea, whilst the fourth company climbed up the southern Usambara Mountains to the German research centre at Amani, taking prisoner 25 German officers who were mostly unfit through wounds. The Amani research centre had been used to produce many useful commodities such as quinine that the Germans could no longer import due to the British naval blockade along the coastline.

The 57th Rifles was now ordered to join the 2nd East African Brigade at Handeni. The brigade was commanded by Brigadier General J.A. Hannyngton DSO and was part of the 1st East African Division commanded by General A.R. Hoskins CMG DSO. The other units in the brigade were the 3rd King’s African Rifles, the 129th Baluchis, the 40th Pathans and the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen). On 4 August the brigade marched to join the remainder of the 1st Division on the Lukigura River.

The action at Matomondo

Two days later 2nd East African Brigade advanced south with the 57th Rifles forming the advance guard. After four miles contact was made but the German Askari were adept at fighting rearguard actions to cover tactical withdrawals and there was no serious fighting. Another two days of this skirmishing followed until the Germans made a stand near the village of Matamondo. Here the bush was very dense and the ground mountainous. On 10 August Colonel Willans was ordered to send one company forward to reconnoitre the enemy defences; No 2 Company under the command of Major James Henry George Buller, with Lieutenant James Norman Taylor accompanying him, was tasked and advanced at dawn. Meanwhile 3rd King’s African Rifles were conducting a similar reconnaissance on the left flank.

After advancing a mile the British came under very heavy fire from the German trenches, six enemy machine guns being used against them. Nevertheless both British reconnaissance parties attacked and severe fighting developed. On the No 2 Company axis Jemadar Sher Dil was killed whilst leading an attack and Subadar Arsla Khan, Bahadur, MC IOM was wounded. Major Buller saw that the situation was critical and led a charge onto the enemy’s left positions, but he was severely wounded in the leg and taken prisoner, every man of his party being killed or wounded. Havildar Salim Khan charged one of the enemy machine guns with his section, killed the crew and turned the gun onto the enemy until it jammed; he then withdrew with the captured gun. Lieutenant Taylor brought the company reserve forward and tried to rescue Major Buller but he was beaten back by devastating enemy fire.

No 2 Company and the King’s African Rifles on its left pulled back. The 5th and 6th South African Infantry battalions came to assist and were deployed on a left flanking attack which eventually drove in the German right flank, but the enemy maintained his aggressive defence until nightfall, when he withdrew. The German Commander in Chief, Colonel Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck, later wrote in his reminiscences:

“Captain Stemmerman’s Detachment, which had been pushed out a short day’s march due north of Tuliani, was attacked at Matomondo by a strong force of Europeans and Indians. The enemy was very skilful. A machine gun of the 6th Company, placed on a rocky slope, was seized by a few Indians, who had crept up to it from the front unobserved, and thrown down the steep slope, so that it could not be found again. The enemy, who had penetrated our lines, was thrown out again with heavy loss by a counter-attack by the 21st Company. At close quarters the English Major Buller, a son of the well-known General of the South African War days, put a bullet through the hat of the Company Commander, Lieutenant von Ruckteschell, but was then severely wounded by the latter. Major Buller was got away to the German hospital at Dar Es Salaam and nursed back to health by the wife of his opponent, who was working there as a nurse. During the actions at Matomondo English horsemen had worked round further to the west, and suddenly appeared in one of the mountain passes leading from the west to Tuliani. In the dense bush the 2nd Mounted Brigade, which had come from South Africa under General Brits, apparently sustained heavy casualties.”

For his gallantry that day Major Buller was later awarded a Distinguished Service Order with the citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He gallantly led his men against superior forces of the enemy and captured a machine gun. He succeeded in penetrating to the enemy’s second line, where he was wounded.

Lieutenant Taylor was awarded a Military Cross with the citation:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He displayed great courage and devotion to duty in attending to the wounded under very heavy fire.

Major Buller was later recovered by British forces when Dar Es Salaam was captured in early September 1916. The total of the 57th Rifles’ casualties in the action was:

1 Indian officer and 4 Sepoys killed in action, 1 Sepoy died of wounds, 1 Indian officer and 21 Sepoys wounded in action, and 1 British officer and 3 Sepoys wounded and taken as prisoners of war.

The advance beyond the Central Railway

The 2nd East African Brigade, now including an Imperial Service unit, the 3rd Kashmir Rifles (provided by the Ruler of Kashmir, a Princely State), and also the King’s African Rifles Mounted Infantry Company and the 27th Mountain Battery, Frontier Force, Indian Army, continued pushing the Germans southwards. On 27 August the brigade captured Mikese Station on the railway line, but by now re-supply problems were slowing the advance. General Smuts believed in first moving rapidly, as he had visions of finally defeating the whole German Schutztruppe near the Central Railway, and then worrying about logistics later, if at all. The result was that the British troops had to exist on half-rations as the supply chain of African porters could not bring enough supplies forward quickly enough. This debilitated the men and reduced their resistance to tropical ailments such as bush sores and ulcers, malaria and blackwater fever. Also jigger worms buried themselves under toenails, snakes bit unwary soldiers, and sometimes sentries were attacked by lions. Tropical rain was another discomfort as tentage was not issued, and the African machine gun porters with the battalion showed the Sepoys how to quickly build night-time shelters from leaves, poles and bark found in the bush. A steady stream of officers and men from the battalion had to be medically evacuated and even though drafts were arriving from India, the effective strength of the 57th Rifles kept decreasing.

Meanwhile Colonel von Lettow Vorbeck had no intention of being trapped by the British, and he continued to withdraw, standing to fight only when the ground favoured his defence and where he could cause maximum casualties amongst his attackers. As the brigade approached the Missambissi River Nos 1 and 4 Companies of the 57th Rifles formed the advance guard. On reaching the wooden bridge crossing the river it was seen to be alight. The leading Sepoys ran across the burning bridge and No 4 Company engaged the withdrawing enemy whilst No 2 Company successfully extinguished the flames and saved the bridge. As the Germans withdrew they harassed the advancing British brigade with artillery fire; the Indian mountain guns, carried on mules, did not have the range to engage the enemy gunners. However the terrain and small bush tracks gave the enemy gunners problems during their withdrawal and the brigade came across an abandoned and destroyed 4.1-inch naval gun (removed from the sunken German cruiser Konigsberg in the Rufiji River delta) that the enemy could not drag any further south.

As the brigade approached the Ruvu River on 31 August the 57th Rifles led the advance with No 3 Company forward. Enemy skirmishers sniped but did not impose delays and the riverbank was reached, but no bridge was found. The only aid to crossing was an intact rope support stretching across the river. Under cover of machine gun fire No 3 Company used the rope to wade through the breast-high water, and then advanced to picquet the facing hills whilst the remainder of the battalion crossed. No 3 Company took two enemy Askari prisoners who told the British intelligence officer with the battalion that an enemy attack was planned for that night. At 0200 hours the Germans opened heavy machine gun fire from 600 yards range on the regimental bivouac position near the river, accompanied by Verey Lights for illumination. No 3 Company picquets successfully returned effective fire, and the only regimental casualties were 1 other rank killed, 3 other ranks, 3 African machine gun porters and 2 African stretcher bearers wounded. At dawn No 4 Company advanced to take the crest to the front and came under enemy artillery fire. Later in the day a South African field battery arrived and neutralised the German guns with counter-battery fire. The remainder of the brigade, plus the newly-arrived Gold Coast Regiment, now passed through the 57th Rifles’ positions and fought the enemy through the Uluguru Mountains that lay ahead. The 57th Rifles provided support on the left flank.

From the Dutumi River to Mssanga

The next position on the brigade axis where the Germans stood and fought was at Nkessa’s Village forward of the Dutumi River. This action commenced on 10 September. The enemy force was Abteilung Stemmerman again, consisting of four companies totalling 900 men and 10 machine guns. More enemy troops were known to be across the river. When the advance guard, 3 Kashmir Rifles, made contact the 57th Rifles and the 27th Mountain Battery were quickly deployed onto the prominent Kitoho Hill on the right flank. 3 King’s African Rifles moved through and beyond the 57th, whilst on the road below the 3rd Kashmiris and the Gold Coast Regiment advanced on the enemy trenches supported by fire from the Loyal North Lancashires’ Machine Gun Company. The British advance, hampered by tangled elephant grass, made little progress against the enemy fire. On Kitoho Hill the 57th Rifles arrived just in time to break up an enemy counter-attack on the hill and received support from the mountain guns. Two of the 57th Rifles companies then descended to support the Kashmiris’ right flank. When darkness fell the British maintained their positions.

At dawn 3 King’s African Rifles and the Gold Coast Regiment developed an attack on the right flank that was met by a strong German counter-attack. Kitoho Hill was the vital ground on the battlefield and at 1400 hours a determined enemy assault supported by artillery and machine gun fire was made on the hill. The 57th Rifles held its ground and after an hour’s fighting the Germans were beaten off. More British troops now arrived including the 29th Punjabis, a South African field battery and the machine guns of the 129th Baluchis which were attached to the 57th Rifles. Nevertheless Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, using companies brought up from Kisaki, attacked again in the late afternoon on both British flanks whilst Stemmerman’s men fought from their trenches. However at dawn on 12 September British patrols discovered that the Germans, true to form, had made a clean break during the night and were withdrawing south of the Dutumi River.

During September the 57th Rifles remained in close contact with the withdrawing enemy who inflicted several casualties on the Sepoys. One of those killed in action was Sepoy Bhan Singh, Indian Distinguished Service Medal. On 27 September Nos 2 and 4 Companies under Captain J.A. Glegg penetrated an enemy outpost line. Captain Glegg was later mentioned in dispatches. On 28th September the 130th Baluchis of 1st Brigade relieved the 57th Rifles who withdrew to the 2nd Brigade camp at Nkessa’s Village for two weeks of rest. Because of casualties and medical evacuations Lieutenant Colonel Willans now had under his command only two British officers and 180 other ranks.

The British had now seized Dar Es Salaam and were converting the harbour and town to be the main British East African supply base. However roving German companies were threatening the town and so the 57th Rifles was despatched to march towards the coast to engage any enemy troops that could be found. One section of the 27th Mountain Battery and one section of an Indian Field Ambulance accompanied the regiment. The trek through thick bush was rugged and difficult, especially for the battery mules and the heavily laden African porters in the column. River crossings were dangerous, supplies as usual were very meagre and guides were sometimes untrustworthy. Mssanga was reached on 21 October and contact made with the garrison, the Jind Imperial Service Infantry. As enemy posts were close by an intensive period of patrolling and counter-patrolling commenced and skirmishes occurred daily. Although drafts from India arrived the flow of medical evacuations continued unabated.

During one small action Lieutenant Ronald Leslie Piper, out on patrol with 50 men, confronted a German patrol about 40 strong near Mkwata and dispersed it, inflicting several casualties and capturing several rifles. On the following day the body of the German commander was discovered in the bush where he had crawled to die of his wounds. Lieutenant Piper was later awarded a Military Cross. In a similar incident Captain E.K. Fowler MC, with 2 Indian officers and 70 rifles, attacked an enemy position at Makuka. When it was realised that the enemy were in superior force with machine guns, a skilful withdrawal action was fought with the loss of only one Sepoy killed. Captain Fowler was later awarded a Brevet Majority.

Operations in the coastal region

From January 1917 onwards the 57th Rifles operated against enemy units near the Indian Ocean coast. Often reconnaissance missions were carried out in columns that might also contain the Jind Rifles, a South African white infantry battalion, the South African Cape Corps of mixed-race soldiers, the 27th Mountain Battery or the 16th Field Battery. Skirmishes and fire-fights were normal activity as the Germans preferred to mount ambushes rather than make attacks. For actions during this period Lieutenants Edward Edleston and Evan Bertram Charles Preston were later both awarded the Military Cross. Heavy rains hampered movement and re-supply, and periods of extremely hot sunshine exhausted the Sepoys. By the end of March 1917 the 57th Rifles was reduced to 198 other ranks, a large proportion of whom were quite unfit for active service due to recurring attacks of malaria.

In March at Utete the battalion had re-joined 2nd Brigade which two months later was re-designated No 2 Column. The other units in No 2 Column were the 129th Baluchis, 1/3 and 2/3 King’s African Rifles, 11th (Hull) Heavy Battery, Royal Field Artillery and the 27th Mountain Battery. Aggressive patrolling duties continued, but by mid-May the 57th Rifles was reduced to the size of a company because of casualties and medical evacuations. From the end of July the battalion was placed on Lines of Communications duties because of its low strength, but contacts with enemy patrols occurred regularly. The Germans rarely patrolled with less than 20 men and on two occasions they quickly overwhelmed small standing patrols or observation posts manned by the 57th Rifles.

On the 18 August the battalion was ordered to concentrate prior to embarkation for India. Two companies of the 40th Pathans relieved the 57th Rifles at Chemera and the battalion moved to Kilwa Kisingani. Here it met a draft of 135 ranks from India that raised the battalion strength to 10 British officers, 9 Indian officers and 206 other ranks. The battalion sailed up the coast to Dar Es Salaam on 2 September and sailed again from there 26 days later, arriving in Bombay on 10 October 1917 and then moving to Rewat in the Murree Hills.

Thirty five members of the 57th Rifles were buried in East Africa and they are commemorated on the British and Indian Memorials in both Nairobi, Kenya and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Sepoys from other Frontier Force units were drafted into the 57th Rifles in East Africa as attached personnel, and any who died are commemorated under the titles of their parent regiments. The Battle Honour East Africa 1916-18 was awarded to the 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force). In the 1922 reorganisation of the Indian Army the regiment was re-titled The 4th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles (Wilde’s).

Four officers stayed behind in German East Africa. Lieutenants Piper and N.G. Guy were attached to the 129th Baluchis; Lieutenant Piper gained a Bar to his Military Cross before he was killed fighting on the Lukuledi River on 10 October 1917. Lieutenant H.H. Wadeson was attached to the 40th Pathans. Lieutenant Taylor MC was attached to the 33rd Punjabis and died of wounds during fighting at Narungombi on 27 July 1917.

Awards Received by the 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force) for service in East Africa

Distinguished Service Order Major J.H.G. Buller.

Military Cross Lieutenant J. Taylor, Lieutenant E.B.C. Preston, Lieutenant E. Edlestone, Lieutenant R.L. Piper.

Mentioned in Dispatches Lieutenant Colonel T.J. Willans DSO, Major L. Forbes, Captain J.A. Glegg, Lieutenant R.L. Piper MC, Subadar Rabel Singh, Jemadar Zargir, Havildar Rahmat Khan, Naik Ran Singh.

Order of British India 1st Class Subadar Major Arsla Khan MC IOM.

Order of British India 2nd Class Subadar Bahadur Khan, Guides attached.

Indian Distinguished Service Medal Jemadar Hira Singh, Naik Khala Khan, Havildar Kapur Singh, Sepoy Sher Mahomed.

Indian Order of Merit 2nd Class Havildar Salim Khan, Naik Sher Baz.

Indian Meritorious Service Medal Havildar Prabh Dial, Havildar Feroz Ali, Lance-Naik Tayab Singh, 55th Rifles attached, Lance-Naik Khewa Khan, Sepoy Nand Singh, Havildar Gobinda, Naik Amir Shah, Naik Sharifulla, Guides attached, Havildar Udham Singh, Havildar Jaimal Singh, Guides attached, Sepoy Sher Singh.

Brevet Majority Major E.K. Fowler.

(Havildar Salim Khan IOM was later murdered by Zakkha Khel tribesmen when proceeding home on pension in 1921.)


Regimental History of the 4th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles (Wilde’s) reproduced by The Naval & Military Press Ltd.

Official History Military Operations East Africa August 1914 – September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.

My Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck.

India’s Army by Major Donovan Jackson.

Record of the 3rd Battalion The King’s African Rifles During The Great Campaign in East Africa 1914-1918. (National Archives UK).

Hart’s Annual Army List for 1915.

The London Gazette & Medal Index Cards.

(An edited version of this article appeared recently in Durbar, the Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society.)



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The Deployment

At the end of 1914 British East Africa had been reinforced by Indian Expeditionary Forces “B” and “C”. These forces contained infantry, field and mountain artillery, pioneers, a machine gun company, and railway companies. In January 1915 Major General R. Wapshare, who had taken over command of the theatre from Major General A.E. Aitken, requested a cavalry squadron for use in the area south of Nairobi. This area, from Arusha and Longido mountain in German East Africa up to Kajiado in British East Africa, was a possible German invasion route. The area was also free from tsetse fly.

The 17th Cavalry was tasked and formed a composite Pathan squadron of 120 men chosen equally from ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons. Major R.C. Barry-Smith commanded and Captain V.C. Duberly and Second Lieutenant B.J.P Mawdsley were Squadron Officers. The Indian Officers in the squadron were: Resaldars Usman Khan and Sajid Gul, and Jemadars Wazir Khan and Wazir Mohamad. The squadron arrived at Mombasa on 4 February 1915 with all its horses and 66 mules. Effective mucking out and fitness exercises on the ship had prevented sickness amongst the mounts. The horses were slung off into lighters and then slung ashore. That afternoon the squadron entrained for Kajiado. Shortly afterwards a two-gun machine gun section was sent from the regiment to join the squadron.

For the first five months the squadron operated out of Kajiado and Bissil, sometimes patrolling alongside the East African Mounted Rifles who rode mules apart from the Scouts Section who had horses. Sometimes the immediate danger was from big game, and squadron members twice had to fire to halt charging rhinoceros. In this area the British had to use especially tall posts to carry signal cables so that giraffe could pass underneath without breaking the cables. In late July the squadron moved south across the border and based itself at a waterhole at Longido West, below the mountain. On 2 August 1915 a German mounted patrol seeking water rode into the Longido West position without making a proper reconnaissance and was greeted with British machine gun and rifle fire. Four German Europeans and two of their Askari surrendered whilst two Europeans and two Askari escaped. One of the squadron Sowars, Pir Dost, was severely wounded and later died. Two days later the squadron returned to the Kajiado-Bissil area.

On 21 September the squadron joined the East African Mounted Rifles and the King’s African Rifles in an attack on Longido West which had been occupied by a German force. The British failed to capture the enemy position and withdrew. The 17th Cavalry was not committed to the action, being retained for the pursuit that never happened, but three days later a squadron reconnaissance patrol established that the Germans had also withdrawn from Longido West.

The lancers were now patrolling out of Bissil and the War Diary records that in November 1915 Lieutenants A.C. Anstey and J.H.G. Knox were serving with the squadron, and that 86 remounts arrived from India and had to be trained. By this time a number of the original horses had succumbed to African Horse Sickness. Some patrols operated with the East African Mounted Rifles from Lone Hill, just north of the border. On 1st January 1916 the squadron held a Sports Day. Orders were then received to cross the border prior to a British advance and on 4 February 1916 Longido West was occupied again.

Operations North of Moshi

The following day Captain Duberly accompanied by Lieutenant Mawdesley and 48 men, plus two Europeans from the Intelligence Department and their Masai scouts, patrolled to the southeast towards Engare Nairobi which lies west of Kilimanjaro Mountain. The mission was to establish if there were any advanced German posts on the route. A German field company and a European mounted unit, altogether totalling about 200 men, were at Ngasserai, 30 Miles along the route, but they remained concealed and observed the British cavalry approaching. On 6 February, coming across the Nanjuki stream, Captain Duberly gave orders to dismount, unsaddle and feed and water horses.

The Germans made a concealed approach through long grass and charged the unsuspecting cavalrymen. Captain Duberly and Lieutenant Mawdesley both wore pith helmets and so were quickly recognised as officers and killed along with Dafadar Said Gul; three others were wounded. Jemadar Wazir Khan took charge and brought the patrol out of action skilfully despite the long grass which obscured vision; he was later awarded the Indian Order of Merit. Both parties then withdrew. Lance Dafadar Khan Sahib had been wounded and left in the grass but using a discarded lance he hobbled back towards Longido for six days with no food and practically no water, bringing with him his rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition. He also was awarded an Indian Order of Merit.

Captain D.Mc.L. Slater, 11th Rajputs attached to 17th Infantry, joined the squadron on 1st March and commanded the machine gun section. On 5 March an Advance of the British 1st Division, commanded by Brigadier General J.M. “Jimmie” Stewart, began from Longido following the Ngasserie – Engare Nairobi route towards Moshi, south of Kilimanjari Mountain. An almost simultaneous advance by the British 2nd Division was coming from the east also directed towards Moshi. The squadron was initially used for reconnaissance by 1st Division, Sowar Khalid Gul being killed by a German ambush on 9 March. As the advance continued through forest and bush the squadron’s tasks changed to rear and flank guards, and piqueting duties at night. On 11 March Dafadar Said Gul was killed by enemy machine gun fire whilst riding on Right Flank Guard duties. The squadron then moved forward into the reconnaissance role again, reaching the Arusha-Moshi road without incident and arriving at Moshi, which had been taken by the 2nd Division, on 16 March.

Two days later heavy infantry fighting started on the approaches to Kahe Station on the German Usambara Railway line that ran from Moshi to Tanga on the Indian Ocean coast. The ground was covered by bush too dense for successful mounted action and this became a mainly infantry battlefield. On 21 March the squadron acted as escort to South African Field Artillery that came into action 300 yards from the enemy’s trenches. Both sides suffered several casualties during this battle, but the Germans managed to break contact and withdraw cleanly – a tactic that the British were to get used to – and the enemy moved a few miles down the railway line.

Heavy rains now halted this British advance into German East Africa and the British commander, General Smuts, ordered a pause and a move into encampments. Three officer replacements arrived for the squadron from India: Captain H.S. Stewart and Second Lieutenants A.B. Knowles and A.W. Ibbotson. The squadron was withdrawn across the British East African border to Mbuyuni to the east, where there was both a military railway line branching from the main British Uganda Railway line, and a British airfield. Remounts now came from depots in British East Africa. On 7 May a draft of 13 reinforcements arrived from the Regiment in India. At Mbuyuni the squadron was tasked with searching for downed airmen and also with working alongside the Mounted Infantry Company that was manned by men from the 2nd Battalion of The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. This company was commanded by Captain George Atkinson MC whose brother served in the 17th Cavalry. Long joint patrols were sent towards the Pare Mountains south of Lake Jipe to reconnoitre a route that was later used by the 3rd King’s African Rifles.

The Advance down the Pangani River

On 21 May the squadron was back in German East Africa and patrolling forward of the British River Column (which in fact was most of the 1st East African Brigade under the command of Brigadier General S.H. Sheppard). The column advanced down the Pangani River cutting its own trail. Five days later a German picquet of one European, five Askari and five porters was captured. Lance Dafadar Musalli saw members of the picquet and fired from the saddle, inducing the surrender. The squadron cooperated again with the Mounted Infantry Company and the Scouts of the East African Mounted Rifles, mopping up enemy stragglers as the main enemy force steadily withdrew ahead of the British advance. On one occasion an enemy train was observed withdrawing and the cavalrymen tried to get ahead of it to block the line, but a German picquet thwarted the advance, wounding one Sowar and two horses. The Germans had mounted a field gun on their train and used it to harass the advancing British.

In early June the river column moved west of the railway line and entered thick bush alongside the Pangani River. In this terrain mounted scouting was not possible and the horses were led. At Mkalamo the infantry, principally the 130th Baluchis, had an extremely fierce fight in dense bush against a dug-in German force. The cavalry was not in action but was fired at by the enemy, but the density of the bush absorbed or deflected the vast majority of the enemy rounds.

Advancing to Morogoro

At Mkalamo a trolley line ran south to Handeni and the Germans withdrew down the line. The squadron and the 2nd Rhodesian Regiment were tasked with following up the enemy. The dismounted Sowars engaged the German rearguard in thick bush at short range. Lieutenant Knowles was leading from the front, and was in the act of firing at the enemy, when he was shot through the neck and killed.

The column advanced through Handeni and south to the Lukigura River where on 26 June a dug-in German force stood and fought until it was bayoneted out of its trenches by the infantry, principally the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) and the Kashmir Rifles, who had attacked from a flank. During this fight the squadron was tasked to demonstrate towards the enemy front as a diversion, and in doing this Sowars Hashim Ali Khan and Alam Khan were killed in action. Three horses were wounded.

By now the horses were emaciated due to lack of grain. The men also often went on short rations as the supply service, composed of African porters struggling through the bush and carrying loads on their heads, could not deliver sufficient quantities of supplies. (General Smuts, the British theatre commander and a former Boer guerrilla commando leader, could never be persuaded to discuss logistics seriously.) After the Lukigura fight the Mounted Infantry Company was disbanded due to sickness amongst both the remaining men and their mules, and Captain George Atkinson MC, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was attached to the squadron. A column camp was made at Msiha but unfortunately it was within range of a German 4.1-inch gun recovered from the sunken cruiser Konigsberg, and the camp was intermittently shelled especially during the night. On 19 July one follower was killed by shell fire, one Sowar and eight followers wounded plus one horse and nine mules wounded. Five mules had to be destroyed. The following day a move was made to a safer camp. By the end of July, despite having received remounts, only 68 horses were left in the squadron, most of whom were quite unfit for prolonged work. A small amount of millet was purchased from villagers for feeding to the horses. The strength of the Sowars too was decreasing as the unhealthy climate took its toll and men died or were hospitalised with malaria and blackwater fever.

During August the brigade advanced to the Wami River, the squadron being tasked with patrols when the ground was suitable. Captain Stewart was posted out of the squadron to be Post Commandant at Makindu. During the fight on the Wami on 17 August when the 25th Punjabis and the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment forced the enemy out of its position, the squadron escorted the South African 5th field artillery battery. One mule was killed and two horses were wounded by enemy fire. A few days later 25 horses were either shot or handed over to the Mobile Veterinary Hospital because of debilitation due to lack of grain. The advance continued and Morogoro on the Central Railway was taken but the Germans withdrew further south into the Uluguru Mountains. On 31 August only 20 horses were fit for work and none were fit for more than 15 miles at a slow pace.

Pursuing the enemy south of the Central Railway

During the second week in September 100 remounts and 47 Rank and File, with three Indian Officers, caught up with the squadron. Despite these reinforcements the squadron’s effective strength was still under the War Establishment figure and it was decided to reduce the Machine Gun Section from two guns to one because of the shortage of animals. Captain George Atkinson MC was sent on attachment to the 3rd Kashmir Rifles on 16 August. Captain D. McL. Slater followed him five days later. The squadron continued marching south with the brigade and reached the Mgeta River but tsetse fly was killing the horses. On 16 October Major Barry-Smith reported to brigade headquarters that his squadron was unfit for further service. This was acknowledged and the squadron ordered to return to Morogoro. By now only about 30 fit but weak men remained and only 20 of them had horses. The unlucky ones walked back until some returning empty Ford supply cars overtook them and provided transport.

Return to India

After a month waiting in Morogoro for orders from India the squadron moved by train to Dar Es Salaam on 24 November and was re-clothed. Here the administrators took over and insisted on issuing a full complement of new saddlery. Despite Major Barry-Smith explaining repeatedly that this saddlery had just arrived from India and was urgently needed at the front and that the squadron was returning to India without horses, the administrators would not change their decision. The new saddlery was issued, re-loaded and shipped back to India, the squadron embarking on the transport Havildar on 17 December and arriving at Bombay in January 1917.

Major Raymond Coape Barry-Smith was Mentioned in Despatches. Second Lieutenant Archie William Ibbotson was awarded a Military Cross. Lieutenant Barton James Platt Mawdesley lies in Kajiado Cemetery and Lieutenant Andrew Brooks Knowles lies in Tanga European Cemetery.

These 18 men are commemorated on the Nairobi British and Indian Memorial in Kenya: Captain Vernon Conrad Duberly, 1974 Sowar Nazar Gull, Follower Jalal, 2255 Sowar Mian Gul, 2281 Sowar Pir Dost, 1385 Dafadar Said Gul, 2428 Sowar Kalid Gul, 1396 Dafadar Said Gul, 2209 Sowar Hashim Ali Khan, 1883 Sowar Alam Khan, 2712 Sowar Mir Gul, 2108 Sowar Muhammad Ibrahim, Follower Khuda Baksh, 247 Sowar Akbar Khan, 2464 Sowar Said Mir, 2225 Farrier Hikmat Shah, 2398 Sowar Jahan Dad Khan and 641 Follower Puran.

These two men are commemorated on the Dar Es Salaam British and Indian Memorial in Tanzania:

2446 Sowar Hazarat Gul and 2679 Sowar Sultan Khan.


Official History. Military Operations East Africa August 1914-September 1916 by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.

Star and Crescent: Being the Story of the 17th Cavalry from 1858 to 1922 by Francis Yeats-Brown.

War Diary 17th Cavalry East Africa Squadron 25 July 1915 to 17 December 1916. (WO 95 5336).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Records.

The London Gazette.

(An edited version of this article appeared in a recent issue of Durbar, the Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society.)

THE 17th CAVALRY EAST AFRICA SQUADRON 1915 – 1916 Read More »



British and German East Africa, December 1915 to April 1917


Two recent books describing the operational activities of the Rhodesia Native Regiment provide excellent information on the employment of Rhodesian African infantrymen during the Great War.  The Rhodesia Native Regiment operated in southern German East Africa and in Portuguese East Africa.  However Rhodesian Africans also served operationally in the northern sector of the theatre, operating as part of the 2nd Battalion The Rhodesia Regiment (2RR).

2RR, a white infantry unit, was recruited to a strength of 800 men in Rhodesia, now named Zimbabwe, to fight in British East Africa, now named Kenya.  Thanks to a journal written by the Commanding Officer of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Algernan Essex Capell DSO, we have a comprehensive account of the Battalion’s actions during its short life.  2RR disembarked at Mombasa on 15th March 1915 and returned to Salisbury, Rhodesia, two years later to be disbanded.  A report in the Rhodesia Herald dated Monday 15th April 1917 mentioned:    Altogether 11 officers and 259 men returned, accompanied by 22 natives, who left with the Regiment and have done invaluable service as scouts.

Scouting in the British East African bush

2RR was first sent by train to Kajiado on the Magadi rail line south of Nairobi.  In mid-April the Battalion deployed back down to Voi, with one company moving west up the Tsavo Valley to Mzima Springs.  Soon all the companies were operating in or around the densely thorn-bushed valley, which was a useful route for German infiltration parties attacking the Uganda Railway line.  Effective scouting became a problem for the Rhodesians as narrow game tracks were often the only routes that could be followed in the thick bush.  This restricted the wider deployment of scouts which would have been possible in more open terrain.

Also the Rhodesians were not happy with the quality of African scouts provided locally by the East African Intelligence Department.  There would probably also have been a language difficulty when communicating with these local tribesmen.  Fortunately the Battalion contained several excellent former hunters and they were used for reconnaissance duties, but the decision was made to bring African scouts up from the home base.

The British advance

Colonel Capell recorded in December 1915:    About this time, ten native scouts are sent up from Rhodesia, and are placed under Corporal Guiney, a fearless scout himself; they remained, less two killed in action, until the last, doing invaluable work for the Regiment. It is probable that these men were the first group of scouts to be sent from Salisbury.

The first large operation involving the Rhodesians occurred on 12th February 1916 when a Divisional attack was launched on Salaita Hill, east of Taveta on the German East African border.  All movements were pre-ordered (until the enemy counter-attacked!) and infantry scouts had no useful function.  Mounted infantry was deployed on the flanks.  The attack was defeated when German Askari vigorously charged into the South African battalions on the right, causing them to panic, break and flee, often without their rifles.  2RR stayed firm on the left and withdrew tactically in a well-disciplined and controlled manner.  In the centre an Indian battalion, 130th (King George’s Own) Baluchis (Jacob’s Rifles), stood and fought fiercely, thereby preventing even more South African casualties.

The Battalion played a significant role in the next set-piece battle when the Latema-Reata Nek was attacked.  Initially the British attacks were repulsed, but then 2RR and the 3rd King’s African Rifles seized lengths of the Latema and Reata ridges and held them all night against fierce counter attacks.  Fifteen Rhodesians were killed and 43 others were wounded; two men were taken prisoner by the Germans.  Gradually South African cavalry outflanked the Nek to the north, causing the German commander to withdraw.  The British then encountered stiff resistance in the Kahe area of the upper Pangani Valley and several actions were fought, but the Rhodesians were not involved as they had been withdrawn to the Nairobi area for rest and recuperation.

The enemy commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, now began to display the successful tactics that he practised until his Schutztruppe entered Portuguese East Africa in the last year of the war.  The Germans withdrew down the Moshi to Tanga railway line, ripping up the track and fighting delaying actions.  The Schutztruppe fell back onto previously prepared defensive positions and supply dumps whilst the British continually extended their already overburdened supply chain.

The fight at German Bridge, 30th May 1916

The British advanced down the Pangani Valley with one brigade following the railway line, another following the river and a third force advancing east of the Usambara Mountains.  All three routes were contested and they converged in the area of Bwiko.  Just north of Bwiko, at Mikocheni, the Pangani River curved in to the mountains and restricted the ground available for manoeuvre.  Here the Germans were building a bridge, and they planned a delaying action.

2RR was following the river route.  The Battalion, like all other white units, was handicapped by the large number of men being treated for malaria and other tropical diseases.  However the Rhodesians possessed six machine guns and they now had an opportunity to use them.   Whilst 2RR assaulted forward over open ground with the river on its right, 130th Baluchis and the Indian 27th Mountain Battery seized higher ground on the left flank.  The Rhodesians displayed their high standard of training by using fire-and-movement skills whilst under erratic but constant rifle fire.  Finally the German Askari were ordered to withdraw from their trenches, and the Rhodesian machine gunners made the most of that opportunity.  The enemy position was taken but at a cost.  Ten men had been wounded, two dangerously and two seriously, and one killed.  The fatality was No. 10 Native Scout Levi.

Onwards to the Dutumi River

The main British pursuit now veered southwards down a trolley line running from Mombo to Handeni.  On 9th June the Rhodesians were in action again at Mkalamo, a crossing on the Pangani River, but the bush was so thick that few visual contacts were made with the withdrawing enemy.  A fortnight later, in the Mzima area, honey bees swarmed out of their disturbed tree-top bark hives and seriously disrupted 2RR’s advance.

From 7th July to 7th August the Battalion halted at Msiha whilst the British theatre commander, General Smuts, attempted one of his several doomed-to-failure envelopment movements.  During this period a 4.2-inch gun, recovered by the Germans from the sunk cruiser Konigsberg, constantly shelled the British position causing casualties.  The British artillery available did not possess the range for counter-battery fire.  By this time 2RR was reduced by sickness to one company of 120 men with four machine guns plus the Native Scouts.  Also nearly all the 1st Line transport mules had been lost to tsetse-fly sickness.  A supply column that arrived from Taveta in mid-August had lost 60 of its 76 oxen to the fly.

On the Wami River on 17th August the depleted Rhodesians lost five men killed and nine wounded when supporting the 29th Punjabis who ran into an enemy strong point.  Other Battalion casualties were one Machine Gun Porter killed and three wounded.  These East African porters had been an integral part of 2RR since the machine guns had been issued.  Their duties were to carry the disassembled guns and boxes of ammunition, and they were highly regarded for their physical ability and bravery under fire.

By 26th October the strength of 2RR was down to 30 men fit for operations, plus the Native Scouts and Machine Gun Porters.  The Battalion was employed on lines of communication duties until men discharged from hospital returned, however these weakened returnees soon succumbed again to tropical diseases.  At this time No. 17 Native Scout Corporal Chinanti was killed by a German land mine.  He was escorting a party of surrendered enemy Askari when the incident occurred.  Colonel Capell recorded that a Christian military funeral was held.

The return to Rhodesia

It was now apparent to the British military staff that 2RR was no longer viable as an infantry battalion due to debilitation caused by disease, climatic effects, and an inadequate diet.  On 11th January 1917 the Rhodesians, or what was left of them, marched out of the Rufiji Valley towards Morogoro.  At the end of March the Battalion moved by rail to Dar Es Salaam from where it was repatriated.

Several officers and Non-Commissioned Officers remained in East Africa to serve in the new battalions of the King’s African Rifles that were being quickly formed, or in the Intelligence or other military departments.  After trying to keep the theatre the preserve of white and Indian battalions for too long, the British now realised that only indigenous African units could stand up to the conditions satisfactorily.  The Germans had realised this well before the war began.

British military headquarters posted the Rhodesian Native Scouts elsewhere, but Colonell Capell insisted on their return to Salisbury with the Battalion.  The loyal and hard working Machine Gun Porters were granted leave for two months and posted together to a King’s African Rifles battalion.  Neither Native Scout Levi or Native Scout Chinanti appear to have been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and their graves lie unmarked somewhere in the East African bush.

The last words on the Native Scouts come from Colonel Capell:  The scouts, recruited in Rhodesia, had done splendid work throughout – always, cheerful, always willing, accepting the risks that all scouts must, with a native’s sang-froid.  Thus they had endeared themselves and won the respect of a Regiment that throughout had known no colour bar, and that treated as comrades those that were brave.  I refused staunchly to leave them in a land of strangers.


The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa by Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Capell.

Military History, East Africa, August 1914 to September 1916, the Official History.

(The books on the Rhodesia Native Regiment are: No Insignificant Part – The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East African Campaign of the First World War by Timothy J. Stapleton, and Masodja – The history of The Rhodesian African Rifles and its forerunner, the Rhodesia Native Regiment by Alexandre Binda.)


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