THE KING’S AFRICAN RIFLES IN 1914
As the Great War started there were three Battalions of the King’s African Rifles in existence. 1KAR (Nyasaland) had eight companies of Askari, 3 KAR (British East Africa) had six companies and 4 KAR (Uganda) had seven companies. 2 KAR (Nyasaland) had been disbanded in 1911 on grounds of economy, and most of the redundant Askari had crossed over the German East African border to join the Schutztruppe, the German defence force. All the Indian contingents of mainly Sikh soldiers had been returned to India. The Committee of Imperial Defence had decided that “native levies” were not to be used in any defence plans for African Colonies in the early phases of any war, and so all the KAR Askari were only trained and equipped for internal security duties in remote locations in company-strength detachments.
1 KAR displayed some differences from 3 and 4 KAR. Nyasaland battalions were badged in English numerals as opposed to Arabic ones, the command language was Chinyanja and not Swahili and the fez colour was black and not red. 1 KAR had four companies on “foreign” service in British East Africa or Somaliland at any one time. Whilst 3 and 4 KAR preferred recruits from Sudan, the tribal constitution of 1 KAR was local: four companies of Yao, two companies of Atonga and two companies of Angoni.
On 1st August 1914 half of 1 King’s African Rifles (“A”, “B”, “C” and “E” Companies) was in Jubaland in northeastern British East Africa. The companies were at Yonti, Gobwen and Serenli, military posts on the Juba River that separated Italian and British East Africa. Each company was about 100 rifles strong, these companies having the “foreign service” establishment as opposed to the other four companies in Nyasaland that had the “home service” establishment of 85 rifles.
In Jubaland companies from 1 KAR, 3 KAR and 4 KAR, had just finished campaigning on the Marehan Patrol under the command of Lt Col B.R. Graham, Commanding Officer of 3 KAR. The Marehan tribe had been causing concern & although Graham’s operation had not seen any serious fighting the Marehan had been temporarily pacified. In due course an African General Service Medal with the clasp: “East Africa 1913-14” was issued for service on the Marehan Patrol and 305 members of 1 KAR qualified for the award.
When war was declared “B” Company of 1 KAR, ( Captain G.J. Giffard) at Gobwen and Yonti, was brought back from Kismayu to Mombasa by steamer disembarking at Mombasa on 9th August. “B” Company moved up the Uganda Railway to Voi, and after a pause travelled on to Nairobi.
The British East Africa administration was reluctant to withdraw too many troops from Jubaland, apparently fearing the activities of Marehan raiders more than the activities of the Schutztruppe across the western border in German East Africa. (At that time both the Governors of British & German East Africa hoped that they could avoid conflict with each other.)
However the KAR officers in Jubaland saw the German threat far more clearly than the administration did and a company-strength garrison from 3 KAR was left in Serenli whilst the remaining companies moved westwards to defend the Uganda Railway. Major L.H. Soames, the senior 1 KAR officer and the commander of the Serenli post, took matters into his own hands & organized the withdrawal from Jubaland.
“A” and “C” Companies of 1 KAR followed “B” Company back to the Uganda Railway but “E” Company was ordered to disembark at the Tana River because of the Giriama Uprising and that company was delayed there for lack of shipping until late September.
THE GIRIAMA UPRISING
The Giriama tribe, 60,000 strong, had migrated from Somaliland in the 17th Century to occupy a stretch of the East African coast between Mombasa and Kilifi. Here they built a principal shrine, the Kaya Fungo. They then extended their territory northwards.
Whilst not directly opposing the British administration the Giriama, who were adept at both ivory trading and poisoning arrow-heads, successfully resisted both taxation and labour demands. When a Public Works team, in an effort to fully impose British authority, dynamited the Kaya Fungo in August 1914 a Giriama prophetess and her son-in-law incited Giriama warriors to resist.
A British East Africa policeman allegedly raped a Giriama woman and in retaliation a police party was attacked by arrows on August 16th. The following day the alleged rapist was killed by a poisoned arrow. About 150 warriors then attacked the District Commissioner’s camp and also a mission station. Companies from 3 KAR and 4 KAR under Major G.M.P Hawthorne, 1 KAR, were used to quickly subdue the belligerent southern Giriama.
“E” Company 1 KAR found the northern Giriama to be friendly & there were no hostile incidents in the company area.
DEFENCE OF THE UGANDA RAILWAY
The Schutztruppe started sending demolition teams from German East Africa down the Tsavo Valley where there was always water, to attack the Uganda Railway line which ran from Mombasa on the coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. Some teams also crossed the waterless 40 miles of bush from Taveta on the border (captured by the Schutztruppe on 15 August) towards Voi on the railway line, but this was a difficult route. A more southern route started at Gonja in German East Africa & went east to Kasigao Mountain (where there were good springs) just before the railway line.
Mounted Schutztruppe patrols also started penetrating into British East Africa from the Longido area north of Arusha in German East Africa. The enemy target was the private railway line that ran from Magadi Junction on the Uganda Railway to the Magadi Soda Company’s operations on Lake Magadi. Kajiado station on that line became an important British rail-head for troops defending the British East African border at Namanga, north of Longido.
Further north mounted Germans were crossing the Masai plain and entering British East Africa in the Nguruman Escarpment area north of Lake Natron. Here they levied taxes on the villagers, removing cattle and burning villages when they met resistance.
From October to December 1914 companies from 1 KAR were deployed in all these areas.
THE TSAVO VALLEY
Voi on the Uganda Railway line, Bura at the southern foot of the Teita Hills, Maktau ten miles to the west towards Taveta and Mzima Springs just north in the Tsavo Valley were the initial deployment locations for 1 KAR companies as they arrived from Jubaland.
Other British troops in the area were companies from 3 and 4 KAR, the KAR Mounted Infantry Company (formed from within 3 KAR), the Uganda Railway Volunteers, the Somali Scouts, the motor-cyclists of the East African Mechanical Transport Corps, the two European companies and one Indian company of the East African Regiment, the East African Pioneers and the East African Artillery Volunteers with their 12-pounder naval gun. These last five units were newly raised from local volunteers. The Nairobi railway workshops produced an “armoured train” and this chugged up and down the line with a quick-reaction force of British troops.
When Indian Expeditionary Force “C” started to arrive in September under Brigadier General J.M. Stewart, units such as the 29th Punjabis, the 27th Mountain Battery, the Indian Volunteer Maxim Gun Company, the Calcutta Volunteer Artillery Battery and Imperial Service infantry contingents from Indian Princely States appeared and strengthened the British East African force. When Indian Expeditionary Force “B” arrived in November (after its failed amphibious assault on Tanga) under Major General A.E. Aitken there were far more troops to deploy in defence of the Uganda Railway, but some were of very poor quality as two Indian Carnatic battalions had refused to fight at Tanga.
“B” Company 1 KAR (Captain G.J. Giffard, Lieutenant C.G. Phillips, Lieutenant R.C. Hardingham) initially occupied positions at Bura and Maktau on the Taveta – Voi route and then sent a detachment north into the Tsavo Valley to hold a post at Campi Ya Marabu northwest of Mzima Springs. A patrol under Lieutenant Phillips tracked a German patrol for two days and on 3rd September assaulted the enemy base-camp with the bayonet, killing one and capturing two enemy Askari.
“A” Company 1 KAR (Captain W.T.H. Gregg) and “C” Company 1 KAR (Captain W.G. Stonor) were also deployed in the Voi – Tsavo area. Lieutenants L.G. Murray and H.E. Green are shown as working with “B” Company for a time, but as casualties mounted junior officers were deployed individually to whichever company needed them most.
Reading between the lines of the various histories it is apparent that the appearance of thousands of new troops from India provided a certain strength, but operational efficiency suffered as the officers from India outranked most of the KAR officers and therefore directed operational events. Until the Indian Army units learned the realities of bush warfare KAR companies subordinated to them were handicapped by the sometimes unrealistic tactical and logistic planning that preceded operations. The KAR companies were most productive when working on their own.
In late September 1914 Schutztruppe units from Tanga probed northwards up the British East Africa Coast, encountering the Arab Rifles (recruited from Adeni and Hadhramaut Arabs working on the British East African coast) under Lieutenant A.J.B. Wavell near Majoreni. Although the enemy advance was held Lt Wavell was seriously wounded & the Arab Rifles withdrew 20 miles back to Gazi, where the road from Mombasa ended.
As this enemy advance coincided with the sinking of HMS PEGASUS in Zanzibar Harbour on 20th September by the German cruiser KONIGSBERG, Mombasa was assumed to be threatened and the British defences at Gazi were strengthened. Major G.M.P. Hawthorne, 1 KAR, was placed in command of 850 men from the Arab Rifles, Reserve Company KAR, 29th Punjabis, Jind Infantry, and the Indian Volunteer Maxim Battery (a Territorial-type unit of Europeans and mixed-race Indians). “C” Coy 1 KAR under Captain W.G. Stonor also joined Hawthorne’s force.
On 6th October the Schutztruppe pushed north again in two parallel columns, the northern one under Captain Baumstark having 300 men & four machine guns (Field Companies 16 and 17) and the southern one under Captain Boemcken having 180 men and two machine guns (Field Company 15 plus irregulars). Baumstarck attacked Gazi at dawn on 7th October pushing Hawthorne’s outposts back in through the plantations towards Gazi village.
Towards noon “C” Company 1 KAR mounted a counter-attack that checked the enemy but further Schutztruppe pressure forced Hawthorne’s forward troops back inside their prepared perimeter. “C” Coy 1 KAR counter-attacked again but lost all its officers wounded. Colour Sergeant Sumani rallied the Company & maintained the counter-attack. He was joined by a company and a half of the Jind Infantry who came out of the main defensive position to join him. (The Jind Infantry was amongst the best of the Imperial Service troops supplied by the Rulers of the Princely States of India.)
This second counter-attack broke the enemy assault and before dusk Baumstarck’s troops were withdrawing. Boemcken’s troops do not appear to have been used aggressively and they also withdrew.
1 KAR officers seriously wounded were Captain W.G. Stonor, Lieutenant R.S.J. Faulknor, and Lieutenant J.M. Llewellyn. Major G.M.P. Hawthorne was slightly wounded.
Colour Sergeant Sumani was awarded the African Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation read: “For leading his company in a charge after all his officers had been shot down and drawing off the enemy at the action at Gazi on 7th October 1914.”
THE MAGADI SODA LAKE AREA
Prior to 14th November 1914 Major L.H. Soames, 1 KAR, had been the Post Commandant at Lone Hill just north of Namanga on the German East African border. He had commanded two KAR companies in a “composite battalion” that defended the border area south of Nairobi. The British mounted troops in the area came from the newly-raised East African Mounted Rifles and the Magadi Defence Force. On 14th November a double- company of the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment took over Lone Hill & Namanga & the KAR withdrew north to Kajiado and then back to Nairobi.
A company from 1 KAR under Lieutenant C.G. Phillips returned to the Lake Magadi area in December where it operated with Number 1 Double-Company of the Loyal North Lancashires commanded by Major H.A. Robinson. On 11th December the two companies marched west to the Ewaso Ngiro River. This was rugged country & on the first day’s march three porters and one donkey died from exhaustion.
On reaching the Nguruman Escarpment near Ol Doinyo Sambu Lord Delamere’s Masai Scouts & Agent Twigg of the Intelligence Department reported the presence of 30 Germans and 200 Schutztruppe Askari at Naidigidigo and Samunge, 20 miles to the west. Major Robinson hoped to use his combined force to confront the enemy but the Germans burned Naidigidigo & Samunge and withdrew south, doubtless with herds of confiscated cattle taken to feed the Schutztruppe concentrated around Mount Kilimanjaro.
The two companies stayed in the area until after Christmas, visiting villages with the Intelligence Department and Lord Delamere and his Masai Scouts until they were certain that the German threat had receded. On the return journey the troops marched by night to avoid the effects of day-time heat combined with salinity near the lake. On 29th December a train took the men from the Soda Works to Nairobi.
MAFIA ISLAND, GERMAN EAST AFRICA
On 30 October 1914 the Royal Navy had ascertained that the German cruiser KONIGSBERG was in the Rufiji Delta south of Dar Es Salaam in German East Africa. Mafia Island at the mouth of the Rufiji was needed as a British base for operations against the KONIGSBERG and as the Schutztruppe garrison on Mafia was thought to be only 30 men strong plans were made to seize the island. On New Year’s Day 1915 all four 1 KAR companies were concentrated at Nairobi under Major L.M. Soames and were organized and refitted for this task.
The Askari were practiced in advancing under fire by squads in file at 20 paces interval with local supports and reserves. Thick bush was used for this training, which culminated in practicing attacks across open ground. Lt Col B.R. Graham, CO 3 KAR, lectured the four companies, a half-battalion photograph was taken, and on 7th January the troops departed by rail for Mombasa.
On 8th January the four 1 KAR Companies and a section (from 4 KAR) of the KAR Maxim Gun Battery embarked on the armed merchant cruiser KINFAUNS CASTLE along with a company of 101st Grenadiers. Lt Col L.E.S. Ward KAR commanded the force. At 0630 hours on 10th January the cruiser HMS FOX and the KINFAUNS CASTLE bombarded the Ras Kisimani area, the western tip of Mafia Island, whilst the troops were put ashore unopposed.
Reconnaissance patrols moved towards Ngombeni where the German defenders were thought to be positioned whilst a defensive perimeter was formed at Ras Kisimani. At 0630 hours on 11th January the British force advanced towards Ngombeni, Lt G.M. Dean’s 1 KAR scouts making contact at 0830 hours & identifying the enemy defensive position by 0900 hours.
The Schutztruppe defenders consisted of 15 Police Askari, 11 recruits & three Germans under Reserve Lieutenant Schiller. They vigorously opposed 1 KAR’s advance, Lt Schiller effectively using the branches of a mango tree to fire from. Major Soames ordered Captain Giffard to hold the enemy in front with “B” Coy and the machine-gun section whilst “E” Company under Lieutenant L.G. Murray moved round the enemy’s left flank. “A” and “C” Companies were initially held in reserve but as the hours passed both companies were sent to work round the enemy’s right flank.
“E” Company’s flank-move eventually forced the enemy to retire from Ngombeni Village across a valley, giving the KAR machine-guns and Askari a good shoot. Lieutenant Schiller was severely wounded, two defenders were killed and five others wounded and after resisting for three or four hours the enemy force surrendered. 1 KAR casualties were Major Soames and Lieutenant Joyce severely wounded, Captain Gifford slightly wounded, one Askari killed and seven wounded.
Lt Schiller’s wife tended to the British wounded before her husband was found. After being severely wounded Lt Schiller could not be easily seen and he had to fire shots from his pistol to attract attention from stretcher bearers. (Lt Schiller was taken to the British hospital in Zanzibar, and later he and Frau Schiller were released in return for the release on parole of the two British prisoners captured at Jasin – see below.)
“C” Company then proceeded to the main town Kilindoni and hoisted the British flag at 1423 hours. “”A”, “B” and “E” Companies marched to Chole Bay on the island’s southeast coast, meeting no opposition. The German civil authorities surrendered Mafia Island and “A” and “B” Companies returned to Ngombeni.
On 13th January a company of 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry took over garrison duties on Mafia Island under Lt Col J.D. Mackay, an ex-KAR officer who had served 14 years in various parts of East Africa. The next day all 1 KAR troops moved to Mombasa via Zanzibar aboard SS ELLENGA. Arriving at Mombasa on 16th January all four companies were quickly trans-shipped to SS BARJORA which immediately sailed south along the British East African coast.
THE BATTLE FOR JASIN, GERMAN EAST AFRICA
Jasin was the location of a German coconut and sisal plantation on the coast just south of the border with British East Africa. On Christmas Day 1914 two companies of 3 KAR and a company of 101st Grenadiers, all under the command of Captain T.O. Fitzgerald 3 KAR, had captured the Schutztruppe post at Jasin. The British commander, Brigadier General M.J. Tighe, decided to fortify Jasin and two defensive posts were constructed. Nearly 300 troops from the 101st Grenadiers and the 2nd Kashmir Rifles , supported by one gun of a KAR machine-gun section, occupied the main fort. Forty men of the 2nd Kashmir Rifles occupied a post in the sisal factory to the north.
The German commander Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck decided to attack the British at Jasin and he concentrated eight Field Companies (comprised of Askari) and two European companies at Tanga, these companies together had 16 machine guns and two field guns. Most of the German troops came down from the Kilimanjaro area on the Usambara Railway line that ran between Moshi and Tanga. The German plan was to assault the Jasin Position and to block British reinforcements moving southwards towards Jasin from British territory. After reconnoitering aggressively on 12th January the German attack commenced on 18th January and surprised the British.
The four companies of 1 KAR were steaming down the coast from Mombasa in order to relieve the Jind Infantry in a routine re-deployment, as the coastal area was very unhealthy and British troops, apart from the Arab Rifles, were only located there for short periods. “A” and “C” Companies 1 KAR disembarked at Mgoa just north of the border on 17th January and “B” and “E” Companies disembarked there the next morning at 0630 hours. The companies occupied the nearby Umba Camp.
“C” Company 1 KAR (Lieutenants R.C. Hardingham and E.B. Bevan) was ordered forward at 0530 hours 18th January with two 3 KAR Companies to reinforce Jasin as soon as the signal rockets fired by the defenders were seen. Captain G.J. Giffard 1 KAR was in overall command of these three companies. “A” and “B” Companies 1 KAR were ordered forward at 0930 hours whilst “E” Company was retained in reserve. Lieutenant G.M. Dean 1 KAR was attached to 3 KAR to command a company.
Captain Giffard split “C” Company 1 KAR, sending half the company under Lieutenant Hardingham forward with the two 3 KAR companies, whilst retaining the other half under Lieutenant Bevan as a reserve with himself. The forward companies crossed the River Suba and could see the Jasin sisal factory through the thick bush surrounding them, but they were continuously attacked and outflanked by Schutztruppe companies advancing towards them. Captain Giffard moved forward with his reserve half company to join the firing line and found it running low on ammunition, the troops having fired several squad and section volleys in order to clear the bush around them. The Germans used their superior number of machine guns efficiently to support their riflemen who charged forward to the sound of bugles and cheers, driving all the KAR troops back across the river.
As the 1 KAR troops withdrew with a total of ten wounded men some became involved in fierce hand-to-hand fighting with German Askari in the swampy river valley, but no wounded were left behind. Lieutenant Dean was wounded in the shoulder whilst commanding his 3 KAR company. On the north bank of the River Suba ammunition was replenished. “A” and “B” Companies 1 KAR arrived from Umba Camp, “B” Company was used to prolong the British line to the right (north) whilst “A” Company was placed in reserve to secure the bridge over the Umba River on the border.
A section of two 10-pounder “screw-guns” (so called because their barrels were transported in two pieces) from 28 Mountain Battery, Indian Army now came forward to the line being held north of the River Suba by all the KAR companies. The guns fired 40 rounds in five minutes, many of the rounds’ fuses being set at zero for instantaneous detonation, and at least two enemy machine-gun teams and a bayonet charge were destroyed. Having checked the enemy’s aggression the guns then withdrew to higher ground from where they could fire over the KAR heads.
In the afternoon another British assault was mounted, 3 KAR on the left crossing the Suba but being unable to progress further, the Jind Infantry in the centre crossing but losing many officers and men on the southern bank, and 1 KAR companies on the right being stopped on the northern bank. The Kashmiris in the sisal factory had run out of ammunition and made a bayonet charge that allowed about half of them to escape, and this then freed the Schutztruppe in the factory area to concentrate all their attention on stopping the assault of the 1 KAR companies across the Suba.
Brigadier-General Tighe believed that the British fort at Jasin could hold out for another day and so decided to rest his men north of the Suba and assault again the following morning. However the defenders of Jasin fort had lost the Kashmiri Commanding Officer killed in action, and they were nearly out of ammunition. The intensity of the incoming fire from six enemy machine guns had led to an over-rapid rate of return fire by the Kashmiri defenders, whilst many of the other defenders would not raise their heads to aim shots when firing out of the fort. The KAR machine gun had jammed and become inoperable after firing two rounds. The defenders also had to leave the fort perimeter to access a spring when they needed water, and whilst the German attackers also suffered from thirst they had the advantage of being able to drink coconut juice from the plantation crop that surrounded the fort.
At 0600 hours on the 19th January “B” Company 1 KAR took part in a British “reconnaissance in force” and reached Jasin ridge, the scene of much of the previous day’s fighting but the two British officers commanding Jasin fort had surrendered at 0700 hours. The two British officers were released on parole but the other surviving defenders including the British Sergeant and seven Askari of the KAR Machine Gun Section were sent to prisoner of war camps in German East Africa.
Jasin was a victory for the Schutztruppe commander Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck who, despite having taken a bullet through the shoulder during the action, had applied determination and decisive force and firepower at critical times. However this had been a costly battle for the Germans as one-seventh of their regular army officers had been lost. This influenced a change in German tactics and for the remainder of the campaign the Schutztruppe worked on containing British forces in East Africa and causing them steady attrition.
The four 1 KAR companies remained on the coast watching for signs of a German incursion towards Mombasa. African Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to three 1 KAR men: Corporal Matukuta, Private Bule and Private Tabu
“For conspicuous gallantry in rescuing wounded during the retirement from Jasin on 18th January 1915. They each in turn engaged the pursuing enemy in hand to hand combats, and succeeded in bringing off their wounded comrades, without the loss of a single rifle.”
(To be continued)
Sources referred to (in order of narrative):
Official History of the War Military Operations East Africa August 1914 to September 1916
The King’s African Rifles by H. Moyse-Bartlett
KAR by W. Lloyd-Jones
African General Service Medals by R.B. Magor
The Army List 1915
African Crossroads by Sir Charles Dundas
Small Wars & Skirmishes 1902 – 1918, Chapter 36 “The Giriama War in Kenya 1914-15” by Edwin Herbert
War Services 1922
The African DCM by John Arnold
VOI DISTRICT War Diary August 1914 to January 1915
My Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck
Post Commandant Lone Hill War Diary for December 1914
2nd Bn The Loyal North Lancashire War Diary for December 1914
Naval Operations Volume 1
1 KAR (Northern Half) War Diary for January 1915
NAIROBI AREA HQ War Diary January 1915
MOMBASA AREA HQ War Diary January 1915