Naval warfare and shipping – Africa 1914-1918

There were various naval actions around Africa, most notably in East Africa on Lakes Nyasal and Tanganyika. There were other actions such as that concerning the Konigsberg and HMS Pegasus on the East Africa coast. Less well-known are the West Africa encounters around Duala. In addition to the war on water, shipping played a significant role in moving troops and goods to the various theatres and home. None of the colonies/dominions had their own navies at the time and were reliant on the imperial country for naval support. There were however, tugs, whalers and other smaller vessels which each territory galvanised for war service and men from the different territories often served in the imperial naviws or British Mercantile Marine.
Locating who served on the seas can be quite challenging for the 1914-18 years, not least because documents were purposefully not kept, such as the crew lists of the Merchant Navy – only those for 1915 – and it was only if a merchantile crew member’s death could be directly attributed to military action that they were added to the CWGC listing, so for example, while the SANLC who lost their lives when the SS Mendi went down in 1917 are listed on the CWGC database, those of the crew are not.

List of vessels and other transport vehicles used in Africa during the war, includes developing chronology of port visits with links to source

Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy – 1915:

Naval-History Log books of British World War 1 Navy vessels:
Army Despatches with naval mentions:
An invaluable starting place for researching British ships involved in the First World War, including in Africa, is Naval History which covers the Royal Navy (support vessels).

At least 150 vessels, including blockade runners, are listed as having been in the African theatres of war: on the lakes and oceans. The spreadsheet contains details of the nationality, captain, capacity in which the vessel served, and references where known.
Crew names, where known, are on the relevant theatre of war name index spreadsheet which can be downloaded. In the British forces, men were either in the Royal Navy or Royal Naval Volunteer Regiment. Some served in the Royal Naval Air Service.

To prevent German reinforcements getting through to the various fronts, the Royal Navy implemented blockades of certain coastlines.
1 March 1915– Blockade of German East Africa started
23 April 1915 – Blockade of Cameroon (more detail

A description of the various ports on route around Africa – Union Castle Line

UK National Archives – ADM series

Publications including memoirs See the Bibliographic listing for more details and further publications.
GWAA – The Lake Tanganyika Expedition 1914-1917: A primary source chronology (vol 1: 1914-1915; vol 2: 1916-1933; vol 3 Index and biographical info)
Max Looff – Kreuzerfahrt und buschkampf, mit S. M. S. “Königsberg” in Deutsch-Ostafrika

2017 – Fred Khumalo – Dancing the Death Drill
2009 – Alex Capus – A matter of Time
2007 – Christopher Dow – Lord of the Loincloth: The Adventures of the Royal Naval African Expedition and its Intrepid leader, Commander Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson
2005 – Giles Foden – Mimi and Toutou go forth: The bizarre battle of Lake Tanganyika
1984 – Alan Scholefield – Kanonenboot auf den Tanganjika-See
1976 – Alan Scholefield – The Alpha Raid
1968 – Wilbur Smith – Shout at the Devil
1966 – Hugh Wray McCann – Utmost Fish
1940 – Christen P Christensen – Blockade and Jungle: From the letters and diaries etc of Nis Kock
1937 – Christen P Christensen – Sønderjyder forsvarer Østafrika 1914-18
1935 – CS Forester – The African Queen
1916 – Percy Westerman – Rounding up the raider: A naval story of the Great War

Something missing?
If you know of a resource others might find useful on this topic, please add it to the comments or let Anne know.

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February 2018

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission spent 2017 making some changes in Africa as recorded in their report and 2018 promises to be just as busy.
You can follow Juan Maree on Twitter to see what is happening in Southern Africa.

The inspirational FC Selous (Legion of Frontiersmen)

Blockading German East Africa – an Australian link See more under Naval

Recent books and discovered publications including Africa and World War 1
Sideshows of the Indian Army in World War 1 by Harry Fecitt – The paperback version was released in January 2018.

The Unknown Fallen: The Global Allied Muslim Contribution in the First World War by 1914-18 Forgotten Heroes was also published in January. It is an introduction to Muslim involvement in the war without the politics. There are three sections on Africa and as with Harry’s book, it opens up aspects of the global war little considered before (US, China, Russia).

Thanks to Ann Crichton-Harris for bringing After the First World War by Quentin Holbert (History Today, Jan 2018) to attention. Ann is the author of 17 Letters to Tatham available from GWAA.

MA Dissertation on the expansion of the KAR 1914-1918 (1966)

Anyone looking for UK Cabinet Papers concerning World War 1 in Africa can access them online through the History Lab (has other correspondence too USA and UK including WW2)

With a British Library user card/log-in you can now access some African newspapers online. Papers covering the war years include: Gold Coast Leader (1914-1918); Gold Coast Nation (1914-1918), Gold Coast Independent (June 1918- ), East African Standard ( – Oct 1915), Leselinyana La Lesutho (1914-1918), Nyasaland Times (1914-1918), Beira News and East Coast Chronicle (Sep 1917 – ), Beira Post ( – Aug 1917), O Africano (1914-1918), Luderitzbuchter Zeitung (1914-1918), Swakopmunder Zeitung (1914-1918), Lagos Standard (1914-1918), Lagos Weekly Record (1914-1918), Nigerian Chronicle ( – Mar 1915), Nigerian Pioneer (1914-1918), Nigerian Times (1914-1918), Colony and Provincial Reporter (1914-1918), Sierra Leone Guardian and Foreign Mails (1914-1918), Sierra Leone Weekly News (1914-1918), Ilanga Lase Natal (1914-1918), Imvo Zabantsundu (1914-1918), Indian Opinion (1914-1918), International (Sep 1915 – ), Izindaba Zabantu (1914-1918), Mafeking Mail and Protectorate Guardian (1914-1918), South African Outlook (1914-1918), Tsala Ea Batho ( – Jul 1915), Uganda Herald (1914-1918), Livingstone Mail (Jan 1916 – ), Buluwayo Chronicle (1914-1918), Rhodesia Herald (1914-1918)

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