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The Anglo-French invasion

Introduction

In August 1914 Germany held four territories in Africa.  German East Africa, German South West Africa and the Cameroons were large but the fourth territory, Togoland, was a small oblong-shaped possession on the Gulf of Guinea that had the approximate land mass of Ireland.  Its width averaged 120 miles and its length 300 miles.  To the west of Togoland lay the British Gold Coast, to the east lay French Dahomey and to the north was French Upper Senegal & Niger.

Above: A pre-war French trading card depicting the German Colony of Togo

By effective management the Germans had made Togoland into a successful colony that paid all its own costs.  Three short railway lines had been laid from the capital and chief port of Lome going northwest, east and north.  The northern line terminated just past Kamina, approximately 110 miles from Lome.  At Kamina the construction of a  high-power nine-mast wireless station had just been completed in July 1914.  In the words of the Governor of The Gold Coast, Sir Hugh Clifford, this station was:  “destined to be the pivotal point of the German world-wide wireless system  . . . designed to communicate with Berlin on the one hand, with Windhoek in German South West Africa, and with Dar Es Salaam on the east coast with the other”.  The station could also communicate easily with the Cameroons and with German ships in the Atlantic Ocean.   

In Togoland there were no German army Schutztruppe units but there were believed to be 800 armed police and 200 or more German civilians who had received some military training. 

(A note to collectors, this article will go a long way to helping understand that the document shown HERE, supposedly issued in Lome in 1915, is an outright fake. There are a number of variations of this doc, all are fake. CB)

The coastal belt contained lagoons and marshes and in the interior a range of mountains ran from the northeast down to the southwest.  Most of the land either side of the range supported palm oil plantations, native cultivations, virgin forest, and where this had been burned down, high grass and thick scrub.  Away from the mountains August was usually a rainless month. The temperature in the shade hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the high level of humidity sapped strength from men and women who worked, particularly if they were European.  As the Governor of Togoland, Duke Adolf Friedrich zu Mecklenburg, was on leave in Germany the military commander and acting governor was Major von Doering. 

Above: A map showing the invasion routes.

British planning and initial moves. August 1914 in the Gold Coast was holiday season and both the Governor and the Commandant of the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR), Lieutenant Colonel R.A. de B. Rose, were enjoying leave in the United Kingdom.  Mr. W.C.F. Robertson was the acting Governor and Captain F.C. Bryant, Royal Artillery, was the acting Commandant.  The GCR was part of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF) which drew its troops from Nigeria (four infantry battalions, a mounted infantry battalion and two artillery batteries each containing six 2.95 inch mountain guns), Sierra Leone (one infantry battalion), Gambia (one infantry company) and the Gold Coast.  The GCR was organized into one pioneer company, seven infantry companies each with one machine gun and one artillery battery of four 2.95 inch guns.  In 1914 the GCR only recruited volunteers from the tribes of the Northern Territories (although this policy was relaxed later in the war to allow Ashanti and other tribes to volunteer).  All the GCR sub-units were in the Gold Coast in August 1914 and like all other WAFF units the GCR was liable for service beyond the territory to which it belonged.  One other infantry unit, the West Africa Regiment (WAR), was in Sierra Leone.  The WAR was recruited from within Sierra Leone and was an Imperial Service unit paid for by the UK government, unlike the WAFF whose costs were born by the British colonial governments in West Africa.   

Although help was requested from other WAFF units the British only used the GCR in the invasion of Togoland.  Also of military use in the Gold Coast were the 320 men of the Northern Territories Constabulary armed with carbines, three machine guns and a 7-pounder gun, plus 800 civil police and 400 men of the Customs Preventive Service, all semi-militarily trained and mostly armed with carbines.  These three non-GCR units played useful roles in the forthcoming operations.  Also four Volunteer Corps totaling about 900 men (armed with rifles, four machine guns and four 7-pounder guns) were available in the Gold Coast but their remit was internal and they were there to be called out in the event of invasion or rebellion (Volunteers were later to serve in the Cameroons and East African campaigns).  The big weakness of the GCR was that the Regiment had no military support services.  Civilian government officers provided what supply, transport and medical services were needed within the Gold Coast but no provision had been made for the delivery of these services during operations outside the Territory.  

On receipt of orders from London Captain Bryant immediately started deploying the GCR and mobilizing its reservists in accordance with the Territory Defence Plan that envisaged attacks upon the Gold Coast by German troops from Togoland.  Meanwhile in London the Inspector-General of the WAFF, Brigadier General C.M Dobell, as a member of the interestingly-titled Offensive Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, submitted a proposal accepted by the Sub-Committee stating that the GCR should immediately invade Togoland, capture Lome and advance north to capture Kamina.   On the ground Bryant was of a similar opinion and was making the necessary plans.  At this stage the British were working on the assumption that French troops would not be involved in any operations in Togoland.  

On 5th August the British and the French received a telegram from Major von Doering requesting that the colonial territories remain neutral, and not involve themselves in the European war.  This was viewed as an enemy ploy to keep the Kamina wireless station operating, and was disregarded.  The following day and acting purely on his own initiative, Bryant sent his company commander at Ada, Captain E. Barker, overland under a flag-of-truce to Lome with an ultimatum that von Doering surrender his colony.  A reply was to be made within 24 hours during which neither side would move troops towards the frontier.  After delivering his request Barker, who was accompanied by a fluent German-speaking District Commissioner, Mr. H.S. Newlands, returned to Gold Coast territory.  British wireless intercepts now learned that von Doering intended to evacuate Lome and move north to defend Kamina.  London, trying hard to catch up with Bryant’s initiative, ordered that if Lome was surrendered it must be immediately occupied as a base for an advance on Kamina.  

Barker started his troops marching eastwards on the coast towards Togoland on 7th August and returned ahead of them in a lorry to Lome for the German answer.  He found von Doering and his troops gone.  The local District Commissioner, Mr. Clausnitzer, surrendered Lome and around a hundred German civilians to Barker.  Clausnitzer stated that the surrender of the capital was being made to avoid British naval bombardment, but if the British advanced more than 75 miles into the interior then the Germans would resist them.  Barker and Newlands and their single police orderly spent a lonely night in a Lome bungalow.  The next morning a Gold Coast telegraph operator arrived at Lome on a bicycle with an instrument and appropriate spares, allowing him to repair the disabled German telegraph facility and establish communications with the Gold Coast.

Back in Accra the British had heard from London that the French had agreed to cooperate and were moving regular troops into southern Togoland from Dahomey to the east, whilst irregular mounted troops were moving into the German colony from the north.  Barker’s soldiers force-marched across the border to Lome on 9th August, followed by other GCR companies, and a group of Gold Coast officials arrived by sea from Accra and set about restoring sanitation, communications and port facilities in the capital and providing medical services for the troops.  (When Sir Hugh Clifford returned to Accra to resume his Governorship he found considerable disarray within the Gold Coast administration because of the absence in Togoland of his key officials.)  

The advance north.

Bryant was made a local Lieutenant Colonel and appointed allied commander.  By 12th August he was established in Lome with a force of over 550 officers, British Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and men of the GCR, three 2.95 inch guns, four machine guns, 50 Gold Coast police, 34 Gold Coast civil officials and volunteers and 2,000 carriers and labourers.  The Germans were demolishing railway bridges on the Kamina line and so the British immediately advanced north along a rough road that ran alongside the railway, supported by civilian railway construction crews from the Gold Coast who repaired the line.   

Raiding parties totaling 200 men in two trains were sent south by von Doering on 15th August to disrupt the British advance, but the GCR managed to block the line to the north, trapping the trains and the troops in them.  One train of 20 carriages was derailed at Ekuni by obstacles placed on the line by Lieutenant H.S. Collins and his men, and the second train was captured by Captain H.B. Potter at Agbeluvoe after fierce fighting.  Six enemy Europeans were killed including the German commander Captain Pfaeler  and 16 were captured.  British casualties in these actions and in skirmishes involving Bryant’s main column to the south totaled 7 killed and 38 wounded, 30 of the wounded being carriers.  Several of the wounds inflicted on British personnel were very destructive, signaling that many Germans were using soft-nosed hunting ammunition.  Von Doering later acknowledged this but disclaimed personal responsibility.   

Meanwhile in the north of Togoland British and French troops, constabulary and irregulars had occupied Yendi and Sansanne Mangu respectively.  Further south a GCR detachment occupied Kete Krachi and French troops occupied German posts on and near the Dahomey border.  On 17th August Bryant’s force was reinforced by Captain Castaing and his 150 Tirailleurs Senegalaise (French colonial infantry) with seven French officers and NCOs.  Two days later a large column of 345 Senegalese soldiers and 23 French whites left Tchetti at Bryant’s request to advance on Kamina from the east.  From the west the “Krachi Column” of three GCR companies moved from Kete Krachi towards Kamina.  Von Doering was being threatened on all sides.  But the better German troops maintained a good fighting spirit and their commander chose a battlefield that lay across Bryant’s route. 

Above: Chra Bridge and Village

The action at Chra.

None of the Allied invasion columns appear to have encountered hostility from the Togolese villagers that they encountered, but hearing that the Germans were distributing rifles to some tribesmen Lieutenant Colonel Bryant now requested that tribal levies be raised and armed in the Gold Coast.  He wanted to use these levies to secure the various British Lines of Communications within Togoland.  Despite the eagerness of some Gold Coast Chiefs to mobilize their men the acting Governor Mr. Robertson was adamant that this was politically undesirable.   Reinforcements were requested from the WAFF in Nigeria and Sierra Leone but these did not arrive at Lome in time to be deployed on operations.   

After resting his men and obtaining a re-supply of ammunition and rations that were transported forward from the railhead on the heads of the carriers, Bryant advanced again.   The Gold Coast Assistant Commissioner of Police, Captain A.F. Redfern, was commanding patrols ahead of the main column and on 21st August his men found the railway bridge 500 yards south of Chra village to be demolished.  As the patrols moved towards the village two mines were exploded in their path and two German machine guns opened fire.  The scouts continued probing until they established that a strong German entrenched position was located in the village which lay on a rise in the ground.  Here the road passed through the west of the village whilst the railway used a cutting on the east side.  Dense bush encroached on both flanks which were covered by three German machine guns.  Von Doering had placed over 40 German whites and around 300 Togolese soldiers at Chra (more arrived during the fighting).

Above: A sketch map showing the action at Chra

Bryant attacked on the following day with two columns and an advance screen of scouts.  His plan was poor as it divided his force and he made little use of his best asset, the artillery. The western column used half a GCR company to engage the enemy frontally whilst another GCR company attempted to get around the enemy right flank.  The three mountain guns under the command of Lieutenant W.L. St. Clair supported this column but their fire was not effective.  The eastern column used the GCR Pioneer Company to hold the enemy frontally whilst half a GCR company (consisting of only 22 men) and the Senegalese tried to turn the German left flank.  Bryant’s left and right flanking parties disappeared into the thick bush and out of his sight and control.  Messages had to be sent with runners who made good targets for enemy marksmen.  The Allied troops in the bush could not observe more than a few feet forward and this prevented platoons from supporting each other’s movement with aimed fire.  The tactical initiative was held by the Germans who had spent three days preparing their defensive positions and fields of fire, and whose re-supply was delivered by train from Kamina.  Bryant’s men were attacking with whatever carrier loads of ammunition accompanied his column.  

The GCR company on the west worked its way round the enemy flank until it was confronted by a German trench line.  This was judged to be impossible to assault without more fire support, and at dusk this company moved 300 yards west of the village and entrenched itself in a river bed.  Captain Castaing led the troops on the east flank and he had allocated 17 of his Senegalese soldiers to be under the command of Lieutenant G.M. Thompson, Royal Scots, who commanded the weak GCR half-company.  Castaing’s men moved through the bush until at 1100 hours they encountered strong German defences east of the railway cutting. At around 1530 hours Lieutenant Thompson judged that the enemy fire had slackened sufficiently for an assault to be practical, and he charged the enemy trenches with his men.  However the German defenders had just been reinforced by a company that arrived by train from Kamina, and they shot the assaulting Allied troops down at 50 yards range.  Lieutenant Thompson, Lieutenant Guillemart of the French Colonial Infantry, one GCR sergeant and 12 Senegalese soldiers were killed and many more were wounded.  Castaing’s surviving men entrenched themselves east of the railway cutting.   

Bryant’s losses during the day had been 23 dead and 52 wounded, 17% of the strength of his column.  The Official History comments:  “The three enemy machine guns, well concealed and skillfully handled by German ranks, had fired many thousands of rounds and had contributed largely to the successful defence.  Their effect on the men of the WAFF, who were facing machine gun fire for the first time, had been distinctly demoralizing, and had called for the highest qualities of leadership on the part of their British commanders.  Moreover, the old pattern British machine guns, although well handled, had not been nearly so effective.”  

Above: Part of Kamina Wireless Station after demolition

Kamina.

Bryant planned a new attack on Chra to be mounted at first light on the next day.  This time he intended to attack only on the west flank.  But Allied patrols found that the enemy had withdrawn during the night.  Apparently many of the Germans wished to stay and fight at Chra as they had only taken 13 casualties and their defensive positions were intact.  However von Doering, perhaps fearful of the movements of other Allied columns, withdrew his men to defend the wireless station at Kamina.  

Bryant’s men spent the next 48 hours at Chra evacuating wounded by an improvised ambulance train that was not far behind the column, thanks to the rapid repairs made by the railway engineers, and preparing for a further advance.  On the night of 24th August the Allies heard loud explosions from the direction of Kamina and on the following morning patrols failed to see the masts of the wireless station.  The Germans were becoming demoralised as they saw the various Allied columns closing in on them at Kamina.  Bryant’s column advanced north and two days later at Glei met two Germans wishing to discuss surrender terms.  Bryant insisted on unconditional surrender and continued his advance.   The Allies had difficulty in crossing the flooded Amu River but constructed footbridges to replace the demolished German bridge.  (Temporary footbridges had to be strong in order to take the weight of the carriers and their loads.)   

On 27th August both Bryant’s column and the French one from the east entered Kamina and found all the nine huge wireless masts demolished and everything that was breakable broken.  Fuel oil had been poured over mechanical and electrical items and ignited.  Over 200 Germans surrendered with three machine guns, more than 1,000 rifles and 320,000 rounds of ammunition.  The German Togolese troops had no doubt disappeared into the countryside.  German resistance in Togoland ended and the first Allied victory of the Great War was proclaimed.  

Occupation.

The French now administered the east of Togoland whilst the British administered a smaller area to the west.  The French controlled Kamina but did not reconstruct the wireless station.  After the war Togoland was administered by the French under a mandate from the League of Nations and in 1960 the country became the French-speaking independent nation of Togo.  

The Gold Coast Regiment learned tactical lessons from the invasion of Togoland and went on to serve with distinction in both the Cameroons and East African campaigns.  In 1918 the Gold Coast was preparing to send an infantry Brigade to Palestine until the conclusion of an Armistice with Turkey aborted that project.  The government of the Gold Coast, with the help of generous public subscriptions, met the total British cost of the invasion of Togoland and also of the occupation and administration of the post-invasion western British sector.  

As a reward for his dash and daring in neutralizing the Kamina wireless station so quickly Temporary Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Carkeet Bryant gained a substantive promotion to major and was appointed to be a Companion of the Order of St. Michael & St. George (CMG).  His service in France from 1915 to 1919 led to the award of his becoming a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and to the distinction of becoming an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).  He retired as a Temporary Lieutenant Colonel in 1920.  [During the Second World War he was brought out of retirement to be a Provost Marshall in the UK and the Middle East as a temporary Colonel.  For this he was Mentioned in Despatches and elevated to becoming a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).]  


Commemorations.

George Masterman Thompson was the first British officer to be killed in action in the Great War.  A Special French Army Order was published on 20th October 1914 commending his gallantry and the fine example he gave to the French soldiers temporarily under his command.  He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palme.  His is the only British grave in the small Wahala Cemetery near Atakpame, Togo.

Sergeant Asuri Moshi, Gold Coast Regiment, who fell at his side is commemorated on the Kumasi Memorial, Ghana along with the other Gold Coast Regiment soldiers killed in Togoland.

(Photographs of the cemetery and the memorial are displayed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission internet site.)  

SOURCES:
Official History, Military Operations, Togoland & The Cameroons 1914 - 1916. by Brigadier General F.J. Moberley.
The Great War in West Africa by Brigadier General E. Howard Gorges.
From The Ivory Coast to The Cameroons by A.J. Reynolds.
The Empire At War by Sir Charles Lucas KCB KCMG.
The History of The Royal West African Frontier Force by Haywood and Clark.
Lieut. Colonel F.C. Bryant CMG CBE DSO, Gold Coast Regiment, and the Short Campaign in Togo, August 11 to 26 1914.  A paper by Keith Steward FRGS.   

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