The Gold Coast Regiment in Portuguese East Africa, April to May 1918
In April 1918 the Gold Coast
Regiment (GCR) was part of Port Amelia Force (PAMFORCE) in Portuguese East
Africa. The force commander was
Brigadier W.F.S. Edwards CMG. Colonel Paul
von Lettow-Vorbeck’s slimmed-down Schutztruppe of 2,000 combatants had entered
Portuguese East Africa from German East Africa by crossing the Rovuma River in
late November 1917. The Germans had
acquired arms and ammunition by seizing Portuguese military posts, and had
obtained food from villagers who welcomed the German presence. The Germans scrupulously paid for their food,
albeit with cloth looted from Portuguese stores, and to the villagers this was
a welcome change from Portuguese colonial repression and confiscation. The
British had not mounted operations during the first quarter of 1918 because of
heavy rains, but in April PAMFORCE was ordered to advance westwards.
Above: Gold Coast Regiment soldiers in marching order (hats are West African style)
The GCR, commanded by Major H.
Goodwin DSO (Middlesex Regiment), was in a column named ROSECOL after the
commander, Lieutenant Colonel R.A. de B. Rose DSO (Worcestershire Regiment
& GCR). The other units in the
column were the Ugandan 4th Battalion of the 4th Regiment
of the King’s African Rifles (4/4 KAR), the Indian Army 22nd Derajat
Battery of mountain artillery and a detachment from the re-formed KAR Mounted
Infantry Company. Porters from the
Sierra Leone Carrier Corps provided transport support. The other column in PAMFORCE was titled
KARTUCOL and it contained the first two battalions of the 2nd Regiment
of the King’s African Rifles (1/2 and 2/2 KAR).
Confronting any advance from Port
Amelia (now named Pemba) was a German formation commanded by the Bavarian
gunner Major Koehl, one of von Lettow’s most able subordinates. Koehl’s units were No 6 Schutzen Company and
the 3rd, 11th, 13th, 14th
and 17th Field Companies.
These six companies each had at least two machine guns, and a captured
Portuguese field gun was also deployed.
Left: Lieutenant Colonel RA de B Rose DSO
Initial moves The GCR started arriving in Port
Amelia from mid December 1917. Despite
the heavy seasonal rains forays were made to the west, notably by Lieutenant
Jack Hardy Barrett (King’s Own), and skirmishes with Koehl’s force took
place. Prominent amongst the Non Commissioned
Officers (NCOs) during these contacts was 8481 Lance Corporal Etonga Etun
MM. Etun was a native of Yaounde in the
German Cameroons, and he had enlisted in the GCR during the campaign in West
Africa. Thanks to these GCR forays
PAMFORCE was established at Meza, 64 miles (103 kilometres) west of Port Amelia
The advance On 7th April the GCR
led PAMFORCE westwards, meeting enemy snipers and ambushers who made good use
of the thick bush on either side of the muddy road. Some of the enemy Askari wore captured GCR
green caps and this created confusion during contacts. Four days later the force was established at
Rock Camp, the GCR having lost 3 men killed and 7 wounded on the way. Brigadier Edwards’ immediate objective was
the capture of Medo Boma, six miles (10 kilometres) to the west.
The large Chirimba Hill on the
south of the road now dominated the route, and German observers were occupying
it. The hill was 5 or 600 feet (about
175 metres) high and about 2 miles (3 kilometres) long. On 10th April a GCR attempt to
establish a position on the hill was beaten back to the eastern end. Sergeant William Flatman (Royal Welsh
Fusiliers and GCR) and one soldier were killed in this attempt. Meanwhile a GCR advance guard had positioned
itself on the road two miles (3 Kilometres) west of Rock Camp, at a cost of 1
soldier killed, 10 soldiers wounded and 1 porter missing.
The fight at Medo
The following day a GCR patrol
from ‘I’ Company went back onto the eastern flank of the hill whilst a section
under Lieutenant Barrett went into the bush on the north of the road, keeping
in line with the patrol on the hill.
Another company placed men to the right of Barrett. Barrett’s section came into contact and after
firing at the GCR the enemy withdrew, as the Schutztruppe usually did. A German observer saw the contact and called
fire down from the Portuguese field gun onto Barrett’s section. It was obvious that Chirimba Hill would have
to be cleared before the advance down the road could continue. Attempts to do this in the afternoon achieved
little before dusk fell.
On 12 April KARTUCOL was sent
south of Chirimba Hill whilst ‘B’ Company GCR, supported by two GCR Stokes guns
(medium mortars) and the 22nd Derajat Mountain Battery, moved forward.
The enemy blocked the GCR advance very effectively with two companies and
machine gun fire, although a small group of GCR men got to the summit of the
hill and cleared an enemy observation post.
The Stokes guns, commanded by Captain J.G. Foley MC and Lieutenant S.T.
Lamont were now used very effectively, throwing bombs forward into the bush
where enemy Askari were sited. The
Stokes guns were deployed about 50 yards (45 metres) behind the firing line.
Captain Foley later received a Bar to his
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to
duty. Whilst in charge of two Stokes guns he did most excellent work throughout
the day. He several times conveyed valuable information about the situation to
the officer commanding, and after dark, when his guns could not be used, was of
great assistance in reorganising the line under very trying circumstances.
Lieutenant Lamont later received a Military
Cross without a published citation.
Around 1500 hours KARTUCOL walked
into an enemy area ambush south of Chirimba Hill. Major Gerald Shaw MC and Bar (South
Lancashires and GCR) was commanding the GCR firing line, and he worked round
the west of the hill and provided support to the hard-pressed KAR Askari who
were fighting in a knee-deep swamp. The
GCR firing line pivoted left to conform with this move that Major Shaw
commanded, isolating 50 men under Captain H.A.A.F. Harman DSO (South
Staffordshires and GCR) on the extreme right, as this group had been held up by
swampy ground. The enemy took advantage
of this and attacked Harman’s men. A GCR
machine gun team was all hit, and Colour Sergeant Clifford Aubrey Thornett
(Machine Gun Corps, Motors and GCR) was killed.
Sergeant H.L Mudge (London
Regiment and GCR) was wounded badly in the groin and he died a few minutes
later. Lieutenant Jack Barrett was
slightly wounded in the thigh and evacuated.
These losses were caused by a captured Portuguese machine gun that the
Germans were using.
Thornett was posthumously gazetted for a Distinguished Conduct Medal with the
conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has rendered most valuable
services in command of a machine-gun team, and shown great devotion to duty.
Right: A Regimental Sergeant Major
Whilst this action was in progress Gunner Dyal Singh, a
linesman with 22nd Derajat Mountain Battery, trod on an improvised
mine planted in the road. The mine was a
4.2-inch (10.6 centimetre) German naval shell.
Both Dyall Singh’s legs were blown off and he subsequently died. Lieutenant Colonel Rose had been standing
next to the Gunner, and he had a fortunate escape, being drenched with blood but not
wounded. The Battery, transported on its
mules, had been firing in support of the GCR, and for gallantry displayed
whilst calling fire down Lieutenant Owen Gilbert Davies (Royal Artillery) was
later awarded a Military Cross.
As night fell the GCR dug in and counted the cost of the
action. As well as the Europeans already
mentioned, 10 soldiers had been killed and 40 wounded, along with 1 porter
killed and 14 wounded. The GCR medical
team got little rest. The Medical
Officer, Captain A.J.R. O’Brien MC and Bar (West African Medical Service), had
again displayed courage while attending to the wounded under fire.
For bravery displayed during the fighting on 12th
April three Gold Coasters received the Military Medal. They were:
Lance Corporal Grande Dikola, Acting Corporal Yakubu Wongara and
Sergeant Mumuni Grunshi.
Moving on Koehl withdrew his men during the evening and next day
PAMFORCE was on his trail. This was
attritional fighting, the vanguard company always knowing that it was only a
matter of time before an enemy ambush was sprung. The Germans defended water sources until the
last minute, making the British troops expose themselves in attacks or else go
thirsty. In the tropical climate a good
water source just had to be seized before night fell, and the dense bush
prevented the British from quickly putting in flank attacks. Observation posts on the rocky outcrops
dotting the landscape ensured that the Schutztruppe could always monitor
PAMFORCE’s approach by observing dust on the road or smoke from cooking fires
in the evening.
On 17th April 4/4 KAR was leading and whilst
moving through elephant grass nine feet tall the Ugandans ran into three German
companies. The enemy positions could not
be spotted but the Germans knew exactly where the British troops were. 4/4 KAR and the GCR Stokes gun teams with it
took many casualties and ‘A’ Company GCR moved up in support. Finally the enemy withdrew but ‘A’ Company
and the Stokes gun crews had lost 4 men killed and 24 men wounded. In these intense short-range actions the
Sierra Leone porters, transporting bombs forward to the Stokes guns and wounded
back to the dressing station, could easily be targeted by enemy machine
Two days later a detachment of Koehle’s men operated in
the PAMFORCE rear and ambushed a British column of transport porters near Rock
Camp. Lieutenant R.S. Mesham, a South
African officer in the Military Labour Corps and the column commander, was
killed and the British supply line was disrupted. The Germans carried some British mail bags
back to Koehle who depended on this kind of mail intercept to get news of the
fighting in Europe.
The ambush at
Koronje A skirmish on 28th April near Mbalama left
Lieutenant Robert James McEvoy wounded in the hand and a Stokes gun trumpeter
dead. In the dense bush bugle calls were
very useful for transmitting commands orders.
Three days later at Koronje Major Shaw and a party of Gold Coasters were
escorting the 22nd Derajat gunners and their mule-loads through the
bush when an enemy party attacked. Seven
gunners and 11 mules were killed, with another 7 gunners and 8 mules being
wounded; 5 mules were missing. Fitter
Staff Sergeant E. Mason, Royal Garrison Artillery, was later awarded a
Distinguished Conduct medal for:
On 1st May, 1918, at Koronje, Portuguese East Africa, when the battery
was attacked on the line of march at short range by a field company with two
machine guns, he, with two Indian non-commissioned officers, went out under
heavy machine-gun fire and successfully brought in the breech of a howitzer
which had been bucked off by its mule between the escort and the enemy. An act
of great gallantry, as they were under fire from both sides, and the enemy was
very close; but for these three men the breech might have been captured.
Naik Naryan Singh and Gunner Mahji
Khan were mentioned in despatches.
Left: A village in Portuguese East Africa
The Germans could have taken away
some of the 3.7-inch (9.4 centimetre) howitzers’ parts, but they had no live
mules to use as transport. Lieutenant
W.G. Kay (Middlesex Regiment and GCR), commanding a platoon of the escort, held
his ground and beat off the attack whilst the battery evacuated its wounded and
By early May re-supply problems
down the long disintegrating track from Port Amelia had left PAMFORCE
debilitated through having to exist on short rations. The Schutztruppe on the other hand was always
falling back onto food dumps accumulated by foraging parties. Shortage of supplies was not the only problem,
at Msalu in mid-May hungry lions killed one 4/4 KAR Askari and badly mauled another.
The final encounter
On 18th May a ROSECOL
patrol inspecting a ford across the Msalu River met scouts of the Rhodesia
Native Regiment that had approached in a column from General E. Northey’s force
north of the Rovuma River. The meeting
did not start off too well as the Rhodesians fired on the ROSECOL troops, but
the marksmanship was fortunately not up to Bisley standard. The Msalu was unfordable at that time of
year, but the Gold Coasters quickly revived skills first learned in the
Cameroons campaign and constructed a temporary bridge from bush materials.
Once across the Msalu the next
objective was Mahua. Brigadier Edwards
planned an encircling movement to capture Koehl’s force. Contact was made with a column from Nyasaland consisting of 3/1 KAR and half of 2/1 KAR
under Lieutenant Colonel A.H. Griffiths DSO (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
and KAR). As ROSECOL moved on its
assigned task on 22nd May it could hear the 1 KAR Askaris involved
in a fierce fight. But ROSECOL could not
join in as the Mwambia Ridge, a high steep granite barrier, blocked
access. 3/1 KAR had stumbled upon
Koehl’s baggage column, killing or capturing 60 enemy troops and seizing
100,000 rounds of rifle ammunition, the remaining shells for the Portuguese
field gun, and a great deal of food and baggage. But Koehl’s field companies were intact, and
they continued fighting rearguard actions as von Lettow marched his
Schutztruppe southwards deeper into Portuguese East Africa.
Above: The Kumasi Memorial
On the following day Major Shaw,
commanding the GCR Pioneer and ‘B’ Companies and two Stokes guns, advanced to
contact and skirmished with the enemy rearguard. Sergeant Clifford Kent (South African
Infantry and GCR) and one soldier were killed and three other soldiers wounded. Next day the Germans fought a very stubborn
withdrawal and Lieutenant W.J. Percy and two Stokes gun porters were wounded.
Withdrawal from East Africa
As the Schutztruppe moved south
operations from Port Amelia were terminated and a new base further south at the
port of Mozambique was opened. It was
decided to repatriate the Gold Coast Regiment.
Lieutenant Colonel Goodwin, as he now was, marched his men back towards
Port Amelia on 1st June. On
13th August the last GCR contingent, under the command of the
Adjutant Major C.G Hornby MC (East Lancashire Regiment) set sail aboard HMT Magdalena, reaching Accra, Gold Coast on
Coasters had been fortunate in having the Sierra Leone Carrier Corps in
support, as the Sierra Leoneans were amongst the steadiest, strongest and
bravest porters employed in the campaign.
The strength of the Gold Coast
Regiment in the field had averaged 900 men, but 3,800 had served in East
Africa. Of those 215 were killed in
action, 270 died of diseases, 13 were missing, 725 had been wounded and 567 had
been invalided out of theatre. A regular
supply of drafts from the Gold Coast had kept the regiment up to its fighting
strength. Back in Accra the regiment
embarked on an expansion to a four-battalion brigade for service in Palestine,
until the defeat of the Central Powers led to the brigade’s disbandment in
1919. The Gold Coast Regiment then
served on as a unit of the Royal West African Frontier Force.
Above: Pemba CWGC Cemetery
Commemoration of the fallen
The Europeans of PAMFORCE who died
in Portuguese East Africa are buried in Pemba Commonwealth War Graves
Commission cemetery. The rank and file
are commemorated by name, along with their Indian and Sierra Leonean comrades
in arms, on the Pemba Memorial located in the cemetery. The dead of the Gold Coast Regiment are also
commemorated on the Kumasi Memorial, Ghana.
Gold Coast Regiment in the East African Campaign by Sir Hugh
Clifford KCMG. War
Diary 4th/4th KAR (WO 95/5326). War
Diary 2nd/2nd KAR (WO 95/5326). War
History 1st/2nd King’s African Rifles (WO 161/75). The
King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett MBE. Historical
Record of 22nd Derajat Pack Battery, Frontier Force. My
Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul von Lettow Vorbeck. Recipients
of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1914-1920 compiled by R.W. Walker. London
Gazettes and Medal Index Cards.