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The Gold Coast Regiment in Portuguese East Africa, April to May 1918

Introduction

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 by mid-March.   

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 Military Cross:                   

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. 

Colour Sergeant Thornett was posthumously gazetted for a Distinguished Conduct Medal with the citation:

For 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 gunners.

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 equipment.

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 5th September.  

The Gold 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.  

SOURCES:
The 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.  

 
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