was an Australian, born in Queensland
in 1877, and in the Great War East African campaign he became an outstanding
British intelligence officer. His father
was a farmer who sent him to Eton for his
education and then employed him on the family estates. During the South African (Boer) War Arnold
enlisted in the 4th (Queensland Imperial Bushmen) Contingent,
serving from May 1900 until August 1901.
He was soon promoted to the rank of sergeant and established a
reputation for firmness and fairness.
Right: The last photograph taken of Arnold Wienholt shortly before he was killed.
Lion hunting in Angola
He then resumed
life as a farmer and also entered politics in 1909, holding a seat in the
Legislative Assembly until 1913. That
year he failed to win a political position and decided to visit Portuguese West
Africa (now Angola)
to hunt lion. Sailing to Capetown in South Africa he then took a coastal boat to
Luderitz in German South West Africa (now Namibia). From there he used the German rail system to
the northern inland town of Grootfontein and
then trekked north with a wagon to the Okavango
River and crossed over into Angola. Arnold spent nearly a year north of the
Okavango hunting for food and attempting to track lion, something which his
African helpers could not understand – food yes, but lion, why? Finally Arnold
shot and wounded a lion but on following it up next day the lion charged and
savaged him, biting and breaking his right wrist and damaging his shoulder
before leaving him. When he had
persuaded his Africans to come down from the trees that they had climbed Arnold
got back to camp, cleaned his twelve wounds with carbolic soap and set his
broken wrist and injured arm on a piece of pine board.
then withdrew across the Okavango and through the Caprivi Strip, learning that
war had been declared in Europe. At Schuckmansburg in the east of the Caprivi Strip he met a party of Rhodesian troops who had
occupied this former German post. A
military doctor there operated on his wounded hand, and Arnold
continued to Livingstone in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia)
where a railway line led south to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Arnold offered
his services as a scout as he had recent knowledge of northern German South
West Africa, which South African troops were
shortly to invade, to both the Southern Rhodesian and South African
authorities. However his application was
dismissed by General Smuts in South Africa
and Arnold returned to Australia.
Enlistment as a Rhodesian Border Scout
told by an eminent surgeon that his right wrist and arm could not be improved
(pieces of splintered bone kept working out) Arnold
returned to South Africa
seeking military service. He failed again,
but moving up to Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia he was successfully enlisted as
an Intelligence Scout along with three other men that he knew. They were all signed on as special service
troopers in the British South African Police and tasked with scouting the
Rhodesian, Angolan and German South West African borders. Arnold
was now squeezing his rifle trigger with his second finger. The four men split into pairs but
unfortunately one man in the other pair named Sinclair shot a charging lion and
wounded it, but it attacked again and killed him just as Sinclair himself
killed the lion with his knife.
worked north of the Okavango
River again and struck up
a good relationship with the Portuguese authorities in their isolated
posts. Although Portugal was at that time neutral German troops
crossed the Okavango and destroyed several
Portuguese forts. The reason for this
seemed to be retaliation because the Portuguese authorities were not allowing
(at the request of the British) any kind of supplies to cross their border into
German South West Africa. The Scouts collected information from the
Portuguese and from friendly Chiefs and Headmen in African villages. German patrols in Angola
were not the only enemy as some South African Afrikaaner rebels who had joined
the Germans also crossed into Angola
as the South African invasion force pushed its way northwards through German
South West Africa.
On 9 July 1915
the enemy forces in German South West Africa
surrendered to the South African General Botha.
A number of German soldiers and more South African rebels crossed the Okavango to seek sanctuary and internment with the Portuguese
and Arnold and the other Scouts managed to capture some of the rebels. However the Scouts also gathered information
about a group of eight Germans who were planning to ride camels (the Germans
had used an effective Camel Corps in German South West Africa) across Northern
Rhodesia to join the German forces in German East Africa (now Tanzania). Major Robert Gordon DSO, the Head of Rhodesian
Intelligence (and himself a Queenslander from Australia),
came to join Arnold
as they tracked the enemy party for eight days across 135 miles of bush. The Germans were surrounded and captured on
17 September 1915 and taken as prisoners to Livingstone. For his duties as a Border Scout Arnold
received a mention in the Despatch sent by Lord Buxton, the High Commissioner
for South Africa.
Now that all
the former enemy troops in German South West Africa had been accounted for Arnold was discharged from the Rhodesian forces and he
sailed from Cape Town to Bombay, India. From there he took the train to Delhi to seek military employment in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) where
British and Indian troops were fighting the Turks. But the recruiters at Delhi
only wanted men for Mesopotamia who were able to navigate and manage
river-boats and motor launches, so Arnold was
advised to go to East Africa where a hard
campaign was being fought against determined German forces under the command of
Colonel Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck.
Left: Oberst Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commander of the German Troops in German East Africa
Enlistment in the East African Mounted Rifles
Sailing to Mombasa in British East Africa (now Kenya) Arnold
enlisted in the East African Mounted Rifles.
This was a volunteer unit of Europeans who had settled in British East
Africa and it was based at Longido, a mountain in German East Africa positioned
just across the border to the south of Nairobi. Arnold was serving in the Scout Troop of the
East African Mounted Rifles and on 5 March 1916 he took part in the advance of
the British 1st Division from Longido to Moshi, and then moved on to
observe some stiff fighting at Kahe, a few miles to the south. Here, after defending well from good
entrenched positions in thick bush, the Germans skilfully broke contact and
withdrew, a tactic that the British were to see repeated time after time. The East African Mounted Rifles then rode to
Arusha and the Scouts assisted in forcing the surrender, on 6 April 1916, of
over 130 Germans and their Askari (African soldiers) plus 300 porters at
Lolkisale, a hill on the route to Kondoa Irangi. The seasonal and extremely heavy rains now
set in and the East African Mounted Rifles went into camp until mid-May.
Transfer into the East African Intelligence
At this point,
May 1916, Arnold and five other Scouts were posted to the East African
Intelligence Department as Warrant Officers Class I. He subsequently wrote: ‘. . . for then began the happiest and most
interesting part of our war service in East Africa’. Arnold
was teamed up with another Australian Ivan Lewis who had been accompanying him
and with an East African settler Scout called Buster Brown (who later wrote a
book about his intelligence exploits under the name of Christopher J.
Thornhill). These three, along with a
small party of armed African Intelligence Scouts, would ride ahead of the
British advance down the Pangani
information about German dispositions and movements from local villagers. Regular return visits were made to the
vanguard of the British advance to report useful information and
observations. This was dangerous and
also hungry work. Ration supplies were
generally inadequate as the British commander General Smuts took no interest in
logistics, and shooting game was not possible without alerting the enemy. Most supplies were carried from the nearest
railhead on African porters’ heads and there were never enough porters as their
work was hard and dangerous. The tsetse
fly also killed a massive number of British animals. During 1916 the British lost many thousands
of horses, whilst oxen and mules in tsetse fly areas were expected to live only
six weeks. The animals died from
disease, overwork and from lack of proper fodder and oats. The Scouts themselves regularly contracted
malaria, and health conditions were so bad that for every British soldier
killed ten others needed hospitalisation for tropical diseases. During the last four months of 1916 around 12,000
white troops were medically evacuated to South
Africa, seriously weakening the strength of the British
forces in East Africa.
Left: German Schutztruppe marches through Portuguese East Africa.
A bonfire and a capture
In June 1916
the trio of Scouts set off on mules across the Wami
River and patrolled towards the German
Central Railway that ran from Dar Es Salaam on
the Indian Ocean to Lake Tanganyika in the
interior. The Germans were still using
the railway to move troops and supplies and the Scouts were in an exposed
situation. In mid-July they came across
a main track upon which hundreds of African porters were carrying loads for the
Germans, who were once again skilfully fighting rear-guard actions and
withdrawing ahead of the British advances.
decided that he must break cover and take direct action. The three Scouts approached the endless line
of porters, and posing as Germans, ordered the porters and the handful of
Askari with them to drop their loads onto a bonfire. The Africans were allowed to take whatever
they wanted for themselves first. Arnold reckoned that
around 200 loads were burned: clothing, cases of schnapps and vinegar, bags of
rice, beans and flour and 20 loads of sugar.
The Scouts had taken the precaution of cutting the enemy telephone wire
that ran along the road and were able to withdraw from the scene without
meeting a German.
were not amused, particularly at losing a consignment of trousers that was
urgently needed because of wear and tear on clothing due to thorn trees in the
bush. The enemy tracked the Scouts and
attacked their camp from two directions.
Lewis and Brown got away unscathed and six days later arrived back at a
British position. Arnold was wounded in the hip and jumped in a
nearby river to escape. Having avoided
the attentions of crocodiles he got out of the river lower down, meeting one of
his Intelligence Scouts, and they walked through the bush by night taking
vegetables from villagers’ patches of farm land. On the fifth night they entered a small
village mid-way between the British and German lines and were given food by the
headman who promised to guide them to the British forces. However the headman alerted the Germans
instead who ambushed the British pair next day, killing the Scout whilst Arnold bolted into the
bush. He kept going although his wound
was now slowing and fatiguing him, and that evening, after following the
guidance of African villagers again, he walked into another enemy ambush and
was captured by local Afrikaaner settlers who had enlisted with the Germans.
Above: The Scouts who tracked the German Camel Corps Wienholt 3rd from right, Gordon 4th from right, Lewis 2nd from left.
An escape and a gallantry award
Arnold was taken to the main German camp where
a doctor dressed his wound. He was fed
well and introduced to Colonel Von Lettow-Vorbeck who was affable towards
him. Then followed four days of marching
under escort to the Central Railway and a rail journey to Dar Es Salaam. This was followed by a march down the coast
to Kilwa and then a twelve-day march inland was made to Liwale where a camp had
been established for Allied officer prisoners of war. A German doctor here healed Arnold’s
wound, but the British occupation of Kilwa led to all prisoners being marched
for 14 days to a more distant camp at Mangangira on the Luwego River.
By January 1917
Arnold was fully
fit and on a night of very heavy rain and thunderstorms he led three other
escapees out of the camp. A Royal Navy
officer in the camp had donated a compass that the Germans had failed to find
on him, and with this a route was struck hopefully to hit the coast north of
Kilwa. After 15 days of marching and
this time helped by villagers who could see that the Germans were losing in East Africa, the escapees reached a post held by the
British force based at Kilwa. Arnold was awarded a
Military Cross and his citation read:
conspicuous gallantry and endurance as leader of a patrol. The patrol covered
some 200 odd miles of the most difficult country and obtained valuable
was subsequently separated from his patrol, severely wounded and captured by
the enemy. He ultimately escaped, and made his way back to our lines across 100
miles of unknown bush.
Arnold was weakened by his privations in the
bush and became seriously ill with dysentery.
After initial treatment at Kilwa he was moved back to Nairobi for convalescence. In mid-1917 he was passed fit and was back in
the bush again near Kilwa, tasked with tracking German movements and with
destroying enemy stores and food dumps that had been sited in the bush to
sustain enemy companies as they withdrew south.
By this time most Africans in German East Africa
were actively helping the British forces, and so reliable information could be
obtained. Arnold and his Scouts had
several contacts during which a number of German European prisoners were
taken. For this work Arnold was awarded a Bar to his Military
Cross but a citation was not published.
Above: German Askari listen to the news.
Colonel Von Lettow Vorbeck was
determined to keep fighting as long as the war in Europe
lasted. His refusal to surrender had tied
up over 100,000 Allied troops in East Africa,
plus the large tonnage of shipping that was required to supply them. Slimming down their forces the Germans
crossed the Rovuma River into Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) in late 1917 and immediately began
raiding Portuguese forts to obtain weapons, ammunition and supplies (Portugal
was now one of the Allies). Portuguese
rule was rough on the Africans under them and the Germans went out of their way
to be friendly to villagers, obtaining food by paying for it with bolts of
cloth seized from Asian-owned village stores.
By early 1918 nearly all British white
and Indian infantry units had been posted out of the East African theatre for health
reasons. The local British black
regiment, The King’s African Rifles, had been rapidly expanded as Africans
could put up with the climate and bush conditions relatively easily, and their
logistic requirements were simple when compared with the requirements of
European and Indian troops. Columns of
King’s African Rifle Askari, and the Gold Coast Regiment from West Africa, now
concentrated in Portuguese East Africa to try
and track the Germans down.
Right: Arnold Wienholt's Intelligence Scouts and porters in November 1918.
Arnold, now a Lieutenant, took a group
of 40 Intelligence Scouts into Portuguese East Africa
and began scouting. However the local
villagers strongly supported the Germans and would not supply information. One day the location of the Scouts’ camp was
advised to the Germans who immediately attacked it with two rifle companies and
two machine guns. Arnold and his men had
to abandon everything except their rifles and sprint into the bush to get
away. The Scouts withdrew towards the
Indian Ocean coast to obtain fresh supplies from the British base at Pemba.
The German resistance lasted until late
November 1918 (two weeks after Armistice Day in Europe), and by that time
Colonel Von Lettow Vorbeck had marched his remaining men out of Portuguese
territory back into German East Africa around the east of Lake Nyasa, and he
had invaded Northern Rhodesia. If news
of the Armistice had not arrived from Europe
then the Germans were in a strong position to destroy the Northern Rhodesian
and Belgian Congo Katangese copper mines, and march on into Portuguese Angola. During the last half of 1918 Arnold had been
scouting for the most active and successful British column in Portuguese East
Africa and for that work he received a promotion to Captain and was awarded a
Distinguished Service Order. His
continuous gallant conduct and endurance under most trying circumstances during
a period of six months in the bush. He performeda
most arduous march, during which his party were more than once attacked by
superior enemy forces, through the unknown country which he had to reconnoitre
and report on; and finally succeeded in gaining touch with a column as ordered.
performed many other successful reconnaissances during which he had several
encounters with the enemy, and furnished valuable information with regard to
their movements. Throughout he showed
great courage and endurance, and rendered most valuable service.
Australia, and then back to Africa
demobilisation Arnold returned to Australia
in early 1919, became married, and resumed farming and political activities. When Italy
invaded Ethiopia in 1935 Arnold went to Addis
Ababa as a war correspondent but he soon joined the
Ethiopian Red Cross as a front-line transport officer. After the Italians had conquered Ethiopia
Arnold went back to Australia
and publicised Ethiopia’s
plight, but failed to change any political opinions in Britain or Australia. When the Second World War broke out Arnold sailed to Aden where
he waited for Italy’s
entry into the war by learning the Amharic and Arabic languages.
After Italy declared hostilities against Britain in June 1940 Arnold
was called to Sudan
and commissioned at the age of 62 as a Second Lieutenant. He and a few other British and Australian
officers were recruited into Mission
101 (later re-named Gideon Force). The
task was to march small units named Operational Centres into Ethiopia to foster rebellion
against the Italians. Each Operational
Centre consisted of a commander, four British Non-Commissioned Officers and
around 30 Ethiopians.
Arnold was the Mission Intelligence Officer
and he led the third Operational Centre across the border, using mules to carry
heavy equipment and supplies. However
the Italian border troops had received information about Mission 101’s
activities, and Arnold’s
group was tracked by Italian troops using local Gumz tribesmen as irregular
scouts. Probably on 10 September 1940
the enemy attacked as Arnold’s
group packed up its camp. Two versions
of what happened next exist. One states
that Arnold was severely wounded and scrambled
into the bush where he died of wounds, and the second states that Arnold was captured and
executed by the Italians.
version is correct, we do know that a very courageous and uncompromising
Australian intelligence officer and bush fighter was killed in enemy territory when
he was at an age that exempted him from active service. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
commemorates Arnold on the Khartoum Memorial, Sudan.
Further reading and present-day comparisons
There are two excellent
books on the Great War Campaign in East Africa: Battle for the Bundu by Charles Miller and a more recent one Tip & Run – the untold tragedy of the
Great War in Africa by Edward Paice. The latter book provides significant detail
on what the human cost was to the Africans whose lives were affected by the
commentators have suggested that Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck was an outstanding
guerrilla leader, particularly Major J.R. Sibley in a well-illustrated
paperback book titled Tanganyika Guerrilla – East African Campaign 1914 –
1918. Others have seen similarities
with today’s conflict zones where small numbers of insurgents can effectively
engage much larger conventional forces.
However Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck was a conventional but inspired
commander, who practised sound tactics especially in rearguard actions and
withdrawals, and who always retired along prepared interior lines of
communication. Every time the Germans
moved they moved nearer to their replenishment dumps whilst the Allies moved
forward and extended their already long lines of communication.
One aspect of
the Great War East Africa campaign that has a parallel today is the use of
ground. When terrain prevents the
unrestricted use of conventional forces, then the enemy who chooses the ground
on which the next action will be fought has a decided advantage. In East Africa
the Germans were adept at occupying vital ground for a limited period of time
in order to cause attrition amongst the Allied forces. This attrition disrupted Allied progress
whilst casualties were evacuated and water, supplies and reinforcements were
brought forward, much of this being achieved by the efforts of vastly
over-worked African porters. This was
often the moment when the Germans would break contact and slip away through the
bush to the next piece of vital ground to be temporarily defended.
Official History Military Operations East Africa August 1914 – September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles
Hordern. The Story of a Lion Hunt by Arnold
Wienholt. Taking Tanganyika – Experiences of an
Intelligence Officer 1914-1918 by Christopher J. Thornhill. The Despatch from the High Commissioner for South
Africa in the London
Telegraph Second Supplement dated Friday 13 July 1917. The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. My Reminiscences of East
General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck. General Smuts’ Campaign in East
Brigadier General J.H.V. Crowe. An Improvised War – The Abyssinian Campaign of 1940
– 1941 by Michael Glover. The Life Of My Choice by Wilfred Thesiger. The Eccentric Mr. Wienholt by Rosamond M Siemon. History of the Second World War. Volume 1.
The Early Successes against Italy by Major General I.S.O. Playfair CB DSO MC.
(This article appeared in
a recent issue of The Rose and the Laurel,
the Journal of the Intelligence Corps.)