The two German ships that eluded the Royal Navy and brought welcome
weapons and supplies to the German Army in East Africa during 1915 and 1916
Above: Colonial era buildings at Sudi Bay
Harry has supplied some fantastic photographs of the area today. To see them, maps of the area and further illustrations plese click HERE
During the Great War the German High Command in Europe did
not forget its Schutztruppe, as the overseas force was named in German East
Africa (GEA), now named Tanzania. The
local commander in GEA, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, put up a determined,
professional and valiant resistance to Allied invasions from several directions
– seaborne from India, plus land intrusions from Uganda, British East Africa
(BEA), (now Kenya), the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo),
Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Nyasaland (now Malawi), and Portuguese East
Africa (PEA), (now Mozambique).
Von Lettow’s admirable fighting ability dissipated Allied
war efforts, particularly in the allocation of shipping, away from other more
important theatres and Berlin was determined to keep the Schutztruppe in the
field and fully operational. To this end
two successful naval re-supply efforts got through to GEA, defying the British
naval blockade of that territory’s coastline, whilst a later re-supply attempt
by air was aborted.
The arrival of the Rubens
On 14th April 1915 the British-built cargo ship
Rubens, of 3,587 tons, operated by
the German navy under Oberleutnant zur See der Reserve Carl Christiansen (Right),
arrived in Manza Bay, 16 kilometres north of Tanga in GEA which itself is 130
kilometres south of Mombasa, the main port in BEA. The Rubens
had been impounded by the Germans at Hamburg on the outbreak of war and she was
now disguised as the Danish steamer Kronberg. However the arrival was not without incident
and high drama.
intelligence was aware of the approach of the Rubens and the Royal Navy Flagship of the Cape Station, HMS Hyacinth, was alerted. At that time Hugh Boustead was a Midshipman
aboard the Hyacinth and he later
wrote that the intelligence report said that a cargo ship carrying timber and
flying a Scandinavian flag would be at a certain position at a certain time,
and that under the timber were arms and ammunition for the German troops in
GEA; the Hyacinth’s mission was to
intercept and capture this ship.
diligently plotted her course and arrived at an interception point just before
the appointed time; the Admiral, Captain, Commander and crew then all searched
the horizons, but there was no sign of another vessel. After 30 minutes the Navigator became
agitated and checked his position to discover that he had made an error placing
the Hyacinth around 25 sea-miles
south of where she should be. Whilst the
Navigator and Captain were almost speechless with shock about the damage to
their professional careers the Flagship steamed swiftly to where she should
have been. A further signal from naval
intelligence advised that the enemy ship would be entering Mansa Bay at 0600
hours the following morning.
naval intelligence was intercepting signals between the Rubens and German shore radio stations such as at Bukoba on Lake
Victoria, as well as with the German cruiser Konigsberg that was in the Rufiji Delta further south in GEA.)
Next morning Hyacinth
spotted the Rubens entering Manza Bay
to pick up a pilot, and engaged her with 6-inch guns; meanwhile the crew of the
Rubens abandoned ship and rowed
ashore to the shelter of mangrove swamps.
The Hyacinth gunners blasted Rubens for over an hour and sent a
boarding party to seize the hulk, but the party returned having been machine
gunned by Schutztruppe Askari positioned on the beach, to report that boarding
was not possible because of a fierce fire raging on deck. Satisfied that the mission had been
accomplished, and with one of her two engines now broken down, Hyacinth departed from Manza Bay for
Zanzibar and declared victory.
Above: Rubens scuttled in Mansa Bay
But Carl Christiansen, who was wounded by shrapnel fired
from Hyacinth as he rowed to shore,
had successfully deceived his enemy. As
part of his deception plan he had scuttled Rubens
in shallow water and started a deck fire using petrol. His cargo was intact although part of it was
under water. (The Royal Navy Official
History mentions the shelling of the Rubens
but ignores the fact that her cargo was not seized or destroyed.)
Salvaging the Rubens
German military efficiency now took over and unhindered by
any British military action – which in itself represented a serious
intelligence failure – the cargo of the Rubens
was recovered apart from 1,450 tonnes of prime Westphalian coal that had been
destined for the Konigsberg. Divers from the Konigsberg assisted in the salvage operations. Items recovered
1,800 Mauser rifles.
4,500,000 rifle and machine gun rounds.
Two 6-centimetre guns.
Four machine guns.
1,000 rounds of 10.5-centimetre
(4.1-inch) naval gun ammunition.
500 rounds of 8.8-centimetre naval gun
3,000 rounds of 6-centimetre gun
3,000 rounds of 3.7-centimetre gun
One ton of Trinitroanysol explosive.
Telegraph and telephone material, medical
supplies, machine tools, cutting torches, military clothing, provisions and
many other minor items.
Above: Salvaging the cargo of the Rubens in Mansa Bay
The landing of this cargo was both important militarily in
that it gave the Schutztruppe a much-enhanced weapons capability, especially
the modern smokeless rifles that allowed expansion of rifle companies, and also
for German morale in the colony. The
Fatherland had looked after its own.
Kapitan-Leutnant Carl Christiansen and his 30 sailors were welcome and
popular additions to the pool of German military manpower.
At first the British ignored reports of this dramatic
German re-supply coup, and when enemy cartridge cases were recovered from the
field with 1915 stamped onto them it was believed that they had reached the
Schutztruppe via PEA, then a neutral territory.
It was only when the British raided Bukoba in late June 1915 and
released a British internee named Munro that the truth was accepted, as Munro
had been advised by his German captors of the recovery of the Rubens’ cargo.
Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s only major problem was
with the reliability of the small arms ammunition that had been under water
(the heavier ammunition had been well-packaged to resist water intrusion). The problem was tackled by allocating all
existing small arms rounds already in GEA for machine gunnery. The newly-arrived cartridges were stripped
down on a rudimentary production line in Tanga and the powder was cleaned and
some of the firing caps replaced. The
results of batch-tests then decided whether a round was issued to rifle
companies for operations (20% or lower mis-fires) or for training (over 20%
Above: Crew members from the Rubens ashore in Tanga
The arrival of the Marie
On 16th March 1916 a second German
blockade-running supply ship successfully evaded the Royal Navy and landed at
Sudi Bay, GEA, a few kilometres west of the Rovuma River that marked the border
with PEA. This was the Sperrbrecher 15, re-named the Marie; the vessel had departed from
Hamburg on 16th January. Her
skipper, Leutnant zur See der Reserve Conrad Sorenson (Below Right), had maintained complete
radio silence during the voyage.
(Sorensen, like Christiansen, was a Dane from the Southern Jutland
region that had become part of Germany after a war between the two countries in
As she slipped into Sudi Bay, a river-mouth creek that
soon dog-legs into areas of plantations, the local German shore defences opened
fire fearing that she was British, but friendly contact was quickly
established. Whilst the crew of the Marie was given baskets of local fruit
the German District Commander in nearby Lindi, Leutnant Hinrichs (formerly
First Officer of the Konigsberg)
arrived on a bicycle accompanied by Hauptman (army Captain) Paul Kaiser. These two officers and their fellow
administrators in GEA swiftly and efficiently mobilised scores of thousands of
African labourers not only for unloading the cargo but also for hauling and
carrying it up to Dar Es Salaam, the GEA capital.
As a substitute for a dock floating platforms for
unloading were constructed from shore to ship, and a haulage route was cut
through the bush to join the dirt road leading north to Dar Es Salaam. It took ten days to fully unload the Marie and move the cargo ashore and the
final tally of items discharged was:
Four modern 10.5-centimetre Howitzers. ·
Two 7.5-centimetre Mountain Guns. ·
2,000 modern rifles. ·
Six machine guns with telescopic sights. ·
3,000,000 rounds of assorted ammunition. ·
200 kilograms of quinine (to fight the
ever-present malaria). ·
50,000 pre-packed porter loads containing
uniforms, food, equipment, medical supplies, and comforts such as sweets. ·
A quantity of decorations and military
awards. These were particularly useful
to von Lettow for raising morale and maintaining esprit de corps within the Schutztruppe.
Also landed from the Marie
was a detachment of professional artillerymen led by Hauptman Roland von
Kaltenborn-Stachau; von Lettow was to make excellent use of these gunners and
their guns for the duration of the war.
The arrival of HMS Hyacinth
Eventually British intelligence was alerted to the
presence of the Marie and Hyacinth came to investigate, bombarding
Marie’s presumed location. Hyacinth’s bombardment resulted in five
major hits and 100 minor hits on Marie. However because the tide was out Marie was canted over on one side in a
creek and thus avoided serious damage, and ten days of non-stop repair work
made her seaworthy.
Left: HMS Hyacinth canted to use guns inland
On 11th April 1916 six British warships
returned and fired over 300 shells during a three-hour action. To assist in fire direction two whalers, Childers and Echo, were sent into Sudi Bay.
The shore defences engaged the whalers and the British sailors had a
hectic time, Echo being holed by
three 4.1-inch shells. Later a Distinguished Service Order was awarded
to Commander Henry Dalrymple Bridges, Royal Navy, with the citation:
Commander Bridges proceeded
into Sudi Harbour with two whalers on the llth April, 1916, and remained under
fire with his vessels in a very hot corner, spotting the fall of shot from H.M.S. Hyacinth to enable her to destroy
a store ship which was in the harbor. In
order to reach the requisite position the whalers were obliged to run up a
narrow harbour, where they were confronted with a heavy fire from 4-in. guns at
Lieutenant Herbert Keer Case, Royal Naval Reserve, was
awarded a Distinguished Service Cross:
Lieutenant Case was in command
of one of the whalers which proceeded into Sudi Harbour on the llth April,
1916, and handled his vessel under fire in the confined waters of the harbour
with great skill and gallantry. His quiet and calm behaviour set a perfect
example to those under him.
Boatswain John Park Mortimer,
Royal Navy, also received a Distinguished
Mr. Mortimer was in one of the whalers which
entered Sudi Harbour on the llth April, 1916, and gave every assistance to his
Captain, encouraging the guns' crews, making good spotting corrections, and
rendering first aid readily and efficiently to the wounded.
Seaman Lawrence J. Walsh, Royal Naval Reserve, O.N.2131, received a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal:
In recognition of his services
in one of the whalers which entered Sudi Harbour on the llth April, 1916. He
continued to steer the whaler after being seriously wounded, his leg being
badly shattered, until out of range of gun fire, when it was possible to remove
the conning tower plates and relieve him.
Above Right: Distinguished Service Cross
Amazingly Marie had not been hit, although four
crew members had been killed and four others had been wounded. On the night of 23rd April the
ship slipped out of Sudi Bay and sailed north close to the shore. When shallows were reached Hinrichs and
Leutnant Sprockhoff, also a former member of the Konigsberg’s crew, sailed ahead in a dhow and guided Marie into deeper water. Sorensen then steamed away from the British
blockading squadron to Batavia, now named Jakarta, in neutral Dutch Java, now
an Indonesian island. (The Royal Navy
Official History makes no mention whatsoever of the Marie incident.)
Fatherland had looked after its own again.
The Schutztruppe possessed new and potent weapons and Paul von
Lettow-Vorbeck could proudly wear his recently-awarded Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd Class.
Above: The mouth of Sudi Bay
the British did not wish to believe the scale of this second German re-supply
coup, but their Chief Scout, Peter Pretorious, observed an enemy Field Company
making extensive use of ammunition on an improvised bush firing range. He later wrote:
had slept on a big, isolated hill – a good spot from which to make
observations. At sundown I had seen a big German camp, and so was astir at the
first glints of day. To my amazement I saw the Germans come out and start
musketry practice with rifles, firing away hundreds of rounds of ammunition at
nothing but trees and boulders. This waste of cartridges astounded me, as we
had been under the impression that the war would shortly end on account of the
enemy’s shortage of ammunition.
I remained on the hill until ten o’clock, watching this surprising spectacle,
and when the Germans had retired to camp for breakfast I went down to their
“Bisley” and picked up some of the cartridge cases. They were inscribed
Where had all this ammunition come from? I could only surmise that a German or
neutral steamer had managed to land on the east coast with supplies, and if
that were so it was bad news for us, and meant the prolongation of the campaign.”
followed by intelligence reports of the guns and supplies that were being moved
north to Dar Es Salaam. The new German
howitzers were soon in use against the British advance from BEA into GEA.
1917 a German airship flying from Bulgaria attempted to resupply the
Schutztruppe, but the mission was aborted whilst the ship was over the Sudan,
see: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/378601.html ).
Right: A former seaman from the Rubens now in GEA Schutztruppe uniform.
Endnotes – unplanned Allied assistance to the GEA Schutztruppe
After the debacle of the landings at Tanga on
4th and 5th November 1914, Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’
steamed away leaving on the beach or nearby:
455 service rifles. ·
Eight serviceable machine guns plus
others that could be cannibalised for parts (the Royal Navy had forbidden the
evacuation of machine guns to avoid small-boat damage). ·
Over 500,000 small arms rounds. .
Telegraph equipment, greatcoats, blankets
and uniforms. ·
The substantial officers’ mess stocks of
food and wine brought by the 2nd Battalion the Loyal North
Lancashire Regiment from India (and doubtless similar stocks brought by other
four new 7.6-centimetre mountain guns
with ammunition. ·
seven machine guns and a quantity of
100,000 rounds of rifle and machine gun
two Fiat cars. ·
a wireless station. ·
45 supply carts with horses and mules. ·
An unknown tonnage of provisions and
After the German invasion of Portuguese East
Africa in December 1917 and until the end of the war in November the following
year the Schutztruppe experienced few difficulties in seizing Portuguese
garrison stocks of weapons and supplies, whenever these were needed. The rolls of trading cloth taken from these
garrison posts were traded with local Africans for food, and the Africans were
appreciative of this gesture as the Portuguese tended to commandeer what they
wanted without payment.
SOURCES (the most economically-priced copies are listed):
History. East Africa August 1914 to September 1916 compiled by
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern (Naval & Military Press reprint).
History. Naval Operations Volume III by Sir Julian S.
Corbett (Naval & Military Press reprint).
Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck
(Battery Classics reprint).
Wind of Morning. An Autobiography by Sir Hugh Boustead (Linden
Publishing Company paperback).
Man by P.J. Pretorius CMG DSO and Bar (Alexander Books
& Run. The Untold Tragedy of the War in Africa by Edward Paice
and Jungle edited by Christen P. Christensen (Battery Press,
nach Ostafrica by Knud Knudsen (Otto Lenz, Leipzig 1918).