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The EK1

The East African Regiment

On the declaration of war in August 1914 many men of all races in the British East Africa Protectorate (now Kenya) volunteered for military service.  One infantry unit that was formed was titled The East African Regiment.  The Regiment contained two rifle companies of Europeans and one rifle company of Indians, named the Pathan Company.  

The Regiment was quickly trained and deployed onto the defence of the Uganda Railway that ran from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria.  German raiding parties were quick to cross the nearby border from German East Africa (now Tanzania) intent on setting demolitions on the railway line.  A Distribution of Troops Report dated 4 September 1915 shows that the two European companies of the East African Regiment (total 82 men) were positioned at Bura, just east of Voi, and the Pathan Company (total 80 men) was at Voi on the railway line.

Right: MG Section training in East Africa

However by early 1915 enthusiasm for remaining in military service was waning amongst Europeans and Indians in the Protectorate.  Some men had farms and businesses to attend to that were now important to the war effort, others went sick from malaria and other tropical ailments and others obtained release in order to go and fight in Europe.  By March the East African Regiment had shrunk to a strength of 40 Europeans, and the Pathan Company had disappeared altogether.

The East African Regiment Maxim Gun Company

It was decided to change the employment and title of the East African Regiment and the remaining 40 men moved to Nairobi where they commenced machine gun training on 25 March 1915. 

On 1 April the unit was re-titled the East African Regiment Maxim Gun Company with an establishment of:

4 x .450-inch machine guns
2 Section Commanders
4 Sergeants
4 Corporals
36 Privates.

The Company operated in two sections.  

Transport was allocated as:

4 African porters per gun to carry gun parts and ammunition
15 African porters per gun to carry ammunition
3 mules per gun to carry reserve ammunition.

Above: East Africa MG Company area of operations

The Raid on Bukoba

As machine gun training at Nairobi was concluded the company received orders to take part in an operation on Lake Victoria.  The men, guns and ammunition entrained at Nairobi on 19 June arriving at Kisumu the following day.  Stores, ammunition and mules were loaded aboard the steamer SS Usoga and then the men marched aboard.  Lieutenant J.M. Myles commanded No 1 Section and Lieutenant F.A. Batchelor commanded No 2 Section.  

Major General M.J. Tighe, the British theatre commander, had received permission from the War Office to mount a raid on the German port of Bukoba which was located about 30 miles south of the Ugandan border on the west side of Lake Victoria.  In Bukoba was an important German signal station that was to be destroyed.  Many of the German defenders in Bukoba were to be lured north towards the Ugandan border by British military demonstrations in that area.  This ploy worked well.  

Brigadier General J.M. Stewart led the raid.  His force included elements of the 2nd Bn The Loyal North Lancashires, the 25th Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), the 3rd King’s African Rifles, the 29th Punjabis, a party of Royal Engineers, the Faridkot Sappers (an Imperial Service unit provided by the Ruler of Faridkot in India), a section of the Indian 28th Mountain Battery (screw-guns that could be disassembled and carried on mules), medical and supply units and the East African Regiment Maxim Company.  Six steamers of the Royal Navy Lake Flotilla carried the British force.  

The Company was tasked with providing machine gun support to the 25th Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) who also travelled on the SS Usoga.   At 0530 hours on 22 June the Fusiliers and the Maxim Company started disembarking at an unopposed landing site about three miles north of Bukoba town.  The Maxims were mounted on the Usoga to cover the first boatloads of Fusiliers to land.  After a stiff climb up onto a ridge overlooking the town the Maxim Company came into action alongside the Fusiliers at 0730 hours.  As the German defenders realised what was happening they deployed machine guns and a local Arab infantry company to hold the next parallel ridge inland, which became known as Arab Ridge.  

Above: German Fort burning at Bukoba

The Loyal North Lancashires were tasked with seizing Arab Ridge which was the vital ground on the battlefield, but this was a lengthy process due to both the craggy outcrops that provided cover to the enemy and the tough fighting ability of the Arabs.  Meanwhile the Fusiliers could not execute their task of advancing towards Bukoba down the valley between the two ridges as the enemy machine guns were dominating the ground.  Eventually the Indian mountain guns began to neutralise the enemy machine guns with direct fire.  One of the first Maxim targets was an enemy machine gun 1,200 yards away in the valley bottom that was holding up the Fusiliers.  By watching the bullet strike against adjacent rocky outcrops the No 2 Section’s Maxim fire was brought onto this enemy gun which was forced to change location up onto Arab Ridge.  

No 2 Section then moved forward to support a Fusilier company located about 800 yards forward and to the left.  During this move enemy machine gun fire was aimed at the Section but went overhead due to faulty enemy ranging.  Around 1630 hours the Fusiliers mounted a rush forward to seize a knoll, later known as Fusilier Knoll, and the Maxims supported this successful assault.  The company then concentrated near Fusilier Knoll for the night.  No casualties had been incurred during this first day’s fighting, but the Fusiliers had lost three men killed and six wounded, two of those wounded later dying because of their wounds.

The second day’s fighting

At 0600 hours on 23 June the British advance on Bukoba town began.  The mountain guns, now positioned at the south end of Arab Ridge, engaged a German field gun above the town and also shelled the German trenches in front of Bukoba.  At 0730 a torrential shower of rain descended for about an hour, reducing visibility and movement.  The Fusiliers and the Maxim Gun Company advanced along the lake shore, No 1 Section being on the left and No 2 Section being on the right flank.  But here the ground favoured the defender and small plantations, thickets of woodland and water courses concealed German troops.   

During the advance No 2 Section was subjected to heavy fire from low bushes about 250 yards away on the right.  The Section came into action and returned fire, silencing the enemy.  However German snipers had killed Private P.B. Junor, one of the Section No 1s, seriously wounded Lieutenant Batchelor and slightly wounded another man.  Lieutenant Myles now ordered No 2 Section to join No 1 Section on the left flank by the lake shore.  The Fusiliers fought their way forward against a withdrawing enemy, supported by the Maxims, and at around 1600 hours a man in No 1 Section was seriously wounded in the leg.

The enemy then totally withdrew from Bukoba town and the Fusiliers occupied it.  The Maxim Gun Company was ordered by Lieutenant Colonel D.P. Driscoll, Commanding Officer of the Fusiliers, to mount its guns outside the house of the now departed German Commandant, and to stay there until further notice.  The Sappers destroyed the German signals station and enemy stores, buildings and munitions.  Brigadier General Stewart is stated (by Meinertzhagen – a dubious source) to have assented to a request from Colonel Driscoll for the town to be looted and scenes of drunkenness and indiscipline followed amongst some elements of the Fusiliers.  The Maxim Gun Company stayed at its post as ordered.  

At around 1900 hours the company received orders to report to the town pier where the British force was arranging an evacuation.  Embarkation was at 1930 hours and the Maxims were deployed aft on the SS Usoga to cover the move out into the lake.  Before embarking eight British dead soldiers were buried in a mass grave in the town.  After the war they were re-buried in Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery.  

The Bukoba raid was well-publicised as a British success, which was needed after a number of German successes in the early months of the war.  The East African Regiment Maxim Gun Company disembarked at Kisumu and returned by rail to Nairobi.  

The Advance into German East Africa

On 26 October the unit designation was altered to remove the word “Regiment” and on 4 November the Company moved to Kajiado, south of Nairobi, and in late December it marched a little further south to Bissil.  In late January the unit moved across the German East African border to the Longido area.  Lieutenant Myles was promoted to Captain and Sergeants J.M. Morrison and F. Mackey were commissioned as Lieutenants.  The unit establishment was increased to: 6 machine guns, 1 Captain, 3 Lieutenants, 1 Company Sergeant Major and 95 Rank and File.  The establishment for Followers was: 6 Stretcher Bearers, 18 Syces (mule handlers), 2 Cooks and 1 Sweeper.  

During the British advance into German East Africa in March 1916 the Maxim Company was part of Major-General Stewart’s 1 Division. The Company advanced from Longido to Moshi but did not come into action.  Lieutenant Morrison died of dysentery on 31 March and was buried in Voi Cemetery.  The Company was then tasked to be part of Major-General van Deventer’s advance by the British 2nd Division from Arusha to Kondoa Irangi.  This march was made in appalling weather and without adequate logistic support (General Smuts, now the British theatre commander, had been a Boer guerrilla leader and he never took logistics seriously).  On 15 April 1916 a very serious break-down in discipline occurred in the Company when 29 Non Commissioned Officers and men refused to Saddle Up on morning parade.  It appears that they took exception to the march, the weather and the orders they were given.  These men were placed under arrest and the Company resumed its march to Kondoa Irangi arriving there on 2 May.  The disciplined men who had completed this march can be applauded for their perseverance in appalling conditions, often on much reduced rations and without blankets because the transport columns (porters and Mules) could not catch up.

Above: A British Machine Gun

The Company was part of the British defence at Kondoa Irangi during the German attacks there in late May, but does not appear to have fired its guns.  On 29 May one man, name unknown, was killed and three others wounded by a German shell.  The next day Lieutenant F. Winchcombe joined the Company.  In a London Gazette Supplement dated 30 June 1916 Captain Myles and Lieutenant Batchelor were Mentioned In Despatches.  On 3 July 40 South African infantrymen, ten coming from the each of the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th South African Infantry, were posted into the Company.  The unit marched south with General van Deventer’s advance to the German Central Railway, arriving at Dodoma on 31 July.  

The Company was in action again on 10 August supporting a successful attack by the 10th South African Infantry on Njangalo.   A larger engagement followed on 15 August when all six guns expended a total of 6890 rounds supporting a South African attack on Kidete.  The German defence held its ground but the defenders withdrew during the hours of darkness.  The War Diary reports that the guns fired well but for two that had problems with the ball firing muzzle attachment.  Two MK 1 firing pins broke during the action and there were one or two circumferential bursts fired.  The War Diary entries end on 30 September 1916 with the East African Maxim Company located at Uleia, 25 miles south of Kilosa in German East Africa. It was raining heavily, the men had no tents, personal kits or blankets and did not expect any resupply before 10 October when ox-drawn transport might arrive.  

Our knowledge of this interesting unit ends here.  Very probably the Company stayed with the South African troops until most were withdrawn in early 1917 because of exhaustion and poor health.  It is likely that then the East African Maxim Gun Company was disbanded.    

Official History.  Military Operations East Africa August 1915 – September 1916
by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
War Diary East African Maxim Gun Company (WO 95/5338).

HQ Nairobi War Diary (WO 95/5360).
Army Diary 1899-1926 by Colonel R. Meinertzhagen (an interesting but now discredited source).
Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.
London Gazette.
Medal Index Cards.

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