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Operations in October 1916:

And the loss of the Naval Guns of the King’s African Rifles Artillery Section at Ngominyi.

Introduction By mid-October 1916 the Nyasaland-Rhodesia Field Force (see HERE) under General Edward Northey had swung eastwards.  Roger’s Column was in the Hange area, Hawthorn’s Column had crossed the Ruhuje River but then withdrawn back to the Mkapira area and Murray’s Column was moving towards Hawthorn’s location.  Northey had established his headquarters at New Langenburg (now named Tukuyu) and his columns were dominating the local enemy units that opposed them.  Iringa had been taken (see HERE) and British eyes were turned towards Mahenge as the next objective (See Map 1).

But the Germans had different ideas.  Coming down from Tabora onto Northey’s 300-kilometre long Line of Communications was a formation of three columns under Major General Kurt Wahle.  Wahle’s men had been fighting the Belgian advances through Ruanda-Urundi (now the two nations of Rwanda and Burundi) and from across Lake Tanganyika (See Map 2).  The eleven Field Companies with Wahle had not been beaten in their three serious encounters with the Belgian Congolese troops and his men were fit and confidant.

Further east and coming down from confronting South African General van Deventer’s 2nd Division in the Kidatu area was another German formation of ten companies under Major Georg Kraut.  The Mahenge Plateau was the destination for both Wahle and Kraut, and neither of them was being aggressively pursued by Belgian or British forces.  A series of collisions between Northey’s columns and the arriving German forces was inevitable.

The King’s African Rifles Artillery Section

In Nyasaland  two Royal Navy breech-loading guns, fitted to wheeled mounts, joined the old black powder muzzle-loading guns that were being operated by the 1st Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1 KAR), a Nyasaland-based infantry unit composed of locally-recruited tribesmen.  Together all the KAR artillery pieces were named the King’s African Rifles Artillery Section.  Two officers from the artillery department of the South African Mounted Rifles, the permanent military force in South Africa, were attached to the KAR and joined the Artillery Section.   These two officers were Captain C.H.B. Clark and Lieutenant A.M. Bones, and they trained the Askari, as African soldiers of both sides were named, in artillery procedures.

The two naval guns, pulled by oxen, were initially part of Hawthorn’s  eastern column but they were a prime artillery asset and Northey deployed them where he saw fit.  Towards the end of August at Wuasa south-west of Iringa the guns came into action supporting Murray’s and Roger’s Columns (Rhodesian and South African troops with companies of Northern Rhodesia Police and 1 KAR) as they pushed the withdrawing enemy further backwards.

Then as the British columns moved towards more difficult terrain where the naval guns could not go, and as the approach of Wahle’s formation became evident, Northey ordered Captain Clarke to take his Section back from Iringa to Ngominyi on the New Langenburg road.

The Ngominyi stores depot

At Ngominyi Captain Clark commanded a garrison consisting of his gun teams and 30 or 40 Askari from 1 KAR.  Ngominyi was an attractive target to the enemy not only because of the guns inside the perimeter but also because a large British depot of food and equipment was stored there.  These stores had been laboriously carried by porters from Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, and the depot was meant to sustain Northey’s columns as they advanced.  Boxes of .303 ammunition, tins of corned beef, biscuits, jam, tea and sugar were in the depot along with a small storekeeping staff, a few South African engineers and some sick soldiers.  There was also a military wireless station for communications.  

On 21st October a German commander approached Ngominyi, he was Leutnant Zingel from Wahle’s formation.  He reconnoitred Captain Clark’s position.  On the 23rd October Major W. Baxendale, a Southern Rhodesia Reservist serving in the British South Africa Police (BSAP), was ordered to move from Old Iringa towards Ngominyi.  He took with him another officer, four European soldiers, 56 Askari and a machine gun.  However 200 men of the German 26th Field Company were waiting and Zingel sprang a good ambush on the British patrol.  Walter Baxendale was shot through the heart and killed, along with Sergeant George Charles de Willis Taylor, British South Africa Police (BSAP), and four Askari whose names do not appear to have been recorded.  The other four Europeans were wounded and three of them captured along with a number of other Askari.  The fourth European, medical orderly Corporal E.A. Green, escaped with the remaining Askari but the enemy seized the machine gun. 

A new personality from Wahle’s formation, Major Max Wintgens, then appeared at Ngominyi and besieged it.  Wintgens had with him:

·      the 8th Field Company (commanded by Hauptmann Bauer)
·      the 24th Field Company (Leutnant Siebel)
·      Ruanda A-Company (Vizefeldwebel Morchen)
·      Ruanda B-Company (Leutnant Lang)
·      C-Company (Leutnant Wahle – possibly the General’s son)
·      Two 3.7-centimetre guns of Battery Vogel
·      8 machine guns.   

The Germans occupied higher ground than did Clark’s defenders and began firing into the British position.  Inside the Ngominyi perimeter British casualties mounted.  The telegraph wires into and out of the depot were cut by the enemy, but Clark used his wireless set and requested that a doctor try to get through to him to treat the British wounded.  Two medical officers heard the call, one declined to assist but the other, Surgeon Captain E.G. Storrs of the Northern Rhodesia Medical Service, took an African guide and infiltrated into the Ngominyi perimeter on the night of the 28th October.  He immediately started treating the wounded.  Surgeon Captain Storrs may have been helped by the fact that a German assault on the perimeter at dusk, supported by six machine guns on higher ground, had been beaten back by improvised grenades assembled by the South African engineers.  The enemy had then withdrawn to re-group.

That night Captain Clark gave all the defenders the choice to leave the perimeter if they wished.  Around 30 men took up the offer and exfiltrated out into the night in twos and threes, heading for the nearest British units.  At dawn the end came for the diminished garrison as the 8th and 29th Field Companies charged in with the bayonet.  The breech mechanism levers of the naval guns were beaten out of alignment to render them useless.  The British officers then fought to the last defending their guns.  Lieutenant Bones was killed and Captain Clark was mortally wounded, he was last seen throwing his empty revolver at an approaching German.  Both men were bayoneted.  The German Leutnants Hess and Siebel were credited with capturing the guns and 200 rounds for them.  Wintgens lost Leutnant Lang and an Askari killed.  Hauptmann Bauer and an Askari were wounded, Bauer severely.

Wintgens emptied the depot, allowing his men to eat luxuries that they had not seen since they had withdrawn from the Central Railway.  The stores, the wireless station and the guns were removed, although the wireless station was destroyed a fortnight later when the porters assigned to it were needed for more vital loads.  Max Wintgens was an honourable man, and after the new casualties had been treated the Germans released Surgeon Captain Storrs and provided an escort whilst the wounded were carried to Iringa hospital.  For the gallantry that he displayed at Ngominyi Eric Gleadon Storrs was awarded a Military Cross.  Captain C.H.B. Clark was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches

(The British Official History states that the two naval guns were main armament weapons salved from HMS Pegasus that was sunk by the Konigsberg in Zanzibar harbor.  However this is a debatable point.  A German source indicates that the guns could have been 12-pounder 12-hundredweights.  Perhaps they were field guns kept aboard Royal Navy ships for use by landing parties.)

Roger’s Column

On 9th October a patrol from Roger’s Column, 110 kilometres north-west of Iringa, met a mounted patrol of the 4th South African Horse sent down from Kilimatinde on the Central Railway at the orders of General Smuts.  Three days later Roger’s men had their first contact with advancing enemy troops as the Germans moved towards Mahenge.  The action was at the Kiganga ford over the Great Ruaha River, and the 2nd South African Rifles had 2 men wounded but they killed 4 enemy Europeans and captured another and an Askari.  The remainder of the enemy from the 7th Field Company withdrew quickly.

Northey did not wish to withdraw from Iringa because the local Wahehe tribesmen had welcomed the British and were enlisting as irregular scouts, so he reinforced the area with Baxendale’s Northern Rhodesia Police who had been operating near Bismarckburg on Lake Tanganyika.  Roger concentrated his column at Iringa from Hange, leaving detachments at Muhanga and Dabaga.

A Military Cross for an Aide de Campe

Northey’s personal military assistant, cavalry officer Lieutenant W.W. Honywood, then saw for himself what was happening when the car he was driving had a contact on 20th October near Madibira.  The car had a machine gun mounted on it but was ambushed by an enemy patrol, probably from Leutnant Wahle’s C-Company.  Two men in the British party were wounded.  William Wynne Honywood was later awarded a Military Cross with the citation:                       

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when patrolling with an armoured car.  He opened fire on a large enemy force, and wounded six of them. At great personal risk, under heavy fire, he placed one of the wounded men in the car, and returned, having obtained valuable information. 

Detachments of Smuts’ force arrive at Iringa

As the threat to Ngominyi developed Baxendale was sent on his fatal mission that has been described.  Major Flindt and 100 of his 2nd South African Rifles were left to defend Iringa, hopefully only until men from Smuts’ force to the north arrived.  Roger with 80 riflemen and two machine guns moved towards Ngominyi, meeting the survivors from Baxendale’s group on the way.  At Mahansi near Ngeiro’s, 11 kilometres north-east of Ngominyi, Roger ran into an enemy position and was held up.  Behind him South African troops from the Central Railway had finally arrived and secured Iringa. 

The first troops from the north into the town were Lieutenant Colonel Freeth’s 7th South African Infantry, 250 men strong with 6 machine guns, and two 10-pounder guns of the Centre Section, 28th (Lahore) Mountain Battery, Indian Army.  They arrived on 23rd October.  Next day they were followed by 70 men of the South African Motor Cyclist Corps under Lieutenant Colonel J.M. Fairweather.  Fairweather took command and ordered Freeth with 80 of his men, 2 machine guns and the Indian mountain guns to move forward and join Roger.

The action at Mahansi near Ngeiro’s

At Mahansi Roger and Freeth heard of the fall of Ngominyi and realising that they would be the next to be attacked they dug themselves in at the southern end of a long ridge lying west of the road.  The surrounding countryside was densely bushed, swampy to the east and a higher ridge line was behind them.  Next morning, 30th October, some of Wintgen’s men pushed through the bush on the British west flank and scaled the dominating ridge, from where they opened fire.  Later this force put in repeated attacks but accurate shooting by both the Indian mountain gunners and the 7th South African Infantry drove the attackers back.  However enemy fire stampeded the British cattle herd which had been brought along as meat on the hoof, and to the dismay of the hungry defenders the animals careered off into the bush.  The Germans had managed to repair one of the captured naval guns for use in this action.

Next day enemy firing commenced at dawn and lasted all day, but without an attack being mounted.  A reconnaissance patrol sent out the following morning, 1st November, found that the Germans had withdrawn.  The South Africans at Mahansi lost 2 men killed and 10 wounded.  The dead were probably 129 Private A. Hooper, 7th South African Infantry, and 67 Private Rudolph Gideon Venter, 2nd South African Rifles.  Wintgens lost 1 Askari killed and 6 wounded.

The key weapon in the successful British defence at Mahansi had been the mountain guns of the 28th (Lahore) Mountain Battery.  The Indian gunners were anaemic from under-feeding and badly needed clothing and boots, whilst their mules were in a bad state as grain had not been issued for the last six months of heavy marching.  But the gunners wanted to fight.  During the action the Section commander, Captain E.R.C. Wilson, Royal Artillery, was severely wounded and Lieutenant E.A. Eden MC (East Africa Volunteer Artillery) took over command.  Ammunition and stores had to be carried over open ground under enemy fire, and 1192 Gunner Vir Singh was killed and six other gunners were wounded.  On the first day the Section fired 95 shrapnel shells with fuze settings from 1 to 4 against the enemy attacks.  Later Edward Rickard Carew Wilson was awarded a Military Cross and Edwin Arthur Eden was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.  471 Havildar Sant Singh, 561 Lance Naik Fateh Ali and 412 Gunner Narain Singh were awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  

General Smuts, the Allied Commander in Chief in the theatre, now issued an order that on no account must Freeth allow the troops with him to be surrounded and captured.  As Freeth was out of rations anyway, this protective command from the most senior South African in the field was not needed, and both Freeth’s and Roger’s columns withdrew to the Iringa area.  Northey’s worst fears had been realized, the Germans were wreaking havoc on his lines of communication.  However to the east at Mkapira a battle had been fought that temporarily removed some enemy pressure from Northey’s now out-numbered command.    


Kraut’s men had moved nearer to the British position at Mkapira.  Here two British columns under Colonels Hawthorne with his 1 KAR Askari and 1st South African Rifles, and Murray with his BSAP Southern Rhodesians and Northern Rhodesia Police (NRP) had entrenched energetically on a flat-topped hill overlooking the Ruhuje River.  An overlooking feature 2,300 metres to the west and named Picquet Hill was occupied by an observation post.  The mountain guns of the South African Mounted Rifles (SAMR) 5th Battery were well dug-in and camouflaged.   The south-east half of the perimeter was occupied by Murray’s Column and the lower north-west half was defended by Hawthorne’s men; here the ground sloped down to an area of swampy lagoons bordering the river.  Hawthorne commanded the defence.

On 21st October British scouting patrols reported enemy approaching.  At dawn next day the Germans seized Picquet Hill and placed a 6-centimetre gun near the crest, firing shells into the British perimeter.  The SAMR mountain guns were under orders not to disclose their positions and so they did not return fire.  Kraut now besieged the British perimeter.   The German troops in the area were

·         the 5th, 10th (Leutnant Mauck),  16th, 19th and 25th (Hauptmann Galbraith) Field Companies,
·         the 5th Schutzen Company (European reservists under Oberleutnant von Schrotter)
·         the 8th Schutzen Company (Company Meyer) was normally employed as mounted scouts and consisted of 50 Europeans and 60 Askari.  However tsetse fly had killed many mounts and the company operated dismounted.
·         17 machine guns
·         one 6-centimetre gun under Leutnant Kuhn.
·         L-Company of armed police.  This company was sent on a forward reconnaissance towards Mahenge.

Kraut’s tactics were to surround the British position, block the supply routes leading to it, and wait for Hawthorn’s men to consume all their rations and then surrender because of hunger.  After an initial heavy burst of fire by the besieging troops one German machine gun was moved forward to act as a sniping weapon.  Luckily a British ration convoy had arrived on the 21st October and hunting parties had brought in elephant meat that was being dried out in the sun.  Even so Hawthorne ordered a reduced scale of rations to be issued daily to all the troops.

An artillery duel

The enemy machine gun close to the perimeter would shoot down the British wireless masts as soon as they were put up, whilst the field gun opened fire regularly at 0800 hours each morning.  Once the exact position of the gun’s muzzle flash was observed the SAMR mountain guns were allowed to retaliate.  One morning at 1000 hours the mountain guns suddenly engaged the German weapon, hitting a top corner of the gun shield and killing or wounding most of the detachment, including Leutnant Kuhn.  This excellent example of counter-battery fire did not stop the enemy from firing the gun, but it was never used as effectively as before.  Lieutenant Harold Swifte, SAMR, had observed for this shoot from an exposed position and he was later awarded a Military Cross.

Reconnaissance patrols

Kraut had thought that the swamps and lagoons between the British perimeter and the river to be impassable, but they were not as many were drying-out quite rapidly.  Lieutenant H.T. Barrett of the Nyasaland Field Force Intelligence Department went out into the swamps each night and reconnoitered the adjacent enemy positions. 

Meanwhile scouts from Murray’s side of the perimeter were also going out under cover of darkness to plot the enemy positions facing them. On the night of 27th October two BSAP scouts, A 173 Private A.S. Peters and 1634 Private R.G. Hill, made a spectacular capture of two enemy Askari which resulted in both of them receiving the Imperial Distinguished Conduct Medal.  Their similar citations state:                                                                   

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in carrying out dangerous reconnaissances.  On one occasion, accompanied by another man, he penetrated the enemy's position and captured an outpost, obtaining most valuable information, which enabled a successful attack to be made

Using this information Hawthorne decided to take the fight to the enemy. He knew that he could not safely evacuate his baggage columns, wounded and sick men and his wireless station unless he soundly defeated Kraut’s force.  A surprise attack was planned, Murray’s men would attack across the open ground before them whilst Hawthorne’s troops simultaneously attacked Picquet Hill. 

Captain J.E.E. Galbraith (Royal Fusiliers and KAR) with his ‘D’ Company 1 KAR was operating outside the perimeter protecting the British supply route near Kisinga, and he was also tasked to engage the enemy forces in that area at the same time.  He was reinforced with a KAR 7-pounder muzzle loading gun from Lupembe and by ‘A’ Company of the NRP under Major C.H. Fair.  Kraut expected Hawthorne to fight his way back along the Lupembe road, and the 25th Field Company was positioned five kilometers west of Hawthorn’s position.  Kraut’s command post with 16 Field Company, Company Meyer and half of 5 Field Company was located one kilometer west of the British perimeter; the other half of 5 Field Company was deployed to the east of the river.  The SAMR mountain guns within the perimeter were tasked with engaging the area of the enemy command post whilst Galbraith and Fair attacked the 25th Field Company from the west.

The operation was timed to commence at 0530 hours on 30th October.  In the early hours Hugh Treherne Barrett guided ‘CR’ and ‘AR’ Companies of 1 KAR undetected through the swamps to the rear of the German positions.  For this he was awarded a Military Cross with the citation:       

He reconnoitred the enemy's position, and subsequently guided a column three miles by night, enabling them to deploy unobserved between picquets of the enemy to within 250 yards of the position.

The 1 KAR attack  

Captain Alexander Harcourt Griffiths (Duke of Cambridge’s Light Infantry and KAR) now assaulted and captured Picquet Hill with his ‘CR’ Company, earning a Distinguished Service Order:

He led his column in a most gallant manner against a strongly entrenched position and captured a field gun. He has consistently shown great coolness and ability.  

On his left Major G.L. Baxter’s ‘CR’ Company found that the Germans facing it were not easy to subdue.  Baxter withdrew to attack again from a flank but the enemy position was not taken until 0730 hours when Lieutenant Philip Edmund Mitchell charged in with half of ‘H’ Company 1 KAR, winning a Military Cross:        

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He gallantly led his half company in a charge, and captured an enemy machine gun, together with several prisoners.  

499 Colour Sergeant Magomera, 1 KAR, won an African Distinguished Conduct Medal:                                                                               

Came across under heavy fire to Colonel Hawthorn in order to describe the position to him, returned and led his half Company in a charge, capturing two prisoners himself.  

The Germans facing Griffiths and Baxter had been the 5th Schutzen Company which then fell back on to the 19th Field Company, two kilometres away.    

The British South Africa Police attack

Facing Murray’s men was the enemy 10th Field Company which had previously garrisoned Iringa.  Murray’s plan was that No 1 Section of ‘A’ Company BSAP, reinforced by seven men from ‘B’ Company, would make a silent bayonet attack without covering fire.  No 2 Section would move in support and Captain G.N. Beaumont’s 1 KAR Company would advance with No 2 Section and guard the west flank.

No 1 Section under Lieutenant H. T. Onyett advanced in extended order with fixed bayonets.  At first light the enemy advance picquet spotted the approaching troops and opened fire, then withdrew and fired again.  Onyett’s men cheered and rushed forward 550 metres beyond the picquet position and into the main German trench line.  Fierce bayonet fighting now took place as enemy trenches were cleared, and the survivors of the 44 BSAP men who had advanced came under strong pressure from enemy counter attacks.  But No 2 Section under Lieutenant J.H. Vaughan arrived and a heavier weight of fire drove the Germans rearwards.  The enemy Askari ran but the Europeans stood their ground until they were dead or wounded.

Harry Thomas Onyett, BSAP, was awarded a Military Cross:                                             

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. With a small party, he captured an enemy entrenched position held by 150 rifles and three machine guns.  

Four Imperial Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to BSAP men.  

462 Sergeant Major R.A. McGee:                                                             

He gallantly led an attack against enemy machine guns and succeeded in capturing two guns. He was severely wounded.  He has previously done fine work.   

A/70 Corporal J.L. Beith:                                                                    

From August, 1915, to June, 1918. He has been in the field since August, 1915, and has performed continuous good work in action throughout, more especially in the fight at Mkapira in October, 1916, where he was wounded. He had previously been wounded at Bismarckburg in June, 1916.  

1875 Corporal A.E.J.D. Trevelyan:                                                          

He rallied a party which had gone through the enemy's lines, and completed the capture of the enemy position.   

A79 Private D. Wisener:                                                                          

He led a small party into an enemy machine gun emplacement and killed the gun team. He was wounded three times.  

Three officers were later awarded the Distinguished Service Order:   

Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Ernest Murray DCM, BSAP:                                          He set a splendid example of gallantry and able leadership during a successful assault on very superior forces of the enemy.  

Captain James Edward Evans Galbraith, 1 KAR, and Major Charles Henry Fair, NRP, who had engaged Kraut’s troops from the west also received  Distinguished Service Orders.  

The cost

At 0830 hours the ground previously occupied by the enemy was swept but only a few stragglers were found, the rest of the German troops near the perimeter having rapidly withdrawn to a rallying point.  Kraut had feared that a general attack was developing onto all his locations.  

Graves were dug for the 5 European and 37 Askari enemy dead discovered, and 82 prisoners were taken.  It was estimated that 60 more of the enemy had been wounded before or whilst they fled.  They left behind 3 machine guns and the 6-centimetre field gun.  The dead Europeans were: Unteroffizier Klagge, Feldwebel Nickel, Segeants Mieth and Most, and Obermatrose Czech.  German Askari Staff Sergeant Hamis and Sergeant Nasoro were also killed.  Stabsartz Barthels and Sanitatssergeant Krieg were wounded and captured, along with four other Europeans, but Hawthorne released the two wounded medical men.  

1 KAR had lost 2nd Lieutenant William George Stanbury Booty (Nyasaland Field Force and KAR) killed, and Lieutenant H.L. Hartill (Royal West Surrey Regiment and KAR) wounded, plus 2 Askari killed and 12 wounded.  

The BSAP had lost 4 men killed: 1656 Private Arthur Leonard Bradbury, A298 Private James Curran, A72 Private Felix Joseph Hampson and 1650 Private Jack William Judson.  At least two other BSAP soldiers were wounded.  

Kraut’s threat had been blunted, but as more of Wahle’s men moved into the British rear areas further actions had to be fought on Northey’s vulnerable lines of communication.

Commemorations The dead British Europeans are buried in Iringa Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemetery, Tanzania, with the exception of Rudolph Gideon Venter.  He and Gunner Vir Singh are commemorated on the British and Indian Memorial in Nairobi (South) CWGC Cemetery, Kenya.  The dead German Europeans and Askari are commemorated on a German memorial adjacent to the CWGC cemeteries at Moshi (Above), Tanzania and, if it still exists, on a German memorial at Iringa.  The African Memorial in the centre of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, commemorates the dead KAR Askari and porters


Ø       Official History. Military Operations. East Africa August 1914 – September 1916. Compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.

Ø        An Account of the Part Played by The First Regiment of the King’s African Rifles in the Conquest of German East Africa by Colonel H.P. Williams.

Ø       A Narrative of the Right Section, 5th Mountain Battery, South African Mounted Riflemen by Battery Quartermaster Sergeant J.G. Maker. (Article in the Journal of the South African Military History Society, Volume 4 No 1.)

Ø       The History of the Northern Rhodesia Police by Colonel Tim Wright.

Ø       The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H. Moyse-Bartlett.

Ø       Draft Chapter XII of the unpublished Part II to the Official History. Military Operations East Africa.

Ø       Memories of the 1914-1918 Campaign with Northern Rhodesian Forces an article by Captain R.W.M. Langham MC published in the Northern Rhodesia Journal.

Ø       The History of the Indian Mountain Artillery by Brigadier General C.A.L. Graham DSO OBE DL psc.

Ø       The History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The Forgotten Fronts and the Home Base 1914-18 by General Sir Martin Farndale KCB.

Ø       Die Operationen in Ostafrika by Ludwig Boell.

Ø       Vier Jahre Weltkrieg in Deutsch-Ostafrika by Wilhelm Arning.

(Gratitude is expressed to Per Finsted of Denmark for his collaboration in translating details from the German sources in his usual excellent style and for his research into the origins of the two naval guns.)

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