1st/2nd KAR (The 1st Battalion of the
2nd Regiment of the King’s African Rifles) in the Narunyu Action
German East Africa, 18th September 1917
In July 1917 the 1st Battalion of the 2nd
Regiment of the King’s African Rifles (1st/2nd KAR) was in the Lindi area of
southern German East Africa (GEA), now named Tanzania. The battalion recruited soldiers from
Nyasaland, now Malawi, and
also from Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia,
and Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique. The Regimental Depot was at Mbgathi near Nairobi, British East Africa, now Kenya. The battalion had been raised in 1916 and had
fought in actions at Kibata, near Kilwa in GEA, and around Lindi. The battalion strength was 33 British
officers, 35 British Warrant Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers
(NCOs), and 690 rank and file. Eight
machine guns and 8 Lewis light machine guns were carried by the battalion. Lieutenant Colonel G.J. Giffard DSO (Queen’s
Regiment) was the Commanding Officer.
On 3rd August 1917 a British general advance
was ordered against the whole of the enemy positions south-west of Lindi. The Main Column, led by Brigadier General H.
de C. O’Grady (formerly 52nd Sikhs, Indian Army) attacked a strong
enemy position on Tandamuti Hill and was repulsed with very heavy
casualties. 1st/2nd KAR was in the
Reserve Column and was not seriously involved in the fighting, although a
prisoner from the German 14th Field Company was taken by ‘B’ Company
who then became heavily involved in a fire fight with the enemy. ‘C’ Company came up in support and engaged an
“enemy” that it met who later turned out to be 3/4 KAR; luckily casualties were
light but chaos ensued in both battalions’ transport as porters dropped their
loads and fled. Meanwhile the German
troops commanded by Major Georg Kraut broke contact and withdrew.
Six days later a column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A.J. Taylor DSO (8th South African Infantry)
advanced. 1st/2nd KAR was the vanguard
followed by the 8th South African Infantry (now reduced by sickness
to well under 200 men), the 27th (Bengal) Mountain Battery, Indian
Army and two companies of 3rd/4th KAR.
1st/2nd KAR succeeded in its mission of crossing the Lukuledi River
unobserved and in occupying and entrenching a position about 2.5 kilometres
east of Narunyu. ‘C’ Company was tasked
with reconnoitring Narunyu but the company became heavily engaged with the
enemy in difficult country, and returned to camp. Enemy reconnaissance parties followed up and
German artillery began to shell the battalion position, hitting two porters. This was followed up by a German infantry
assault onto ‘D’ Company’s section of the position, but six of the battalion’s
machine guns broke up the attack.
The following day more enemy artillery fire from a
4.1-inch gun (a naval gun recovered from the sunken cruiser Konigsberg in the Rufigi River
delta) and a smaller field gun caused Colonel Giffard to move his battalion
position to another location nearer the river; a secure water source was vital
if the battalion was to hold its ground.
That evening the Main Column with General O’Grady came up on the other
side of the river but met so much enemy opposition that it retired.
Above: A KAR company in march order
On 12th September Lieutenant W.A.C. Allison,
(East Africa Mounted Rifles), led out a ‘D’ Company patrol, but he encountered
enemy Askari in a dense sisal plantation.
One of the British NCOs was wounded, as were two Askari; the Platoon
Sergeant, Sergeant M. Kennedy was lucky to survive when a bullet missed his
skull but pierced his ear. Allison
withdrew his patrol back to camp. Another
patrol that went to the south encountered an impassable swamp. It was established that the German position
at Narunyu was almost impregnable, as it was covered to the north by a steep
escarpment, to the east by a large sisal plantation, to the south by the swamp
and to the west the ground was open with short grass, perfect for effective
1/2 KAR advance
On 17th September the battalion advanced on a
compass bearing to the north-west; the men were glad to be moving as the trenches
had been permanently wet and uncomfortable due to the heavy rain that was
constantly falling. On reaching the
trolley line running down the Lukuledi
Valley a halt was made
for the night. This trolley line had been used by German estate owners to get their
produce to Lindi harbour, but now it was used by the British to move supplies
forward from the harbour, and by the Germans to withdraw casualties and
supplies away from the British advance.
The next morning the advance continued with 1st/2nd KAR
leading the Column but now on a compass bearing of 262 degrees; the aim was to
approach the enemy from an unexpected direction. ‘A’ Company was Advance Guard followed by the
Main Body consisting of ‘B’ Company, 4 machine guns, three platoons of ‘D’
Company, 4 machine guns, 1st Line Transport (porters carrying
immediately needed ammunition and supplies), the remaining platoon of ‘D’
Company, and the Column Stokes (trench mortar) guns. The 25th Battalion The Royal
Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) was the Rear Guard.
After marching for 2,500 paces through dense bush the compass bearing
was altered to due south – the direction to Narunyu.
At 0930 hours the main road between Mingoyo and Mtua was
reached and an enemy picquet was driven off.
1st/2nd KAR now deployed from march order (a column) into bush
formation, a more dispersed configuration that was tactically suitable for
engaging the enemy. More enemy picquets
were encountered and dispersed but the bush became much thicker and march order
had to be resumed at noon. Enemy snipers
engaged the column from shambas (areas of farmland) on the right and one white
sniper was located and killed there.
Right: German Askari attack
The battle at
‘A’ Company supported by ‘B’ Company, commanded by Captain
P.T. Brodie (2nd Rhodesia Regiment), and 2 machine guns advanced and
became engaged from the right flank. The
enemy formation here was Abteilung Rothe, and the 1st/2nd KAR advance had
seperated the 19th Field Company from the Tanga Company. Lieutenant A.S. Targett (King’s African
Rifles & formerly 17th Lancers) was sent forward with one
platoon of ‘C’ Company to hold the edge of the shambas. The Germans then tried to get around ‘A’
Company’s left flank but this brought them in front of Brodie’s ‘B’ Company and
the machine guns had useful shoots, inflicting casualties on the enemy and
pushing him back. Targett’s platoon was
then attacked and at 1400 hours the remainder of ‘C’ Company moved forward in
support. ‘B’ Company was then withdrawn
Around this time Brigadier O’Grady and Lieutenant Colonel
C.G. Philipps MC (West Yorkshire Regiment), commanding officer of 3rd/2nd KAR,
tried to reach the 1st/2nd KAR and Fusiliers’ location with a small escort
party, but they could not penetrate the German positions.
For the remainder of the daylight hours the fighting was
static, the Germans not displaying any inclination to attack; however 1st/2nd
KAR was constantly taking casualties from enemy machine gun fire. Schutztruppe machine gunnery was invariably
better than the British gunnery because well-trained and experienced German
whites aimed and fired their guns; but the British were now starting to also
deploy whites as the Numbers 1 (the aimers and firers) on KAR gun teams.
Above: The old German gaol at Lindi
During this static period the local German commander,
Major General Kurt Wahle, brought forward his reserve, Abteilung von Chappuis,
which consisted of the 9th Field Company and the 4th
Schutzen Company (white reservists from former shooting clubs). No doubt the presence of the Schutzen company
contributed to the casualties that Giffard’s battalion was taking.
At 1700 hours No 4 Company of 3rd/2nd KAR arrived from the
north to join 1st/2nd KAR and the Fusiliers. The company commander, Captain H.W. Mellor
(15th Royal Fusiliers), reported to Colonel Taylor; Taylor told Mellor to leave his company
outside the column defensive area as a
reserve. This was not a good
idea. Mellor ordered his rear platoon
commander, Lieutenant T.M.P. Hughes (South Wales Borderers) to put out a
rearguard. Hughes failed to do this because
he did not know what a rearguard was.
As dusk drew close
Giffard marked out a new perimeter about 550 metres behind the firing line, but
there was no time to entrench. At 1800
hours ‘A’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were withdrawn from contact onto the perimeter,
‘C’ Company with 4 machine guns being the battalion reserve. The Royal Fusiliers held the west face with
‘D’ Company. This withdrawal to the new
perimeter just forestalled an attack that Wahle had ordered 9th
Field Company to make on the old British position. Then as night descended on the battlefield
the German theatre commander, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, arrived on the
scene with the 3rd and 11th Field Companies and he
attempted to take command of all the German units surrounding the British
Above: Lindi Harbour
At 2200 hours the Schutztruppe opened heavy fire on all
faces of the perimeter and advanced to within 50 metres of the British
positions. Enemy bugles were blown and
an attack seemed imminent. All troops on
the perimeter line returned fire for about 20 minutes, supported by the machine
guns and Stokes mortars. This return
fire appeared to break up the enemy’s attack formations and he withdrew with
what appeared to be serious losses. In
his reminiscences von Lettow comments on the confusion that reigned during the
hours of darkness, and the inability of his companies to distinguish each other
from the British troops. For the British
things were much simpler – if anything moved outside the perimeter then it was
engaged with fire.
The 1st/2nd KAR Medical Officer, Lieutenant Oscar Cecil
Lawrence Hughes, Royal Army Medical Corps, had
been killed earlier in the day and all the battalion’s casualties were being
ably tended to by Sergeant Gibson, an African dresser (medical orderly). Sergeant J.W.H. Parker, attached to the
battalion from the Fusiliers, had also been killed along with 10 Askari. Captain P.T. Brodie, Captain C.T. Soames
(East African Mounted Rifles), 871 Sergeant W. Thomson (2nd Rhodesia
Regiment) and 44 Askari were wounded. Two
porters were killed and four were wounded; none of the wounded could be
evacuated. Patrick Tait Brodie was
awarded a Military Cross.
Right: Spencer Tryon, his medals can be found on the link at the top of the page
Sergeant Thomson was a battalion personality. He was 54 years old and held the Egyptian
Campaign Medal and the Khedive’s Star, earned for former service in the Scots
Guards. The gun teams were devoted to
him for his fearlessness in action. He
had been hit in the head whilst firing a machine gun and the gun was knocked
over on top of him; undaunted he re-mounted the gun and continued firing
throughout the action with only a field dressing around his head. For this display of gallantry he received a Military Medal. Another winner of the Military Medal was 1930 Private Puta (spelt Mputi in the unit war
history) of ‘D’ Company for his gallantry in serving out ammunition to his
comrades in the firing line under extremely heavy fire. His citation stated: He showed the greatest devotion to duty and carried out his task with
utter disregard for danger.
A lull in the fighting now followed and the German Askari
could be heard talking. The British
Askari jeered at them asking why they continued fighting without pay (by this
time the Germans had run out of rupee coins and were paying with paper
chits). There were lively exchanges of
conversation, descriptions of rations issued were shouted out, and the enemy
Askari were interested to know if the British Askari had fought at Kibata, as
they respected the close-quarter fighting abilities of the British troops
The Fusiliers had lost one man killed (12890 Private J.G.
Carter), three rank and file wounded (1852 Sergeant L. Evans, 42745 Private W.
Clows and 15051 Private J. McCallum); the battalion Padre, Temporary Chaplain
Grade 4 Hugh William Hutchings was also wounded, and he was soon to receive the
Above: A street in Lindi in 1917
No 4 Company of 3rd/2nd KAR, outside
the perimeter on the orders of Colonel Taylor, suffered casualties and porters
discarded 11 ammunition boxes when the enemy advanced at 2200 hours. The lack of a rearguard allowed the enemy to
close with and attack the company.
Lieutenants T.E. Robb (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) and C.O.
Gilbert (East African Mounted Rifles) and Sergeants J.C. Clark (20th
London Regiment), H.A. Walker (20th London Regiment), and B.H.
Hubbard (Machine Gun Corps) were wounded.
(Lieutenant Pask Hughes’ lack of knowledge of what a rearguard was is a
typical example of the time – British officers and NCOs fresh from French
battlefields were, by necessity, being immediately deployed into the bush
without being taught bush tactics or the language of their Askari.)
The 1st/2nd KAR ammunition stocks were very low, ‘C’
Company being down to 5 rounds per man.
A convoy from 3rd/2nd KAR under Major R.C. Hardingham, MC & Bar, (Middlesex
Regiment), with two other officers, attempted to get through with ammunition
and supplies. The machine gun and
company porters of 3rd/2nd KAR were used to carry the
loads with two platoons of No 2 Company provided for escort. The convoy was badly ambushed near the
perimeter after German Askari had misled it by calling out that they were
KAR. Robert Cecil Hardingham was
mortally wounded, Lieutenant Charles Henry Bernard Going (2nd
Rhodesia Regiment) was killed and Lieutenant
C.E. Lane (King’s African Rifles) was
wounded. The escort NCOs rallied their
men and fought back but most of the porters had by then returned to the 3rd/2nd
KAR camp with their loads; 13 loads that had been discarded were found in the
bush during the following day.
The next day, 19th September, another 3rd/2nd
KAR company under Captain S. Tryon (East African Mounted Rifles) did get
through with much-needed ammunition and supplies. Spencer Tryon was later awarded a Military Cross. British patrols established that the nearest
enemy positions were now 300 metres away from the perimeter and so the
opportunity was taken to evacuate the casualties. The 1st/2nd KAR porters made several attempts
to draw water from the Lukuledi River but they kept being scattered by enemy
fire; finally at around 1000 hours they got through and brought water back into
the perimeter where it was badly needed.
Over the next two days the Germans continued to fire a
machine gun from the shambas, but Column Headquarters came forward, located a
new column defensive position and ordered trenches to be dug and wire defences
to be laid. German losses at Narunyu
were recorded as 6 Askari and 2 porters killed, 3 Germans, 49 Askari and 6
porters wounded, and 6 Askari and 3 porters missing. 3rd/2nd KAR’s European
casualties have been listed above; the battalion’s Askari casualties were 9
killed, 31 wounded plus 9 porters wounded.
The British dead had initially been buried where they fell; the Askari
did not move but the European remains were later moved to Mtama
Cemetery, 65 kilometres south-west of
Lindi, and finally to Dar Es Salaam
War Cemetery, Tanzania.
Above: The old German Boma at Lindi
Captain Angus Buchanan MC, (25th Royal
Fusiliers), later wrote of Narunyu: It was here that one saw, and realized, the
full fighting courage to which well-trained native African troops can
rise. The first-second King’s African
Rifles was one of the original pre-war battalions, and magnificently they
fought here; and we, who were an Imperial unit, felt that we could not have
wished for a stouter, nor a more faithful regiment to fight alongside of.
(In fact 2nd KAR had been disbanded for reasons of economy 19 months
before the Great War started, and most of the redundant Askari had moved to GEA
to join the German forces, who welcomed them.)
On 27th September 3rd/2nd KAR relieved 1st/2nd
KAR who moved back to a reserve position where proper cooked meals could be
obtained; pre-cooked food had been carried forward into the perimeter but it
had often been mouldy on arrival. The
battalion relaxed a little whilst deficiencies in clothing and equipment were
replaced. Many more battles lay
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King’s African Rifles (WO 161/75). -Draft Chapter
XVIII of the unpublished Part II of the Official History, Military Operations, East Africa (CAB 44-10). -War Diary of the
25th Battalion The Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), 1917
May-September (WO 95/5325). -War Diary 3rd/2nd
Battalion King’s African Rifles, 1917 August-September. (WO 95/5323). -Arnold, John; Spencer William; & Steward, Keith. The
Award of the Military Medal to African Soldiers of the West African Frontier
Force & the King’s African Rifles from 1916 to 1919. Published by the author and compilers,
London 2010. -Buchanan, Captain Angus MC. Three
Years of War in East Africa. Naval & Military Press reprint. -Capell, Lieutenant Colonel A.E. The 2nd
Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa.
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Cross of Sacrifice
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and Corps 1914-1919. Roberts Medals
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British, Dominion and Colonial Officers During the First World War. Token Publishing Limited 2009. -Moyse-Bartlett, Lieutenant Colonel E, MBE. The
King’s African Rifles. Naval &
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Reminiscences of East Africa. Battery Press reprint. -Wilson, C.J. The Story of the East African Mounted
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