25th Royal Fusiliers: Behobeho

The Old and the Bold


Behobeho

4th January 1917

After the successful operations in the latter half of 1916 {see GEA May to December 1916} which had pushed the Germans south over the Central Railway and into the area of the Rufiji and Great Ruaha rivers it had become necessary to call a halt to the general advance in order for the logistical support to catch up with the forward troops and for the exhausted units to rest in preparation for the next phase of the campaign.  


As shown elsewhere {see GEA January - February 1917} the operations in the Rufiji area were to involve an advance on three fronts.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers, along with the 1st East African Brigade which the battalion had joined on the last day of 1916, would advance in the centre around the German’s western flank as part of operations which, it was hoped, would trap those German forces being pushed south from the Mgeta River by the two eastern columns.


Preparations for the advance were completed by the 26th December but continuous heavy rain compelled the postponement of all movement until the 31st, when the weather improved, and the 130th King George’s Own Baluchis were detached from the brigade to provide a screen between the central and western columns and to block any German attempt to retreat through Wiransi.


The 1st East African Brigade, under the command of Brigadier-General S. H. Sheppard, commenced its main advance from Kissaki on 1st January with the 25th Royal Fusiliers taking their position at the head of the main body behind an advanced guard of the 3rd Kashmir Rifles.  At 5.30 a.m. the Mgeta River was crossed by the new bridge and the brigade marched on the main road parallel to, and south of, the river towards the enemy’s position.


Having got on the flank of the German position at Dakawa the 3rd Kashmir Rifles and 25th Royal Fusiliers made contact with the enemy at about 8 a.m., compelling them to leave their positions and retire towards Wiransi where they struck the 130th K.G.O. Baluchis waiting astride the road.  The three enemy companies (1st Schutzen, ‘W’ and 14th Reserve) were severely handled and fell back towards Behobeho as the 1st East African Brigade effected a junction with the 130th K.G.O. Baluchis.  During the action the 25th Royal Fusiliers had suffered one officer and four men wounded whilst the 3rd Kashmir Rifles had one man killed and another wounded.

It became apparent the next day that the whole enemy force on the Mgeta front had retired to the south of the British forces and would likely concentrate at an existing position on the Tchogowali River near Behobeho.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers and other remaining units of the brigade, the 130th K.G.O. Baluchis having been sent to support one of the eastern columns, spent the next two days marching on tracks through the bush towards the Fuga Hills before striking south and making for the German position at Behobeho Tchogowali.


At 5.30 a.m. on 4th January the 1st East African Brigade marched out of camp for Behobeho Tchogowali, the 25th Royal Fusiliers were once again at the head of the main body behind the advanced guard of the 3rd Kashmir Rifles and ahead of the field ambulances and 30th Punjabis who were bringing up the rear.


With the low hills occupied by the Germans densely covered with thorn-bush visibility was poor and locating the enemy’s position was difficult.  At 10.30 a.m. contact with the enemy was made as the Kashmiri advanced guard came under fire.  The brigade was deployed to meet the German threat with the 25th Royal Fusiliers being moved forward on the right of the Kashmiri position and deploying onto a ridge running beside the main road from Behobeho-kwa-Mahinda with orders to stop any German retreat along the only road leading to the south-east.


At about mid-day a strong force of German troops, later identified as ‘W’ Company, was encountered as they marched south.  The Germans attacked immediately and the 25th Royal Fusiliers were simultaneously engaged by the enemy in front and on their right flank.  A company of the 30th Punjabis was moved forward to support the hard pressed Fusiliers as they engaged an enemy force four of five times their number and these were further reinforced with a machine gun section and another two platoons of Punjabis as the Germans pressed their attack.

“DURING THE FINAL CAMPAIGN: ONE OF OUR INFANTRY COLUMNS ON THE MARCH”

The Illustrated War News, Volume 7 Part 80, 19 December 1917, Page 38

The day was intensely hot and the troops in the front line suffered severely from the sun as they lay in extended order on the scorching rock and gravel whilst German sharpshooters maintained a harassing fire from concealed positions. Captain F. C. Selous, the famous hunter and one of the best known figures in the British force, commanded the lead company of Royal Fusiliers and had received orders to prevent the enemy from reaching the road if possible.  Unable to locate the German sharpshooters’ positions in the dense bush he went forward down the slope about fifteen yards to reconnoitre and whilst using his field glasses to do so was struck twice and killed.  Second Lieutenant E. J. Dutch took his place but he too was mortally wounded almost immediately.

By now a lengthy action had developed but the 25th Royal Fusiliers and 30th Punjabis held firm.  After about an hour of heavy fighting, and realising that they would not break through the British line, the Germans disengaged and withdrew once more into the bush.  A renewed attempt to break through was anticipated by the British but the enemy attempted no such action.  Instead, with the British force failing to engage them at close quarters again, the German companies were able to make their way eastward through the bush and reach the road lower down, subsequently crossing the Rufiji River and slipping past Lieutenant-General Smuts’ planned encirclement.

“SELOUS IN EAST AFRICA, SHORTLY BEFORE HE WAS KILLED”

Image Source Unknown

Killed

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

Captain F. C. Selous, D.S.O.

13285 Sergeant G. C. Knight

32887 Private E. W. C. Evans

14885 Private D. E. Taylor


3rd Kashmir Rifles

One unidentified other rank *


30th Punjabis

4142 Naik Gurdit Singh


Died of Wounds

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

Second Lieutenant E. J. Dutch

13045 Private W. Thornton

13513 Private E. Evans

36540 Private H. Wadsworth

Casualties

Wounded

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

Captain A. D. Welstead

Lieutenant W. Halstead *

Second Lieutenant A. Buchanan

15055 Sergeant H. A. Thornton

13503 Corporal W. H. Harding

28101 Private H. B. Dolby #

14991 Private C. W. Edwards #

13502 Private E. Pegg #

36050 Private E. G. Rhodes #

13686 Private A. Jolley #

28116 Private P. Pickard #


3rd Kashmir Rifles

One unidentified other rank*


30th Punjabis

Subedar Chajja Singh

One unidentified other rank

All casualties shown are for the action on 4th January 1917 except;

* Casualty sustained on 1st January 1917

# Six men of the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers were listed in records as wounded (four on 1st January and two on 4th January) but it is presently unknown in which of    the two actions these six sustained their wounds.

Sources:


WO 95/5332 1st East African Brigade Headquarters War Diary 1st Nov. 1916 - 28th Feb. 1917

WO 95/5332 25th Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1st Dec. 1916 - 28th Feb. 1917

WO 95/5332 3rd Kashmir Rifles War Diary 1st Nov. 1916 - 28th Feb. 1917

WO 95/5332 30th Punjabis War Diary 1st Jan. 1917 - 28th Feb. 1917

CAB44/6 Draft Official History Chapter XIV

Lieut.-General The Hon. J. C. Smuts Despatch dated 28th February 1917, London Gazette, No.30026 dated 18th April 1917.

Life of Frederick Courtenay Selous, D.S.O. - J. G. Millais

Three Years of War in East Africa – Capt. Angus Buchanan M.C.


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