The Old and the Bold

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British & German East Africa

January to May 1916

The turn of the year saw the battalion still at Bura but, with the picked flying column having left for Maungu, the reduced garrison ceased the nightly picquets of the Voi-Maktau Railway and resumed morning patrols instead.  As many of the men left garrisoning Bura were convalescent these patrols were brought in by the battalion lorry.


The men of the Maungu column, meanwhile, were involved in an engagement with a sizeable enemy force at Ngurangani on 10th January when they, along with men of the 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the Bharatpur Infantry, an Imperial Service unit provided by the Ruler of the Princely state of Bharatpur, engaged a German force of 500 men with 4 machine guns which had been reported approaching Mombasa.  After a sharp action lasting several hours the British commander withdrew his force when dusk fell, resuming the advance again the following morning only to find that the Germans too had themselves withdrawn.  The 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers suffered a single wounded casualty but the Bharatpur Infantry fared less well with three dead and three wounded.


January 1916 also saw a change in the strategic situation in East Africa, the defensive attitude previously adopted and in which the 25th Battalion had been engaged since it’s arrival in theatre was about to change.  With the successful conclusion of the German South-West Africa campaign South Africa was now able to send reinforcements to East Africa in support of the small force already there and enable offensive operations to commence.  Initially General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was selected for the command of the offensive into German East Africa but, suffering ill-health on his voyage out and again on arrival in South Africa, he reluctantly resigned his appointment.  His replacement, appointed on 6th February, was the South African, Lieut.-General Jan C. Smuts who arrived in theatre on 19th February.


Plans had been drawn up to launch a convergent offensive against the Kilimanjaro area from Maktau and Kajiado respectively with the purpose of removing those German forces currently occupying a large area of British East Africa from a large entrenched camp at Taveta with an advanced position at Salaita, from an entrenched camp at Serengeti, an outpost at Mbuyuni and from Kasigau where they maintained a garrison of 500-600 rifles.  The forces in East Africa, previously administered by Mombasa and Nairobi area commands, were reorganised into two Divisions.  The 1st East African Division, formed from those troops in the Nairobi Command and under the overall command of Brigadier-General J. M. Stewart, was destined for the Kajiado-Longido line of advance whilst the 2nd East African Division, now commanded by Major-General M. J. Tighe and organised from the Mombasa Command troops, would advance from Maktau.


On 28th January the battalion once again found themselves on the move, this time by train back to Kajiado, where they arrived the next day and, on the 30th, were joined by the men of the returning Maungu column.  Here the battalion was refitted and equipped, although not all necessary supplies were available, in order to take up their place in the 1st East African Division.  A week later, on 7th February, the battalion marched out of Kajiado with the Ammunition Column en-route for Namanga where they arrived on the 12th and, for the next sixteen days, underwent field training in bush formation and attack under the direction of Brigadier-General S. H. Sheppard, the officer commanding 2nd East African Brigade of which the battalion was now a part along with the 29th Punjabis, 129th Duke of Connaught's Own Baluchis (recently arrived from France) and 3rd Kashmir Rifles. At the end of the month this formation moved to Longido West.

Elsewhere, at the latter end of January and beginning of February, the men detached from the battalion and serving with the Mounted Infantry Company, now being employed as mounted troops for the 2nd East African Division, were also on the move from Maktau.  On the 22nd January the division, under the command of Brigadier-General W. Malleson, advanced from Maktau to Mbuyuni and two days later occupied the German camp at Serengeti.  Little opposition was met during the advance in taking either of these positions which also had the effect of forcing the Germans to withdraw the garrison at Kasigau.  Now located at Mbuyuni, the Mounted Infantry Company was used, on several occasions, to reconnoitre the area west of that location with especial emphasis on the German’s strongly entrenched advanced position at Salaita which, on 12th February, Major-General Tighe directed Malleson’s 2nd East African Division to occupy.  The Mounted Infantry Company was utilised to provide guard to the division’s southern flank in what was to be a costly and hugely unsuccessful attack. {See Salaita 12th February 1916}

“BRITISH TROOPS FIGHTING THE GERMANS IN EAST AFRICA: THE 25th BATTALION, ROYAL FUSILIERS (DRISCOLL’S SCOUTS) LEAVING A POST”  

The Illustrated London News, 25 March 1916, Page 388

Whilst the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers were advancing with the 1st East African Division the men detached with the Mounted Infantry Company were doing likewise with the 2nd East African Division.  On the 8th March the division, with about 70 rifles and one machine gun of the Mounted Infantry Company providing covering support to the 1st East African Brigade’s right flank, began their advance against Salaita Hill. An artillery bombardment of the entrenched German position was followed by the 1st East African Brigade’s infantry digging in for the night.  Another bombardment preceded the infantry’s advance on the 9th where it was found that the bombardment, coupled with the turning movement performed by Van Deventer’s 1st South African Mounted Brigade via Chala, had compelled the enemy to evacuate.  Taveta was now occupied as the German forces retreated via the western Taveta-Moschi road and the Taveta-Kahe road running between Latema and Reata Hills towards the south-west.  The division’s mounted troops were tasked with reconnoitring these two hills, Belfield’s Scouts went to Latema whilst the Mounted Infantry Company went to Reata, both hills were found to be held by the enemy with an estimated strength in excess of 400 rifles.  The Mounted Infantry Company was then tasked with covering the left flank of the 1st East African Brigade as they advanced on the nek between the two hills which, after some heavy fighting, was taken {see Latema-Reata Nek 11th March 1916}.

“NEAR MOACHI (sic), R. F. RESTING”  

The Zodiac, Volume 9, No.102, January 1917, Page 167

Having successfully driven the Germans from the Kilimanjaro-Meru area north of the Ruwu River Lieutenant-General Smuts halted the advance in order to reorganise his forces.  Consequently the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers went into camp, firstly at Old Moschi, an unhealthy camp due in no small part to the very wet weather and where they mounted guard at G.H.Q., and thence to Mbuyuni where the battalion was issued with new double fly tents and where they were to stay until 17th May.


The Mounted Infantry Company moved from Taveta to Mbuyuni on 29th March and continued to patrol the surrounding area and the men were also employed in cutting new roads through the bush.  In what was a fairly quiet period with regards contact with the enemy Lieutenants Ryan and Grenfell along with 38 N.C.O.s and men of the Mounted Infantry Company were released from that unit, now to be manned solely by men of the 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and re-joined their parent battalion also at Mbuyuni.


At Mbuyuni the men were able to rest after their exertions with little more to do than mount the necessary battalion picquets, a rifle examination and continued training.  A medical inspection on 17th May by the A.D.M.S. saw 175 men declared unfit to march with the column that would leave the next day on the next phase of the campaign.




Sources:

WO95/5340 - 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1915 May - 1916 Nov.

WO95/5336 - Mounted Infantry Company War Diary 1915 September - 1916 July.

Official History. Military Operations East Africa, Volume I, August 1914 – September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.

Lieut.-General The Hon. J. C. Smuts Despatch dated 30th April 1916, London Gazette, No.29630 dated 20th June 1916.

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

On 5th March the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, reduced in strength to 450 rifles, moved with the 1st East African Division to Neu Moschi to begin their part of Lieut.-General Jan C. Smuts’ three pronged offensive.  This entailed them crossing 35 miles of waterless bush between Longido and Ngare Nanyuki, which they occupied on 6th March, before continuing the advance between Meru and Kilimanjaro to Boma Ngombe, reaching there on the 13th and finally arriving at Neu Moschi on the 14th.  The next phase of the operation was for the division to move on Kahe and thereby cut the German’s line of communication by the Usambara Railway, this was commenced immediately and on 20th March the division’s camp at Store was heavily attacked at night by a German force numbering between 500 and 1000 men. These attacks were repulsed with loss to the enemy, the 25th Battalion’s involvement being limited to the expending of 250 rounds with the 129th D.C.O. Baluchis bearing the brunt of the German assaults. These events were merely a prelude to the next day’s action which saw the division launch a frontal assault on strong German entrenched positions, the east and west flanks of which were protected by the Soko Nassai and Defu Rivers respectively.

The 25th Battalion were initially held in reserve but, after the initial assault by the 29th Punjabis and 129th D.C.O. Baluchis had stalled and, fearing an enemy counter-attack, they were moved forward at 16:00 hours where they came under fire for over an hour before digging in for the night {see Soko Nassai 21st March 1916}.  At dawn on the 22nd the battalion, being sent forward in advance with the 27th Mountain Battery to occupy Ruwu River Bridge, found that the Germans had retired across the Ruwu River under cover of night and proceeded towards Lembeni abandoning a 4.1-inch Königsberg gun which had been destroyed & entrenched south of the river and which the battalion were first to find.

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