The Old and the Bold


Bukoba

22nd to 24th June 1915

Although the British Forces in East Africa had been ordered to the defensive {see British East Africa May to December 1915}, Major-General M. J. Tighe still considered it essential to undertake some form of offensive action, if only to restore the morale of his troops.  He made further representations to the War Office and finally obtained sanction to launch a minor offensive operation against a German outpost on Lake Victoria but only on the understanding that nothing would be undertaken that could lead to further complications.  Yet another blow to the already fragile British morale in East Africa was not to be risked.


Tighe had previously identified two possible targets on Lake Victoria against which an operation could be launched.  Mwanza, on the southern shore of the lake was known to be heavily defended and so Bukoba, the German administrative centre for the district south of the River Kagera on the western shore and the location of an important wireless station which formed an integral part of the enemy’s communications, was subsequently chosen for the operation.  It was considered that the destruction of Bukoba would relieve German pressure on the Uganda border and would go some way towards paralysing their operations west of the Lake.


On 6th June 1915 Major-General M. J. Tighe released his Special Force Order and on each units arrival at Kisumu they were issued with Brigadier-General Stewart’s first Operation Order:-

Special Force Order No.1,

Major-Gen. M. J. TIGHE C.B. C.I.E. D.S.O., Comdg. Troops, B.E.A. and Uganda Protectorate.

NAIROBI 6.6.15.


1.   A force as under will operate in the Lake Area under the command of Brigadier-General  

       J. M. STEWART C.B., A.D.C. leaving KISUMU on June 20th 1915.

                                UNIT                                              PRESENT LOCATION

            1 Section 28th Mountain Battery                           NAIROBI

              E. A. R. Maxim Detachment                                        do

      Faridkot Sappers & Miners (less 2 Section)        MOMBASA AREA

         Bridging Detachment Sappers & Miners                 KAJIADO

                         Signal Unit                                                    NAIROBI

            Loyal North Lancs (less 4 Coys.)                                do

           25th Royal Fusiliers (less 4 Coys.)                         KAJIADO

                   3 Coys. 3rd K. A. R.                                          NAIROBI

            No.22C Indian Clearing Hospital                                 do

2.   Ammunition  

     500 rounds per rifle including ammn. carried on person.  300 rounds for Royal Engineer

     units.

3.   Rations

     Units will take 3 days rations from their stations.  A fortnights rations for all units will be

     taken by the Supply & Transport from KISUMU.

4.   Transport

     (a) 300 porters will accompany the force.

     (b) Mules will be supplied for the following Regimental equipment – ammn. (at 150 rounds

     per rifle), signalling, tools, medical.

     (c) Maxims will be carried by Gun porters.

     (d) 12 equipment mules to be taken for Royal Engineer 1st line equipment.

     (e) 1 N.C.O. and 2 men per unit (2 men only in case of units of under 150 men) to arrive at

     Nakuru by the 15.6.15 to take over unit mules.  All mules will be entrained together

     from Nakuru.

5.   Baggage

      Scale of baggage as in Standing Orders, page 3, para.20, no tents.

6.   Returns

     (a) To Director S & T – Strength Return for Ration purposes.

     (b) To General Staff, Command Hdqrs., Return shewing Railway accommodation required

     and approx. weight of stores.  Ammn. and explosives to be shewn separately.  Both

     should be in by Wed. erg. 9.6.15 at latest.

Transcripts of Special Force Order No.1 and Operation Order No.1 from Headquarters Nairobi Area War Diary (NA ref.: WO95/5360)

Preparations, for what was to be an amphibious assault, were commenced and the necessary arrangements made for the force to travel by rail from their various locations to Kisumu, the port and railway terminus for the Uganda railway on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria Nyanza, where they were to assemble on the 19th and 20th June.  The Royal Navy’s lake flotilla, consisting of HMSs “Winifred”, “Usoga”, “Nyanza”, “Kavironda”, “Rusinga” and “Percy Anderson” were also made ready to receive the troops and transport the force across the lake.


18 Officers and 449 men of the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers left their camp at Kajiado and entrained at 7 a.m. on the 18th June for Kisumu. Travelling via Nairobi, Kijabe, Nakuru and Lumbwa they arrived at Kisumu at 10.25 p.m. on the 19th June, marched to the New Pier as per orders, and immediately began embarkation aboard the “Usoga”. Ammunition, Kit, and Stores were embarked along with ’A’ Company whilst the remaining companies slept on shore.


On the morning of the 20th June all the Commanding Officers assembled aboard the “Winifred” at 11.30 a.m. to receive further operational details and maps and Brigadier-General Stewart issued his second Operation Order.

Operation Order No.1

by Brigadier-General J. M. STEWART, C.B., A.D.C. Comdg. NAIROBI Area.

19.6.1915.


 (1) Troops will arrive at Kisumu Railway Station and are allotted to ship as under:-

                    Unit                                Date & Time of Arrival         Ship           Number of Wharf

3 Coys. 3rd King’s African Rifles            19th June 8/25 a.m.       “Nyanza”             New Pier

      4 Coys. Royal Fusiliers                      19th June 11/20 a.m.      “Usoga”               New Pier

           Bridging Section                           19th June 11/20 a.m.     “Nyanza”             New Pier

                  Mules                                    20th June 5/30 a.m.                              II Line New Pier

 Section 28th Mountain Battery              20th June 8/25 a.m.       “Rusinga”             Old Pier

     Section Faridkot Sappers                    20th June 8/25 a.m.         “Usoga”              New Pier

      “D” Coy. 29th Punjabis                    19th June 1/00 p.m.        “Rusinga”            Old Pier

       North Lancs. Regiment                    20th June 11/20 a.m.      “Rusinga”            Old Pier

     E.A.R. Machine Gun Det.                  20th June 11/20 a.m.        “Usoga”             New Pier

           Signal Section                              20th June 11/20 a.m.      “Winifred”           Old Pier

     British Field Ambulance )                                                            “Usoga”             New Pier

     Indian Clearing Hospital )                  17th June 7/15 a.m.         “Rusinga”            Old Pier

 (3)  On arrival at the wharf officers comdg. and staffs of units will proceed on board their ships          when the Commanders will inform them of how the accommodation available has been          allotted.

 (4)  Working parties will then be allotted and all baggage stored on board.  Troops will then be          detrained and marched on board.

 (6)  All ammn. of units will be stored together on each ship under arrangements made by the Senior          Military Officer on board.

 (7)  Drinking water will be provided by the commander of each ship but this should be carefully          issued owing to the supply being very limited.

 (8)  14 days rations for all fighting men, followers and porters will be put on board each ship under

        the orders of the A.D. of Supplies.  Officers rations will be handed over to the ship’s steward          and officers charged for all extras under arrangements made by the Senior Military Officers          with Commanders.

 (9)  Cooking, washing and latrine arrangements will be arranged between the Commanders and the          Senior Military Officers for each ship.

(10)  Five grams of quinine will be taken daily by all fighting men and Indian followers under

         Regimental arrangements.

(11)  Knees should be kept covered and mosquito nets used as much as possible.

(12)  Every attempt will be made to boil drinking water by units when on shore.  Water taken from

         the lake at a distance from the shore is safe for drinking purposes.

(13)  Headqrs. will be in HMS “WINIFRED” where all reports shd. be sent.

                              H.M.S. USOGA

Image courtesy of “The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment Museum via Harry Fecitt”

Operation Order No.2

by Brigadier-General J. M. STEWART, C.B., A.D.C. Comdg. NAIROBI Area.

HMS “WINIFRED” 20.6.1915.

Reference Map 1:150,000 Portion West of VICTORIA NYANZA.

(1)  The enemy’s strength at BUKOBA is probably 13 Europeans, 100 Askaris, 30 Arab levies, 360

      local levies with two guns and two Maxims.  Within 3 days of becoming aware of our attack

      they can collect 54 Europeans, 375 Askaris and 1099 levies with 4 guns and 4 Maxims at

      BUKOBA.

(1b) Our troops are distributed as in attached table.

(2)  It is intended to land the force at BUKOBA, remove the wireless installation and serviceable

      stores and withdraw.

(3)  Transports will rendezvous one mile N. of BUSSIRU ISLAND on Tuesday the 22nd inst. At

      4 a.m.

(a)  The Royal Fusiliers and Machine Guns East Africa Regiment and “C” Section No.26 British

      Field Ambulance will land at 5.30 a.m. just N. of LUBEMBE (2800 yards E.N.E. of BUKOBA

      BOMA) and take up a position to cover the landing of the main force.

(b)  The section 28th Mountain Battery will then be landed followed by a Double Company of the

     L.N.L. Regt. and a Double Company of the 29th Punjabis and “C” Section No.22 Indian

     Clearing Hospital.

(c)  Three Companies 3rd K.A.R., after the main force have effected a landing will, on a signal from

     the Gen. Officer Commanding land at Custom House Bay (1200 yds S of BUKOBA BOMA) and

     co-operate on the left flank.

(4)  Signalling arrangements will be notified in a later order.  In addition to unit signallers there are

     signal detachments on each ship.

(5)  Troops are warned against drinking water near the lake shore.

(6)  All troops will land with one day’s cooked rations and one day’s emergency rations, the latter

     will not be used without orders.

(7)  The bearer sub-division of “C” 22 Indian Clearing Hospital will be established near the landing

     place.  The wounded will be evacuated to the tent sub division of “C”22 Indian Clearing Hospital

     in H.M.S. “RUSINGA”.

(8)  Reports to H.M.S. “WINIFRED”

Transcript of Operation Order No.2 from East African Maxim Gun Company War Diary

(NA ref.: WO95/5338)

‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies embarked at 12 noon along with the East African Regiment’s Machine Gun detachment and the two companies of Faridhkot Sappers and Miners, the whole being under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Driscoll.


The assembled force steamed out of Kisumu at 1.15 p.m. on the 20th June and totalled an approximate strength of 1600 which was considerably larger than the estimated strength of Major von Stuemer’s German forces at Bukoba. Conditions onboard the “Usoga” were unpleasant, as one Fusilier later wrote; “We were simply crowded out, what with 400 Frontiersmen, Indians, 200 native Porters, oxen & mules we were a very smelly combination.  It was impossible to lie down & we just laid on top of each other between decks.  The heat was terrific.”


As the force approached Bukoba in the early hours of the 22nd June they were spotted by the vigilant guard on the island of Bissiru, about four miles from Bukoba itself, who immediately released a number of warning rockets to warn of the impending attack.  With the element of surprise gone, the flotilla retired some distance as a change to the plan of attack was organised, no longer would the force attack Bukoba directly but would instead be landed at a point 3 miles north of the town.  This tactical change confused the enemy who still expected the attack to be launched as originally intended and had manned Bukoba’s defences accordingly.  The main landing, when it came at 5.45 a.m., was therefore virtually unopposed.  As previously ordered the 25th Royal Fusiliers stood to arms at 4 a.m. and were disembarked first by company. The 100 or so men of ‘A’ Company were first to disembark, followed then by ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘B’ companies, all tightly packed in heavy row-boats as they, along with the maxims of the East African Regiment and the Faridhkot Sappers, were rowed to the shore.  After negotiating thick bush and a precipitous, almost cliff-like slope, they pushed their way through banana plantations and, by 6.15 a.m., had taken up defensive positions to cover the landing of the rest of the main force.  The landing, by troops with no previous experience of such an operation, had been a complete success as the Germans, believing that a landing at that spot was impossible, had failed to guard against the possibility and been caught by surprise.


At 8 a.m. the 25th Royal Fusiliers, perhaps prematurely, started to advance across the intervening valley towards the North-East hill before support for its flanks was in position.  Under covering fire from the four East African Regiment maxims ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies led the way in front with ‘D’ Company on the right flank and with ‘B’ Company in reserve.  The advance was almost immediately met with considerable opposition from front and left flanks as the German forces moved to counter the attack and the battalion was held there whilst supporting units continued to be landed.


Two Guns of the 28th Mountain Battery, with an escort of 29th Punjabis, were disembarked from the “Rusinga” to provide artillery cover for the advance and the two companies of the 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment followed, moving to take up a position on the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ right flank. The remaining 29th Punjabis and the Field Ambulance onboard the “Rusinga” were disembarked before noon.  At this point the King’s African Rifles companies were also landed from the “Nyanza”.  Forced to move their landing place to a beach about a mile south of that of the main force due to the fire from a German gun sited near the customs house, they were moved forward to fill the gap between the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ left flank and the lake and remained in that position for the rest of the day.


The mountain battery’s guns were brought into action around 11 a.m. as the infantry moved forward.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers, with ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies in front began to advance.  ‘B’ Company, relieved of the role of force reserve by the 29th Punjabis, was moved forward in support of the lead companies’ left flank with ‘D’ Company performing the same function on the right.  As they advanced ‘D’ Company encountered boggy ground in its way and pulled to the left towards the two centre companies.  In consequence one and a half companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, the other half company was already supporting the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ main advance, was ordered forward in support of the battalion’s right flank and to attack the high ground (Arab Ridge) across the valley.

By 4 p.m. the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ attack had reached the bottom of rocks in front of a small kopje, soon to be known as Fusilier Knoll, and they were quickly in possession as the German forces retired.  The advance continued and by about 5.30 p.m. the German’s had evacuated the whole of their positions in the hills and fallen back on the town.  ‘B’ Company, with half ‘C’ Company and the half company of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, cleared the rest of the hill (Gun Spur) and Arab Ridge was occupied by the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment companies after a German machine gun had been knocked out by the guns of the Mountain Battery.


Occupation of this high ground thus ended operations for the day.  Casualties for the day had been relatively light, the 25th Royal Fusiliers had suffered three killed and nine wounded, three of whom would subsequently succumb to their wounds, whilst the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment’s losses was one killed and five wounded and the 3rd King’s African Rifles three wounded.

“THE ADVANCE ON BUKOBA”

Adventures with Animals and Men, Page 193 - Cherry Kearton

‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies, along with the East African Regiment’s Maxims, spent the night on Fusilier Knoll whilst ‘D’ Company camped in a banana plantation between the knoll and hill with a company of 29th Punjabis and the Field Ambulance.  The remainder of the force camped on the hill.  The men had “had a very hard day, having had nothing to eat” and through their exertions were exhausted.  Wet through and very cold “having been thro’ a lot of swamps & dongas up to our neck” and with no provisions reaching them from the boats, the men of the 25th Royal Fusiliers spent “a pretty miserable sort of a night” on the knoll.  Sleep was hard to come by as the temperature dropped through the night and the occasional German sniping meant the men got little or no rest.


The men stood to arms before dawn on the morning of the 23rd June and, having still received no rations, prepared to recommence operations.  Orders were issued that the 25th Royal Fusiliers would advance directly on the town of Bukoba whilst the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment would work round it from the north-west and advance on the “White House”, the Protestant mission flying the Red Cross flag and where the Germans had sited a field gun.  The 29th Punjabis, on the right flank and the 3rd King’s African Rifles, on the high ground in the centre, were to be held in reserve.

At 6.15 a.m. a patrol of twenty men under Lieutenant Selous was ordered to reconnoitre Bukoba in order to ascertain what forces were defending it.  After leaving the hill and proceeding through a number of banana plantations and patchy bush they emerged onto an open plain covered in grass about two feet high. Following the road as they moved towards the town the patrol had covered about 1500 yards when they were fired upon by a German machine gun and took cover.  This was the signal for ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies to advance in support of the patrol and to be further followed, a half hour later, by the remaining two companies and the East African Regiment maxims.


Progress was delayed by an abortive German counter-attack on the centre right of the advancing British line which had been closely supported by accurate machine gun fire until it had been located by the mountain guns and silenced.  A torrential downpour followed, reducing visibility and temporarily depriving the advance of its artillery support but, after an hour, this stopped and a general advance from all points was possible.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers, with artillery support from the mountain guns and also the guns onboard the ships, made steady progress across the plain along the edge of swampy ground and entered the town at about 12.30 p.m. having encountered little opposition bar a few snipers.  It would appear that the defenders had, by then, withdrawn from the town.  ‘D’ Company advanced towards the wireless station and fort whilst ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies were pushed through the town to a ridge behind it to guard against any counter-attack.  They were joined on the surrounding hills by the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment who had advanced successfully towards the “White House” and had established themselves around the mission.  At 1 p.m. the flag flying above Bukoba Fort was pulled down and the raising of the Union Flag announced to all that Bukoba had been taken.

“BUKOBA: THE GERMAN FLAG HAULED DOWN AT THE COMMANDANT’S HOUSE”

Times History of the War, Volume X, Page 148

The 25th Royal Fusiliers had again borne the bulk of the casualties on the second day of the operation as they suffered a further three killed and five wounded, the East African Regiment Maxim Company one man killed and four wounded and the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment one wounded.


With Bukoba now in British possession the Faridhkot Sappers were called forward and details decided for its destruction.  The wireless station was completely destroyed as were all four towers of the fort.  The rest of the fort, the town’s arsenal, commandant’s house, another smaller magazine on a hill south of the town and the bazaar were burnt and great quantities of ammunition destroyed.


There now followed a period of wanton destruction and looting of the town by some members of the 25th Royal Fusiliers and other units.  Commonly referred to as the “Sack of Bukoba” it would appear that Lieutenant-Colonel Driscoll requested the permission of Brigadier-General Stewart to allow his men to do so as reward for their success.  This destruction and the ill-behaviour of the troops involved was an embarrassment to the higher command in British East Africa, it was quickly swept under the carpet and, as a consequence, no recommendations for bravery awards during the operation were granted.

With order restored and the operation successfully concluded new orders were issued for the troops to re-embark aboard the various ships down at the Custom House Landing Stage.  Each Regiment involved furnished a number of picquets and outposts to cover the withdrawal of the troops as they commenced loading, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies performing that task from the Royal Fusiliers.  ‘C’ Company were first to re-embark aboard the “Usoga” at 10 p.m. followed by ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies in the early hours of the 24th June with ‘B’ Company being last to embark at 6 a.m.  At 12 noon, with the embarkation of all troops completed, the fleet sailed from Bukoba.


The journey back to Kisumu was an unpleasant one, the decks of the steamer were extremely crowded as the men had to share the space with a number of mules. A swarm of flies forty miles out darkened the sky and this was followed by a violent storm which made the lake extremely rough and meant that sea-sickness, as well as the rain, had to be endured until the flotilla eventually reached Kisumu on the 25th June.

“TROPHIES FROM BUKOBA”

Times History of the War, Volume X, Page 150

Sources:

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

WO95/5339 - 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment War Diary 1914 October - 1916 September.

WO95/5340 - 29th Punjabis War Diary 1914 August - 1916 October.

WO95/5338 - East African Maxim Gun Company War Diary 1915 March - 1916 May.

WO95/5338 - Faridhkot Imperial Service Sappers & Miners War Diary 1914 August - 1915 October.

WO95/5360 - Headquarters Nairobi Area War Diary 1915 January - 1915 December.

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

Imperial War Museum Documents.7754 - Private Papers of C Turner.

The East African Standard, Saturday, July 3, 1915.

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

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

Copyright © 2012 - All Rights Reserved - Steve Eeles - www.25throyalfusiliers.co.uk

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Killed

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13148 Sergeant J. Brain

12936 Private P. Ashworth

12946 Private G. Griffiths

13387 Company Sergeant Major J. W. Bottomley

13033 Private W. H. Dimmock

14900 Private F. A. Mucklow


2nd Bn. Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

10234 Private F. Knighton


East African Regiment Maxim Gun Company

31 Private B. P. Junor


Died of Wounds

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13016 Lance Corporal A. W. Rumsey

12994 Private A. J. Wandless


Wounded

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13484 Lance Sergeant S. Beattie

15115 Private C. Jackson

13051 Private H. Bird *

12855 Corporal E. G. Braddon

12921 Private E. Seymour

12919 Private T. Hobbs

15058 Private J. Hanley

Major R. B. Webb

13212 Private W. Pate

12689 Corporal R. Howard

13041 Lance Corporal J. L. Piggin

13204 Company Sergeant Major W. Farrell


2nd Bn. Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

9917 Lance Corporal F. Joyner

10197 Private J. Kelly

10280 Private W. Lowther

9663 Private J. O’Wash

10291 Lance Corporal R. Douglas

9265 Lance Corporal W. Kelleher


East African Regiment Maxim Gun Company

Lieutenant F. A. Batchelor

26 Sergeant D. Silver

6 Private A. Black

99 Private D. Hughes


3rd Bn. King’s African Rifles

Three unidentified Askari


* Subsequently died of wounds received

Casualties