25th Royal Fusiliers: German East Africa 2

The Old and the Bold

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German East Africa

January to February 1917

The operations in the Rufiji area involved an advance on three fronts.  In the west Beves’ 2nd South African Brigade would make a wide detour and secure a crossing over the river and then swing eastwards towards Mkalinso where it was hoped that any German forces retreating southwards would be caught, this column passed through the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ camp at Old Kissaki on 30th December.  In the east Brigadier-General Cunliffe’s Nigerian Brigade supported by some Indian troops and split into two columns was to launch a holding attack on the German forces around Duthumi and also work around their eastern flank whilst the 1st East African Brigade, including the 25th Royal Fusiliers, would advance in the centre around the German’s western flank.


Heavy rain had temporarily postponed the main advance on the Mgeta front for a few days but, having joined the 1st East African Brigade on the last day of December, the battalion left Kissaki on 1st January and advanced at the head of the main body of the brigade, the 3rd Kashmir Rifles being in advance and 30th Punjabis providing the rearguard, towards the main German camp at Kwa Hongo.  Contact was made with the enemy a few hours after the advance began and, by early afternoon, the Germans had been driven out of his positions with heavy loss of men and material, the 25th Royal Fusiliers suffering five wounded in the action.  As the Germans withdrew before the 1st East African Brigade’s advance, the 130th King George’s Own Baluchis, temporarily detached from the brigade to provide a screen preventing information reaching the German forces that Beves’ South Africans had departed Kirengwe and to stop the enemy retreating through Wiransi, were involved in a short, but severe, action before occupying Wiransi itself.


The 25th Royal Fusiliers camped for the night in the enemy’s deserted positions without incident before pushing on, with the rest of the brigade, early the following morning to Wiransi.


It became apparent on the 2nd January that the whole enemy force on the Mgeta front had retired to the south of the British forces and, with the existence of a position on the Tchogowali River near Beho-Beho already known, it was expected that the enemy forces would concentrate there.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers and 1st East African Brigade left Wiransi and marched on bush tracks towards Fuga before striking south towards the Behobeho River.  Camp was pitched in the bush that night before continuing the march next morning towards Behobeho Tchogowali.  After an exhausting day marching through most difficult country Brigadier-General Sheppard halted his exhausted troops a few miles short of their objective.

The morning of the 4th January saw the 1st East African Brigade strike camp at 5.30 a.m. and five hours later, in dense bush, they encountered an enemy force retiring from Behobeho Kwa Mahinda.  After a sharp engagement in which the 25th Royal Fusiliers were heavily involved {See Beho Beho 4th January 1917} the Germans were able to extricate themselves and withdraw southwards towards the Rufiji River.


Having camped the night at Tchogowali the battalion marched out at 7 a.m. the following morning with the 2nd Echelon of the 1st East African Brigade in pursuit of the Germans.  They arrived at Kibambawe to find that the enemy had crossed the Rufiji River and was holding the right bank, with no intention to immediately cross the river the battalion camped that same evening some 800 yards from the river.

As it transpired Behobeho was to be the battalion’s last taste of significant action for some time.  The next few days saw the battalion in camp at Kibambawe with the men being employed in ferrying the other East African Brigade troops across the river whilst the battalion’s machine guns were used to cover the crossing but their involvement at the front was to be short lived.  The Rufiji Valley, it was now decided, “was not a place to in which to retain European troops already war-worn, lantern-jawed, emaciated and drenched with fever.” when a medical inspection of the 25th Royal Fusiliers found only 44 men fit for further service.  On 10th January orders were received for the battalion to return to Morogoro and on the 11th, accompanied by the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, they commenced their journey.  All marches were performed at night as earlier marches were retraced, Wiransi, Dakawa, Duthumi, Tulo, Summit, the Ruwu River and Kashmir Camp were all revisited before they arrived at Mikesse on the 21st and there entrained for Morogoro on the 22nd.  


Morogoro was reached the following day and camp pitched south of the railway and it was here that the battalion would remain for the next month.  Morogoro was an unhealthy place, the sick parade averaged 35 to 40 daily and on the 16th February about 100 men were declared unfit for further active service by the P. M. O. (Principal Medical Officer) and put aside to go to South Africa by Hospital Ship and thence back to the UK.

With the battalion “much pulled down by sickness and long stay in this country”  Lieutenant-General A. R. Hoskins suggested in a telegram to the War Office that “they be sent to South Africa for a change, and all unfit invalided home.” Having received approval from the War Office and the Union Government the battalion, numbering only 301 men including officers, entrained at Morogoro on 23rd February and moved to Dar es Salaam.  Arriving there the following day they marched to the Imperial Detail Camp where they would draw some fresh kit, namely an overcoat, shirt and two pairs of drawers by order of the D. M. S. (Director of Medical Services) and where they would stay for only two nights.  At 11 a.m. on the 26th February the battalion marched down to the docks and embarked on the “Professor” en route for South Africa and some much needed rest and recuperation.



Sources:

WO95/5332 - 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1916 Dec. - 1917 Feb.

WO95/5334 - 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1917 Feb. - 1917 May.

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

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

The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa – Lieut-Col. A. E. Capell.

WO33/858 – Telegrams, East Africa 1915-1917.

Reminiscences of Charles Shaw, Liddle Collection.

“FRONTIERSMEN CROSSING THE RUVU BY TEMPORARY BRIDGE, JANUARY 17”

Underwood & Underwood (London) Ltd, Stereoscope No.84

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