The Old and the Bold


Kwa Direma

24th June 1916

In May and June 1916 the British advance into German East Africa had been designed with the initial intention of denying the German forces use of the Central Railway and pushing them further back into the interior of the country.  The British force advanced in three columns, two smaller columns advanced through the Pare Mountains or followed the line of the Tanga railway whilst the main (or No.3) column, of which the 25th Royal Fusiliers were a part, followed the course of the Pangani River.  The battalion spent most of the advance with the Divisional Reserve, marching over difficult, trackless, terrain cutting roads through thick bush as they went.  Rations began to get short as the lines of supply became ever more extended and progress was difficult as the men tired.


After a few days rest at Buiko, where the Pangani and the railway met, the column now pushed on southwards towards the Central Railway.  On 15th June the river was left behind and the trolley line, down which the German forces had retreated, was now followed towards Handeni.  The going was still extremely difficult as routes were cut through the bush but on 17th June they encountered a made road, the first one after marching some 200 miles through thick bush, and arrived at Ssangeni.

The 25th Royal Fusiliers, by now reduced to about 200 rifles, formed a composite battalion with the 2nd Kashmir Rifles and proceeded to join the flying column along with two battalions of South African Infantry (the 5th and 6th), the East African Mounted Rifles, 27th Mountain Battery and the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment’s Machine Gun Company all under the command of Major-General A. R. Hoskins.


On the morning of 23rd June rations of meat and flour were cooked before the flying column left Kangata on what the men were told was to be a long trek, at the end of which they were to expect a fight.  A wide detour west of the main road was made as the column, in single file and stretching out over two or three miles, made for the Lukigura River along a narrow native path through dense bush.  A three hour halt at midnight was the only rest taken and as dawn broke on the 24th June the column, considerably exhausted from their march, arrived at the banks of the river where an unopposed crossing was achieved.


At around 7 a.m. as Brigadier-General Sheppard’s advanced guard approached the Lukigura River contact was made with the German outposts, here they were met with heavy rifle, machine gun and pom-pom fire and deployed to counter the threat.  Sheppard’s orders were, however, to now slow his advance and simply retain the attention of the German defenses so as to allow Major-General Hoskins’s flying column to effect the outflanking of the enemy positions.

“A BIVOUAC IN GERMAN EAST AFRICA”

Times History of the War, Volume 12, Page 85

The flying column had found the going tough as it forced its way south-eastwards along difficult bush track and it was mid-day before the column’s advanced guard, the 2nd Kashmir Rifles, sighted the enemy on a ridge ahead.  The German force at Kwa Direma consisted of the 1st Feldkompagnie along with the 5th and 7th Schützenkompagnie all under the command of Hauptmann Döring.


The Kashmiri advanced guard, ordered to make good the ridge which was flanked by bush on both sides and masked by a strip of cultivated land about half way up, came under heavy fire as they approached the crops and was reinforced by the rest of the battalion.  As reinforcements moved forward in support the Germans retired from the ridge and fell back to defensive positions on another, higher, ridge behind.

With the battalion machine guns and one company in reserve, three companies of the 25th Royal Fusiliers (about 150 men) and two Loyal North Lancashire Regiment machine guns now moved up in support of the Kashmir Rifles as they reorganized in preparation for an assault on the new positions.  At the same time the mountain guns, thus far unable to locate any suitable targets in the thick bush, also moved forward into the infantry line.


The Kashmir Rifles advanced around 12.30 p.m. and, extended in the bush, were met with heavy fire from three or four machine guns, a pom-pom and many rifles.  The Kashmiri’s advance hesitated below the crest of the ridge whereupon the three companies of the 25th Royal Fusiliers under Major H. H. R. White came up on the left flank and, grasping the situation immediately, fixed bayonets and charged the German positions.  Caught up in the moment, the Kashmiris followed the Fusiliers’ charge and were further joined by the mountain battery’s gunners as the assault was driven home and the ridge occupied.  Two German machine guns and a pom-pom were captured intact with their crews being bayonetted and the defending force driven from the ridge in utter rout.  Buchanan later stated in his memoir that “I have never seen men more utterly tired and woebegone than our men at the time of their approach on Lukigura River. They had been marching twenty-four and a half hours, kit-laden and without substantial food; and yet, when they went into battle all fatigue was forgotten, or they were careless of further physical trial; and they fought like madmen – like heroes.”


The retreating Germans were further mauled as they approached the bridge and were engaged by the 29th Punjabis which Sheppard had moved forward across the river for just such a purpose, the remnants of the defending force scattered into the bush.  


For once Smuts’ plan of encirclement had succeeded and the door shut before the Germans could slip away, enemy casualties included 4 Germans and 30 askari killed on the hill, others were later found dead in the bush, with about 21 Germans and 32 askari captured by the two British forces.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers suffered 3 killed and 15 wounded in their charge with the other units in Hoskins’s column suffering a further 3 killed and 11 wounded.  Sheppard’s force suffered 4 killed and 10 wounded.

Casualties

Killed in Action

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13377 Sergeant D. D. Evans

13023 Private T. E. Powell


Died of Wounds

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13071 Private J. D. M. Webster



Wounded

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13196 Private G. Burton

13092 Private J. Curran

15093 Private A. Fishburn

13095 Sergeant F. S. Flynn

13749 Private A. Gibson

12818 Corporal J. Gould

13366 Private A. Hedley

13015 Private W. Hotchkiss

13155 Private A. Jones

13673 Corporal R. Sullivan

plus five unidentified other ranks

Sources:


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

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 27th October 1916, London Gazette, No.29906 dated 17th January 1917.

London Gazette, No.29793, dated 20th October 1916.

London Gazette, No.29940, dated 13th February 1917.

The Times, dated 14th July 1916.

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

I Can Never Say Enough About The Men - Andrew Kerr.

From Hobo to Hunter - C. T. Stoneham.

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By 3.30 p.m. all firing had ceased with the exception of some shelling of the ridge by a German naval gun from beyond the Msiha River.  The first shell landed amongst ‘B’ Coy. of the 25th Royal Fusiliers and slightly wounded a further five men as they camped on the ridge.  Before nightfall reinforcements arrived to take over the position and as they did so rain started to fall and continued to do so throughout the night.  The medical officer had declared the huts in the area out of bounds as they were full of the ticks which spread spirilum fever so, as Stoneham later wrote, the men “lay out in the rain without covering, and slept like the dead, such was our fatigue.  In about forty hours we had marched fifty-seven miles and fought a battle and this night of rain and mud was the climax.”


The action at Kwa Direma saw two men of the 25th Royal Fusiliers awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 13145 Company Sergeant-Major H. J. Poole’s was awarded “For conspicuous gallantry when capturing a pom-pom. He was foremost in a charge, during which the enemy gunners were shot and bayonetted while serving the gun against our attack” and 12904 Lance-Corporal C. Stevens’s “For conspicuous gallantry when capturing a machine gun. He was foremost in the charge, and shot the gunner while the gun was in action.”  

“GERMAN POM-POM CAPTURED BY R.F.”

From Harry Gregory Collection, Image Courtesy of John Harrison

On the 22nd June, after a four day rest, the battalion was once again on the march through thick bush and had a difficult march in very hot and dusty conditions. Camp at Kangata was reached at dark having covered 20 to 25 hard miles and a number of men collapsed on arrival, a further 31 reported sick next morning 12 of whom were hospitalised.


With the enemy now reported to be holding strong defensive positions on the Lukigura River Lieutenant-General Smuts now decided to divide his force and form a flying column in an attempt to get around the position and force the Germans to stand and fight.  The main column (under Brigadier-General S. H. Sheppard) was to demonstrate frontally against the enemy positions on the Lukigura River while at the same time the flying column was to turn the enemy’s left flank.

“’A’ COY. 25TH R.F. GOING INTO ACTION”

From Harry Gregory Collection, Image Courtesy of John Harrison

Additionally, the citation for Major H. H. R. White’s Distinguished Service Order “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He displayed great courage and initiative in handling two companies under heavy fire. He has performed consistent good work throughout, and has at all times set a splendid example” also suggests that his actions at Kwa Direma were foremost in its award.