25th Royal Fusiliers: Soko Nassai

The Old and the Bold


Soko Nassai

21st March 1916

After the initial objectives of Lieutenant-General J. C. Smuts’ three pronged offensive had failed to achieve the decisive success hoped for at the beginning of March with the Germans falling back before the British advance rather than being effectively brought to battle, there would be no let up in the pursuit as the next phase of operations was launched immediately.


On the 19th March the general advance on the three fronts was continued but progress was difficult due to almost impenetrable bush.  Brigadier-General S. H. Sheppard’s 2nd East African Brigade, with the 450 rifles of the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in the main body, were moved forward from Neu Moschi to the Mue River and then onwards as the Germans were pushed back on Store.  The battalion themselves met with no opposition but some was encountered by the brigade’s advanced guard as they approached Store.


The brigade bivouacked at Store overnight and, expecting some German retaliation on the 20th March, spent the day consolidating the position by clearing bush and improving the trenches in preparation for an assault.  The day passed off fairly quietly save for the occasional sniping but at around 9 p.m. the Germans, mustering between 500 and 1000 men, launched an attack on the camp’s advanced positions held by men of the 29th Punjabis and 129th D.C.O. Baluchis who had been sent forward to strengthen the firing line when the attack commenced.  Time after time the German bugles sounded the advance and each time the attack was repulsed by the rifles and machine guns of the Indian troops.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers fired 250 rounds to search bush from one piquet but were not otherwise engaged in the action.  The Germans, finding it impossible to penetrate the British lines and with fairly heavy loss, finally called off the attack at 1 a.m. on the 21st March and withdrew to a strong defensive position on the Soko Nassai River.

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Killed in Action

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13401 Lance Sergeant R. Ferguson

13009 Lance Corporal A. Harrison



The British force now recommenced its advance towards the Ruwu River and the 1st Division moved forward to launch its own assault on the entrenched German position across the Mue-Kahe road, the east and west flanks of which were afforded good protection by the Soko Nassai and Defu Rivers. On the right the 6th and 8th South African Infantry, with the 7th in support, advanced between the road and the Defu River whilst the 2nd East African Brigade advanced on the left between the road and Soko Nassai, the 29th Punjabis advancing in front supported by the 129th D.C.O. Baluchis.  The 25th Royal Fusiliers left Store at 11 a.m. with the Divisional Reserve which also included the 5th South African Infantry and 1st King’s African Rifles. Artillery support was provided by two batteries, the 1st and 3rd, of the South African Field Artillery, No.12 (Howitzer) Battery and the 27th Mountain Battery which moved in close support of the advancing troops.


At about 12.40 p.m. the lead troops advanced into an area of open grassland across which it was found impossible to pass as it was well covered by concealed German machine guns and snipers.  Despite valiant efforts by the lead battalions to cross the open ground in the face of heavy fire a frontal assault against the enemy position proved impossible and the advance stalled.


A flanking movement was then attempted by a double company of 29th Punjabis which crossed the Soko Nassai River in an attempt to turn the German position but this too could make no progress in the face of heavy fire and, despite being strengthened by a company of 129th D.C.O. Baluchis, this advance also stalled.

As casualties continued to increase it was anticipated that the Germans would launch a hostile counter attack so at 4 p.m. these companies were recalled from across the river and the 25th Royal Fusiliers and 5th South African Infantry were ordered forward from the reserve to reinforce the front line.  All four companies and the machine gun section of the 25th Royal Fusiliers were under fire for an hour before receiving the order to dig in for the night, the 29th Punjabis on the left and South Africans on the right conformed to their digging but the expected German assault failed to materialize.

Brigadier-General Sheppard now intended to hold his front line with the South African battalions attached to his command and use the 2nd East African Brigade to turn the German right flank.  At dawn on the 22nd March the 25th Royal Fusiliers, being sent forward in advance with the 27th Mountain Battery to occupy the Ruwu River Bridge, found that the Germans had abandoned its defences and retired across the river under cover of night.  In the process of completing a hasty retirement the Germans had destroyed and abandoned one of their 4.1-inch Königsberg guns which the battalion were first to find.

 

Total British casualties for the 21st March numbered in the region of 290 with the 25th Royal Fusiliers suffering two men killed, twelve wounded & three with slight scratches.


During the course of the day’s action on the 21st March 13359 Private A. Harden earned the first Distinguished Conduct Medal to be awarded to the battalion during the campaign, his citation stating that it was awarded “For conspicuous gallantry in going out under heavy fire and bringing in a wounded man of another unit.”

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 30th April 1916, London Gazette, No. 29630 dated 20th June 1916.

London Gazette, No. 29684, dated 27th July 1916.

The Times, dated 14th April 1916.

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

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

The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War - H. C. O’Neill.


Casualties

Wounded

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

15035 Private J. D. Brown

12887 Private G. V. Dockery

13112 Sergeant-Major D. Foster

13615 Private H. Hobby

15175 Private W. Hill

13473 Lance Sergeant J. Izett

13140 Lance Corporal H. Jackson

13390 Sergeant V. Lewis

13720 Private L. W. Lockett

13022 Lance Corporal E. McArdle

12860 Private D. McLeay

14819 Lance Corporal B. Moore

13379 Private R. P. Newman

14960 Private E. H. Pickering

13147 Sergeant W. M. Smith

15003 Private J. T. Taylor

“GERMAN GUN OFF THE “KONIGSBERG” DESTROYED AT KAHE”  

The Zodiac, Volume 9, No.102, January 1917, Page 169

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