25th Royal Fusiliers: Tandamuti

The Old and the Bold


Tandamuti

3rd August 1917

At the end of July 1917 the German forces on the Kilwa front had been reinforced, at the expense of either their reserves or of units from the Lindi front.  This move prompted Lieutenant-General van Deventer’s decision to push his own troops in the Lindi area forward and thus improve his position in the region in readiness for possible action against enemy forces should they retreat into the Massassi area.


At 3 p.m. on 1st August an advanced group of the 25th Royal Fusiliers, consisting of an entrenching party, scouts and the R.Q.M.S. under the command of Second Lieutenant Pyman, left camp at Mayani and proceeded to Mingoyo in order to prepare the camp site there for the arrival of the battalion later in the day. Three hours later the remainder of the battalion, some 240 strong with 16 officers, marched out of camp at Mayani en route for Mingoyo from whence they would commence the advance.

Preparations continued on the 2nd August and that afternoon orders for the advance were communicated to the battalion officers by Acting Major J. F. Ellison R.M.L.I., at that time second in command of the battalion.  The force would undertake a frontal advance, in three columns, against German positions from Tandamuti Hill to Mandawa on the left bank of the Lukuledi River.  Enemy strength was estimated at around 1300 in total with twenty machine guns and to consist of 19th and 20th FeldKompagnies, ‘S’ and ‘O’ Kompagnies with another four companies in support.


The 25th Royal Fusiliers were to be in the left, or main, column and with them in this column, under the direct command of the G.O.C., Brigadier-General O’Grady, would be the 3/4th King’s African Rifles and 259th Machine Gun Company with the enemy’s right flank on Tandamuti Hill, garrisoned by ‘S’ Kompagnie, as their objective.  The rest of the force would consist of the 30th Punjabis forming the centre column and 3/2nd King’s African Rifles the right.  Artillery support for the assault was limited and consisted only of two 13-pounder guns of the 3rd South African Field Battery and a solitary 5” howitzer of the 134th Battery.

At 3 a.m. on 3rd August the 25th Royal Fusiliers, mustering about 200 men, moved out of Mingoyo and at 4.30 a.m. linked up with the 3/4th King’s African Rifles, who were to become the column’s advance guard, on the road to Tandamuti.


A few hours later, at around 8 a.m., the 3/4th King’s African Rifles came in touch with the enemy’s picquets who conducted a fighting withdrawal, back onto prepared positions, before the advancing column.  With the 25th Royal Fusiliers being held in reserve the 3/4th King’s African Rifles were ordered to advance against the German positions which turned out to be well fortified and, under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, their advance stalled.


“25th ROYAL FUSILIERS (FRONTIERSMEN) IN EAST AFRICA”

Image Source Unknown

“A STOKES GUN IN ACTION IN THE LINDI AREA”

With the Nigerians in German East Africa, Captain W. D. Downes

One company of the 25th Royal Fusiliers was moved forward at 10 a.m. to strengthen the King’s African Rifles and these were soon followed by the Stokes Mortars, another company of Royal Fusiliers and the battalion machine guns.  The two companies of Fusiliers charged the enemy position but found a concealed boma of thorn bush and wire that proved impossible to penetrate, nor tear away, despite repeated attempts whilst under a heavy rifle & machine gun fire.


With a breakthrough seemingly impossible and the assault losing all cohesion with the King’s African Rifles having become scattered and losing touch, the decision was taken for the companies of 25th Royal Fusiliers to retire some fifty yards and regroup.  Laying down they continued to maintain a heavy fire on the German positions whilst they themselves were subjected to the same.  The failure of the main column to take its objective as their advance came to a standstill meant that the left flank of the centre column, 30th Punjabis, became unsupported as it too advanced.  Being heavily counter-attacked by the German’s reserve they were compelled to withdraw as they sustained heavy casualties and lost all of their British officers.


Sometime between 2 and 3 p.m. what was already a discouraging situation for the troops on Tandamuti Hill took a turn for the worse as a strong German company of askaris with about eight Germans, having repelled the Punjabi’s assault and no doubt intending to now attack the forces on Tandamuti Hill, swung right and broke across the line of communication in the rear. The advanced field hospital, established in a covered area beneath the slope, with an escort of an officer and fifteen rifles of the Royal Fusiliers, was rushed.  The officer and one man were wounded and another captured, the rest of the escort and much of the field hospital scattered into the bush and eventually rejoined later.

With no signs of the situation improving, the troops on the hill were by now suffering from a lack of water and with the front collapsing under the continuing German counter-attacks, the decision was eventually taken by the G.O.C. to retire and deal with the enemy in the rear.  At 5 p.m. the order for the 25th Royal Fusiliers to cover the retirement came and they, along with the 3/4th King’s African Rifles, were able to take up successive covering positions to hold back the pursuing enemy and allow the successful withdrawal of the troops from the hill.


With the engagement effectively over the 25th Royal Fusiliers, after a brief skirmish with a German detachment, made their way back to Ziwani where they halted and, in line with the other British forces, entrenched in preparation for a fresh advance.


Casualties sustained by the British forces in what had proven to be a disastrous and ultimately futile attack, were heavy, totalling about five hundred in all.  Of the four infantry units involved in the action on 3rd August the 25th Royal Fusiliers emerged having taken the lightest casualties, suffering as they did seven killed, nineteen wounded (including three officers) and one taken prisoner.

Killed in Action

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13503 Sergeant W. Harding

36117 Private A. Kaye

13339 Private S. A. Seume

14940 Sergeant J. Toole

36125 Private T. Weightman


Died of Wounds

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

13359 Corporal A. Harden

12859 Lance Corporal J. Marshall


Taken Prisoner

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

41058 Private W. Parker




Casualties

Wounded

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

Captain G. Kemsley

Second Lieutenant H. Johnson

Second Lieutenant M. C. Reid.

15035 Private J. Brown

36007 Private W. C. Buckle *

36017 Private W. Cannan

35176 Private F. Carquest

49735 Private C. Crofton

47116 Private A. Crossley

47117 Private D. Dare

29682 Private J. Drake

13511 Sergeant W. Eagers

35169 Private E. James

7162 Lance Corporal S. James

13547 Corporal W. Kendrick

41060 Private J. Reid

10759 Private S. Tappenden

15003 Private J. T. Taylor

47688 Private E. Tibbett

47130 Private G. Waters

* Note

According to the battalion war diary 36007 Private W. C. Buckle is not shown in the casualty list as having been wounded on 3rd August 1917.  However, he is named on the official War Office casualty list which includes all of those wounded on that date and, as the battalion were not involved in any other action around that date, I have assumed that he was a 3rd August casualty.


Sources:


WO95/5325 - 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1917 May - 1917 Sep.

CAB44/10 - Draft Official History, East Africa: Volume II, Chapter XVIII; Kilwa, Nyangao and Tandamuti.

Lieut.-General Sir J. L. van Deventer’s Despatch dated 21st January 1918, London Gazette, No.30611 dated 5th April 1918.

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

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

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