25th Royal Fusiliers: Ziwani

The Old and the Bold


Ziwani

11th June 1917

The first week of June 1917 saw the 25th Royal Fusiliers in camp at Lindi as part of Brigadier-General O’Grady’s column, a column which also comprised the 3/2nd King’s African Rifles, the Machine Gun Section and Trench Mortars of the 2nd West India Regiment, a section of the 3rd Battery South African Field Artillery and a company of the 61st Pioneers.


The battalion was exercised daily in marching and bush formation as well as in active reconnaissance in preparation for a forthcoming operation to clear the enemy, with an estimated strength of about six companies, from the Ngapa-Schaeffer's Farm-Mayani area.


The estuary of the Lukuledi River extended past the flank of the German positions thus offering the chance of encirclement and the opportunity to cut the trolley line above Mingoyo, this would also prevent the enemy removing a Königsberg gun from the area.  With this in mind the operation was to involve an advance by two columns, the right column, under Lieutenant-Colonel Law of the 2nd West India Regiment, and consisting of the 5th Infantry, 1/2nd King’s African Rifles, half of the 259th Machine Gun Company and a section of 27th Mountain Battery would move from Lindi via Naitiwi and Mayani.  The main column, of which the 25th Royal Fusiliers were a part, under the overall command of Brigadier-General O’Grady, would be taken up the Lukuledi River by the Royal Navy and operate to the east of Mandawa from Mkawa Creek.  As part of the preparations for the Army and Navy working closely together the battalion was involved in a practice embarkation at Lindi on 9th June in readiness for the operation’s commencement the following night.

“CONVEYING TROOPS BY BOAT”

Times History of the War, Volume 12, Page 111

The night of 10th/11th June had been chosen as being favourable for the operation as a high tide was expected at 7.30 p.m. and the moon would not rise until around 11 p.m. thus affording a few hours of darkness in which to pass the German positions and effect a landing.  At 6 p.m. all was ready and the British force, including 400 rifles and three machine guns of the 25th Royal Fusiliers in two lighters, was towed up the Lukuledi estuary by the Royal Navy.


As the force was towed towards its landing point two star shells were sent up by the Germans as the lighters carrying the 25th Royal Fusiliers passed Kala Island, illuminating the moving vessels, but no fire was forthcoming from the shore.  The intended landing point, the pier at the terminus of the trolley line from Mkwaya, was reached and a small German outpost there driven off by the Navy’s machine guns.  The 3/2nd King’s African Rifles were first ashore with the 25th Royal Fusiliers commencing their disembarkation around 10 p.m. and completing their landing an hour later.

Brigadier-General O’Grady had initially planned to cut the trolley line near the Mandawa Hills by way of a wide turning movement about Mkwaya and Tandamuti and accordingly sent the 3/2nd King’s African Rifles off at 11 p.m. to the foothills of Tandamuti.  However, after reconnaissance of the ground in front of him, he modified his plan and decided instead to advance directly on Schaedel’s Lower Farm in order to protect his landing place.  A message was sent to the 3/2nd King’s African Rifles to conform to this movement and at 3 a.m. the 25th Royal Fusiliers began to advance towards Ziwani Ridge.

“THREADING THE JUNGLE”

Times History of the War, Volume 10, Page 143

Two of the 25th Royal Fusiliers’ machine guns were moved to the side being most strongly attacked and returned fire as reinforcements, including the company of 61st Pioneers, were moved forward.  After a severe exchange of fire lasting upwards of an hour ‘A’ Company of the 25th Royal Fusiliers, supported by the 61st Pioneers, launched a sudden counter-attack with the bayonet which, despite the unwelcome attention from swarms of infuriated bees, threw back the German troops in confusion and captured two of the machine guns and part of the third.


This was the end of the action as far as the 25th Royal Fusiliers were concerned, camp was made on the ridge and patrols sent out.  Heavy firing was heard to the south-west at around 5 p.m. which turned out to be the 3/2nd King’s African Rifles in an encounter with two further German companies but, due to the dense expanse of bush between the two British forces, Brigadier-General O’Grady decided not to reinforce them and instead held his ground.


Patrols were again sent out on the 12th June but failed to find any trace of enemy.  As it transpired the German forces had escaped envelopment and withdrawn inland, towards Tandamuti, taking the Königsberg gun with them along a hidden trolley line.  Leaving a number of outposts to hold the ground gained, Brigadier-General O’Grady withdrew his troops back to Lindi, the 25th Royal Fusiliers arriving there on the 14th June having marched by way of Schaeffer’s Farm and Kiduki.

Casualties suffered by the 25th Royal Fusiliers in the action at Ziwani were four killed, including an officer, two officers and  eleven other ranks wounded and two other ranks missing.


Although not directly stated as such, the subsequent citations for their awards suggest that the action at Ziwani resulted in two men of the 25th Royal Fusiliers receiving medals for gallantry in the face of the enemy.  Lieutenant Angus Buchanan, the commanding officer of the battalion’s machine gun section, was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in bringing up his machine guns with great skill and fearlessness into the heart of an attack, during which he silenced an enemy machine gun, which was afterwards captured” and the Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to 15035 Private J. D. Brown “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in working his machine gun with great fearlessness, skill and determination during severe fighting, in which an enemy machine gun was silenced and captured.

Casualties

Killed in Action

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

Second Lieutenant A. H. Robinson

17403 Private F. E. Mills

35166 Private E. Searle

47690 Private A. T. Shoebridge


Died of Wounds

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

15110 Lance Corporal R. H. A. Wheeler


Missing

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

15016 Private G. F. Reynolds *

9439 Lance Corporal S. J. Smith *


* Subsequently reported as Killed.

Wounded

25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers

Captain P. Sutton Page

Captain M. Ryan

47476 Sergeant H. W. Coram

25059 Private J. E. Hawksby

47445 Private A. Tucker

14847 Private A. S. Simms

plus six unidentified other ranks

Sources:


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

CAB44/9 - Draft Official History, East Africa: Volume II, Chapter XVII; The Campaign of 1917: Preliminary.

WO339/36825 - Personal File of A. W. Lloyd

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

London Gazette, No.30466, dated 9th January 1918.

London Gazette, No.30495, dated 26th January 1918.

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

The Great War Letters of Roland Mountfort - Chris Holland & Rob Phillips.

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

Copyright © 2013-2018 - All Rights Reserved - Steve Eeles - www.25throyalfusiliers.co.uk

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Having proceeded inland for about nine miles, in single file through dense bush and along a narrow bush path, the battalion reached the main German position overlooking the narrow and swampy Mohambika valley.  The enemy position was on a rocky, bush covered, ridge which offered good cover whereas the slope on the Fusiliers’ side was devoid of cover having been cultivated.  To proceed further, without support and across swampy ground, would have proved disastrous so the Royal Fusiliers halted and took up positions opposite the enemy who by now were using their machine guns to good effect.


As part of the combined Army/Navy operation the guns of the Royal Naval gunboat Thistle, the monitor Severn along with cruisers Hyacinth and Minerva were now brought to bear on German positions at Schaeffer’s Farm and Arab House in response to signals received from shore.


Whilst this bombardment was in progress Brigadier-General O’Grady joined the Fusiliers on Ziwani Ridge and awaited the arrival of the 3/2nd King’s African Rifles in order that the advance could be continued.  This anticipated support failed to materialize however and instead, during the afternoon, whilst one company of the 25th Royal Fusiliers had been sent back for rations and reserve ammunition, the Germans mounted an attack against the Fusiliers’ left flank.

“ZIWANI RIDGE”

From Harry Gregory Collection, Image Courtesy of John Harrison

At around 1.30 p.m. a German force, comprised of elements of the 16th FeldKompagnie and Tanga Company, worked three machine guns and a strong force of rifles up through the thick bush to within 30 yards of the Fusiliers’ firing line and opened a heavy fire which compelled the battalion to lay low and, due to lack of ammunition, fix bayonets and not return fire.  During this period the 25th Royal Fusiliers suffered five men wounded.

“NASH, BROWN D.C.M. & HINE, 25th R.F.”

From Harry Gregory Collection, Image Courtesy of John Harrison