First shots of the war, 1914

It is generally accepted that Alhaji Grunshi (Gold Coast Regiment) fired the first shot of the war in Togoland. However, this needs clarification as two dates are generally offered – 7 August 1914 and 12 August 1914. An online search will invariably show that the same author has interchanged the dates in different articles, myself included.

Doing a final proofread of a chapter on the end(s) of the war in Africa, I thought it best to double check the date the first shot was fired only to discover that the author(s) I had relied on for an accurate date were ultimately in disagreement. The only thing to do was to go back to the original source material.*

The War Diaries provided no clue, although tended to suggest that of the two dates, 12 August would be the most likely. This was confirmed by Moberly in Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons (Official History p8). The shot was fired at Togblekove (near Lomé) in response to fire by a German police force in the area.

With this statment in mind, clarification of the first shot is needed. Alhaji Grunshi fired the first British shot of the war.

Accepting that 12 August was the date of the first British shot of the war, the next challenge is reconciling the bombardment of Dar es Salaam by HMS Astrea on 8 August 1914.

This leads to further clarification: Alhaji Grunshi fired the first British Rifle shot of the war.

There does not appear to be any challenge to HMS Astrea bombarding Dar es Salaam for claiming the British first shot of the war – at least in Africa. Globally, however, it is Australia which lays claim to the first British Empire shot fired of all kinds. This was against a German ship which happened to be leaving Fort Phillip Bay, Melbourne on 5 August.

So, we have a number of first shots clarified:
5 August – first shot by the British Empire (Australia) in the war (against a German target)
8 August – first shot by the British Empire against German territory (HMS Astrea against Dar es Salaam)
12 August – first British Empire rifle shot of the war (Alhaji Grunshi in Togoland), the day the British Expeditionary Force landed in Europe.
22 August – first British Empire rifle shot of the war in Europe by Corporal Ernest Thomas of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoons

Africa also lays claim to:

  • association with the capture and sinking of the first British Empire Merchant Ship of the war when the German cruiser Konigsberg sank the City of Winchester on 6 and 12 August 1914 respectively. The Konigsberg had been in Dar es Salaam at the start of the war and was eventually put out of action in the Rufigi Delta (TNA ref).
  • first naval victory on 13 August 1914 on Lake Nyasa.

* The chapter remains with the incorrect date of 7 August for the first shot as it would have been too complex a change to make at that stage of the proceedings – and that after having been confident of the date when I initially wrote the chapter. Hopefully this little gremlin can now be resolved for future authors.

Why worry about the firsts? I suppose it gives a timeline of how the war developed. What is not recorded here are the first deaths – you can find mention of the first white British and German officer deaths in Africa relatively easily, but not so the first rank and file of either. I’ve spent too many hours searching to be confident of this – but please put me right if you know otherwise.

What these firsts mark is the start of a prolonged period of struggle in which many men, women and children across the globe lost their lives and in remembering the first, we (should) remember them all.

Pegasus wrecks

This post was inspired, not by the ship which was sunk in Zanzibar Harbour in 1914, but by an aeroplane in Antartica. The latter occurred in 1970, 56 years and nearly 1 month after the former. The former resulted in casualties and deaths, surprisingly the 80 crew on board the plane survived.

The former was HMS Pegasus, one of three cruisers responsible for the security of the African coast from Zanzibar to St Helena via Cape Town at the outbreak of World War 1. Having had to go into harbour for repairs during September 1914, the German Konigsberg took the opportunity to sneak out of its hide-away in the Rufigi Delta to sink the boat. It was the Konigsberg‘s last raid before eventually being put out of action following attacks by the monitors Severn and Mersey. For the full story on PegasusKevin Patience has the lowdown.

Both the guns of the Pegasus (6) and the Konigsberg (10) went on to do battle on land during the remainder of the war.

In addition to the wrecks of vessels called Pegasus, it appears there are various items which cause wrecks also called Pegasus:

A Singapore Lightweight Howitzer
William Powell Pegasus Shot Gun

And there was one Pegasus ship which didn’t end up a wreck having served through the French Revolutionary Wars – she was sold in 1816.

The Kibaka of Buganda and World War 1

Looking up something on Uganda’s involvement in World War 1, I noticed the date 5 August 1914 and on closer investigation saw it was the day the Kibaka assumed full powers as ruler. This struck me as something to explore – it was the day after Britain declared war on Germany. Three days later, the Kibaka was made an Honorary Lieutenant of 4 King’s African Rifles.

This naturally led to questions and a bit of digging:
1. Did the Kabaka participate in the war other than in an official or honorary capacity?
2.If so, what did he do?
The following References helped piece together what we currently know about the Kibaka and Buganda’s involvement in the war:
TNA, Kew: WO 339/127215
Daudi-Chwa-II Buganda Royal Family
How Buganda Saved East Africa from German invasion London Evening Post
The Baganda Rifles Harry Fecitt

Daudi Chwa II, KCMG, KBE Kabaka of Buganda
Personal life
Born: 8 August 1896 (Mengo)
Died: 22 November 1939 (Kampala)
Education: King’s College, Budo, Uganda
Awarded CMG – 1 Jan 1918
Awarded KCMG – 16 Feb 1925

Marriage 1: St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, 19 September 1914 (Abakyala Irene Drusilla Namaganda)
Children conceived during war years. Had a total of 33 children
1. Eva Irini Alice Zalwango (15 December 1915)
2. Uniya Mary Namaalwa (28 August 1916)
3. Airini Dulusira Nga’nda Ndagire (31 October 1916)
4. Kasalina Namukaabya Nassimbwa (11 November 1918)
5. George William Mawanda (10 January 1919)
6. Kasalina Gertrude Tebattagwaabwe Nabanakulya (30 June 1919)

Kingship
Succeeded: father on 9 August 1897 (deposed);
Installed: 14 August 1897 with regency;
Assumed full powers: 5 August 1914;
Crowned: Budo 8 August 1914.

War Service
Honorary Lieut 4 KAR (Uganda) 8 Aug 1914
Honorary Captain with effect 22 September 1917

Baganda’s involvement in the war – What do we know?
The involvement of Uganda/Buganda in World War 1 is a little confusing because of the situation in the area before the war broke out.

In 1911, Britain had made some Kings’ African Rifle battalions redundant as part of a cost saving exercise. This resulted in men from Nyasaland (Malawi) joining the German Askari as they needed to earn a living. Allegiance to rulers was different in Africa to what it was/is in Europe.

Another complication is that Britain tended to use men from one area in another so that they were not having to fight or take action against their own people. The construction of the four King’s African Regiments in East Africa were made up of battalions which served in different places or were on leave while other battalions of the same regiment were serving.

When war broke out, it was the European summer holiday. The governments did not expect to go to war and so many officers and government officials were on holiday. In addition, the lack of communication from London (they were very busy sorting out what was happening in Europe), meant that local decisions were made which were uncoordinated. Over the first years of the war, these groups amalgamated or disbanded with many being a name in a book with little other known of what they did.

So, what do we know?
The following forces were raised or available from Uganda:
• 4 King’s African Rifles (KAR)
• Lieutenant AJB Wavell had two companies of Baganda employed in the coastal area. Wavell is most famously known for his command of the Arab Rifles. Was there a connection?
• Uganda Reserve Company about 90 strong of 4 KAR
• Auxiliary levies, such as the Maasai Scouts and a few
• Uganda European Volunteer Reserve
• Local units (Uganda Armed Levies) in southern Uganda later known as the Baganda Rifles to defend home territories against attack. Permission was given for 555 to be recruited.

First days of war:
Lieutenant-Colonel LES Ward – commanding officer 4 KAR, Officer Commanding Uganda was the most senior military officer in East Africa when war broke out (all his seniors on leave). In fact, Ward was on his way to Mombasa to leave on retirement for England when he heard that war had broken out. He therefore went to Nairobi to do what he could to help the Governor prepare.
Major LH Hickson of 3 KAR therefore took over as OC Uganda.
3 KAR had the most troops readily available. The battalions were split into Companies.
• B Company – based at Mumia
• F Company – based at Baringo
o B & F were on route to Turkana but instructed to go to Nairobi
• A Company – based at Bombo
• G Company – based at Entebbe
o A & G were sent to Kisumu. One was later sent to Nairobi.
To replace these troops in Western Uganda, 2 of the 3 companies were moved from Northern Uganda. They were based at Masaka with a contingent of armed police. There was an outpost at Sanje.

Western Uganda remained quiet despite concerns because the Germans had withdrawn from Bukoba after a heavy defeat by Sese islanders. The German forces settled at Mwanza.

5 days before war broke out, about 31 July, the troops in Nairobi were moved to Tsvao and Voi to defend the bridges in the area and to patrol the railway lines. Two vehicles were adapted to be armoured trains. The troops consisted of:

• Half ‘D’ Company led by Captain TO Fitzgerald with one officer and 84 rifles
• Lieutenant H Home Davies (Royal Welch Fusiliers) arrive later with 21 rank and file of the half-trained KAR Mounted Infantry. They were stationed at Voi with a small post at Bura, near a group of hills some twenty-two miles out along the old caravan route to Taveta, close to the German frontier.

When war was declared in August 1914 The Regent of Buganda wrote to the British on behalf of four other Chiefs requesting that the five Chiefs & 500 of their men be sent to England to join the British Army. Is this what resulted in the Kabaka assuming his role independently and being appointed Honorary Lieutenant of the KAR?

The Baganda Rifles
Commanding Officer was Captain E Tyrell Bruce of the Uganda Volunteer Reserve.
Captain HB Tucker (98th Infantry, Indian Army) became commander in July 1916 when the Indian Army assumed command of the Baganda Rifles.

1914 and 1915 – Baganda Rifles employed on the Kagera River Front just south of the border between Uganda and German East Africa. Patrolled and supported army units holding the line. Assisted in securing Sango Bay on Lake Victoria where the Royal Navy Lake Flotilla landed supplies and reinforcements.

1916 – Baganda Rifles formed part of Lake Force.
9 June 1916 the steamer Usoga landed the Baganda Rifles, East African Scouts and the machine-guns of the 98th Infantry, Indian Army, on the eastern end of the Ukerewe Island, north-east of Mwanza. The island was an important rice-growing area for the German Schutztruppe and a wood-fuelling station for Lake steamers.
A German garrison was moving onto Ukerewe Island from the Musoma area to secure the rice crop. The British force bayonet-charged the 50-strong German advance party, forcing it back onto the mainland. 4 KAR (Uganda) landed further to the west and the island was cleared of Schutztruppe. The rice was harvested for use by the British troops.
12th July 1916 the British moved to the mainland to attack the German garrison holding Mwanza, the largest German port on Lake Victoria. Half the Baganda Rifles landed with Force B at Senga Point while the rest landed with Force Reserve near Kaienzie Bay. The British advanced overland from two directions, brushing aside small piquets of Schutztruppe.
14 July 1916 Mwanza was captured from the Germans. The German garrison withdrew south but left behind a 4.1-inch gun from the battle-cruiser Konigsberg. This gun was on a traffic-island in Jinja, Uganda.

The British pursued the Germans south towards Tabora on the Central Railway. During this advance the Baganda Rifles performed excellent long-range patrolling duties, but also suffered from a meningitis epidemic that caused many fatalities within the ranks.

On reaching Tabora, which had been captured by the Belgians on 16 September 1916, before the British arrived, Lake Force was disbanded. The Baganda Rifles, although effective and well supported by the Kabaka and chiefs, moved back to Uganda.
8 November 1916 the Baganda Rifles was disbanded at Entebbe. Many joined the KAR to serve in German and Portuguese East Africa.

There are medal cards for 230 Baganda Riflemen in Kew and recorded on the In Memory list on GWAA

This information was presented at the Diversity House Micro-nations event on 27 October 2017.

Review: Blockade and Jungle by Christen P Christensen

Blockade and Jungle (1941, reprint 2003) by Christen P Christensen is the fictionalised story of Nis Kock who served on the German blockade runner the Kronborg which managed to get through to German East Africa in April 1915.

At the very first Great War in Africa Association Conference in 2012, Bjarne S. Bendtsen (Danish Literature lecturer) presented a paper entitled: ‘Danes’ at war in East Africa: The case of the blockade runner SS Kronborg. In his abstract he noted,

There are at least two memoirs published in Danish about Kronborg’s voyage and the crew’s participation in Lettow-Vorbeck’s safaris: Nis Kock’s Sønderjyder vender hjem fra Østafrika (1938) and Anker Nissen’s Sønderjylland Afrika tur retur (1962), and a fictionalized version of Kock’s experiences: the author Christen P. Christensen’s Sønderjyder forsvarer Østafrika 1914-18 (1937).

The fact that Blockade and Jungle is a fictional account should not detract from its usefulness, particularly in view of its having been based on Nis Kock’s account and translated into English. As with all fictional (and I would suggest factual too) accounts, details should be checked before being taken as ‘true’. Through telling the story of Nis Kock, we discover yet another ‘forgotten’ micro-nation which saw action in the East Africa campaign of 1914-1918. The crew of the Kronberg were mainly Danish, although in 1914 the territory was occupied by Germany, again as Bjarne explains:

The 1864 war between Denmark and Prussia/Austria, which led to Denmark’s cession of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia, meant that about 30,000 ‘Danes’ had to fight in the German army in the world war 50 years later. Among these ‘Danish’ conscripts, a handful were picked for an adventurous voyage with a supply ship, cunningly turned into the fake Danish SS Kronborg, bringing supplies to Lettow-Vorbeck’s troops in East Africa and to the German cruiser SMS Königsberg, blockaded by British men of war in the Rufiji river delta in Tanganyika.

According to Christensen, who used Nis Kock’s account to write Blockade and Jungle, there were 50 South Jutlanders who fought in German East Africa and another 30 South Jutlanders who formed the crew of the SS Kronborg. Christensen takes us through the recruitment of the men providing some insight into how the German military administration system worked, the precision planning of getting a ship through the British blockade in the North Sea and life of board a blockade runner.

Once in East Africa, the ship came under attack from the British cruiser Hyacinth and was sunk, although the crew ensured they’d be able to recover most of the equipment on board. Harry Fecitt gives an overview of the blockade runner’s arrival (as well as that of a later blockade runner, the Marie) while Hans-Martin Somer, a Research Scientist gives an account of the blockade runner in his History of Manza Bay.

Nis Kock played an instrumental role in the salvage operation and as there is no longer work for the men on the ocean, they join the land forces – Kock becoming an ammunitions’ expert. Here again, we get some lovely descriptions and insight into how the Germans managed their logistics and how carriers were used (by some). Mention is made that Nis Kock and 450 bearers cleared Morogoro of all ammunition in one day (p140). In addition to this, we get a glimpse into how the German forces were able to use the variety of weapons and ammunition they had to conduct the war and the challenges these posed (p133), including those rescued from the Konigsberg.

The account ends with Kock being one of those who had to remain behind at Nambindinga in November 1917 when Lettow-Vorbeck trimmed his force to take only the strongest into Portuguese East Africa. Instead of the expected sense of relief at no longer being involved in this trying conflict, the reader is presented with a sense of loss, rejection and guilt at not being able to continue to do one’s duty. This is an aspect I particularly valued in reading the book – perceptions and assumptions being challenged. Christensen takes things a little further with a Postscript noting that Kock was sent to Sidi Bish in Egypt before returning to Denmark in 1919. The final words again provide a contrast to how we, in the English speaking world have come to see the arrival of the GEA forces back home:

When, later on, they went to Berlin to get their papers put in order, their welcome has hardly cordial: “Communists and Warmongers!” yelled the “Imperialists” at these men who had fought in East Africa to defend Germany’s last colony.

Woody Allen and a WW1 ship in Africa

Who would have thought that Woody Allen would feature in a blog on WW1 in Africa? I certainly didn’t but in doing a search on the word Konigsberg, Woody Allen’s name popped up third on the search results. So, where does Konigsberg fit in with Woody Allen, I hear you ask? Well, according to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, Woody Allen’s real name is Allan Stewart Konigsberg. And that, it appears, is where the link with Africa ends (other than his appearance in African newspaper articles and his banning any showing of his films in Apartheid South Africa in 1986).

The ship under discussion, was the German cruiser SMS Konigsberg which arrived in German East Africa (Tanzania) shortly before the outbreak of war was to sink the first British merchant ship of the war, the City of Winchester which had the season’s tea harvest, and HMS Pegasus which was being repaired in Zanzibar harbour. After one of the longest naval battles of the war, she was finally sunk in the Rufiji Delta but continued to plague the force in East Africa as her 10 ‘big guns’ were rescued and adapted for land use. One of the surviving guns can be found at the car entrance to South Africa’s Union Buildings in Pretoria, another is in Mombasa (Kenya) and a third in Jinga (Uganda). And, amazingly, there’s a record of what happened to some of the ships and items linked with the Konigsberg.

Kevin Patience’s account of the Konigsberg during World War 1 can be read here and if you’re in Lisbon on 14 July 2014, Christopher Hill will be giving a talk on The fate of the Konisgberg att he Great War in Africa Conference.

For readers interested in seeing what else is named Konigsberg, Wikipedia’s disambiguation page comes to the rescue.

So, thanks to Woody Allen, aka Allen Stewart Konigsberg, I’ve made a few more discoveries on the SMS Konigsberg and shared them with you.