Marconi

A trip to Iceland was the inspiration for this blog. Visiting the house where Gorbachev and Reagan met to discuss the end of the Cold War, I found a board which read as follows:

The beginning of Free Telecommunications in Iceland

On June the 26th 1905 Iceland was first connected to the outside world by means of telecommunications.

The first wireless message was received here from Poldhu in Cornwall, England. The telecommunications equipment was provided by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co at the suggestion of entrepreneur and poet Einar Benediktsson. Messages were received here until October 1906, when the operation was terminated due to a government granted monopoly on telecommunications in Iceland.

This memorial plaque was donated by Vodafone

Reading Marconi immediately made me reflect on Africa – Marconi was the big telecommunications provider there too and during World War 1 provided radio support for the Lake Tanganyika Expedition.

On 7 December 1915, The Marconi Co [was] ordered to prepare two 1½ KW cart
sets. They will be ready to be shipped [on the Anversville] at Hull on or before 1 Jan.

The Marconi Company would pay for the services of the engineers who supported/worked the equipment. This included ‘One Engineer. 4 Operators … They would be borne on the ships books [sic] for disciplinary services’. They would be under the command of Spicer-Simson unless lent to the Belgians. The Engineer was Sub-Lieut EF Boileu, RNVR and the ship they were ‘borne’ on for disciplinary services was HMS Hyacinth. (The Lake Tanganyika Expedition Primary Source Chronology)

Prior to World War 1, Marconi had supplied equipment which was used during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. M de Bruijn et al in The Social Life of Connectivity in Africa tell how wireless and radio developed in Africa including mention of L59, the German Zepelin which never reached Lettow-Vorbeck.

Interestingly though, the underwater cable which linked Zanzibar with Europe at the start of the war was managed by the Eastern and South African Telegraph Company. It merged with Marconi in 1929. In the 1930s, wireless was to have a major impact on the development and use of airpower across Africa and although Guglielmo Marconi died in 1939, his name continues as noted in an article on communications between South Africa and Nigeria in 2001.

The Marconi collection can be consulted at the Oxford Museum of History of Science and Bodleian.

Jan Smuts and the Chinese

On 24 May 2016, had he still been alive, Jan Smuts would be 146 years old. For those of you too lazy to do the maths, he was born in 1870.

At the age of 34, whilst out of a government role, Smuts was vexed by what was known in South Africa as the ‘Chinese Question‘ or ‘Problem’. Following the Anglo-Boer War (South African War) of 1899-1902, Lord Milner had arranged for Chinese labour to work on the South African gold mines as local black labour was not forthcoming and there was not enough white labour prepared to work at the unskilled labour rates of pay. Getting the mines operational after the war was vital for the economy and to cover the costs of the war. But, for the likes of Smuts, Botha and other South African politicians, the introduction of another racial group into the already volatile melting pot of Southern Africa was anathema.

Smuts felt strongly about this as noted in his letter to JX Merriman on 31 August 1905 (Hancock, vol 2):

You are quite right, the Chinese business is contaminating the very well-spring of our national and social life, and I feel sure that we shall not soon get another such opportunity for getting rid of it as now. Feeling in the Transvaal has been profoundly stirred; those people (along the Rand) who were for sordid reasons in favour of Chinese labour repent and suffer bitterly now … the question is great enough to found its own party, which will yet be the most powerful in South Africa – unless we are really going to be an annexe of China, a Hong Kong…

The last Chinese labourers were eventually sent back in 1910.

This was not the end of Smuts’ dealings wiht the Chinese, however. During World War 1, whilst he was commander in chief of the forces operating in East Africa, he would have encountered the Chinese Contingent. Unfortunately little is known of the work these men did in the theatre other than what Steve Lau has brought to light and which he shared at the 2016 Great War in Africa Conference.

South Africa, however, has retained a relationship with China in some form since these early days. Chinese restaurants provide a tangible link – interestingly during Apartheid Chinese people were classified as black, whilst Japanese were classified white. Yet dispensations were clearly given: there was a Chinese restuarant (Golden Lake) in the Boksburg Lake grounds for as long as I can remember.

Today, China itself is economically involved in developing infrastructure and providing loans to African governments.

Did Smuts forsee this development way back in 1905?

It might be worth a mention that Smuts’ World War 1 nemesis, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck fought the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion.

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.

The numbers game: how many men fought in Africa

Trying to work out how many men saw action in Africa during World War 1 has been rather a challenge as there is no one source which confidently covers this. The same goes for the number who were injured, fell ill or lost their lives. When an opportunity arose to concentrate on locating the various figures, I jumped at it and thought it worthwhile sharing with others.

The forces are split into where they originate from and then the theatre served.  The figures have been listed to provide a more coherent picture of what information is available. If you have different numbers for any of the campaigns or forces, please share them as we know that accurate records were not kept by all administrations. It is hoped that in time these figures will be supported by the names on the ‘In Memory‘ lists which are being compiled by the Great War in Africa Association.

Overall totals are still to be determined, although a rough calculation using the figures below suggests that the British Empire contributed 846,026 men to (and from) the East and Central African theatres. An analysis of the results below will highlight some gaps such as female non-combatants (nurses, camp followers), medical staff and other non-combatant support services (YMCA) and naval forces other than those who served in the German Army in East Africa. Another group missing is the Chinese who were contracted and paid for their labour in East Africa. A clearer picture of the extent of the forces and numbers involved in the African theatres is definitely starting to materialise.

Brief references are included – it is assumed that most readers will know that Paice refers to Ed Paice’s Tip and Run, etc. However, “Statistics” refers to Charles Lucas; Statistics of the Military effort of the British Empire during the Great War 1914-1920 (available online)

British Forces serving in East Africa
Jamaica – total = 507
from the British West Indian Regiment which went to Egypt, 500 men and officers (300 1st battalion, 100 2nd battalion, 100 3rd battalion) were sent to East Africa. They joined the 2nd battalion West Indian Regiment of the Regular Army. In addition to the men above, there were 7 officers. They returned to Egypt in 1917.
Reference: With the Jamaicans in East Africa

Nyasaland (Malawi)
population at outbreak of war:
approx 1,150,000 natives (male and female),
799 Europeans (540 male, 259 female)
Fighting force:
267,060 natives (70% of population of military age):
9,819 soldiers,
125,194 carriers,
132,047 non-combatants eg labourers but not carriers
Losses: 3,001 combatants including
1,256 dead,
1,745 wounded ;
3,360 non-combatant dead mostly in the carrier corps due to disease and exhaustion
Reference: Sir HL Duff memoirs at IWM

195,652 – Porters/carriers/bearers
1,262 – Labourers
5,000 approx – special porters
15,000 troops were recruited
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges Carrier Corps

Nyasaland Field Force
455 – Total
158 – armed forces
180 – various capacities along lines of communication
51 – commissioned into KAR/NFF
Reference: Peter Charlton

British East Africa (Kenya)
Total population on outbreak of war:
25,000 Indians
5,000 whites
4,083,000 blacks

145,967 – Porters/carriers
16,611 – special porters
10,961 – casual labourers
14.6% = death rate
10,500 approx – Black Troops
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Zanzibar & Mafia
1,000 – troops
3,542 – total non-combatants
4 – gun porters
107 – medical staff
3,404 – carriers
27 – casual labourers
Reference: Hodges Manpower statistics

Uganda
182,014 and approx 120,000 for Belgian service – Porters/carriers
989 – special porters
1,243 – casual labourers
10,000 approx – Black Troops
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Seychelles
776 – carriers (Hodges)
1/3 did not return home (Paice)

Sierra Leone
5,005 – carriers
9 – casual labour
Reference: Hodges

Nigeria
6,216 – troops
812 – gun porters
3,087 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

Gambia
380 – troops
37 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

Gold Coast
3,976 – troops
177 – gun porters
204 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

India
population at outbreak of war – 315 million (Charles Lucas, Empire at war)
77,000 British and 159,000 Indians in Army at outbreak of war
1,500 British and 10,250 Indians went to East Africa in 1914
928 British officers
4,681 British other ranks
848 Indian officers
33,835 Indian other ranks
13,021 Indian non-combatants
Reference: Lucas (Statistics)

South Africa
population in 1911 (census): Total 8,973,394
white population 1,276,242

1,065 white officers to East Africa
29,558 white other ranks
18,845 coloured other ranks
Reference: Statistics

103 white officers to Central Africa
1,970 white other ranks
Reference: Statistics

South Africans to Egypt
76 white officers
1,244 white other ranks
1,962 coloured other ranks
Reference: Statistics

White South Africans to Egypt in 1916:
160 officers
5,648 other ranks
Reference: SA Official History of the war

Total South African losses for Africa (East, Central and Egypt)
2,361 whites died
211 coloureds died
1,374 whites wounded
10 whites missing
1 white prisoner
99 Union Imperial Service details (it’s not clear who these are as they should be included in the numbers above and France as all, other than GSWA, were Imperial service troops)
Reference: Statistics

South Africans served in German South West Africa 1914-1915
43,402 whites including 3,397 in administrative roles
295 whites died
318 whites wounded
Reference: statistics and Official History

South Africans who rebelled in 1914 = 11,472 of which some 52 joined the German forces
190 rebels were killed
300-350 rebels wounded
against
30,000 loyal South Africans, of which
132 loyal South Africans killed or died of wounds
242 loyal South Africans wounded
Reference: SA Official History of the war

7,267 coloured South African troops remained in South Africa
Reference: Statistics

Southern Rhodesia
30,000 approx – white population
750,000 approx – black population
BSAP:
550 whites
600 Black
850 – European reserve
525 white men served in South West Africa
500 white men served in East Africa
Reference: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/366822.html

Northern Rhodesia
2,000 approx – white population on outbreak of war
850,000 approx – black population on outbreak of war
Reference: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/366822.html

Total British troops – 126,972 (Reference: Paice)
Deaths: 11,189
total including deaths, missing, wounded etc = over 22,000
Total British carriers – over 1million of whom no fewer than 95,000 died (includes 41,000 carriers recruited in GEA) (Paice)

187,369 non-combatants (excluding black and Indian)
397 white officers and 9,051 white other ranks killed/died
480 white officers and 7,294 white other ranks wounded
30 white officers and 911 white other ranks missing and prisoner
286 Indians killed
Other numbers should be visible in an original copy
Reference: Statistics

1,297 white officers in King’s African Rifles
1,916 white NCOs in King’s African Rifles
29,137 black soldiers in King’s African Rifles
Reference: Statistics

Belgian Congo
West Africa
570 Congolese soldiers support French troops against Cameroons

East Africa
1,415 Congolese
55 Europeans
support the British in Katanga from June to November 1915

719 officers
11,698 soldiers
invade Rwanda in 1916

over 260,000 bearers are recruited over the course of the war of which 20,000 accompany the soldiers all the way of which 6,600 lose their lives
no numbers are kept of the other bearers who lost their lives
Reference: Belgian Royal Military Museum Lisolo na Bisu 1885-1960: our history – the Congolese soldier of the Force Publique (2010)

over 260,000 bearers are recruited over the course of the war
of which 20,000 accompany the soldiers all the way of which 6,600 lose their lives
no numbers are kept of the other bearers who lost their lives

Portugal
East Africa – before Portugal declared war in 1917, the country sent out 1,527 men from Portugal to protect the colony.
3,000 approx – 10 native companies each with 250 native soldiers and at least 4 Europeans and 3 batteries (no numbers quoted. These consisted of black and white)
Reference: Peter Abbott Armies in East Africa 1914-1918

19,438 – Total number of men and officers sent from Portugal to East Africa during the war
Deaths – suggests 1/2 the number Correira does below; Correira’s breakdown is more recent
8,000 approx – Levies
60,000 approx – Carriers service Portuguese troops and approx 30,000 service British forces = 90,000
Paice notes that records were not kept
Reference: Edward Paice

13,872 – Total losses East Africa
4,811 – dead
1,600 – disabled
5,500 – missing
1,283 – injured
678 – prisoners
2,133 – Total losses Angola
818 – dead
683 – disabled
200 – missing
372 – injured
68 – prisoners
Reference: Sylvia Correira
The Germans who fought in Angola invaded from GSWA whilst the South African rebellion was under way.

German East Africa
3,526 – white males on the 1913 census
At start of war:
218 – European and German NCO (130 combatants)
55 – European officers and NCO paramilitary police
1670 – European reservists and sailors in port
192 marines from Mowe,
322 marines from Konigsberg

Total served:
2,700 approx Europeans
12,000 approx askari soldiers
losses: 20% died, killed, missing in action

2,542 – Askari (Schutztruppe)
2,160 – Askari paramilitary police at start of the war

losses:
6,308 Schutztruppe (soldiers) died, killed or missing in action
References: Boell & Edward Paice Tip and Run

Porters/carriers/bearers – 191,719
special porter – 44,031
casual labourer – 125,817
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Urundi
8 – casual labourers serving in British forces (Hodges)

German South West Africa
Population in 1912 = 14,816 Europeans of whom 9,046 were of military age
Native population = 80,900

Germans surrendered: 204 officers and 3,166 other ranks
Reference: Official History

West Africa
Combined West African force: 4,300 black troops (Gold Coast/Ghana = 800 civil police, 320 Northern Province constabulary, 400 Customs Preventative Service, 900 volunteer corps)
increased to 9,700 including Indian troops
roughly equal French and British split
2,000 carriers and labourers
150 Senegalese
Reference: http://www.naval-history.net/WW1Battle1409Cameroons.htm & http://kaiserscross.com/188001/300143.html

See above for West African forces who served in East Africa

German forces in Togoland
800 armed police
200 German civilians

German forces in Cameroon
200 German soldiers
3,200 Black soldiers
Reference: http://kaiserscross.com/188001/207901.html

 

Building bridges

A bridge I regularly cross in Tanzania is Himo Bridge near the Tanzania-Kenya border. This is the new Himo Bridge, an older one can be seen to the left if you are heading towards Kenya and a little further on is the original bridge/crossing  where a battle, or rather skirmish, was fought in 1916 when the British forces led by Jan Smuts pushed the Germans back on Moshi.

Bridges played a very important part in the campaign in East Africa as there were many ravines and rivers to cross. Apart from the bridges such as the one at Himo, the four major railway lines in East Africa at the time were feats of engineering as can be discovered in The man-eaters of Tsavo by JH Patterson. Harry Fecitt discusses some of the early struggles around bridges in his article The advance into German East Africa.

For the advance party, destroying a bridge once they were across meant that those chasing were delayed as they would either have to rebuild the bridge or find another way across. The other way across water usually meant wading across which was not something you did light-heartedly knowing crocodiles and hippos frequented the waters. Otherwise it was rope-type constructions.

On other occasions, such as with the Lake Tanganyika Naval Expedition, there was no option but to build bridges to get the motor boats across the dry ravines. Seeing some of the photos of bridges, I often wonder what they would have done today as the number of trees which had to be cut down to fill the ravine was astronomical – and some 200 ravines, of different depths and widths, had to be constructed. Apart from the trees being cut, the number of men and man-hours it would have taken is beyond comprehension (as far as I am concerned). Yet, they did it and within a record time too. The best told story of this expedition is that by Giles Foden, Mimi and Toutou go forth, although a more contextualised account can be found in Ed Paice’s Tip and run.

I think I’m rather pleased I’m able to travel on the bridges we can today, although they do have their own challenges, as many who travel in East Africa are aware.