Kondoa and Kigoma | 12 May 1916

Battle of Kondoa

As Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck continues dithering, the South Africans send out a couple of raiding parties to see what they can find. It’s not much, and their commander’s dander is now up. It’s as well to remind ourselves here that both sides have no idea of the other’s strength. For all General van Deventer knows, this could just be a very well-armed raiding party. He’s a naturally offensive man, so he’s ordering a frontal attack against identified Schutztruppe positions in the lower Burungi Heights. Um. That could end badly as well!

Meanwhile, it’s now time for us to go catch up with noted Royal Navy eccentric Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson and his motley band of blokes! After thoroughly entertaining us with their escapades through 1915 and the opening days of this year, they’ve now fallen silent as priority is given to other operations by both British and Belgian Empire forces. The Force Publique is apparently encountering almost no resistance on its operations to the north of Lake Tanganyika. There’s now a possibility that they might be able to march south along the lake without opposition.

They might even be able to capture the main German port at Kigoma and obviate the need for another grand naval stunt from our man. This will not do, and he’s spent the last few months on yet another ridiculous adventure. This one has been to Leopoldville, the capital of the Belgian Congo, some 1,500 miles away. In classic fashion, he’s decided that the British Consul’s personal steamer, the George, will be exactly the kind of big ship he needs to take on the remaining German fleet without Belgian support, if necessary.

The ship has therefore been taken to pieces, and is even now being hauled across the colony in yet another ridiculous operation, where it will be reassembled on the lake. Even better, he’s been sent a crew and a torpedo tube for the ship. It can keep up with his smaller gunboats Mimi and Toutou, and potentially give the German ship Goetzen something to think about. Now they just need to get on the same page with the Belgians! Good luck with that one, lads.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson is beginning the long march forward to Kondoa Irangi.

Tents struck and all packed up. Fell in and moved out of camp at about 10am. Halted at the main camp for supplies and kept waiting some time as the oxen for the transport stampeded and could not be caught. Rather heavily laden with 2 days rations and overcoats besides pumpkins, stew etc.

Stampede! I’m getting a great mental image of him dodging like Simba in The Lion King. Try not to lose your new overcoat this time, dum-dum.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas looks at Hill 304 for the first time. Capsule spoiler: “Eh, it’s not all that.”

As day broke, I looked out upon this famous, nameless hill. Our trench lay at the foot of it. For several months the hill had been disputed as if it had diamond mines on its slopes. Alas, all it contained now were thousands of shredded, pulverized corpses. Nothing distinguished it from neighbouring hills. It seemed to have been partly wooded at one time, but no trace of vegetation remained. The convulsed, overturned earth offered nothing but a spectacle of devastation.

All day long we stayed close to the ground, huddled in this covered trench, suffering from heat and lack of air. The Boche planes hadn’t spotted us, so we weren’t bombarded by howitzer fire. We waited impatiently for nighttime, when we could walk around and breathe at our leisure. But at nightfall our company received orders to go forward and occupy a trench a couple of hundred metres ahead.

Separately, by squads, we made our way there. The terrain had been much more heavily bombarded than what we had seen farther to the rear, at the mill at Esnes. I think that the strategic necessity which brought us there was simply to provide more security and peace of mind for our colonel, whose deep dugout was right nearby.

It’s only going to get worse, yo.

Gunnery practice

Among the Royal Navy, there have been concerns for some months about the gunnery of Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers. A major problem for them is that their anchorage in the Firth of Forth, while considerably more hospitable than Scapa Flow, lacks any kind of gunnery range. They’ve been unable to do the kind of training that the Grand Fleet can do at Scapa Flow. Seems an obvious solution; detach a few cruisers at a time to go up to Scapa and straighten themselves out, right?

Well, not so fast. Pretty much everyone has a problem with what would happen next. Admiral Beatty has spent the last few months bleating about how his detachment urgently needs reinforcement. Five brand-new Queen Elizabeth-class dreadnoughts recently joined the fleet, and Beatty has been lobbying hard to play with the new toys. Jellicoe’s objection is simple. “The stronger I make Beatty, the greater the temptation for him to get involved in an independent action.” Beatty is headstrong and free-wheeling. An independent action is exactly what the Germans want him to fight.

There’s a conference today. Something has to be done about the battlecruisers’ rotten shooting, and Jellicoe lets himself be persuaded to compensate Beatty for the loss of ships. One squadron of battlecruisers at a time will go north for a three-week spell on the Scapa shooting ranges. And, in exchange, while the training is carried out, Beatty gets the Queen Elizabeths to bolster his strength. Collectively they are the 5th Battle Squadron, commanded by Admiral Evan-Thomas. The first battlecruiser squadron to go north is commanded by Admiral Hood.

And, when he gets the order, Hood is sure what he thinks of it. “This is a great mistake. If [Beatty] gets these ships with him, nothing will stop him from taking on the whole German fleet if he gets the chance”. Gee, for once a bunch of high-ranking officers are in agreement about something!

So, just so I’m sure I’ve got this right. Admiral Scheer is about to start stepping up his efforts to fight a major fleet action, in which he wants to take on a smaller part of the RN’s strength with the whole of the High Seas Fleet. And the RN has just taken a major decision that makes what Scheer wants far, far more likely to happen. Oooh boy. For the first time in nearly two years, we might be about to see a complete rebalancing of an assumption that this war is fought on.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser-Tytler, howitzer battery commander, fond of getting drunk with the French, has just gone back to his guns after a nice long leave.

Thanks to the fishing tackle Colonel Lyon had given me, the men had been catching quite a lot of pike (in the River Somme), the largest being an eight-pounder. I got up to the guns; it’s nice to be home again. The country looks very lovely. The wood is a mass of spring flowers in bloom, as of course everything is so much earlier than in England. Wind was dangerous for gas, and we had false alarms until 3am, which gave me an opportunity of wading through the mass of official papers which had accumulated during leave.

God, it’s like listening to Herbert Sulzbach. I want more tales of drunken arsing around, damnit!

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge has had a message to be taken to see the garrison commander, who’s set up his HQ in a well-appointed local hotel. No sense in being uncomfortable when you can fight this bit of the war with a pink gin at your elbow!

The Great and Mighty Adjutant who owns and runs the Regiment came out and ordered me to follow him. So at the proper distance (I know my place and “station in life,” quite aware that to walk along with an ADJUTANT isn’t for the likes of us) I goose-stepped after him. … [The Colonel] asked me for the usual particulars, age, date of enlistment, profession in civil life, and I told him that the old fool on the Travelling Medical Board who put me back to A-1 again never examined my heart.

I put it differently, diplomatically. “The awful rush and large numbers of men to be dealt with made it quite impossible even for such a distinguished specialist as no doubt the Gentleman of the Stethoscope was, to do justice to his reputation and to cases the diagnosis of which, owing to individual characteristics, was difficult when the patient at rest, etc., etc.”
The old Garrison Commander smiled and then turned to the Adjutant: “Which officer of the Regiment was present?”
“Mr Brown.”
“Did he draw attention of the Board to difficult and doubtful cases?”
“No, I think not.”
“Did the member of the Local Board present do so?”
“No!”
“Well, I think in future you yourself might perhaps manage to be present and prevent perfunctory examinations. If a senior officer like yourself is there…
“Yes, sir.” Then it apparently dawned upon the Ruler of Newhaven that he was indirectly reproving, to some extent, the great and mighty ADJUTANT in the presence of a mere Private (worm). I was told my application to the War Office [to become an interpreter or translator] would be forwarded, he would do his best, and that was all for the present.

I felt like a fool. I had one consolation though, there were greater fools on the Travelling Medical Board. Unless they were rogues. Which of course is quite out of the question. A man in the hut next to ours came from hospital after having spent seven weeks in it. The Travelling Medical Board found him fit for the Front, A-1. Active service! This morning the Local Medical Authorities recommended the “Active Service Man” for his ticket. Within a month he will be out of the Army. Utterly unfit!

Well, that seems to have gone rather well. Mugge, by the way, gives the munificent Colonel the pseudonym “Oretta”. This might have been Lt-Col C.A. Hankey (not the same man as the secretary to the War Committee), or it might have been someone else. It doesn’t matter; he won’t be in our story for long.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Battle of Kondoa

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. (If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide

Leave a Reply