Christopher Trevelyan © King-
The Indian Army on campaign 1900-
by Harry Fecitt, MBE, TD.
In 1914 the 57th Rifles, a one-
The British commander in German East Africa was the South African General Smuts, and he was driving his three divisions, two of them being composed mostly of South Africans, southwards towards the German Central Railway that linked Dar Es Salaam on the Indian Ocean to Lake Tanganyika on the Belgian Congo border. However the British lines of communication near Tanga were being successfully attacked by German troops operating in the British rear area. The 57th Rifles was quickly despatched by train up the Uganda Railway to Voi, then westwards along a recently built military rail line to Kahe Junction and then down the German Usambara rail line to Mauri, the British railhead.
From Mauri the regiment marched eastwards to Korogwe and skirmished with
enemy troops who were African Askari organised into Field Companies under German
officers and non-
The 57th Rifles was now ordered to join the 2nd East African Brigade at Handeni. The brigade was commanded by Brigadier General J.A. Hannyngton DSO and was part of the 1st East African Division commanded by General A.R. Hoskins CMG DSO. The other units in the brigade were the 3rd King’s African Rifles, the 129th Baluchis, the 40th Pathans and the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen). On 4 August the brigade marched to join the remainder of the 1st Division on the Lukigura River.
The action at Matomondo
Two days later 2nd East African Brigade advanced south with the 57th Rifles forming the advance guard. After four miles contact was made but the German Askari were adept at fighting rearguard actions to cover tactical withdrawals and there was no serious fighting. Another two days of this skirmishing followed until the Germans made a stand near the village of Matamondo. Here the bush was very dense and the ground mountainous. On 10 August Colonel Willans was ordered to send one company forward to reconnoitre the enemy defences; No 2 Company under the command of Major James Henry George Buller, with Lieutenant James Norman Taylor accompanying him, was tasked and advanced at dawn. Meanwhile 3rd King’s African Rifles were conducting a similar reconnaissance on the left flank.
After advancing a mile the British came under very heavy fire from the German trenches, six enemy machine guns being used against them. Nevertheless both British reconnaissance parties attacked and severe fighting developed. On the No 2 Company axis Jemadar Sher Dil was killed whilst leading an attack and Subadar Arsla Khan, Bahadur, MC IOM was wounded. Major Buller saw that the situation was critical and led a charge onto the enemy’s left positions, but he was severely wounded in the leg and taken prisoner, every man of his party being killed or wounded. Havildar Salim Khan charged one of the enemy machine guns with his section, killed the crew and turned the gun onto the enemy until it jammed; he then withdrew with the captured gun. Lieutenant Taylor brought the company reserve forward and tried to rescue Major Buller but he was beaten back by devastating enemy fire.
No 2 Company and the King’s African Rifles on its left pulled back. The
5th and 6th South African Infantry battalions came to assist and were deployed on
a left flanking attack which eventually drove in the German right flank, but the
enemy maintained his aggressive defence until nightfall, when he withdrew. The German
Commander in Chief, Colonel Paul Von Lettow-
“Captain Stemmerman’s Detachment, which had been pushed out a short day’s
march due north of Tuliani, was attacked at Matomondo by a strong force of Europeans
and Indians. The enemy was very skilful. A machine gun of the 6th Company, placed
on a rocky slope, was seized by a few Indians, who had crept up to it from the front
unobserved, and thrown down the steep slope, so that it could not be found again.
The enemy, who had penetrated our lines, was thrown out again with heavy loss by
For his gallantry that day Major Buller was later awarded a Distinguished Service Order with the citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He gallantly led his men against superior forces of the enemy and captured a machine gun. He succeeded in penetrating to the enemy’s second line, where he was wounded.
Lieutenant Taylor was awarded a Military Cross with the citation:
For conspicuous gallantry in action. He displayed great courage and devotion to duty in attending to the wounded under very heavy fire.
Major Buller was later recovered by British forces when Dar Es Salaam was captured in early September 1916. The total of the 57th Rifles’ casualties in the action was:
1 Indian officer and 4 Sepoys killed in action, 1 Sepoy died of wounds, 1 Indian officer and 21 Sepoys wounded in action, and 1 British officer and 3 Sepoys wounded and taken as prisoners of war.
The advance beyond the Central Railway
The 2nd East African Brigade, now including an Imperial Service unit, the
3rd Kashmir Rifles (provided by the Ruler of Kashmir, a Princely State), and also
the King’s African Rifles Mounted Infantry Company and the 27th Mountain Battery,
Frontier Force, Indian Army, continued pushing the Germans southwards. On 27 August
the brigade captured Mikese Station on the railway line, but by now re-
Meanwhile Colonel von Lettow Vorbeck had no intention of being trapped by
the British, and he continued to withdraw, standing to fight only when the ground
favoured his defence and where he could cause maximum casualties amongst his attackers.
As the brigade approached the Missambissi River Nos 1 and 4 Companies of the 57th
Rifles formed the advance guard. On reaching the wooden bridge crossing the river
it was seen to be alight. The leading Sepoys ran across the burning bridge and No
4 Company engaged the withdrawing enemy whilst No 2 Company successfully extinguished
the flames and saved the bridge. As the Germans withdrew they harassed the advancing
British brigade with artillery fire; the Indian mountain guns, carried on mules,
did not have the range to engage the enemy gunners. However the terrain and small
bush tracks gave the enemy gunners problems during their withdrawal and the brigade
came across an abandoned and destroyed 4.1-
As the brigade approached the Ruvu River on 31 August the 57th Rifles led
the advance with No 3 Company forward. Enemy skirmishers sniped but did not impose
delays and the riverbank was reached, but no bridge was found. The only aid to crossing
was an intact rope support stretching across the river. Under cover of machine gun
fire No 3 Company used the rope to wade through the breast-
From the Dutumi River to Mssanga
The next position on the brigade axis where the Germans stood and fought
was at Nkessa’s Village forward of the Dutumi River. This action commenced on 10
September. The enemy force was Abteilung Stemmerman again, consisting of four companies
totalling 900 men and 10 machine guns. More enemy troops were known to be across
the river. When the advance guard, 3 Kashmir Rifles, made contact the 57th Rifles
and the 27th Mountain Battery were quickly deployed onto the prominent Kitoho Hill
on the right flank. 3 King’s African Rifles moved through and beyond the 57th, whilst
on the road below the 3rd Kashmiris and the Gold Coast Regiment advanced on the enemy
trenches supported by fire from the Loyal North Lancashires’ Machine Gun Company.
The British advance, hampered by tangled elephant grass, made little progress against
the enemy fire. On Kitoho Hill the 57th Rifles arrived just in time to break up an
At dawn 3 King’s African Rifles and the Gold Coast Regiment developed an
attack on the right flank that was met by a strong German counter-
During September the 57th Rifles remained in close contact with the withdrawing enemy who inflicted several casualties on the Sepoys. One of those killed in action was Sepoy Bhan Singh, Indian Distinguished Service Medal. On 27 September Nos 2 and 4 Companies under Captain J.A. Glegg penetrated an enemy outpost line. Captain Glegg was later mentioned in dispatches. On 28th September the 130th Baluchis of 1st Brigade relieved the 57th Rifles who withdrew to the 2nd Brigade camp at Nkessa’s Village for two weeks of rest. Because of casualties and medical evacuations Lieutenant Colonel Willans now had under his command only two British officers and 180 other ranks.
The British had now seized Dar Es Salaam and were converting the harbour
and town to be the main British East African supply base. However roving German companies
were threatening the town and so the 57th Rifles was despatched to march towards
the coast to engage any enemy troops that could be found. One section of the 27th
Mountain Battery and one section of an Indian Field Ambulance accompanied the regiment.
The trek through thick bush was rugged and difficult, especially for the battery
mules and the heavily laden African porters in the column. River crossings were dangerous,
supplies as usual were very meagre and guides were sometimes untrustworthy. Mssanga
was reached on 21 October and contact made with the garrison, the Jind Imperial Service
Infantry. As enemy posts were close by an intensive period of patrolling and counter-
During one small action Lieutenant Ronald Leslie Piper, out on patrol with 50 men, confronted a German patrol about 40 strong near Mkwata and dispersed it, inflicting several casualties and capturing several rifles. On the following day the body of the German commander was discovered in the bush where he had crawled to die of his wounds. Lieutenant Piper was later awarded a Military Cross. In a similar incident Captain E.K. Fowler MC, with 2 Indian officers and 70 rifles, attacked an enemy position at Makuka. When it was realised that the enemy were in superior force with machine guns, a skilful withdrawal action was fought with the loss of only one Sepoy killed. Captain Fowler was later awarded a Brevet Majority.
Operations in the Coastal Region
From January 1917 onwards the 57th Rifles operated against enemy units near
the Indian Ocean coast. Often reconnaissance missions were carried out in columns
that might also contain the Jind Rifles, a South African white infantry battalion,
the South African Cape Corps of mixed-
In March at Utete the battalion had re-
On the 18 August the battalion was ordered to concentrate prior to embarkation for India. Two companies of the 40th Pathans relieved the 57th Rifles at Chemera and the battalion moved to Kilwa Kisingani. Here it met a draft of 135 ranks from India that raised the battalion strength to 10 British officers, 9 Indian officers and 206 other ranks. The battalion sailed up the coast to Dar Es Salaam on 2 September and sailed again from there 26 days later, arriving in Bombay on 10 October 1917 and then moving to Rewat in the Murree Hills.
Thirty five members of the 57th Rifles were buried in East Africa and they
are commemorated on the British and Indian Memorials in both Nairobi, Kenya and Dar
Es Salaam, Tanzania. Sepoys from other Frontier Force units were drafted into the
57th Rifles in East Africa as attached personnel, and any who died are commemorated
under the titles of their parent regiments. The Battle Honour East Africa 1916-
Four officers stayed behind in German East Africa. Lieutenants Piper and N.G. Guy were attached to the 129th Baluchis; Lieutenant Piper gained a Bar to his Military Cross before he was killed fighting on the Lukuledi River on 10 October 1917. Lieutenant H.H. Wadeson was attached to the 40th Pathans. Lieutenant Taylor MC was attached to the 33rd Punjabis and died of wounds during fighting at Narungombi on 27 July 1917.
Awards Received by the 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force) for service in East Africa
Distinguished Service Order Major J.H.G. Buller.
Military Cross Lieutenant J. Taylor, Lieutenant E.B.C. Preston, Lieutenant E. Edlestone, Lieutenant R.L. Piper.
Mentioned in Dispatches Lieutenant Colonel T.J. Willans DSO, Major L. Forbes, Captain J.A. Glegg, Lieutenant R.L. Piper MC, Subadar Rabel Singh, Jemadar Zargir, Havildar Rahmat Khan, Naik Ran Singh.
Order of British India 1st Class Subadar Major Arsla Khan MC IOM.
Order of British India 2nd Class Subadar Bahadur Khan, Guides attached.
Indian Distinguished Service Medal Jemadar Hira Singh, Naik Khala Khan, Havildar Kapur Singh, Sepoy Sher Mahomed.
Indian Order of Merit 2nd Class Havildar Salim Khan, Naik Sher Baz.
Indian Meritorious Service Medal Havildar Prabh Dial, Havildar Feroz Ali, Lance-
Brevet Majority Major E.K. Fowler.
(Havildar Salim Khan IOM was later murdered by Zakkha Khel tribesmen when proceeding home on pension in 1921.)
Regimental History of the 4th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles (Wilde’s) reproduced by The Naval & Military Press Ltd.
Official History Military Operations East Africa August 1914 – September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern.
My Reminiscences of East Africa by General Paul Von Lettow-
India’s Army by Major Donovan Jackson.
Record of the 3rd Battalion The King’s African Rifles During The Great Campaign in
East Africa 1914-
Hart’s Annual Army List for 1915.
The London Gazette & Medal Index Cards.
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