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Advancing down the Pangani Valley

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Indian sepoys cross the Ruvu River using a railway bridge dropped by the withdrawing Germans.

This article complements the previous one on Hannyngton's Loop.

Whilst Brigadier Hannyngton advanced with Centre Column down the Usambara railway line to Same, River Column commanded by Brigadier S.H. Sheppard advanced down the Pangani River, his Indian pioneers making a road for his supply columns as the infantry advanced.

Sketch showing the Pangani River route of advance from Kahe.

River Column comprised:

  • The East Africa Squadron of the 17th Cavalry (Indian Army).

  • 2nd Rhodesia Regiment.

  • 130th Baluchis, Indian Army.

  • The Composite Kashmir Rifles Battalion (Imperial Service troops from Jammu & Kashmir, India. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions had been combined.).

  • No. 5 Battery South African Field Artillery (horse-drawn 13-pounder guns).

  • 27th Mountain Battery, Indian Army (less one section of two guns, leaving four mule-packed 10-pounder guns in River Column).

  • One Double Company 61st Pioneers, Indian Army (vital for making a road as the column progressed).

  • One British Field Ambulance.

  • Two Sections of an Indian Army Field Ambulance.

  • Ammunition and supply columns (mule-packed and ox or bullock cart loads).

The Ruvu River at Kifaru shortly before it becomes the Pangani.

Initially River Column had a quiet advance with mosquitoes being the biggest threat.

The British had predicted a German defensive position just north of Bwiko where the Pangani River swings eastwards close to the Pare Mountains. A bridge known as German Bridge was being built across the river at this point.

River Column, alerted by air reconnaissance that enemy troops were defending the bridge area, reached the vicinity of German Bridge before Hannyngton’s infantry had moved south of Gonja.

The Pangani River near German Bridge

Shepherd decided to attack immediately and ordered 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, now numbering around 300 men, to seize the enemy trenches. 29th Punjabis were placed in support.

The probable enemy defensive position was on the low ridge in the middle distance.

130th Baluchis, 27th Mountain Battery and 5th Battery South African Field Artillery (SAFA) were ordered to move up the mountain side (beyond the low ridge seen above) to turn the German north flank. However 5th Battery SAFA could not get through the thick bush, but the Baluchi and the Mountain Gunners with their mules could.

The east bank of the Pangani at German Bridge

Four German Field Companies were in the area, but their Commander, Major Kraut had orders to delay the British and not to hold ground.

2nd Rhodesia Regiment conducted a very professional attack, seizing the enemy trenches for the loss of 1 African scout killed and 2 officers and 8 other ranks wounded. The winning factor was the Baluch and Mountain Gunners’ climb up the side of the Pare Mountains to good fire positions where they dominated the battlefield. This broke up attempts at supporting movement by the four enemy Field Companies.

Sepoys by an abandoned enemy train at German Bridge.

Major Kraut and his four companies withdrew south down the railway line, leaving the dead bodies of 27 German Askari on the battlefield, most of them killed by British machine gun and mountain artillery fire. The Rhodesians lost one man, No. 10 African Scout Levi, killed in action and ten men wounded in action.

An elated Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Capell, commanding the Rhodesians, said proudly of his troops’ assault,

Never before have I seen ‘Infantry Training’ and ‘Field Service Regulations’ entirely and completely vindicated; never before seen the use of every scrap of natural cover minimising casualties and falsifying the enemy’s aim; never seen machine-guns working round the flanks surely and surreptitiously between bursts of fire, one covering the other; never witnessed before in action the results of perfect fire control and fire discipline.”

Ladies fishing in a tributary of the Pangani River near Kahe.

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