• Harry Fecitt

ASKARI BRAVERY AT JASIN - SIX AWARDS OF THE AFRICAN DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL


The Suba River above Jasin in dry weather


PLEASE REFER TO THE ARTICLE "THREE INDIAN ORDERS OF MERIT AWARDED FOR HARD FIGHTING AT JASIN" TO SEE AN OVERVIEW OF THIS OPERATION.


Whilst Indian Army units were fighting for their very survival at Jasin on 18th January 1915, King's African Rifles (KAR) Askari were also fighting hard to push back the German Schutztruppe (local army) Europeans and Askari who were advancing along the coast from Tanga.


On the sketch map above the lines of advance of 1st (Nyasaland - Malawi) KAR and 3rd (British East Africa - Kenya) KAR can be seen approaching the Jimbo (Suba) River from the North (top of the map). On the extreme left (west) the route of a German counter-attack can be seen trying to get behind the Ist KAR position.


When the Indian sepoys in Jasin Post and the Sisal Factory were attacked, three companies of KAR Askari under Captain G.J. Giffard, 1st KAR, were sent forward to relieve the besieged positions. Giffard ordered 'B' and 'D' Companies of 3rd KAR, under Captain T.O. Fitzgerald, to attack across the Jimbo (Suba) River west of Jasin Post whilst he took 'B' Company 1st KAR to cross the river just west of the Sisal Factory. As Fitzgerald did not have any other British officers Lieutenant G. M. Dean of 1st KAR commanded one of the 3rd KAR companies.


Although 3rd KAR established a position across the river at the location marked 'B' on the sketch map, 1st KAR ran into strong opposition. Lieutenant Dean, with 3rd KAR, was severely wounded, ammunition ran low and was not correctly replenished from the rear, and so the three companies fought their way back across the river to their starting points where ammunition could be obtained.


No. 566 Sergeant Juma Gabanda, 3rd KAR, was later awarded an African Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) with the citation:

Showed conspicuous bravery in crossing the Suba River (near Jasin) by himself, and succeeded in finding a path by which he brought up the section within 50 yards of the enemy. He maintained his position under heavy machine gun fire until his ammunition was exhausted.


Three 1st KAR Askari, No. 278 Corporal Matukuta, No. 258 Private Bule, and No. 262 Private Tabu, fought together as a team exceptionally well, and all three received an African DCM with the common citation:

For conspicuous gallantry in rescuing wounded during the retirement from JASIN on 18th January 1915. They each in turn engaged the pursuing enemy in hand to hand combats, and succeeded in bringing off their wounded comrades, without the loss of a single rifle.


When another 1st KAR company arrived, along with the Jind Infantry (Indian Imperial Service troops from a Princely State) and two Indian Army mountain guns, a second attack was made across the river at the same places. 1st KAR stalled and fought a withdrawal because the Germans counter-attacked, the Jind Infantry took severe punishment crossing the river and lost many sepoys killed, but 3rd KAR again fought itself across again and occupied location 'B'. But 3rd KAR was fighting on its own and could not withstand the concentration of German attacks mounted against it, and it fought a withdrawal action back across the river when ammunition ran low.


Yuzbashi Effendi Said Abdar Rahman, 3rd KAR, was awarded an African DCM:

Has on several occasions shown conspicuous bravery. On 18th January 1915, he withdrew his Company with great skill from Jasin Ridge, after their ammunition was expended, and though heavily pressed by the enemy he brought back all the wounded with safety.


No. 152 Lance Corporal Kiblagat Arap Tumogan, 3rd KAR, also won an African DCM:

For conspicuous bravery in saving a maxim gun from falling into the hands of the enemy during the retirement from the Jasin Ridge on 18 - 19th January 1915.


The village well in Vanga, the fishing village immediately north of Jasin


But the greatest act of bravery and leadership displayed by a 3rd KAR Askari came from No. 1925 Colour Sergeant George Williams, who had already been recommended for an African DCM (see the article KING'S AFRICAN RIFLES ASKARI AND SOMALI SCOUTS IN ACTION IN THE TSAVO VALLEY) which he was soon to receive. Captain Fitzgerald wrote in his report:

(He) took command of D Company after Lieutenant Dean had been wounded and the Effendi (African Officer) killed. He succeeded in withdrawing the Company and getting the machine gun away under a very heavy maxim gun fire after all the ammunition had been expended.


Major General M.J. Tighe, commanding troops around Mombasa, put George Williams forward to the War Office for a Victoria Cross. But as this was the first application for an African to receive the highest of British gallantry awards, staff officers in London prevaricated, the Colonial Office telling the War Office that the KAR was controlled by the Colonial Office and so it was nothing to do with the War Office. Paper arguments ensued and bureaucratic inertia took over - nothing happened. General Tighe had asked that the least that George Williams should receive was a Bar (second award) to his African DCM - but that too was overlooked or ignored.

(This was not a question of colour as Caribbean soldiers from the West Indies had received the Victoria Cross, it was just an example of how military rear-echelon office workers, far away from the rigours and dangers of fighting, could behave like spoilt brats.)


Giant baobab trees on Wasini Island north of Jasin


AWARDS OF THE MILITARY CROSS FOR TWO KING'S AFRICAN RIFLES OFFICERS


Later, Captain Thomas Otho Fitzgerald, 1st Battalion 3rd King's African Rifles, received a Military Cross. General Tighe had commented:

I have already brought this officer’s name to notice for successful and gallant leadership. At JASIN on the 18th when owing to the attacking centre falling back his company found itself isolated, and in danger of being cut off, by his skill and determination succeeded in withdrawing it safely from its previous position. Throughout the operations this officer’s work has been conspicuous.


On the same day Captain Robert Cecil Hardingham, 1st Battalion 1st King's African Rifles, also received a Military Cross. General Tighe had written:

This officer behaved with conspicuous coolness and gallantry at JASIN on the 18th January 1915. It was mainly owing to this officer’s efforts and example that the wounded with the rear parties were successfully brought away under heavy fire.


KAR CASUALTIES AT JASIN

1st KAR Lost 11 all ranks wounded.

3rd KAR lost 16 all ranks killed and 20 wounded.

The KAR machine gun team in Jasin Post lost 1 man killed, 1 man wounded and 9 men taken prisoner.

The Carrier Corps lost 4 men killed, 12 men wounded and 68 men taken prisoner.


The attacks by the King's African Rifles at Jasin had been brave and hard fought, especially by 3rd KAR, but the attacks were poorly planned and supported, and were not mounted with all the available troops in Umba Camp to the north. The German Schutztruppe operated well but took many casualties, especially from shrapnel fired by the Indian mountain guns, and in the future the German Commander, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, husbanded his human resources by fighting mainly defensive actions as German East Africa (Tanzania) was invaded by the Allies.

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