Updated: Jan 15, 2022
During late 1915 and early 1916, 18,700 South African troops were moved into British East Africa (Kenya) as they prepared to invade German East Africa (GEA - Tanzania) to take Moshi town that lay below Mount Kilimanjaro.
On 12th February 1916, over-confident South African infantry had their first experience of fighting against GEA Askari during an attack by British troops on Salaita Hill west of Taveta. When the German-led Askari charged towards them, significant elements of two South African battalions broke and fled through the bush, many of them discarding their rifles in order to run faster. Thirty South Africans were never seen again - lost or wounded in the bush, they probably provided convenient meals for predator wild animals.
Then General Smuts arrived from South Africa and the situation improved
On 8th March 1916 British forces invaded GEA. Smuts' horsemen looped north to Lake Chala and then dropped down onto German-held Taveta (Ta on the above map) when the Lake Chala defenders withdrew there. Meanwhile Smuts' infantrymen advanced past the now undefended Salaita Hill (Sa on the map) with the mission of seizing the Latema-Reata ridgeline (L R on the map).
The British Official History states:
Next morning (10th March) the 2nd South African Horse drove the enemy out of Taveta after a sharp skirmish, following up as far as the hills Latema and Reata, after which the unit was recalled to Taveta.
During that skirmish the bravery of No. 899 Corporal A.F. Joubert, 2nd South African Horse, resulted in him being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation tells the story:
For conspicuous gallantry. After assisting a corporal to bring in a wounded man, he returned alone and brought into safety a wounded trooper from within 25 yards of an enemy machine-gun.
The Germans withdrew but stopped and prepared strong defensive positions on the Latema-Reata ridgeline. Fierce fighting lay ahead.