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Mountain Gunners prove their worth with direct fire at Kahe - 21 March 1916

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

The line of trees marks the Soko River, and German trenches were dug in the bush for concealment, but with an excellent field of fire against advancing enemy troops. Some Germans observed and fired from platforms concealed in trees.

Sketch map of the Kahe area

During the British advance into German East Africa (Tanzania), and after South African Infantry had run into concealed German positions (refer to the article Saving the South Africans), on 21st March 1916 another British advance was mounted to seize the bridge over the River Ruvu near Kahe.

Advancing south from Store were the 2nd South African Brigade to the west and the 2nd East African Brigade to the east. But British reconnaissance failed to discover that the advance was blocked by a line of concealed German trenches in dense bush in front of the Soko Nassai River (St. on the map - the German commander there was Capt Paul Stemmerman).

The British Official History states:

The enemy's position had been well chosen. The well nigh impassable Soko Nassai River protected its eastern flank, the almost equally difficult Defu the western. Immediately in front was a belt of relatively open ground from 800 to 1,600 yards wide, covered by machine guns sited both frontally and on the nearer bank of the Soko Nassai on the right flank. The attacking troops were thus confined in a narrowing tongue of ground bounded by rivers which were not only wider and deeper than was expected, but full of crocodiles. Beyond the open belt just mentioned the bush was exceptionally thick, and movement correspondingly slow.

The Germans had a good field of fire and their many machine guns quickly caused attrition right across the British front; the German artillery observers were using prepared platforms in trees and they brought down accurate fire. The British commander ordered his men to dig in whilst he attempted to outflank his enemy. The British field artillery observers could not at first see their fall of shot due to the dense bush, and so artillery fire was of little use to the infantry until mountain guns were brought forward into the firing line.

The German machine gun killing ground in front of the Soko River, which follows the tree line

The gunners of the 27th Mountain Battery, Indian Army, fired 292 rounds, mostly over open sights whilst in full view of the enemy. The guns received continuous bullet strikes on the shields. But the shrapnel rounds (shells filled with metal pieces) fired by the mountain gunners took their toll on the German machine gunners and Askari, who had to expose their heads above their trenches in order to fire effectively.

Punjabis and Baluchis of the 2nd East African Brigade attempted to outflank the enemy to the east, but were stalled by effective German machine gun fire. The British commander, fearing a German counter-attack, ordered his men to dig in where they were for the night.

Reconnaissance patrols the following morning found that the Germans had withdrawn, leaving many blood-stained wound dressings in their trenches - the mountain gunners had been on-target!

For distinguished conduct in the Field that day Subadar Sher Baz was admitted to the Order of British India whilst 702 Havildar Bhan Singh and 1141 Lance Naik Sundar Singh received Indian Distinguished Service Medals.

Bhan Singh’s citation read:

At SOKO RIVER, 21st March 1916. As No 1 of his gun in the infantry firing line, displayed great coolness and determination in the working of his gun under heavy fire, setting an excellent example to his men.

Sundar Singh’s citation read:

At SOKO RIVER, on 21st March 1916. Went forward as telephonist with the Battery Commander into the infantry firing line and did excellent work under heavy and accurate enemy gun and rifle fire, which he utterly disregarded, and kept the telephones working the whole day.

An Indian Army Mountain Battery in marching formation (when not in contact with the enemy). Mules carried the gun pieces and ammunition. The gun barrels were in two parts that screwed together.

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