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Taking Tanga & Mopping up German troops to Pangani 1916

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Tanga harbour

The 5th Light Infantry (5LI), Indian Army, arrived in Mombasa in 1916 after an eventful time. Half of the regiment had mutinied in Singapore due to incompetent British leadership and the propaganda that came from German naval prisoners that the sepoys were guarding. The mutiny was put down ferociously by Allied units in Singapore; the regiment was then reconstituted and sent to West Africa where it fought in German Kamerun - the only major Indian Army unit to do so. When the Germans in what is now Cameroon surrendered, the regiment was shipped to East Africa.

Sketch map of the Tanga area

In early July 1916 the anticipated order to move into German East Africa (GEA) was received and 5LI moved down the coast by boat, accompanied by two companies from the 101st Grenadiers. An enemy position in Manza Bay, north of Tanga, was encountered on 5th July. The enemy force of 8 Europeans and 60 Askari fought a delaying action, using a machine gun effectively. The British advance guard was commanded by Captain Charles Sumner Stooks, 5LI, and he was badly wounded along with a sepoy and two African machine gun carriers; two other sepoys and a machine gun carrier were killed, whilst the bodies of eight enemy Askari were counted.

Captain Stooks later received a Distinguished Service Order with the citation:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He showed marked courage and-skill in commanding the advanced guard under machine gun and heavy rifle fire. He was severely wounded.

Subadar Aziz-ud-din-Khan was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal.

After some skirmishing Tanga was occupied by 5LI and the Grenadiers on the 7th July. This was an important achievement as now a very useful GEA port was in British hands.

After seizing Tanga 5LI, excepting a small garrison in Pangani, was shipped back to Mombasa to recuperate from "fever" (malaria) which most of the unit was suffering from.

Old German colonial buildings in Tanga.

Indian Army railway engineers moved in to Tanga to reconstruct the demolished German rail connection that ran north to Moshi. They completed the link to Korogwe in two days.

Construction of the first railway line in German East Africa that ran from Tanga to Korogwe

3rd King's African Rifles having captured Zuganatto Bridge at Korogwe, it was used for British supply vehicles to cross the Pangani and drive down to Handeni. A railhead was established at Korogwe, and from there hospital trains carried British casualties up to Kahe, east to Voi, and then north to Nairobi.

British Hospital Train

In mid-July 1916 the British estimate of Schutztruppe “Stay-behind” troops in the south Usambara Mountains and the coastal strip from Tanga to Pangani totaled 650 Askari and over 40 Germans.

Von Lettow telegraphed orders for the Schutztruppe to disrupt the British Line of Communication, particularly the lorry route between the railhead at Korogwe and Handeni.

As the Official History states:

“Supply lorries were fired upon, motor ambulances blown up by mines, telegraph and telephone wires cut, and all who used the road at any time were sniped from the bush”.

German Askari deployed near the Indian Ocean coast

On 13th July the Jind Infantry, guarding Zugunatto Bridge must have received some intelligence, as they doubled the bridge guard from 50 to 100 men. They were then attacked by a Schutztruppe force of 170 men plus a light gun. But the Jind Infantry were amongst the soundest troops from the Indian Princely States and the defence held. The Germans withdrew to Segera.

General Smuts ordered his Inspector General of Communications (IGC), Brig-Gen W.F.S. Edwards, a British East Africa policeman, to resolve this problem. As the IGC had no spare infantry he decided to use the 25th and 26th Railway Companies, Indian Sappers and Miners, along with a few infantrymen, and reported this to General Smuts who made no comment. But Edwards did not confer with the Director of Railways who badly needed those two companies to stay on the job of railway restoration in order to alleviate supply problems.

Segera Hill, east of Korogwe

After dark on 13th July the railway engineers, under Lieutenant Colonel C.W. Wilkinson Royal Engineers, moved out from Korogwe to attack Segera Hill. The sappers did well, getting up to a machine gun, killing the German non-commissioned officers in charge and capturing the gun in a bayonet assault. The Schutztruppe force withdrew hurriedly but counter-attacked next day. The sappers were up to their new task and broke the enemy assault. The Germans withdrew east to a base at Hale.

This "mis-use" of specialist troops got a few senior staff officers excited, but no doubt the sepoys themselves enjoyed it, and had many exciting tales to tell when they finally returned home to India.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles William Wilkinson, Royal Engineers, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) with the citation:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He displayed great courage and skill in handling a hastily improvised force under difficult conditions, and was largely instrumental in clearing parties of the enemy from the lines of communication.


Another new Indian Army regiment arrived in East Africa from Egypt titled 57th Wilde's Rifles.

No 4 Company of 57th Wilde’s Rifles was tasked with taking the German Research Station at Amani in the South Usambara Mountains. This research centre had been invaluable to the Schutztruppe in developing import-substitutes for food, clothing and dyes, rubber products and alcohol for fuel as well as personal consumption.

Initially the company marched through forest trails to Sigi logging station, where a light railway ran timber down to the main Tanga line.

The old German Station Master's house at Sigi

The road to Amani on a wet day

On 20th July 1916 No 4 Company climbed up towards Amani finding two German women near the track sending a message reporting the Sepoys’ presence, but the messenger was intercepted.

As the Sepoy Advance Guard approached the Governor's Residence in Amani a white flag was run above it, and the Governor came out to surrender along with 25 Germans convalescing from wounds. (One of these wounded men had been charged by a rhinoceros whilst out on patrol, and was lamed for life.)

The German Imperial Standard was taken down and packed away for future shipment to the 57th Wilde's Rifles Officers Mess in Dera Ismail Khan, and crayons were used on the white flag to produce a British flag, which was raised. No 4 Company was relieved in Amani after a couple of days by the South African Cape Corps.

Pangani German Boma (the Governor's administrative centre)

The next British objective was the small port of Pangani. Pangani Town at the mouth of the Pangani River has a good harbour, and it was the headquarters for the German Governor of the District.

Just before last light on 22nd July 1916 the Royal Navy ship HMS Talbot arrived off Pangani and bombarded Bweni Bluff, where a German gun was believed to be positioned.

Pangani Harbour with Bweni Bluff in the background.

The road to Pangani followed by 57th Wilde's Rifles

Meanwhile 57th Wilde’s Rifles was marching on Pangani from the northwest.

On 23rd July white flags were seen in Pangani Town and a landing party under Captain F.H. Thomas DSC, Royal Marine Light Infantry, went ashore from HMS Talbot and found the place empty of Germans. (Sadly Captain Thomas was to meet a different kind of reception further down the coast.)

Memorial in Pangani commemorating the British capture of the town

The fine old Swahili carved door on the Boma.

Many buildings in Pangani are dilapidated, but the Boma is well worth a visit.

Other traces of German occupation are much harder to find.

The old German graveyard in Pangani

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