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British Advance from Mbuyuni to the South of Lake Jipe - May 1916

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Lake Jipe with the Northern Pare Mountains in the background

In Spring 1916 when the British advance into German East Africa (Tanzania) commenced, the main thrust was westwards from British East Africa (Kenya) through Taveta to Kahe and Moshi. The main axis of advance then swung left and south down the Pangani River because the German Usambara Railway line, running from Moshi to Tanga, could be used to bring supplies forward for the advancing troops. River Column followed the banks of the river and Centre Column followed the railway line.

Sketch map of the three-column British advance southward

But one small force, named Eastern Column, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel T.O. Fitzgerald, Commanding Officer 3 King’s African Rifles, was detached to move south from Mbuyuni, past Lake Jipe, and reach Mwaru to the east of the Pare Mountains.

At Mwaru a gap in the mountains, named the Ngulu Gap (after the Ngulu River), ran west to the railway line south of Lembeni, and the Germans had dug strong defensive positions to defend the gap. (The Germans did not know of General Smuts’ plans for the advance and so they wanted to be able to resist a British thrust through the Ngulu Gap which might trap German units north of Lembeni.)

The ground east of Lake Jipe

Looking north-west towards Moshi from Lake Jipe

Eastern Column consisted of:

The King’s African Rifles Mounted Infantry Company

3rd Battalion King’s African Rifles

A section (two mule-packed guns) of 27th Mountain Battery, Indian Army

A section of an Indian Field Ambulance

Ammunition and Supply Columns.

Eastern Column left Mbuyuni at 2200 hours on 20th May and marched 14 miles south through bush before camping at Hill 878. Water was still available from the shallow pans where it had collected during the rainy season. At dawn the Column moved on to an abandoned German camp just south of Lake Jipe. In accordance with the 1st Division timetable Eastern Column moved at 0400 hours on 23rd May southwest to Nyata Hill which was occupied at 0900 hours, one German and 10 Askari having withdrawn an hour earlier.

Looking from Mandi northwards towards Lake Jipe

The KAR Mounted Infantry Company now reconnoitred southeast towards Mwaru Hill, driving off a small Schutztruppe piquet and occupying the hill. Further reconnaissance on 24th May discovered Kindaro to be abandoned but found the Ngulu Gap to be heavily fortified but the enemy troops had withdrawn westwards. Eastern Column halted at Nyata. Centre Column, moving down the railway, had arrived at Lembeni on 23rd May. Eastern Column then moved south through the Northern Pare Mountains to Mandi Hill east of Same, and awaited further orders.

Where Eastern Column's journey started. Mbuyuni Camp, with a South African Field Battery on parade.

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