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Fight for Zuganatto Bridge - 15 & 15 June 1916

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

By the Pangani River

Flooded ground near the Pangani

At the end of the Spring rains in 1916 British Columns under General Smuts pushed south down the Pangani River and the Usambara railway line that ran from Moshi to Tanga. One Column under Brigadier Hannyngton moved east of the South Pare Mountains and then onwards down the railway, the other columns turned more to the west to reach Handeni.

3KAR were now ordered to seize the Zuganatto road bridge further east at Korogwe.

The battalion crossed the Pangani by a villagers’ foot bridge (a rickety swinging bridge and a few slippery tree trunks) a mile below Mauri on the night of 10 June, taking several hours to cross the fragile structure.

Sketch map of the ground between Mauri and Korogwe

At dawn the CO, Lt Col T.O. FitzGerald, decided to press on along the south bank with the two companies that had already crossed the river.

The advance guard met a 12-man Schutztruppe patrol at 0600 hours, one mile west of Zugunatto Bridge. The enemy patrol dispersed rapidly. Half a mile further on the battalion came under fire from 2 machine guns and 25 rifles entrenched either side of the bridge, taking 8 casualties, one of whom died later.

Looking from North to South. The hillock on the skyline was the key to the German defence and 3 KAR attacked and seized it.

“A” Company and half of “D” Company seized a hillock that commanded the bridge from 400 yards distance and shot the Schutztruppe defenders out of their south bank trenches, three dead bodies being found later.

Looking from South to North (the direction of the British attack). The old bridge pier foundations can be seen on the left of the modern structure.

The Pangani is useful to local people, even today.

A third KAR company came up to the bridge at 0700 hours causing the Schutztruppe to withdraw into Korogwe. The wooden bridge had been prepared for burning but the speed and direction of 3KAR’s night advance had caught the Germans by surprise.

The capture of this bridge was important as it was the only crossing point over the Pangani that Hannyngton’s No 2 Column could use for moving to Handeni. One 3KAR Signaller was missing, believed drowned in the Pangani.

Captain Baron Eric von Otter, 3 KAR

Captain Baron Eric von Otter, 3 KAR, decisiveness and drive had succeeded in capturing Zuganatto Bridge quickly, was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry that day.

Eric's citation for his award read:

“For conspicuous gallantry in action. In face of heavy machine gun fire he carried a wounded man on his back across the open to cover. He then returned to his machine guns, and silenced one of the enemy’s guns which had caused many casualties.”

His Askari affectionately called him in Swahili 'Risasi Moja' ('One Shot'), because that was all he ever needed.

Eric died of Blackwater Fever after the war whilst serving as Officer Commanding Troops in Turkanaland. This plaque commemorates him in Nairobi Protestant Cathedral.

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