Updated: Jan 16, 2022
On 3rd January 1915 British Intelligence reported that the Schutztruppe (local German army) in the Lake Victoria area was crossing the British East Africa (BEA) border to establish posts and raid cattle. It appeared that Kisii was being threatened again.
On 4th January No. 2 (Double) Company 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (2 LNL) (174 all ranks) plus one machine gun, 6 mules, ten days supplies, 100 rounds reserve ammunition per man but no tents, left Nairobi by train for Kisumu on the Lake. A 2-gun Section of 28th Mountain Battery also entrained for Kisumu.
Ross's Scouts confirmed that Taraqueta Hill just northeast of Shirari (40 miles east of Shirati and south of Migori on the map below) on the border was held by 50 enemy with 2 machine guns, and that the Germans were extensively raiding cattle and burning grain stores.
On 6th January No. 2 Coy, 2 LNL, the two Mountain Guns and Brigadier General Stewart from HQ Nairobi left Kisumu on the steamer SS Nyanza, escorted by the armed tug Kavirondo, and at dawn entered Shirati harbour firing at the fort and the Schutztruppe troops on the shore. The mountain gunners could see their targets & fired accurately off the deck of the Nyanza.
The British force landed about one mile east of the pier and captured the town. The Schutztruppe defenders, Lieutenant von Haxthausen and 22 Askari, retired south.
General Stewart then left in the Nyanza to visit the Kagera line across the Lake.
King's African Rifles (KAR) companies were moving from Karungu against the Schutztruppe on the border just to the northeast, and No. 2 Company was ordered to block any German movement south. No. 2 Coy patrolled widely, noting that the enemy was keeping Shirati under observation.
On 10 January ‘E’ and ‘G’ Companies of 4 KAR & Ross's Scouts and a party of carriers joined No. 2 Company at Shirati. The arrival of the carriers allowed the British troops to now deploy further away from their supply base at Shirati.
No. 2 Company and the KAR Companies now patrolled from Shirati along the border to Shirari hoping to confront a German raiding party. The carriers re-supplied the rifle companies each day by marching out from Shirati.
‘E’ Company 4 KAR on 16 January found a group of 45 Schutztruppe commanded by von Haxthausen on Shirari Hill just north of the border, and attacked them.
After confused fighting in thick bush ‘E’ Coy captured a German 1.5-pounder gun on the crest of the hill, and the enemy baggage train in the bush. However local villagers had advised the Schutztruppe of the location of ‘E’ Company's own baggage train, and a second German group captured the KAR baggage (it contained 25,000 rounds of ammunition) along with a KAR Surgeon and then withdrew south.
‘E’ Company's casualties were: 2 Askari Killed in Action (KIA), 6 Wounded in Action (WIA), 1 Missing in Action (MIA) and 1 Surgeon taken prisoner. The Schutztruppe losses seen were: 4 Askari and 23 porters KIA, and 1 German WIA. Other casualties were removed by von Haxthausen.
As the gun was too large to be moved ‘E’ Company disabled it and moved northwest to Butende. The Schutztruppe re-occupied Shirari Hill. No 2 Coy moved to Butende and most of the British forces concentrated for another attack on Shirari Hill. This was mounted on 21 January but the Schutztruppe had seen the British preparations and had withdrawn ahead of the attack.
On the Indian Ocean Coast the German attack on Jasin had succeeded and all eyes were turned there. No 2 Company, now ordered to return to Nairobi, marched back to Shirati (43 miles of rough bush terrain covered in two days) and on 29 January left aboard SS Winifred for Kisumu. There the Company entrained for Nairobi.
Shirati was abandoned and the two KAR Companies moved north of the border to go onto the defensive.
When No 2 Company got back to Nairobi on 01 February; 36 men had or were recovering from malaria and 10 others had tick (spirillum) fever, including the Royal Army Medical Corps Medical Officer with the Company - a sickness rate of over 25%. The platoons that had marched inland away from the Lake were the healthiest.
The Lake area quietened down during February but six weeks later another Loyal North Lancashire’s Company would be deployed there.
Two points stand out. The British regular troops were good at deploying by boats & marching & concentrating in the bush, but the Germans were even better at slipping away into the vastness of German East Africa whenever they wanted to. The main reason for this was that the German Field Companies had porters permanently on their establishment. The British had to request porter support for operations through staff channels, which took time and usually produced untrained and inexperienced men.
The health problems encountered show the unsuitability of white units for service in tropical Africa in the days before medicinal drugs could resist diseases, particularly malaria.