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Royal Navy Captures Bagamoyo - 15 August 1916

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

German Pangani

After the capture of Pangani (previous article), HMS Talbot, having received information about a party of Germans at Kipumbwe, shelled that location on 25th July 1916. In fact the Germans were out on an operation and so the local inhabitants ran up the white flag, but to their dismay the navy then sailed away.

The Schutztruppe returned to Kipumbwe shortly afterwards and burned the local dwellings in reprisal for the white flag being shown.

Meanwhile HMS Talbot was further down the coast shelling Mkwaja.

Sketch map of the German East Africa Coast from Tanga to Dar Es Salaam

On 26th July the monitor Mersey shelled Sadani whilst a seaplane reconnoitred overhead.

The next day HMS Talbot landed a party at Mkwaja that skirmished with approaching Schutztruppe troops. HMS Talbot then sailed down the coast to shell Bagamoyo on 29th July before returning to pick up the Mkwaja landing party.

Street scene in German Bagamoyo

Then on 1st August the navy went in for the kill and captured Sadani with marines and sailors from Vengeance, Talbot, Severn and Mersey, whilst the latter two ships covered the landing with their guns. A detachment of the Zanzibar Rifles accompanied the marines.

Skirmishes resulted in only three casualties amongst the landing party.

On 5th August the 2nd West India Regiment was landed at Sadani from Tanga, and the sailors went back to their ships and prepared to attack Bagamoyo.

The Royal Navy bombardment of Bagamoyo (Courtesy of Cross and Cockade International)

The Army requested that the Royal Navy seize Bagamoyo (a former capital of German East Africa). Naval intelligence stated that the opposition would be 10 Schutztruppe whites and 400 Askari. (The Official History quotes an even smaller estimate by the Army of just 50 defenders.)

The Navy accepted immediately and made plans, bringing down the coast from Sadani Captain F.H. Thomas’ Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) detachment and the Zanzibar Rifles.

Bagamoyo landing beach looking north

However Bagamoyo was defended by Abteilung Bodecker which included a white unit.

In fact 60 Germans and 350 Askari, with 2 machine guns and a light gun manned the defence, although many of them were deployed at Mtoni, a crossing-point on the Kingani River four miles west of Bagamoyo.

Bagamayo Fort which was the German Administrative HQ (Boma)

Also 500 African porters had just pulled a 4.1-inch Konigsberg gun with 100 rounds of ammunition up the coast from Dar Es Salaam. But the gun had not been properly dug-in yet.

Bagamayo Arab Fort overlooking the beach.

German Askari in front of the German Fort and Boma

British seaplane reconnaissance reported trenches at the north end of the town beach and two defended strong-points at the south end, protected by trenches and screened by trees and thick bush from the beach. These strong-points were the Arab Fort and the German Fort and Boma.

Before dawn on 15th August 1916 the battleship Vengeance, the cruiser Challenger, the monitors Mersey and Severn, the armed tug Helmuth and other British light craft, anchored off Bagamoyo.

In bright moonlight at 0530 hours six strings of landing-party boats, towed by steam-boats, started in line abreast from the ships for the beach. The boats carried an assault party of 324 men:

A string of Royal Navy craft being towed towards Bagamayo beach

16 Royal Navy officers and 160 Seamen

1 Royal Marines officer and 64 Marines

1 Zanzibar Rifles officer and 54 Askari

1 Intelligence officer and 18 Intelligence Scouts

4 machine-guns and 6 Lewis Guns were carried ashore.

The two monitors provided covering fire.

Looking from the German Customs House south down Bagamayo beach

The German trenches beside the Customs House engaged the towed landing party with rifle and machine-gun fire, assisted by a pom-pom.

The Konigsberg gun also opened fire at the southern end of town, causing an unpleasant surprise to the British squadron.

However because the gun position had been inadequately prepared the 4.1-inch gun could not depress sufficiently to accurately engage the British ships.

The Helmuth and a picket boat with a 3-pounder engaged and silenced the German 4.1-inch gun.

Commander R.J.N. Watson, Royal Navy, commanding the landing flotilla, steered a zig-zag course to the beach and landed below the Konigsberg gun.

Sub-Lieutenant F.S. Manning, Royal Naval Reserve, immediately assaulted the Konigsberg gun-position with a machine-gun team, capturing it and finding the gun-crew gone and the breech-block in a nearby pit.

This was the first Konigsberg gun to be captured in combat.

Bagamayo German Fort and Boma

The Royal Navy landing party assaulted the Arab Fort, their objective, but found it abandoned.

The Royal Marines assaulted and captured the Boma. But the remaining defenders were still in their trenches between the Boma and the shore.

Assisted by the Zanzibar Rifles the Royal Marines started clearing the area.

During this fighting both Captain Thomas and the German officer Captain Wilhelm von Wulfingen were killed. Private Dennis, who had been Captain Thomas’ bat-man, bayoneted to death the man who had shot Captain Thomas.

A group of Seamen, working on information carried by Lance Corporal E.V. Deane (Plymouth RMLI), worked around the rear of the Boma and cut-off the Schutztruppe’s line of retreat.

This big Baobab tree above Bagamoyo beach had ladder rungs driven into it so that it could be used as a German look-out post

Lance-Corporal Deane had run under fire to deliver the information to the RN assault-party commander Lieutenant E.S. Brooksmith, Royal Navy. Lance-Corporal Deane then provided covering fire for Lieutenant Brooksmith’s advance.

For these actions Lance Corporal Deane later received a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

Acting-Company Sergeant Major P.E. Smith, Lance-Corporal W. Bradley and Private W. Dennis (all RMLI Plymouth) were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Captain Thomas, Colour-Sergeant W.J. Fouracre (RMLI Plymouth) and Sergeant Harry Carter (RMLI Portsmouth) were Mentioned In Despatches.

The Official History states:

“Except for a fire in the native quarter, the town escaped lightly (from the bombardment and fighting), the European houses for the most part being intact. From midday onwards all was quiet.”

As usual those who possessed least lost most.

Apparently the German commander Captain von Bodecker was killed when naval shells falling on the town hit his counter-attack that was advancing eastwards towards the beach.

With Captain von Wulfingen also dead, the Schutztruppe survivors moved westwards.

The Royal Navy took possession of Bagamayo and planned the next move to seize Dar Es Salaam - where considerable prize money was expected to be awarded.

The graves of the two German Captains in Upanga Road Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

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