• Harry Fecitt

THE TOUGH FIGHT ON MWAIKA HILL, GERMAN EAST AFRICA

On the nights of 9th and 12th February 1915 attacks were made on the Uganda Railway bridge at mile 521 between Nairobi & Kisumu, a British sentry being wounded in the second encounter. The attacks were attributed to an energetic German patrol. Enemy activity so near Kisumu was disturbing.


Nairobi Headquarters decided to reinforce the eastern Lake area & the King’s African Rifles (KAR) Mounted Infantry Company, 80 men strong under Lieutenant H.H. Davis, 3 KAR, was entrained for Lumbwa (about 55 miles east of Kisumu) to deal with the raiders. This MI Company was recruited from Abyssinians & Somalis.


The King's African Rifles Mounted Infanty Company


After a brief stay at Lumbwa the KAR Mounted Infantry Coy joined up with a section of 28 Mountain Battery, Indian Army (equipped with two 10-pounder “screw guns” carried on mules), & moved to join Lieutenant Colonel L.H. Hickson at Karungu. The Nairobi-based 3 KAR Reserve Company under Captain W.B. Brook entrained direct for Kisumu to join Hickson by steamer.


Karungu, Kenya, on Lake Victoria

At Niasoku, a hill on the BEA side of the border 20 miles southeast of Karungu Lt Col Hickson assembled a force of over 400 men:

  • ‘E’ & ‘G’ Companies 4 KAR

  • the Reserve Coy 3 KAR

  • the KAR Mounted Infantry Company

  • one Section (two guns) 28 Mountain Battery

  • 16 mounted men of Drought's Troop – the remnants of Ross’ Scouts, now serving in the East African Mounted Rifles


Sketch map of the eastern Lake Area


On 4th March he moved south into German East Africa, clearing German outposts from Ekoma & Susini hills, killing one German at Ekoma (probably Lt Recke) for the loss of two KAR Askari (one from 4 KAR at Ekoma & one from 3 KAR at Susini). On 9th March he reached Mwaika Hill, a little southeast of Utegi & in between the Mori & Mara Rivers.


A hill near Mwaika - possibly the scene of the fight

Mwaika Hill summit consists of two parallel ridges with a shallow rocky valley separating them. Drought's Troop as leading scouts had just reached the higher ridge when it observed German Askari approaching the opposite ridge.


As the British & Germans saw each other they each rushed to secure firing positions on their respective ridges. The KAR Mounted Infantry Company galloped forward to secure Drought's right flank whilst the 3 KAR Reserve Company and the two mountain guns joined the line in the centre. The 4 KAR companies secured the left of the British line.


Lieutenant von Haxthausen was the German commander & he had a Feldkompagnie (Field Company) with him. He held his ground all day, re-taking by the bayonet a knoll on his ridge that was twice seized by 4 KAR Askari.



Lieutenant Colonel Hickson sent the KAR Mounted Infantry in a wide envelopment around the German left flank to try and trap them, whilst Major A.M. Colville of 28 Mountain Battery personally directed a gun forward to within 200 yards of a German Machine Gun position to destroy it with direct fire.


After nightfall von Haxthausen withdrew south avoiding the KAR mounted infantrymen, and this short but sharp & determined action was ended. The KAR claimed the battlefield & the victory (as incidentally did Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck, the German Commander in German East Africa in his book "Reminiscences"), but it was a costly victory for KAR Europeans. To the KAR the important factor was that the Germans had withdrawn, as in the eyes of the local tribes that meant defeat. British influence in this region grew.


A local inhabitant at home near Mwaika

Lt Col Hickson moved west towards Shirati & asked Nairobi for reinforcements.


CASUALTIES

Germans:

Colonel (later General) von Lettow-Vorbeck stated:

1 German & 10 Askari killed in action (KIA), 2 Germans & 25 Askari wounded in action (WIA) and 1 wounded German taken prisoner. (The British report taking many Askari prisoner.)


British:

3 British Officers & 1 British Warrant Officer KIA,

12 Askari & 1 Indian gunner WIA, several Askari MIA.


The British dead were:

Lt Alexander Gordon Sale 3 KAR & Special List, from Barrow-on-Trent, England.

Lt Guy Evelyn Harrie Reid 4 KAR & Special List.

Lt Acland Douglas Thompson 4 KAR & formerly King's Dragoon Guards

Sergeant Major Gordon Reid 3 KAR Mounted Infantry, from Natal, South Africa.


All four men were buried where they fell, then after the war re-buried in a CWGC Cemetery at Mwanza & finally re-buried in the Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery.


The four front graves are the British dead from Mwaika Hill

THREE AWARDS OF THE AFRICAN DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL:


For his part in the actions on 04 March 1915 Yuzbashi Murjah Effendi Bukhit of 4 KAR:

"For gallant conduct & cool leading in close bush, when counterattacked by superior forces, at Ekoma".


Corporal Ismail Ibrahim of 3 KAR:

Conspicuous bravery & gallant conduct in protecting lead horsemen, misleading the enemy as to our strength & later driving off with only 7 men a hostile force at least 50 strong on Mwaika Hill on 9 Mar 1915”.


Sergeant Matakia of 3 KAR:

“For conspicuous bravery in leading his section to the support of the MI over open country under heavy fire, & later of returning to his CO with very valuable information, under heavy fire”


AWARD OF THE IMPERIAL DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL:


No. 9589 Private M. Sullivan of 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (who must have been attached to a KAR unit):

“For conspicuous gallantry on 09 March 1915 at Mwaika Hill (East Africa), in bringing up ammunition to the firing line under close range heavy fire, and subsequently for carrying a wounded man of the 3rd King’s African Rifles under heavy fire into safety.”

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