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Three Indian Orders of Merit awarded for hard fighting at Jasin - 18 January 1915

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

German graves in Tanga of men killed in the Jasin fighting

After the British defeat at Tanga (see the article on the Loyal North Lancashires at Tanga) European morale in German East Africa (GEA - Tanzania) rose dramatically and many settlers who had previously been against the war changed their minds, and supported military action against British East Africa (BEA - Kenya), Uganda, and Nyasaland (Malawi). The African population did not fail to provide as many recruits for the Schutztruppe (local army) as the Germans required.

In BEA the British had a problem with displaced villagers, as many Africans living near Vanga, on the border with GEA, moved towards Mombasa to avoid German patrols that crossed the border from Tanga and foraged for livestock and food crops. The British General in Mombasa decided to take action against the Germans and an incursion was made across the border at Jasin, south of Vanga.

King's African Rifles Askari were involved and also Indian sepoys and mountain gunners. The military operation was not a success for the British as many sepoys were taken prisoner, but the Indian mountain gunners proved to be very effective at engaging enemy machine guns and they killed several German, Austrian and Hungarian gunners (see the photo of graves above). The Schutztruppe preferred to have Europeans as the Number Ones on their machine guns, as the Number Ones set the sights and fired the bursts of ammunition at British targets; the British used Askari and sepoys to fire their machine guns.

Sketch map showing the Sisal Factory and Jasin Post

By Mid-January 1915 the British had pushed the Germans out of Jasin and had located 40 sepoys of the 2nd Kashmir Rifles in a sisal factory. In Jasin Post another 144 Kashmiris were positioned alongside 138 sepoys from the 101st Grenadiers.

The Germans were not slow to react and they used a commercial trolley line to move men up to Jasin. After a few days of skirmishing, the Germans attacked Jasin on the 18th January. One of their first targets was the Sisal Factory and they subjected it to heavy fire.

The Kashmiri sepoys in the sisal factory were undoubtedly lacking in fire discipline as by 1100 hours they had fired their last round. To quote from the Official History:

“They had no thought of surrender. Led by Subadar Mardan Ali, they charged out with bayonets and kukris, scattering into the bush, and eventually 29 of the 40 (sepoys) reached Umba Camp.”

Mardan Ali, along with Sepoys Billu and Saif Ali, later received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal. In fact some sepoys including Mardan Ali got through to Jasin Post, the main defended location, and were later captured there. Mardan Ali's citation read:

He held on to his post until the last round according to orders. Brought in his belt boxes of ammunition. He was a most cheery and useful NCO throughout the fight and carried the flag of truce to the enemy (taken prisoner).

The Germans then concentrated their efforts against Jasin Post, and the commander in the Post, Lieutenant Colonel Raghubir Singh of the 2nd Kashmir Rifles, fired signal rockets to warn other British units further north of the enemy attack. This resulted in the King's African Rifles Askari and the Jind Infantry (from the Indian Princely State of Jind) being ordered to attack southwards to relieve Jasin Post.

Photographs of the Jind Infantry

Throughout the East Africa Campaign the Jind Infantry never failed to attack when ordered, and on this occasion their mission was to assault in the centre and to relieve Jasin Post. At noon the Jind Infantry fired three volleys into the bush across the Jimbo River (see sketch map above) river and the 120 sepoys charged. But German Askari were concealed and waiting and in a short time 36 sepoys were shot dead and 21 others were wounded, including the Jind Commanding Officer, Major General Natha Singh.

The Jind men withdrew across the river, and Subadar Harnam Singh later received an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, for the gallantry he displayed before he was severely wounded. His citation read:

For his gallant conduct at Jasin on the 18th January 1915. He rallied a small party to cover a retirement and held the enemy in check until his party were all killed and he himself severely wounded and taken prisoner.

Also these three men of the Jind Infantry were awarded Indian Distinguished Service Medals for the gallantry that they displayed at Jasin:

No. 1367 Havildar Gujar Singh.

No. 2276 Sepoy Sadhu Singh.

No 2287 Sepoy Lakha Singh.

Meanwhile Jasin Post was in trouble as it had not been well positioned. Adjacent sisal crops provided cover for German Askari to move close to the Post, and the water supply was located outside the Post. That night two Kashmiri sepoys, No. 310 Sepoy Bal Bahadur Chettri and No. 1275 Sepoy Dal Bahadur Thapa, bravely made a reconnaissance patrol to Jasin Post. Later they both received an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, with this citation:

For gallant behaviour on the night of the 18th-19th January 1915, at Jasin, in volunteering to carry a message to Jasin Post. The post was surrounded by the enemy and the errand was one of great danger. At night, with two Africans, they proceeded in a dug-out through the mangrove swamps adjoining the post and, though unable to get through the enemy’s outposts, which were in a close ring round the post and fired on them, remained out all night and brought in useful information.
German Askari riflemen and European machine gunner firing volleys

At dawn on 19th January the German companies surrounding Jasin Post opened fire with rifles, several machine guns and three field guns. The Kashmiri troops lost their fire discipline and returned fire effectively but furiously, rapidly expending the ammunition stock. Many of the Grenadiers were new replacements from India sent to make up the Tanga losses, and they were suffering from the effects of the tropical climate, malaria and low morale. Most would not raise themselves to return fire and those that did mostly fired blindly into the air. The water supply within the perimeter ran out. Colonel Raghubir Singh was killed and that event increased the general demoralisation within the post.

At around 0800 hours, deciding that further resistance was useless, the senior officer in the post ordered a white flag to be raised. Jasin Post had surrendered. The 2nd Kashmir Rifles in the Post (not including the sisal factory) lost 12 men killed and 13 wounded; the 101st Grenadiers lost 6 killed and 4 wounded. There were probably many more minor shrapnel wounds that were not recorded at the time, and one report states that of the 135 Kashmiri prisoners, 115 were wounded. The sepoys remained in German hands as prisoners of war.

The other British troops withdrew northwards. The only real British success story had been the performance of the Indian gunners from 28 Mountain Battery. As stated previously they killed several enemy machine gunners and also many enemy Askari who attempted a bayonet charge on the guns - during this attack on the gun positions the gunners fired 40 rounds in 5 minutes on the fuse setting “shrapnel zero” (near-instantaneous detonation of shells filled with steel fragments).

No. 1211 Gunner Mehr Khan, 28 Mountain Battery, was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal:

For conspicuous gallantry in going back about 40 yards four times under the close fire of 3 machine guns, to bring up the side shields of his gun, which had been left behind.

Memorial panel to the Indian troops who were killed at Jasin, located in the Tanga Memorial Cemetery

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