BATTLE BY ACCIDENT
The Battle For Longido Mountain, 3 - 4 November 1914
By Dennis L. Bishop and Holger Dobold
Some battles are planned and the enemy positions are known. Some battles are meeting engagements that develop into a battle. However, there are few combat actions that result from as many coincidences as the one fought for a lonely mountain in Deutsches Ost Afrika in November of 1914.
Events that occurred in August and September, 1914 had a great bearing on the decisions that lead to the Battle of Longido Mountain in November. During August several German raiding parties had attempted to reach the Magadi branch railway of the Uganda Railroad. At this time, the rail line was defended by only 48 men of the Soda Company’s local defense force scattered along the rails in small posts. None of these were successful. A small mounted party of polizei (police) under Hauptmann Lincke set out on 10 September, but it was turned back after a skirmish with an E.A.M.R. (East African Mounted Rifle Regiment) patrol on the same day west of Oldoinyo Erok. The only casualty was a German N.C.O. being wounded. Ironically, the earlier German attempts at raids had caused the British to deploy the B/E.A.M.R. and E/E.A.M.R. squadrons (50 men each according to Hordern) into the area almost at the same time that Lincke attempted his raid. The skirmish, and intelligence that the Germans were located in strength at Longido, was enough to convince the British to dispatch the rest of the E.A.M.R. into the Magadi area. However, with no contact with the enemy, two squadrons were withdrawn to Nairobi within a week. The rest of the regiment was broken up into small camps on the slopes of the Oldoinyo Erok occupied with patrolling and reconnaissance for about two weeks.
On 17 September, Hauptmann Tafel, commanding the 10. F. K. (Feldkompagnie) and the German post at Longido, made another attempt at a raid, with his 10. F. K. and a mounted European detachment. This raid was probably on his personal initiative. This force of 12 European officers and other ranks, 47 mounted Europeans (a farmer militia under Kapitanleutant Niemeyer), 158 askari with two machineguns, and 200 porters passed west of Oldoinyo Erok during the night of 24 September and halted to rest near the Ingito hills early the next morning. This was ironically near the camp of C/E.A.M.R. squadron on the upper Manga River.
Captain P. Chapman, commanding C/E.A.M.R., set out early that morning and when his advanced guard came into contact there was a sharp little fight at close quarters. Chapman deployed his men, but had to retreat under the fire of two machineguns and the flanking German askari. The force fell back through the bush to rally in some small hills. It was then discovered that the British had lost eight men killed and four wounded, although the Germans claimed to have found 19 British and Boer dead and captured 22 horses. W. Arning claimed even more British losses, and states that captured enemy soldiers spoke of 29 British killed, 26 British wounded out of a force of 75 men. This matches better the strength of the squadron than the original British estimate. Arning goes on to identify the British squadron to belong to the “League of Frontiersmen”.
The Germans had also suffered losses. Governor Schnee claimed one German officer killed, four European other ranks killed, and four Europeans with 13 askari wounded according to Farwell, but examination of Schnee’s work reveals that Schnee believed that Hauptmann Tafel, Leutnant Walde (2nd in command), seven German other ranks, and twelve askaris were wounded. He also believed that Hauptmann Tafel was wounded in the leg by a “dum-dum” bullet. The British claimed one European officer, six European other ranks, and seven askari were killed. Kapitanleutnant Niemayer, upon who command devolved when Hauptamnn Tafel and Leutnant Walde were wounded, returned to the Longido camps claiming that the skirmish had successfully repulsed the E.A.M.R. attempted invasion. The officers of the E.A.M.R. believed that they had repulsed a German attempted raid on the Magadi railroad branch.
Although Captain Chapman was able to inflict almost the same number of casualties that he suffered, there is an irony to the story and some suspicion of the German body count. Before Chapman left his camp he had sent messages to the other squadrons requesting help. These messages were either miscarried or misinterpreted. It was only after the battle that the first reinforcing squadron arrived in time to watch the Germans retreating with their wounded. The suspicious nature of the German body count revolves around the 10. F. K. organization and armament. It is difficult to accept that the 10. F.K. armed with the modern M98 rifle and two Maxim machineguns suffered the unequal losses reported by the British unless Chapman had caught the Germans by surprise while encamped.
According to Arning the British had indeed succeeded in a surprise attack. C/E.A.M.R. had followed the tracks of the German troops to a waterhole. The hooves of the horses of the mounted German detachment destroyed the tracks of the marching askari. It is probable that Captain Chapman’s command was totally unaware of the presence of the Feldkompagnie. When the British attacked Kapitanleutnant Niemeyer’s German mounted detachment encamped at the waterhole, the British were themselves surprised when the 10. F. K. counterattacked. Arning goes on to describe the British as being British and Boer settlers who concentrated their fire on the Europeans of the German force. This would explain the high German losses.
Regardless of the events surrounding the little battle, the effect was that the British continued patrolling the Magadi Area, and enlarged and strengthened the camps. The Kajiado-Longido track was surveyed and improved, a pipeline for water was constructed, and a telegraph line was established although giraffes in the area continually broke the lines. By the end of October, the forward base at Kajiado was completed with one double company of the 29th Punjab Battalion as its garrison. The Kajaido base consisted of store depots, a hospital, and a combined veterinary and remount depot. With all these improvements, the British considered that the route to Longido Mountain possible should the need arise to advance upon this area.
The Germans reinforced the Longido Area by the end of September. Abteilung Kraut grew to three Feldkompagnien, and a mounted European Schutzenkompagnie. Hauptmann Kraut commanded the 10. F. K. (then under Oberleutnant Busse), 11. F. K. (Hauptmann Stemmermann), 21. F. K. (Leutnant a.D. von Vietinghoff-Scheel) and the 9. Sch. K. (Oberleutnant z.S. Buechsel). The 9. Sch. K. had been formed on 20 October 1914 by merging different settler militias. With a nominal strength that oscillated between 70 to 75 men, the field combat strength never exceeded 56 rifles. The askari field companies had a nominal strength of 162 askari, plus 12 to 20 uniformed machinegun porters and a varying number of European officers and NCO’s. Governor Schnee gave the total strength of the Schutztruppe at The Battle of Longido as 86 Germans, approximately 600 askari, and six machineguns.
Although healthier than the coastal area, a waterless veldt of 25 miles separated the main forces of both sides. This waterless desert created a “no man’s land” that gave the advantage to the defender who possessed the easiest access wells. The opposing force had to rely upon transported water. The Longido Mountain reigned about 1200 meters above the savannah. On its plateau, the Schutztruppe had to be divided into two different camps with some distance between them due to the location of different wells. Other supplies had to be transported on Boer (oxen) wagons from Moschi. A stone bridge was constructed over the Kikasu River to facilitate this supply route. A telegraph line was also built. But, due to the lack of time and building material, the telegraph poles did not have the necessary height of 8 meters to avoid interruptions caused be giraffes running into the lines. Frequent interruptions of communication were recorded and these interruptions led to orders being issued to German patrols to kill as many giraffe as possible.
Major General Aitken’s original instructions for the Indian Expeditionary Force “C”
(I.E.F. “C”) was that once the occupation of Tanga had demoralized the Germans, the I.E.F. “C” should advance toward the Kilmanjaro area. This plan was modified to support the Tanga invasion by moving toward Longido Mountain on 3 November. The occupation of these two positions would negate the German use of the Usambara Railroad and make Moshi untenable. The healthy terrain and capture of the wells at Longido was thought to be perfect for the deployment of the E.A.M.R. Regiment. The possession of the high ground of the Longido Mountain was an advantage for the defender. The Germans possessed both the advantage of occupying the wells and the high ground.
The British thought that there were only 200 to 300 askari at Longido and that 1,800 British troops supported by four guns and two machineguns should be sufficient to overwhelm any opposition. In preparation for this operation, Lieutenant Colonel A. B. H. Drew collected at the Namanga Camp (Oldoinyo Erok) the following troops: the 29th Punjab Battalion (6 companies of 79 men each), the Kapurthala Infantry half battalion (4 companies of 94 men each), the E.A.M.R. Regiment (5 squadrons of 72 men each), the 27th Mountain Artillery Battery R. A. (Two sections of two guns each), a section of the Calcutta Volunteer Maxim Battery (2 machineguns), the Masai Scouts under Mr. G. J. Orde-Browne, and 100 mules for carrying water. The date set for the attack was 3 November.
It is difficult to determine Hauptmann Kraut’s plan, if he had a plan. There had been no contact with the British for a month and the two German camps on Longido Mountain must have been a rather pleasant garrison. He had patrols on the Longido Mountain watching Oldoinyo Erok for signs of enemy activity and reporting the arrival of additional British troops, but the rest of Abteilung Kraut was in camp on the morning of 3 November.
The irony of the situation is that Abteilung Kraut should not have been where it was. Oberstleutnant von Lettow-Vorbeck had previously sent orders for all of the Abteilungen on the border to move toward Tanga. The orders were sent by telegraph and giraffes had knocked down the telegraph lines to the Longido camp. Hauptmann Kraut did not receive the orders to move, and it placed his command at an important location at a decisive moment. When a messenger from Oberstleutnant Lettow-Vorbeck finally arrived during 3 November, the Battle of Longido had already begun.
Reconnaissance In Force
After reconnoitering Longido Mountain, Lieutenant Colonel Drew decided to make his assault on Longido against the eastern face of the mountain. He decided to conduct a holding action on the northern face, and to dispatch a small mounted detachment to seize the wells south of the mountain. The north and east forces could be provided water from the mules carrying water tins, and the south force could forage water from the wells that they captured. It appears that Drew clearly thought that he was faced with only 200 German askari who could be surrounded and destroyed attempting to defend the mountain. He didn’t know that he was confronting 86 Europeans and approximately 600 askari supported by six machineguns.
Lieutenant Colonel Drew assigned Major Laverton command of the Holding Force, consisting of three dismounted squadrons of the E.A.M.R. Regiment, one company of the Kapurthala Infantry, and one section of 27th Mountain Battery R.A., and Major Laverton moved toward the slopes of Longido during the night of 2-3 November. At the same time, Captain A. C. Bingley, commanding two mounted squadrons of the E.A.M.R., left in the darkness to move around the Eastern face of the mountain. After these columns had left the Namanga Camp, Lieutenant Colonel Drew’s Attack Force guided by Mr. G. J. Orde-Browne’s (Assistant Commissioner) Masai Scouts left moving toward the northwest slopes of the Longido Mountain. This force consisted of six companies of the 29th Punjab Battalion, three companies of the Kapurthala Infantry, a section of the 27th Mountain Battery, a section of the Calcutta Volunteer Machinegun Company, and 100 mules carrying tins of water.
The flaw to Lieutenant Colonel Drew’s plan is clear. His columns were widely separated and attacking from exterior lines that made communication impossible. If he had not been opposed, or if he had been opposed by only one Feldkompagnie, the plan probably would have worked. In his defense, based upon his knowledge of the situation, it was a good plan. He couldn’t know that he was opposed by three times the number of the enemy that he expected who could operate along interior lines of defense. The events that occurred during the battle can only be conjectured from the inadequate British accounts and the more detailed German accounts.
Major Laverton’s Holding Force became stalled at the foot of the Longido Mountain just after sunrise. Interestingly, the British report that the Holding Force was faced by a superior number of the enemy. This superior German force appears to have been 45 askari with two machineguns. Laverton would then have had 310 combat soldiers opposing only 45 askari. Laverton also had two cannons for support, but lacking experience in bush fighting, the guns could not provide adequate support. Conversely, the two German machineguns would have been very effective firing down the slope into the British attempting to climb up the mountain. The two sides exchanged fire and a bayonet charge was attempted by Leutnant d.R. Haberkorn at noon. Major Laverton gave up on his orders at 1:00 p.m. and, on his own initiative, retreated back to the Namanga Camp.
Captain Bingley’s Flanking Attack Force floundered around in the darkness seeking the German held wells. By dawn, the 188 British troopers were engaged by what they thought were 300 German askari. It was the 11. F. K. under Hauptmann Stemmermann with 190 men who had been ordered to the south side of the mountain to repair the broken telegraph line. By pure chance the advance detachment under Leutnant Erdmann suddenly sighted enemy troops attempting to climb the slope. The Germans identified their enemies as 100 troopers from “Bowker’s Horse Regiment”. A firefight erupted during which Leutnant Gutsche was killed in the first minutes. Hauptmann Stemmermann joined the fight with the rest of the 11. F. K. and tried to outflank the British who put up a lively defense using the rocks for protection. Several positions had to be cleared by bayonet charges. After Captain Bingley lost ten troopers killed and five wounded in the engagement, he ordered a retreat to a hill commanding the possible path of a German retreat. He stayed in this position, suffering without water until dark, and then made his way back to the Namanga Camp unmolested.
Lieutenant Colonel Drew’s Main Attack Force began a difficult climb up the slope of Longido Mountain in the darkness and found itself immobilized in the thick mist on an unknown ridge some 1,500 feet above the plain. At this point, as the mist lifted to reveal the British sepoys to the German outpost that things become interesting. At 6:00 a.m., the German command, consisting of Hauptmann Kraut and his adjutant Oberleutnant d.R. Peschel, were informed that the British had climbed the mountain in strength from the east. Parts of 10. F. K. (Oberleutnant Busse) and 21. F. K. (Leutnant a. D. von Vietinghoff) immediately moved to this sector. Both company commanders were killed within minutes and Leutnant d.R. Braul took over the command. Leutnant Braul was severely wounded shortly after taking command. The German officers and askari must have been very aggressive in their defense during the morning as German movements disrupted the British forward companies causing the British reserve companies of the 29th Punjab Battalion to counter-attack to stabilize the situation. However, Lieutenant Colonel Drew had moved the mules carrying the important water too far forward and the mules stampeded leaving the Main Attack Force without water by mid-morning. There was no action on either side for the rest of the afternoon in this area.
After successfully driving the British Flanking Force away, Hauptmann Stemmermann moved the 11. F. K. “to the sound of the guns.” He arrived at a critical point as 10. F. K. and 21. F. K. as the British reserve companies were pressing the Feldkompagnien, then under Feldwebel Nickel. The Germans also received a small reinforcement in the form of a detachment under Leutnant Dr. Freiherr von Schroetter. The 11. F. K. took the British in the left flank causing the sepoys of the 29th Punjab to retreat. The situation was again temporarily restored by a counterattack by the reserve companies of the 29th Punjab.
Major Kraut reorganized his Feldkompagnien and attacked again at dusk. This time a combined British rifle and machinegun fire stopped the German askari. Lieutenant Colonel Drew decided a difficult withdrawal plan of retracing his path up the mountain back down the mountain in the dark. The Main Attack Force was isolated, without water for more than five hours, and there was no hope of support. The panicked followers of the column who blocked the paths down the mountain complicated Drew’s plan.
Using the machineguns of the Calcutta Volunteer Machinegun Company and a rear-guard of the 29th Punjab, Drew was able to retreat back to the Namanga Camp with all of his wounded and most of his supplies. The Main Attack Force complete arrived at the Namanga Camp on 4 November after a 38 hour fighting withdrawal. Having marched to battle, suffered most of 3 November without water, and then trekking in the dark across 25 miles of waterless veldt, this was a real accomplishment.
The British incompletely reported that the battle had caused the British eight deaths and 18 wounded from the 29th Punjab Battalion. The E.A.M.R. had suffered one officer and nine other ranks killed, and one officer and seven other ranks wounded. The Kapurthala Infantry lost one other rank killed and five other ranks wounded with one other rank missing. The 27th Mountain Artillery R.A. lost one officer and two other ranks wounded. According to German Governor Schnee, the battle caused five European and 11 askari killed, and 5 European and 19 askari wounded. He also claimed that one British European and two Indians were taken prisoner. Arning provided similar figures of five Germans and ten askari killed, and two Germans and ten askari wounded.
It had not been much of a battle in the context of losses or terrain objectives gained. It really was little more than a footnote to the Battle of Tanga. The British officially described it as a “reconnaissance in force.” But, this was obviously not the intended purpose of the British combined force of approximately 1,800 men supported by machineguns and cannons. The British also congratulated themselves for tying down Abteilung Kraut so that it couldn’t participate in the Battle of Tanga, but this is also not true. Major Kraut did not receive orders to move to Tanga from a messenger until after the Battle of Longido had begun. Giraffes had knocked down the German telegraph lines and that unusual occurrence had dictated the difference between victory and defeat for both sides making the Battle of Longido a battle by accident.
Arning, Wilhelm. Vier Jahre Weltkrieg in Deutsch-Ostafrika. Gebruder Janicke,
Farwell, Byron. The Great War In Africa 1914 - 1918, W. W. Norton & Company,
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Horndern, Charles. Military Operations East Africa, Vol. 1, The Battery Press,
Nashville, USA, 1990.
Inhulsen, Otto. Wir Ritten fur Deutsch-Ostafrika, Koehler & Amelang, Leipzig, 1941.
Schnee, Heinrich. Deutsch-Ostafrika im Weltkriege. Wie wir lebten und kampften,
Quelle & Meyer, Leipzig, 1919.
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