Gazette No. 29604 - 30 MAY 1916
ARMY DESPATCH dated 1st March 1916
(first part involving Naval forces)
War Office, 31st May, 1916.
The following Despatch has been received by the Secretary of State for War from Major-General Sir Charles M. Dobell, K.C.B.,
Commanding the Allied Forces in the Cameroons:-
General Headquarters, Cameroons, 1st March, 1916.
I have the honour to forward herewith a summary of the operations carried out by the Allied force under my command, covering the period between the capitulation of Duala, 27th September, 1914, and the termination of active operations.
I have, in this despatch, endeavoured to maintain a correct perspective, remembering that our operations in this theatre of war are incomparable in magnitude to those taking place elsewhere. For purposes of comparison I may, however, add that the number of troops of both nations at my immediate disposal at the commencement of the campaign amounted to 4,300 West African native soldiers; on the 21st November, 1915, this number had been increased to 9,700, including Indian troops. In these numbers the British and French forces were approximately equal.
As Your Lordship is aware, I have kept the proper authorities informed in some detail as to the proceedings and progress of the troops under my command. These despatches I have endeavoured to forward at intervals of about a fortnight; I do not, therefore, propose to enlarge on such questions as the organization and preparation of the force placed at my disposal, nor the naval measures that were taken in a campaign to which the adjective "amphibious" may be applied in its widest sense. It is perhaps sufficient to state I fully realized, that the conquest of a country which is some 306,000 square miles in area, or roughly one and a half times the size of the German Empire, defended by
a well-led and well-trained native force, plentifully supplied with machine guns, was no light task.
2. On my passage from the United Kingdom early in September, 1914, I learnt at various ports of call that the operations which had taken place on the Nigerian frontier had not been as successful as had been anticipated, thus confirming my opinion that Duala, the capital and chief port of the Cameroons, must be made my immediate objective. I entertained no doubts as to the ability of the Royal Navy to overcome the difficulties and make a landing at Duala feasible, and my best hopes were realised when I was informed that H.M.S. "Challenger" could force a passage through the sunken wrecks and other obstructions in the Cameroon River, and reach a point 7,000 yards from the town. This was made possible owing to the mine sweeping and other preparatory work which had been carried out by the Royal Navy and Nigeria Marine, under the direction of Captain Fuller, R.N., H.M.S. "Cumberland."
On my summons for the surrender of the Colony being refused, and after duly notifying the German Commandant of my intention, I ordered a bombardment of the town to commence early on 26th September; this in combination with a land demonstration, made by way of one of the neighbouring creeks, was sufficient to induce the Commandant, on 27th September, to surrender the towns of Duala and Bonaberi, with a small strip of land in their environs. The surrender of Duala secured us a safe and convenient base for the future absorption of German territory; further, the capture of stores, supplies, field guns, and the removal of over 400 German Europeans was a great loss to the German Field Force, whilst the seizure of the large amount of shipping and numerous small craft in the harbour, was an inestimable advantage to us.
3. My first object was to consolidate the position already won, and with this object in view an Allied force was allotted the task of clearing the country up to and including the Japoma Bridge, Midland Railway, whilst a British force commenced to make headway towards Maka on the Northern Railway line. Reconnaissances by land and water were carried out with uniformly successful results. I may remark incidentally that neither the climate nor the character of the country favoured the offensive, officers and men were exposed to the most trying conditions - incessant tropical rains, absence of roads or even paths, a country covered with the densest African forest - all contributed to the difficulties with which the troops were faced. Had it not been for the existing railways which formed a line of advance as well as supply, it is difficult to see how progress could have been made.
The country in the immediate vicinity of Duala is perhaps typical of the greater portion of the Cameroons in which my troops have operated, excepting beyond Northern railhead tfhere the country becomes open and, on account of its greater altitude, healthier, but all the coast line, and for some150 miles inland, one meets the same monotonous impenetrable African forest fringed, on the coast line, by an area of mangrove swamp in varying depth. The zone is well watered by numerous rivers of which the Wuri, Sanaga and Njong present serious military obstacles. Once outside this belt conditions change at once, supplies and live stock are obtainable, and open grass lands are reached; the one unusual geographical feature is the Cameroon Mountain, some 13,000 feet high, which rises abruptly from the sea, its slopes clothed with valuable plantations, and on which the hill station of Buea, the former administrative capital of ttie Protectorate, is perched.
4. By the first week in October we had made good the country as far as Maka and the left bank of the Dibamba creek. The Japoma railway bridge, 900 yards in length, was broken in two places, but a fine feat was performed by the French tirailleurs in forcing this passage under a galling rifle and machine-gun fire. The Royal Navy and Royal Marine Light Infantry also materially contributed to this success.
I now judged that I could move a force by the Wuri River on Jabassi, so as to secure Duala from any attack from the north-east; a mixed Naval and Military force, supported by armed craft, wias organized and an attack was delivered on 8th October. It is regrettable that this operation was not at first successful, difficult country, novel conditions, and the fact that our native troops encountered machine-gun fire for the first time arecontributory causes to failure, nevertheless it became necessary completely to reorganize the force and repeat the operation, with the result that Jabassi was taken on 14th October. From this place a force was pushed out to Njamtan and the country around Jabassi was cleared of the enemy.
My next objective was Edea, on which place I determined an advance should be made from three directions, two by land and one by river. Strong forces were moved from Japoma and by the Njong River to Dehane, thence by a track towards Edea. The third force proceeded by the Sanaga River; the navigation of this river is most difficult, dangerous bars hinder entrance into its mouth and sand banks obstruct the passage up to Edea. The feat performed by Commander L. W. Braithwaite, R.N., in navigating an armed flotilla on the Sanaga was a remarkable one. Thus the combined movement, outlined above, was entirely successful and Edea was occupied on the morning of 26th October. This result had not been achieved without hard fighting, particularly on the part of the force operating by the line of the railway. It was during the preliminary operations in this undertaking that Lieutenant Child, Director of Nigeria Marine, Commander Gray, and Captain Franqueville, of the French Army, lost their lives through the capsizing of their boat in the surf at the mouth of the Njong River - valuable lives whose losses it was difficult to replace.
5. During the latter half of October the small force under Lieut.-Colonel Haywood was continuously engaged with the enemy on the line of the Northern Railway, but had made such good progress that I was in a position to arrange for an attack on Victoria, Soppo, and Buea. As in previous operations I divided my force, part of which was moved by water to Tiko, part from Susa by Mpundu on the Mungo River, and the third portion supplied by the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Light Infantry moved by sea to Victoria. The opposition met with cannot be described as serious, but the country was very trying to troops; the energy with which our advantage was pushed appeared to demoralise the Germans, and by the 15th November we had secured Buea, with Soppo and Victoria. We inflicted considerable casualties on the enemy whilst, escaping very lightly ourselves.
With the double object of striking an effective blow at the enemy and at the same time relieving the pressure on the southern frontier of Nigeria I decided to clear the whole of the Northern Railway of the enemy, and for this purpose concentrated a force at Mujuka, under command of Colonel Gorges, on 30th November. This force gradually fought its way to the North and reached Nkongsamba (railhead), which was surrendered to us on 10th December. It is worthy of remark that we took two airplanes at this place - the first machines that had ever arrived in West Africa. The advance was continued to Dschang, which was occupied on 3rd January, and the fort destroyed; most of the hostile resistance was met with at the Nkam River, but our columns rarely remained unmolested and experienced difficulties in operating in a class of country totally different to that to which they had by then become accustomed. I decided, as soon as the fort at Dschang had been destroyed, that the place should be evacuated and Nkongsamba, with its outpost at Bare, should be our most advanced position. It was unfortunate that we could not continue to hold Dschang, as our withdrawal gave a false impression to the natives and emboldened the enemy. However, with the troops at my disposal I did not feel strong enough to maintain and supply a post, 55 miles north of railhead, in a difficult and mountainous country.
6. Early in 1915 the situation was as follows: -
British troops holding Duala, the Northern Railway with Bare, Victoria and Dibombe (a defended post south-west of Jabassi).
French troops on the line of the Midland Railway up to and including Edea, which place was partially isolated as one span of the first of the two bridges had been destroyed. A detachment at Kribi was protecting that seaport from land attack.
Ships and armed craft of the Allied Navies had visited the whole of the Cameroons sea board and had established bases for small craft to patrol the rivers where navigable.
By this time approximately 1,000 male Europeans, only 32 of whom were incapable of bearing arms, had been deported for internment in Europe.
Towards the end of 1914 the French, under General Aymerich, and Belgian troops based on French Equatorial Africa, commenced to make their presence felt in the South and South-East, but my force was separated from them by a distance of approximately 400 miles.
In the North an Allied force was fully occupied in observing Mora and Garua.
At and near Ossidinge a small British force from Nigeria and German forces were in contact.
Notwithstanding the number of troops, British, French and Belgian, in the country it was impossible at this period to co-ordinate their movements, owing to the vastness of the area over which they were scattered and the impossibility of establishing any means of intercommunication between the various Commanders. Furthermore, it was difficult for me to pursue a very active policy, as it was necessary to maintain comparatively strong garrisons in the places already occupied. Posts on our lines of communication were also absorbing troops from my somewhat depleted force, amongst which sickness was beginning to play its part.
7. It was on the 5th January that the German Commander endeavoured to deliver a serious blow to the French force commanded by Colonel Mayer. Two practically simultaneous attacks were made against his force; the first at Kopongo, on the railway, the second at Edea. I had obtained some knowledge of the German Commander's intention, and the post at Kopongo had been slightly augmented, with the happy result that the attack on this point was easily repulsed, but not until the railway and telegraph lines had both been cut and all communication with Edea severed. The troops at Edea had, however, to bear the brunt of a more serious movement. The locality of Edea is by no means easy to defend owing to the proximity of the forest, the scattered nature of the buildings, and inequality of the ground; but so skilfully were the defences devised, and so good was the French marksmanship, that at the termination of the combat the Germans left on the field 23 Europeans dead and 190 native soldiers killed and wounded. The French loss consisted of 1 European serjeant and 3 tirailleurs killed and 11 tirailleurs wounded. A machine gun, number of rifles, ammunition and equipment fell into the French hands. It is significant that this was the first and last occasion on which the Germans attempted an operation of this nature on a comparatively large scale.
Towards the end of January, Lieut.-Colonel (now Brigadier-General) Cunliffe arrived at Duala on a mission from Lagos, and as a result of a conference it was agreed that a more active prosecution of the campaign in the Northern Cameroons should be undertaken. I detached Major (now Lieut.-Colonel) W. D. Wright, V.C., a most able officer, from the Staff of the British Contingent under my command and placed his services at the disposal of the Officer Commanding the Allied Forces at Garua. I also arranged with Captain Fuller, R.N., for the despatch of a naval field gun to Yola, via the Niger and Benue Rivers, for eventual use against the forts at Garua.
The early days of February were marked by great hostile activity in the neighbourhood of Northern railhead. Lieut.-Colonel Cockburn, commanding a battalion of the Nigeria Regiment, had a serious encounter with the enemy at Mbureku on the morning of the 3rd February resulting in the capture of the hostile camp, a large quantity of small-arm ammunition, and equipment. We were, however, unable to reap the full advantage of our success as Lieut.-Colonel Cockburn was obliged to transfer his force to the neighbourhood of Harmann's Farm, where the Sierra Leone Battalion was engaged with the enemy. During these two incidents we lost nearly 120 native soldiers killed, wounded or missing; but, after we had consolidated our position at Bare, the enemy did not follow up the slight advantage he had gained.
Constant activity during February had failed to gain for us any material advantage to the north of the railway, and there were a series of small incidents which culminated in the second attack by our troops on the points known as Stoebel's and Harmann's Farms on 4th March. I regret that this attack was not successful and we lost some valuable lives, including Major (Lieut.-Colonel) G. P. Newstead, commanding the Sierra Leone Battalion, and Captain C. H. Dinnen, Staff Captain, an officer of great promise. The enemy must, however, have suffered in a similar degree, as it was later found that he had evacuated his defensive position and retired further north.
During February I received valuable reinforcements from French and British West African Colonies, and I was enabled to reconstitute my force and place a more homogeneous unit at the disposal of Lieut.-Colonel R. A. de B. Rose, commanding the Gold Coast Regiment.
8. On the 12th March a mission from French Equatorial Africa, at the head of which was Monsieur Fourneau, Lieutenant-Gouverneur du Moyen Congo, reached Duala. Its object was to invite my co-operation in an immediate advance, in conjunction with the troops under General Aymerich from south-east and east, against Jaunde. Since the occupation of Duala, Jaunde had been transformed into the temporary seat of the Colonial Administration. I fully realised the political and strategic importance of Jaunde, but demurred embarking on such an operation at that moment. It was late in the season and the rains were already beginning, besides which the troops I was able to employ were insufficient to ensure success in the absence of effective cooperation, in the immediate vicinity of Jaunde, by the troops under General Aymerich. Owing to the difficulty of communication it was quite unsafe to count on this. However, in view of the great advantage which would follow an early occupation of Jaunde, I consented to cooperate with all my available strength, and the 20th April was fixed as the date on which an advance should be made from the line Ngwe-So Dibanga, on the Kele River. I consequently entrained a British force, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Haywood, on 7th April, which was to commence a methodical advance in co-operation with the French troops under Colonel Mayer. The forcing of the line of the Kele River and the position at Ngwe, both of which places were obstinately defended, occasioned my troops some losses. I further found it necessary to despatch a force to Sakbajeme to deny the crossing of the Sanaga River at that place to the enemy. It soon became evident that the enemy was withdrawing troops from other and more distant parts of the Colony to resist our further advance.
At midnight 23rd/24th April the blockade of the Cameroons was declared, and every artifice was used to deceive the enemy, and incessant and unremitting activity was maintained by the Royal Navy on the coast line, so as to induce the enemy to believe that disembarkation would be made at a point from which a force could be marched on Jaunde. Campo had been occupied by a Naval detachment, and boat patrol of the river as far as Dipikar was maintained.
The advance from the line already mentioned was subsequently postponed till 1st May, on which date the French and British columns moved .forward to make good Eseka and Wum Biagas respectively.
The French advance on Eseka was conducted with some difficulty, as broken bridges denied them the use of the railway line for supply trains. Commandant Mechet, who conducted the advance, successfully overcame all difficulties and, after being seriously opposed at Sende, reached Eseka on 11th May.
Turning to the British advance, on 1st May Lieut.-Colonel Haywood recommenced his march eastwards from Ngwe, and driving in the hostile outposts at Ndupe, on the 3rd May his force was facing the formidable position which the enemy had established on the left bank of the Mbila River at Wum Biagas. We captured the position on 4th May, but not without serious losses in European officers. A warm tribute is due to the bravery and steadiness displayed by our Native troops, and to the pluck and endurance of the European ranks in face of such stubborn resistance.
As previously arranged, the French force at Eseka now moved north and joined the British at Wum Biagas, and Colonel Mayer left Edea to assume command of the Allied expedition. Stores and supplies were pushed forward by road, and a naval 12-pounder gun was despatched to reinforce our artillery.
Owing to the heavy casualties which had occurred in the ranks of the two battalions of the Nigeria Regiment and the inability of Nigeria, owing to the many calls made by General
Cunliffes troops, to supply me with trained soldiers, I decided towards the end of May to establish a training depot at Duala. The recruits were enlisted in Nigeria, and transferred to Duala for training. This proved a great success, and by its means 536 soldiers were trained and passed into the ranks.
9. ..... (land campaign continues)
..... To the officers, petty and non-commissioned officers and men of the Allied Navies, the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Nigerian Marine, I desire to express my admiration of their unremitting and incessant toil. I am not overstating the fact when I say that without their assistance by sea, creek and land, the military forces of the Allies could not have accomplished the task which lay before them. Where so many have done such admirable work it is difficult for me to make an impartial selection, but I desire specially to bring to Your Lordship's notice the valuable services rendered by Capitaine de Vaisseau Carré, who has been Senior Naval Officer during the last eight and a-half months of the operations. He has had no light task in handling the many questions connected with the naval side of the campaign; also the name of Captain Cyril T. M. Fuller, C.M.G., R.N., an officer who combines in one personality administrative ability and qualities of leadership of a high order.
..... As regards my Staff, I am desirous of bringing to special notice the names of Major (temp. Lieut.-Colonel) J, Brough, C.M.G., M.V.O., Royal Marine Artillery,
(continues with Army list)
I have the honour to be, Your Lordship's most obedient Servant,
C. M. DOBELL, Major-General, Commanding the Allied Forces.
(Subsidiary Report on military operations in Northern Cameroons)
The Right Honourable A. Bonar Law, M.P., P.C.,
Secretary of State for the Colonies, Etc., etc., etc.
Headquarters Nigeria Regiment, Lagos, 16th March, 1916.
With the occupation of Jaunde on the 1st January, 1916, by the troops under the command of Major-General C. M. Dobell, C.M.G., D.S.O., the task assigned to the Allied Forces in the Northern Cameroons, which it has been my privilege to command since the 5th February, 1915, was practically completed.
That task was, briefly, to clear the enemy from that portion of the German Cameroons which lies between Lake Chad to the north and the Nachtigal Rapids on the Sanaga River to the south, while the Allied Force under Major-General Dobell and the French forces under General Aymerich were converging on Jaunde from the west and east respectively.
When Jaunde fell to General Dobell the only point north of the Sanaga River which still remained in German hands was the mountain of Mora, and the garrison of that place surrendered on the 18th February.
2. I have now the honour to report as follows upon the operations of the various forces under my command:
16. My information with regard to Garua was that the place was very strongly fortified, and that the German Artillery there could outrange any guns which either Lieutenant-Colonel Brisset or Lieutenant-Colonel Webb- Bowen, possessed at the time. Before leaving Duala, therefore, I had made arrangements by which one of H.M.S. "Challenger's" 12pr. guns, with 500 rounds of ammunition, should be placed at my disposal, while the French authorities had similarly directed that a 95mm. gun should be sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Brisset.
17. The naval gun left Duala on the 2nd February under the command of Lieutenant-Commander L. H. K. Hamilton, R.N., and reached Yola on the 12th March. As the last part of the journey up the River Benue, owing to the dry season, had to be made in canoes, its progress was necessarily somewhat slow.
I have, etc.,
(Signed) F. J. CUNLIFFE, Brigadier-General, Commanding Allied Forces, Northern Cameroons.
List of Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and men mentioned for distinguished and meritorious service.
(included in Army list)
Waters, Lieutenant B. E. M., R.N., Nigeria Political Service.