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World War 1 at Sea - Contemporary Accounts



by Conrad Gato, Author of "The Navy In Mesopotamia"

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A steam pinnace post-World War 2, but similar to those that took part in  a number of actions described (click to enlarge)

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A Modern Introduction


Up-to-date, well-researched naval histories have an important part to play in understanding past events, but I would like to suggest they are equalled by contemporary accounts written not long after the stories they describe, and often by those who took part.


What such books might lack in subsequent research, knowledge of overall strategy, and even objectivity is more than made up by the details they provide about often small actions, and the usually small ships that took part in them. And even more of the characters and values of the  men who were there, especially as applying modern values to historical events rarely reflects the reality of the time.


Books such as these are invariably out-of-print, forgotten, and unlikely to come to the attention of any but the most dedicated of researchers. It has long been my hope to see some of them re-introduced to modern readers, and I am grateful to the Internet Archive for making this text available, without any copyright restrictions, on the Internet


This particular volume, the second written by Conrad Gato - his first was "The Navy in Mesopotamia" - and which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have, also throws interesting light on Africa,  the Balkans, Somaliland, Arabia and the practice of Islam at the time.


Gordon Smith,



Published by E P Dutton & Company, 681 Fifth Avenue, New York.

First published 1919



by Conrad Gato

The welcome accorded to the "Navy in Mesopotamia” has tempted me to offer to the public another book on naval work in foreign waters. The title I have chosen must not be taken to imply that I have attempted to describe the activities of the British Navy in every part of the world where they have been in progress. I have done no more than collect a few samples of naval operations in those theatres of war which are sufficiently remote to have escaped almost entirely the notice of the war correspondents of the Press. These samples exclude altogether the ordinary routine work of the Navy - the watching for the German High Seas Fleet, the hunting and destroying of enemy submarines, the sweeping up of mines, the patrolling of many thousand square miles of sea to maintain a blockade of the enemy's coast, the convoying of merchant ships, and the transporting of the Army to any part of the world it happened to fancy. All these tasks are part of the never-ending toil which falls to the lot of the Navy in war-time, and, though the successful performance of them is the first essential of our national existence, no literary effort should be needed to impress this fact on the minds of the British public. I have chosen, therefore, to confine myself to those naval performances which are quite outside the ordinary sphere, and about which the public have received comparatively little information.


The accounts I have given of these performances are based upon official reports, and, in the case of those scenes and incidents of which I was not myself an eye-witness, I am indebted for descriptive details to various officers who took part in them, and to whom I wish to express my cordial thanks. With their assistance I hope I may have succeeded in presenting a readable reminder to the public that the Navy during the war was engaged on many and diverse tasks, altogether apart from that of securing to the people of these islands their daily bread.

London, May 1919.





(for each chapter, click chapter title)


(Part 1)



I - The White Flag at Dar-es-Salaam

II - Bottling up the "Konisgberg"

III - Destruction of the "Konigsberg"

IV - An Airman's Adventures


V - The Story of "King Bell"

VI - Some Incidents of the Earlier Operations

VII - Amphibious Operations


VIII - The "Terror of the Danube”

IX - The Fall of Belgrade

X - The Great Retreat


(Part 2)


XI - H.M.S. "Manica” at Gallipoli

XII - H.M.S. "Manica” in East Africa


XIII - The Tangistani Raids


XIV - The Battle near Topalul

XV - The Retreat from the Dobrudsha

XVI - The Battle of Vizirul


XVII - An Outpost of Empire in Somaliland

XVIII - Scotching the Wolf's Cub.


 XIX - The Taking of Salif



(in the appropriate chapter)

The Coast of East Africa.

Dar-es-Salaam Harbour

Delta of the Rufigi River

Cameroons Coast


Bagamoyo: Sketch showing the Landing Operations

Sketch Map of Bushire Island

The Dobrudsha


Coast of Arabia












The harbour of Dar-es-Salaam lies somewhere near the middle of the coast of what was once known as German East Africa - about a hundred miles north of the Rufigi River, where the Konigsberg was found. When war broke out between England and Germany, the Governor of Dar-es-Salaam, probably acting upon instructions, had a floating dock towed to the entrance of the harbour, and there sunk, in order to block the channel. Whether or not it actually did block the channel was not decided at the time, but the intention of it was obvious, and the question that arose was, why did not the Germans take their ships out of the harbour first before they blocked, or attempted to block, the fairway ? There were four or five ships inside, and any one of them could have been of great service as a tender to a German raider, such as the Konigsberg, but yet they were all left inside when the obstruction was sunk at the harbour entrance. Of course it might be put down as one of Germany's blunders, but, on the other hand, it might be possible for those ships to circumvent the obstruction, or again, the sunken dock might be refloated to allow them to pass out when required.


Dar-es-Salaam was ostensibly an undefended port at the beginning of the war, and when H M.S. Astraea called there on 8th August 1914 she took it upon herself to treat the place as such. She destroyed the wireless installation as a necessary precaution, and then opened negotiations with the governor. In return for his immunity from hostile operations he made a pledge that the sunken dock should not be raised, that all vessels in the harbour should be regarded as British prizes, and that no attempt should be made to take any of them out to sea. In those days we regarded the pledge of a German as being at least of some value, though we may have been a little hazy as to how much value we ought to put on it.


A few weeks later the Pegasus, lying up for repairs in Zanzibar Harbour, was destroyed by the Konigsberg, and it was ascertained for a fact that this German raider had been using Dar-es-Salaam Harbour. This completely changed the situation, for it showed that a ship could get in and out of the harbour in spite of the obstruction, and, this being the case, it was more than likely that our prizes there would make their escape sooner or later, and one or more of them would take coal and provisions to the raider. So on 21st October the Chatham called at Dar-es-Salaam to see what was going on.


There were two ships lying behind the thick belt of palm trees, their masts visible to the Chatham, who thought at first that they were the Konigsberg and one of her consorts. So she took the range, and fired two or three shells, taking care not to hit the town. The Senior Naval Officer, however, soon discovered that he had been mistaken as to the identity of the ships, and, having insisted upon the removal of their wireless telegraphy aerials, he left them to their own devices, for he had more important work on hand. Nine days later he found the Konigsberg herself, hiding up the Rufigi River.



Dar-es-Salaam was left alone for over a month, but the Senior Naval Officer was never satisfied that the obstruction really blocked the fairway, and he had even less faith in the pledge of the governor that the ships would not try to escape. On 28th November H.M.S. Fox and Goliath, with two small vessels in company, anchored off Makatumbe Island, which lies a few miles out to sea from Dar-es-Salaam, and hoisted the international signal to the people ashore to send off a boat. It must be explained that the situation had changed completely, since those early war days, when the Astrea paid her visit there. The exploits of the Konigsberg had clearly indicated that East Africa was not to be excluded from the war zone, whatever might be the pledges of the local governors; and then came our military disaster at Tanga, when we altogether underestimated the resistance likely to be offered by the enemy, with the result that we came off with 800 casualties - and some valuable experience. Moreover, the Navy had been busy in the Rufigi River, bottling up the Konigsberg, so that when they arrived off Dar-es-Salaam they were there for business, and in no mood for anything else.


At the same time it must be remembered that Dar-es-Salaam purported to be an undefended harbour, and was entitled to be treated as such, until there was evidence of hostile intentions on the part of its inhabitants. So the Senior Naval Officer hoisted the signal for a boat and waited on events. After an hour or so a motor-boat came out of harbour, flying a flag of truce, and brought up alongside H.M.S. Fox. In it were the acting governor, the district commissioner, and the captain of the port, who all came aboard, and were conducted to the Senior Naval Officer's cabin. Mr. King, formerly British Consul at Dar-es-Salaam, acted as interpreter.


The Senior Naval Officer reminded the German officials that the ships in Dar-es-Salaam Harbour were all British prizes, and informed them that he had come to inspect these ships, to take such steps as might be necessary to disable them, and to withdraw from the harbour or disable any small craft which might be used against the British forces. Now, one of the ships in the harbour was the s.s. Tabora. which had been painted as a hospital ship, and according to the Germans was being used as such, At Lindi we had found the s.s. Prasident painted in the same way, and had been told the same yarn - that she was being used as a hospital ship - but we had discovered by inspecting her that the yarn was all a tissue of lies, and that the ship was palpably a collier, which had recently been used for supplying the Konigsberg. So we were naturally suspicious about the Tabora, and the Senior Naval Officer pointed out to the German officials that she had not complied with the international regulations, necessary to convert her into an accredited hospital ship. He added, however, that he had no wish to cause suffering to any sick persons, who might be aboard her, and that he would send a medical officer to inspect her. He would also send a demolition party to disable her engines, but nothing should be done in this direction if the medical officer was of opinion that it would be injurious to any of the patients on board. He further assured them that no damage should be done to the town or its inhabitants, so long as no opposition was offered to the working parties, whom he was going to send into the harbour, to do what was necessary for the disablement of the engines of the various ships.


The acting governor was obviously very uncomfortable and ill at ease. All he could say was that he would like to confer with the military authorities at Dar-es-Salaam. Military authorities in an undefended port seem to be rather out of place, but the Senior Naval Officer waived the point, and merely told him that he would be given a good half-hour or so after landing, before the British boats entered the harbour. The governor then asked rather a curious question. Would these boats carry on their operations under the white flag ? The Senior Naval Officer, somewhat surprised at such a question, naturally answered in the negative, and at that the German officials took their departure and returned to the town.


A good deal more than the half-hour's grace was allowed before a steam-cutter was sent in to sound and buoy the channel into the harbour. It was noticed that two white flags had been hoisted on the flag-staff over against the look-out tower at the entrance, and these floated conspicuously in the breeze, so that they could be seen from all directions. The occupants of the steam-cutter, as soon as they rounded the bend, noticed a lady driving in a carriage drawn by a pair of horses along a road close to the water's edge. Everything looked so peaceful that one would have imagined that our dear German brothers in Dar-es-Salaam had never heard of the war.


When a channel had been buoyed, one of the tugs (the Helmuth), accompanied by the Goliath's steam-pinnace, was ordered to proceed into the harbour with the demolition party. The other tug (the Duplex), owing to some engine-room defects, did not enter the harbour, but lay at anchor about two miles from it. The two ships. Fox and Goliath, were about five miles from the shore, and those on board them were taking only a languid interest in the proceedings, for the two white flags at the lookout tower were flaunted in their faces, and war seemed to them a very tame affair after all. It is very easy to be wise after any event, and to say that this or that precaution should have been taken, but it must be borne in mind that there were the two white flags, conspicuous to everyone, and the enemy was not a barbarous tribe from the African jungle, but purported to be a civilised European people.


So the Helmuth proceeded up the harbour to where two ships, called the Konig and Feldmarschall, were lying, and the demolition party boarded the Konig, and proceeded to destroy her engines by placing an explosive charge under the low-pressure cylinder, followed by another one inside it. The crew of the Konig appeared to consist mainly of Lascars, and the only officers on board were the chief engineer and the fourth officer. From these it was learned that all the rest of the officers and men were ashore, and at the time it did not occur to Commander Ritchie, who was in charge of the demolition party, that there could be anything unusual in this circumstance. He ordered all the Konig's crew to go down into the ship's boats, informing them that they were prisoners of war.


Shortly afterwards the Goliath's steam-pinnace came up, bringing some more men of the demolition party, with Lieutenant-Commander Paterson in charge. Commander Ritchie instructed this officer to complete the disablement of the engines of the Feldmarschall and Konig, while he himself went farther up the creek in the Helmuth to another ship, called the Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Helmuth, however, ran on the mud, and had some difficulty in getting off, so Commander Ritchie took her back to the Konig, and tried the steam-pinnace in place of her. In this he successfully reached the Kaiser Wilhelm II, disabled her engines, and destroyed two lighters that were lying near her. But what first gave him a sense of uneasiness was the fact that the Kaiser Wilhelm II was absolutely deserted. Her crew were nowhere to be seen, but on her deck were found some Mauser clips - one containing three bullets with the pointed ends sawn off - suggesting that the ship's crew had recently been busy overhauling their rifles. The absence of the officers and white ratings from the other two ships now assumed a new significance.


Lying near the ship were five other lighters, and it occurred at once to Commander Ritchie that it might be useful to have one of these on each side of the steam-pinnace, by way of protection, for there was evidently mischief of some kind or other brewing.


The other three lighters he towed astern, and, thus encumbered, the pinnace made the best speed she could down the creek. As she passed the Konig and Feldmarschall, Commander Ritchie saw that the Helmuth had already started her return voyage, and though he scrutinised the two ships carefully through his glasses, he could see no signs of anyone in either of them. So he proceeded down the creek, but found that the pinnace made such slow progress that he was finally obliged to drop the three lighters astern, only retaining the two which were made fast on either side of the pinnace.


In order to keep to the chronological order of events, we must now return to the Helmuth and Lieutenant-Commander Paterson. He was engaged with his demolition party on the engines of the Konig and Feldmarschall, and in the meantime some thirty prisoners from the Konig were sitting in the two boats belonging to that ship. Lieutenant Orde had received instructions from Commander Ritchie to proceed down the harbour, towing these two boats, to stop at the s.s. Tabora and put Surgeon Holton aboard there to inspect the ship, and then proceed out to sea and deliver his prisoners over to the Duplex, afterwards returning to the Tabora to pick up Surgeon Holton. This, at any rate, was how Lieutenant Orde understood his instructions, and he not unnaturally concluded that Lieutenant-Commander Paterson and his working party intended to return in the steam pinnace with Commander Ritchie. It is not very clear why he should have thought that the sole object of his returning to the Tabora, after the safe delivery of his prisoners, was to pick up Surgeon Holton, for it had always been intended that a demolition party should board the Tabora, and should disable her engines if Surgeon Holton was of opinion that this could be done without injury to any of the patients. Possibly, however, Lieutenant Orde was unaware of this arrangement.


It may here be stated that the Tabora was genuinely being used as a hospital ship. There were doctors and nurses and some wounded men in her, and she was fitted with cots and other hospital equipment.


And now we must return to H.M.S. Fox and the Senior Naval Officer. It was late in the forenoon when he ordered the steam-cutter alongside, and, accompanied by an army staff officer, went in to have a look at the sunken dock at the mouth of the harbour. It was a morning of bright sunshine, and through the clear water he could see the obstruction lying about ten feet below the surface, but, without sounding, it would be difficult to say whether or not it effectually blocked the channel. He then thought he would go round the bend, and see what the harbour looked like, and how the demolition parties were getting on. He gave the order to the coxswain to go ahead, and leaned comfortably back in the sternsheets of the boat, enjoying the pleasant sunshine and possibly wondering why the Germans had hoisted two white flags on the flag-staff, when one would have answered the purpose.


Suddenly the sharp crack of a rifle was heard, and a bullet struck the water on the port side of the steam-cutter. Next moment a blaze of rifle fire came from either bank, and bullets began to rain against the sides of the boat. The hottest fire seemed to come from the vicinity of the flag staff, where the two white flags still floated in the breeze. "Lie down everyone,” shouted the Senior Naval Officer, and to the coxswain he gave the order “Hard-a-port.” The bullets were whistling over their heads, were pouring into the boat, and were piercing the thin iron plates, which had been rigged for the protection of the boiler and of the coxswain in the sternsheets.


The stoker tending the fire was dangerously wounded, but Lieutenant Corson ran forward and took his place. In the after part of the boat a seaman was hit in the head, and the coxswain had a bullet through his leg, but pluckily stuck to his job, although another wound caused the blood to pour from his mouth. “That's nothing, sir,” he said. "I'm all right. We shall soon be out of the channel.”


No one in the boat was armed, and so there was no way of replying to the fire. To make matters worse, speed had slackened owing to the furnace having been neglected before it was noticed that the stoker was wounded. But the efforts of Lieutenant Corson soon increased the steam pressure, and after a while the boat got beyond the danger zone. The coxswain stuck to his post in spite of his wounds, and eventually brought the boat alongside the Fox about half -past one in the afternoon. Stoker Herbert T. Lacey died of his wounds.


Immediately afterwards the firing broke out again, and the Senior Naval Officer saw that the Helmuth was coming through the neck of the harbour, towing astern of her two boats full of prisoners. She had put the doctor on board the Tabora, and was on her way to the Duplex to hand over the prisoners, when field-gun, rifle, and machine-gun fire was opened on her from the north bank. The coxswain was immediately wounded, and his relief had no sooner taken his place than he, too, was wounded. Then Lieutenant Orde. who was in command, received a wound, but the worst piece of bad luck was that a bullet struck the breech-block of the Helmuth' s only gun - a 3-pounder - and put it out of action, so that she became as defenceless as the Fox's steam cutter had been. The bullets came pouring into her, and some of them punctured the steam pipes, with the result that there was a heavy escape of steam, and the speed of the tug slackened considerably. There was a certain amount of grim satisfaction in seeing a stray bullet hit one of the boats astern, and wound a German prisoner, but this was the only consolation to be derived by the Helmuth's unfortunate victims.


The Senior Naval Officer in the Fox promptly signalled to the Duplex to open fire on the shore with her 12-pounder, and both the Fox and Goliath bombarded the shore whence the enemy's fire seemed to be coming. This had the desired effect of causing some slight abatement, and after a while the Helmuth got beyond the danger zone. The Goliath was then ordered to put a few shells into the governor's palace, which she proceeded to do with one of her 12-inch guns, and after two or three rounds the palace was reduced to a heap of ruins. Then there came a lull in the proceedings, and one would have supposed that the Germans hiding in the vicinity of the look-out tower would have occupied their leisure in hauling down the white flags from the flag-staff. But the white flags continued to float serenely in the breeze, and the Germans beneath them stood waiting for their next victims.


We must now return to the steam-pinnace and Commander Ritchie. Having satisfied himself that there was no one aboard the Konig or the Feldmarschall, he continued his way down the harbour, and, as already related, he dropped the three lighters which were in tow astern, in order to increase speed. When he was approaching the Tabora he saw Surgeon Holton put off from her in a boat, and head towards the steam-pinnace. He had just eased down the engines to enable the doctor to come alongside, when a heavy fire was opened on him from both sides of the harbour. The crew of Surgeon Holton' s boat took fright, and began to pull back to the Tabora. At this the steam-pinnace tried to get up to the boat, but with her two lighters in tow on either side of her, she was difficult to steer, and finally had to abandon the attempt. But the two lighters proved to be her salvation, for some field guns were now firing shells at her, and without the protection of these lighters she must inevitably have been sunk.


As she rounded the bend the shot and shell came at her from all directions, and though the Fox and Goliath again opened fire to cover her retreat, it did not seem to make much appreciable difference. For the enemy were well hidden among the palm trees, and from the ships, lying five miles out to sea, it was impossible to locate them. Two men in the steam-pinnace were hit almost at the outset; one of them was the coxswain. Petty Officer Clark, whose place was taken by Able Seaman Upton. Then Upton was hit, and Clark, whose wound had been temporarily dressed, tried to resume his place at the wheel, but fainted away from loss of blood. This was the critical moment, for the narrow entrance of the harbour and the sunken dock still lay in front of them, and there was need of a cool head and a steady hand to steer the boat through. Commander Ritchie had by this time been wounded in several places, and was in considerable pain, but he saw that the only chance of escape lay in skilful steering, and so he took the wheel himself. Amidst the ceaseless shower of bullets whistling over his head and singing past his ears, he piloted the boat through the neck of the harbour, and had just got clear of it when a bullet struck him in the leg. It was his eighth wound; simultaneously the boat ran on a sand-bank, and the commander fainted. Fortunately, however, the worst of the danger was now over; the boat got afloat again without much trouble, the two lighters, having served their purpose, were slipped, and in less than an hour the boat reached the Fox. In addition to the commander, one officer and five men were wounded.


Throughout the whole or these proceedings, the two white flags flew majestically from the flag-stall - the emblems of Germany's high ideal of universal peace and the brotherhood of man. But the whole of the tale of treachery is not yet told. It soon became known that Lieutenant-Commander Paterson and his section of the demolition party were missing. The party included Lieutenant (E) V. J. H. Sankey, Chief Artificer Engineer W. E. Turner, one chief petty officer, and seven other ratings. The solution of the mystery of their disappearance was only revealed when these officers and men were released from their captivity nearly three years later. It appears that while the party was at work in the Konig, Lieutenant-Commander Paterson became aware that armed troops were on the river-bank in a position commanding the deck of the ship. When the firing started lower down the harbour, he realised at once that they were in for trouble, and, in fact, he had anticipated it. He therefore kept the whole of his party down below, fully expecting that Commander Ritchie, when he returned with the steam-pinnace, would come alongside the ship. Presently he saw on the other side of the estuary two large lighters, with the funnel of a small steamboat just appearing above them. At first he failed to recognise that this was the steam-pinnace of his own ship, but when it had steamed straight past the Konig, and he was able to get a better view of it, he realised the awful truth that there had been some misunderstanding, and that he and his party were left in the lurch. He knew that if he showed himself on the upper deck the Askaris would open fire on him, and he knew that Commander Ritchie would not be able to hear his voice, unaided by a megaphone. There was only one chance that if they all kept very quiet the troops on the bank might think they had left the Konig, and under cover of night they might be able to find a boat and slip out of the harbour. It was a forlorn hope, and unfortunately it was doomed to disappointment. In the early evening the Germans came and took them all prisoners.


On 30th November 1914 the Senior Naval Officer addressed a letter to the governor of Dar-es-Salaam, recapitulating what had taken place, and warning him that the town would be subjected to bombardment, but the Tabora would be spared, not as an accredited hospital ship, but because there were reported to be wounded men in her. The governor's reply (which was somewhat belated) was a truly marvellous piece of composition. First of all he said that though he had agreed to the British visiting the ships in the harbour, he had never agreed to allow them to disable the engines; then he stated that the British boats came into the harbour filled with armed men; and finally he excused the presence of the white flags by saying that there was no possibility of hauling them down because the fight was so intensive. Apparently his idea of an intensive fight is hiding behind a palm tree, and potting at defenceless men in open boats. The letter was a poor production, even as a specimen of German mendacity.


At half-past two that afternoon there was another "intensive fight” in Dar-es-Salaam, in which the government buildings, the warehouses, the railway stations, the customs house, and the barracks received special attention. The debris of these buildings was seen flying above the tree-tops, but only two small fires were started, as most of the houses were built of coral slag. But it is a fair surmise that, by the time the entertainment was over, the governor and people of Dar-es-Salaam had had enough of “intensive fighting.”


Commander Henry Peel Ritchie, for his heroic conduct in taking the wheel of the steam-pinnace, and bringing the boat out of harbour, after he had received eight wounds, was awarded the Victoria Cross.









(click map to enlarge)


During the month of September 1914 H.M.S. Pegasus - an old light cruiser of about 2,000 tons - put into Zanzibar Harbour to repair her boilers. Now Zanzibar is a British protectorate, but this fact afforded no guarantee at that time that the island was not swarming with German agents, and lying as it does not far from the mainland of German East Africa, it followed as a matter of course that the Germans were kept fully informed as to what was happening at Zanzibar. By means of wireless stations, which were quite plentiful down the coast of German East Africa, they were able to communicate interesting news to any of the German cruisers that were roaming the seas in those days. And so it came about that the German cruiser Konigsberg received a message to say that a small British cruiser was lying disabled in Zanzibar Harbour - an old third-class cruiser with out-of-date guns, that could not be expected to put up any kind of a fight, and could be easily outranged by the German guns. Here was just the kind of job the Konigsberg enjoyed, and so on 20th September she pounced down on her prey, and very quickly pummelled the poor old ship to pieces.


Out of the destruction of the Pegasus the only compensation to be gained was the knowledge that the elusive Konigsberg was oil the East African coast, and it was a fair assumption that she was receiving her supplies of coal and stores from the shore, by means of German merchant vessels. There were several of these vessels dancing attendance on the raider, and, according to information received, one of them was called the Prasident, and another the Somali. There were other ships in Dar-es-Salaam Harbour, which were under suspicion, but the Germans had themselves blocked the mouth of that harbour by sinking an obstruction, and for the present we were content to believe that the obstruction was effective, and to leave the Dar-es-Salaam ships out of the account. When, therefore, three British cruisers were told off to search for the Konigsberg, they worked upon the basis that the discovery of the Prasident, or the Somali, or both, might be of material assistance.


The search was not an easy one, because the coast for the major part is fringed with thick belts of palm trees, behind which the harbours, formed by the estuaries of the rivers, wind away out of sight. Thus at Lindi, near the southern extremity of the colony, the Weymouth had a look at the outer harbour, which was empty, but could see nothing of the inner harbour behind the palm trees, nor of the river beyond it, and, owing to shallow water, was unable to approach to such a position as would command a view of these. But a few days later the Chatham called at Lindi, and sent in a steamboat, armed with a maxim-gun. Commander Fitzmaurice went in with the steamboat, carrying a letter to the governor of Lindi, which was only to be delivered if it were found that a German ship of any kind was lurking in the inner harbour. The letter contained an order to the governor, to send out to sea any ships that might be in his harbour, and gave him half an hour to carry out this order, before anything unpleasant should happen to him.


Now, as soon as the steamboat turned the corner, the first thing to meet the gaze of Commander Fitzmaurice was the Prasident moored about three and a half miles up the river. But he had to rub his eyes to make sure of her, for, instead of a ship looking like a collier, or even like an ordinary merchantman, he saw what looked uncommonly like a hospital ship. At her mast-head the Geneva Cross was floating in the breeze, and on her side was painted a large white cross. And yet she was not by any means perfect in her make-up, for she had not painted her hull white, nor had she the broad band of either green or red running from stem to stern, which is used to denote the hospital ship. For once the Teuton lacked thoroughness in his methods.


Next came a boat from the shore, flying a white flag, and in it sat the governor's secretary, to whom Commander Fitzmaurice delivered the letter. Then came an interval of waiting for an hour or two, while the governor was considering his reply. Presently the secretary came off again in the boat with the white flag, and the governor's reply in his best official German was duly conveyed to the Senior Naval Officer. In a tone of injured innocence the governor asked plaintively how could he comply with the Senior Naval Officer's order. The Prasident was the only ship in the harbour, and how could he be expected to order a hospital ship to go to sea ? It was affording shelter to the women and children of Lindi, and to all the sick men of Lindi; to send it to sea would be an act of barbarism. Moreover, its machinery was incomplete, and the wheels would not go round, so the Senior Naval Officer would see at once that it was quite out of the question to send it out of the harbour.


Meanwhile, however, the Senior Naval Officer had been writing another letter to the governor, which proved to be a very suitable reply. He pointed out that the name of the Prasident had not been communicated, either to him or to the British Government, as a hospital ship, in accordance with the terms of the Hague Convention, and that her hull had not been painted as the hull of a hospital ship should be painted. He then briefly informed the governor that he was sending an armed party to board her, and, if possible, to bring her out of the harbour, or, if this proved to be impossible, to disable her engines.


That was the end of the negotiations; the governor made no further tax upon his powers of romance, but bowed to inexorable Fate. And so the armed party was sent into the harbour in a steamboat, and went on board the Prasident. There are still some strange-minded folk who cling to their faith in the honesty of purpose of the much-abused German; it may come as a shock to them to learn that the hospital ship Prasident had no cots, no medical equipment of any kind, no doctors, and no nurses; nor were there any sick men on board, nor any women, nor any children. There were, however, unmistakable traces of the collier to be seen everywhere about her; and it was evident that she had been recently employed in this capacity. There are other strange-minded folk who will exclaim, “How clever those Germans are ! “But when they come to think it out, they will see that there was nothing remarkably clever in painting a white cross on a collier, when she was threatened with capture or disablement. It was a childishly simple trick, as most of the German tricks are.


The Prasident' s engines were disabled by the boarding party, and they brought away with them a few useful mementoes, such as a chronometer, a set of charts, a set of sailing directions, and some compasses. So ended the career of the Prasident, collier and supply ship to the German raider Konigsberg.




Nearly a fortnight later, on 30 th October, the Chatham lay at anchor off the Rufigi River delta, and sent in a steamboat to the shore, in quest of information. Three natives were seen wandering about among the palm trees, and were persuaded by cogent arguments that it was their duty to pay an official visit to H.M.S. Chatham. In other words, they were brought off to the ship in the steamboat, and through the medium of an interpreter they unfolded their tale. Yes, there were two ships lying up the Rufigi River behind the forest of cocoanut palms, and one of them had big guns, that made a big noise. Boom ! The other was like a handmaiden to the fellow with the guns - like a good and faithful wife to him, who waited on him and gave him ghee and rice and dhurra when he was hungry. They described the ships in their own language, and the description was good enough to set all doubts at rest. The Konigsberg and the Somali had been traced to their lair at last. From the Chatham's foretop it was just possible to see the masts of two ships sticking up above the palm trees, but nothing could be seen of their hulls. One useful piece of information derived from the natives was that the Konigsberg had run short of coal, and that her men had been felling palm trees to obtain fuel. This shortage of coal served to explain why she had been lying idle up the Rufigi River ever since her exploit at Zanzibar a month ago, when the old Pegasus met her doom.


It was one thing to discover the Konigsberg, and quite another thing to get at her. To start with, there was a bar between the open sea and the mouth of the river, which the Chatham could only cross at high water; then there was a likelihood of obstructions sunk in the river channel, and of mines; and then there was the certainty of opposition from the shore on either side of the river mouth, for the Germans had been busy digging trenches, rigging up barbed wire, and making gun emplacements, in which they had mounted the guns of the Konigsberg's secondary armament. All these defences were well concealed behind the palm trees and thick undergrowth.


The first thing the Senior Naval Officer did was to inform by wireless the Dartmouth and the Weymouth, who were searching the coast farther south, that their quest was at an end, and that they were to rejoin the Chatham. He then set about sounding and buoying a channel towards the river mouth. By the river mouth must be understood that passage through the delta where the two channels, called Simba Uranga and Suninga, make their exit to the sea. According to the information gleaned from the natives the other three channels were impassable by large ships.


Meanwhile the range was taken of the Somali, which was lying a little nearer than the Konigsberg. It was found to be just over 14,000 yards, and so the Chatham opened fire on her with 6-inch lyddite shells. The effect of the fire could not be ascertained, for the Somali's hull was invisible behind the palm trees, and even her masts could only be seen by the spotters at the mast-head. One result of the bombardment, however, soon declared itself. The masts of the Konigsberg were seen to move, slowly at first, but as the ship gathered way, they glided rapidly past the tops of the palm trees. For a moment there was a state of keen anticipation on board the Chatham, for they really thought that the German cruiser was coming out to engage them, and, as Alexander Pope says, hope springs eternal in the human breast. But the Konigsberg had no such intention; all she wanted to do was to make sure of being outside the Chatham's range, so she slunk away another six miles farther up the river, and there dropped her anchor again.


Was she now safe from bombardment? It must be remembered that the Chatham was five or six miles out to sea, but, supposing she managed to cross the bar and to reach the river's mouth, it was just possible that she might find the Konigsberg within her range then. At all events it was worth trying, and so the work of buoying a channel continued briskly. One morning, however, a look-out from the mast-head reported that the Konigsberg' s masts had disappeared, and he could see nothing of her anywhere.


Here was a startling mystery, but the explanation of it was not hard to guess, and the Chatham carried on with her work. As soon as the channel had been buoyed and the spring tide came round, she crept in gingerly, passed over the bar, and anchored about a mile and a half from the entrance to the river. And then the look-out in the foretop was able to solve the mystery of the sudden disappearance of the Konigsberg's masts. The top-masts had been struck, and in their place had been rigged the tops of two cocoanut palms, so that in the distance nothing but these could be seen. It was a better trick than painting a white cross on a collier's hull, and besides having the merit of being a legitimate device of warfare, it was worthy of any of those animals who make a practice of protective mimicry, such as the arctic fox, who changes his coat to white when the snow comes, or the mantis, who pretends he is a pink flower.


The Chatham opened fire at once, for she had no time to lose if she was to get back across the bar with the ebb of the tide. Her trouble was that the gunlayers could see absolutely nothing of their objective, and her spotters found it almost impossible to spot the fall of the shells amidst the thick vegetation of the delta. It became very obvious that there was very little chance of settling accounts with the German raider until some aircraft arrived to help in the operations. When the Chatham recrossed the bar she had less than a foot of water underneath her, and her captain made up his mind that he had had quite enough of that experiment.


Meanwhile the Dartmouth and the Weymouth had arrived on the scene, and had filled in their time with frequent bombardments of the trenches and barbed-wire entanglements on either side of the river entrance. The result was that the trenches at the extreme ends were evacuated by the Germans, who came to the conclusion that life in them had too many crowded hours to it to be comfortable. The Chatham devoted her attentions to the Somali, and though her fire was indirect, and the spotting extremely difficult, she succeeded in plumping at least one shell into the ship, and in causing a fire to break out on board.


The next experiment was a scheme to send in armed picket-boats, carrying a couple of torpedoes, to be fired at the Somali, but it turned out a failure. The boats were greeted with a heavy fire from rifles and machine-guns, which were so effectually hidden in a mangrove swamp on the south side of the river that it was impossible to locate them. An extraordinary accident occurred to one of the torpedoes, which no one was able to explain. Possibly the releasing gear was struck by a bullet, or possibly a torpedo man lost his nerve amidst the rattle and clatter of the enemy's shot; but, anyhow, the torpedo was released prematurely, and all it did was to sink to the bottom without either a run or an explosion. The other torpedo was out of gear, and so the experiment had to be abandoned, and the boats returned to their respective ships, fortunately with nothing more than very light casualties.


One result of these experiments was the decision that, since the Konigsberg refused to come out of her retreat, she had better be locked up inside it. With this object in view, a large collier of venerable antiquity was brought from Zanzibar and preparations were made to take her into the river, moor her athwart the fairway, and then sink her, so as to block the channel. Iron plates were fixed round the steering-wheel of her forebridge to protect the helmsman from rifle fire, and her crew were taken out of her and replaced by officers and men of the Chatham. A flotilla of steam-cutters and a picketboat belonging to the three ships, together with a vessel of light draught, called the Duplex, were to accompany the Newbridge, covering her advance, as far as possible, by their fire, and assisting her in various other ways. The picket-boat was to carry a torpedo, which was to be fired at the Newbridge, if other methods of sinking her failed. One of the steam-cutters was to stand by to take off her crew when she was abandoned. Another steam-cutter was to land a party on the left bank of the river, to see what they could find there. All the men were to wear life-belts, and to carry their rifles, and the steamboats and the Duplex were to be armed with maxims.


Before daybreak on 7th November the flotilla headed for the mouth of the river, the Newbridge leading, and arrived there at half-past five in the morning. All seemed quiet at first, and not a soul was to be seen on shore, but as soon as the Newbridge turned round the bend, the music of maxims and rifles broke the silence, and the bullets pattered like hailstones against the iron plates which protected her crew. But she kept steadily on her course, entered the Suninga Channel, and just before six o'clock reached her destination.


It is not very obvious from the map of the Rufigi Delta why the Suninga Channel was selected to be blocked. More direct access to the sea is afforded by the Simba Uranga Channel, and it was in this channel that the Konigsberg was lying when she was first discovered. Since then she had moved up above the point where the two channels met, and one might suppose that either of them could be used by her. This, however, was not the case, according to the opinion of the natives. They were unanimous in the view that only the Suninga Channel had water enough to admit of the passage of a ship of the Konigsberg's size, and for the present we had to be content to accept this view as correct.


When the Newbridge arrived at the position marked C on the map, she shut off her engines, and proceeded to anchor bow and stern. This was carried out to the accompaniment of a ceaseless patter of bullets, occasionally varied by the dull thud of something heavier striking her sides and superstructure. The enemy evidently had some small guns commanding the spot, and they were resolved to make things as unpleasant as they possibly could. To sink a vessel in the exact position required for blocking a channel is not so easy as it sounds. The Turks tried it many times up the Tigris and Euphrates, and invariably made a mess of it; the Germans tried it on a large scale to bar the approaches to Duala, in the Cameroons, and they, too, did the work very badly, using up quite a large number of ships before they succeeded in making a barrage. It is the kind of job which cannot be done in a hurry, and to do it under fire requires a remarkably cool nerve. The Germans knew this, no doubt, and by pouring shot and shell into the Newbridge they hoped to spoil the operation.


This hope, however, was doomed to disappointment. As soon as the ship was moored securely across the channel, the main inlet valve was opened, and she began to settle by the stern. Her commanding officer was fearful at first lest the force of the current should carry her stern round, but the anchors held firmly, and in a short time the stern had grounded on the bottom. The crew were ordered to assemble near the port ladder, and in spite of the heavy fire directed at them, they fell in as unconcernedly as though they were in Sheerness Harbour and the quartermaster had piped “Both watches fall in for exercise.” The steam-cutter, which was waiting to take them off, also came in for her share of the enemy's fire, but it failed to disconcert her crew.


The last thing to do before abandoning the ship was to place an explosive charge in her, and connect it to an electric circuit, of which the ends were carried into the steam-cutter, and, as soon as they were at a sufficient distance, the charge was exploded and the ship, listing to port, sank to the bottom of the river, where she lay very nearly at right angles to the line of the channel. No one could have made a neater job of it.


Then came the exciting business of getting out of the river again. The enemy's 3-pounders, rifles, and machine-guns were busy all the time, but our boats were also armed, and replied as well as they could, though the Germans took good care to keep themselves in hiding. The Duplex was there to lend her support, and did useful work in keeping down the enemy's fire. But her commanding officer, Lieutenant Triggs, R.N.R., received a nasty wound in the back of his shoulder from a bursting shell. The coxswain of one of the steamboats and the leading torpedo man in the picket-boat were unfortunately killed, and eight other men were wounded. But considering the nature of the work to be performed, our casualties were remarkably light.


So the Suninga Channel was blocked, and at the time we confidently believed that the Konigsberg was bottled up. But after a few days the Kinfauns Castle arrived, bringing a seaplane with her, and the aerial reconnaissances started. The officers of the R.N.A.S. would seem to take a positive delight in upsetting everybody's preconceived notions, and they found that the Rufigi River gave them endless scope for this pastime. First of all they said that the Simba Uranga was a beautiful channel, such as would delight the heart of the Konigsberg's navigator; whereat the Senior Naval Officer said, "Then we will block it,” and began to make arrangements to bring another old packet from Zanzibar to be sunk as an obstruction. Then the airmen said that the Kikunja Channel, although not so attractive to a navigator as the Simba Uranga, was sufficiently tempting to induce a bold spirit to try his luck there. Finally they said they that did not believe that the Suninga Channel was blocked by the Newbridge, as there seemed to be quite a lot of space between the wreck and the north bank. And then the Senior Naval Officer decided that he would sink no more vessels in the Rufigi River, for he might continue that game until he had sunk the whole of Great Britain's mercantile marine, and even then the R.N.A.S. would not be satisfied. He still had his own private opinion that the Konigsberg was securely bottled up, but in view of these reports of the airmen there was no alternative but to keep watch outside, until measures could be taken to destroy the Konigsberg in her lair. He knew that she was short of coal, even if she could negotiate the channel, but in war-time the Navy must take no risks, and so the Chatham, the Fox, the Kinfauns Castle, and the Weymouth by turns kept guard over all the exits from the Rufigi Delta.


The Chatham spent Christmas Day upon this wearisome job, and it was only natural that her officers should have felt that something should be done to mark the occasion. In those early days of the war, before our stubborn English minds had received an adequate comprehension of the German species, the practice of fraternising was rife everywhere, and the illustrated papers of December 1914 contain many touching little pictures of Tommy and Fritz expressing their brotherly love for each other. It is not easy, however, to fraternise with an enemy some twelve miles away, when he stoutly refuses to come any nearer. The Chatham's officers saw this difficulty, and so they had a raft built, and on the raft they placed the largest lump of coal which could be found in the bunkers, and on this lump of coal they affixed a message of Christmas greetings, and then they let the raft float up the river with the tide. The message ran, “Wishing you a merry Christmas. Get up steam for fifteen knots, and Come Out.” But neither the present nor the invitation was even acknowledged.


The occupation of Mafia Island took place early in January 1915. It was a necessary preliminary to the maintenance of a strict blockade on the coast of German East Africa. Several dhows, which had been trading with the enemy, were captured, and these we armed and turned into patrol vessels. Before long the German forces were faced with the fact that they must rely upon internal resources for food and stores, since the great ocean highway was completely closed to them.








(click map to enlarge)


On 7th November 1914 the Newbridge was sunk in the Suninga Channel of the Rufigi River, with a view to botthng up the Konigsberg, but shortly afterwards our seaplanes reported that in their opinion the German raider could still find a passage out of the river. Consequently a strict guard was kept over all the outlets, until such time as means could be found of giving the raider her quietus.


Six months later two of our monitors, the Severn and the Mersey, arrived on the scene, and under the directions of Vice-Admiral King-Hall preparations were made for the attack. The Germans were still strongly entrenched on either side of the only channels which were believed to be navigable, and they had taken the guns of the Konigsberg's secondary armament to support their men in the trenches. Both trenches and guns were well hidden in the mangrove swamps, forests of palm trees, and thick undergrowth, which fringe the banks of the river, so that it was impossible to say what was the strength of the enemy's forces here. To land in a mangrove swamp, and make a frontal attack on hidden trenches and guns, is bound to be a costly operation at all times, and was certainly to be avoided if other means could be found of getting at the Konigsberg. The monitor seemed to offer the best solution of the problem, for its light draught would enable it to proceed by channels which were impassable by the ordinary ship, and its long-range guns would be able to compete with the guns of the Konigsberg with some degree of equality. In fact, the guns of the two monitors were of larger calibre than those of the Konigsberg, but the latter had the advantage of better facilities for spotting, and the still greater advantage of having the ranges of various points along the river carefully calculated.


The spotting for the monitors could only be carried out by aircraft, for in that dense belt of vegetation it was impossible from their fighting tops to see anything more than the Konigsberg's masts, and even these were invisible to the gunlayers below. The hull of the ship was never seen throughout the operations by anyone except the observers in the aeroplanes. The enemy on the other hand had no aircraft for spotting purposes, but a very simple device took the place of it. They knew all the possible positions from which we could attack, and so they stationed men in the tree-tops somewhere in the vicinity of these positions, and arranged a simple code of signals. As will be seen later on, it was some time before we discovered this device.


On 6th July 1915, about four o'clock in the morning, the Severn and the Mersey proceeded to cross the bar, and by half-past five they had entered the Kikunga Channel of the river. As will be seen from the map, this is the northernmost channel, which, according to seaplane reconnaissances, afforded a possible exit for the Konigsberg, but according to the opinions of the natives was not navigable by any large craft. The monitors were followed as far as the entrance to the channel by a variety of craft, which came in to support them. The Tweedmouth, a light draught steamer, bore the flag of the Commander-in-Chief; two small whalers, the Echo and Fly, swept ahead for mines, while the Childers sounded to find the channel; and the light cruisers Weymouth and Pyramus also crossed the bar.


The Weymouth then proceeded to bombard a position on the delta known as Pemba, where we were informed that the enemy had a spotting station. It meant long-range firing, without the satisfaction of knowing the result, for there was no aircraft spotting for the Weymouth. It seems fairly certain, however, that the German observation station at Pemba, assuming that it existed, was of very little service to them. More important work for the Weymouth was that of keeping down the fire of the enemy's anti-aircraft guns, for it was essential that our aeroplanes should be as free as possible from interruption in their work. It is at all times unsatisfactory to fire at an invisible target in the thick of a forest, but there is no doubt that the Weymouth succeeded in planting shells near enough to the antiaircraft guns to restrict their activities within reasonable limits.


It must be remembered that the Konigsberg was defended by a good deal more than her own guns, that military forces and military guns of unknown strength were hidden in the thick vegetation, and that the destruction of a ship, situated as she was behind an impenetrable delta, was no ordinary naval operation. The operation would, in fact, have been almost an impossibility had it not been for the assistance of the aeroplanes. The aerodrome was on Mafia Island, some thirty miles from where the Konigsberg was lying, and as there were only two aeroplanes available, and they necessarily had to relieve each other from time to time, there were some wearisome pauses in the proceedings.


Flight Lieutenant Watkins started off at half-past five from the aerodrome, carrying six bombs, which he dropped as near as he could to the Konigsberg, to keep her attention occupied while the Severn and the Mersey were getting into position. The two monitors on their way up the river had been liberally fired on by pom-poms and 3-pounders, but this had not worried them much, and by half-past six in the morning they were anchored head and stern at their allotted stations. By this time the second aeroplane had arrived, with Flight Commander Cull as pilot, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Arnold as observer, and the monitors opened fire.


Let no one imagine that spotting from an aeroplane is a simple job. It is hard enough for a stationary observer to declare with any degree of accuracy the number of yards by which a shot falls beyond or short of its objective, but when the observer is moving through the air at a speed of eighty miles an hour or more, the problem is rendered a good deal harder, and when shells from anti-aircraft guns are popping all round him like champagne corks at a banquet, he is apt to be distracted by the thought of such pleasant associations. The aeroplane observers over the Rufigi Delta had other little troubles all their own. The climate was responsible for the worst of these, for the effect of a cool monsoon wind blowing over a surface of land heated by a tropical sun is very startling at times. A “bump“ of 250 feet is not uncommon, and I suppose the scientific explanation is that a stratum of warm air rises rapidly through the cold air, and when the aeroplane strikes it the diminished density has much the same effect as releasing the catch on a winch with a heavy weight at the end of the hawser. Another trouble was the thickness of the palm forests surrounding the Konigsberg. In these the monitors' shells fell to explode unseen, like flowers wasting their sweetness on the desert air.


On 6th July the two aeroplanes between them covered a distance of 950 miles. The first one broke down soon after midday, and the other one followed suit about half-past three in the afternoon, whereat it became useless to continue the operations, and the two monitors had to withdraw from the river.


Their experiences had not been by any means devoid of excitement. The Severn had no sooner reached the river entrance in the early morning than she saw two men seated in the boughs of a tree overhanging the water's edge. Beneath them was a log, and alongside the log was a torpedo. Three rounds of lyddite promptly fired from one of her guns left nothing recognisable of either the torpedo or the log, and the two men disappeared completely. When she got into her position up the river, the Konigsberg opened fired on her with four and sometimes five guns, and the firing was marvellously accurate for range, but slightly out for direction. This was a fairly clear indication that the Konigsberg's gunnery lieutenant had been carefully calculating the ranges of certain points on the river. Presently the Mersey was hit twice, one shell striking the gun-shield of one of her big guns on the port side, and killing four men, while part of the burst shell went through a bulkhead into the sick bay, and wounded the sick berth steward. The other shot struck a motor-boat lying on the port side, and sank it, but did no further damage beyond making a dent in the ship's bottom. It was a piece of luck that the motor-boat was there, or the Mersey would undoubtedly have had a big hole below her water-line.


After this she retired, and had only just left her anchorage when another salvo fell upon the exact spot. She anchored 500 yards lower down-stream, where she found the atmosphere rather more healthy. The Severn then received the enemy's attention, and later on, after a long pause occasioned by the absence of our aeroplanes. Captain Fullerton came to the conclusion that it would be wise to try a change of billet. As the stern of his ship swung round three lyddite shells fell together on the position he had just vacated, showing beyond doubt that the enemy had both range and direction to a nicety.


It was just about this time that somebody in the Severn spied a party of four men up a tree. Here was a complete explanation of the Konigsberg's accurate firing, and it showed that she had a very shrewd idea as to where the monitors would come to make their attack. A few shots from a 3-pounder gun brought those four down with a run, and after that the Konigsberg's firing was far from accurate. Captain Fullerton, however, suspected the presence of another observation post at Pemba, and was careful to keep well in to the west bank, so that the hull of his ship could not be seen from that direction. Soon afterwards the second of our aeroplanes broke down, and a withdrawal from the river became necessary.


The result of the day's proceedings was not altogether satisfactory. According to the aeroplane observers, four hits were recorded on the Konigsberg, but it was quite evident that a further attack would have to be made in order to complete her destruction. It was not by any means a pleasant occupation to take ships up that shallow channel, with every possibility of running aground at any moment, and with unseen field and naval guns firing continually from the recesses of the forest to supplement the shells coming from the Konigsberg. The Mersey already had four men killed and four wounded (of whom two subsequently died of their wounds), and one of her port guns had been put out of action. The Severn was more fortunate, having neither casualties nor damage to report. But the day's experiences were enough to show that the task undertaken was far from being a light one.


Five days later, on 11th July, the aeroplanes were again ready for service, and the two monitors crossed from Mafia Island and entered the Kikunga Channel shortly before noon. Their progress up the river was heralded by a chorus of field-guns, machineguns, and rifles, mostly from the east bank, and the Mersey had three men wounded by a 9-pounder shell. But our return shot, crashing blindly through the thicket in the direction of the sound of the hostile guns, soon had the effect of quieting them. Shortly afterwards the Konigsberg opened fire with four guns, concentrating her fire on the Severn. This was inconvenient, because the arrangement was that the Severn should get into position first, and the operation of anchoring bow and stern is not an easy one under fire. So the Mersey remained in the open to attract the Konigsberg's gunners, and in a very short time the Severn was in position 1,000 yards nearer the enemy than she had been before, and comfortably steady between her anchors. A sharp look-out was kept for spotting parties in the tree-tops, but apparently they had come to the conclusion that it might be too warm up there to be healthy.


None the less the Konigsberg's fire was uncomfortably accurate. The splash of her shells flooded the quarter-deck more than once, but fortunately no damage was done. About half-past twelve one of the aeroplanes came on the scene with Flight Commander Cull and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Arnold, and the Severn opened fire. The first five salvoes were lost in the thick forest of palm trees, and the aeroplane could give no account of them. But the officer in command of the Severn's guns took upon himself to make a big reduction in the range, which turned out to be a fortunate guess. The sixth salvo was signalled by the aeroplane to be 100 yards over and to the right. The necessary adjustment was made, and the gun fired again. This time the aeroplane signalled too much to the left. Again the direction was adjusted, and another round fired. All eyes were impatiently watching the aeroplane to learn the verdict. As it gracefully swooped round in its circle Sub-Lieutenant Arnold signalled the joyful message - a hit! The Severn's guns were all adjusted to the ascertained range and direction, and for the next few minutes Arnold was kept busy making the same signal. Occasionally, however, he had to record a short, or an over, or a left, or a right, but the finding of the range had been accomplished, and the hours of the Konisgberg were numbered.


In the Severn they were all so much engrossed in their task, which had now for the first time promised a successful issue, that they had no time to notice any peculiarity in the movements of their friends in the sky. The aeroplane had been at an approximate height of 3,200 feet, but just as the first of the Severn's shells had been spotted, a lucky shot from the anti-aircraft guns burst beneath them, and a piece of it hit their engine. There was no room for doubt about it, for the behaviour of the engine afforded ample evidence, and in ten minutes Flight Commander Cull found that he had descended to 2,000 feet. The situation became decidedly ticklish, for at that height a direct hit by a shell was well within the range of possibilities, and the chances of coming out of the ordeal alive would be remote, to say the least of it. But Commander Cull realised that the crucial moment had come, and that to leave the scene just when the Severn was getting on to her target might very well ruin the chances of the whole undertaking. So he set his teeth, and determined to hang on as long as ever he could.


Then Sub-Lieutenant Arnold signalled the first hit, and the excitement grew as the hits became fast and furious. But all the time the anti-aircraft shells were bursting round them, and presently another fragment struck the aeroplane's engine. Nothing remained now but to volplane down as best they could, so they made a signal to the Severn, “We are hit; send boat for us,” and Commander Cull steered with a view to landing in the river somewhere near the two monitors. During the descent Sub-Lieutenant Arnold continued to send his spotting corrections, until the machine dipped below the tree-tops and the Konigsberg was lost to view. The observer's last signal to the Severn was to bring her salvoes farther aft, and he had the satisfaction of seeing her shells fall into the Konigsberg amidships before the palm trees obscured his view. By that time nine salvoes had been signalled as having hit the enemy.


The aeroplane fell into the river not far from the Mersey, who promptly sent a boat to the rescue. Sub-Lieutenant Arnold was thrown clear of the machine into the water, but Commander Cull was strapped to his seat, and was in an awkward predicament, as the machine turned right over. But Arnold went to his assistance at once, and managed to extricate him; within a few minutes both of them were safely in the Mersey's boat. The wreck of the aeroplane was blown up by gun cotton, as a precaution against its falling into the hands of the enemy.


By this time two of the Konigsberg's guns had ceased fire; a few minutes later only one of the guns was firing, and after another minute or two there was silence. But the silence did not last long, for almost immediately a loud explosion was heard, and dense clouds of smoke rose up above the palm trees, and drifted away in the wind. The Severn still continued firing with two of her guns, and soon there were no less than seven distinct explosions heard, and the yellow smoke made a big cloud over the tops of the trees.


The monitors were then ordered to proceed upstream and close to within 7,000 yards of the enemy. The navigation was no easy matter, as there appeared to be a bar right across the river, but they crept up gradually, and when the soundings showed eight feet of water, the Mersey put her helm over and dropped anchor. By this time the other aeroplane had arrived with Flight Lieutenant Watkins and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Bishop, and with her third round the Mersey scored a hit. The Konigsberg was now visible from the topmast heads of the monitors, in their new position, and Captain Fullerton himself went aloft to reconnoitre. He saw that the enemy was on fire both fore and aft, that her foremast was leaning over and looked on the verge of collapse, and that streams of smoke enveloped her mainmast. In fact she was a complete wreck, and at half-past two in the afternoon the Admiral, satisfied that the difficult task at last had been accomplished, signalled to the monitors to retire.


Captain Fullerton of the Severn, Commander Wilson of the Mersey, Squadron Commander Gordon in charge of R.N.A.S. detachment, Wing Commander Cull, and Flight Lieutenant Arnold were all awarded the Distinguished Service Order for their respective shares in this achievement. It was a task which in many of its features was unique in the annals of the Navy. Certainly no naval engagement has ever before been fought under circumstances even remotely similar, for it may be described as a naval battle in the midst of a forest. It is equally certain that the new branch of the Navy, the Royal Naval Air Service, had never before been called upon to carry out such important work under such climatic conditions. Perhaps only flying men can appreciate how difficult those conditions were, but the story of  those exciting minutes when, with damaged engine, the spotters were guiding the Severn's shots nearer and nearer to the target, is dramatic enough to appeal to the imagination even of the most prosaic among laymen.









(click map to enlarge)


At Chukwani, in the island of Zanzibar, Squadron No. 8 of the Royal Naval Air Service established its headquarters for the purpose of making reconnaissances over enemy territory in East Africa, taking photographs, dropping bombs, and otherwise aiding the military operations. The seaplane carriers, H.M.S. Himalaya and Manica were lying off the island, and the Flag Commander, the Hon. R. O. B. Bridgeman, D.S.O., had general charge of the operations. Although he was not an airman himself, he was keenly interested in the airman's craft, and moreover he fully appreciated the special difficulties attending aviation in that climate. The R.N.A.S. had every reason to be grateful to him, for he helped them in their work as only an officer with a sympathetic understanding of their troubles could help them.


In January 1917 the Manica and Himalaya were lying off the island of Nyroro near the Rufigi Delta, and on the 5th of the month the former ship sent Flight Sub-Lieutenant Deans over the delta in a seaplane. On his return journey, when he was just over the wreck of the Konigsberg and was circling round to get a photograph of a pinnace in her vicinity, he was fired at by rifles, one shot hitting his port wing. He was fired at again lower down the delta, but suffered no further damage, and returned in safety. His machine had refused to ascend with an observer on board, and he had therefore made the flight alone.


Since the Manica's seaplane was temporarily incapable of carrying both pilot and observer, it was decided next day to send up the Himalaya's machine, piloted by Flight Commander E. R. Moon, and with Commander Bridgeman himself as observer. Soon after seven o'clock in the morning they started off, taking with them a camera and enough petrol to last for three hours, and they flew over the delta with the intention of making a thorough reconnaissance of it. As the hours slipped by, and there was no sign of them, their shipmates began to grow anxious, and, when anxiety had given place to alarm. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Deans was sent off from the Manica to discover what had happened to them.


He searched up and down the various channels and creeks, but at first could see no trace of them. On his return, just as he was passing over the Suninga Channel, he noticed something lying on the water at a spot which he estimated to be about six miles from the mouth of the channel, and on descending towards it, he found it to be the wreck of the missing seaplane. He came down close beside it, and saw that it was lying upside down with the bottom of the floats just above water, and that large portions of the wings, tail, and rudder were burnt. For some time he remained alongside, firing a Verey's light to attract attention, but of the pilot and observer he could see no trace. So he returned and made his report.


Several days later the squadron received information from the enemy that Commander Bridgeman had been drowned, and that Flight Commander Moon was a prisoner of war. The full story, however, remained unknown for nearly a year, until the progress of the allied forces brought about the flight of the Germans and the liberation of their prisoners.


I tell the story of Flight Commander Moon in the form of a personal narrative, but it must be understood, of course, that I do not profess to quote the exact words in which he told it to me on his return to England. He has assured me, however, that the following account is correct both in substance and in detail. I need only add that at the time when these events occurred he had been awarded the D.S.O. for many meritorious performances in aircraft work, and that he has since been awarded a bar to the decoration.

“Commander Bridgeman and I started off about a quarter-past seven on the morning of 6th January 1917 from the Himalaya at Nyroro Island. It has always been my practice to wait until I return from a flight before taking a meal, because I believe that work of this kind is better done on an empty stomach, and so I had nothing more than a cup of tea before leaving. If I had known what was in store for me, I might have been tempted to stow enough inside me to last me a week, after the manner of the pelican.


“We made a very thorough reconnaissance of the delta, flying over all parts of it, and at the end of an hour or so the commander said he was quite satisfied, and ordered mc to return. We were over the south end of the delta when the engine revolutions suddenly began to drop, so that I was obliged to descend. I steered for the inshore end of the Suninga Channel, and landed in a creek which forms a junction between this and Kiomboni Channel to the south of it. I taxied along the creek, while the commander took the pilot's seat to give me an opportunity of attending to the motor.


“I found that the after magneto drive had failed, and presently the pressure in the petrol tank gave out, and the engine stopped altogether. I made several attempts to restart it, but without success.


"The only way to discover what was wrong with it was to take it to pieces, but of course I had no idea whether I should be able to repair the defect when I had found it. The commander decided that under the circumstances there was nothing for it but to destroy the seaplane, and to try to make our escape to the mouth of the river, where we might either be picked up by one of the ship's boats, or find a native boat in which we could pull off to the Himalaya.


“We happened to have come down close to the spot where a party of Germans had fired at the Manica's seaplane on the previous day, and it was therefore probable that the enemy was not far away. Owing to the windings of the creek and the thick vegetation on either side of it, we could not see far in any direction, and we quite expected that a party of Huns might come round the corner of a bend at any moment. We felt certain that they must have seen us coming down, and must have sent men to look for us. As a matter of fact I learnt afterwards that the search party misjudged our position, and wandered along the Kiomboni Creek some miles to the south.

“The first thing we had to do was to destroy our seaplane, which we did by soaking it with petrol and setting fire to it with a Verey's light. We watched it burn until it was a useless wreck, and then we started off down the creek, swimming across it after a while with the idea of covering our tracks. The commander had a Perrin belt, which served him in good stead so long as it remained inflated, but unfortunately the air gradually leaked out of it. I happen to be a fairly strong swimmer, and consequently 1 had no need of anything of the kind. When we reached the Suninga Channel we found the bush on either side so dense that it was impossible to make our way through it, but, as the tide was well down, we were able for some time to walk along the mud bank without entering the mangrove swamp.


“It must have been about noon when we saw the Manica's seaplane flying over the delta. We had anticipated that it would be sent to look for us, but we knew that we should never be able to attract its attention. Of course we waved our arms and did all we could, but it was quite useless. That the pilot would see our machine we fully expected, but it was clearly impossible for us to remain in its vicinity if we wished to escape capture. I confess that it never occurred to me that, when he saw the burnt wings and tail, he would come to the conclusion that we had caught on fire before we descended and had been burnt to death.


“The tide was coming in fast, and it was about high tide when we reached a point just opposite the wreck of the Somali. This was the ship which had been a tender to the Konigsberg in the days of her glory, until a shell from one of our ships set the old packet on fire, and she burned herself out from stem to stern. We thought we saw a green-painted native boat lying alongside the bank close to the wreck, and I decided to swim across to examine it. I thought, too, that I might find a receptacle of some kind or other on the wreck where the rain water had collected, for we were beginning to get thirsty, and of course the water in the channel was as salt as the sea. I left the commander on the south bank, as his belt had become deflated, and it was a fairly long swim for anyone but a strong swimmer. As it turned out, 1 found it quite an easy swim, for the current seemed to strike right across the channel towards a creek leading northwards to the Simba Uranga Channel, and I was carried across with it fairly rapidly. But, alas, I found that the boat was no boat at all - only the trunk of a tree overhanging the water's edge. I scrambled on to the wreck to search for water, and here again I was disappointed. There was not a vessel of any kind, and the deck had buckled upwards with the heat of the fire, so that there was no cranny or hollow in which a pool of water could collect. There was just one small spot where a few drains had gathered together, and by lying flat on my face I just managed to wet the tip of my tongue.


“My next task was to swim back to the south bank and rejoin the commander, but I found this a more difficult undertaking than I had anticipated. The current which had helped me across to the Somali was now against me, and was running at such a pace that I could do little more than keep myself from being carried backwards. I had to give up the attempt, but when I heard the commander shout and fire his revolver to attract my attention, I made another effort to get across. It was equally unsuccessful, and though I shouted at the top of my voice to reassure the commander that I was all right, I failed to make him hear me. Five times during the night I tried to swim to the south bank, but could make no headway against the current, and finally I decided that there was nothing for it but to wait for slack water.

“As soon as the sun goes down the mosquitoes in the Rufigi Delta come out in their myriads, and hang over the surface of the water. I must have swallowed some scores of them when I was trying to swim across, and I found them a most unsatisfactory form of diet. While I was waiting for slack water, they swarmed round me, and the only way to keep them off was to stand in the water up to my neck and duck my head from time to time. They had been bad enough even in the daytime, but at night the whole air seemed to be thick with them.


“It was just before daybreak when I managed at last to struggle across to the other bank. I found that the commander had gone on downstream, so I swam down with the current (for the tide had turned) until I came in sight of the deserted village of Salali, which lies on the north bank. Opposite to it on the south bank is a solitary hut, and here I saw the commander, but I was carried past him by the current some considerable distance before I could gain the shore, and I had to wade back to him. Standing near the hut was a clump of palm trees, and we were lucky enough to find some cocoanuts on them. In the hut we found two empty bottles, into which we poured some cocoanut milk. We next came across three wooden poles, which we tied together with wisps of sisal, and across them we lashed some old window frames with lattices. It was a poor makeshift of a raft, for the materials were too scanty to bear our weight, but it was the best we could improvise,


“The commander sat amidships, while I sat aft, trying to manipulate an old canoe paddle which I had picked up, but it was no easy matter, for the water was always up to my shoulders, and occasionally up to my neck. It must have been some time after midday when we shoved off. We soon found that three submerged poles do not provide the most comfortable of craft, especially in a river where there are plenty of sharp snags to tear one's clothes and scratch one's skin. My stockings were torn beyond the possibility of repair by the most conscientious of darners, and my khaki shorts also became considerably less than respectable. As luck would have it, I was wearing nothing better than a service cap, which is all very well for a flight in the early morning, but is hopelessly inadequate to protect the head from the noontide sun.


“As we passed Salali we saw a few broken boats and canoes lying on the bank, but they were too far damaged to be of any use to us. Just before night fall we reached Mnasi Moja Point, where we saw another smashed canoe, on which we carried out a rapid survey and decided to report that in the absence of docking facilities this vessel could not be recommended even for temporary commissioning. We spent the night near the Point, dodging the attentions of the mosquitoes by keeping as much as possible of their rations beneath the surface of the water. The commander suddenly started laughing, and when I asked him to let me share the joke, he said, ' I cannot help seeing the funny side of our predicament. There really is something very comical about it.' Undoubtedly there was, and, strange as it may seem, the humour of the situation was always uppermost in our minds, in spite of our physical discomforts. Of course we never had any doubt that we should get back to our ship somehow or other, and we talked as though it were a certainty. I remember the commander reminding me once that we were not yet out of the wood, when I was looking rather too far ahead, and discussing future projects after our return to safety.

“Next day (8th January) we started off at dawn, and presently we sighted the wreck of the Newbridge - the old packet which had been sunk to block the channel before the Konigsberg was destroyed. I tried to bring the raft alongside her, but overshot the mark, and finally had to beach the raft some distance to the east of the wreck. We now found that the salt water had penetrated both our bottles of cocoanut milk, making it unfit to drink, but fortunately we still had an untapped cocoanut, with which we were able to quench our thirst. By this time the necessity of finding food and drink completely outweighed all thoughts about the risk of capture, and we decided that we must push away from the river through the mangrove swamp in the hope of coming across some natives who might be able to supply us, and whom we hoped to bribe into giving us a passage in a boat or canoe to our ship.


“It was a brave decision, but we had reckoned without the mosquitoes. I had no sooner pushed my way into the thicket than the buzz of a mighty army sang in my ears, and the swarm was upon me. The plague of flies in Egypt may have been a pretty bad business, but the virtue of the common fly is that he feeds on jam and dead meat, like a civilised human being. The female mosquito feeds on live victims, and with a callous selfishness almost unsurpassed in the scheme of creation, she injects a poison which makes her food more digestible for her, but makes her bite ten times worse for her prey. Before five minutes were up I was rushing out of that mangrove swamp as though all the furies of hell had been let loose on me. We had to give up the idea of getting away from the river by a tramp through the bush; for no human being could endure the ordeal of it, unless he was armed like a bee-keeper wrestling with a swarming hive. Our only way was to continue our course downstream until we reached the river mouth.


“In the meantime the question of food and drink was becoming urgent. We looked across the river towards the wreck of the Newbridge, and the hope, which springs eternal in the human breast, made us dream of the possibility of finding something there which would be of service to us. As soon as it was slack water we pushed off on our raft and managed to make the wreck without much difficulty. I don't know exactly what we really expected to find there, beyond perhaps a small pool of rain water collected in some hollow of the upper structure, which was sticking out above the level of the river, but even in this we were disappointed. There was absolutely nothing on the wreck which could be of the least use to us in our predicament. The starboard stanchion of the bridge, being painted white, presented to us the idea of writing a short note to serve as a guide to any of the ship's boats which might happen to come along in search of us, and the commander took a pencil from his pocket and scribbled a few words on the paint. It is a curious illustration of how one loses count of the passage of time when one is deprived of the ordinary routine of regular meals and sleep, that he and I could not agree as to the day of the month. It was really the 8th, but he insisted upon dating his message the 10th. Long afterwards I heard that that message was seen after several days by some of our shipmates, but that they could not make up their minds whether it was genuine or not.

“At nightfall we had another drink of cocoanut milk, which very nearly exhausted the supply, and then we settled down to the usual game of hide and seek with the mosquitoes. Once I tried to snatch a little sleep by lying down on the wreck, but I might as well have chosen a bed of red-hot needles; sleep was impossible in the company of that voracious horde. Only the salt water could keep them off, so there was nothing for it but to get back into the river again, and to keep my face and head wet by constant immersion. It was a process which soon grew monotonous, so much so that we did not wait for daybreak before shoving off again upon our raft.


“Our plan was to cross to the east bank of the river, run the raft on the mud, and then wade towards the mouth of the channel, where we hoped to come across a native boat or canoe, or, better still, to find one of the ship's boats coming in to look for us. At first we were carried upstream by the tide, but when it turned, we were carried rapidly towards the sea. All the time I was struggling hard with my paddle to bring the raft to the bank, but the tide was too strong for me, and, almost before 1 realised it, we were being taken right through the entrance of the channel. At first I failed to appreciate the full extent of our danger. The thought that we had escaped from that horrible delta, with its swarming population of winged torments, was uppermost in my mind. But when we reached the open sea, and found that the wind was blowing up against the tide and causing heavy waves, the full possibilities of the situation dawned upon me.


“Our raft was overturned, and, though the poles hung together, they were in a hopeless tangle, and gave us little more support than a single floating spar would have given us. I watched the shore gradually recede into the distance, until I could not see the tops of the trees above the waves, and still the tide seemed to be drawing us farther and farther away from land. Of course I knew that when it turned it would carry us back again, but the question was whether we could remain afloat long enough. Of those next few hours I cannot speak in detail, for the tragedy of Commander Bridgeman's death blots out all other memories of them. When I saw that his strength was giving out, I tried to encourage him by telling him that the tide had turned and that we should soon be on the beach, but 1 realise now that he had lost all consciousness of his surroundings, and that, although the instinct of self-preservation made his muscles retain their hold, he was already wrapped in the long last sleep. I could not make myself believe this, and even when his grip relaxed I still clung to the idea that I could save him. 1 caught hold of him and struggled to keep his head above water. How long 1 struggled 1 do not know; it may have been but a few minutes, or it may have been an hour; but to me it seemed like a lifetime. And then my own strength failed, and 1 was forced to let go of him.

“It was fortunate that I was not in a mental condition to appreciate the full force of the tragedy. My mind was dazed through lack of sleep and my actions had become subconscious. So long as my strength had lasted I had clung tenaciously to the idea that my one aim and purpose was to save the commander, and even though I dimly realised that he was dead, I could not relinquish the struggle. When my strength gave out, I had no very clear idea of my own circumstances, but the ordinary animal instinct kept me clinging to the remnants of the raft, until the tide had carried me well inshore. Then I struck out with such strength as I had left in me, and gained the shallow water, where I sat down in the surf to regain my breath. How long I sat there I have no notion, but after a while I must have staggered up the slope of the beach towards the belt of palm trees skirting it.


“My next clear recollection is of meeting a native - a young man with only a loin-cloth round his waist, to whom I uttered the magic words 'British man-of-war,' and went through the motions of paddling a canoe. Then I said 'Rupees,' which was a word he well understood, and I indicated with my fingers that his reward should be considerable. Presently an older man came up, wearing a pair of blue trousers, adorned with many patches. I went through the same pantomime again, and he nodded his head in comprehension. I had four rupees in my pocket, which I handed to him as a token of good faith, but he gravely returned the money. I also had a large pocket compass, which I handed to him, fearing lest he might suspect that it was some kind of infernal machine, and that I was going to annihilate him. He kept this at the time, but handed it back to me next day.


“The elder man took me by the wrist, and led me towards a grass hut, where I remember sitting down on something or other - probably a wooden bench, though I have no recollection of seeing any furniture in the hut. By this time my mental faculties were almost dormant. I was conscious that I was in need of food, but beyond the need of expressing this elementary desire I had no definite thought. I pointed to my mouth, and the natives nodded their heads. Presently a woman appeared on the scene, and brought me two mangoes, which she cut into slices for me. I think of those mangoes now as the most luscious fruit I have ever tasted. I am afraid that my manner of eating them must have resembled that of a wild beast rather than a human creature, for it was nearly five whole days since I had had any solid food.


“I was so much absorbed in satisfying the first primitive desire of a live animal that I had completely forgotten my surroundings. But presently, when I had eaten the fruit, I looked round, and noticed that the two men had put on blue tunics, and were winding khaki puttees round their legs. I also saw that each of them had a rifle, but my mental condition was such that I attached no significance to these phenomena. It would have been all the same to me if they had put on surplices and carried a couple of big Bibles. The one idea firmly fixed in my mind was that they were going to take me back to my ship, and when they made signs to me to follow them, I struggled to my feet, and passed out of the hut.

“Of that walk through the palm grove by the seashore, I can only remember one or two trivial incidents. I have since calculated that it must have occupied an hour and a half, but I was not conscious of fatigue; I was not conscious of anything but a feeling that the whole situation was quite unreal, and that presently I should wake up. I remember that the younger of the two natives showed great concern about my stockings, which had slipped down to my feet, and he kept on making signs to me to indicate that the mosquitoes would attack my bare legs. At last he stooped down himself, and pulled them up for me. Later on he took off his red cap - a very dirty relic of what had once been a Turkish fez, but all the stiffness had long since departed from it, so that it looked more like a skullcap. Before I had realised his purpose, he was very tenderly wiping my mouth with it. I suppose that the remains of the mangoes were clinging to my lips and cheeks, and the good-hearted fellow was shocked to see me in such a condition.


“The place to which they brought me must have been one of the German outposts. I should observe that, although all the harbours and towns along the coast were by this time in the hands of the Allies, the Rufigi Delta had been left in the undisturbed possession of the enemy. It was not such a desirable spot as to be worth the expenditure of any effort to acquire it. In an open space a large number of natives were congregated round a fire, stoked with cocoanut husks, whose smoke drove away the mosquitoes. Here I sank down on the ground, and was dimly conscious that many pairs of inquisitive eyes were staring at me; but somehow they seemed to belong to another world than my own. I kept on saying to myself, ' They are going to take me back to my ship,' and this was the only idea that my bemused mind was capable of entertaining. During the march my guides had spoken to a group of women whom we encountered, and I had assured myself that they were telling them of the reward which I had offered, and were impressing on the women the need of holding their tongues about me.


“I am not quite sure what happened next. I may have gone off in a faint, or I may have simply fallen asleep. The Germans told me afterwards that I was in a faint, and it is not altogether improbable. The next thing I remember is that a big man with a beard was leaning over me, and as I looked up into his face I saw that he was a European. He said something to a smaller man, who was dressed in the rig of a sailor, and, as my scattered wits returned to me, I recognised the German tongue. Then, and only then, I realised for the first time that I was a prisoner of war.


"For some time I was allowed to rest, and then the smaller of the two men, who spoke quite good English, told me that I should have to walk inland with them. I told him that I was quite unfit to walk, but he asked me to make an effort, explaining that it was impossible for me to stay where I was. He turned out to be a very good fellow, and before we started he had a chicken cooked for me. I was sensible enough to appreciate this kindness, for roast chicken is a rare delicacy in the Rufigi Delta, but when the food was put in front of me I found myself quite unable to touch a morsel of it. I could see that this genuinely distressed him, and I told him how sorry I was, but I could not explain to him why a man who has been five days without food loses the power to eat it when it is put in front of him. I only knew that in my exhausted condition I should have turned away from the most tempting delicacy that a Paris chef could devise. Later on this little sailor man proved a good friend to me by rigging me out in an old suit of khaki clothes belonging to him - the only clothes I had from the Germans during my captivity.

“My experiences as a prisoner of war hardly belong to this story. Suffice it to say that they were not such as to give me any great pleasure in dwelling on them. To start with, I went down with fever, and remained on the sick list more or less continuously for the next six months. The prison camps were in a constant state of being moved from place to place, as the progress of the Allied troops drove the Germans from pillar to post, I estimate that altogether I travelled 600 miles during my imprisonment, walking when I was well enough, and being carried by natives at other times. To make matters worse it was the rainy season of the year, and frequently I had no other bed to lie on than the wet grass.


“One piece of news, which the Germans gave me, brought me some comfort. They told me that the body of Commander Bridgeman had been washed ashore, and had been buried with full military honours. In these days of wholesale carnage, when hundreds of men are hurled in a few hours across the gulf between life and death, many of us have grown callous about our fallen comrades. But the thought that one who had been so closely associated with me, and had shared with me the hardships of those four days in the Rufigi Delta, had gone to some unknown resting-place in the wide ocean had preyed on my mind. It was an indescribable comfort to me to know that he had received Christian burial, and the honours due to a brave officer. His memory will long live in the minds of those who knew him, and no man can have a truer inscription on his monument than that which is engraved upon the hearts of his fellow-men.


“I have to thank a strong constitution rather than the German doctors for the fact that I survived those months of sickness, and have come back little the worse for them. The medical service of the Germans in East Africa used to remind me of Alice in Wonderland, who had jam yesterday and jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day. At every camp the doctor told me that, although he was unable to give me proper treatment, I should receive it all right at the next camp. Occasionally I was given a dose of quinine, and occasionally some ointment for my sores, but there was an element of chance as to whether I got even these, and the attitude of the doctors was always perfunctory. Nevertheless, I had gone far to regain my health when at last the rescue came. I shall never forget those last few days in the prison camp. We heard the guns drawing nearer and nearer as the Allied forces steadily closed in from two directions. Then the commandant gave us the joyful intelligence that the prisoners were to be left behind, together with all the sick Germans, and those who were not likely to be of service in future fighting. Only about 200 Germans and some 1,800 Askaris made their way across the border into Portuguese East Africa; all the rest were left behind and were made prisoners. The senior German officer in our camp, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Paterson, and armed with a white flag, went out to meet our troops. And then our fellows started singing 'God Save The King.' I betook myself to a quiet corner, for I knew that, if anyone had spoken to mc, I should have broken down and sobbed.”












When H.M.S. Cumberland first cast her anchor off the bar of the Cameroon River in September 1914, this German colony in Darkest Africa was a sealed book to most of us. We had seen it on the map, and were therefore quite ready to believe that it existed, but as to what the country was like, what kind of people inhabited it, what industries were in progress there, our knowledge was meagre in the extreme. We had heard perhaps that German efforts at colonisation had proved to be costly failures for the most part, but few of us had ever worried our heads to find out why they were failures.


On her way down the coast the Cumberland had called at Lagos in Nigeria, among other places, and there had picked up a small band of natives who had fled from the Cameroons early in August, and were now eager to lend their aid to the British in driving the Germans out of the country. One of them explained that he was King of Duala, and that the others were his courtiers in attendance on him. This came as rather a shock to the officers of the Cumberland, who were not quite prepared for the honour of receiving a reigning monarch into their midst, and were in some doubt as to whether they had committed a grave breach of etiquette in not firing a salute and providing a Marine guard of honour at the gangway. His Majesty, however, was quite unassuming in his manner, and put them all at their ease by agreeing to accept, as remuneration for his services, the regal sum of one shilling a day. He was even democratic enough to allow his courtiers to be rewarded at precisely the same rate. The only difficulty that arose was in entering their names upon the ship's ledger. The Accountant Officer's staff grappled in vain with the orthographic problems those names presented, and finally compromised matters by rechristening the entire suite. One gentleman became known as “Jack Friday,” while another, who fulfilled the functions of Prime Minister, was named “Lloyd George.” The king himself was entered on the books as “King Bell.”


Now this was not the original King Bell. In fact the original “King Bell” dates back many generations, for the name has been preserved throughout the ages. Just as there were sixteen kings of France called Louis, so there have been quite as many kings of Duala called Bell, but somehow or other the exact number has been buried behind a veil of antiquity, so that the present monarch can only be designated as King Bell the Umteenth. This story, however, is not so much concerned with him as with his predecessor, who was his uncle.


Before I go any farther, let me explain how it is that the kings of Duala glory in such an English name as Bell. The explanation is that amongst the West African natives for many hundreds of miles up and down the coast the English language is the lingua franca, the common vernacular by means of which all the tribes can communicate with each other. It is a kind of pidgin English, which seems to have grown on the coast in some mysterious way, and to have spread itself inland to a considerable distance. It was not deliberately invented as a new language, like Esperanto, but accidentally it has become the Esperanto of Western Africa. By a curious irony of fate the natives of the Cameroons speak better English than any other natives on the coast. This must have been very galling to the Germans, who were obliged to learn pidgin English before they could drill the native troops, or even issue orders to the servants in their own houses.


The story of “King Bell,” the uncle of the exile whom the Cumberland found at Lagos, is a tragedy. It was first introduced to me by an entry in the diary of Lieutenant Nathnagel, the German military officer, who was found at Duala when the town surrendered. The bulk of the German forces, both European and native, had been withdrawn when the Germans realised that they could not hold the place, and Nathnagel had been left behind to hand it over to the British forces. He happened to have kept a diary, and here is one of the first entries after the commencement of the war:

“8th August 1914. - In the afternoon Rudolph Bell and Ngoro Din were hanged in front of the prison for high treason. A great outcry among the populace all night long.”

I start thus with the end of the story because that is how it happened to come to my notice. There is nothing in the diary to tell us who were these two malefactors, Rudolph Bell and Ngoro Din, what was the treasonable act committed by them, nor why the populace expressed so much sympathy with them. All the rest of the story I had to collect from other sources, and, although I cannot guarantee its accuracy in every detail, I have no reason to doubt that it is true in its main essentials. Of Ngoro Din it is sufficient to say that he was associated with Rudolph Bell in the charge of treason, but I have not inquired into the particulars which caused him to be implicated.


Rudolph Bell was chief of the Duala tribe, as his father and his grandfather had been before him. His kingdom extended over the town of Duala and its vicinity. The chief industry of his subjects was fishing in the numerous creeks and rivers, and trading in fish. Now the German governor was faced with a problem which sometimes occurs when civilisation sets its great foot upon a country. The traffic of the port of Duala was increasing, and more accommodation was needed for wharfage. The only solution was to clear out a native settlement along the riverbank, and commandeer the space for building new wharves. Where the German governor blundered was in his choice of a new home for the evicted natives. For some incomprehensible reason he ignored the fact that they were fisherfolk, and planted them in a settlement at some considerable distance from any of the rivers. The natural result was that they were profoundly discontented by the change.


“King Bell,” as their accredited chief, took up the matter with the German authorities, but the governor, now conscious of his blunder, had not the courage to acknowledge it. He feared that, if he were to show any irresolution in the matter, it would be construed in the native mind as weakness on the part of the German governor, and power on the part of “King Bell.” So he told this officially unrecognised monarch that the natives in a colony belonging to the All Highest Emperor of Germany must go and live where they were told, and be thankful that they were allowed to live at all. At this “King Bell“ flew into a regal rage, and said, “Your Emperor plentee much beeeg man, but Rudolph Bell he know plentee much beeeger man, and he will write letter to English Emperor and ask him to come to Duala in a plentee beeg sheep, and take the Cameroons away from you. Then we shall have nice English governor - no more German governor.”


Here was a flagrant case of lèse-majesté. Apart from the insult to the German Emperor contained in the suggestion that any mortal man could be greater than he, there was an invidious comparison of the merits of German and English governors, which could not be overlooked. So "King Bell” was promptly clapped in prison. I am told that he did actually write a letter to King George, and with child-like innocence requested his captors to forward it, but I cannot vouch for the truth of this part of the story. The letter has never been discovered, and, if it was written, it was probably destroyed by the German authorities. This is very regrettable, for it must have been a wonderful piece of composition.


When the curtain next rises upon the drama, the momentous fourth of August has come round, and England and Germany are at war. Up and down the coast of West Africa, and far inland along the banks of the many rivers which water the country, the news is passed from village to village that the great Emperor of the English has ordered the Emperor of the Germans to release “King Bell “ from prison, and if he does not do so at once, then the English Emperor will send his big ships and mighty armies to take the Cameroons from the Germans.


Of what transpired at the trial of Rudolph Bell I have no record, but I have no doubt that it was a simple matter to produce sufficient evidence to convict him of high treason. He had many relations and friends eager enough to do his behests, and from the German point of view he was an inconvenient person to have even in prison when the country might at any moment be invaded by hostile forces. Probably the German governor felt that so long as the man was alive he would be a danger in the country, and that neither native jailers nor native troops could be trusted to keep him safely in prison. The simplest solution of the problem was to hang him, and so Rudolph was hanged.


The Germans were in an awkward fix, for they knew that the natives had no love for them, and that their only chance of maintaining their ascendancy was by means of a reign of terror. The diary of Lieutenant Nathnagel contains many indications of the official distrust of the native, and of the strained relations subsisting between governors and governed. Thus on 17th August - nine days after Bell was hanged - we find the following entry:

“If the English do not come soon, we shall be going for each other.”

Then came the report that an English man-of-war was off the coast of Togoland, shortly followed by the report that Togoland had been surrendered. Both these reports were received at Duala by wireless. On 27th August the diary says:

“From to-day all telegraphic work is to be carried on by Europeans.”

The native telegraph clerks were no longer to be trusted at such a juncture, for they might use the instrument for conveying information to the enemy.


On 31st August H.M.S. Cumberland arrived at Fernando Po, the Spanish island off the mouth of the Cameroon River, and three days later preparations were begun for the invasion of the country. It became obvious at once to the Germans that the majority of the natives regarded the advent of the British forces as the dawn of their deliverance. What perhaps they did not realise was that the sequence of events had caused the natives to connect the arrival of the British Navy at the mouth of the Cameroon River with the hanging of Rudolph Bell. Such, however, was, and still is, the idea in the native mind. It is useless to try to persuade the West African people that this war was brought about by trouble in the Balkans, or in any other of those far-off countries which they associate merely with travellers' yarns. The cause of the war was that the Germans hanged “King Bell“ and the English came to avenge his death.


The Germans, realising that the people amongst whom they lived were all potential enemies, proceeded to issue stringent orders to prevent them communicating with the English. The diary on 7th September tells us:

“All canoe traffic in the creeks is stopped. No less than 48 Dualas have been captured by the patrols and brought up for judgment. Eight are to be hanged. No Duala native may cross the road after dark.”

The order stopping the canoe traffic in the creeks meant starvation for those natives who made their livelihood by fishing. And yet it is only fair to say that from a military point of view it was necessary in order to stop communications with the enemy. As a matter of fact it failed completely in its object, as will be shown later on. The German method of enforcing it was characteristically thorough. Sentries at the outposts along the river-banks were ordered to shoot any natives they saw passing them in canoes. Long after Duala had surrendered, and when the scene of the operations had been shifted far inland, it was quite common to see canoes floating down the streams with no other occupants than the dead bodies of natives.


On the arrival of the Cumberland at the mouth of the Cameroon River, “King Bell the Umteenth “and his suite were landed by night, in order to obtain information as to the nature and position of the German defences, and to collect river pilots. The pilots, it may be mentioned, did not prove to be of much assistance, for they failed to grasp the fact that a British man-of-war cannot go exactly where a native canoe goes, but they all meant well. The information collected by the natives was valuable as far as it went, though it usually lacked precision. Thus they reported that the ship channel all the way up to Duala had been extensively mined, but they had no idea where the mine-fields lay. They also stated that ships and lighters had been sunk to obstruct the fairway, but they did not know whether they were all sunk in the same locality, or whether there were several barrages.


As it turned out, the enlistment of the exiles whom the Cumberland found at Lagos proved superfluous, because there were plenty of native volunteers all too eager to supply information. For the attempt of the Germans to stop the canoe traffic was a failure, and no sooner had the Cumberland anchored at the mouth of the river than canoes came alongside filled with natives, who seemed to regard the ship as an asylum. The reign of terror had begun in grim earnest, and many of these miserable creatures had tasted the cup of bitterness. Of the tales they told, and of the marks on their bodies, which bore testimony to the truth of their statements, I prefer not to speak. War is a long succession of horrors, and no useful purpose is served by dwelling upon the details of them. Suffice it to say that the ship's doctors were kept busy patching up these wretched victims of German Kultur, and let us disabuse our minds of the notion that the medieval practice of inflicting torture on human beings has been stamped out by the march of civilisation. For these natives had been literally tortured, until the mere sight of them was enough to turn one sick. A parliamentary committee was afterwards appointed to investigate the matter, and its report, together with some photographs that no one can look at without shuddering, is available to all who care to read it.


In the absence of reliable information from the native spies, the Senior Naval Officer had to proceed with caution in approaching the problems presented to him. Fortunately he had the assistance of the officers of the Nigeria Marine, who were thoroughly familiar with local conditions, and with the creeks and waterways of Central Africa. The initial work consisted mainly of mine-sweeping and reconnoitring, followed by the gradual approach of the Cumberland into the mouth of the river, and the establishment of a naval base inside Suellaba Point. The next work to be undertaken was to clear a passage through the obstruction which the Germans had made by sinking ships and lighters. This was rather a lengthy operation, and was necessarily attended by some risk, for it was not very likely that the Germans would leave the working parties to carry on their work unmolested.


On 23rd September six transports arrived, under the escort of H.M.S. Challenger, bringing British and native troops from Nigeria and the Gold Coast. Two days later five more transports arrived bringing French troops. The Navy, however, was not quite ready for them, for there was nowhere to land them, or establish a base for them. One attempt was made to send a detachment up the Dibamba River, and to land them with a view to cutting the enemy's line of retreat along the Midland Railway. A portion of this force was actually landed, but they found it impossible to make any progress through the mangrove swamp and dense bush bordering the river, and so they had to be re-embarked. Until the Navy had prepared the way the Army could not even make a start with its work.


The abortive attempt up the Dibamba River was not, however, without its effect. It made the Germans nervous about their one of retreat, and undoubtedly put a period to their hopes of holding the port of Duala. A more cogent influence was, however, brought to bear on them by H.M.S. Challenger, who, after lightening ship, managed to scrape through the barrage of sunken ships, and so bring her guns to bear on the town. On 27th September, after one day's heavy bombardment, Lieutenant Nathnagel, who was then in command of what troops were left at Duala, received instructions by telephone to destroy the wireless station and all military stores, and to hoist the white flag.


We captured quite a nice little haul of ships at Duala, including eight large and three small vessels of the Woermann line, one Hamburg-Bremen liner, an armed yacht, a stern-wheel gunboat, tugs, trawlers, launches, and lighters. There was also among the booty a floating dock capable of accommodating ships up to 1,200 tons. Later on the Navy proceeded to raise the vessels which had been sunk to obstruct the fairway, to repair them, and commission them for service.


The capture of Duala marks the end of the purely naval operations in the Cameroons. Next day the transports anchored in the harbour, and the troops were disembarked and billeted in the town. From that point onwards the campaign became amphibious for some months, and finally, when the scene of operations had gradually receded inland, it became purely military. There are, however, some rather curious incidents in the early operations, which I will describe in another chapter.










(click map to enlarge)


It is not my purpose to give a detailed account of the earlier operations in the Cameroons, preceding the capture of Duala. There are, however, a few incidents deserving special mention, not because they had any important bearing upon the operations, but because they are sufficiently extraordinary to have some historical interest.


The first two of these incidents take one back a hundred odd years to the good old days when cutting-out expeditions were of common occurrence, and when naval warfare was largely made up of a succession of duels between ships at pistol-shot range. Cutting-out means capturing an enemy ship from beneath the protection of shore batteries. It was accomplished by manning the boats on a dark night, quietly stealing up to the prize, and boarding her before the enemy had realised what was happening. The cable was then cut, the sails set, and the prize taken out of the harbour. The ship had to run the gauntlet of the shore guns, but this was not a very serious matter, because the gunners were naturally reluctant to fire on a ship manned by their own friends, even though those friends were safe prisoners under hatches. The real risk in the undertaking was that the boats might be detected before they reached the prize, and so come under the fire both of the ship's guns and the shore guns. This sometimes happened with disastrous consequences, but on the other hand many successful cutting-out expeditions are recorded in the annals of the Navy extending from the seventeenth until the early part of the nineteenth century.


The twentieth century example of a cutting-out expedition took place on 6th September 1914, and the prize consisted of six large lighters, which were moored off the pier at Victoria, a small port in Ambas Bay, on the north side of the Cameroon River estuary. It was a fairly dark night, and our men took the precaution of leaving their whitecovered caps behind, and of wearing shoes with india-rubber soles, so that they could board the lighters without making a noise. So far as was known there were no shore batteries to take into account, but the German trenches about twenty-five yards from the lighters were manned, and at that range it was reasonable to suppose that a heavy rifle-fire might do considerable damage. Our men were armed with nothing but revolvers, as it was desirable that they should be encumbered as little as possible. The ships of the Navy and the Nigeria Marine flotilla were lying about fourteen miles from Victoria. Two vessels of the latter - the steam launch Vampire and the tug Walrus - provided with tow-ropes, etc., took the men inshore, while the gunboat H.M.S. Dwarf accompanied them. Commander Strong taking charge of the expedition. Of course all lights were extinguished, and as they approached the lighters the men were strictly enjoined to keep silence. In spite of all precautions, however, it seemed almost inconceivable that the Germans in their trenches could be unaware of the approach of the three vessels. Still, there was no indication that they had been detected, so the men silently boarded the lighters, slipped the mooring chains, and attached the tow-ropes from the Vampire and the Walrus. They expected every moment to hear the sharp crack of a dozen rifles, followed by a shower of bullets, but it never came. They got back into the two boats, and in a few minutes the party was well under way with the prizes in tow. In triumph they brought them back to the anchorage - a very useful addition to the flotilla.


The silence of the German rifles remained a mystery until the officer commanding the detachment became one of our prisoners of war, and told us his version of the story. From his trench he saw three vessels off the pier, and several large boats beside them, which seemed to be filled with troops. The large boats were of course the German lighters, which had been there for several days, but, being a soldier and not a sailor, he had forgotten about the lighters, and it never occurred to him that they could be anything else than British boats with British troops in them. “They are going to land,” he said to himself, “and will try to rush the trenches.” He ordered his men to reserve their fire until they saw the first man leave the boats, and then they were to shoot them down like ninepins. When he saw the three vessels and the large boats retire into the darkness, he said, “They have thought better of it; they will not try again to-night.” In the morning one of his men pointed out the absence of the lighters. “The lighters? “ he said. ''What! the lighters! Himmel! they have stolen the lighters.”


The second incident reminds one of the old sea duels when two ships lay alongside each other, and hammered away at a range so close that the gunners had their hair singed by the flames of the enemy's guns. In these days of modern gunnery such an engagement as this cannot last more than a few minutes, but, while it does last, enough excitement is crowded into those few minutes to satisfy most men for a lifetime.


H.M.S. Dwarf was exploring Bimbia Creek, to find out whether the enemy had any defences along its banks, and generally to gain information about the possibilities of the creek as an alternative entrance to the Cameroon River. On either side were thick mangrove swamps, through which the creek pursued a tortuous course with many sharp bends. It was not a particularly pleasant creek, for a mangrove swamp has little to recommend it from the aesthetic or any other point of view. The peculiarity of the mangrove tree is that it is not content with the roots beneath its stem, but keeps on dropping from its boughs long tentacles, which strike the soil and so become subsidiary roots. A cluster of these trees presents a thicket as impenetrable as any that Nature has devised. Another peculiarity of the tree is that it will grow nearer to the seashore than most other forms of vegetation; in fact the roots seem to be perched on top of the sand, and to find sustenance in such refuse as the sea washes up to them. At low tide they look like a mighty cluster of snakes burying their noses in the slime, which the receding tide cannot suck away from them, because of the network they form to retain it. Beneath these roots the crabs and shell-fish cluster, while the branches of the trees afford a home for swarms of voracious mosquitoes.


Through such a swamp as this the Bimbia Creek winds its way, and on 16th September the Dwarf anchored for the night about six miles up the creek. On a large-scale map it can be seen that at this point the creek bifurcates, a northern channel coming down from the village of Tiko, and another channel winding towards the Cameroon River. Near this junction the Dwarf lay at anchor, and, as the mangrove trees made it impossible to see round the next bend, and as there were known to be enemy craft prowling about the creeks, she darkened ship and her men went to action stations.


It was a dark night, and in that thick jungle it was impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. The officers had finished dinner, and were smoking vigorously to keep off the mosquitoes, when it was reported to the Captain that a light was coming round the bend a little more than a hundred yards away. Behind the light there loomed the shape of a fairly large ship, which seemed to be coming from the direction of Tiko at a good speed. Commander Strong at once gave the orders to slip the cable, get under way, and open fire. It was almost pointblank range, when the for'ard 4-inch gun and two of the 12-pounders let fly.


Of what happened during the next two or three minutes it is difficult to convey any adequate idea through the medium of cold print. The general impression left on the mind was of a sudden stream of light, as the Dwarf's searchlight was switched on, of the ping of a new army of mosquitoes attracted by the light, of the crash of many guns, of a big black ship coming full tilt at the Dwarf down the stream of light, of a mighty crash when the collision came, and of a mighty blaze from stem to stern of the big black ship. The Dwarf had been lying athwart the creek, and though she got under way at once, she had no time to avoid the blow. The Nachtigal struck her abreast of her funnel, and in so doing got dragged round, so that the two ships lay alongside each other. And all the time the 4-inch and 12pounder guns of the Dwarf were blazing away for dear life.


The Nachtigal had a gun in her bows, but before she reached the Dwarf both the gun and its crew had been blown over the side into the water by a salvo from the Dwarf. I do not know what other guns the German ship had, but at all events they had no chance of coming into action, for within a moment after the collision the ship burst into flames along her whole length. The Dwarf hastened to extricate herself from the unwelcome embrace, steaming towards the south bank, crossing the bows of the Nachtigal, and turning right round to port until she ran aground on the north bank. The burning ship drifted to the south bank, where she soon blew up. Of her crew the captain and thirteen ratings (three Europeans) were rescued and taken prisoners. All of them were wounded. The rest of the ship's company, consisting of eight Germans and twenty- five natives, had been killed.


The Dwarf came off with no casualties at all, but she had a large hole in her side, and one of her compartments was filled with water. She was able, however, to return to the base, and within a week the engine-room staff of the Cumberland had patched her up so satisfactorily that she could resume her duties.


The shape of the hole made by the Nachtigal's stem suggested that a ram with a round head had been fitted to her, and that the whole episode had been premeditated. It seems more probable, however, that the ship was on her way from Tiko into the Cameroon River, and so to Duala, and was unaware of the presence of the Dwarf in Bimbia Creek, until she got round the bend, and the Dwarf opened fire. Escape was impossible, and the foremost gun having been blown over the side, ramming was the only method of offence left. The Captain must have realised that his vessel was doomed to destruction in any case, and pluckily resolved to take a course which gave him a chance of doing some damage to the enemy. This view is borne out by an entry in the diary of Lieutenant Nathnagel, the officer left at Duala to surrender the town after the German troops had evacuated it. The diarist is a soldier, who is often rather vague about naval matters, but his diary is interesting as a sidelight on the early operations in the Cameroons. Here are the entries relating to the Nachtigal.

“In the evening just after 9 p.m. there is distant gunfire, and news comes from Victoria that the Dwarf is engaged with the Nachtigal two kilometres from Tiko. At 10 p.m. a message comes from the Dwarf - 'Have been rammed by a steamer and have put my ship aground.' Unfortunately he completed the news later as follows - 'Only one compartment full; ship in order; hope to come off at daylight.' The Nachtigal seems to be lost, and the ramming adopted as a last resource. The Dwarf is again afloat.”

The above messages from the Dwarf were made en clair and intercepted by the wireless station at Duala. After the first one some German wag sent a sarcastic message to the Senior Naval Officer offering the loan of a carpenter, but before an appropriate reply could be sent the second message came through, and obviated the necessity of making any rejoinder.


Two days later, on 18th September, the diary records:

“The Nachtigal is lost. Deck hands are reported prisoners; engine-room staff killed by boiler exploding.”

While these two incidents - the cutting-out of the lighters and the engagement in the creek - bring back to us the naval warfare of a hundred years ago, there was a third incident which savours of the old days when torpedoes were in their infancy, and the outrigger torpedo was seriously regarded as a weapon of war. The inventor of a new design in outrigger torpedoes was a German missionary at Duala, and though his contrivance has the demerit of being a good deal more complicated than the old scheme of a bomb stuck on the end of a pole which was balanced on a swivel, it was at all events ingenious. He rigged two upright poles, one on either side of a motor-boat, and secured them in position by means of struts athwart the boat. To each pole he attached a hydrogen gas-cylinder (such as is used for making soda-water) which was filled with dynamite. The ends of these cylinders projected beyond the boat, and, though the cylinders were above water when the boat was under way, they were lowered to the requisite depth below the surface by sliding brackets on the upright poles. In the old outrigger torpedo the bomb was lowered beneath the water by simply raising the near end of the pole to which it was attached, just as the blade of an oar is dipped in the water by raising the handle. Possibly the missionary had never heard of the old outrigger torpedo, for it is difficult to see why he should have considered his elaborate contrivance an improvement on it. (Note: reminiscent of  the torpedoes constructed by Humphrey Bogart in the film "African Queen".)


Two boats were fitted up, each with a pair of torpedoes. The story of their fortunes is told in Lieutenant Nathnagel's diary, but not with absolute accuracy, so I must take the liberty of correcting him when he goes wrong. Let me first explain that the Germans had sunk a whole row of ships across the fairway of the Cameroon River to obstruct the passage, that the Navy was busily engaged in making a channel through this obstruction with the aid of explosives, and that the Dwarf was anchored close by at night to prevent the enemy from sinking any more ships there, or interfering with the work in hand. The Germans decided that the Dwarf should be the first victim of the missionary's great invention. An abortive attempt was made on 11th September, and here is what the diary says about it:

“11th September. - To-night a launch with a mine built in under her keel is to be let loose upon the Dwarf. The engineer who will have to remain on board almost until the last will be as good as lost, but none the less three brave men have volunteered for the fatal journey.”

“12th September. - The night was bright moonlight, and the torpedoes could not get near enough. At 8 o'clock the Dwarf steamed away.”

As a matter of fact, the Ivy, a vessel belonging to the Nigeria Marine, was then doing duty as guardship at the obstruction, and for some reason or other the Germans did not consider her worthy of receiving the attentions of their torpedo-boat. On 13th September the Dwarf relieved the Ivy, and another attempt was made that night to torpedo her. On 14th September the diary says, “Dwarf working at the barrier. The torpedo-boats cannot get near enough; they are always observed too soon and fired upon.”


But on 16th September Lieutenant Nathnagel records that an attack has actually been made at last.

“The first torpedo attack on the Dwarf has unfortunately failed. The man in charge lost his head, and jumped out with the rudder wrongly lashed. In consequence the boat ran round in circles with the torpedo set, and endangered the other boat, which had to retreat, and in the meantime the torpedo-man was drowned. The torpedo exploded uselessly in the mangroves.”

As to the result of the attempt, and as to the cause of the failure, the diarist is correct, but his details are lamentably inaccurate. First of all, the rudder was not lashed, but the tiller was fixed by means of an iron pin, and the man in the boat became so much rattled when the Dwarf opened fire that, instead of fixing it amidships, he fixed it hard a-port, so that the boat swung to starboard and ran on the mud. The other boat did not retreat because of the vagaries of its companion, but because of the Dwarf's fire. It is not clear whether this other boat was the second torpedo boat, or merely a boat to pick up the man who ran the first boat. Its intention may possibly have been to divert the Dwarf's attention from the first boat, for it had come downstream below the Dwarf, and then turned to approach her from the seaward side, at the same time signalling with a lantern. This boat escaped in the darkness. The man was not drowned, as reported by the diarist, nor did the torpedoes explode. The man was found next morning seated on a spar of one of the sunken ships, and clad in nothing but a pair of trousers. He was a lanky, miserable fellow, and very much frightened when he was taken prisoner; but a cup of hot cocoa soon restored him. The torpedoes were recovered intact, and brought aboard the Dwarf, where they were duly admired; but Commander Strong did not care for them as ship's pets, so they were eventually buried.


Of the other torpedo-boat the diary says:

“20th September. - The second torpedo-boat has been out since yesterday evening. We hope it has not been blown up by its own torpedo. Anyhow, the Dwarf has not been blown up.


“21st September. - Till now no news of the torpedo.


“22nd September. - Some of the native crew of the torpedo-boat have returned, and report that the boat was attacked from in front and behind by launches; the benzine tank caught fire, and the crew then surrendered. A thousand pities, but still better than if it had been uselessly blown in the air.”

Lieutenant Nathnagel is evidently a born optimist, for he finds consolation in the fact that the boat has fallen intact into the enemy's hands, so that it may be of some use after all. He omits to mention that the great inventor was captured at the same time, and was retained as a prisoner in spite of the plea that his missionary work in the Cameroons was likely to suffer by his absence. The launches he refers to were ship's boats belonging to H.M.S. Cumberland.


There are two other incidents in the early operations which are worthy of mention; but both of them are essentially modern in their character, and both of them offer an insight into the peculiar psychology of the German. The first occurred on 25th September, when a channel through the obstruction had been completed, and H.M.S. Challenger, having reduced her draught by the removal of heavy stores, passed up the river to within range of the town of Duala. Transports had arrived bringing British and French troops, and preparations were being made to supplement a frontal attack on the town by sending a detachment of troops up the Dibamba River, to cut off the enemy's line of retreat to the eastward.


The Challenger anchored at Bwape Sand just short of a mine-field, and a party was sent ashore under the white flag to convey to the governor of Duala a demand for the surrender of the town. An interval of two hours was allowed to enable the governor to frame his reply, and in the meantime the Challenger and all the vessels in company with her flew the white flag. The party reached Duala and handed the message to the governor, and then followed the interval of waiting. But it was by no means a dull, uneventful interval. While the governor was drawing up one of those models of evasiveness for which Germans seem to have a special aptitude, the Commandant and his officers were getting very busy. It would seem to be one of the axioms of German military tactics that, when the enemy hoists the white flag, an exceptionally favourable opportunity is offered for attacking him. In this case, however, the methods of attack were severely limited, for it is obviously futile to send a body of infantry or cavalry to attack an armoured cruiser, and an artillery attack, to be effective, needed guns of larger calibre than any the Germans had available. There was, however, one method of attack, which had a very fair chance of success at a time of truce, when it might be supposed that the enemy's vigilance would be relaxed - the floating mine. On the swift current the Germans released a large number of floating mines, and waited expectantly.


Fortunately for the Challenger the vigilance of her look-out had not been relaxed. The mines were seen approaching the ship, fire was opened on them with rifles and maxims, and all of them were exploded before they came near enough to do any damage. The chagrin of the Germans at the failure of their tactics was expressed in the version of the story which they sent by wireless to Germany. “The British, having hoisted the flag of truce, opened fire with rifles and machine-guns - a perfectly accurate statement, only they forgot to mention the floating mines.


Two days later, when they saw that the forces confronting them were too formidable for them, and that their line of retreat was in danger, they surrendered the town of Duala and the suburb of Bonaberi across the river. The final entry in Lieutenant Nathnagel's diary reads:

“26th September. - The Commandant goes to Edea. A slow bombardment; various buildings destroyed, but no loss of life. At noon news comes that large bodies of troops are landing, and advancing from Gori, Pitti, and Japoma (pronounce Yapooma). I am now Commandant of Duala.


“27th September. - Out at 5 a.m. under full protection as the bombardment may be expected at once. At 7.30 instructions from Captain Haedicke that the companies are to retire. I am still keeping up telephonic communication with the Commander, and receive the definite order to give up the useless opposition, march off the coloured troops with arms, make all war material useless, and hoist the white flag.”

After the capture of Duala and the neighbouring country, one of the problems confronting the Allies was the administration of the cocoa plantations. The German overseers, who controlled the native labourers, pointed out that the workers would not continue their work without supervision, and, as the Allied forces had no one available at the time to take the place of these overseers, it was decided to place them under parole and let them carry on. If there were any misgivings as to the value of a German's parole, it was not long before they found ample justification. These overseers promptly enlisted in the German secret service, and sent all the useful information they could to the German forces up-country. Very soon it became apparent that these men were an infernal nuisance, and would continue to be so until they were interned.


With a view to putting a check upon their activities, surprise visits were paid to the cocoa farms, and occasionally the European staff were brought off to the Senior Naval Officer's ship to be examined. The farm buildings were searched for firearms, etc. but the Germans contrived somehow or other to keep some of their rifles securely hidden. To convey information to one's friends in spite of a solemn promise not to do so is one thing; to engage in active operations of hostility in contravention of a pledge to which one owes one's liberty, is another thing. Both are not only permissible, but even praiseworthy, according to the German code of morals. It would seem, however, as if Nemesis, with righteous indignation, was lying in wait for these German traders.


A landing party had been sent ashore to one of the cocoa farms, where they found a small German staff, some papers which, on translation, might prove incriminating, and some money. They brought the party aboard with the papers and the money, and they also brought off from the shore a boat belonging to the German traders. The money and the papers were retained, and a formal receipt was handed to the farm manager. The Germans were then sent back in their own boat, unaccompanied. By this time night had fallen, and it was quite dark. From the ship they could hear the splash of the oars as the boat approached the river-bank, when suddenly the sound of rifle-shots rang out through the darkness, and quite a heavy fusillade was opened upon the unfortunate Germans in the boat. The explanation was that some of their compatriots, having succeeded in retaining their rifles, thought that a splendid opportunity had come to strike a blow for the Fatherland. They saw a boat pull away from a British man-of-war, and naturally assumed that it was manned by British sailors. Without a thought for their parole they hid behind some bushes and, as soon as the boat reached the bank, they let drive. The result was that the number of Germans in the world was reduced by two, and Nemesis was satisfied.








 (click map to enlarge)


I have said that at the opening of the Cameroons campaign the operations were entirely naval, the military forces not appearing on the scene until just before the surrender of Duala. I am referring, of course, to the western side of the colony, which is bordered by the sea. In the north-east there were military operations as early as August 1914, culminating in the unfortunate disaster at Garua, when Colonel Maclear, and four other officers were killed, and about 40 per cent, of our native troops were lost. After this catastrophe the operations from the Nigerian border of the Cameroons were suspended for over nine months, and it was not until June 1915 that a second attack was made on Garua. This was completely successful, and the town was surrendered, together with a considerable number of prisoners and a big haul of guns and ammunition. It is noteworthy that, in achieving this result, our military forces had the assistance of a naval gun, transported by Lieutenant Louis H. Hamilton and five seamen over narrow, rough roads through hundreds of miles of bushland. This gun and a small French howitzer had an instantaneous effect upon the German native troops, who were unaccustomed to guns of that calibre, and soon got out of hand and became mutinous. Their officers then realised that the game was up, and Garua was surrendered without a struggle.


For many months preceding the capture of Garua the main part of the campaign had been going on in the west, along the sea-coast, and in those districts made accessible to floating craft by numerous rivers and creeks. The nature of the country near the coast and for many miles inland is such that ordinary military operations are impossible. Mangrove swamps and thick jungle are the natural features of the land, and though the efforts of man have succeeded in clearing spaces here and there for cocoa plantations, in making rough roads, and building railways, the sum-total of these efforts has made about as much impression upon the general appearance of the country as the seven maids with their seven mops upon the sands of the seashore. One cannot move an army with its guns and transport waggons through a mangrove swamp, and, though native carriers can be employed for the conveyance of food along the bush-roads, it is arduous work to convey heavy guns and ammunition by such primitive means.


The only redeeming feature of the country as a terrain for the operations of war is the network of rivers and creeks. To the purely military mind, of course, these waterways only serve to damn it the more, for the soldier must necessarily regard a river as an inconvenient obstacle which has to be crossed. But, to the amphibious mind, the waterways afford the only solution of the transport problem, and to the nation which enjoys the supremacy of the sea they offer an incalculable advantage in the ordeal of war. Granted that plenty of craft, small enough to navigate these narrow channels, can be brought to the scene of operations, the rivers and creeks become, instead of obstacles, magnificent highways for the conveyance of troops, guns, and stores, while the gunboats of the Navy provide the artillery, which is moreover of a larger calibre than anything which the enemy can hope to bring against it, faced as he is with the problem of carrying his guns overland.


A typical example of amphibious operations was that which was undertaken ten days after the capture of Duala. The objective was the village of Jabassi, about fifty miles up the Wuri River, which runs into the Cameroon River from the north-east. The flotilla consisted of seventeen steam and motor vessels and eighteen lighters, of which seven vessels and one lighter carried guns. The Mole and the armed lighter each carried a 6-inch gun, while the others carried guns of smaller calibre, and there was also a naval 12-pounder field-gun manned by a detachment of seamen. The military force consisted of eight companies of native troops, half a company of Pioneers, 600 native carriers, a medical detachment, etc. This force was embarked in the various river craft, and proceeded up the Wuri River.


Unfortunately, it was the rainy season of the year, when the country is not only unpleasantly moist, but also unpleasantly hot - a sticky, damp heat, which causes the perspiration to exude in a constant stream, drenching one's clothes almost as soon as one puts them on. Moreover, the rain came down in torrents, so that there was moisture both from within and without, and, as the troops were all huddled together in the small river craft, without any protection from the downpour, they had a very uncomfortable time of it. To add to their troubles, there were the mosquitoes, which thrive exceedingly well in the Cameroons during the rainy season, and have a disagreeable habit of carrying the malaria microbe about with them.


This first expedition to Jabassi was a failure, chiefly on account of the climatic conditions; but it is interesting as an illustration of the difficulties which our forces had to overcome in achieving the conquest of the Cameroons, and as evidence of the absolute necessity of naval co-operation in a campaign of this kind. The flotilla actually carried the troops within three miles of Jabassi, and then landed them without any mishaps. They marched two out of the three miles towards the village before they encountered any opposition, so that they were within a mile of their objective when the enemy first showed that he was there, and very much awake. He opened a hot fire on our troops, who were advancing along a road parallel with the river, and upon the armed vessels, which had kept abreast of the advance, and had steadily bombarded the high ground where Jabassi stands. The enemy were hidden in the dense bush, so that it was impossible to ascertain their strength, or form any reliable opinion as to the nature of their defences.


For the greater part of the day a kind of haphazard fight went on, our troops firing at the sound of the enemy's rifles, and gradually crawling towards them through the jungle. The 12-pounder field-gun found a hill from which to pepper the enemy's positions, so far as they could be ascertained, and the armed river craft went on cheerfully firing in the direction of where they thought the enemy ought to be. The result of their efforts was that the German rifles and machine-guns were gradually silenced, and there seemed to be no further obstacle to an advance upon Jabassi. By this time, however, the troops had become hopelessly scattered in the bush, and moreover were quite exhausted. The rain and the heat had told upon them, so that the medical staff found that they had to deal with many more sick cases than wounded men. In fact, the casualties had been remarkably light, for the German marksmanship was poor.


A retirement was obviously necessary, for night was coming on, and to remain in that jungle with the chance of being surrounded by the enemy was not to be contemplated. If the troops had been obliged to retire on foot it would have gone badly with them, for they were thoroughly worn out, and doubtless the Germans would have kept abreast of them in the jungle through which the road runs, and would have sniped at them all the time. But fortunately the flotilla of river transports was there waiting for them, and the naval guns in the armed launches were there to cover their retreat and embarkation. In a very short time they were beyond the range of the enemy's fire, and anchored about three miles downstream from Jabassi.


Probably they would have been able to take Jabassi next day if they had attempted it, but the condition of the troops was such that it was deemed prudent to bring them back to Duala, where the sick men could receive proper attention. In the meantime another detachment of troops was sent up the Wuri River, and on 14th October they entered Jabassi almost without opposition. The officer commanding them paid a very warm tribute to the naval officers and ratings in the armed launches, who encountered the brunt of such opposition as the enemy offered, and were largely instrumental in persuading him that the game was up.


A week later another amphibious expedition was undertaken, with the object of capturing Edea, on the Midland Railway, about forty miles south-east of Duala. A glance at the map will show that it is also on the Sanaga River, and consequently accessible from the sea. The scheme of operations comprised three attacks from separate directions - (1) by the Sanaga River, (2) by the Njong River as far as Dehane and thence overland, and (3) by the Midland Railway. The first two of these required naval co-operation; the third was an entirely military affair, and was undertaken by a small force, mainly with the object of affording a distraction to the enemy. The chief military force was detailed for the Njong River, while the naval forces were divided between the Njong and the Sanaga Rivers.


It will be convenient to deal first with the Sanaga River force. This was divided into two sections - the larger craft, which went round by sea to the river entrance, and the smaller craft, which reached the river by means of the Kwa-Kwa creek, joining the Sanaga to the Cameroon River. The Kwa-Kwa creek flotilla encountered some opposition, which caused a delay; but they eventually overcame it, and reached the Sanaga River on 23rd October in the evening, anchoring off Lobetal Beach to await the arrival of the larger craft. These had arrived safely at the river entrance, but had had some difficulty in crossing the bar, and further difficulties awaited them in the lower reaches of the river, owing to the native pilots being unfamiliar with them. It may be said that the chief virtue of the native pilot is his unfailing cheerfulness. When he has run the ship aground with a big bump, he turns smilingly to the commanding officer, and says “Small water lib 'ere, sah,” and he says it too with the air of one imparting useful information. These pilots had all been in the habit of using the Kwa-Kwa creek to get from Duala to Edea, and consequently they knew the river fairly well above the junction at Lobetal, but had practically no knowledge of it below that point.


They managed, however, to reach Lobetal eventually - on the day following the arrival of the Kwa-Kwa creek flotilla, and the combined flotilla, under the command of Commander L. W. Braithwaite in the Remus, proceeded up towards Edea. The troops were landed on both banks to march in front of the flotilla, but they found it such heavy going that they had to be re-embarked. At nightfall when the flotilla anchored, some troops were again landed, and camped in the vicinity of the anchorage to protect it from a night attack. On 26th October they drew near to Edea, and as they steamed past the riverside village, the natives all came out of their huts, and cheered lustily. To them the British flag was the emblem of their deliverance from rulers whom they had learned to hate, with that undying hatred which is born of a sense of tyranny and injustice. That they should so regard their German rulers must have been a source of pathetic perplexity to the Teuton mind. For the German Government had sunk large sums of money in the development of the Cameroons; it had reclaimed big tracts of jungle, and cultivated them with cocoa and plantains; it had constructed roads and railways to bring these plantations within easy access of a seaport; it had built huts for the native workers on the plantations, and provided them with well-equipped hospitals. And yet it had failed entirely to win the good-will of the natives. The explanation is not far to seek. Germay's whole idea had been to exploit the colony and its inhabitants for the benefit of the German trader. The land was taken away from the native, who was compelled to work on it at a nominal wage of a few shillings a month, which just sufficed to avoid the charge of imposing a system of slavery. To all intents and purposes, however, it was a system of slavery, for the worker was not allowed to leave his work and seek other occupation when he felt inclined, and was always subjected to the practically unlimited powers of the German overseers, who sometimes exercised those powers with unbridled brutality. The German system of colonisation has consistently resulted in economic failure; in the Cameroons it also resulted in completely alienating the sympathy and good-will of the natives.


The Sanaga River flotilla had some fairly heavy guns with them, including a 6-inch gun in the Mole, and there is no doubt that the approach of these guns had a very salutary effect on the Germans at Edea, and influenced their decision to evacuate the town. But, to keep to the chronological order of events, it is necessary to relate the experiences of the Njong River section. Early in the morning of 21st October the Cumberland, the Dwarf, the French Surprise, and six transports conveying about 2,000 troops, mostly native, anchored off the entrance to the river. The smaller craft came up later, and proceeded at once to cross the bar. Unfortunately the weather was bad, and it soon became apparent that there would be considerable difficulty in getting the larger vessels over the bar, no ship as large as any of the transports having been known to enter the Njong River. The officers of the Nigeria Marine had made a reconnaissance of the river mouth, and it was largely due to them that the enterprise was carried out successfully.


Two transports got over the bar without much trouble, but the third one ran aground, and had to wait for the flood-tide before she could be refloated. An armed launch also got stuck, so badly that she had to be abandoned after her guns and stores had been salved. A heavy sea was running the whole time, and consequently there was a good deal of danger attending the operations. Perhaps no one fully appreciated how great that danger was until a sad catastrophe occurred. The Senior Naval Officer (Captain Fuller) embarked in a whaler with a native crew to row across the bar and superintend the operations on the other side. He was accompanied by Lieutenant Child (director of the Nigeria Marine), Commander Gray, R.N.R. (transport officer to the expeditionary force), and Captain Franqueville (a French staff officer). Just as they were crossing the bar a big wave caught the boat and capsized it, throwing all its occupants into the water. Boats were immediately sent to the rescue by the ships lying at anchor, but, owing to the high seas, it was some time before they could reach the spot. Out of the whole party only Captain Fuller and two of the native crew were saved.


That evening the flotilla of small craft proceeded up the Njong River under Commander Cheetham, R.N.R., taking with them a detachment of French troops. Next morning they occupied Dehane and the following day the French column commenced its march towards Edea, leaving a small guard of British troops at Dehane. On 26th October they reached their objective, and found that the Germans had evacuated the place. The news was passed to the flotilla in the Sanaga River, whose guns had been largely instrumental in persuading the enemy that resistance was useless, and they proceeded upstream and anchored off the town. German prisoners reported that their officers had declared it impossible to bring up heavy guns to Edea; but, when they saw that the impossible had been accomplished, they hastened to effect a retreat.


So far our conquest of the country had extended north-east of Duala as far as Jabassi, and south-east as far as Edea. The next objective was Buea, northwest of Duala, and about twenty-five miles from the coast. Buea was the German seat of government, and was also a health resort, for it lies on the slopes of the Cameroon Mountain - a volcanic formation, which looks as though it had been dropped by accident in the midst of that vast area of swamps and low-lying ground. Further inland there are high mountain-ranges stretching across the Cameroons, but all the country within a hundred miles of the sea is a level plain, thickly covered with forests, and intersected by innumerable rivers and creeks. On the Cameroon Mountain in the vicinity of Buea the rank growth of tropical vegetation has been made to give place to the cultivation of European plants.


English vegetables and fruits are grown there with ease, and the Germans had instituted a dairy farm with real live cows, good pasture, cowsheds, milk separators, and everything complete - except that there were no dairymaids. From all points of view Buea was a desirable place to acquire.


The plan of operations comprised four distinct undertakings: (1) to make a demonstration at Bibundi in order to persuade the enemy that we intended to land a force there; (2) to occupy Victoria, so that they might anticipate an advance towards Buea from that direction also; (3) to capture Tiko, and advance with the main force from there to Buea; and (4) to send a flotilla up the Mungo River to Mpundi, and a detachment of troops up the Northern Railway to Susa, and so make a flank attack from the east. The fortunes of these undertakings, which were all amphibious in their nature, will be described in turn.


The Bibundi expedition was entrusted to Commander Strong in the Dwarf, accompanied by a small transport. Upon arrival at the spot, some Kroo boys were sent ashore in surf-boats to make a feint of landing. Apparently the manoeuvre succeeded admirably, for word was sent to the German Commandant that a considerable British force was being landed at Bibundi, and the enemy promptly made preparations to meet it. Having achieved his object, Commander Strong re-embarked the Kroo boys, and in due course returned to Duala.


The taking of Victoria was entrusted to a party of Marines under Captain Hall, the transport being escorted by the Ivy and two armed tugs, while the French cruiser Bruix remained in the offing, to cover the landing with her guns. On 13th November they arrived at Victoria, and Commander Hughes, R.N.R., in the Ivy, summoned the German Commander to surrender the place, giving him one hour's grace to consider his reply. He refused to surrender, and so a bombardment was opened upon Victoria and the neighbouring village of Bota. Then the Marines were landed at Bota, and they proceeded to march on Victoria. The enemy, bombarded from the sea and threatened from the land, came to the conclusion that the game was not worth the candle. Within a few hours he had been driven out of Victoria, and he did not even stop to destroy the light railway running inland from Bota, for the Marines found it intact with all its rolhng-stock in good condition. Having taken possession of the place and sent all the non-combatant Germans to Duala for internment, they left a guard of native troops and returned to the base.


Meanwhile the main force had proceeded to Tiko. Captain Beatty-Pownall in the Remus had charge of a flotilla of six river transports, each towing a lighter laden with troops and equipment, and an armed tug towed a heavy lighter mounting a 6-inch gun. Lieutenant Hamilton was in command of a detachment of seamen with field-guns supplied by the Cumberland and Challenger. There were 70 European troops, and over 2,000 native troops and carriers. Two despatch vessels were employed as mine-sweepers, and proceeded ahead of the flotilla, which approached Tiko at daylight on 13th November. The Tiko Haben pier, which is at some distance from the village, was reached in safety, and here the troops disembarked, while the tug with the lighter carrying the 6-inch gun pushed up a creek to the west of Tiko to cover the advance. It had not gone far before it came under rifle and machine-gun fire from trenches well hidden in the bush. But a 6-inch gun has a little way of its own in dealing with rifles and machine-guns, and it needs a brave man to stick to his trench when heavy shells at short range are tearing the trees down all round him, and  bursting on every side of him. The enemy's fire was silenced, the enemy melted away, and Tiko was occupied without any further opposition.


Next day the troops commenced their advance on Buea, and, after overcoming some slight resistance, they reached a village called Bole Famba, where they halted for the night, and where we may leave them for the moment.


The Mungo River party, who were to assist the troops sent up the railway to Susa in making a flank attack, had the longest distance to travel, and therefore started earlier than all the rest. It was fortunate they did so, for the Mungo River eclipses most of the other rivers of the country as a test in navigating skill. It is very narrow in parts, it twists about with hair-pin bends, it is full of shoals, and it has a strong current. It was not supposed to be navigable at all after the end of October, and even during the rainy season only vessels with a very light draught ever attempted it. The flotilla, which was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Sneyd, consisted of two boats from the Cumberland, armed with light guns, a stern-wheel gunboat, called the Sokoto, which had been captured from the Germans when they surrendered Duala, and three armed launches. The Sokoto had never risked herself in the Mungo River before, and she soon began to wonder whether her new masters had mistaken her for a steam-roller or a hay-making machine. However, she made up her mind to do her best, and struggled manfully round the twists and over the shoals.


Mbonjo was reached on 12th November, and next day the flotilla pushed on to Mpundu, where they found the enemy holding a strong position on the right bank. But the guns of all the armed craft soon induced him to clear out of it, and Mpundu was occupied without much trouble. Here the troops from Susa joined up, and the march towards Buea  was commenced. It is difficult to say which of these undertakings was mainly instrumental in persuading the enemy that he could not hold Buea - the feint of landing at Bibundi, the occupation of Victoria, the main advance from Tiko, or the flank attack from Mpundu. All of them were successfully carried out according to plan, and the cumulative effect must have been considerable upon the much-harassed Germans. The main force from Tiko, which we left at the village of Bole Famba on the night of the 14th November, was the first to reach the German capital, and occupied it without opposition during the afternoon of 15th November.


The rest of the work of the Navy in the Cameroons presents no startling features, which would justify a description in detail. The conquered area steadily expanded, and, as it did so, the scene of operations gradually passed farther inland, until it became inaccessible to floating craft. This however, did not reduce the Navy to a state of idleness, but it tended to make its work more humdrum and devoid of incident. A constant patrolling of the rivers and creeks had to be maintained, to drive off enemy detachments and protect the unfortunate natives from the revengeful habits of their former masters, to stop food supplies and contraband from being smuggled up the rivers, to obtain information as to enemy movements, and, generally, to fulfil the functions of a police force. These duties brought them into conflict frequently with small bodies of enemy troops, which took every possible opportunity of sniping at them from the jungle. But the most troublesome part of the day's work was in connection with the German monasteries and religious establishments. At first the inmates of these establishments had been placed on parole and allowed to continue their vocation without interference; but soon there was an accumulation of  evidence that these holy brethren and their holy sisters were taking advantage of their liberty to forward information to the enemy. Finally, it was decided that they must be interned, and, when Commander Braithwaite was clearing the Dehane-Kribi district of the enemy, he made all the monks and nuns prisoners and sent them off to be interned. The news of this proceeding filtered through to Germany, and, needless to say, it was at once turned to account for propaganda purposes; the neutral Roman Catholic countries were flooded with a heart-rending version of the story of how the brutal British officers had laid sacrilegious hands upon the servants of the Church.


In addition to the patrol of the inland waterways, the Navy had also to undertake the blockade of the sea-coast, which commenced on 23rd April, 1915. This necessitated a constant vigilance night and day, each ship engaged on the patrol covering a certain distance along the coast-line, and plying up and down its beat with a wearisome monotony, which is all too familiar to the officers and men of the Navy. A few of the naval force had the good fortune to escape from this patrol work by being detached for service ashore with the military. The expedition of Lieutenant Hamilton and a gun's crew to Garua has already been mentioned. A similar expedition was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Davies, R.N.R., who took a 12-pounder gun and two maxims to accompany the military expedition up the Northern Railway to Bare, and did some excellent work with the gun.


When we can quietly devote our minds to the chronicle of this mighty struggle through which we have passed, we shall turn with some feelings of pride to those pages which record the successes of the Cameroons campaign, and possibly we shall wonder how it was that such achievements were received so unconcernedly at the time of their occurrence. Such has always been the fate of all side-shows when the drama of a European war is before the world's public, but the side-showmen may find consolation in the knowledge that the historian always accords them their due place of honour among the makers of history.















When our naval mission, under the command of Rear-Admiral (now Vice-Admiral) Troubridge, went to Serbia early in 1915, no public announcement of its departure there, nor of its doings when it got there, was made. It was sent to co-operate with the French and Russian naval missions in preventing the Austrian monitors and other enemy vessels from having a free run of the Danube. In this it succeeded completely, for the Austrian monitors and munition boats were forced to lie behind a boom defence, and never ventured down the river until the great attack on Belgrade drove the defenders from the city. The story of how this result was accomplished has never been published in detail, but a despatch from the “Times“ correspondent at Belgrade, which appeared in that paper on 7th July, 1915, gave the public a glimpse behind the scenes. Here is an extract from it: “You can ascend to the roof of a favourably situated house, or walk to the higher ground outside the town, and look through glasses up the Danube to where, beyond the Austrian town of Semlin and the island of Grosser Krieg, the Austrian river monitors are lying, black and ugly, in the stream. At one time there were seven monitors, but there are only six now.... What you cannot see is that they are lying inside a boom; for, since their number was reduced from seven to six by a pretty piece of torpedo work on the part of the solitary little picket boat, commonly known as the ' Terror of the Danube,' the enemy's monitors have been singularly unenterprising.... The young gentlemen who have charge of the ' Terror of the Danube ' have great larks with it. They poke their way on dark nights into creeks and passages, where they are not in the least expected, and annoy the Austrians dreadfully. Fhe Austrians have three picket gunboats, which look like toy Dreadnoughts, with machine-guns mounted in their turrets. Any one of these could eat up the ' Terror' in a few minutes, if it could get at it. But the 'Terror' comes up when it is nice and dark and makes rude remarks with its single machine-gun to one of the Dreadnoughts, and then runs like a hare."


The "Times” correspondent goes on to describe how the “Terror“ enticed one of the Austrian "Dreadnoughts” over a mine-field, with the result that the "Dreadnought's” remains were floating about in midstream and drifting ashore on Kojara Island. But this happened towards the end of June 1915. The incident I am going to describe - the pretty piece of torpedo work which reduced the Austrian monitors from seven to six - happened in April 1915. These monitors had been in the habit of plying up and down the river at their own sweet will, bombarding with their small guns the Serbian trenches by the riverside, and with their big guns throwing shells upon the positions farther inland. But the “Terror of the Danube” changed all that, reducing the enemy's monitors to a state of impotence and compelling them to lie snugly secure behind a boom defence. Only a very brief account of this pretty piece of torpedo work was published at the time when the decorations were awarded to those concerned in it, but the story has enough dramatic interest to be worth relating in some detail.


The picket-boat was brought from Malta to Salonika and thence forwarded overland by rail to Belgrade some time in March 1915. There it was launched in the Danube, and, as it was the only craft the Navy had at Belgrade, they naturally regarded it with tender affection. The Austrians had six monitors and seven patrol-boats lying somewhere above the fortifications of Semlin, higher up the river, and it may possibly have occurred to the more superstitious among them that a fleet of thirteen vessels is bound to meet with a disaster sooner or later. Anyhow, they seemed quite annoyed with our little picket-boat the moment it arrived, and they greeted it by pitching shells upon the dockyard where it was lying. Consequently the Admiral decided that it would be wiser to give the Austrians time to forget about it, before sending it out upon any kind of escapade.


It was only a picket-boat, but the Navy at Belgrade was quite proud of it, for, when the Navy is condemned by circumstances to play at soldiering, it always has a secret yearning for something that floats, and, just as a doll is supposed to satisfy the maternal instinct of incipient womanhood, so a picket-boat had to satisfy the cravings of our naval men ashore in Serbia. They petted it, and fondled it, and put a maxim-gun in its bows, and rigged up two torpedoes in it, and loaded it up with hand-grenades. And then they waited eagerly for a chance to take it out on a little voyage of exploration, for that Austrian fleet of thirteen vessels was such an obvious challenge against the laws of chance and probability. The River Sava meets the Danube at Belgrade, flowing into it from the west. The Danube itself flows from the north down to Belgrade, and then turns eastward, so that there is quite a broad expanse of water opposite the town, with rivers running into it from north and east, and running out to the west, By comparing this expanse of water with Parliament Square, we find that the River Sava takes the place of Victoria Street, and that the Danube, having come down Whitehall, turns to the left over Westminster Bridge. Belgrade occupies the position of the Houses of Parliament, Semlin occupies the position of the Local Government Board, and the Austrian monitors were lying up Whitehall somewhere near the Horse Guards. The small islands opposite Belgrade may be marked by the statues in Parliament Square in order to complete the map.


The first attempt was made on 21st April soon after ten o'clock at night, when the picket-boat, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Kerr, glided quietly up the river. His orders were to reconnoitre the position of the monitors, and, if a favourable opportunity occurred, to attack them with torpedoes. If, however, he found that the enemy's defences at Semlin were too formidable, or that the monitors themselves were prepared for an attack, so that the chances of success became hopeless, he was to return at once to Belgrade. “For Heaven's sake don't lose the boat,” said the Admiral, “for it is all we have.” There was another danger to be taken into account. Although the Serbian patrols on the bank of the river had all been warned that the attempt was to be made, it was quite possible that some of them, in a fit of enthusiasm, might open fire on our picket-boat with their rifles, and so awake the Austrian batteries and monitors to the fact that something was going on down below them. Some of the Serbian river patrols were remarkably enthusiastic upon occasions - sometimes inconvenient occasions. Fortunately, however, they managed to restrain themselves during the two nights of the picket-boat's adventures.


On the first night, it was found that a strong easterly wind had caused the monitors to shift berth from the right (or western) bank to the left bank of the river, where they were better sheltered from the wind. The picket-boat slipped past the Semlin defences without being seen, and continued for about two miles up the river, keeping in to the right bank, but was unable to locate precisely the position of the monitors. The river here is full of shoals and small low-lying islands, which are difficult to avoid by night, and, after running aground once and experiencing some difficulty in getting off, Lieutenant Commander Kerr decided to return to Belgrade.


As his movements had apparently escaped the notice of the enemy completely, it was decided that he should make another attempt on the following night. The wind had abated, and during the day four monitors and a steamer had been seen to cross the river, and return to their usual anchorage near the right bank. So, just before midnight, the picket-boat again started off for another adventure. As before, the defences of Semlin were passed without attracting attention, and the boat steamed steadily up the river against the fast current.


About half-past one in the morning a monitor was sighted about 300 yards away on the starboard bow (the picket-boat was therefore between the monitor and the right bank of the river). Just ahead of her was another monitor; then came a white-painted steamer; then a third monitor; while the fourth monitor lay about 100 yards to eastward of the first two, approximately on their starboard beam. Lieutenant Commander Kerr's plan was to attack the first monitor with a torpedo, pass under her stern across the river, and attack the fourth monitor with his other torpedo.


The picket-boat crept up to within 100 yards of the first monitor, and was then challenged by the look-out. The reply was the firing of the torpedo, and at the same moment rifle and machine-gun fire was opened on the picket-boat from all directions. The torpedo ran true; there followed a heavy muffled explosion and much shouting, and the picket- boat swung round across stream towards her second objective. But by this time all the monitors and the whole riverside were alive with rifles and machine-guns, and Lieutenant-Commander Kerr remembered the wise saying of Macbeth: “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly.” A bullet striking the releasing gear of his remaining torpedo might jamb it fatally, so he stood not upon the order of his firing, but fired at once. Unfortunately he was too close, so that the initial dive of the torpedo carried it right under the monitor and it exploded on the river bank 400 yards away.


The only thing to do now was to get out of it as quickly as possible, and in this the rapid current was of material assistance. Searchlights blazed forth from everywhere, and the bullets kept up a merry patter on the boat. Fortunately, however, nothing larger than bullets assailed her, for the simple reason that the enemy knew that shell-fire across a river in the dark is apt to do more damage to friend than foe.


So the officers and men kept well under cover, and listened contentedly to the music of the bullets on the boat's side. In a few minutes they were clear of danger from that part of the river, but they had still to pass the Semlin defences. Suddenly, just ten minutes after the attack, they heard a tremendous explosion from the direction of the monitors, and for a moment the whole sky was lit up by the glare. Evidently a fire had been started by the first torpedo, and it had just reached the magazine. Next minute the boat was passing Semlin, and all the searchlights there were making frantic efforts to pick her up. But, by good luck, they failed, and she got back safely to her creek in Belgrade after an exciting run of two hours and a half.


Next morning at daylight only three monitors lay at anchor where yesterday there had been four. Three days later the Austrian Press reported that the monitor Keresh on 22nd April struck an Austrian mine above Semlin and sank. Apparently they preferred to express it in this way, though it must have made some of the Austrian folk wonder why there should be Austrian mines above Semlin, at the precise spot where their monitors were always anchored.


Anyhow, Lieutenant-Commander Kerr was awarded the D.S.O. in consequence of this untoward accident to an Austrian monitor, and the picket-boat's crew were all awarded the D.S.M.









(click map to enlarge)


There were many tragedies - national tragedies - during the Great War, but none came with such dramatic suddenness as that which overwhelmed Serbia. Right up to the eve of the disaster Belgrade maintained its reputation as a gay city; the fashionable restaurants were crowded with military officers, and ladies in the shortest of short skirts - a cosmopolitan miscellany of Serbians, British, French, and Russians, with a few Danish and American doctors and nurses thrown in. There they were, going hither and thither in motor-cars, lounging outside cafes, arranging social functions of every kind regardless of the enemy just across the river - until the crash came. Possibly the facts that the Austrians had once crossed the Sava, that Belgrade in December 1914 had been evacuated, and that the enemy had soon been driven back again from Serbian territory inspired them with a false sense of security. However that may be, it is certain that the disaster, when it came, fell upon them like a thunderbolt.


With the politics of that time it is not my purpose to deal, save in so far as they explain the military situation. For the Serbians it was a time of bitter anguish, and it is not altogether surprising that they cherished a belief that they had been betrayed by their allies. The tortuous course of diplomatic devices, by which Germany induced Bulgaria to join hands with her, is altogether beyond my scope. It is sufficient to know that Bulgaria demanded, as the price of maintaining her neutrality, such concessions in Macedonia as Serbia could not contemplate without wounding her national honour, and the result was that Serbia concentrated the bulk of her forces on the Bulgarian frontier, in order to resist the threatened invasion.


During September 1915 guns, ammunition, aeroplanes, and general equipment were withdrawn from Belgrade, while the Serbian Army there of some 37,000 men was reduced to 3,000 men. That the Serbian General Staff expected such a small force to be adequate for the defence of the town is of course an impossible supposition. The probable intention of the Staff was to evacuate Belgrade at once if the Austrians crossed the river, just as it was evacuated in December 1914 - as soon as the Austrians had crossed the Sava. It must be explained that the Serbians are very proud of Belgrade, for it is the only city in the whole country, and consequently means a great deal to them. Rather than have it destroyed by bombardment, they were prepared to hand it over to the enemy without hesitation.


From the point of view of the foreign naval missions this withdrawal of the Serbian forces from Belgrade could not be contemplated without some alarm. The naval batteries were either in the town, or in its vicinity, and, in addition to these batteries, there were mine-fields, with observation mines, in the Danube and the Sava, as well as some floating torpedo batteries. All the equipment of these undertakings was likely to be lost in the event of a sudden evacuation, just as the French guns had been lost in December 1914 when the city was abandoned.


The intention to evacuate the town was never declared by the General Staff, but there can be little doubt that it existed, and would have been acted upon, if events had not taken such a dramatically sudden turn. Admiral Troubridge was frequently assured that he would have three clear days' notice of any contemplated advance on the part of the enemy, and that he would have ample time in which to remove his guns, mines, torpedoes, and all equipment; and this opinion was expressed by the Serbian Staff officers with so much confidence that it became useless to mention the possibility of other eventualities.


It must be clearly understood that the naval forces of the allies were never intended to form any part of the defences of Belgrade. They were concerned solely with the Austrian monitors and munition ships on the Danube, and when they first arrived on the scene they found the enemy in full possession of the river, going up and down it at will, and bombarding the Serbian riverside trenches with absolute impunity. But they soon put a stop to that state of affairs. The naval batteries and mine-fields made the Danube and the Sava undesirable rivers for these pleasure cruises, and the feat of our picket-boat, known as the “Terror of the Danube,” in torpedoing an Austrian monitor, caused all the rest of those craft to take refuge behind a boom defence, and to remain there.


It may be said that the naval missions had fulfilled their purpose when they had put an end to the enemy's activities on the river, but they were bound to remain at, and near, Belgrade, in order to prevent the possibility of those activities being resumed. Moreover, Admiral Troubridge saw further possible spheres of usefulness. It was clear that, before the enemy could advance into Serbia, he must cross either the Danube or the Sava, and to do so he must either build a pontoon bridge, or effect a crossing in boats. With batteries commanding the river, and mine-fields in the river, there seemed every prospect that the naval forces might do some useful work, if the enemy attempted an advance.


Such was the situation throughout the summer of 1915, but when, in September, the Serbians removed their guns and nearly all their infantry from Belgrade to the Bulgarian frontier it became clear that, whatever might be the usefulness of the naval forces, they could not by themselves save Belgrade in the event of an attack. The Admiral saw, with some dismay, that the Austrians were quietly occupying some of the islands in the river below Belgrade, more especially the island of Semendria, that they were emplacing guns on this island, and that they had accumulated a flotilla of small boats behind it. He drew the attention of General Jivkovitch to these preparations, but the General assured him that the island was so much under the fire of the Serbian artillery (which had not all been withdrawn at that time) that no enemy gun could exist on it for a moment. It was quite unnecessary, in the General's view, for the Serbians to occupy the island, but if it was found that the enemy there proved himself troublesome to the Serbian operations, then of course he would be driven out at once. As to the boats lying behind the island, the General said, “I venture to think that you will agree that there is no urgent necessity to destroy these boats with artillery fire, especially as the Commandant of this section probably intends to make use of them for bridge-building purposes over the Danube, in case of an advance from our side, for we have a lack of such material.” Here was supreme confidence in the might of Serbia. The enemy's boats were not to be destroyed, because, should the Serbian Staff decide upon an advance into Austrian territory, they could be used by the Serbians for a pontoon bridge. What actually happened was that twenty Austrian guns on the island of Semendria swept the Serbian shore with  their fire, while Austrian infantry crossed the river in the boats, which had been hidden behind the island, and landed in Serbia almost without opposition.


This expression of opinion by General Jivkovitch is quoted, not in order to lay stress on the miscalculations of the Serbian Staff, but to explain the position of the foreign naval missions when the great crisis came. At the beginning of October 1915 the only Serbian artillery left for the defence of Belgrade were two 12-centimetre howitzers on a hill to the south of the city, called Topchider Hill. On the same hill the French had two 14-centimetre guns, while the Russians had two old guns of the same calibre in the fortress of Belgrade, and one 65-millimetre Q.F. gun. Of the four British batteries only one, consisting of two 4.7 guns, was in the immediate vicinity of Belgrade, being on a hill to the south-east of the city, called Velike Vrachar. This completes the list of the artillery which could possibly be regarded as belonging to Belgrade's defences when the great crash came.


Of the other three British batteries, each consisting of two 4.7 guns, one was at Ostrujnitza on the Sava, twelve miles from Belgrade, one at Tcholin Grob on the Danube ten miles from Belgrade, and one at Grotska, also on the Danube, twenty miles from Belgrade. The last of these was, however, transferred on 7th October - four days after the great bombardment commenced - to a hill south-west of Belgrade, called Banovo Hill, but was too late to play any appreciable part in the defence of the city.


Of the mining and torpedo sections of the naval forces not much can be said, beyond recording that they were confronted with a hopeless task after the enemy attack had begun, and that they showed wonderful resource in extricating themselves from their unenviable positions. During those three terrible days of bombardment they stuck to their posts on the banks of the Danube and the Sava, until the connecting wires of their observation mines had all been shot away, and only the torpedoes remained. In the case of the torpedo battery opposite Semendria Island the torpedoes had their internal mechanism so badly damaged by the bombardment that it was found at first impossible to fire them. But after the enemy had actually crossed the river, Lieutenant Bullock, R.M., fearing that his torpedoes might be made use of by the Austrians, ran down to the river bank by himself (having withdrawn his men to safety), and succeeded in firing one of the torpedoes, but, before he could make the other one work, the Austrian infantry were within a few hundred yards of him, and he had to run back amidst a torrent of shrapnel and rifle-bullets. He then marched his men away to the south.


The section at the railway bridge over the Sava succeeded in firing their two torpedoes, as soon as they realised that they could remain no longer at their post. They had undergone a terrible bombardment for three days and two nights, but had hung on desperately until they saw the enemy cross the river and land troops in all directions. To illustrate the fearsomeness of that bombardment there is no better testimony than that of Surgeon Merewether, who went down to our post at the railway bridge on receiving a report that one of our men had been wounded. The man unfortunately was dead before the Surgeon arrived, so he took the opportunity of visiting the Serbian outposts in the neighbourhood, knowing that his assistance would probably be needed. Upon his return he reported to the Admiral that the Serbian soldiers were so much dazed by the bombardment that he had the greatest difficulty in distinguishing the living from the dead. One can well imagine what must have been the condition of  those men after three days and two nights of that hellish fire.


A plan of Belgrade, found in the possession of an Austrian officer who was taken prisoner, showed clearly the positions of the batteries, and of the posts of the mining and torpedo sections. It is not surprising, therefore, that these came in for the lion's share of the Austrian shells, which rained upon them unceasingly. The bombardment commenced on 3rd October, and with a steady crescendo of intensity reached its height on the morning of 6th October. There were long-range guns firing from beyond Semlin; there were 12-inch and 9-inch howitzers at shorter range; and there were smaller guns all along the north bank of the Danube and on the islands in the river. The Chief of Staff estimated that within the first twenty-four hours of the bombardment 48,000 shells fell upon the area of the Belgrade defences. Houses were swept down like corn before the scythe; telegraph and telephone poles were strewn across the ruins; electric-light standards came crashing down, so that the city was plunged in darkness. And all this while the enemy's aeroplanes, like mighty birds of prey, hovered overhead, directing the Austrian gunners. At first the anti-aircraft batteries tried to hamper the movements of these spotters, but within the first hour or so every battery had been destroyed, and the aeroplanes had free license to go where they listed.


Soon the city was one big blaze, and terrified citizens were fleeing helter-skelter to get away from the deafening roar of bursting shells and falling houses. But all the roads of escape were under fire of the Austrian guns, and these miserable outcasts - old men trundling their worldly possessions in handcarts, women with children in their arms and children clinging to their skirts - had to make their way through bursting shells. The roadside became strewn with dead and wounded, as the fugitives crowded together in their panic, so that the winding road looked like a huge writhing serpent, composed of motor-cars, oxen-carts, horses, and terrified humanity.


We in England, secure behind a deeper and wider trench than ever the hand of man has dug, have never yet realised what war is. When a few German aeroplanes passed over our heads and dropped bombs in our midst, our newspapers, with flaring headlines, used to devote many columns to the incident, and all our tongues were busy wagging about it, until we really believed we had seen war. If only some of us had been at Belgrade during those three awful days, we might know what war really is.


No one had better cause to appreciate the magnitude of Belgrade's bombardment than the occupants of No. 1 Battery on Velike Vrachar hill. The battery was commanded by a Serbian artillery officer, with another Serbian officer, as second in command, and was composed of Sergeant Pearce with a corporal and four gunners of the Royal Marines, and a small crew of Serbian soldiers to assist with the heavy work. During the first two days of the bombardment the battery remained quiet, for they knew that the Austrian gunners were looking for them, and that they would be wise to reserve their fire until the approach of the crisis. On the third day it would seem that the aeroplanes had located them, for shells from fifteen centimetre and many smaller guns fell on them from eleven o'clock in the forenoon until sunset. On the next day the shelling started at eight o'clock in the morning, and again lasted until sunset. But all this time the battery remained quiet, waiting for the first sign of an attempt by the enemy to cross the river.


On Thursday, 7th October, they could wait no longer, but opened fire on the batteries along the river front, and for the rest of that day they carried on an artillery engagement with no less than twenty four Austrian guns. But the result was a foregone conclusion. So long as they had kept quiet they had smiled contentedly at the Austrian shells shrieking over their heads, and exploding at some distance behind them. But, the moment they fired the first shot, the aeroplanes began to signal to the Austrian gunners, who immediately reduced the range, until their shells were falling in torrents all round the battery.


Fortunately the emplacement was well constructed, with good solid battlements, or the crews of No. 1 Battery would have been wiped out in a few minutes. As it was, they managed to keep up the unequal contest all day long, and most of the next day, until those two guns were all that was left of Belgrade's defences, and nearly the whole of the Austrian artillery was concentrated upon them, though they never realised it.


About eleven o'clock in the morning of 7th October two heavy shells fell on the shell-room of No. 2 gun, causing it to collapse, and killing one of the Serbian interpreters and another Serb. Almost at the same time two of the Marine gunners. Carter and Davies, were wounded, and the other interpreter was severely wounded. Both shrapnel and high explosive shell were pouring on the battery, and the noise inside was deafening. About noon the dug-out between the two guns was blown in, so that it became almost impossible to pass along the connecting trench, or to go from one gun to the other without being exposed to the enemy's fire. But there was another trench in front of the battery, and, though this also was exposed, it seemed to offer a better chance of communication, because the enemy had, so far, ignored it.


When the rain of shells became unendurable, it was decided to abandon the battery for a short time. until the enemy had been led to believe that they had silenced it. So the crews of the two guns crawled forward into the trench in front of the battery, and began to crawl stealthily along this trench towards some haven of peace and quiet. But the accursed aeroplanes had eyes like hawks, and immediately signalled to the Austrian gunners to shorten their range. Then the shells began to pitch into the trench along which our men were crawling, and the Serbian officer, the second in command, received a nasty wound. The rest, however, managed to crawl away in time.


They waited half an hour or so in their retreat, and, as they expected, the enemy's fire eased after a while on the battery, and sought other objectives. So they started to crawl back along the trench, flattering themselves that they had outwitted the Austrians for once. But the aeroplanes hovered over them like inexorable harpies, and immediately passed the word to the Austrian gunners. Again the shells came pouring into the trench, and. though by good fortune they came through unscathed, those few minutes were among the most crowded in those crowded hours of life.


At last the welcome darkness came, and beneath the protection of its cloak they set about repairing the ravages of the enemy. The two poor fellows who had been killed were extricated from a mass of fallen masonry and earth, and the debris was cleared away from the communication trench and from around the guns. The first instinct of a British sailor or a British Marine is to clear up an untidy mess, and make things look ship-shape. If they had had a hose and a squeegee they would doubtless have cleaned the battery deck, and their fingers must have been itching to run over the guns with a polishing rag.


Soon, however, they found more serious work to hand. Some boats were seen off Kozara Island preparing to take infantry across the river, so they loaded up and sent a few shells into the thick of them. Imagine the fury of the Austrian gunners, who thought they had silenced our battery for ever. With one accord they directed their fire upon it, and in a few moments a mighty shell came crashing into the casemate of one of the guns, breaking the sights, the bar, and the bracket. When the sights of a gun are broken it is still possible to use it with the aid of a clinometer, and one of these imperturbable Marines was on the point of getting to work on this suggestion when it was discovered that ammunition was running short. In that case it was better to reserve what was left for the use of the sound gun than to expend any of it with a lame gun. So, with the one gun, they kept up a steady fire, until all the ammunition was expended.


Then they waited until a fresh supply could be passed up the trench by the Serbian soldiers - a risky business, for it meant exposure to the enemy's fire. With the ammunition came an old fellow bringing some hot soup, made of beans, which the men drank with avidity, and poured blessings on the head of the old patriarch, who had risked his life to bring it to them. Later on Captain Kartitch, the commanding officer of the battery, sent for some food, and, when it came, shared it round amongst the men. It was little enough, when divided among so many, but the fact that officer and men stood shoulder to shoulder in this hour of trial was more sustaining than the most luscious masterpiece of a Paris chef.


So night passed into morning, and the undefeated battery still kept on plugging away with its single gun. Presently the Austrian monitors issued forth from their retreat, and came down the river towards Belgrade. “Give 'em a drop of lyddite,” said Sergeant Pearce, and the gun was loaded with a lyddite shell. A few seconds later that shell burst amidships on an Austrian monitor, and the little band of defenders watched the vessel struggling to get back upstream with large volumes of smoke pouring out of her. All the other monitors fled for their lives, while the lame duck managed to crawl into the creek opposite Semlin, and remained there to lick her wounds. “I reckon she's horse dee combat “said one of the gunners, mopping his face with his handkerchief.


But it was not long before the monitors plucked up courage for another sortie, and at the same moment all the guns for miles round concentrated on the last of Belgrade's batteries. The battery managed to get off one round at the monitors, and then a shell came plunging into the casemate, wounding three men. It was quite evident that the time had come to make themselves scarce again, and they hurried along the communication trench towards their shelter. The last man had only just left the casemate when a whole shower of shells fell on top of it, and the structure fell in. The sights and breech-lever of the one remaining gun were smashed, so that it too was out of action. But Sergeant Pearce was not the man to leave anything to chance. The guns as they stood were possibly capable of repair, and, though the torrent of shrapnel made their vicinity far from comfortable, he and his men went back to strip down the breech and carrier. “The enemy won't make much of that lot,” they said, with a grin of satisfaction, as they made their way out of the inferno.


The sergeant, in his official report, says: “Both guns being thus out of action, we awaited further instructions.” And, while they waited, the city at the bottom of the hill was all ablaze, shells shrieked over their heads, and shrapnel burst within a few yards of them. At nightfall a verbal order to retire came to them, so they tramped through the rain and darkness to a village a few miles to the south, where some hospitable peasant gave them shelter, while they rested for a few hours. In addition to the loss of two men killed, the battery had fourteen men wounded. But the sergeant regarded this casualty list as remarkably small under the circumstances, and ascribed their good fortune to the excellence of the battery's construction and the depth of the trenches. All their personal belongings, which were in a house near the town, had to be abandoned, but what most distressed them was the loss of the Serbian medals which had been awarded them.


And now it was a case of sauve qui peut for all in Belgrade. The mining section, under Major Elliot, left the city on Friday morning, 8th October, and marched by a circuitous route to Torlak, whence they were ordered to proceed to Tchupria. There the whole force, except the British guns' crews, was assembled on 10th October. The French and Russian naval missions, who had had all their guns destroyed, also assembled at Tchupria, and for over a fortnight the whole party waited upon developments. Then they made their way by divers routes - partly by rail and partly on foot - to Monastir, whence they took train to Salonika, a day or two before Monastir fell to the Bulgarians.


The three batteries belonging to the British Navy, whose guns were still intact, were attached to the Serbian army at the request of the General Staff. On 15th October the admiral received a note from the Serbian general to say that the whole of his heavy artillery had been lost, and all that remained to him were the six British naval guns to resist the invasion of Bulgaria's armies.









(click map to enlarge)


Of the four British naval batteries sent to Serbia, one was destroyed during the great bombardment of Belgrade, and its crew, after having put up a magnificent fight against impossible odds, abandoned all that was left of their two broken guns, and retreated to Tchupria. But the other three batteries, each having two 4.7 guns, remained intact (except that one of them had two men badly wounded) and on 9th October, 1915, when Belgrade had fallen, one was on the left wing of the Serbian army, one on the right wing, and one in the centre. Lieutenant-Commander Kerr was then attached to the staff of General Jivkovitch for command of the three batteries.


The Serbian army was gradually retreating, and the naval guns had the task of delaying the enemy's advance, so that the Serbians could carry out an orderly retirement. It was during this period that General Jivkovitch wrote to Admiral Troubridge that the only heavy artillery left to his army was that of the three naval batteries, and that they were doing splendidly. It was, however, mighty hard work with very little encouragement, for, no sooner had they taken up positions for the guns, than they were ordered to abandon them and continue the retreat. On 22nd October they were at Mladnovatz; from there they moved southwards to Topola; and from there on 25th October they moved to a position south-east of Kraguievatz. There the retreat became more hurried, and they had to retire by forced marches in execrable weather, arriving at Krushavatz on 31st October.


These twenty-two days of retreat were not without their excitements but the general impression left on the minds of those who went through the ordeal was one of unceasing rain and endless trudging along muddy roads crowded with soldiers, refugees, ambulance waggons, transport carts, and all the paraphernalia of an army. The transport and the hospital equipment were inadequate; wounded men were plodding along on foot, because that was their only chance of escape, until they grew faint from loss of blood, and fell by the way-side; others perished from want of food, because the facilities for conveying food to them were lacking. It would need the pen of another Zola to describe the harrowing scenes which met the eye at every few paces along the road of retreat, but perhaps it is more decent to draw the veil over the details of Serbia's great tragedy, and let those fill in the picture who can. Let us pass on to the story of the naval batteries.


At the end of October the three batteries had all reached Krushavatz, and early in the morning of 2nd November a request was made to Admiral Troubridge that they should proceed to Nisch to join up with the Second Serbian Army under Marshal Stepanovitch. They had then been either in action or on the march for twenty-two consecutive days, and had had just one day's rest, so it would be useless to pretend that they were in ecstasies of delight when they received the order to trudge ten miles to a railway station and thence take the train to Nisch. They arrived there at half-past three next morning, to find the town very full, but everybody making preparations to evacuate it.


No. 2 Battery took up a position at Alexandrevatz, to the west of Nisch across the Morava River, where it was well placed to cover the road by which the inhabitants of the town must retreat. No. 3 and No. 4 Batteries were placed at intervals of about three miles along the river, but they were at some distance from any road, and Lieutenant-Commander Kerr saw at once that, when the inevitable order came to retreat, there would be considerable difficulty in getting the guns away. No. 3 Battery especially was very inaccessible, for it was on the top of a small hill, and between it and the main road lay a large expanse of soft, marshy ground, he decided that he must lose no time in pointing out to the Chief of Staft the precarious positions of the British guns, so he at once rode to Prokuplie -  distance of some thirty miles - where the marshal's staff had assembled. On arriving there he had some difficulty in getting hold of a responsible officer, to whom he could profitably explain the situation; but finally he succeeded in buttonholing the marshal himself. The result of the interview, however, was far from satisfactory, for, as might be expected, the marshal had many preoccupations, and the troubles of the British naval batteries could not under the circumstances arouse very much sympathy in his mind. Later on Lieutenant-Commander Kerr returned to the front, and saw Colonel Mattich, commanding the division to which the batteries were attached.


“Don't worry,” said the colonel. “You will have plenty of warning before a retreat is ordered, and the ground between your batteries and the main road is not so bad as you think.” At this the matter had to be left.


King Peter paid a visit in his car to No. 2 Battery and asked the men whether they were comfortable, and whether they would like to send letters home to England. It was a thoughtful enquiry, but his Majesty did not realise at the time that the postal service had completely broken down, and there was no way of getting the letters out of the country. During the next few days the guns were in action fairly constantly, and, whenever the enemy attempted to mass troops, the batteries succeeded in dispersing them. But, unfortunately, the ammunition was running low, and it was feared that the reserve supply had fallen into the hands of the enemy, as the Serbian officers in charge of the transport arrangements could give no account of it. The time was obviously drawing near when the guns would become useless through lack of ammunition.


This was the period when the daily bulletin issued by the Serbian Staff read, “Situation very serious.” The Austro-German forces were threatening to close the road of retreat into Montenegro, while the Bulgarians were threatening the road into Albania. A Bulgarian detachment was near Prilep threatening the line of communications to Monastir - the railhead of the only railway which was not in the hands of the enemy. In fact, Marshal Stepanovitch's army was in imminent danger of being completely surrounded and cut off.


When, on 12th November, the order to retreat was given, only one small segment of the enveloping circle remained open - to the south-west of Nisch, towards Prishtina - and the whole effort of the Serbians was now directed to keeping open this line of retreat. The batteries were ordered to proceed to Prishtina with a view to joining up eventually with the Anglo-French force, which was supposed to be coming up from the south to the rescue of Serbia. The only question was, could they ever get to Prishtina? The Third Army was sent to cover the defence of the only road of escape, but that they could resist the enemy's advance seemed very doubtful. The Second Army was in full flight along this road, and the British naval batteries were actually in the extreme rear of it and nearest to the enemy.


No. 3 Battery met with disaster at the very commencement of the retreat. As Lieutenant-Commander Kerr had foreseen, that swampy ground proved too much for them. The gun-carriages ran into deep mud, which covered the axles, and all the combined efforts of their crews and their oxen could not move them. So they had to be stripped and abandoned, only the transport and the remainder of the ammunition being saved. So only four of the original eight guns were now left. The other two batteries safely reached Prokuplie, and hurried on towards Kurshumlie, knowing that the flying moments were precious. No. 2 Battery had four men wounded just before the retreat commenced, which did not help to cheer them on their road. They were the first to get under way, and trudged all through the night beside the weary oxen and the two guns, taking just twenty-seven hours to cover the thirty-three miles from the Morava River to Kurshumlie. The men of No. 3 Battery, minus their guns, were the next to pass through Prokuplie, and finally came No. 4 Battery, so far behind that Lieutenant-Commander Kerr had become more than anxious about them. They, too, had had their troubles, but they came up smiling, in spite of rain and slush and weary limbs.


But there was no time to pause at Kurshumlie, for the Austro-Germans were getting nearer every moment. Just a few hours for rest and food, and then the whole army had to push on towards Prishtina. The oxen attached to the guns were almost worn out, but even the dictates of humanity must give way before dire necessity, and the unfortunate brutes had to be goaded on. All through the night of 15th November the retreat continued along a road which led them over the mountains. It was bitterly cold, and the rain was incessant. A few of the Serbian soldiers, seeking to make better speed than was possible on the congested road, turned aside from it, and in the darkness walked over the edge of a precipice, horses, waggons, and men.


Next morning the batteries reached the Mdare Pass, whence they could see the snow-covered mountains of Montenegro away to the west. But their road lay to the south, and along it this great struggling crowd of soldiers, refugees, transport-waggons, oxen, horses, and guns made the best speed they could. At night they bivouacked in the open to snatch a few hours of sleep, but by half-past three in the morning they were on the road again - struggling on, footsore and weary, men, women, and children. The road grew easier after they were through the Mdare Pass, but the rain continued to pour down in torrents, occasionally varied by a blinding snow blizzard.


Napoleon's retreat from Moscow could have been no worse than this, for at every few yards along the roadside there were cattle, horses, and men dying of hunger and exhaustion. No one knows what was the toll in human life of that retreat through Serbia. We can only thank Heaven that the women and children were comparatively few, for most of them were left behind. Whatever fate awaited them, it could not be worse than that which overtook the refugees. Report has it that the Serbian women were well treated by the invaders; but, on the other hand, there were many ugly stories going round, and the minds of those soldiers who had left behind their mothers, wives, and sisters were filled with persistent forebodings.


So the bedraggled, rain-soaked crowd found its way to Prishtina, and the town soon became filled with a confused mass of dazed humanity, which knew not what to do to get food, or where to go to dry their soaking clothes. Fortunately, the batteries had food of their own, and could look out for themselves. But the question arose, what was to be done with the four remaining guns? The idea of taking them to Mitrovitza, to join the new Anglo-French army coming up from Salonika, had become impossible, for the enemy had advanced too rapidly, and the new army showed no signs of making its appearance on the scene. One suggestion was to bury them somewhere accessible to the railway, but eventually it was decided that the batteries should be transferred to the Third Army under General Sturm, and that they should retreat with that army in the direction of Ipek, across the Montenegrin border.


On 22nd November they got under way. The congestion on the road was appalling, and an Austrian aeroplane took advantage of the situation to drop a few bombs, but fortunately they fell wide. The men of the Navy, grateful for their rest at Prishtina, and taking, as usual, a cheery view of life and things in general, trudged on beside their four remaining guns. They were not sorry to be quit of Prishtina, for typhus had broken out there, and there were some stories going around of weapons being hidden in the Mohammedan mosques for use on the Christian population as soon as the army was out of the town. In fact, Prishtina was developing symptoms of unhealthiness.


At four o'clock in the afternoon they arrived at a swamp on the main road, and one of the guns of No. 2 Battery promptly got stuck, holding up all the traffic behind it for a long time. Men and oxen hauled away at it for dear life without producing the least impression; then more men and more oxen were requisitioned; then a motor-car was harnessed to the gun-carriage, and men, oxen, and motor-car did their damnedest for five solid hours, but that gun refused to budge. The men of the gun's crew and their Serbian soldiers were working up to their knees in water all this time, and it was freezing fairly hard. The rest of the cavalcade had managed to squeeze past the obstruction, so it was finally decided to destroy the breech-block, recoil-springs, and sights, and leave the old gun to its fate. The other gun belonging to No. 2 Battery had still to cross the swamp, and, though it was past nine o'clock at night, there was nothing for it but to make the attempt. The oxen from the first gun were transferred to the second, and an alternative route was tried. All went swimmingly at the start, and the gun was hauled safely over the river, but the bank on the other side proved too much for it. It slid back gracefully into the mud, until the axles of the gun-carriage were lost to view, and the combined efforts of 80 oxen and 250 men failed to budge it. They laboured until after midnight, but the climax of misfortune came when the driver of the first pair of oxen slipped in the mud, and was trampled under the feet of the struggling beasts. Before he could be extricated the gun-limber passed over his legs and broke both of them. Fortunately two sick berth attendants were on the spot to render first aid.


So the second gun had also to be demolished, and now only two guns were left out of the original eight. The men lit a fire and sat round it until two o'clock waiting for No. 4 Battery to come up. When they arrived they were able to benefit by the experience of their unfortunate shipmates, and, by dint of a combined effort of the oxen and crews of the two batteries, they succeeded in getting the last two guns across the swamp. And so they continued their trek towards the mountains of Montenegro. Here are one or two extracts from the diary of one of the trekkers:

“Struck camp at 1 p.m. and started off through wooded hills - no people, no roads, no nothing, except wonderful scenery. A very cold wind struck up about sundown. Progress was very slow. Halted at 5.30 p.m., and got a bit of sleep in an ox-waggon.”


“Thursday, 25th November. - Moved on at 2.30 a.m. Progress a little better.... Not a sign of cultivation, and very few inhabitants - only a few Albanian hovels. Passing through forests during the day; quantities of rifle ammunition on all sides, as well as Q.F. and field-gun stuff, all thrown aside to lighten the carts. For the moment we seem to have passed the region of dead and dying beasts. Marched on until 8p.m., when we made our bivouac, pitched tents, and settled down for the night.”


“Friday, 26th November. - Up at 8.30 a.m. Snowing hard, but no wind, and therefore not so cold. Mud, slush, and small rivulets to be encountered all the way, and a great deal of traffic. Mud sometimes 18 to 24 inches deep. Stopped at 8 p.m. in a snowy plain, where we pitched our tents. Two of our men adrift. Whistling them up until midnight, when they turned up, having lost their way in the dark. The men get one biscuit a day from the Serbian authorities, but luckily we still have some of our provisions left. Water is very difficult to get. What we find is chocolate-coloured and muddy, so we prefer eating snow.”

It was on this day (26th November) that No, 4 Battery had its first disaster. One of its guns, while crossing a small stream, fell right through the bridge, which had not been built for a weight of that kind. For four hours they tried to extricate it, but found the task hopeless, so they stripped the gun and left it. Only one gun remained, and finally that also had to be destroyed, for the difficulties of transport went on increasing, until it became practically impossible to take the gun any farther.


The diary carries on the story of the travellers, toiling over the mountains all through the days, camping at night by the roadside. “Very hard frost during the night. My towel and valise frozen stiff.” On 29th November they drew near to Ipek, and here they found a recurrence of the old familiar sight - dead and dying oxen on all sides. Ipek was crammed with refugees, and everything was in a state of sublime confusion. “Dead horses and oxen all over the place, and the cold continues.” But the cold unfortunately did not continue. “A thaw has set in, and mud and slush, mingled with decomposing horses and oxen, compel us to pick our way carefully. Yesterday, going into Ipek, we found some nice firm stepping-stones across a brook; but to-day the thaw has melted the 'stones,' and we discovered them to be the half-submerged corpses of horses.”


On 3rd December the journey began from Ipek to Scutari. The track lay over the mountains of Montenegro, where nothing larger than two-wheeled carts could hope to pass. So all the waggons were destroyed, and there was a general holocaust of vehicles, rangefinders, telescopes, and even clothing. The scene of destruction spread for miles round, for a whole army, as well as bands of civilian refugees, were about to take to the mountains. The men of the batteries started at two o'clock in the morning A petty officer and a leading seaman were too ill to walk, and had to ride in the two-wheeled carts, whose wheels were soon buried in mud nearly to their axles. Soon it came on to rain in torrents, and in the thick of the downpour they had to halt in order to stow their provisions and stores in the carts, as the things kept on falling off into the mud. At two o'clock in the afternoon they decided to camp, because the congestion on the road had become so great that progress was almost impossible. In the twelve hours they had covered little more than six miles. All next day and the day after they remained in their camp, watching the procession of refugees and of all that was left of the Serbian army stream past them - a sorry spectacle of half-starved men in soaking rags, which fluttered in the wind, as though they clothed some decaying scarecrows rather than live human beings.


On 5th December, in the evening, the order came to destroy the two-wheeled carts and their contents, for these carts were the main cause of the congestion, and there was grave danger that the rations of the fugitive army - such as they were - might come to a full stop at any moment. In fact, every Serbian soldier on leaving Ipek had been given five biscuits to last him throughout the journey, and already they had been three days en route. Moreover, there were rumours that parties of Albanians, instigated by Austrian leaders, were contemplating an attack on this miserable remnant of an army.


The men of the batteries were not yet reduced to such straits as the Serbian soldiers in the matter of food, because they had brought with them the remainder of a store which had been originally provided by the Admiralty. By means of careful management it was hoped to eke out this scanty store until the men reached Scutari. If, perchance, any of the Serbian soldiers, with their miserable biscuits, saw our men sharing out their few ounces of bully beef, they very probably made some kind of exclamation of which the nearest English equivalent would be “food hogs,” but it was manifestly impossible to share out such meagre provisions with the whole Serbian army, so the charge had to be tacitly ignored. Just beyond Ipek, however, a fresh complication arose. A Serbian officer, who had been closely associated with Lieutenant-Commander Kerr and the batteries, introduced a party of five women and two children into the family circle. Generous hospitality is one of the oldest traditions of the Navy, but it is a tradition which occasionally has its inconvenient side. Fortunately Lieutenant-Commander Kerr had supplemented the official stores by the private purchase of some “ward-room stores,” including cakes and some bottles of rakia (a drink made from the juice of plums). So he made a gallant effort to maintain the Navy's reputation for hospitality, but the diary records that “the Serbian womenfolk are not backward in asking for what they want, and expect us to provide them with jam, cakes, and rakia ad lib".


The food problem was increased when the order came to destroy all the carts, for the two horses were required to carry the two sick men, and so there was nothing for it but for each man to carry his food on his back, in addition to his kit. Under these circumstances the sacred rites of hospitality are apt to become a trifle irksome. Moreover, the new recruits to the party required other privileges. “The women and children,” the diary tells us, “bought up all the room round the camp-fire, so I made another one and slept by it, but was somewhat disturbed during the night by a colt, which kept on breaking away and walking over me,” They had, of course, been obliged to leave all tents behind them, as there were no means of transport.


At last they came to the pass through the mountain summits, and here they found a vast concourse of fugitives blocking the trail.

“We fought our way through a scene of panic and disorder, occasioned by a few mountain tribesmen firing on the congested multitude from behind rocks. Horses and oxen were dropping from fatigue on all sides, and many people were crushed to death. Eventually we slipped through the entrance of the pass with all our horses and men, and continued marching through a rocky defile until seven o'clock. It had been snowing for some time past, and the snow lay so thick that progress became difficult. We rested from seven till eight, and then we trudged on over the Zleb pass until midnight, when we made a bit of fire in the snow and took another hour's rest. After that we tramped on through the rocks and snow until, at seven in the morning, we arrived at Rosarj, the worst part of the journey over.”

They arrived at Andreovitza on 10th December, but by that time their provisions were running very low, and the rations had to be very strictly limited. The diet was tinned mutton and ship's biscuit. The mountain tribes had shown themselves extremely unfriendly all the way, and very little in the nature of food could be bought from them. Occasionally a few rotten potatoes, and occasionally some rakia, and for these they extorted such prices as would have made Shylock blush for shame. The diarist has some pathetic little touches on the subject of food. Here is a note of his reflections, as he sat by the camp-fire near Andreovitza.

“Most glorious scenery from our bivouac - a wide, swift-running river flowing between the high mountains on each side of us. It is a regular fairyland at night, with all the camp fires on the hills burning, but few of us are in the mood to appreciate feasts of the eye, being more inclined for feasts of another description.”

The biscuit had come to an end, and bread was unobtainable locally, but a supply was sent from Podgoritza by motor-lorry to the Serbian army, and the batteries managed to secure two maize loaves for the whole party - the first taste of bread since leaving Prishtina. Then the tinned meat began to run low, and we come to this pathetic entry:

“A beastly evening and night, raining hard, and the men a bit down on their luck. We issued the last ration of tinned mutton.”

On 13th December they had a breakfast consisting of some tea and the biscuit crumbs scraped from their pockets, but later in the day they had the good fortune to secure two more maize loaves, bought at a village for twenty-four francs in hard cash, for no one would look at notes. At Podgoritza they found the usual scene of dire confusion, and rain coming down in sheets. After a hard struggle they managed to get a soup ration and a little maize bread. The rain continued all through the night, which they spent in a field without any cover. The next day was one long chase to find something to eat, and eventually they succeeded in getting a little bread from the headquarters of the Third Army; but no one parted readily with food of any kind, for all were in the same extreme of necessity. The next quest was for a roof to cover their heads and a fire to dry their clothes, and they eventually succeeded in finding a cafe, where they were allowed to spend the night. At last, after many disappointments, they secured a passage in two motor-lorries to Plavnitza, on the borders of the lake of Scutari. Here, after another long wait, they went aboard a schooner driven by a petrol engine, which landed them at the town of Scutari about six o'clock in the evening of 15th December. Here were Admiral Troubridge and the officers of the Adriatic Mission - a British mission sent to co-operate with the Italian Government in providing the necessaries of life to the soldiers and refugees from Serbia - and, needless to say, the admiral was much relieved in his mind when he saw the men of the batteries safely arrived. Here, too, were tidings at last from the outside world - news of the war, news from dear old England. But the best news of all was that the admiral's coxswain had a good square meal ready for them, and when they heard that, everything else paled into insignificance.


The admiral, with his party, had crossed the Serbian border by another route, via Prizrend, Berbetz, and Sika to Scutari. It was a six days' march through the mountains; the cold was intense, and snow fell at frequent intervals. A party of French aviators who followed immediately behind the admiral's party had twenty men incapacitated by frost-bite, and lost many of their horses, which walked over the precipices in the blinding snow. Behind them came the members of the Serbian Headquarters Staff, who lost most of their baggage in the same way. But the tail end of the procession had the worst time of all, for they were continually harassed by Albanian tribesmen, who sniped at them from behind the rocks, and, moreover, they had the advancing Bulgarians hard on their heels. It was noticeable that the only fugitives to meet with friendly treatment from the warlike tribes in the Albanian mountains were the admiral and his party. The explanation of this distinction was afforded when the admiral reached Scutari, and it is certainly a striking tribute to British prestige. The Mufti of Scutari called on Rear-Admiral Troubridge as soon as he arrived and offered him the hospitality of the town. “I knew,” he said, “the precise moment of your departure from Prisrend, and I knew that you and those with you were unarmed, and that no Serbian soldiers were guarding you. I am proud - all Albania is proud - to think that your great country showed this confidence in us, and I want you to know that throughout your journey a thousand unseen eyes watched you as you walked, a thousand unseen eyes watched you as you slept, and no harm could possibly have come to you.”


The sequel to the story of the great retreat concerns the activities of Admiral Troubridge and the officers of the Adriatic Mission at the little port of Medua di Giovanni, where a stupendous effort was made to import sufficient food for the refugees, and to organise its distribution. The food ships, after unloading, took on board as many as possible of the refugees, and in the meantime the Serbian army made good their retreat to Durazzo, whence they embarked for Salonika to continue the great struggle against the invaders. But of what went on at Medua an excellent account has already been written by Lieutenant E. Hilton Young, R.N.V.R., M.P., (in the “Cornhill Review“ for June 1916) and it is sufficient for me to add that, when the Austrians poured into Albania and Medua  had to be evacuated, the last persons to leave for Brindisi were Admiral Troubridge and his staff.


on to Part 2 of 2
or return to World War 1, 1914-1918

revised  26/8/11