6 downloadsLooking from the German defence line eastwards.
The British Main Column attacked using the road as its axis of advance. The KAR Mounted Infantry were on the right as we look, 1 KAR in the centre astride the road, and most of 29th Punjabis on the left, all of them down in the valley.
Right Column was operating out of our sight to the left.
In early July 1915 Brigadier-General Malleson, commanding Mombasa District, decided to attack and seize the Schutztruppe camp at Mbuyuni which was 12 miles west of Maktau on the Taveta road. This camp was a base for German sniping and raiding parties that were attacking Maktau Camp and the railway lines. Mbuyuni was defended by 46 German whites and 600 Askari with six machine-guns, under the command of Captain Vorberg.
Brigadier Malleson assembled a force of over 1,200 men with 11 machine-guns, two mountain screw-guns (the barrel was in two pieces that screwed together) and one ex-naval 12-pound gun, and he marched from Maktau westwards on 13th July. An observer watching the troops step out commented: “Then came the King’s African Rifles, sturdy limbs moving in perfect rhythm. They left an impression of shiny black faces, white teeth, and unceasing, animated talk. Little they cared about the future. The British officers combined an air of detachment with unrelaxing hold upon their men.”
Two companies of 1 KAR
were in the force, destined to be the Advance Guard during the assault by the Main Column. A second column, Right Column, swung north through the bush to attempt to get behind the enemy left flank. The main column halted for the night four miles short of Mbuyuni where unfortunately a picquet from the 29th Punjabis
opened fire with a machine-gun against an enemy patrol. If only rifle fire had been used (as had been ordered) the enemy would have thought little of it, but when a machine-gun fired it signaled that something more than a British patrol was on the move.
The ground was in the shape of an upside-down letter U pointing north, with a broad valley within the U. The Taveta road ran down into the east side into the valley, crossed it where there were many large baobab trees, and then ran up the west side where the German defences were well-sited. Right Column navigated north of the top of the depression but lost visual contact with Main Column. At 0530 hours Main Column advanced down into the depression led by the two 1 KAR
companies, with the KAR Mounted Infantry Company
(raised from Ethiopians and Somali from 3 KAR
) securing the south flank.1 KAR
became heavily engaged with the main enemy defence line at a range of 300 yards, and Brigadier Malleson ordered four companies of 29th Punjabis
to advance forward across the valley on the KAR right. The Punjabis ran into enemy snipers and machine-guns concealed on the western side of the valley, and at 1015 hours the Punjabi Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel H.A. Vallings, was killed and his Adjutant wounded. The Punjabis were soon in disarray (afterwards around 30 Sepoys were court-martialed for withdrawing from the battlefield with self-inflicted wounds to their hands).
Amazingly Brigadier Malleson then ordered four of the Loyal North Lancashires’
machine guns that had excellent fields of fire on the east side of the valley to go down into the valley to support the firing line. These guns immediately had their visibility vastly reduced and became much less effective.
Meanwhile the 130th Baluchis
in Right Column had run into unexpected enemy trenches and been stalled. Lord Cranworth, who was operating the Cole’s Scouts’
.450 machine-gun, got around behind the enemy trenches and shot-up the German administrative area. He could hear the Askari of the two 4 KAR
companies alongside him in Right Column begin their rhythmic grunting that preceded an attack, but the Column Commander (Lieutenant Colonel C.U. Price, CO 130th Baluchis) did not order an attack as he felt that his Column was not strong enough, and the moment passed.
By noon enemy reinforcements were reported to be arriving from the Upper Tsavo and Taveta, and by 1300 hours the British were fighting a withdrawal action. The enemy defenders left their trenches to attack the withdrawal, causing the Loyal North Lancashires to lose a machine-gun when five out of the seven-man crew were hit, and forcing the Punjabis to abandon their reserve ammunition. Brigadier Malleson reported: “The withdrawal was steadily carried out under a galling fire, the two companies 1st KAR being especially noticeable.”
Total British casualties were 2 Officers and 31 Other Ranks killed, 8 Officers and 157 Other Ranks wounded, and 1 Officer and 12 Other Ranks missing (mostly wounded and captured). The 1 KAR
casualties were 3 Askari killed, 2 Officers, 31 Askari and 4 Porters wounded. The wounded officers were Lieutenants L.G. Murray and L.C. Collings-Wells.
The German defenders lost 5 Askari killed, and four Germans (including Captain Vorberg), 17 Askari and 9 followers wounded.
In his after-action report Brigadier Malleson mentioned five members of 1 KAR
: Captain C.G. Phillips “This officer was in command of the advance guard. Subsequently he led the attack, and he was the last to come out of action. Of the other three officers with him one was killed and two were wounded, one severely. His gallantry throughout was most marked.”
(The dead officer was Lieutenant W.S. Wedd, 3 KAR, KAR Mounted Infantry.) No 103 Colour Sergeant Juma “For gallant leading of the vanguard under heavy fire, and continuing to command his men after being severely wounded.” No 157 Sergeant John Ali “For leading his section with great gallantry, and having it under complete fire control throughout the engagement.” No 121 Sergeant Longolora and No 286 Corporal Kaisa “Distinguished themselves for coolness and bravery, after their British officers had been disabled.”
In January 1916 No 103 Colour Sergeant Juma received an African Distinguished Conduct Medal.