Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika

By E Keble Chatterton
Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Scuttled Konigsberg
After the disabling of the Konigsberg up the Rufiji River on July 11th 1915 its crew, instead of being kept together as one compact company after being stranded on the river bank, was split up. Some became merged with the German East African Military forces, and others, together with the crew of the small Mowe, scuttled in Dar es Salaam harbour as a blockship on August 8th 1914, continued their naval activities on the lakes.

30 men of the Mowe contingent, under Lieutenant Horn went by train to Kigoma and went aboard the lake steamer Hedwig von Wissman (60 tons), arming her with four pom-poms brought from the Mowe.

This small ship was commissioned as a man-of-war in miniature, though her best speed was 7 knots, and the range of her guns did not exceed 2200 yards.

Kigoma harbour was fortified against any attack by lake.

There was one Belgian steamer, the Alexandre Delcommune, of 90 tons, which on August 6th had called at Kigoma but had been allowed to depart. This Lieutenant Horn was ordered to seek out and destroy.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Alexandre Delcommune
The Delcommune, being off the Belgian shore and possessed of superior speed, was able to escape under the cover of the batteries of Lukuja (Lukuga) River, but after an action of two hours the Belgian steamer received from her enemy so many hits in the boiler-room and funnel that she had to be beached, whilst the Wissman had not been touched. Thus in one action the Germans obtained what von Lettow rightly regarded as "the extremely important command of the lake". Next day Von Lettow, appreciating fully how desirable a natural defence were the waters of Tanganyika, wisely decided not to waste the other 70 of Mowe's men by employing them as soldiers, but ordered them up to the Lake, and appointed Lieutenant-Commander Zimmer to be in command of both the Tanganyika and that smaller Lake Kivu which lies to the north.

But the Delcommune was wounded rather than destroyed, and it became Zimmer's duty to wipe her out utterly. She was lying hauled up on the beach at Albertville by the Lukuja mouth; so reported one of Mowe's steam-pinnaces, whereupon Zimmer with two of his officers, Lieutenant Horn and Lieutenant Odebrecht, proceeded thither in the Wissmann. it was a plucky intention to blow up the Belgian steamer as she lay there surrounded by a temporary protective breakwater of sand which kept off the surf. One October night Horn with a party of men landed on the silent shore. They made their way unseen past the sentries and got right up to the steamer before the alarm was raised. There was Just time to throw some dynamite into her stokehold and light the fuse before rushing back towards the Wissmann.

On the following night Odebrecht with seven more men landed less than a mile north of the spot, stole into within a few yards of the Delcommune and by the light of the watchfires ascertained that the explosion had certainly damaged her bottom. But this was not enough, for the steel plates were capable or repair, and another effort had to be made later that month. This was a small but quite intriguing combined expedition consisting (a) of the Wissmann and a steam-pinnace afloat; (b) some of Mowe's men and Askaris ashore. Now the Wissmann, having been built as a light passenger steamer for the lake, was too weak to carry any gun heavier than a pompom, so the pair of 22-pdrs, which had been brought up from Dar es Salaam were mounted on a raft which was towed astern of the Wissmann. It was an ingenious method for obtaining some sort of a gun platform, though the speed of travel under these circumstances was less than 2 knots even in smooth water. Whilst Horn took charge of the Wissmann and Odebrecht commanded the pinnace, Zimmer was on the raft.

The Belgian position was found to be impregnable from the land, with wire entanglements, pits and earthworks. Furthermore, after the German craft steamed in to about 4000 yards of Albertville harbour they were attacked by two 12-pdrs. One of these was now silenced by the 22-pdrs and the Wissmann's pom-poms. Additionally the Askaris engaged the Belgians' 3-pdrs. After the range had come down to 1800 yards, and the raft's guns had for some time been shelling the Delcommune Zimmer ordered Odebrecht to enter the harbour with his pinnace. For the Belgian steamer had been repaired and launched since the last attack; she was now lying moored inshore and the Germans proposed to take her away. The pinnace, however, ran aground and came under a very hot fire. Compelled to give up the task she retreated with her rudder damaged and her hull punctured in many places. But the Shells from the raft had been so well directed that it was presently reported the Delcommune consisted of nothing better than a wreck.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
At the southern end of Tanganyika, where British territory skirted the lake, there existed two ancient British steamers possessing neither engines nor boilers. Lest these hulls should become a threat at some later date, Zimmer sent the Wissmann and Kingani, during November 1914, to destroy them likewise. The Kingani was built of wood. However this little steamer was 55 feet long, and she had a speed of 7 knots which made her more than useful. She had come by train from the Indian Ocean but a sister ship (named the Wami) was still up the Rufiji.

With Zimmer's mixed flotilla of two small steamers, pinnaces and motor-launches, the German Navy ruled the Tanganyika waves and was keeping the Belgians from crossing the lake into East Africa. The curious development meant that the Kaiser's colony was being blockaded by the British at its eastern side off the Rufiji, whilst German mariners at the western side were blockading the Belgians. Nor was the miniature marine content to be passive. It kept the shipless rivals in a state of suspense by repeated surprise visits and raids. On November 20, 1914, the Wissmann and Kingani cooperated in driving off a Belgian company in the bay of Bismarckburg, and in capturing four machine guns together with over 90 miles of telegraph wire that came in most useful to the Germans. Lake stations were bombarded, landing parties assisted by spies used to make night attacks on weak garrisons, and altogether the Mowe's people were scouting, photographing, harrying, pinning their enemies down, and thus rendering von Lettow the greatest possible help.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Graf von Gotzen
So passed the first ten months of war, by the end of which von Lettow was sending troops to Kigoma whence they had to be taken down to the lake to Bismarckburg by the flotilla and some dhows. But the shipwrights at Kigoma Dockyard had not been idle and by June 9, 1915, they had succeeded in completing a new steamer which was a very important addition. She was of 1500 registered tons, and similar to many a cargo vessel sailing off the British Isles. She was a three-island type, with a funnel rather shorter than is customary at sea. She possessed a speed of 8 knots, which made her the queen of Lake Tanganyika, though she was named the Graf von Gotzen. Her immediate utility lay in respect of trooping for she could carry about 900 men in a quarter of the time taken by the dhows.

Until the end of 1915 Lake Tanganyika continued to be dominated by the German flotilla, and there were naval actions also on Lake Victoria, Nyassa and Kivu, on the first of which the "Mwanza" took a prominent part.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Baron Dhanis
Towards the end of 1915 news reached the Germans at Kigoma that the Belgians had begun assembling a steamer of 1500 tons, similar to the Graf von Gotzen, which would be named the Baron Dhanis. Their armed ships Wissmann and Kingani were ordered to reconnoitre along the Belgian side, and they paid careful regard to the mouth of the Lukuja River which seemed the most likely site for its launch; but no signs of a slipway could be found.

Presently, however, the Belgian wireless imprudently made a free gift of information; intercepted messages proved that Lukuja was, after all, the spot. It was important to know from time to time how the Gotzen's intended rival was progressing, and when she was likely to be launched; so it was this desire for knowledge which led to some thrilling adventures. First came Lieutenant Odebrecht, who stole ashore one night just to the southward and crept up till he could clearly define a building slip being constructed. It was 250 feet long which more than confirmed their rivals intentions; for, whilst the Baron Dhanis had not yet taken shape, it was within probability that she would be not smaller than the Gotzen which measured 200 feet in length.

This officer and Lieutenant Rosenthal (late of Konigsberg) specialised in a series of risky raids, which for downright courage and cool determination stand out among the best stories of the War. Not once, but repeatedly, these two either together or independently courted death after landing from one of the flotilla and trying to evade the alert Belgians. On one night Odebrecht took a dinghy to make his way up the Lukuja River; on another occasion Rosenthal went disguised as a native, hoping to get through the sentries unsuspected. Both these attempts failed, but Rosenthal had scarecly better luck when he chose a particularly dark hour at a later date. He was just foiled from arriving at the mouth of the Lukuja River near to the building slip. In his escape, he managed to capture a patrol-boat manned by Africans whose testimony still further corroborated the Germans' intelligence efforts.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Hedwig von Wissmann
The climax of Rosenthal's exploits took place on the first of December 1915. Before the night vanished he had brought the Hedwig von Wissmann within 200 yards of Lukuja. Dawn broke, and at this distance he had just time to get a good photograph of the building slip, though there were but a few minutes to spare. With the coming of light burst around this ship a hot squall of Belgian shells, yet somehow there was no damage done and she got away. The photograph was developed, and proved that the building slip was now completed, and it seemed as if the new ship had already been begun. Further details were imperative.

So Rosenthal steamed down again on the next night. He then transferred to a boat, whence he would at the right moment take to the water and then swim to the beach. It was an undertaking of which the very bravest might think twice before attempting. An iron nerve and great power of physical endurance were essential, but the difficulties were cumulative, in that they needed a man with almost superhuman valour to meet them willingly. Firstly, these raids had become so frequent that the Belgians never relaxed their vigilance. If the Konigsberg's officer was to reach the shore, make his way through the sentries to the slip, and then escape, he would have to dart like a javelin. But as a preliminary to this he would have to contend with his body against the surf which was hitting the strand, whilst crocodiles of uncertain size and numbers intensified the suspense.

He started out, got within 500 yards by boat, took to the water, reached soundings, stumbled ashore and ran dripping inland without being noticed. He could see the slip just 50 yards away. But the area was crawling with sentries! They were moving about in alarm and looking with lanterns, expecting to pounce on an intruder at any moment.

He could advance no further, but turned and scurried back. Plugging into the surf, hs swam away from the land and was picked up by the boat in a state of exhaustion after a mighty narrow escape. Did it damp his ardour? Not in the slightest. For on the following night he went through the same proceedings, except that he took with him a lifebelt, tied his boots on his head and wore nothing except shirt, trousers and cap. This time he actually did reach the slip, where he found a couple of motor-boats but no steamer. That was enough. Regaining the water he swam for the boat, but could not find her. He kept swimming, and still he failed to meet her; so, crocodiles or no crocodiles, there was not an alternative between keeping afloat and drowning. Morning came and found him still working his weary limbs, whilst away to the north he caught sight of the Hedwig von Wissmann steaming off home, having given him up as lost. It was enough to break even Rosenthal s stout heart, at this point there was every likelihood that the Belgians would open fire on his head. He therefore tore his way a couple more miles to the south, came ashore at 8.30 a.m. and hid himself.
Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
The Route

Some Belgian askaris discovered him and took him prisoner. He attempted to get a message through to his Commander Von Zimmer, which however failed to reach him for over two months.

During December 1915 Commander Schonfeld was sent from Kigoma to raid Lukuja, and blow up the place.

He was unable to get near the slipway but brought back news of the two motor boats there. These were two very light Motor-boats whose 15 knots speed would far exceed that of the Hedwig Von Wissmann or the Kingani. Each boat was armed with one 3 pounder and a Maxim gun.

The British had not been idle and were keen to challenge German control of Lake Tanganyika. Mimi and Toutou had been prepared and and transported from the River Thames all the way to Africa. They were to be carried through the submarine zone by steamer. They were then at risk from German Atlantic Raiders before reaching Cape Town. Then they were moved on to railway trucks for the journey to Rhodesia. After Livingstone it was necessary to transport them over land. Their progress was akin to that of explorers hewing along through virgin country, and it was surely one of the strangest freaks in a complicated war that through the bush, across African mountains, and down tropical valleys two modern boats should be trundled.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Spicer-Simson and Officers
Ahead went a pioneering party, where roads had to be made, nearly 200 bridges constructed, trees felled and desert tracks indicated. It is true that a couple of traction engines and trailers were also detrained, but these brought their own difficulties with them. Bridges collapsed under their weight, and they needed water for steam even when neither well nor river was at hand; so the crew had to sacrifice their thirst-quenching liquid to the boiler's greater need. Under the scorching sun and over the irksome "roads" the cavalcade swung forward painfully, the day's run being legged at from 2 to 6 miles. On one special occasion they even did 14 miles.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Bridging River Bed
Sometimes the expedition had to climb with their precious burdens up to 6000 feet, and later on the boats were allowed to float down stream so shallow that barrels had to be lashed alongside the hulls whilst natives bodily lifted each craft clear of the sandbanks; for projecting shaft-brackets always seemed to be courting injury. At another stage the river would deepen, allowing Mimi and Toutou the privilege of using their own engines and towing the store-laden barges. Having got well into the Belgian Congo area and come once more to a railway, they were placed on trucks and in this fashion were brought to Tanganyika's lakeside at Lukuja where the Germans had so unexpectedly come across them.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Mimi Being Transported
Following the arrival of these motor boats the Belgians resolved to build an actual port at the Lakuga River mouth to service boats and to conduct the naval campaign on Lake Tanganyika. Kalemie Harbour was located in Albertville named after the Belgian king. The Mimi and Toutou were launched on December 23rd 1915 and next day had satisfactory trial runs.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Mimi Being Launched
Just a few days later on Boxing Day Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey B. Spicer-Simson R.N and a party of 28 were assembled for divine service on the shoreline of the lake. Whilst participating in their service they were made aware of an approaching steamer. It was not a very big one, nor apparently very fast. It was slightly longer than the Mimi but with a greater tonnage. She was on a course which would enable her to pass Kalemie at a distance of 7 miles. Commander Spicer-Simson allowed her to continue till she was not merely abreast, but well to the southward, his intention being to cut the stranger off from her Kigoma base to the north. It was quite obvious that this steamer was heading for the Belgian coast just below, for she was steering about south-west, and presently she showed herself to be the Kingani. It was about 11 a.m. when the Mimi and Toutou set off from Kalemie in pursuit. The Teddington toy warships were to have their long deferred opportunity much sooner than had been anticipated. This was the day.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Traction Engines
In the Mimi went Commander Spicer-Simson, in charge of the Toutou was Sub-Lieutenant A Dudley, R.N.V.R., whose expert knowledge of the African country had been so important that the transports were entrusted to his care. This morning, however, found him as captain of a man-of-war going into action. Motor-boats such as these consumed large quantities of petrol when run at full speed, and the vast extent of Tanganyika, with 1500 miles of coastline, was very different from a narrow river, with all facilities for refuelling. No one could tell how long this chase might last, so a small Belgian motor-boat called the Vedette, with a crew of British naval ratings, followed out from the shore carrying more petrol supplies and took up a position so as to be at hand if the chase came north.

These British boats had originally been built for the Greek seaplane service, and drew only 2 and a quarter feet making them ideal for the shorelines of the lake. However, neither in design nor construction were they originally meant for knocking about exposed waters, yet on this very first cruise they were put to the severest of tests. They had come 10,000 miles from Teddington without damage; hot and thirsty men had dragged and cursed them through one long furnace with only half a pint of water daily for parched throats. Through villages silent with sleeping sickness, through thunderstorms and tropical rains; attacked by mosquitoes, scorpions, rhinos, threatened by snakes and lions, 26 officers and men besides their Commander had plodded on to deliver their own tiny flotilla - yet today the weather seemed to mock at all their previous efforts.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Mimi and Toutou
By the time Commander Spicer-Simson had finished reading prayers, ordered his men into clean shirts and shorts, and taken his two boats out of harbour, the weather had begun to change for the worse. Heavy rain squalls swept down, and soon there was a nasty sea running.

The Kingani carried only one gun - a pom-pom with a range of 2600 yards - and that was mounted forward. Each motor-boat carried a 3-pdr mounted forward, but the decks were so weak that they would not tolerate the gun being fired abeam; therefore they had to be fired ahead. By such reasoning it was requisite that the two boats must attack from a position astern of Kingani, which would have the additional advantage of preventing the latter's gun from being used. For it would be masked by the funnel and deck hamper.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Mimi with Spicer-Simson
It was decided, then, that Mimi and Toutou should not steam in line ahead, but in line-abreast; and this formation would be convenient if the enemy began running away. In that event, Mimi would take up a berth on Kingani's starboard quarter and Toutou on her port quarter.

It was not too long before the Kingani saw these craft racing so rapidly towards the bay that she would presently be trapped. She turned eastward and went off at full speed, being now only 5000 yards due south of her opponents. By 11.47 just as she was swinging gradually round to N.E., and the motor boats were only 2000 yards astern, fire was opened by the latter, though very slowly at first. Why? partly because the rough sea made these boats so lively that good gunnery was difficult and partly because only a limited number of shells could be carried on the small boats.

Kingani could not bring her gun to bear on Mimi, but she had a shot at Toutou as the latter was the inner side of the circle and at that moment turning North East. By 11.52 both motorboats were so placed that the enemy's gun was completely masked. The range had also been reduced to 1500 yards. They were now running before the sea rather than against it, which was all to their advantage. Their gunners were beginning to find their target. Soon, every shell registered a hit. The Commander ordered a change of ammunition to lyddite and to increase the rate of fire. Soon, a rain of destruction deluged the steamer. One projectile went through Kingani's armoured screen shielding her gun, blowing Sub-Lieutenant Jung in two and killing a nearby Petty Officer. Another shell wiped out a Warrant Officer and yet another blew three Africans overboard.

Soon there were only a couple of able-bodied seamen aboard. The helmsman and the Chief Engineer were still functioning although the former was so dazed that he had to rely on mechanical steering. However, he still managed to head the boat more or less straight towards Kigoma. The Chief Engineer took control for a few moments until he realised that escape was hopeless. He stopped engines, hauled down the German flag, and struck colours by 11:58. Thus, within eleven minutes the action had begun and ended, thanks to the employment of clever tactics and superior speed.

Crippling the Kingani was one thing, taking her back to Kalemie as a prize was another. It did not help that the sea state had been increasing from bad to worse. Mimi came alongside the steamer on three occasions, and thrice did she fail to transfer a man. The waves were so considerable that during the attempt Mimi received such a nasty nudge from the heavier vessel that she began taking on water. Under these conditions the only possibility was to order the Kingani to steer for Kalemie under her own steam under the watchful eye of the British boats. It was desirable for the steamer to reach shallow water without delay lest she should founder from the hole which had been made on her port side abreast of the boiler. Escorted by Mimi and Toutou she was brought into Kalemie harbour, where she took the sand and grounded with a heavy list. Not one British casualty had occurred that day, but both motor-boats had suffered severely from the shock of their own guns. Toutou eventually fared the worst and later on became a loss during bad weather; but she had accomplished that for which she had left the Thames, and had helped to provide a more seaworthy vessel in Kingani, which was now repaired and commissioned as a British man-of-war with the name Fifi. Fifi was the first German warship to be captured and brought into service with the Royal Navy.

When the Kingani failed to appear at Kigoma, the loss could only be surmised, and next day (December 27) Commander Schonfeld's search party were recalled after no success. Not till early in February did Zimmer learn definitively that Kingani had been lost, but even then the information lacked true accuracy. By means of African spies it was learned that she was lying in shallow water off Kalemie, and that her funnel was visible. All this was fairly true - but only for a short time. Apart from the news being out of date, it erred in reporting that she had been sunk by means of a battery newly placed on the shore. Hitherto these spies had always brought trustworthy intelligence, but this time they mystified Zimmer by no reference to British craft. The Senior German Officer had no definite knowledge that the motor-boats were using the lake; and, indeed, when a second German ship failed to return, he still believed she had approached too near the Belgian battery. Recalling that Rosenthal's scribbled message had not yet come through and that the Schonfeld expedition had failed to get anywhere close to Kalemie.

Whilst the Germans on Lake Tanganyika were still wondering and guessing as to the fate of Kingani, she was again steaming about the lake but now with a British naval crew. The Fifi, as we must now call her, did not remain long disabled, for she proceeded south on January 20 (1916) in order to collect fuel. These lake steamers, like the locomotives of the Central Railway, used to burn wood, though a certain amount of oil could be consumed when required to give extra heating; and it was necessary now that suitable wood depots be arranged. But so ill-known was the change of fortune which had occurred on December 26, that when this very familiar craft approached southern land she was promptly fired upon by Belgian and British posts alike. Fortunately no damage was incurred.

The Toutou suffered her disaster by a storm which raged at the end of January, but the loss was not permanent. She was salved, and was soon repaired. Similarly the Delcommune, which had received about forty enemy shells was in such a bad condition that an intercepted Belgian wireless had reported her as "completement detruit". However, life was being breathed into the old ship yet, although she was in dire need of new propellers.

The allies had access to two small boats, the Vedette and the Dix Tonnes. Neither were particularly seaworthy and struggled in difficult weather, although the Vedette had managed to play an important role in the December 26th operation.

On February 8th Zimmer went with the Hedwig von Wissmann, the Graf von Gotzen and a pinnace to reconnoitre Kalemie. Leaving the last two temporarily near the eastern shore the Wissmann approached Kalemie. When on February 9th this was sighted Commander Spicer-Simson gave immediate orders for his flotilla to get ready, and at 7.45 they put to sea. Forming line-ahead, they proceeded across the lake with the Fifi (flying the Commander's pennant) in the van, followed at 100 yards intervals by the Mimi after which came the Dix Tonnes, together with the Vedette carrying supplies.

It was an ideal day for frail, flat, motor-boats. The surface of the late was like polished glass, with a long easy swell that would barely hinder good shooting. Gloriously fine and not yet too hot, there was an absence of wind, but the atmosphere was hazy; the reflection and refraction making it difficult to define the exact position of any object. For the purpose of preserving a good head of steam in the Fifi, and of retaining the flotilla together, the speed was kept down to 6 knots. It was 8.55 when the Wissmann was seen to the N.N.E. about 6 miles distant, and approaching on a S.S.W. course.

Odebrecht evidently experienced the shock of his seafaring life when the curious procession from Kalemie showed up, so he put his helm hard over, put oil on his fires, and began retreating to the N.E. just as quickly as his engines would revolve. His speed had been 6 knots, but he tried desperately to improve on this when he witnessed the Kingani flying the White Ensign, accompanied by the Mimi. Nominally the Wissmann's maximum speed was 7 knots, but the application of oil in the furnaces soon gave him speed for 2 knots more. On the other hand Fifi having solely the wood fuel, could not raise such a good head of steam as was desirable, as no draught came up the funnel this windless day. The best she could do was an 8 knot gait. At 9:10 she fired a couple of rounds with a recently mounted 12 pdr. However, the recoil was so powerful that it slowed her yet further. She was ordered to cease fire for the time being.

Commander Spicer-Simson found himself confronted with an interesting problem in tactics. He ordered the fast Mimi to get dead astern of the enemy, and attack from a distance of 5200 yards. It was known that the German steamer carried a 1.5 inch revolving gun for'ard and another aft similar to that which had originally been placed in the Fifi's bows, so that the difference of 600 yards should be adequate to prevent the Mimi from being hit. If, however, the Mimi kept shelling, the Wissmann would most likely turn aside to port or starboard for the purpose of concentrating both guns on the motor-boat, in which case the Fifi would have time to catch up and fire her gun.

It now became a battle not merely of guns and ammunition, but of wits. The Mimi dashed in up to about 3800 yards, before opening fire once more. With her second shot she destroyed the port side of Wissmann's bridge. The latter then yawed to meet the threat, as expected, but before Odebrecht's guns could get the range sufficiently low, the Mimi had pulled back and allowed her slower but the more powerful Fifi to take station and open fire in her place. At 10.05 the Fifi commenced firing, but her shells were reported by Mimi as falling "over". At 5000 yards the Commander had more success with his shooting and increased the rate of fire also.

Repeatedly Odebrecht endeavoured to get within range, but he was inferior to the Mimi in regard to speed and to the Fifi in regard to gunnery; so that it was now only a question of time before a very clear result would show itself. Nevertheless no action is finished until it is won, and it needed just one lucky shell to bring any of the ships to disaster. But there could be no question that Odebrecht would need a large slice of luck if he was to extricate his ship from so difficult a position; and help could only come with the arrival of Zimmer in the Gotzen who should have been steaming down the lake and not very far away. The latter's 4.1 inch gun, which had once been Konigsberg's, would make all the difference - outranging all the British armament.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Spicer-Simson off Kigoma
Matters developed quickly, even as eager German eyes looked up the lake in vain for a sight of the Gotzen's upper works. The action developed rapidly when one shell shot down into the Wissmann's engine-room killing the Engineer and bursting the tank which contained the oil fuel. Another shell turned the engines into twisted metal, pierced a boiler, opened a big hole in the ship's bottom, set alight the oil-soaked firewood, and turned the ex-passenger steamer into a mass of flames. She stopped going ahead, and Odebrecht gave orders that she was to be abandoned. One apparently seaworthy steel lifeboat remained into which the African crew jumped, whilst the European survivors put on lifebelts and then jumped overboard, being afterwards picked up by Commander Spicer-Simson's flotilla. The lifeboat was so full of shot-holes that she sank. By 10.47 the Wissmann was doomed and the attack on her ceased; less than ten minutes later she disappeared beneath the surface. There were no British casualties of any sort, but the enemy lost 7 killed and 5 wounded. The survivors having been rescued, nothing now remained but to make for Kalemie after the decisive engagement.

Naval Action on Lake Tanganyika
Belgian Floatplane
The Gotzen then returned to harbour at Kigoma which was rapidly converted into a fortress employing the 4.1 inch and 22 pounder guns from the Konigsberg. These however were soon required urgently elsewhere with only a single pom-pom being retained for defence against aircraft.

MV Liemba
This single gun was put into operation on June 1916 when the Gotzen was bombed by Belgian airplanes. On July 26 Kigoma was evacuated because the Belgians had captured the railway link, so the Gotzen was filled with cement by the Germans who then sank her. The next day the Wami took on board what remained of Zimmer's detachment and landed them at the southern end of the lake by the mouth of Malagarassi river, unseen by the motor-boat which was patrolling off Kigoma. The Wami, having fulfilled her function, was also sunk by the Germans. And with this incident the Konigsberg's crew became a spent force insofar as a force of mariners.

Commander Zimmer's Tanganyika force (known officially by the Germans as the "Mowe Detachment" even till the end) consisted of 106 men from his Mowe, 53 officers and men from the Konigsberg, 44 reserve officers and men from the German East Afrika liners at Dar-es-Salaam, or about two hundred in all.

The final campaign involved taking the German bases at both ends of the great lake. While Belgian forces struck Kigoma to the north the Naval Africa Expedition supported the attack on Bismarcksburg to the south. A column of Rhodesian infantry led by Lt. Col. Murray assaulted the Beau Geste-style castle with vigor but met no resistance.

Spicer-Simson’s unwillingness to engage the fort from sea allowed the garrison to slip away aboard native dhows. When the Rhodesians entered the fort they found the German guns were mostly wooden fakes.

Despite this setback, Lake Tanganyika had finally become a British and Belgian Lake. The Gotzen was eventually raised and put into service as the "Liemba".

British Empire Map
1925 German Map of East Africa which still shows German East Africa
Colony Profiles
Further Reading
The Konigsberg Adventure
by E Keble Chatterton

Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizzare Battle of Lake Tanganyika
by Giles Foden

Battle for the Bundu
by Charles Miller

Autobiography, and Africa too

Mrs Spicer-Simson Photograph Collection

The Battle of Lake Tanganyika, how the war on the lake was won


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