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.
BOTTLING UP THE "KONIGSBERG"
(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.
DESTRUCTION OF THE "KONIGSBERG"
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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.
AN AIRMAN'S ADVENTURES
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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.”
THE NAVY IN THE CAMEROONS
THE STORY OF "KING BELL"