Battle of Tanga
Overview
 
The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force “B” under Major General
Major General
Major general or major-general is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. A major general is a high-ranking officer, normally subordinate to the rank of lieutenant general and senior to the ranks of brigadier and brigadier general...

 A.E. Aitken
Arthur Aitken
Major General Arthur Edward Aitken was a British military commander.Born in Rochford in Essex, by the time of the 1871 Census he was a 9-year old pupil at a school in Brighton, Sussex.He began his military career in 1882 as a cavalryman...

 to capture German East Africa
German East Africa
German East Africa was a German colony in East Africa, which included what are now :Burundi, :Rwanda and Tanganyika . Its area was , nearly three times the size of Germany today....

 (the mainland portion of present-day Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

) during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in concert with the invasion Force “C” near Longido
Battle of Kilimanjaro
The Battle of Kilimanjaro at Longido took place in German East Africa in November 1914 and was an early skirmish during the East African Campaign of the First World War.-Background:...

 on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is a dormant volcano in Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania and the highest mountain in Africa at above sea level .-Geology:...

. It was the first major event of the war in Africa
East African Campaign (World War I)
The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions which started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917...

 and saw the British defeated by a significantly smaller force of German Askari
Askari
Askari is an Arabic, Bosnian, Urdu, Turkish, Somali, Persian, Amharic and Swahili word meaning "soldier" . It was normally used to describe local troops in East Africa, Northeast Africa, and Central Africa serving in the armies of European colonial powers...

s and colonial volunteers.
Tanga
Tanga, Tanzania
Tanga is both the name of the most northerly seaport city of Tanzania, and the surrounding Tanga Region. It is the Regional Headquarters of the region.With a population of 243,580 in 2002, Tanga is one of the largest cities in the country...

, situated only 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) from the border of British East Africa (modern-day Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

), was a busy seaport and the ocean terminal of the important Usambara Railway
Usambara Railway
The Usambara-Railway was the first railway to be built in German East Africa and what is today Tanzania.- German East-Africa :A railway company was created in 1891 with the aim, to connect the port of Tanga at the Indian Ocean with the Lake Victoria by passing south of the Usambara Mountains. ...

, which ran from Tanga to Neu Moshi at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Tanga, sometimes also known as the Battle of the Bees, was the unsuccessful attack by the British Indian Expeditionary Force “B” under Major General
Major General
Major general or major-general is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. A major general is a high-ranking officer, normally subordinate to the rank of lieutenant general and senior to the ranks of brigadier and brigadier general...

 A.E. Aitken
Arthur Aitken
Major General Arthur Edward Aitken was a British military commander.Born in Rochford in Essex, by the time of the 1871 Census he was a 9-year old pupil at a school in Brighton, Sussex.He began his military career in 1882 as a cavalryman...

 to capture German East Africa
German East Africa
German East Africa was a German colony in East Africa, which included what are now :Burundi, :Rwanda and Tanganyika . Its area was , nearly three times the size of Germany today....

 (the mainland portion of present-day Tanzania
Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

) during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in concert with the invasion Force “C” near Longido
Battle of Kilimanjaro
The Battle of Kilimanjaro at Longido took place in German East Africa in November 1914 and was an early skirmish during the East African Campaign of the First World War.-Background:...

 on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is a dormant volcano in Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania and the highest mountain in Africa at above sea level .-Geology:...

. It was the first major event of the war in Africa
East African Campaign (World War I)
The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions which started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917...

 and saw the British defeated by a significantly smaller force of German Askari
Askari
Askari is an Arabic, Bosnian, Urdu, Turkish, Somali, Persian, Amharic and Swahili word meaning "soldier" . It was normally used to describe local troops in East Africa, Northeast Africa, and Central Africa serving in the armies of European colonial powers...

s and colonial volunteers.

Prelude

Tanga
Tanga, Tanzania
Tanga is both the name of the most northerly seaport city of Tanzania, and the surrounding Tanga Region. It is the Regional Headquarters of the region.With a population of 243,580 in 2002, Tanga is one of the largest cities in the country...

, situated only 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) from the border of British East Africa (modern-day Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

), was a busy seaport and the ocean terminal of the important Usambara Railway
Usambara Railway
The Usambara-Railway was the first railway to be built in German East Africa and what is today Tanzania.- German East-Africa :A railway company was created in 1891 with the aim, to connect the port of Tanga at the Indian Ocean with the Lake Victoria by passing south of the Usambara Mountains. ...

, which ran from Tanga to Neu Moshi at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Tanga was initially to be bombarded by British warships
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, but this part of the plan was scrapped. An agreement was in place guaranteeing the neutrality of the capital Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam , formerly Mzizima, is the largest city in Tanzania. It is also the country's richest city and a regionally important economic centre. Dar es Salaam is actually an administrative province within Tanzania, and consists of three local government areas or administrative districts: ...

 and Tanga, but now the accord was modified and it seemed “only fair to warn the Germans that the deal was off.”

Instead the British resolve to capture German East Africa was to be implemented with an amphibious attack on Tanga. Unlike the plan on paper however, the attack turned into a debacle. On 2 November 1914 the British cruiser HMS Fox
HMS Fox (1893)
HMS Fox was a second class protected cruiser of the Astraea-class of the Royal Navy. The class represented an improvement on previous types, 1,000 tons displacement larger with better seaworthiness due to improved hull design...

 arrived. The ship’s captain, Commander F.W. Caulfield, went ashore giving Tanga one hour to surrender and take down the imperial flag. Before departing he demanded to know if the harbor was mined; it was not, but he was assured that it was. After three hours the flag was still flying and Fox departed to bring in the Force “B” convoy of fourteen troop transports. This gave time for both the Schutztruppe
Schutztruppe
Schutztruppe was the African colonial armed force of Imperial Germany from the late 19th century to 1918, when Germany lost its colonies. Similar to other colonial forces, the Schutztruppe consisted of volunteer European commissioned and non-commissioned officers, medical and veterinary officers. ...

 and the citizens of Tanga to prepare for an attack. The German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 commander, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was a general in the Imperial German Army and the commander of the German East Africa campaign. For four years, with a force that never exceeded about 14,000 , he held in check a much larger force of 300,000 British, Belgian, and Portuguese troops...

, rushed to Tanga. He reinforced the defences (initially only a single company
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 of Askaris) with troops brought in by rail from Neu Moshi, eventually numbering about 1,000 in six companies.

Battle

Captain Caulfield ordered the harbor swept for mines during 2 November and well into the next day. During the sweeping the Force “B” commander, Aitken began the unopposed landing of troops and supplies in two groups, at the harbor and three miles east of the city on a minefree beach. By evening on 3 November the invasion force was ashore with exception of the 27th Mount Battery and the Faridkot Sappers. At noon in 4th November, Aitken ordered his troops to march on the city. Well concealed defenders quickly broke up their advance. The fighting then turned to jungle skirmishing by the southern contingent and bitter street fighting by the harbor force. The Gurkhas of the Kashmiri Rifles and the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment of the harbour contingent made good progress and entered the town, captured the customs house and Hotel Deutscher Kaiser and ran up the Union Jack. But then the advance was stopped. Less well trained and equipped battalions of the Imperial Service Brigade scattered and ran away from the battle. The 98th Infantry got attacked by swarms of angry bees and broke up. The bees attacked the Germans as well, hence the battle's nickname. British propaganda transformed the bee interlude into a fiendish German plot, conjuring up hidden trip wires to agitate the hives. The 13th Rajput Rifles did next to nothing to the battle as their morale had been shaken when witnessed the escaping of the 63rd Palamacottah Light Infantry.
The colonial volunteers of the 7th and 8th Schützenkompanies [rifle companies] arrived by rail to stiffen the pressed Askari lines. The normally mounted 8th Schützenkompanie had left their horses at Neu Moshi. By late afternoon on 4 November, Lettow-Vorbeck ordered his last reserves, the 13th and 4th Askari Feldkompanie ((field companies) - the 4th had just reached Tanga by train) to envelop the British flank and rear by launching bayonet attacks along the entire front to “bugle calls and piercing tribal war cries.” At least three battalions of the Imperial Service Brigade would have been wiped out to a man ... if they had not taken to their heels. All semblance of order vanished as Force B’s retirement “degenerated into total rout.”

Still outnumbered eight to one, caution overtook some of the German officers. Through a series of errors by the buglers and misunderstandings by an officer to disengage and consolidate, Askari withdrawals occurred to a camp several miles west of Tanga. As soon as Lettow-Vorbeck learned of this, he countermanded the move and ordered a redeployment that was not completed until early morning however. “For nearly all of the night [before sunrise 5 November], Tanga was Aitken’s for the taking. It was the most stupendous irony of the battle.”

Aftermath

Furious and frustrated, Aitken ordered a general withdrawal. In their retreat and evacuation back to the transports that lasted well into the night, the British troops left behind nearly all their equipment. “Lettow-Vorbeck was able to re-arm three Askari companies with modern rifles, for which he now had 600,000 rounds of ammunition. He also had sixteen more machine guns, valuable field telephones” and enough clothing to last the Schutztruppe for a year. On the morning of 5 November, Force B’s intelligence officer—Captain Richard Meinertzhagen
Richard Meinertzhagen
Colonel Richard Henry Meinertzhagen CBE DSO was a British soldier, intelligence officer and ornithologist.- Background and youth :Meinertzhagen was born into a socially connected, wealthy British family...

—entered Tanga under a white flag bringing medical supplies and carrying a letter from General Aitken apologizing for shelling the hospital. The streets of Tanga were strewn with dead and wounded. German doctors and their African orderlies worked tirelessly and “with a fine disregard for their patients’ uniforms.”

The successful defence of Tanga was the first of many achievements of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck during his long campaign in East Africa. For the British however the battle was nothing short of a disaster, and was recorded in the British Official History of the War as “one of the most notable failures in British military history.” Casualties included 360 killed and 487 wounded on the British side; the Schutztruppe lost 16 Germans and 55 Askaris killed, and 76 total wounded.

See also

  • East African Campaign (World War I)
    East African Campaign (World War I)
    The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions which started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917...

  • Battle of Kilimanjaro
    Battle of Kilimanjaro
    The Battle of Kilimanjaro at Longido took place in German East Africa in November 1914 and was an early skirmish during the East African Campaign of the First World War.-Background:...

  • Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
    Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck
    Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was a general in the Imperial German Army and the commander of the German East Africa campaign. For four years, with a force that never exceeded about 14,000 , he held in check a much larger force of 300,000 British, Belgian, and Portuguese troops...


External links

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