Battle of Bukoba
|Battle of Latema Nek|
|Part of the East African Campaign (World War I)|
|British Empire||German Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
The Battle of Bukoba was the first victory for Entente forces in German East Africa, coming after the disastrous battles of Tanga and Jassin. The British objective was the destruction of the Bukoba wireless station. Due to Bukoba's location on the shore of Lake Victoria, it was decided that the raid should take the form of an amphibious assault.
The Battle and aftermath
The raid was launched from Kisumu in British East Africa on June 21, 1915. Amongst the units chosen for the attack were the Loyal North Lancashire and the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, more commonly known by the their nickname the 25th 'Frontiersmen'. This unusual unit had been created by Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll as an irregular skirmish force shaped by his experiences during the Second Boer War, and drawn largely from his peacetime paramilitary group, the Legion of Frontiersmen. A number of big game hunters were recruited to the force by Driscoll—most notably Frederick Selous, who was 64 when he joined and who died in action at the age of 65.
Upon reaching the objective at Bukoba the attackers were accidentally landed in a large swamp and were pinned down by fierce rifle and machine gun fire from the German positions. Finally managing to escape the swamp, the British force was then held up by snipers—who succeeded in stalling the attack until a Capt. Meinertzhagen advanced towards them and opened fire, killing one and driving the rest away. The attack continued for a further two days in the town; however, casualties were light on both sides. The Frontiersmen took the town on June 23. An Australian member of the unit, Lieutenant Wilbur Dartnell, climbed to the top of the town hall and removed the German Imperial Ensign from the flagpole as a symbolic gesture of victory.
Bukoma fort and the wireless station were destroyed, the British also captured rifles and 32,000 rounds of ammunition. Due to their status as an 'irregular' unit, the Frontiersmen were granted permission to loot the town by General Stewart. This predictably turned into a disaster, with the 25th robbing and burning much of the town with such ferocity that the incident became known as the "Sack of Bukoba". It was later claimed by an embarrassed high command that no looting had taken place.
The aim of the raid, the destruction of the wireless station, was counterproductive for the British as it deprived them of the possibility of intercepting German transmissions. Bukoba was abandoned.
After the battle, the 25th Battalion was ordered to guard the Uganda Railway between Nairobi and Mombasa, which was coming under heavy attack from German forces. During this period Wilbur Dartnell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an action which took place near Maktau on September 3, 1915.
The citation for Dartnell's VC
On 3 September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy's black troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others.
- Hew Strachan, The First World War in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2004) pp. 11, 116