Battle for Lake Tanganyika

This thread appeared on MARHST-L in December 1998 (all posts reproduced by permission of the various authors).

From: Ingemar Nilsson

You will find a very good recap (about 25 pages) of Lake Tanganyika naval actions in Byron Farwell's "The Great War in Africa", 1986, ISBN 0-393-30564-3.

Kigoma was captured by the Belgians on July 28, 1916. As for the KOENIGSBERG guns, it wasn't talk only. 10 guns were actually brought up to Lake Tanganyika.

The Belgian steamer ALEXANDRE DEL COMMUNE, 90 tons, was attacked by the HEDWIG VON WISSMAN on August 22, 1914 and beached. On October 9, a German landing party blew her up. She was the only Allied vessel on the Lake, that could have been armed and so constitute a threat to the Germans. She was later patched up by the Belgians and renamed VENGEUR.

The German vessels on the Lake were:
2. KINGANI, 45 tons.
3. GRAF VON GOETZEN, 800 tons, built at Kigomi (?!) and launched on June 9, 1915.

MIMI and TOUTOU were motor launches, fitted with 3-pounder guns in the U.K. Originally, they were to be named DOG and CAT, but the Admiralty objected. Instead they were officially named MIMI and TOUTOU (meeow-meeow and bow-wow!). The story of their voyage from the U.K. to East Africa, by way of a Union Castle liner, rail and road train must surely rank among the most hilarious exploits of WW1!

FIFI was the former German gunboat KINGANI, captured by MIMI and TOUTOU on December 26, 1915. Also this event is hard to surpass for sheer comedy!

From: Urbain UREEL (Urbain.UREEL@PING.BE)

From a paper by the Belgian prof.A.LEDERER called De Kongolese Weermacht en de Belgische Operaties in Afrika tijdens de Twee Wereldoorlogen (The Congolese Army and the Belgian Operations in Afrika during both World Wars) printed 1966 and available in the Library of the Royal Museum of Central-Africa at Tervuren I can add (translated) the following account:

"...In Kivu Colonel Tombeur urgently asked for Belgian troops. In fact the Congolese Army had been present in the area until the beginning of 1916 but restricted to border patrols. This seemed to have been succesful as the island of Kwidjwi in the Kivu lake was the only piece of Congolese territory that had been occupied by the enemy (Germany). The operations on en around the Tanganyka Lake were the most important during that period.

The ALEXANDRE DELCOMMUNE was the only Belgian boat on the lake and was put out of action on 22 AUG 1914 by the HEDWIG VON WISSMAN. The Germans consequently had absolute control over Tanganyka Lake where they operated two tugs, barges and a large ship the GRAF VON GOTZEN which was shortly after put into service.

The Allies wanted to react against this evolution. The repaired ALEXANDRE DELCOMMUNE entered service again as VENGEUR. The Belgians introduced a kind of flying boat: the NETTA and the British introduced two fast launches: MIMI and TOUTOU.

On 26 DEC 1915 the Allies captured the tug KINGANI and on 9 FEB 1916 they sunk the HEDWIG VON WISSMAN.

Thanks to the GRAF VON GOTZEN the Germans remained in control of the Lake. This would soon change as the Belgians introduced 4 waterplanes which arrived in June 1916 in situ, this is the exact moment when the offensive against German-East Africa was started.

The Belgian Forces were organised as following:
-Headquarters under command of Col.Tombeur
-Northern Brigade commanded by Col.Molitor
-Southern Brigade lt.col.Olsen
-Tanganyka group comm. by lt.col.Moulaert.

The offensive attack started mid April 1916. The Northern Brigade moved on north of the Kivu Lake and took Kigali. On 14 July 1916 with the cooperation of the British, Mwanza was taken.

The Southern Brigade operated between Kivu Lake and Tanganyka Lake and took Nyanza, Usumbura and finally Kitega (17JUN1916). The Tanganyka group succeeded on 10 JUN 1916 to disable the GRAF VON GOTZEN by an aerial bombardment with a waterplane. At that time aerial bombardments were rather risky, especially as nobody had any clue about the behaviour of airplanes in climatological conditions like here in Central Africa. In fact during the first two attempts, the waterplane was twice forced to touch down in the lake before she reached her target. The succesful bombardment took place 25 km south of Kigoma. Now the Allies had regained total control of the Tanganyka Lake. This allowed the Belgian troops to be moved to more terrestrial areas and re-inforcement of the Northern and Southern Brigade. The Belgians continued with their concentric move to Tabora, the Northern Brigade south of Victoria Lake towards St.Michael and the Southern Brigade via the Tanganyka Lake and the Malagarasi River. The quick advance of Olsens troops surprised the Germans. On 31 JUL 1916 he surrounded Kigoma and took hold of the city as well as Ujiji.

After having destroyed their gear they couldn't take with them, the Germans retreated via the railwayline of Tabora. The Belgians now controlled the lake and so Moulaert could send engines (locomotives) to Kigoma as well as railway carriages by ship and repair material from Albertville. In this way the railway was used to chase the Germans who countered fiercely at Ussoke and Lulanguru (7-16 SEP 1916).

The Northern BRigade had lost time in the Malagarasi swamps; afterwards they forced the Germans to split so that pressure on the Southern Brigade decreased. On 19 SEP 1916 troops commanded by Olsen hoisted the Belgian flag on the Boma of Tabora. The troops of Kolonel von Lettow-Vorbeck who fled south-east, lost many priosoners of war. Following governmental agreements, Tabora was given in custody to the British on 25 FEB 1917 and the Belgian troops returned to the Congo.

Once more the Belgian troops now commanded by Col.Huyghe were called in to fight in East Africa. Hauptmann Wintgens had started an offensive and forced through the British lines. A Belgian column commanded by Col.Thomas chased the Germans who had arrived in Ikoma on 25 JUN 1917, near the Victoria Lake. The exhausting pursuit continued till 1 OCT, the day when Naumann and his men surrendered to the British. The majority of the German troops was still occupying the southern part of German East Africa.The British general Van Deventer decided to attack and pinpointed the important post of Mahenge as objective for the troops of Col.Huyghe. En of June the Belgians left Dodoma, situated along the railway Tabora-Dar Es Salaam.

The battle lasted three months in a rugged and inhospitable terrain and ended with the capture of Mahenge by Col.Huyghe on 9 October 1917. The enemy was chased to the border of Portuguese Mozambique where von Lettow-Vorbeck had fled with part of the troops he had been able to save. It was thought this was the end of the war in Africa and the Belgians retreated to the Congo.

Von Lettow-Vorbeck who was in the meantime promoted to general, did not give up however. At the end of the war he rallied Rhodesia. Olsen was forced to implement security measures to protect Katanga but the armistice of 11 NOV 1918 ended the longlasting battle in Africa. ..."

From: Andreas von Mach (A.vMach@VMACH.M.ISAR.DE)

There are some data on the German Tanganika steamers in Groener "Die deutschen Kriegschiffe 1815-1945" Vol VII mentioned the German colonial vessels.
HERMANN VON WISSMANN 1890 Jansenn & Schmilinsky, Hamburg 100 grt Nyasa Lake
DR. CARL PETERS 1892 Jansenn & Schmilinsky, Hamburg 60t Victoria Lake (designed but ever served there)
WAMI 1891 Meyer, Papenburg 20grt Tanganika Lake WW I
KINGAMI 1894 Meyer, Papenburg 20grt Tanganika Lake WW I
HEDWIG VON WISSMANN 1897 Jansenn & Schmilinsky, Hamburg 48 grt Tanganika Lake sun
GOETZEN 1913 Meyer, Papenburg 793 grt Tanganika Lake WW I
RECHENBERG sistership to above, never launched due to WW I
one not named sistership to above, never built due to WW I

Some data on African lake steamers were published by Ian A. Grant in his "Naval Notebook".

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Last Updated: 21 December, 1998