Battle of Tanga

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 A.E. Aitken to capture German East Africa (the mainland portion of present-day Tanzania) during the First World War in concert with the invasion Force "C" near Longido on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the first major event of the war in Eastern Africa and saw the British defeated by a significantly smaller force of German Askaris and colonial volunteers under Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.


Postcard Tanga 1914.jpeg
Tanga in 1914
HMS Fox at right

Tanga, situated only 80 kilometres (50 mi) from the border of British East Africa (modern-day Kenya), was a busy port and the ocean terminal of the important Usambara Railway, which ran from Tanga to Neu Moshi at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Tanga was initially to be bombarded by British warships, but this part of the plan was scrapped. An agreement was in place guaranteeing the neutrality of the capital Dar es Salaam and Tanga, but now the accord was modified and it seemed “only fair to warn the Germans that the deal was off.”[4]

Instead, the British resolve to capture German East Africa was to be implemented with an amphibious attack on Tanga.[5] Unlike the plan on paper, however, the attack turned into a debacle. On 2 November 1914, the British protected cruiser HMS Fox arrived. The ship's commander, Captain Francis Wade Caulfeild, 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.[6] After three hours, the flag was still flying and Fox departed to bring in the Force "B" convoy of fourteen troop transports.[7] This gave time for both the Schutztruppe and the citizens of Tanga to prepare for an attack. The German commander, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, rushed to Tanga. He reinforced the defences (initially only a single company of Askaris) with troops brought in by rail from Neu Moshi, eventually numbering about 1,000 in six companies. His second-in-command was former German East Africa Company lieutenant Tom von Prince.


Bundesarchiv Bild 105-DOA7225, Deutsch-Ostafrika, Askari im Kampf
Askari skirmish, 1914, possibly Tanga

Captain Caulfeild 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 mine-free beach.[8] By evening on 3 November, the invasion force was ashore with the exception of the 27th Mountain Battery and the Faridkot Sappers.[9] At noon on 4 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; they entered the town, captured the customs house, and Hotel Deutscher Kaiser and ran up the Union Jack. But then the advance was stopped.[10] Less-well trained and equipped Indian battalions of the 27th (Bangalore) Brigade scattered and ran away from the battle. The 98th Infantry were attacked by swarms of angry bees and broke up. The bees attacked the Germans as well, hence the battle's nickname.[11] British propaganda transformed the bee interlude into a fiendish German plot, conjuring up hidden trip wires to agitate the hives.[12] The 13th Rajputs failed to play a significant role in the battle as their morale had been shaken when witnessing the retreat of the 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1971-057-05, Tanga, englische Landung, gefallene Inder
Dead Indian soldiers of the British force on the beach at Tanga

The colonial volunteers of the 7th and 8th Schützenkompanien [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 Feldkompanien (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.”[13]

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 withdrew 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. “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.”[14]


Furious and frustrated, Aitken ordered a general withdrawal.[15] 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.[16] On the morning of 5 November, Force B's intelligence officer—Captain Richard Meinertzhagen—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.”[2]

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.”[16] Casualties included 360 killed and 487 wounded on the British side;[2] the Schutztruppe lost 16 Germans and 55 Askaris killed, and 76 total wounded.[1]

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck initially estimated the number of British killed at 800 but later said he that believed the number was more likely over 2,000. The Germans subsequently released the British officers that had been wounded or captured after they gave their word not to fight again during the war.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Miller 1974, p. 71,
  2. ^ a b c d Miller 1974, p. 70.
  3. ^ The Battle of Tanga, German East Africa, 1914 A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
  4. ^ Farwell 1989, p. 166.
  5. ^ Aitken's orders: “The object of the expedition under your command is to bring the whole of German East Africa under British authority.” See Farwell 1989, p. 163.
  6. ^ Farwell 1989, p. 167.
  7. ^ Miller 1974, p. 58.
  8. ^ Miller 1974, p. 59.
  9. ^ Farwell 1989, p. 168.
  10. ^ Farwell 1989, p. 170.
  11. ^ Farwell 1989, p. 171.
  12. ^ Hoyt 1981, p. 50.
  13. ^ Miller 1974, p. 68.
  14. ^ Miller 1974, p. 69.
  15. ^ Hoyt 1981, p. 52.
  16. ^ a b Farwell 1989, p. 178.
  17. ^ von Lettow-Vorbeck, Paul (1920). Meine Erinnerungen aus Ostafrika. Hase & Köhler., p. 39/40


  • Farwell, Byron. The Great War in Africa, 1914–1918. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989. ISBN 0-393-30564-3.
  • Hoyt, Edwin P. Guerilla: Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck and Germany's East African Empire. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1981; and London: Collier Macmillan Publishers. 1981. ISBN 0-02-555210-4.
  • Miller, Charles. Battle for the Bundu: The First World War in German East Africa. London: Macdonald & Jane's, 1974; and New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1974. ISBN 0-02-584930-1.
  • Paice, Edward. Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007. ISBN 0-297-84709-0.
  • von Lettow-Vorbeck, Paul. My reminiscences of East Africa. London: Hurst, 1920 OL 7107291M

Further reading

  • Anderson, Ross. 2001. "The Battle of Tanga, 2–5 November 1914". War in History. 8, no. 3: 294–322.
  • Anderson, Ross. The Battle of Tanga 1914. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7524-2349-4 OCLC 52490038
  • Harvey, Kenneth J. The Battle of Tanga, German East Africa 1914. [Washington, DC]: Storming Media, 2003. OCLC 634605075
  • Page, Melvin E. (Melvin Eugene). 2003. "The Battle of Tanga 1914 (Review)". Journal of Military History. 67, no. 4: 1307–1308.

External links

Coordinates: 5°04′S 39°06′E / 5.067°S 39.100°E

101st Grenadiers

The 101st Grenadiers was a regiment of the British Indian Army.

13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment)

The 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment) was an infantry regiment of the Bengal Army, and later of the British Indian Army. They could trace their origins to the Shekhawati Regiment raised in 1835, as part of the Jaipur contingent of the Honourable East India Company and were taken into the Company's service as a local battalion 8 years later. They fought in the Battle of Aliwal in the First Anglo-Sikh War. Remaining loyal during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, they were taken into the Bengal Army as the 13th Bengal Native Infantry in 1861. There followed a number of different name changes the 13th (Shekhawati) Bengal Native Infantry 1884–1897, the 13th (Shekhawati) Rajput Regiment of Bengal Infantry 1897–1901, the 13th (Shekhawati) Rajput Infantry 1901–1903. Then finally in 1903, after the Kitchener reforms of the Indian Army the 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment).

During World War I they were part of the Imperial Service Infantry Brigade assigned to the Indian Expeditionary Force B that was sent to British East Africa. They fought at the Battle of Tanga.

After World War I the Indian government reformed the army again moving from single battalion regiments to multi battalion regiments. The 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment) now became the 10th (Shekhawati) Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles (1922–1947). After independence this was one of the regiments allocated to the new Indian Army.

63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry

The 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry was an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army. The regiment could trace its origins to 1759, when it was raised as the 4th Battalion Coast Sepoys.

An Ice-Cream War

An Ice-Cream War (1982) is a darkly comic war novel by Scottish author William Boyd, which was nominated for a Booker Prize in the year of its publication. The title is derived from a quotation in a letter (included in British editions of the book but not the American ones) "Lt Col Stordy says that the war here will only last two months. It is far too hot for sustained fighting, he says, we will all melt like ice-cream in the sun!"

Arthur Aitken

Brigadier-General Arthur Edward Aitken (25 May 1861 – 29 March 1924) was a British military commander.

Bangalore Brigade

The Bangalore Brigade was an infantry brigade of the British Indian Army formed in 1904 as a result of the Kitchener Reforms. It was mobilized as 27th (Bangalore) Brigade at the outbreak of the First World War. As part of Indian Expeditionary Force B, it was sent to assault Tanga in German East Africa. With the failure of the Battle of Tanga, its units joined the defences of British East Africa and it was broken up.

The brigade was reformed in India in 1917 for internal security duties and to aid the expansion of the Indian Army in the last year of the war. It, too, was disbanded in 1926.

A 2nd Bangalore Brigade also existed from 1904 to 1911.

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.

Battle of Mahiwa

The Battle of Mahiwa between German and British Imperial forces was fought during the East African Campaign of World War I, when South African and Nigerian troops under Lieutenant General Jacob van Deventer engaged a column under German General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, at Mahiwa in German East Africa. The Germans inflicted substantial casualties upon Van Deventer's army, forcing it to withdraw. But the Germans lost a large percentage of their forces, and were ultimately forced to withdraw from their positions and continue their guerrilla war.

British Indian Army

The Indian Army (IA), often known since 1947 (but rarely during its existence) as the British Indian Army to distinguish it from the current Indian Army, was the principal military of the British Indian Empire before its decommissioning in 1947. It was responsible for the defence of both British Indian Empire and the princely states, which could also have their own armies. The Indian Army was an important part of the British Empire's forces, both in India and abroad, particularly during the First World War and the Second World War.

The term "Indian Army" appears to have been first used informally, as a collective description of the Presidency armies (the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army) of the Presidencies of British India, particularly after the Indian Rebellion. The first army officially called the "Indian Army" was raised by the government of India in 1895, existing alongside the three long-established presidency armies. However, in 1903 the Indian Army absorbed these three armies. The Indian Army should not be confused with the "Army of India" (1903–1947) which was the Indian Army itself plus the "British Army in India" (British units sent to India).

German East Africa

German East Africa (German: Deutsch-Ostafrika) (GEA) was a German colony in the African Great Lakes region, which included present-day Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of Tanzania. GEA's area was 994,996 square kilometres (384,170 sq mi), which was nearly three times the area of present-day Germany, and double the area of metropolitan Germany then.

The colony was organised when the German military was asked in the late 1880s to put down a revolt against the activities of the German East Africa Company. It ended with Imperial Germany's defeat in World War I. Ultimately, GEA was divided between Britain and Belgium and was reorganised as a mandate of the League of Nations.

HMS Helmuth

HMS Helmuth was an armed tug of the British Royal Navy. Formerly a German vessel, she was captured by the British at the beginning of World War I and placed into service as a picket. She was involved in several actions of the East African campaign including the Battle of Zanzibar, the Raid on Dar es Salaam, blockading SMS Konigsberg in the Rujifi delta, and the Battle of Tanga.

History of Tanzania

The African Great Lakes nation of Tanzania dates formally from 1964, when it was formed out of the union of the much larger mainland territory of Tanganyika and the coastal archipelago of Zanzibar. The former was a colony and part of German East Africa from the 1880s to 1919, when, under the League of Nations, it became a British mandate. It served as a military outpost during World War II, providing financial help, munitions, and soldiers. In 1947, Tanganyika became a United Nations Trust Territory under British administration, a status it kept until its independence in 1961. Zanzibar was settled as a trading hub, subsequently controlled by the Portuguese, the Sultanate of Oman, and then as a British protectorate by the end of the nineteenth century.

Julius Nyerere, independence leader and "baba wa taifa for Tanganyika" (father of the Tanganyika nation), ruled the country for decades, assisted by Abeid Amaan Karume, the Zanzibar Father of Nation. Following Nyerere's retirement in 1985, various political and economic reforms began. He was succeeded in office by President Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

Imperial Service Infantry Brigade

The Imperial Service Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the British Indian Army that saw active service in the East African Campaign in the First World War.

List of amphibious assault operations

This is a list of amphibious assault operations that have taken place during history. It is structured chronologically by war, then by theatre during wars such as World War II that covered large areas of the world simultaneously, and chronologically within those theatres. It also covers operations that were planned but cancelled for various reasons.

Trojan War

Siege of Troy – around 1200 B.C. Agamemnon

Seventh Crusade

Assault of Damiette – 5 June 1249 Louis IX of France

Mongol invasions of Japan - 1266, 1274 - Kubilai launched two unsuccessful invasions of Kyushu

Assault on Cartagena de Indias during the Jenkins' Ear War (March 1740)

French and Indian War

Siege of Louisbourg

Battle of Beauport

Battle of the Plains of Abraham

American Revolutionary War

Battle of Nassau

San Juan (1780)

French Revolutionary War

Corsica (1794)

Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1797)

Napoleonic Wars

Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland (1799)

Battle of Abukir (1801)

Walcheren Campaign (1809)

Invasion of Guadeloupe (1810)

Siege of Tarragona (1813)

Krangeroen (1814)

War of 1812

Battle of York

Battle of Fort George

Second Battle of Sacket's Harbor

Battle of Fort Oswego

Battle of Mackinac Island

Battle of New Orleans

Invasion of Algiers in 1830

Amphibious landing of Sidi-Ferruch – 14 June 1830 General de Bourmont

Mexican–American War

Siege of Veracruz – 9 March 1847 Winfield Scott lands army in Central Mexico

Crimean War

Assault of Bomarsund – 8 August 1854 Brigadier-général Harry Jone, Colonel Jacques Fieron Anglo-French operation against Russia in Finland

Second Opium War

Battle of the Pearl River Forts – 16 November 1856, American punitive operation against China

Cochinchina Campaign

Siege of Tourane (Da Nang) – 1–2 June 1858 Admiral Rigault de Genouilly. Franco-Spanish operation.

American Civil War

Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries

Battle of Roanoke Island

Battle of New Bern

Battle of Island Number Ten

Battle of Fort Hindman

Second Battle of Fort Fisher – 13–15 January 1865, American sailors make an amphibious assault while infantry attacks from land

Paraguayan War

Siege of Humaitá - culminating 8 August 1868, in which the Allies captured the Fortress of Humaitá.

Korean Expedition

Battle of Ganghwa – 10 June 1871, American attack on Korean forts at Ganghwa Island

War of the Pacific

Battle of Pisagua – 2 November 1879, Chilean troops defeat a joint Peruvian-Bolivian army and separes Iquique from Peru

Banana Wars

Santo Domingo Affair – 11 February 1903, American forces land at Santo Domingo and rout Dominican rebels from the city.

Battle of Veracruz – 21 April 1914, American forces land and occupy Veracruz, Mexico

World War I

Battle of Bita Paka - 11 September 1914

Siege of Tsingtao - November 1914

Battle of Tanga – November 1914

Gallipoli Campaign – 1915–1916

Landing at Anzac Cove – 25 April 1915

Landing at Cape Helles – 25 April 1915

Landing at Suvla Bay – 6 August 1915

Trebizond Campaign - February 1917

Operation Albion – September 1917

Zeebrugge Raid – 23 April 1918

Rif War (1920)

Amphibious assault of Alhucemas – 8 September 1925 General José Sanjurjo

World War II

Aleutian Islands Campaign

Operation Sandcrab – 11 May 1943

Operation Cottage – 15 August 1943

European Theatre

Operation Chariot – 28 March 1942

Operation Jubilee – 18 August 1942

Operation Sledgehammer – contingency plan for German collapse in the west

Operation Gymnast – codename used for proposed invasion of Europe during 1942

Operation Neptune – 6 June 1944

Operation Overlord – 6 June 1944

Operation Switchback – 9 October 1944

Operation Vitality – 24 October 1944

Operation Infatuate – 1 November 1944

Mediterranean Theatre

Operation Abstention – 25 February 1941

Operation Ironclad – 5 May 1942

Operation Agreement – 14 September 1942

Operation Torch – 8 November 1942 – North Africa

Operation Husky – 10 July 1943

Operation Baytown – 3 September 1943

Operation Slapstick – 9 September 1943

Operation Avalanche – 9 September 1943

Operation Shingle – 22 January 1944

Operation Dragoon – 15 August 1944 – Southern France

South East Asia Theatre

Operation Dracula – 2 May 1945

Operation Zipper

South West Pacific Area

Battle of Goodenough Island – 22 October 1942

Operation Cartwheel – 1943-1944 – Commanded by General MacArthur, it involved forces from both the South West Pacific Area (command) (SWPA) and the Pacific Ocean Areas (command).

Operation Chronicle – 30 June 1943

Operation Toenails – 30 June 1943

Operation Director – 15 December 1943 – Arawe

Operation Dexterity – 2 January 1944

Operation Brewer – 29 February 1944 – Admiralty Islands campaign

Operation Persecution – 22 April 1944 – Aitape

Operation Hurricane – 23 May 1944 – Biak

Operation Typhoon – 30 July 1944 – Sansapor

Operation King II – 20 October 1944

Operation Musketeer II – 9 January 1945 – Philippines Campaign (1944–45)

Operation Victor III – 28 February 1945

Operation Victor IV – 10 March 1945

Operation Victor V – 17 April 1945

Borneo campaign (1945)

Pacific Ocean Areas

Operation Watchtower – 7 August 1942

Operation Cleanslate – 21 February 1943

Operation Cherry Blossom – 1 November 1943 – Bougainville

Operation Galvanic – 20 November 1943 – Tarawa

Operation Galvanic – 20 November 1943 – Makin Island

Operation Flintlock – 31 January 1944

Operation Flintlock – 31 January 1944 – Kwajalein

Operation Catchpole – 17 February 1944 – Eniwetok

Operation Forager – 15 June 1944

Operation Detachment – 15 February 1945

Operation Iceberg – 1 April 1945

Operation Olympic – planned for 1 November 1945

Operation Coronet – planned for 1 March 1946

Chinese Civil War and its aftermath

Landing Operation on Hainan Island (March-April 1950)

Korean War

Operation Chromite – 15 September 1950

Suez Crisis

Operation Musketeer – 6 November 1956

Vietnam War

Operation Starlite – 21 August 1965

Nigerian Civil War

Operation Tiger Claw

The Troubles

Operation Motorman – 31 July 1972

Operation Peace of Cyprus Turkish invasion of Cyprus - 20 July 1974

Falklands War

Operation Rosario – 2 April 1982

Operation Corporate

San Carlos – 28 May 1982

Bluff Cove – 8 June 1982

Sri Lankan Civil War

Operation Balavegaya

Operation Sea Breeze

Iran–Iraq War

Al Faw peninsula landings 1986

Gulf War 1991


Iraq War

Al-Faw Peninsula – Royal Marines amphibious assault, supported by British Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy

List of military engagements of World War I

List of military engagements of World War I encompasses land, naval, and air engagements as well as campaigns, operations, defensive lines and sieges. Campaigns generally refer to broader strategic operations conducted over a large bit of territory and over a long period of time. Battles generally refer to short periods of intense combat localised to a specific area and over a specific period of time. However, use of the terms in naming such events is not consistent. For example, the First Battle of the Atlantic was more or less an entire theatre of war, and the so-called battle lasted for the duration of the entire war.

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (20 March 1870 – 9 March 1964), nicknamed affectionately as the Lion of Africa (German: Löwe von Afrika), was a general in the German Army and the commander of its forces in the German East Africa campaign. For four years, with a force that never exceeded about 14,000 (3,000 Germans and 11,000 Africans), he held in check a much larger force of 300,000 British, Indian, Belgian, and Portuguese troops. Essentially undefeated in the field, Lettow-Vorbeck was the only German commander to successfully invade imperial British soil during the First World War. His exploits in the campaign have been described by Edwin Palmer Hoyt "as the greatest single guerrilla operation in history, and the most successful." Others have pointed out that it was a "a campaign of supreme ruthlessness where a small, well trained force extorted supplies from civilians to whome it felt no was the climax of Africa's exploitation". Lettow-Vorbeck's tactics led to famine that killed thousands of Africans and weakened the population, leaving it vulnerable to influenza epidemic in 1919

Tanga, Tanzania

Tanga is both the name of the most northerly port city of Tanzania on the west of the Indian Ocean, and the surrounding Tanga Region. It is the Regional Headquarters of the region. With a population of 273,332 in 2012, Tanga is one of the largest cities in the country. It is a quiet city compared to, for example, Arusha or Moshi with a comparable number of inhabitants.

The city of Tanga sits on the Indian Ocean, near the border with Kenya. Major exports from the port of Tanga include sisal, coffee, tea, and cotton. Tanga is also an important railroad terminus, connecting much of the northern Tanzanian interior with the sea. Via the Tanzania Railways Corporation's Link Line and Central Line, Tanga is linked to the African Great Lakes region and the Tanzanian economic capital of Dar es Salaam. The city is served by Tanga Airport.

The harbour and surrounding is the centre of life in Tanga. It is stretched out several km² into the country. It has several markets in several neighborhoods.

Tom von Prince

Tom von Prince (born January 9, 1866 - November 4, 1914) was a German East Africa Company lieutenant and plantation owner in German East Africa. He most notably died at the Battle of Tanga as a captain in the Schutztruppe.

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