East Africa

Empire & Commonwealth: East Africa / National Army Museum / CC-BY-NC-ND

The Indian Forces were involved in a battle in East Africa from an early stage. On 1st September 1914 troops from Indian Expeditionary forces started arriving in Mombasa from Karachi. In October 1914 the Indian Army dispatched Indian Expeditionary Force B from Bombay to East Africa. The Indian Expeditionary Force B consisted of two brigades, the 27th Bangalore and the Imperial Service Brigade. The former brigade had the 'regular' troops and the latter was a diverse collection of 'State Forces' formations.

Soon after arriving in East Africa this Force was drawn into battle at the Tanga port which was being held by the Germans. It proved disastrous for the British and Indian Forces and more Indian troops were drawn into this arena as the British suffered one humiliating defeat after the other, as they prepared for their first major offensive under the South African General Smuts; included in these were the two battalions of the Lahore Division which were sent to this theatre from France at the end of 1915.

The Journey: The overall expeditionary commander was Maj. Gen. Aitken. The training, and equipping of the forces and effective military formation even in ideal conditions should have taken months but instead it was completed in a couple of days at the holding camp near Bombay called Deolali, and then 2000 miles of Indian Ocean in fourteen ancient transports, which today can be best described as coastal craft. There were inadequate food and water, affecting the morale of the men, 70% of whom were seasick. The two weeks sea journey was an ordeal as the men were tossed around in small, hot, stinking and overcrowded boats.

The War Conditions: East Africa was a mobile war over very large distances in a hostile, largely dry but sometimes very wet climate. Topography and the tropical climate dominated the war.  The lack of water and food, the difficulties of communication, logistics and transport were all big factors.  Disease proved to be the greatest adversary for the Indian and British troops. Malaria and other tropical diseases such as Blackwater Fever caused more casualties than the enemy. The disease also exacerbated supply problems by killing large numbers of horses and mules.

The Battle of Tonga is often remembered for the problems caused by bees. These bees had very powerful acidic stings causing the arms and legs to swell twice its normal size. The wild bees were disturbed by the whizzing bullets. While the bees completely knocked out machine-gun teams on both sides and turned the 98th Infantry retreat into a comic fare, the Kashmir Rifles and its Dogra men used their piggeries as protection and remained in action.

This theatre was marked by other dramatic animal incidents. Rhino attacks, shooting of deer and an unfortunate incident of a lion killing a soldier from the 3rd Kashmir Rifles near Tsavo was reported.

The Force: Many Indian regiments served in East Africa. Some of them were:

Kashmir Rifles were part of the Imperial Service Brigade, hailing from the largest independent Indian Princely state of Jammu Kashmir. Gurkhas were a part of the Kashmir Rifles and served in East Africa alongside the Dogras in their Battalions. The German insignia the Brass Eagle and the German flag were famously captured by the 2nd battalion of Kashmir Rifles, amongst other German artillery. The Kashmir Rifles went onto win many battle honours and gallantry awards.

The 129th (DCO) Baluchis fought throughout this difficult and arduous campaign from their arrival in January 1915 until their final action at Mwiti Water in November in 1917.

The 40th Pathans also served throughout this period until February 1918.

57th Wilde's Rifles, arrived at Mombasa on 12th July 1916 in time to participate in Smut's offensive operations that summer and remained in the theatre for fourteen months, sailing for India on 28th September 1917.

Source: CAFHR-United Service Institution of India

People Supporting Our Work