Conrad Cato.

The navy everywhere online

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryConrad CatoThe navy everywhere → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Quite a nice plump bird. Seven thousand tons at
least."

The fellow at the other end of the wire told the
joke to a signalman, who repeated it by visual signal-
ling to the Queen Elizabeth. Now, of course, they
could not see the transport from the Queen Eliza-
beth, because there was a peninsula in between, but
they looked at their map and found the square
marked 215 W, and then, just to make sure of things,
they asked for a bearing by the compass. The
observers in the basket gave them the bearing, and
the Q.E. trained one of her guns accordingly and
fired. The thing she fired weighed about as much

10



146 THE FIRST KiTE-BALLOON SHIP

as twelve fat men put together, and she sent it
clean over the peninsula to a distance of about eleven
miles. It was a comparatively short range for her ;
if the distance had been twenty miles, she would not
have been disconcerted.

The back-chat comedian in the basket watched
the fall of the shell, and remarked tritely down the
telephone, " A hvmdred up ; deflection five right."
This, being interpreted, means, " Increase your range
by a hundred yards, and turn your gun five points
to the right." The comment was repeated by the
back-chat comedian in the K.B. Ship to the signal-
man, who repeated it to the Q.E., who received it
just thirty seconds after they had fired the shot.
They made the corrections and fired again.

" Fifty down," said the back-chat comedian in the
basket, and the joke was duly passed along the line.
Then the Q.E. tried a third time, and waited ex-
pectantly to know the result. There was a short
pause before the voice of the comedian in the basket
came down the telephone wire.

"Got her," he said laconically. " She's sinking
by the head."

The joke was so good that, as the signalman re-
peated it to the Q.E., the whole fleet took it up and
began to roll from side to side with laughter.

Here are a few extracts from the official record of
the Manica's achievements during the next fortnight.

" '2Sth April. — Two field batteries silenced ;
several guns destroyed.

" iMMh April. — Chanak shelled ; burned for
two hours.

" 'Ind May. — Battery of 8-inch guns shelled ;
three direct hits.

" Hth May. — Four batteries silenced.

" 12/// May. — House, reported to be Turkish
Head(juarters, destroyed."



H.M.S. "MANICA" AT GALLIPOLI 147

And so the story goes on, each day showing some
record of damage to the enemy's defences. It must
be borne in mind that two months previously there
was not a single kite-balloon in England, that no
one had ever attempted before to fly a kite-balloon
from a ship, that kite-balloon, ship, stores, equip-
ment, officers, and men had all been scraped together
in England within the space of seventeen days, that
the whole of the Kite- balloon Division was in an
embryonic state, and above all, that they were
always face to face with a preconceived notion that
aeroplanes and seaplanes had rendered obsolete all
lighter-than-air craft. This prejudice w^as not alto-
gether unreasonable in view of the comparative failure
of the Zeppelin as a weapon of war, but what it did
not recognise was that there are certain functions
which can only be discharged satisfactorily by means
of some craft that can remain stationary in the air.
The experiences of the Manica at Gallipoli removed
the prejudice for ever.

After a while the Turks began to take a violent
dislike to our kite-balloon. They tried attacking it
and the Manica with boiiib-dropping aeroplanes,
but our anti-aircraft guns kept up a merry tattoo,
and "Percy" got frightened. Then they decided
to signify their disapproval in a dignified but passive
kind of way. As soon as the balloon went up, all
the Turkish ships near Chanak got under way,
quietly and unostentatiously, and disappeared up
the Dardanelles, doubtless remembering the fate of
the fat transport which had dallied too long in the
danger zone. At the same time the Turkish batteries
suddenly relapsed into silence, realising that a well-
concealed battery can only be detected by the flashes
of the guns. So the ascent of the kite-balloon trans-
formed a noisy pandemonium into a peaceful calm.

After the evacuation of Gallipoli the Manica went
to East Africa to do some more useful work. The



148 THE FIRST KITE-BALLOON SHIP

Canning took a kite-balloon section to Salonika,
whence they proceeded to the Doiran front to co-
operate with the army. Another section was sent to
^iesopotamia, and others to various points along the
Western front. The Arctic, a specially fitted shallow
barge, operated amongst the shoals off the Belgian
coast, rendering valuable aid to the work of the
monitors. In fact, the prestige of the kite balloon
was firmly established for the purpose of directing
gun-fire ; enthusiastic converts were proclaiming its
virtues, and the ranks of the sceptics were being
diminished daily.

Among the enthusiasts was Vice-Admiral De Ro-
beck, who had witnessed the exploits of the Manica
at Gallipoli. In an official report, which had come
to his notice, he had come across these words : " I
have observed that fish can be very clearly seen under
water from the balloon; if opportunity arises, I
intend to apply for a submarine to be detailed for
trial of visibility." Herein began the first chapter
in the genesis of the naval kite-balloon, as distinct
from the land kite-balloon. The story of its evolu-
tion, of the long series of experiments by means of
which a l^alloon has been designed capable of with-
standing so great a force of wind that it can be towed
by a fast-steaming vessel against a moderate gale,
cannot yet be told in detail. Suffice it to say that
the naval kite-l)alloon is now an accomplished fact,
and that the work which it is performing with our
Elect has brought about its recognition as an
essential adjunct to naval patrol vessels.

Not many weeks after the naval kite-balloon came
into being a British destroyer found itself in a thick
fog, and was very doubtful as to its bearings. Fortu-
nately it had a kite-balloon attached to it, and the
observers in the balloon telephoned down to the
bridge the compass l)earings of various headlands,
whieh they could see quite plainly over the top of



H.M.S. "MANICA" AT GALLIPOLI 149

the fog. Here was a new function discovered for
the kite-balloon. Others may crop up in course of
time. With a range of vision extending in ordinary
weather to a distance of sixty-three miles, it is sur-
prising what a vast superiority one holds over the
ordinary mortal, who crawls about on the face of the
earth or waters. All one needs is a good pair of
eyes, and a course of training in the science of observa-
tion, to make oneself into a very valuable aid to the
work of the Navy. The telephone will do the rest.



CHAPTER XII

II. H.M.S. " MANICA " IN EAST AFRICA

After her exploits at Gallipoli the JNIanica went
home to refit, and it was not until the 10 th March
1916 that she left Birkenhead in search of fresh
laurels. A month later she was off the island of
Zanzibar, where an air station had been established
to assist the operations in East Africa. Here the
Manica spent the first two or three weeks in carrying
out balloon evolutions, and rectifying minor defects
in the balloon's envelope and telephone equipment.
Next came a period of that wearisome routine, all
too well known to the Navy in war-time, which has
been inadequately designated by the words "patrol
duty." The expression may be apt enough, from the
official point of view, as indicating that the ship
turns herself into a peregrinating policeman, but it
fails altogether to convey any idea of the boring
monotony of the job. In home waters there is
always the interesting possibility of bumping a mine,
or being hit by a torpedo, to lend variety and charm
to the routine, but off the coast of East Africa there
are none of these attractions ; the only possible
variation to a dreary prospect is the sight of an Arab
dhow trying to smuggle supplies across from Arabia
for the use of the enemy. There is also the certainty
that the time must come when the ship must put
into harbour to coal, and, though coaling ship in the
humid tropics is not Elysium, the anticipation of
such a break even as this helps to make life tolerable.

160



H.M.S. "MANICA" IN EAST AFRICA 151

In May the Makica added to lier usefulness by
shipping a seaplane as a kind of auxiliary to the kite-
balloon. The first machine, however, proved to be
a failure, and had to be exehangcd for a second one,
which in turn developed symptoms of an unhealthy
constitution, such as a tendency to burst its petrol-
pipe, and to suffer other parts of its complicated
organism to refuse duty at inopportune moments.
A board of aeroplane doctors would probably have
relegated it to C.3, but, as there are no aeroplanes
growing on the palm-trees in Zanzibar, it had to be
passed as A.l and told to carry on. On 7th July,
while flying over Tanga, it was hit by gunfire, had
its pilot wounded, and its floats badly damaged. The
damage to the floats worried the pilot more than
his wound, because it left him in a state of disagree-
able uncertainty as to whether he could come down
on the water without foundering. At a height of
some 3,000 feet the observer volunteered to climb
down the rigging and examine the floats, and per-
formed this little job as cheerfully as though he had
been a steeplejack all his life. The floats were badly
punctured ; but, nevertheless, when the machine
came down, the Manica managed to hoist it in
before it capsized altogether.

On this same day (7th June 1916) our military
forces, which had landed at Manza Bay under cover
of the guns of the Talbot and Severn, occupied
Tanga, after encountering but slight opposition from
enemy patrols. The place had been the scene of a
bad disaster in the early stages of the campaign, and
consequently its occupation was not without dra-
matic interest. The enemy made no real attempt
to defend the town, but cleared out of it before our
troops had time to reach it. The Vengeance (flag-
ship) sent her band ashore to play the National
Anthem when the Union Jack was hoisted over the
Governor's house, and, except for the embarrassing



152 THE FIRST KITE-BALLOON SHIP

attentions of a few persistent snipers, all was as
merry as a marriage bell. So the first of the seaport
towns of German East Africa fell into our hands.

The next on the list was Pangani, a few miles
farther south. Here it was a race between Navy
and Army to see who could get into the town first.
As soon as the Navy arrived on the scene the Ger-
mans hoisted a white flag, whereat a landing party
was sent in to take possession, and they made a dead
heat of it with the advance guard of the Army,
which had marched overland. That was on 23rd July.
Nine days later the two services again combined in
an attack on Sadani, the third town on the list,
which also was secured after overcoming a very
feeble opposition.

I pass over these events rapidly because they in-
volved no serious fighting, and consequently the
work of the observers in the Manica's balloon was
little more than that of spectators in the gallery
watching the smooth progress of the drama. It
may, however, be in place here to explain briefly
the position of the campaign at this stage, prefacing
my explanation with a warning that no conscientious
study of maps will give any true idea of what was
happening. When we were following the progress of
the war in France and Flanders we used to look at the
maps, which our newspapers obligingly published, and
we saw a thick black line that approximately marked
the position of the front. But in East Africa there
was no clearly defined line of front. Scattered detach-
ments of the enemy's forces were here, there, and
everywhere, and were continually being shifted to
fresh positions as the allied forces closed in on them.
On the map the positions occupied by the enemy
would appear to be quite haphazard, because the
map does not reveal one of the most important
factors in determining the conduct of the campaign
— the African bush. Those who know only the



H.M.S. "MANICA" IN EAST AFRICA 153

sylvan glades of England, or the forests of France,
can form no adequate idea of what this bush is like.
An almost impenetrable mass of vegetation extend-
ing for hundreds of square miles ; an undergrowth
with thorns three inches long and curved like scimi-
tars ; overhead a foliage so thick that the glare of
the tropical sun is reduced to a dim religious hght ;
a hot, reeking atmosphere filled with the droning of
countless myriads of insects, which give no peace
to the rash intruder who tries to force his way through
this rampart of Nature's contriving. On such ground
as this the soldier finds that all he has learnt about
the theory of warfare, about lines of communication,
salients, and points d'appui, must be relegated to the
scrap-heap. To get at the enemy he can approach
only along those paths where the hand of man has
made some progress in the struggle with Nature, and,
instead of exercising his mind upon such refinements
of modern warfare as Lewis guns, trench mortars,
and hand grenades, he must devote his attention to
the primitive needs of an army — how to keep them
supplied with food and water, and how to mitigate
the ravages of malaria and the tsetse-fly.

By June 1916 the German forces had been com-
pletely cleared out of British East Africa, had been
driven out of Aruscha by a detachment under the
command of the South African General, Van De ven-
ter, and thence had been hustled southwards as far
as Kondoa Irangi. Another German force had been
chased from the range of hills on the east side of the
Ruvu Valley down as far as the Pangani River. But
all the coast towns — Tanga, Pangani, Sadani, Baga-
moyo, and Dar-es-Salaam — remained in the enemy's
hands, and, though the blockade of the coast carried
out by the Navy prevented these seaport towns from
receiving any supplies of food or munitions, there
was still a danger that German troops in them might
strike westwards, and make flank attacks upon the



154 THE FIRST KITE-BALLOON SHIP

allied forces working southwards. In these circum-
stances, it was decided that the towns on the coast
must be wrested from the enemy, and the Navy was
called upon to assist in the task.

In the capture of the first three of these seaport
towns — Tanga, Pangani, and Sadani — I have already
shown that we had virtually a walk- over, in which
the Navy and the Army joined hands. It is not
until we come to the story of the capture of Baga-
moyo, which followed a fortnight after that of
Sadani, that we find the Navy acting alone, and the
Germans putting up some kind of a fight. On
13th August, Lieut.-Colonel Price, who was in com-
mand of the troops at Sadani, made the following
wireless signal to Rear- Admiral Charlton :

" Latest intelligence points to Bagamoyo
being evacuated. If it is still held, only a small
force can be there — about ten whites and forty
Askaris. The General Officer Commanding asks
if Navy will take and occupy the town, as its
occupation is essential at the earliest possible
moment. All my available forces are engaged
in Mandera operations, but when these are com-
pleted they could relieve the Navy (at Baga-
moyo). Please inform me if you are willing."

The admiral's reply was brief and to the point :

" Inform General Officer Commanding that
this will be arranged."

He added that he would like to have the assistance
of the Marines of II.M.S. Talbot, who had been left
ashore at Sadani to supplement the military forces,
and of a detachment of Zanzibar Rifles, if any could
be spared.
The Intelligence Officers were somewhat out in



H.M.S. "MANICA" IN P:AST AFRICA 155

their estimate of the strength of the Bagamoyo garri-
son, for, as it turned out, the enemy was numerieally
stronger than our landing party, having a total force
of sixty whites, and between 350 and 400 Askaris
(including a small detachment at Mtoni Ferry, a
short distance inland from the town). The number
of white German troops sounds small, as indeed it
was, but it must not be imagined that the Askaris
were a negligible factor. There is often a tendency
to assume that in a composite force of this character
it is only the white men who really count ; such an
assumption would be very dangerous where Askaris
are concerned, for, in spite of certain limitations,
they are among the finest soldiers to be found any-
where outside the continent of Europe. To give an
idea of their fighting qualities I cannot do better
than to quote the tribute paid to them by Lieutenant-
Commander Whittall, R.N. in his book, " With Botha
and Smuts in Africa."

" In common with all who know him I have a
great respect and admiration for the native sol-
dier ; whether he be King's African Rifleman,
or German Askari, he is as good a fighting man
as you would ask to have beside you in a tight
corner, or as worthy an enemy as the veriest
fire-eater could desire as an opponent. He is
first and last a soldier. He comes of a stock
whose business has been fighting for many
generations, and he is thus rich in warlike
traditions. Full of courage, he is as faithful as
a dog to his officers, if these know how to handle
him and humour his prejudices. Watch him
on the march, and you will see him, when he
halts for even a short interval, employing his
leisure in cleaning his rifle, until it is speckless
without and within — no matter when and where,
you will never find the native soldier with a dirty



156 THE FIRST KITE-BALLOON SHIP

rifle. He has got it deep down in his child-Uke
mind that his rifle is his only friend, to be
cherished and tended against the time that it
win be all that stands between him and sudden
death. He cannot shoot as a rule, and when
you are opposed to him the safest place is
usually in the firing-line. With infinite trouble
you may make a third-class shot of him in about
a year, but that is the best you can expect.
But, if he is not much of a shot, he is a magnifi-
cent bayonet fighter, as might be expected
when it is remembered that he is almost born
with a spear in his hand. Let him once get
to close quarters with the ' white arm,' and he
will give the best European troops as merry a
scrimmage as they could want — and it will not
be more than even money on the result. . . .
Like all native troops he requires understanding,
and thinking for, all the time, but once you
have got his confidence he is yours to lead to
the nethermost pit if need be."

It may be regarded as a piece of good fortune for
us that in East Africa the Germans did not know
how to handle the Askari, and consequently did not
inculcate in him that spirit of fidelity, which would
have made him face the horrors of the nethermost
pit rather than abandon his masters. The wholesale
desertions, by which the German forces were being
constantly reduced, aflord evidence enough of the
inability of the German officer to gain the unques-
tioning confidence of the native soldier, and in this
there is nothing surprising to those who know the
German ofliccr. For there are two kinds of military
discipline— that born of the fear of punishment, and
that born of a personal respect, amounting almost to
affection. The German knows only the former kind,
which is good enough in times of normal prosperity,



H.M.S. "JVIANICA" IN EAST AFRICA 157

but fails lamentably when adversity comes upon
him who S( eks to rule with a rod of iron.

It was half-past three on the morning of 1 5th August
1916 when the Vengeance, Challenger, Mersey,
Severn, Manica, and the armed tug Helmuth,
dropped anchor olT Bagamoyo, and an hour later



BAGAMOYO

15 August 1910.
Sketch Showing the Landing Operations.




the landing party was making towards the shore.
Owing to the bright moonlight it was useless to ex-
pect that the attack would be a complete surprise
to the enemy, but we managed by a simple device to
deceive him as to the exact spot where we intended
to land. The boats, having proceeded on a straight
course towards the trenches in front of the Governor's



158 THE FIRST KITE-BALLOON SHIP

house, suddenly turned six points to port, and then
steered a zigzag course, partly to keep up the decep-
tion, and partly to baffle the enemy's range-finders.
The result of this manoeuvre was that the Germans
had the greater part of their force in the wrong place,
and our landing was effected with very little difficulty.

At the spot where the boats ran on to the beach
a thick belt of trees clothes the sloping ground almost
to the water's edge. Immediately above it the Ger-
mans had emplaced a 4*1 inch gun, which had been
taken out of the Konigsberg, and had been dragged
by coolies first to Tanga and then to Bagamoyo ; but
it stood about ten yards back from the top of the
slope, and consequently could not be depressed suffi-
ciently to bear on our landing-party. It was, how-
ever, engaging the Mersey and Severn, while
machine-guns, rifles, and a pom-pom on the starboard
side of the boats were keeping up a steady fire.
But the crew of the 4 1 soon found that the flashes
of their gun made them unduly conspicuous. The
Helmuth, one of the steam barges, and a picket-boat,
had each a three-pounder mounted in the bows,
with which they let drive at the 4 1 at a range of
about 500 yards, until the German gunners could
stand it no longer.

As soon as our men had landed. Sub. -Lieutenant
Manning was sent in charge of a machine-gun section
to rush the hill and capture the 4-1. This he did
very skilfully, taking cover as soon as he reached the
top of the rise, and peppering the Germans relent-
lessly, until they abandoned their gun and took to
their heels. In addition to the gun, over 80 rounds
of ammunition were found in the magazine near by,
and a few days later both gun and ammunition were
shipped to Zanzibar, where they were on view to
admiring crowds of natives.'

» In the autumn of l'.)IH this gun was exhibited in the Mall near
the north door of tho Admiralty.



H.M.S. '^MANICA" IN EAST AFRICA 159

At the commencement of the bombardment the
kite-balloon and the seaplane had been sent up by
the Manica to spot for the guns of the bombarding
ships. Unfortunately, the seaplane started engine
trouble almost immediately, and was forced to come
down, but the kite- balloon continued to do useful
work at a time when accurate spotting was much
needed, for the thick vegetation on shore made it
impossible for the gunners to see their o])jectives.
About six o'clock there arrived a seaplane belonging
to the Himalaya. This ship was then just leaving
Zanzibar to join in the bombardment of Bagamoyo,
but her seaplane did not wait to be carried across
the twenty odd miles between the island and the
mainland. Immediately on receiving the admiral's
signal it flew over to Bagamoyo, piloted by Flight-
Lieutenant E. R. Moon, whose subsequent adventures
in the Rufigi Delta have been recorded in another
chapter. On his arrival he immediately started to
drop bombs on the enemy's trenches, and, when all
his bombs had been discharged, he supplemented the
efforts of the kite-balloon in controlling the fire from
the ships.

At 6-30 a.m. the observers in the kite-balloon re-
ported that the enemy was abandoning his trenches,
and falling back towards the French Mission behind
the native town. The same report was made by
the seaplane's wireless set, and by a portable wireless
set which the landing party had taken ashore with
them. Now the whole of the mission buildings were
hidden from the view of our gunners by the dense
foliage of the trees behind the native town, and
consequently there was considerable risk that, if we
continued to fire on the retreating enemy, we might
hit some of these buildings. They are fairly exten-
sive (Bagamoyo being the headquarters of the mis-
sion) and include a cathedral, solidly built of stone,
dwelling-houses, and workshops where the natives



160 THE FIRST KITE-BALLOON SHIP

receive a technical education, for the French Mission
is essentially practical, and provides courses of in-
struction in carpentry, smithy work, shoe-making,
and other industries. From all points of view it was
very desirable to avoid doing serious damage to an
establishment of this kind, but at the same time it
was out of the question that the enemy should be
allowed to get away scot free.

It afterwards transpired that the German Comman-
dant had foreseen the dilemma which would con-
front our gunners if his troops moved back towards


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryConrad CatoThe navy everywhere → online text (page 11 of 21)