Conrad Cato.

The navy everywhere online

. (page 7 of 21)
Online LibraryConrad CatoThe navy everywhere → online text (page 7 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



For many months preceding the capture of Garua
the main part of the campaign had been going on in
the west, along the sea-coast, and in those districts
made accessible to floating craft by numerous rivers
and creeks. The nature of the country near the
coast and for many miles inland is such that ordi-
nary military operations are impossible. Mangrove
swamps and thick jungle are the natural features of
the land, and though the efforts of man have succeeded
in clearing spaces here and there for cocoa plantations,
in making rough roads, and building railways, the
sum-total of these efforts has made about as much
impression upon the general appearance of the
country as the seven maids with their seven mops
upon the sands of the seashore. One cannot move
an army with its guns and transport waggons through
a mangrove swamp, and, though native carriers can
be employed for the conveyance of food along the
bush-roads, it is arduous work to convey heavy guns
and ammunition by such primitive means.

The only redeeming feature of the country as a
terrain for the operations of war is the network of
rivers and creeks. To the purely military mind, of
course, these waterways only serve to damn it the
more, for the soldier must necessarily regard a river
as an inconvenient obstacle which has to be crossed.
But, to the amphibious mind, the waterways afford
the only solution of the transport problem, and to
the nation which enjoys the supremacy of the sea
they offer an incalculable advantage in the ordeal of
war. Granted that plenty of craft, small enough
to navigate these narrow channels, can be brought
to the scene of operations, the rivers and creeks
become, instead of obstacles, magnificent highways
for the conveyance of troops, guns, and stores, while
the gunboats of the Navy provide the artillery, which
is moreover of a larger calibre than anything which
the enemy can hope to bring against it, faced


as he is with the problem of carrying his guns over-

A typical example of amphibious operations was
that which was undertaken ten days after the capture
of Duala. The objective was the village of Jabassi,
about fifty miles up the Wuri River, which runs
into the Cameroon River from the north-east. The
flotilla consisted of seventeen steam and motor
vessels and eighteen lighters, of which seven vessels
and one lighter carried guns. The Mole and the
armed lighter each carried a 6-inch gun, while the
others carried guns of smaller calibre, and there was
also a naval 12-pounder field-gun manned by a de-
tachment of seamen. The military force consisted
of eight companies of native troops, half a company
of Pioneers, 600 native carriers, a medical detach-
ment, etc. This force was embarked in the various
river craft, and proceeded up the Wuri River.

Unfortunately, it was the rainy season of the
year, when the country is not only unpleasantly
moist, but also unpleasantly hot — a sticky, damp
heat, which causes the perspiration to exude in a
constant stream, drenching one's clothes almost as
soon as one puts them on. Moreover, the rain came
down in torrents, so that there was moisture both
from within and without, and, as the troops were all
huddled together in the small river craft, without any
protection from the downpour, they had a very un-
comfortable time of it. To add to their troubles,
there were the mosquitoes, which thrive exceedingly
well in the Cameroons during the rainy season, and
have a disagreeable habit of carrying the malaria
microbe about with them.

This first expedition to Jabassi was a failure, chiefly
on account of the climatic conditions ; but it is
interesting as an illustration of the difficulties which
our forces had to overcome in achieving the conquest
of the Cameroons, and as evidence of the absolute


necessity of naval co-operation in a campaign of
this kind. The flotilla actually carried the troops
within three miles of Jabassi, and then landed them
without any mishaps. They marched two out of
the three miles towards the village before they
encountered any opposition, so that they were
within a mile of their objective when the enemy first
showed that he was there, and very much awake.
He opened a hot fire on our troops, who were
advancing along a road parallel with the river, and
upon the armed vessels, which had kept abreast of
the advance, and had steadily bombarded the high
ground where Jabassi stands. The enemy were
hidden in the dense bush, so that it was impossible
to ascertain their strength, or form any reliable
opinion as to the nature of their defences.

For the greater part of the day a kind of haphazard
fight went on, our troops firing at the sound of the
enemy's rifles, and gradually crawling towards them
through the jungle. The 12-pounder field-gun found
a hill from which to pepper the enemy's positions,
so far as they could be ascertained, and the armed
river craft went on cheerfully firing in the direction
of where they thought the enemy ought to be. The
result of their efforts was that the German rifles and
machine-guns were gradually silenced, and there
seemed to be no further obstacle to an advance upon
Jabassi. By this time, however, the troops had
become hopelessly scattered in the bush, and more-
over were quite exhausted. The rain and the heat
had told upon them, so that the medical staff foiuid
that they had to deal with many more sick cases than
wounded men. In fact, the casualties had been
remarkably light, for the German marksmanship
was poor.

A retirement was obviously necessary, for night
was coming on, and to remain in that jungle with
the chance of being surrounded by the enemy was


not to be contemplated. If the troops had been
obhged to retire on foot it would have gone badly
with them, for they were thoroughly worn out, and
doubtless the Germans would have kept abreast of
them in the jungle through Avhich the road runs, and
would have sniped at them all the time. But fortun-
ately the flotilla of river transports was there waiting
for them, and the naval guns in the armed launches
were there to cover their retreat and embarkation.
In a very short time they were beyond the range of
the enemy's fire, and anchored about three miles
downstream from Jabassi.

Probably they would have been able to take Jabassi
next day if they had attempted it, but the con-
dition of the troops was such that it was deemed
prudent to bring them back to Duala, where the
sick men could receive proper attention. In the
meantime another detachment of troops was sent
up the Wuri River, and on 14th October they entered
Jabassi almost without opposition. The officer com-
manding them paid a very warm tribute to the naval
officers and ratings in the armed launches, who
encountered the brunt of such opposition as the
enemy offered, and were largely instrumental in per-
suading him that the game was up.

A week later another amphibious expedition was
undertaken, with the object of capturing Edea, on
the Midland Railway, about forty miles south-east
of Duala. A glance at the map will show that it is
also on the Sanaga River, and consequently acces-
sible from the sea. The scheme of operations com-
prised three attacks from separate directions — (1)
by the Sanaga River, (2) by the Njong River as far
as Dehanc and thence overland, and (3) by the
Midland Railway. The first two of these required
naval co-operation ; the third was an entirely mili-
tary affair, and was undertaken by a small force,
mainly with the object of affording a distraction to


the enemy. The chief mihtary force was detailed
for the Njong River, while the naval forces were
divided between the Njong and the Sanaga Rivers.

It will be convenient to deal first with the Sanaga
River force. This was divided into two sections —
the larger craft, which went round by sea to the river
entrance, and the smaller craft, which reached the
river by means of the Kwa-Kwa creek, joining the
Sanaga to the Cameroon River. The Kwa-Kwa
creek flotilla encountered some opposition, which
caused a delay; but they eventually overcame it,
and reached the Sanaga River on 23rd October in
the evening, anchoring off Lobetal Beach to await
the arrival of the larger craft. These had arrived
safely at the river entrance, but had had some
difficulty in crossing the bar, and further difficulties
awaited them in the lower reaches of the river, owing
to the native pilots being unfamiliar with them. It
may be said that the chief virtue of the native pilot
is his unfailing cheerfulness. When he has run the
ship aground with a big bump, he turns smilingly to
the commanding officer, and says " Small water lib
'ere, sah," and he says it too with the air of one
imparting useful information. These pilots had all
been in the habit of using the Kwa-Kwa creek to get
from Duala to Edea, and consequently they knew the
river fairly well above the junction at Lobetal, but
had practically no knowledge of it below that point.

They managed, however, to reach Lobetal eventu-
ally — on the day following the arrival of the Kwa-
Kwa creek flotilla, and the combined flotilla, under
the command of Commander L. W. Braithwaite in
the Remus, proceeded up towards Edea. The troops
were landed on both banks to march in front of the
flotilla, but they found it such heavy going that they
had to be re-embarked. At nightfall when the
flotilla anchored, some troops were again landed,
and camped in the vicinity of the anchorage to


protect it from a night attack. On '26th October
they drew near to Edea, and as they steamed past
the riverside village, the natives all came out of their
huts, and cheered lustily. To them the British
flag was the emblem of their deliverance from rulers
whom they had learned to hate, with that undying
hatred which is born of a sense of tyranny and
injustice. That they should so regard their German
rulers must have been a source of pathetic per-
plexity to the Teuton mind. For the German
Government had sunk large sums of money in the
development of the Cameroons ; it had reclaimed big
tracts of jungle, and cultivated them with cocoa and
plantains ; it had constructed roads and railways to
bring these plantations within easy access of a sea-
port ; it had built huts for the native workers on
the plantations, and provided them with well-
equipped hospitals. And yet it had failed entirely
to win the good- will of the natives. The explanation
is not far to seek. Germay's whole idea had been to
exploit the colony and its inhabitants for the benefit
of the German trader. The land was taken aAvay
from the native, who was compelled to work on it at
a nominal wage of a few shillings a month, which just
sufficed to avoid the charge of imposing a system of
slavery. To all intents and purposes, however, it
was a system of slavery, for the worker was not
allowed to leave his work and seek other occupation
when he felt inclined, and was always subjected to
the practically unlimited powers of the German
overseers, who sometimes exercised those powers with
unbridled brutality. The German system of coloni-
sation has consistently resulted in economic failure ;
in the Cameroons it also resulted in completely
alienating the sympathy and good-will of the natives.
The Sanaga River flotilla had some fairly heavy
guns with them, including a 6-inch gun in the Mole,
and there is no doubt that the approach of these


guns had a very salutary effect on the Germans at
Edea, and influenced their decision to evacuate
the town. But, to keep to the chronological
order of events, it is necessary to relate the experi-
ences of the Njong River section. Early in the
morning of 21st October the Cumberland, the
Dwarf, the French Surprise, and six transports
conveying about 2,000 troops, mostly native, anchored
off the entrance to the river. The smaller craft came
up later, and proceeded at once to cross the bar.
Unfortunately the weather was bad, and it soon
became apparent that there would be considerable
difficulty in getting tlie larger vessels over the bar,
no ship as large as any of the transports having been
known to enter the Njong River. The officers of
the Nigeria Marine had made a reconnaissance of the
river mouth, and it was largely due to them that the
enterprise was carried out successfully.

Two transports got over the bar without much
trouble, but the third one ran aground, and had to
wait for the flood-tide before she could be refloated.
An armed launch also got stuck, so badly that she
had to be abandoned after her guns and stores had
been salved. A heavy sea was running the w^hole
time, and consequently there was a good deal of
danger attending the operations. Perhaps no one
fully appreciated how great that danger was until
a sad catastrophe occurred. The Senior Naval Officer
(Captain Fuller) embarked in a whaler with a native
crew to row across the bar and superintend the
operations on the other side. He was accompanied
by Lieutenant Child (director of the Nigeria Marine),
Commander Gray, R.N.R. (transport officer to
the expeditionary force), and Captain Franqueville
(a French staff officer). Just as they were crossing
the bar a big wave caught the boat and capsized it,
throwing all its occupants into the water. Boats
were immediately sent to the rescue by the ships


lying at anchor, but, owing to the high seas, it was
some time before they could reach the spot. Out
of the whole party only Captain Fuller and two of
the native crew were saved.

That evening the flotilla of small craft proceeded
up the Njong River under Commander Cheetham,
R.N.R., taking with them a detachment of French
troops. Next morning they occupied Dehane and
the following day the French column commenced its
march towards Edea, leaving a small guard of British
troops at Dehane. On 26th October they reached
their objective, and found that the Germans had
evacuated the place. The news was passed to the
flotilla in the Sanaga River, whose guns had been
largely instrumental in persuading the enemy that
resistance was useless, and they proceeded upstream
and anchored off the town. German prisoners re-
ported that their officers had declared it impossible
to bring up heavy guns to Edea ; but, when they saw
that the impossible had been accomplished, they
hastened to effect a retreat.

So far our conquest of the country had extended
north-cast of Duala as far as Jabassi, and south-east
as far as Edea. The next objective was Buea, north-
west of Duala, and about twenty-five miles from the
coast. Buea was the German seat of government,
and was also a health resort, for it lies on the slopes
of the Cameroon Mountain — a volcanic formation,
which looks as though it had been dropped by
accident in the midst of that vast area of swamps
and low-lying ground. Further inland there are high
mountain-ranges stretching across the Cameroons,
but all the country within a hundred miles of the
sea is a level plain, thickly covered with forests, and
intersected by innumerable rivers and creeks. On
the Cameroon Mountain in the vicinity of lUiea the
rank growth of tropical vegetation has been made to
give place to the cultivation of European plants.


English vegetables and fruits are grown there with
ease, and the Germans had instituted a dairy farm
with real live cows, good pasture, cowsheds, milk
separators, and everything complete — except that
there were no dairymaids. From all points of view
Buea was a desirable place to acquire.

The plan of operations comprised four distinct
undertakings: (1) to make a demonstration at
Bibundi in order to persuade the enemy that we
intended to land a force there ; (2) to occupy Victoria,
so that they might anticipate an advance towards
Buea from that direction also; (S) to capture Tiko,
and advance with the main force from there to Buea ;
and (4) to send a flotilla up the Mungo River to
Mpundi, and a detachment of troops up the Northern
Railway to Susa, and so make a flank attack from
the east. The fortunes of these undertakings, which
were all amphibious in their nature, will be described
in turn.

The Bibundi expedition was entrusted to Com-
mander Strong in the Dwarf, accompanied by a small
transport. Upon arrival at the spot, some Kroo
boys were sent ashore in surf-boats to make a feint
of landing. Apparently the manoeuvre succeeded
admirably, for word was sent to the German Com-
mandant that a considerable British force was being
landed at Bibundi, and the enemy promptly made
preparations to meet it. Having achieved his object,
Commander Strong re-embarked the Kroo boys, and
in due course returned to Duala.

The taking of Victoria was entrusted to a party
of Marines under Captain Hall, the transport being
escorted by the Ivy and two armed tugs, while the
French cruiser Bruix remained in the offing, to cover
the landing with her guns. On 13th November they
arrived at Victoria, and Commander Hughes, R.N. R.,
in the Ivy, summoned the German Commander to
surrender the place, giving him one hour's grace to


consider his reply. He refused to surrender, and so
a bombardment was opened upon Victoria and the
neighbouring village of Bota. Then the Marines
were landed at Bota, and they proceeded to march
on Victoria. The enemy, bombarded from the sea
and threatened from the land, came to the con-
clusion that the game was not worth the candle.
Within a few hours he had been driven out of Vic-
toria, and he did not even stop to destroy the hght
railway running inland from Bota, for the Marines
found it intact with all its rolhng-stock in good
condition. Having taken possession of the place
and sent all the non-combatant Germans to Duala
for internment, they left a guard of native troops
and returned to the base.

Meanwhile the main force had proceeded to Tiko.
Captain Beatty-Pownall in the Remus had charge
of a flotilla of six river transports, each towing a
lighter laden with troops and equipment, and an
armed tug towed a heavy lighter mounting a 6-inch
gun. Lieutenant Hamilton was in command of a
detachment of seamen with field-guns supplied by
the Cumberland and Challenger. There were
70 European troops, and over 2,000 native troops
and carriers. Two despatch vessels were employed
as mine-sweepers, and proceeded ahead of the flotilla,
which approached Tiko at daylight on 13th Novem-
ber. The Tiko Ilabcn pier, which is at some distance
from the village, was reached in safety, and here
the troops disembarked, while the tug with the lighter
carrying the C-inch gun pushed up a creek to the
west of Tiko to cover the advance. It had not
gone far before it came under rifle and machine-gun
fire from trenches well hidden in the bush. But a
G-inch gun has a little way of its own in dealing
with rifles and machine-guns, and it needs a brave
man to stick to his trench when heavy shefls at short
range are tearing the trees down all round him, and


bursting on every side of him. The enemy's fire
was silenced, the enemy melted away, and Tiko was
occupied without any further opposition.

Next day the troops commenced their advance on
Buea, and, after overcoming some slight resistance,
they reached a village called Bole Famba, where they
halted for the night, and where we may leave them
for the moment.

The Mungo River party, who were to assist the
troops sent up the railway to Susa in making a
flank attack, had the longest distance to travel, and
therefore started earlier than all the rest. It was
fortunate they did so, for the Mungo River eclipses
most of the other rivers of the country as a test
in navigating skill. It is very narrow in parts, it
twists about with hair-pin bends, it is full of shoals,
and it has a strong current. It was not supposed
to be navigable at all after the end of October, and
even during the rainy season only vessels with a very
light draught ever attempted it. The flotilla, which
was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Sneyd,
consisted of two boats from the Cumberland, armed
with light guns, a stern-wheel gunboat, called the
SoKOTO, which had been captured from the Germans
when they surrendered Duala, and three armed
launches. The Sokoto had never risked herself in
the Mungo River before, and she soon began to won-
der whether her new masters had mistaken her for
a steam-roller or a hay-making machine. However,
she made up her mind to do her best, and struggled
manfully round the twists and over the shoals.

Mbonjo was reached on 12th November, and next
day the flotilla pushed on to Mpundu, where they
found the enemy holding a strong position on the
right bank. But the guns of all the armed craft soon
induced him to clear out of it, and IMpundu was
occupied without much trouble. Here the troops
from Susa joined up, and the march towards Buea


was commenced. It is difficut to say which of these
undertakings was mainly instrumental in persuading
the enemy that he could not hold Buea— the feint
of landing at Bibundi, the occupation of Victoria,
the main advance from Tiko, or the flank attack from
Mpundu. All of them were successfully carried out
according to plan, and the cumulative effect must
have been considerable upon the much-harassed
Germans. The main force from Tiko, which we left
at the vilage of Bole Famba on the night of the
14th November, was the first to reach the German
capital, and occupied it without opposition during
the afternoon of 15th November.

The rest of the work of the Navy in the Cameroons
presents no startling features, which would justify a
description in detail. The conquered area steadily
expanded, and, as it did so, the scene of operations
gradually passed farther inland, until it became
inaccessible to floating craft. This however, did
not reduce the Navy to a state of idleness, but it
tended to make its work more humdrum and devoid
of incident. A constant patrolling of the rivers
and creeks had to be maintained, to drive off enemy
detachments and protect the unfortunate natives
from the revengeful habits of their former masters,
to stop food supplies and contraband from being
smuggled up the rivers, to obtain information as to
enemy movements, and, generally, to fulfil the
functions of a police force. These duties brought
them into conflict frequently with small bodies of
enemy troops, which took every possible oppor-
tunity of sniping at them from the jungle. But
the most troublesome part of the day's work was
in connection with the German monasteries and
religious establishments. At first the inmates of
these establishments had been placed on parole and
allowed to continue their vocation without inter-
ference ; Ijut soon there was an accumulation of


evidence that these holy brethren and their holy
sisters were taking advantage of their liberty to
forward information to the enemy. Finally, it was
decided that they must be interned, and, when
Commander Braithwaite was clearing the Dehane-
Kribi district of the enemy, he made all the monks
and nuns prisoners and sent them off to be interned.
The news of this proceeding filtered through to Ger-
many, and, needless to say, it was at once turned to
account for propaganda purposes ; the neutral Roman
Catholic countries were flooded with a heart-rending
version of the story of how the brutal British officers
had laid sacrilegious hands upon the servants of the

In addition to the patrol of the inland waterways,
the Navy had also to undertake the blockade of
the sea-coast, which commenced on 23rd April, 1915.
This necessitated a constant vigilance night and day,
each ship engaged on the patrol covering a certain
distance along the coast-line, and plying up and down
its beat with a wearisome monotony, which is all
too familiar to the officers and men of the Navy. A
few of the naval force had the good fortune to
escape from this patrol work by being detached for
service ashore with the military. The expedition of
Lieutenant Hamilton and a gun's crew to Garua
has already been mentioned. A similar expedition
was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Davies,
R.N.R., who took a 12-pounder gun and two maxims
to accompany the military expedition up the Northern
Railway to Bare, and did some excellent work with
the gun.

When we can quietly devote our minds to the

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryConrad CatoThe navy everywhere → online text (page 7 of 21)