1914 Togoland campaign

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 5 August 1914, but it was not until seven o’clock on the morning of 22nd August that Corporal Ernest Thomas of ‘C’ Squadron, 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, riding with a mounted patrol near the village of Casteau, Belgium, fired the British Expeditionary Force’s first shot of the war. Soon after on the same day Captain Charles B Hornby of the same regiment plunged his sabre into the breast of a German uhlan. Today a bronze plaque in English and French memorializes these actions. Contrary to popular belief, however, Corporal Thomas’s was not the first British bullet fired in anger in the war. That shot had been fired at least a week earlier a few miles north of Lomé in remote Togoland, a country larger than Ireland but unknown to most Britons. It was fired by an unidentified black African wearing a British uniform. No memorial marks the spot.

Togoland (somewhat larger than present day Togo) was then a German protectorate in West Africa sandwiched uncomfortably between the British colony of Gold Coast (Ghana) and the French colony of Dahomey (Benin). Its thirty-two miles of seaboard on the Bight of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea formed part of what was often called the Slave Coast, for Togoland lay in that area which supplied most of the slaves sent to the New World between 1560 and 1860. Although only 130 miles wide on average, it extended nearly 400 miles from the Gulf of Guinea to the plains of southern Gourma. In 1914 it had perhaps a million inhabitants.

1914 map of Togoland
1914 map of Togoland

The region was acquired by Germany in 1844, although its hinterland was largely unexplored and its frontiers were not fixed until 1899. In less than forty years the Germans managed to build a model little colony with a stable government and a reasonably prosperous economy. Agriculture-primarily the growing of yams, maize and cotton-was fostered and a handful of efficient government officials exhibited a more careful consideration for the well-being of the inhabitants than was shown by Europeans in most African colonies. By 1914 it had become the only German colony that was financially independent from the Fatherland.

Given the bellicose nature of the Kaiser’s Imperial Germany, it is curious that Togoland was the only colony on the West Coast of Africa without a standing army. There existed only a paramilitary police force, the Polizeitruppe, which consisted of two regular officers seconded from the German Army, six German Polizeimeisters and 560 African non-commissioned officers and men. Most of this force was scattered about the colony in small posts; it was clearly designed for internal security and police work.

Polizeitruppe training with rifles
Polizeitruppe training with rifles

It is not surprising, therefore, that the governor of this tiny colony, Duke Adolf Friedrich zu Mechlenberg, pressed closely on both side by his country’ s enemies, was not eager for war. He proposed to his hostile neighbours that “in the interests of the natives and to show the unity of culture of the white race,”, they keep the peace in West Africa and let the big boys fight the war in Europe.

In support of this position the German diplomatists called attention to the convention signed by Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany at the Berlin Conference on African Affairs in 1885 in which a “conventional basin of the Congo” was defined as a vast area which included almost all of Central Africa in a wide belt from coast to coast. Provision was made for powers owning territories in this area to proclaim their neutrality in time of war and for all “to refrain from carrying out hostilities in the neutralized territories and from using them as bases for warlike operations”. About one third of Togoland fell within the conventional basin of the Congo, but the British and French found little difficulty in ignoring such an inconvenient agreement.

The Belgians had believed at first that they could keep the Belgian Congo (Zaire) out of the war, but when the Germans began sinking their ships on Lake Tanganyika, they soon saw that their interests would be best served by going along with their European allies, and the Belgian colonial minister declared that a Germany which regarded the treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality as a mere chiffon de papier could not blame the Allies for disregarding the international agreement on the neutrality of the Congo basin.

Even before the war British diplomatists had realized that it would not be in the best interests of the British Empire to abide by the promises made concerning African territories and that Britain should regard the neutrality clauses as facultative rather than obligatory. JD Chancellor, secretary of Britain’s Colonial Defence Committee, bluntly declared on the 24th of January 1911: “In a war with France or Germany observance of Articles X and XI of the Berlin Act of 1885 [the neutrality clauses] would be in the interest of France or Germany. Consequently, Britain does not intend to abide by it.”

The Germans, with three of their four African colonies within the conventional basin of the Congo, persisted in their efforts to have the neutral status of their colonies recognised. On the 23rd of August 1914 the German government approached the United States through the American ambassador in Berlin in an effort to induce the Americans to persuade the Allies to live up to their agreements and not to extend hostilities into the African colonies. Initially, the Americans refused to do anything, but finally transmitted the German message without comment. The Allies rejected the plea. By this time blood had been spilt in Togoland. It was time for the diplomatists to retire from the scene.

The French and particularly the British had good reasons for wishing to extend the war to Togoland and the other German possessions. The newly completed wireless station at Kamina (Atakpane) in Togoland was reputed to be one of the most powerful in existence, providing direct communications with Germany and by cable connections to South America. Almost as powerful were other wireless stations at Dar-Es-Salaam in German East Africa, at Windhoek in German South-West Africa, and at Douala in the Cameroons. Each of these, and this was the special concern of the British Admiralty, was capable of communicating with ships in the Atlantic or Indian Oceans-seas in which the Germans had or could have men-of-war, cruising barracuda in a shoal of merchant ships. The British Admiralty very much wanted these wireless stations put out of action.

Temporary Brigadier General CM Dobell, inspector general of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF), who was in London when war erupted, sided with the Admiralty. Called on to advise politicians and senior officers, he urged the destruction of the German wireless stations in both Togoland and the Cameroons. Dobell was not the only official away from his post at the crucial moment. The governors of both the Gold Coast and Nigeria were absent, as was the Duke of Mecklenburg on the German side. Throughout the area junior officers and officials were minding the store.

On the Gold Coast, 35-year old Frederick Carkeet Bryant, who had been left in charge of the WAFF, sprang into action. Without waiting for orders, he despatched Captain E Barker, adjutant to the Gold Coast Regiment, under a white flag to Lomé, Togoland’s capital and chief port only fifteen miles from the Gold Coast-Togoland frontier, to demand the surrender of the colony. The Germans asked for time to consider and a 24 hour truce was granted, but when Barker returned for an answer, he found that the police and most of the government officials had fled, leaving behind a minor official, the district commander, to make a curious proposal. He was authorised, he said, to surrender only the colony’s coast as far inland as an imaginary line 120 kilometres north of Lomé. As Kamina and its wireless station were 170 kilometres inland, Bryant regarded this proposal as a risible absurdity.

The energetic Captain Bryant wasted no time in gathering up two companies of the Gold Coast Regiment, some machine guns, a couple of field guns with their crews, and swarm of native carriers, and embarking them on the handiest ships in Accra’s harbour. On the 12th of August he landed at Lomé without opposition.

Members of the Gold Coast Regiment
Members of the Gold Coast Regiment

The French had already invaded Togoland from Dahomey on the 6th of August, seizing Little Popo (Anecho), just across the border on the coast. This was the first occupation of German territory by any Allied army. Bryant’s invasion force numbered only 57 European officers and NCOs, 535 African soldiers and some 200 carriers. The French force was even smaller: 8 Frenchmen and 150 Senegalese tirailleurs (African infantry officered by Frenchmen).

A narrow-gauge railway and a single road had been punched through the dense jungle north of Lomé and up these Bryant swiftly pushed patrols. On the 12th of August contact with the Germans was made by a patrol of the Gold Coast Regiment and shots were fired-the first rifle shots to be fired by a British soldier at Germans on any front in the Great War. On the 18th of August Bryant’s little army was joined by the French invaders from Dahomey. Bryant was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel and put in charge of both the French and British troops in southern Togoland.

On the 22nd of August, the same day that Corporal Thomas fired Britain’s first shot in Europe, Bryant’s Anglo-French force found German police and volunteers entrenched on the north bank of the Chra river just north of Nuatja. There ensued a confused battle; the fighting took place in dense bush and the attacking British and French columns lost contact with each other and failed to dislodge the Germans. Bryant’s troops dug in for the night and plans were made to renew the attack at first light, but dawn found the Germans gone. German losses had been slight, but the Allied force suffered 73 casualties, including 23 killed a loss of 17% of the force engaged.

Map of the Battle of Chra
Map of the Battle of Chra

The hottest fighting had taken place on the left flank of the German line, where the French had managed to work their way to within fifty yards of the German trenches before being forced back. It was in the fighting on this flank that Lieutenant GM Thompson of the Gold Coast Regiment (seconded from the Royal Scots), who had been given command of a company of Senegalese tirailleurs, who found dead. Around him lay thirteen African soldiers who had died in his defence. They were buried in a circle around Thompson’s grave.

On the night of the 24th and the 25th of August the Germans blew up their wireless station at Kamina and on the morning of the 25th a German officer was sent to the British lines to ask for terms.

Remains of German wireless station at Kamina
Remains of German wireless station at Kamina

Bryant informed him that only unconditional surrender would be acceptable. Meanwhile, another British force had invaded Togoland from northern Gold Coast and another French force from Dahomey. Neither encountered serious opposition. The German position was obviously untenable, so on the 26th of August 1914 Major von Döring, the acting German governor, surrendered unconditionally, thus ending the shortest and least bloody of the African campaigns.

It had been a smartly conducted little war from the British viewpoint, and the Admiralty was so pleased with Bryant’s performance that in a rare gesture it sent a letter of appreciation to the Colonial Office. The War Office, equally pleased, promoted him substantive major. The King graciously made him a companion of the order of St Michael and St George and the French awarded him the Legion of Honour. Bryant, one of Britain’s first heroes of the war, took leave in England to bask in his brief glory and to marry Miss Rosamund Hope. Two years later he added a Distinguished Service order to his laurels.

Togoland’s commercial life was only slightly disrupted by the brief campaign and in a few weeks trade was being carried on as smoothly as if there had been no interruption. No one asked the African inhabitants their reaction to the change of rulers; it would have seemed bizarre to have suggested such a thing.

The majority of the information about the Togoland campaign came from Byron Farwell’s excellent book “The Great War in Africa (1914-1918)”, WW Norton & Company, NY, 1989, pp.382, which has excellent coverage of the various battles and campaigns in both West Africa and East Africa.

Brocklesby mid-air collision – 1940


Keeping with the World War 2 theme that I mentioned in my previous post, I’d like to mention one of the most bizarre aircraft accidents that occurred anywhere in the world during the conflict.

On the 29th of September 1940, two Avro Ansons  on a cross country training flight from No. 2SFTS at Wagga, NSW, collided near Brocklesby in New South Wales at 10:45am. The two aircraft locked together in flight.  The crew of the bottom aircraft LAC Jack I. Hewson and LAC Hugh G. Fraser bailed out along with the observer from the top aircraft, LAC Ian M. Sinclair. The pilot of the top plane, LAC Leonard G. Fuller, discovered that he was still able to control both his aircraft and the plane wedged underneath, and managed to fly both aircraft about 8 kms, using the power from his starboard engine. He belly landed the two aircraft safely in a paddock of a farm belonging to Mr T. Murphy, approximately 5 miles south west of Brocklesby.

The only reason that the two aircraft stayed airborne was due to the quick thinking of Hewson, who increased the engines to full power of his Anson immediately after the collision and locked his controls when the two aircraft came together. Without these actions, both Ansons would have spiralled out of control with the weight of the two planes locked together.

Here is a photo of this amazing landing:




Hewson was the only person injured in the accident. He spent four months in hospital after the accident and did not resume flying until the end of January 1941. When the collision occurred, he was not wearing his parachute and Hugh Fraser had to pass it to him through the wreckage of the cockpit. Hewson then had to put the parachute on sitting on the floor. The collision occurred at about 3,000 feet and the aircraft were losing height all the time. By the time Hewson got the parachute on he then had to climb out through the broken perspex onto the starboard wing and slid off at about 900 ft.

When Hewson opened his parachute he had not clipped it on properly and it tangled and he was upside down. It finally opened fully at about 100 feet and he slammed into the ground so hard that his spine was jarred and he was temporally paralysed. He eventually recovered and returned to the RAAF, where he served until the end of the war. Fuller went on to fly with the RAAF in Europe and was awarded the DFM. Unfortunately he was killed at East Sale in 1944 when he was hit by a bus while riding a bike.


The bottom aircraft was written off in the accident, but the top plane was repaired and returned to service.

News of the remarkable landing soon spread, and it was featured in a British Pathe newsreel:


The site of the crash has a commemorative sign and plaque.



My source for this story is Paul Dunn’s exhaustive website  “Australia At War”

This amazing website has the most complete and thorough history of military activities in Australia during the Second World War. You could spend a couple of days looking through all of the information that Paul has collated over many years.

The Kentish Affair

One of the most extraordinary events of World War 2 was the forced abduction of a Australian clergyman at gunpoint, and his subsequent flight and execution at a Japanese base in 1943.

This was the “Kentish Affair”.  Reverend Leonard Neol Kentish was the Chairman of the Chairman of the Methodist Northern Australian Mission District in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. The Mission had several buildings on islands in the Arafura Sea, and at regular intervals boats would leave Darwin for these outposts, loaded with supplies and personnel. One such boat was the HMAS Patricia Cam, which has started life as a tuna fishing boat in Sydney.


HMAS Patricia Cam

The minelaying activities of German Surface raiders in 1940-41 highlighted the shortage of suitable vessels to keep Australian sea lanes clear of this threat and Patricia Cam was requisitioned as an auxiliary minesweeper. She commissioned on 3 March 1942 under the command of Lieutenant John A. Grant, RANR(S).

On 8 March 1942 Patricia Cam sailed from Sydney and headed north. Arriving in Darwin on 5 April, she was employed as a general purpose vessel, which included store carrying and in May salvage on the wreck of the American ship Don Isidoro. The transportation of personnel and supplies around the north and north-western coastline continued throughout 1942.

On the 13th of January 1943, HMAS Patricia Cam left Darwin carrying stores and personnel headed for several outlying stations. Along with the crew, The passengers on board were Reverend Kentish and five natives. She departed Millingimbi on 22 January headed for Elcho Island.

At 1.30pm on 22 January, when HMAS Patricia Cam was heading towards Wessel Island, a plane was seen and heard by several of the ship’s company when just on the point of releasing a bomb. The aircraft, an Aichi E13A (“Jake”) three seater twin-floatplane from the Japanese Naval Air Arm’s 734th Kokatai, had dived from out of the sun with its engine shut down, passing over HMAS Patricia Cam from stern to stem at no more than 100 feet above the mast.


Aichi E13A floatplane

The bomb landed amidships in the centre of the cargo hatch and exploded in the bottom planking. HMAS Patricia Cam sank within a minute. Several members of the ship’s company were sitting on the forward hatch when the explosion occurred and were thrown down the hold but were almost immediately washed out again by the inrush of water. Both ship’s boats were destroyed but the life-raft remained intact. One sailor, Ordinary Seaman Neil G. Penglase, went down with the ship.

While the survivors were bunched in a small area the plane returned and dropped its second bomb, killing AB Edward D. Nobes and two of the aboriginal passengers. The plane then continued to circle for about half an hour, the rear machine gunner regularly firing into the scattering survivors, but without scoring any hits. The plane then flew away to the northward, but returned five minutes later and alighted on the water. One of the crew climbed out and beckoned for someone to swim over. No one accepted the invitation and the plane taxied in a circle closer to where Mr Kentish and a rating were resting on some floating hatch covers. Threatened with a revolver, Mr Kentish was ordered to swim over to the aircraft and after a brief conversation he was taken on board. The plane thereupon took off and finally disappeared to the north. Eighteen survivors of the attack managed to reach a rocky outcrop near Cumberland Island, and stayed there until being picked up by HMAS Kuru on the 29th of January.


Survivors of the HMAS Patricia Cam after returning to Darwin

Reverend Kentish’s fate remained unknown until after the war. Investigations by the Allied Occupation Force in Japan revealed that he had been held prisoner at Dobe until 4 May 1943 and then beheaded. Interrogations of former Japanese naval personnel eventually revealed that Sub-Lieutenant Sagejima Maugan had carried out the execution. Following his arrest and trial this officer was hanged at Stanley Gaol, Hong Kong on August 23 1948. Kentish’s body was finally buried at a cemetery in Ambon.

The following webpages were used in the creation of this blog entry:







The “Good Weekend” magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald dated Saturday March 14, 2014 featured an article on the sinking of the HMAS Patricia Cam called “I want him home” by Lisa Clausen. The article interviews Jan Braund, the daughter of crew member Percy Cameron. According to official RAN records, Cameron was lost at sea after the ship was bombed, and has no known grave. But archaeologists from the group Past Masters found on remote Marchinbar Island an L-shaped piece of wood, two metres in length with bolt holes and three intact bolts. Marchinbar Island is part of the Wessel Islands group, the place where the HMAS Patricia Cam was heading when it was attacked.

Giving credence to the possibility that survivors of the sinking made it to shore was the book “Trying to Be Sailors”, written by John Leggoe, one of the survivors who was picked up in late January. According to Leggoe, Percy Cameron and one of the Yplngu passengers had made it to the shore, but died and were buried there.

The Past Masters are trying to raise money to not only travel to Marchinbar Island to see if the graves are still visible, but to examine the wreck of the HMAS Patricia Cam, and see if the remnant found on the island match the wood of the sunken ship.


USSR factory relocation during World War 2

I have had a fascination for World War 2 history ever since I can remember. The extreme circumstances caused by military conflict can often lead to extreme measures, as countries do anything possible to avoid miltary defeat.

One of the more amazing examples of this was the widespread relocation of factories in the USSR both prior to, and after, the German invasion of the country on the 22nd of June 1941.

Whole factories were disassembled, transported to the Far East of the country, and reassembled. The following quote from Walter S Dunn’s book “The Soviet economy and the Red Army, 1930-1945”, gives an excellent overview of this process:

On June 24, 1941, the Council for Evacuation was appointed. On July 4, 1941, the Council ordered Voznesenskii, director of five-year planning, to organise the movement of industry and workers to the east. Local committees used the five-year plan structure with 3,000 agents controlling the movement. Evacuation of industrial plants began in August 1941 and continued until the end of the year. But evidence shows evacuation began much earlier, or at least the transfer of machine tools and skilled workers to “shadow factories” in the east. The US military attache reported significant transfers of machines and men from the Moscow area to the east in late 1940 and early 1941. The rapid growth in production in early 1942 suggested that the evacuation had started in 1940. The tempo increased in August 1941.

Evacuation began with a recommendation from a local agency to the commissariat of the appropriate industry. After investigation, the recommendation was approved by the Evacuation Council and placed on a schedule giving the date, method of transport, and relocation site. In addition, unapproved evacuations took place on the initiative of local authorities.

Evacuation was well under way in the first week of August 1941. Sacrificing immediate production, many factories closed in August, packed up, and moved to the Ural Mountains. But because their products were needed, some plants remained in production until too late to be moved. Only 17 of the 64 iron and steel plants in the Donbas were evacuated between October and December 1941. The Kharkov tank factory was being dismantled when the Germans arrived.

The railroad made evacuation possible. As the railroads moved 2.5 million men to the front in June, July and August, they moved industrial machinery on their return. For example, on 7 August 1941, 3,000 rail cars per day evacuated iron and steel manufacturing equipment from the Dnieper area – 1,000 cars per day for the electrical industry, 400 cars per day for the chemical industry, and others. From August 8 to August 15, 1941, 26,000 rail cars evacuated industries in the Ukraine. In Moscow, 80,000 cars transported 498 factories, including 75,000 lathes, leaving only 21,000. Production by many factories resumed by December…….The operation was not always orderly. Other indications that planning was not complete and that turnaround time was longer than average were anecdotes of equipment having been dumped beside the tracks to empty the cars for a return journey. Of the 700 plants evacuated in the first months, only 270 arrived at planned destinations fully equipped, and 110 arrived with only part of their equipment….At times, inadequate planning resulted in trains having been loaded with materials and despatched with no destination to prevent capture by the Germans. These orphan trains moved around the country for long periods because there were no plans to use the equipment and no one knew what to do with them…..The evacuation of the factories was an immense undertaking. In the last three months of 1941, GOSPLAN moved 1,360 factories: 455 to the Urals, 210 to Western Siberia, and 250 to Central Asia and Kazahkstan. By the end of 1941, 1,523 large factories were moved. A few went to the Far East. The total was only a small proportion of the 32,000 factories captured by the Germans, but arms-related factories, representing 12% of the industrial potential in the occupied zone, were evacuated.


I think that the planned economy of the USSR made the vast coordination of resources required to manage such a vast undertaking achievable.