The extremely rare Great War German East Africa Attack on Tanga “Battle of the Bees” 4th November 1914 Distinguished Conduct Medal group awarded to Private M. Lawlor, 2nd Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, who was one of 9 members of his battalion to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during the assault on Tanga, when the troops captured Tanga in the face of effective German harassing and sniper fire and additionally faced the merciless after effects of tree-top beehives having been broken by small arms fire, wh
The extremely rare Great War German East Africa Attack on Tanga “Battle of the Bees” 4th November 1914 Distinguished Conduct Medal group awarded to Private M. Lawlor, 2nd Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, who was one of 9 members of his battalion to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during the assault on Tanga, when the troops captured Tanga in the face of effective German harassing and sniper fire and additionally faced the merciless after effects of tree-top beehives having been broken by small arms fire, which released angry bees onto both sides – giving rise to the name by which the action has been known ever since – the “Battle of the Bees.” For his part, Lawlor was decorated for gallant conduct and for general good work performed under a heavy fire.
Group of 4: Distinguished Conduct Medal, GVR bust; (9422 PTE M. LAWLOR. 2/L.N.LANC:REGT); 1914-1915 Star; (9422 PTE M. LAWLOR. L.N.LAN:R.); British War Medal and Victory Medal; (9422 PTE. M. LAWLOR. L.N.LAN.R.)
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Together with the recipient’s Silver War Badge, reverse numbered: ‘174607’, this with replaced pin clip and an added loop for wear from a fob chain.
Martin Lawlor was a pre-war regular soldier who had enlisted on 21st August 1908, and then saw service during the Great War as a Private (No.9422) with the 2nd Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which on the outbreak of the war was stationed in India, and like other regular battalions were detailed for the front, there garrison service being taken on by units of the Territorial Force. The 2nd Loyals were no exception, although they, alone of all the British battalions, were to find their war in the disease-ridden swamps, forests and plains of equatorial East Africa. On 3rd November 1914 the battalion landed at Tanga in German East Africa, with the 27th Indian Brigade. British East Africa, now Kenya, had the large hostile territory of German East Africa, now Tanzania, on its southern border, and troops from India were despatched to defend it. Indian Expeditionary Force ‘C’ provided the first reinforcements in September 1914 and the units in this force, all from the Indian Army, were quickly in action protecting the Uganda Railway line that ran from the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean up to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. Then Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ was formed, under Brigadier General A.E. Aitken, to invade the German territory and hopefully knock it out of the war. All the units in this force were from the Indian Army or from Indian Princely States, except for 2nd Loyals, which, as it turned out, was to be the sole British Regular Army unit to serve in East Africa during the Great War.
IEF ‘B’ consisted of two infantry brigades – an Imperial Service Brigade, most of the troops came from Princely States commanded by Brigadier General M.J. Tighe CIE DSO CB, and the Bangalore Brigade commanded by Brigadier General R. Wapshare which contained 2nd Loyals, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Jourdain DSO. Additional troops, termed Divisional Troops, included a mountain battery, a Pioneer battalion, railway construction and operating companies, and an Imperial Service sapper and miner (field engineer) company.
In mid-October 1914 IEF ‘B’ sailed from India for East Africa. India had already found troops for France, Egypt and Mesopotamia and so the battalions allocated to IEF ‘B’ were mostly inexperienced in military operations. At least one unit had not handled machine guns before embarking; also some units which had never sailed before boarded their ships two weeks before final departure. This confinement aboard, with consequent poor and often non-ethnic rations, combined with totally inadequate training on machine guns, the key weapon, did not bode well for the future.
After a brief stop at Mombasa when only senior and staff officers went ashore, the expeditionary ships sailed down the coast to Tanga, a port in northern German East Africa, and the terminal of the Usambara Railway which started at Moshi, overshadowed by Mount Kilimanjaro in the German hinterland. It was planned that the battleship HMS Goliath would accompany IEF ‘B’ to Tanga but she broke down at Mombasa, which meant that her 12-inch guns were not, in the event, available to support the infantry landing. Meanwhile IEF ‘C’ was tasked with a creating a diversion on the British – German border away to the north-west that would draw German attention away from Tanga.
The landings at Tanga were delayed by the Royal Navy’s insistence on warning the Germans there of the cancellation of an unofficial truce that had not been ratified by London; General Aitken should have insisted on immediate landings but he complacently believed that his Indian troops would easily defeat the German African troops. The Germans in Tanga used the delay well; they organised their local troops for defence and they informed their commander in Moshi, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, of the British arrival. Von Lettow immediately started sending reinforcements down the Usambara Railway to Tanga.
During the night 2nd to 3rd November 1915 the 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment) and three companies of the 61st (King George’s Own) Pioneers were landed at Tanga, advancing on the town at dawn. General Aitken had ordered his mountain battery not to disembark as he thought that the ground was unsuitable for its deployment, and he did not want the navy to shell the town and destroy the buildings that he intended to use. But the German 17th Field Company was waiting for the British advance and it beat the two Indian battalions back with effective machine gun fire. The German Schutztruppe, as the locally-recruited army was named, was in fact a formidable fighting force that was well-armed with machine guns manned by Europeans, whilst the riflemen were African Askari recruited from the martial tribes of territory; the Askari were not proficient marksmen but they were adept at ferociously using their bayonets in the thick bush that then covered most of East Africa.
The British landings continued and on 4th November a British general advance was again made on Tanga town once all the troops had been given breakfast; supporting fire came from the mountain battery firing ineffectively from the deck of its ship. Instead of using 2nd Loyals as his reserve to exploit suitable situations as they developed, General Aitken placed his only British regular battalion in the centre of his attacking line. The advance was through bush and agricultural plantations and visibility was poor. Some Indian units that had stood-to for disembarkation throughout the night were by now too exhausted after their long confinement aboard ships to be effective. German troops harassed the advance and tree-top beehives broken by small arms fire released angry bees onto both sides – giving rise to the name by which the action has been known ever since – the “Battle of the Bees.”
German resistance, now strengthened by the arrival of reinforcements released after the failure of IEF ‘C’’s diversionary attack in the north-west, was centred on the strongly-built railway workshops on the left of the British advance. Here the 101st Grenadiers fought valiantly, charging the workshops several times but always being repulsed by very effective German machine gun fire; the unit lost 11 officers and 130 sepoys killed in action, and all had fought gallantly. On the British right flank Nepalese and Dogras of the Kashmir Rifles and sepoys of the 13th Rajputs penetrated into the town but did not have enough men to combat the fierce German resistance. Belatedly General Aitken allowed the navy to use 6-inch guns against the town but the fire was not controlled by observers and it endangered Indian as well as German troops.
In the centre strong resistance was met when the attacking line reached a railway cutting that ran in a curve from the workshops to the port. Here enemy machine gun fire demoralised the 63rd Palmacottah Light infantry who broke and fled back to the beach, whilst the 98th Infantry declined to advance. This left 2nd Loyals without support, nevertheless the battalion fought across the cutting and all the rifle companies entered the town; however Colonel Jourdain stayed near General Aitken’s headquarters group, perhaps because he was ordered to. In the town the Loyals fought fiercely but without a commanding officer, and when sounds of a German advance from the railway workshops were heard the company commanders conferred and decided to pull back to avoid encirclement. Many Lancashire soldiers were killed by enemy machine gun fire during the withdrawal over the steep-sided and exposed railway cutting. Meanwhile the Indian troops on 2nd Loyals right also fought withdrawal actions back across the railway cutting.
IEF ‘B’ re-grouped west of the beaches that they had landed over and the many stout-hearted troops prepared for another assault on the town the next day. An evening counter-attack by the Germans was beaten back by 2nd Loyals’ musketry and machine gun skills.
In fact, if General Aitken had reconnoitred after dusk he would have discovered that the town was empty of Germans as they had also pulled back a few kilometres; Tanga was waiting to be occupied, but the British failed to send reconnaissance patrols forward and missed their chance. That night General Aitken and his senior staff officers conferred. Whilst the majority of the British infantry units could and would still fight, the rear-echelon units on the beaches had become demoralised by the sounds of battle and the sight of fleeing and wounded sepoys; the total of 900 British casualties suffered so far was a shock to all. General Aitken listened to his senior staff officers, themselves totally shaken by the ferocity of the German defence, and a decision was taken to withdraw the next day. German superiority in infantry fighting and machine gunnery had won the day.
On 6th November IEF ‘B’ re-embarked without interference from the Germans who were unaware of the withdrawal until it was nearly over. The operation was secured by 2nd Loyals, the final unit to re-embark. The Royal Navy refused to carry machine guns in case they damaged the small landing boats (although no damage had been reported on the initial landings), and the force’s remaining guns plus many other valuable store items were left on the beach for the enemy. The most severely wounded British soldiers were left in German hands.
Of 2nd Loyals, four officers, including the Medical Officer, and 47 soldiers had been killed in action; one officer and 39 men had been wounded and evacuated; and one wounded officer, 17 wounded men and four unwounded men had been taken prisoner – a total of 113 casualties out of the 831 officers and men who had sailed from India. Later nine men were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their gallantry. In recognition of the firm grip that he had exerted on the battalion, particularly during the withdrawal, the Regimental Sergeant Major, Owen Almond, was commissioned; sadly he was to be killed in action the following year.
Lawlor was one of the nine men of the 2nd Loyals to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the assault on Tanga and the “Battle of the Bees” on 4th November 1914, his award being published in the London Gazette for 3rd June 1915, with the following citation: ‘For gallant conduct on 4th November 1914, during the attack on Tanga and for general good work performed under a heavy fire.’ Lawlor then remained on service in German East Africa, and it is believed that he then contracted malaria, as he was discharged due to sickness on 11th May 1917, being awarded the Silver War Badge No.174607.