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German Re-Supply efforts for then German East-Africa in WW I


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In another thread the subject of re-supply of the German Protective Forces (Schutztruppe) in then German East-Africa was touched upon.. The following is a brief description of the three efforts. There were two by sea, the first one in 1915 and the second one in 1916, both were successful. The third in 1917 by air via a Zeppelin airship did not succeed most likely by British Secret Service launching a phony radio message which caused the airship to return.

- First re-supply operation by the supply ship "Rubens", a former British ship caught by the outbreak of the war in a German port. Commanded by Oblt.z.S.d.R. Karl Christiansen and sailing as a Danish flagged ship, the "Kronborg" with a Danish speaking crew it set off on 18.Feb. 1915. Her cargo consisted of 1,000 105 mm shells for the cruiser "Koenigsberg", several thousand rounds of 47 mm for the light guns in the Schutztruppe, 1,800 modern rifles to replace some of the obsolete M 1871 rifles burning black powder with 3 million rounds of ammunition , two 60 mm guns, six machine guns, tons of explosives, medical and food supplies, machine tools and other valuable goods. In addition 1,600 tons of quality coal for the "Koenigsberg" and 1,200 tons for its own use.

On 14.Apr.1915 the ship reached a bay north of Tanga after barely avoiding British blocking forces who had been supplied with German messages the code of which had been broken.. Captain Christiansen decided to beach the ship, had the seacocks opened and the crew take to the boats. he was wounded in a leg. A British boarding party was turned back by machine gun fire from the shore. The precious cargo was landed in a concerted effort. Some of the small arms ammunition was water damaged and had to be salvaged by hand cleaning the individual rounds and also replacing many caps. the literature available to me does not clearly indicate the further path of the crew nor its captain. He is reported a British POW as of Dec.1915 following an attempt to return to Germany. In Oct.1917 transferred to and interned in Switzerland and returned to Germany in June 1918. Decorated with both classes of the Iron Cross and the Oldenburg F.A.Cross 1.Class.

Reactivated with the outbreak of WW II he served for a time on the staff of his brother, Gen.d.Fl. Friedrich Christiansen, PlM in the Netherlands and later as F.Kpt. and Inspector General of Maritime Shipping until the end of the war. He received the Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross.

I will report on the other operations in future posts.

Main sources for this post: "The Great War in Africa" by Byron Farwell, "Das Offizierkorps der Schutztruppe fuer Deutsch-Ostafrika im Weltkrieg 1914 - 1918" and Gordon Williamson very valuable " The War Merit Cross"

Bernhard H. Holst

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-Second Re-supply operation in 1916.

Under the command of Lt.z.S.d.R. Konrad Soerensen the Sperrbrecher 15 was outfitted to re-supply the German Protective Forces in then German Eastafrica fighting under some severe shortages of all kinds of material. A list of the most urgently needed items was conveyed to Germany via the still neutral colony of Portugal Mozambique of Portugal. Captain Soerensen had been assigned to a section in the German Admiralty concerned with marine matters in overseas since Dec.1915. Another formerly British ship was oufitted and disguised first as a Swedish ship which diguise could be altered to that of a Danish vessel. The crew of 28 were all from northern Slesvig and bi-lingual.

The cargo of 1,500 tons was packed in loads of 60-65 pounds which was the possible load weight for the African porters who would have to move the cargo inland once offloaded. There were four field-howitzers , two mountain guns, ammunition incl. for the disembarked 105 mm "Koenigsberg" guns, Medical and other supplies. Materiel, clothing, food stuffs and as has been already mentioned Iron Crosses. A lone passenger, Hptm. R.R.v.Kaltenborn-Stachau assigned to the Schutztruppe would be along on this voyage. After a two months trip the ship reached the bay of Sudi ,on the very southern coast of German Eastafrica on 16.Mar.1916 and was unloaded by 27.Mar. 1916. British warships arrived too late to prevent the unloading but inflicted damages on the ship. Emergency repairs were made and a month later the ship now called "Marie" left for Dutch East Indies with a reduced crew and dispatches from the Governor Schnee for the homeland. It safely reached its destination. The further adventures of the captain ended with internment in the USA and a return to Germany several months after the armistice. On his return he was told that he had been awarded both Iron Crosses.

K. Soerensen served as a reserve officer during WW II with lasr rank of K.Kptn.d.R.z.V. in the Baltic and in Norway and was discharged from service in late 1944.

Sources: "The Great War in Africa" by Byron Farwell; "Blockadebrecher "Marie" by Peter Eckart, 1937 and "Das Offizierskorps der Schutztruppe fuer Deutsch-Ostafrika"

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- The third and last re-supply effort by Germany for its Protective Force in then German East-Africa was planned and implemented by the German Admiralty. This time an airship was to be used for the 3,600 -mile trip. The Zeppelin L-57 was to be so utilized but crashed due to lightning strike in Oct.1917 . It was replaced by L-59 which appeared to have been purpose-built for a re-supply mission.in the Fall of 1917. The ship was powered by five engines with a total of 1,200 horsepower and a useful lift of 114,000 pounds . Its range was estimated as 10,000 miles. Its cargo was 15 tons of medical supplies , machine-guns, ammunition, bush-knives, field glasses, and other useful items.

Because a return of the airship was not anticipated all material used in its construction was designed for other uses after arrival: the balloon envelope could be used for tenting, its lining for bandages, its gasbags as sleeping bags; huts and a radio tower could be built from its Duralumin frame; the catwalks being of leather could be used for boots.

Dr.Eckener, its designer flew the airship together with Captain Lehmann ( who died in the crash of the "Hindenburg") to Bulgaria. There the Zeppelin was turned over to Lt.Cmdr. Ludwig Bockholt. Lt.Cmdr. Bockholt had distinguished himself earlier while in command of L-23 by capturing a Norwegian schooner "Royal" which was carrying mining timber to England. He had lowered a prize crew from the airship which crewd the vessel to Germany.

L-59 departed Bulgaria on 21.Sep.1917 with a crew of twenty-one. Traversing friendly Turkey, flying over the Mediterranean then the length of British controlled Egypt into the airspace of the Sudan. The most challinging period was while traveling over the desert where the glaring sun caused severe headaches and also hallucinations The airship also reacted violently with rolls and loss of height. While in the larger vicinity of Khartoum a faint radio messge reached the airship.to turn back. The commander reached the decision to do that. It seems that rumors of such an expedition were circulating among teh British forces but no British chase plane was observed during both parts of the journey which lasted a total of 95 hours and traveled a distance of 4,220 miles. It landed safely on 25,Nov.1917 in Bulgaria. The airship still carried eleven tons of fuel or enough for another sixty-four hours of flight (3,700 miles). Lt.Cmdr. Bockholt died in what seemed an accident while on a mission to bomb Malta in Apr.1918. The L-59 was surrendered to the British after the war and her subsequent fate is unknown.

Source: again "The Grat War in Africa" by Byron Farwell, the author of a number of books on warfare with which many of the readers are acquainted.

Bernhard H. Holst

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In Zepplins by W. Cross, the faint radio message received was: "China project. Abort Operations. Enemy Has Seized Units You Were Staging To Assist. Turn Back To Starting Point."

There is some controversy about who exactly sent the message, but Chris Andrews, the Cambridge Intelligence expert, has written an article in 'Intelligence and International relations" about how the British tracked the radio communications of the L-59 across Africa and thinks it was deliberate disinformation.

Cross doubts that the L-59 would have reached the remaining German forces in Africa....but, you enver know.

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  • 4 years later...

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