The weather is improving here on the coast in Mombasa. I went for the first dive of the year about a week ago. For us, the water is still a little chilly at 26 degrees! (I am nearly 60). The weather was good, and the dives were very relaxing and calm. I thoroughly enjoy more relaxing dives, sometimes more than an eerie wreck dive full of shadows and darkness, or when the current is racing you across the top of the reef at what feels like a breakneck speed. It’s lovely to just sink into the abyss and calmly watch the surface shimmer dissipate above your head. After so many dives, the movements become automatic. Once I am under the water: I revel in the slow motion of everything, as I descend toward the seabed my mind transitions from surface to below surface: calm and peaceful.
My mobile will have to survive on its own for a while and those urgent calls just have to wait. My buddy is with me, but communication is minimal; thumb and forefinger together signals, OK; a wave of the hand to show direction, but that’s about it. When the coral appears in the gloom, I must inflate my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device). I was taught to blow into it using my lungs rather than the inflator pipe attached to the tank. My movements are slow and deliberate. I make sure I am stable in the water; then I find the inflator pipe on my BCD with my left hand; finally, I hold my first stage with my right hand and take a deep breath; then I remove it and blow into my inflator pipe, then replace my first stage in my mouth and blow out to get rid of any water. This sounds like a trivial thing that a person would not even think about, but underwater everything is different. The actions have to be thought about and rehearsed in my mind before I undertake the simple task. I find it akin to meditation; while you are diving, you live in the moment and every thought and movement has to be thought about in advance. A mouthful of water would possibly start a panic, which never ends well!
Last month I wrote about one of my favorite heroes of East Africa, Von Lettow-Vorbeck. Thanks for all of the feedback on his antics during the First World War. As I was wandering about inside his story I came across another story of bravery and heroics. This one is closer to my heart as it included a navy battle. The battle was conducted on a tiny river delta along the coast of Tanzania and was called the Battle of The Rufiji Delta. See the Wikipedia page for more insight.
It constantly amazes me that in this butt end of a place on the other side of the planet from their homes groups of men decided to have a navy battle! These men were totally cut off from their leaders back in Germany and the UK, they might have well been on Mars! They had to survive on their wits alone, and they had to deal with the continent of Africa which throws everything at you every day.
In October of 1914, just five days after the battle of the Bees, the Konigsberg a light cruiser, and her sister ship the Somali, had just finished a very successful engagement with the British cruiser HMS Pegasus ending in the Pegasus being sunk. However, they had developed some engine problems and were very low on food. The captain decided to seek some shelter and get his engines fixed, so he headed up the Rufiji River where he thought he could hide away in the twists and turns of the delta.
However, HMS Chatham quickly found the Konigsberg and blockaded the head of the delta. The Chatham tried to destroy the German cruiser with a long-range bombardment but was unable to fire accurately at such a distance. A local South African pilot was commandeered, Dennis Cutler, who flew his Curtis Seaplane with a new Ford Radiator to compensate for the humid conditions. He found the Konigsberg and reported her new position further upstream, he also reported that the Somali had been sunk on a sand bar. The British then sank the Newbridge along one of the deltas to trap the Konigsberg but soon realized that as it was a delta there were many other channels to escape from.
During this period the Konigsberg had removed parts of their engines and had managed to send them to Dar-Es-Salaam for repairs.
The British continued their attacks using, in some cases, Air Service, and Sopwith seaplanes, but the planes could not deal with the tropical sun which warped the propellors and melted the vital glue holding the flimsy panels together.
Finally, two shallow draught monitors, the HMS Mersey, and the Severn were towed from Malta via the Red Sea. Once they arrived at the head of the river they were armored. Then covered by a full bombardment from the other battle cruisers, and monitored by four land aircraft used for spotting, the two monitors went upriver and engaged in a long-range duel with the Konigsberg.
On the 11th of July, using their 6in. guns they managed to knock the already disabled Konigsberg out, and she was reduced to a wreck.
The following day, 33 Germans were laid to rest in an emotional sermon conducted by Captain Loof. A small plaque was placed on the lone grave in the middle of nowhere, listing the names of the dead.
But that was not the end of the Konigsberg. The remaining 188 men managed to remove the ten 4.1-in. quick-firing guns. They then proceeded to mount them on hand-made gun carriages and disappeared into the jungle. The crew met with Von Lettow-Vorbeck and continued harrying the land forces throughout the First World War.
The crew of the Konigsberg sat in the Rufiji Delta for about ten months. This is a feat unto itself. Anyone that has visited Africa will know, it is draining on your system. Everything is against you from the weather; to the food; to the animals and insects. Not to mention the crocodiles and hippos in the river. The heat is oppressive, you are either having malaria or are recovering from it!
Captain Loof must have been a hell of a guy to keep control of his crew with limited supplies in such an awful situation. He then managed to remove the majority of his crew and join up with the Lion of Africa and continue campaigning against the British.
The Konigsberg was last seen in the 80s but filled with mud from the river then rolled and sank. However, the Somali was left high and dry on a small sandbar in the river. The river then brought more silt to surround the boat. This, in turn, became a small island that can still be seen along the river today.
I hope you enjoyed this snippet of an anecdote. I cannot hope to do it justice here in my newsletter and I encourage those of you who are Africa nerds to look into it. Here are a few links to get you going:
Well, that’s about it for this month. If you think that any of your friends or family would enjoy these newsletters or a free copy of African Slaver, please be generous!
Cheers for now.