Zelewski had been in the regular German army until 1886, when he was transferred to the jurisdiction of the German East Africa Company. He served during the Abushiri Rebellion and led several independent commands during the insurrection. When the commander of the German military forces in German East Africa retired, Zelewski was promoted to command them.
Zelewski commanded the Kaiserliche Schutztruppe, a collection of native troops – known throughout Africa as askaris – who were recruited from neighboring countries, such as Sudan. Each askari company consisted of 90 soldiers, a German officer and a German NCO. In addition, each company also had an Ottoman Turkish officer, termed an effendi, who dispensed orders to the common soldiers in their own language.
Zelewski's force consisted of three companies of askaris – two Sudanese and one Zulu – totaling 90 men each, 14 officers and NCOs, three effendi, 170 native bearers, 27 donkeys, 20 cows, and a herd of 60 sheep and goats. Also accompanying the column was an artillery section, described as having 1 artillery piece – probably the 78.5 mm Krupp model 1873 – and two Maxim machine guns, all were manned by askaris.
They also had a number (not stated) of native African scouts who went
slightly ahead of the column to locate any Hehe. The askaris and German NCOs
were armed with the single-shot Mauser Jägerbüchse 1871 rifle and probably the
S71 long bayonet. The officers and effendi carried pistols, some possibly
privately bought. The German officers also were likely still carrying swords
into the field.
|The kind of gun used by the Germans|
The Hehe tribesmen which Zelewski wished to chastise had gained experience fighting neighboring tribes. They wore leather belts with hide strips or animal pelts (for modesty's sake, shall we say), or occasionally they entered battle completely naked. Their primary weapons were several throwing spears and a shorter, broad-bladed stabbing spear. Some Hehe carried short swords and axes. Contemporary reports also indicate that some Hehe carried outdated muzzle-loading trade muskets (which did not have any effect on the upcoming battle). In addition the Hehe carried large oval shields, with various designs to distinguish regiments (one regiment is known to have carried all white shields). They sometimes wore headdresses consisting of bird feathers, colored pom-poms, or decorations of animal fur. Period photographs also show them with either white-painted faces or masks.
|The battle at Lugalo|
Prelude to the Battle
Zelewski's column left from the Indian Ocean town of Kilwa on July 22, 1891, following a circuitous trade route toward the Hehe fortress of Iringa. It travelled through Mafiti territory to Kisaki and onto Myombo (near Kilossa), reaching the Lugalo region by August 16. As the column got closer to Hehe lands, they began administering a "scorched earth" policy on the rebellious tribesmen. The askaris burned a number of villages and farms as they marched.
[One German military critic stated that Zelewski would have fared better if he had put his troops aboard ships and sailed closer to the Hehe lands. He could then have sought assistance from other local tribes, principally the Masai, to help him in his expedition.]
As they marched deeper into Hehe territory, they often saw numbers of armed Hehe en route; however, these had always retreated as soon as shots were fired at them. Zelewski refrained from the use of reconnaissance patrols, which might have given the column some warning, continuing to depend only on his native scouts. Unknown to the column, an estimated 3000 Hehe warriors, under command of Mpangile the Hehe chief's brother, were preparing an ambush for the arrogant Germans.
The German column arrived at the village of Ilula, about 12 miles east of Iringa on the evening of August 16, and Zelewski order his men to pitch their tents for the night. The next morning at about 6:30 am, the expeditionary force broke camp and continued on its way, following a fairly narrow trail. The terrain was hilly, covered in dry grass with thickets of dense bush and large rocks strewn about. In addition a large ridge loomed to the right of the intended route of von Zelewski's force.
Battle of Lugalo
By 7:00 am, Zelewski's command was marching below the large ridge (mentioned above) in single-file column, again with no flank guards. The order of march was:
- African scouts with 10 Zulu askaris of the 7th Company;
- Commander von Zelewski and Dr. Buschow (the expedition's physician), both riding donkeys;
- Lieutenant von Pirch with the bulk of the 7th Company including Corporal Schmidt and Büchsenmacher [Gunsmith] Hengelhaupt;
- The artillery detachment including Lieutenant von Heydebreck and Corporals Thiedemann, Herrich and Wutzer;
- Lieutenant von Zitzewitz with the 5th Company including Corporal von Tiedewitz and Combat Medic Hemprich;
- Sergeant Kay with 40 Sudanese askaris of the 6th Company;
- The native porters and the expedition's luggage;
- Lieutenant von Tettenborn with another 20 Sudanese askaris of the 6th Company;
- The cattle, sheep and goats; and,
- The remaining 12 Sudanese askaris of the 6th Company, acting as a rearguard.
As the German force marched past the ridge sheltering the Hehe ambush, a German officer or NCO (no one seems to know who) sighted a flock of birds flying overhead. Hoping to bag some fresh meat, the German fired at the birds. Unfortunately, this unknown soldier had mistakenly given the signal for which the Hehe were waiting. Upon hearing this errant gunshot, the Hehe warriors swarmed over the brow of the ridge and descended upon the invaders. They shouted their war chant, "Hee Twahumite, Hee Twahumite! He, he, he, heeeeee" (Hey, we have come out! Hey, hey, hey, hey!).
Instantly, the German column was engulfed by chaos. Many, if not all of the askaris marched with unloaded rifles and barely had time to load let alone form up defensive squares before the Hehe were upon them. The askaris presumably had little time to discard their full marching equipment (water bottle, bread bag, backpack and tent section wrapped around the backpack or over the shoulder) before finding themselves in hand to hand combat.
The design of the newly-issued cartridge pouches was not familiar to the askaris and vital seconds were lost before they could open fire. Even then only one or two volleys were fired which did little to stem the Hehe tide. There was no time to put the artillery into action. Pack animals and porters fled, and the artillery donkeys stampeded into the 5th Company ranks. Many askaris simply ran for their lives.
The hordes of Hehe warriors engulfed the invading column within minutes, spearing men in a battle frenzy. Commander von Zelewski and Dr. Buschow were stabbed while still on their mounts. Other German officers and NCOs died just as quickly. The 5th and 7th Companies, the artillery section, and the largest part of the 6th Company were slaughtered where they stood. One survivor states that one of the machine guns managed to be deployed for action, and it took down dozens of Hehe at the very beginning of the fight.
However, Lieutenant von Tettenborn's rearguard narrowly escaped the initial onslaught of the Hehe because of the premature signal. They maneuvered up a steep slope and found a hill which they occupied and set up an outpost. Tettenborn ordered a German flag flown, and a bugle sounded to attract any survivors.
At about 7:15 am, a group of about 20 askaris, along with Lieutenant von Heydebreck and Corporal Wutzer from the artillery section, found their way to Tettenborn's outpost. Also among them were a number of the native porters, attracted by the bugle calls. By this point, the column was essentially wiped out. The Hehe were at this pointed chasing the survivors, killing the wounded, and looting the supplies. They also began picking up the askaris' rifles and their ammunition. In an attempt to smoke out any other survivors, the native warriors also set fire to the grass, sowing further confusion.
Over the next 8 ½ hours, a number of German NCO's, native porters and askaris made their way to the hilltop redoubt through the confusion and smoke of the aftermath of the attack. At about 4:00 pm Lieutenant von Tettenborn decided that no more members of the column would be coming. As a result, he ordered a withdrawal east, before their escape route could be cut off, from the direction of their original march. At nightfall, they camped next to a river east of their campsite of the previous night. Counting noses, Tettenborn found that he now commanded 2 officers (1 wounded), 3 German NCOs (one died during the night), 2 effendi, 62 askaris and their NCOs (11 wounded), 74 porters (7 wounded), and 7 donkeys. The survivors marched over the next 11 days – mostly by night – and reached the town of Myombo on August 29.
German casualties were heavy: 4 officers, 6 NCO's, 1 effendi, 256 askaris and their NCOs, and 96 porters. In addition, about 300 modern firearms fell into the hands of the Hehe. Native losses are problematic; estimates range from 260 to 1000, with Lt. Tettenborn estimating 700. Despite their win, the Hehe did not have sufficient forces to sustain the revolt.
Footnote #1: The Hehe uprising simmered for several years, before it was finally put down in 1894. Chief Mkwawa and a small group of followers continued a guerrilla war for another four years, until they were trapped and the chief committed suicide. Mkwawa's head was sent back to Germany, where it languished until it was returned to Tanzania in 1954.
Footnote #2: After their rebellion was snuffed out, the Hehe remained close allies of the Germans, even providing troops to put down the Maji-Maji Rebellion of 1905-1907.
Footnote #3: Several years after the battle, a monument was erected to honor the German officers, NCOs and askaris who were killed at this battle. It is located just south of the nearby A7 Tanzam Highway. A similar monument to the Hehe who fell at the battle is nearby, north of the highway.
Courtesy Burn Pit