Battle of Bukoba

The Battle of Bukoba was the first victory for Entente forces in German East Africa, coming after the disastrous battles of Tanga and Jassin. The British objective was the destruction of the Bukoba wireless station. Due to Bukoba's location on the shore of Lake Victoria, it was decided that the raid should take the form of an amphibious assault.[1]

Battle of Bukoba
Part of the East African Campaign of World War I
Battle of Bukoba (Tanzania)
Date21-23 June 1915

British victory

  • British capture Bukoba

 German Empire

 British Empire
Commanders and leaders
Unknown Gen. Stewart
Col. Daniel Patrick Driscoll
Units involved

 British Army

200+ 1,500
Casualties and losses
14 killed
34 wounded
150 killed & wounded

The Battle

The raid was launched from Kisumu in British East Africa on 21 June 1915. Amongst the units chosen for the attack were the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers[2], more commonly known by their nickname the 25th 'Frontiersmen'. This unusual unit had been created by Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll as an irregular skirmish force shaped by his experiences during the Second Boer War, and drawn largely from his peacetime paramilitary group, the Legion of Frontiersmen. A number of big game hunters were recruited to the force by Driscoll—most notably Frederick Selous, who was 64 when he joined and who died in action at the age of 65.

Upon reaching the objective at Bukoba the attackers were accidentally landed in a large swamp and were pinned down by fierce rifle and machine gun fire from the German positions. Finally managing to escape the swamp, the British force was then stalled by snipers. The attack continued for a further two days in the town; however, casualties were light on both sides. The Frontiersmen took the town on 23 June. An Australian member of the unit, Lieutenant Wilbur Dartnell, climbed to the top of the town hall and removed the German Imperial Ensign from the flagpole as a symbolic gesture of victory.


Bukoba fort and the wireless station were destroyed, the British also captured hundreds of rifles and 32,000 rounds of ammunition. Due to their status as an 'irregular' unit, the Frontiersmen were granted permission to loot the town by General Stewart. This predictably turned into a disaster, with the 25th robbing, raping and burning much of the town with such ferocity that the incident became known as the "Sack of Bukoba". It was later claimed by an embarrassed high command that no looting had taken place.

The aim of the raid, the destruction of the wireless station, was counterproductive for the British as it deprived them of the possibility of intercepting German transmissions. Bukoba was abandoned.

Wilbur Dartnell

After the battle, the 25th Battalion was ordered to guard the Uganda Railway between Nairobi and Mombasa, which was coming under heavy attack from German forces. During this period Wilbur Dartnell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an action which took place near Maktau on 3 September 1915.

The citation for Dartnell's VC

On 3 September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy's black troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others.


  1. Hew Strachan, The First World War in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2004) pp. 11, 116 Albania
  2. "History of the 25th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers". Archived from the original on 1 March 2007. Retrieved 31 December 2006.


  • Hew Strachan, The First World War in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2004) pp. 11, 116 Albania

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