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Battle of Karonga

War Name : Battle of Karonga

Date(s) : 09 September 1914

Part of : First World War , East African Campaign ,

Outcome : A victory for Nyasaland Field Force KAR over German Imperial Forces

Type of battle : Land


The only penetration into Nyasaland, by Imperial German Forces in East Africa, during World War1, took place on Wednesday 9th September 1914. A German force of 22 Officers and 800 askari and spearmen attacked the Nyasaland District Headquarters at Karonga, at the north end of Lake Nyasa. The German force was held by a small detatchment of 1 KAR (1 Officer and 39 Askari) and District Officers, Police and Planters. On the arrival of British reinforcements the Germans withdrew, to fall into an ambush which resulted in heavy fighting and their eventual rout.

More details

The first news of the Outbreak of WW1 reached the telegraph office at Karonga at the northern end of Lake Nyasa (Malawi) on 5th August 1914. The District Officials and European planters were called into the Boma (HQ)and by 19th August a Nyasaland Field Force (NFF) of 1KAR 400 strong had arrived at Vua, some 20 miles south of Karonga, by the lake steamer “Queen Victoria.” Capt. Barton the NFF Commander moved to Karonga and initially sought to evacuate the township but on reflection called his force forward and fortified the Boma.

By the end of August information was received that the Germans were gathering at Songwe just over the Tangnyika border under Capt Von Langenn and that they were actually moving south on the 8th September. That same day Barton leaving a detatchment of 1 Officer Lt Bishop and 39 Askari to defend the Boma moved north in three columns to meet the Germans. Both forces travelling off the main track through thick bush passed each other without contact, moving in opposite directions. That night the NFF bivouacked near the R.Lufira and the Germans near Kambwe only a mile or so from Karonga. At 7.45 am. On the 9th September the Germans heard and then sighted a barge leaving Karonga heading north. They engaged it with their field guns thus giving away their presence to the defenders at the Boma. A general fight then developed around the Boma with Von Langenn attacking from the north and east and a second party of Askaris with spearmen under Lt Aumann attacking from the west and south. Fighting lasted until 11.15 when the arrival of a column from NFF under Capt Griffiths, hurrying in support caused the Germans to make an orderly withdrawal. The field guns that attacked the barge took no part in the attack on the Boma. Capt Barton having heard of the attack on the Boma and Detaching Griffiths and his column to give early support set up an ambush on the Kasoa River across the main track likely to be taken by the withdrawing Germans. This trap was soon sprung and some heavy fighting took place, much of it hand to hand, resulting in a German rout. Von Langenn was among the German casualties. By the end of the day the Germans were moving back across the border.

Casualties; Karonga. British 3 killed and 4 wounded Germans 2 Killed and 2 wounded Kasowa River British 4 Killed and 7 wounded Germans 19 killed and 100+ wounded Result The District HQ was evacuated initially to Ngara an in Dec 1914 to Vua but returned to Karonga on 16th may 1916. Lt Bishop of K Coy 1KAR waqs awarded the MC for his defence of the Boma and Capt. Barton was awarded the CMG for his sevices. Deatils of the battle may be found with a plan of the battle in“LivingstonesLake –The Drama of Nyasa,” Oliver Ransford, John Murray, London 1966 Details of the battle may also be found in “A Short History of Karonga” P.J. Howson, Malawi Society Occasional Papers 1971-73