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Battle of Ngomano
Part of East African Campaign
Date 25 November 1917[1]
Location Ngomano, Portuguese East Africa
Result German victory
Belligerents
German Empire German Empire Portugal Portugal
Commanders
German EmpirePaul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck PortugalJoâo Teixeira Pinto  
Strength
1,500 to 2,000 men 900 men
Casualties and losses
light 200 killed and wounded [2]
700 captured

The Battle of Ngomano was fought between the German Empire and Portugal during the East African Campaign of World War One. A force of Germans and Askaris under Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck had just defeated the British at the Battle of Mahiwa and were running low on supplies. To remedy the problem the Germans invaded Portuguese East Africa in an attempt to escape superior British forces to the north and resupply from captured Portuguese materiel.

A Portuguese force under the command of Major Joâo Teixeira Pinto was sent to stop von Lettow-Vorbeck from crossing the border, but was flanked by the Germans while encamped at Ngomano on 25 November 1917. The resulting battle saw the Portuguese nearly destroyed, with large numbers of troops killed and captured. The loss enabled the Germans to capture a large quantity of supplies, thereby allowing them to continue the campaign until the end of the war.

Contents

Background

By late November 1917, the Germans in East Africa were left with few options if they wanted to continue the war. They were outnumbered drastically and were split up into several different columns. The two larges forces under Theodor Tafel and Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck were completely cut off from each other. Although von Lettow-Vorbeck's force had defeated a large British army at the Battle of Mahiwa he had lost a large number of troops and expended virtually all his supply of modern ammunition. With only antiquated weapons and no way of resupplying the Germans were forced to invade Portuguese East Africa in order to maintain their effectiveness as a fighting force and continue the war.[3]

Although Tafel's force was intercepted and capitulated before reaching the border, van Lettow-Vorbeck was able to reach the Rovuma River. Facing supply issues, the German general then reduced his force by dismissing a large number of Askaris which he could not equip as well as a number of camp followers.[4] With his reduced force, van Lettow Vorbeck made plans to attack the Portuguese garrison across the river at Ngomano. The Portuguese force was a native contingent led by European officers under Joâo Teixeira Pinto. Rather than prepare defensive positions, the Portuguese had begun building a large encampment upon their arrival at Ngomano on 20 November. Pinto had at his disposal 900 troops with six machine guns and a large supply cache, but his inexperienced force was no match for the van Lettow-Vorbecks force who crossed the river with between 1,500 and 2,000 hardened veterans as well as a large number of porters.[5][6]

Battle

In order to distract Pinto and his men, the Germans shelled the camp from across the river with high explosive rounds. While the artillery attack the camp, the Germans moved their forces upstream and crossed the Rovuma safely out sight of Pinto and his men.[7] The Portuguese did not resist van Lettow-Vorbeck's forces when they crossed the river and remained encamped at Ngomago. The Germans were easily able to flank the Portuguese positions and completely envelop them with German infantry attacking the camp from the south, southeast, and west. Although a German attack had been expected, Pinto thought that it would come from a frontal assault and was competely surprised when his force came under attack from the rear. The Portuguese attempted to entrench themselves in rifle pits, but the Portuguese became disoriented after Major Pinto and several other officers were slain early on in the engagement.[8]

The Germans had very little in the way of heavy weapons, as they had discarded most of their artillery and machine guns due to lack of ammunition. Despite the chronic ammunition shortage van Lettow-Vorbeck was able to move four machine guns up close to the rifle pits, using them only at close range to ensure his ammunition would not be wasted. The inexperience of the Portuguese proved to be their downfall, as despite firing over 30,000 rounds German casualties were extremely light, suffering only one casualty among their officers. Taking heavy casualties, having lost their commanding officer, and hopelessly outnumbered, the Portuguese finally surrendered despite the fact that they had enough supplies to continue the action.[9]

Aftermath

The German casualties were extremely light, with only a few Askaris killed and only one European. The Portuguese, on the other hand, had suffered a massive defeat. Over 200 Portuguese were killed and wounded and nearly 700 were made prisoners of war and used as porters by the Germans. The Germans managed to completely resupply their force from the huge quantity of ammunition and weaponry captured. Van Lettow-Vorbeck abandoned and destroyed the majority of his force's German weaponry for which he had no ammunition, and instead armed his troops with the newly acquired Portuguese and British materiel. Even the Portuguese uniforms were utilized by the Germans, seizing them from the captured prisoners to replace the ragged old German ones that the force had previously worn.[10] Van Lettow-Vorbeck did not stay at Ngomano for long and he soon marched his force south to attack more Portuguese positions, leaving only one company at Ngomano as a rearguard in case the British decided to follow him into Portuguese East Africa. Fully resupplied van Lettow-Vorbeck's force continued its advance into Portuguese territory, winning several more victories against them while seizing even more supplies and ammunition before moving back into German East Africa in 1918.[11]

Citations

  1. ^ Downes 1919, p. 179.
  2. ^ Chisholm 1922, p. 885.
  3. ^ Chisholm 1922, p. 884.
  4. ^ Strachan 2004, p. 175.
  5. ^ Downes 1919, p. 180.
  6. ^ Newitt 1995, p. 419.
  7. ^ Dane 1919, p. 150.
  8. ^ Downes 1919, p. 179.
  9. ^ Downes 1919, p. 280.
  10. ^ Dane 1919, p. 150.
  11. ^ Downes 1919, p. 281.

References

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