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Battle of Zanzibar (1914): Wikis


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Battle of Zanzibar
Part of World War I
Royal Marine, 1914.jpg
A Royal Marine, holding up the White Ensign aborad HMS Pegasus during the battle off Zanzibar.
Date September 20, 1914
Location off Zanzibar, Zanzibar Harbor, Indian Ocean
Result German victory
German Empire German Navy United Kingdom Royal Navy
Commander Max Looff Captain John Ingles
1 light cruiser 1 cruiser
Casualties and losses
none 1 cruiser sunk,
38 killed,
55 wounded

The Battle of Zanzibar was a single ship action of the First World War. In December of 1914, an Imperial German merchant raider attacked a Royal Navy cruiser in the African waters of Zanzibar Harbor. The one sided battle ended in a German victory, after the British vessel was destroyed along with many of her crew.



Just after the beginning of World War I, on September 19, 1914, Commander Max Looff of the light cruiser SMS Konigsberg was in the Rufiji Delta, when he learned from friendly coast watchers that a British warship had entered Zanzibar Harbor. Loof assumed it was either HMS Astraea or HMS Pegasus. Captain Loof ordered an attack immediately, she had just been supplies at Dar es Salaam so was fully capable of sustaining a battle. With the afternoon tide the Konigsberg left and started her attack run on Zanzibar Harbor.

Cruiser HMS Pegagsus, under Captain John Ingles, was actually the British ship at harbor and not the Astraea. The Pegasus had just left the Astraea and HMS Hyacinth for repairs at Zanzibar to her boilers and engines. Konigsberg was armed with ten 4.1 inch (10.5 cm) rapid fire guns, ten 2 inch (5.2 cm) rapid fire guns and two 18 inch (45 cm) torpedo tubes. Pegasus was armed with eight 4 inch (102 mm) guns, eight 3-pounders and two 18 inch (457 mm) torpedo tubes with 234 officers and men. Pegasus was built in 1897 and Konigsberg was eight years newer, bult in 1905.


At dawn the next morning, September 20, Königsberg entered the port of Zanzibar. She first encountered a tug boat, Konigsberg fired a few shot across the tug's bow and away it went. Once coming within range of HMS Pegasus and began firing salvos at a range of 9,000 yards. Pegasus sat at anchor in Zanzibar Harbor, preparing steam and at that momemt, helpless. For about twenty minutes, Konigsberg fired while Pegasus remained in a stationary position. The British did not move but did raise the White Ensign and began firing their broadside. Pegasus was not capable of hitting the German cruiser yet as her guns were not in range, Pagasus fired but all of her shots fell too short and splashed into the water. Konigsberg slowly continued foward and fired until the range had closed to within 7,000 yards. One of the first British sailors wounded was gunnery officer Lieutenant Richard Turner, both of his legs were mangled from shrapnel damage.He still had strength to say this following to the crew;

"Keep it up, lads, we’re outclassed and done for; but damn them, and keep it up!"

SMS Konigsberg

The British hopelessly continued to fight, suffering several more hits from Konigsberg, the Germans were at least 2,000 yards out of range during the engagement, meaning not one of the British rounds had the ability to reach the German light cruiser. The battle continued for around twenty minutes more. Futher German rounds were fired and hit the British cruiser, most of which hit on deck. The White Ensign was shot down during the fighting, a Royal Marine ran toward it to pick it up and attach it to the mast. He was hit by shrapnel so another marine ran up, picked the flag up and successfully replaced the ensign.

Pegasus resisted as much as possible but had now sustained shot-holes at or beneath the waterline so the vessel began to fill with water. Without a hope of defeating the Germans, Captain Ingles of Pegasus lowered his flag and ordered the evacuation of his ship. The ship later capsized and sunk the same day. With a clear German victory, the Konigsberg turned around and headed back for Rufiji Delta. The Royal Navy lost thirty-eight killed in total, another fifty-five sailors were wounded, most of the dead and wounded were top-side when hit. Staff Surgeon Alfred J. Hewitt, was on deck from the beginning to the end of the battle, aiding wounded sailors and marines. Captain Ingles later recognized his good combat behavior in his report of the battle. German casualties were zero as no British shot came close enough to cause harm.


HMS Pegasus

The German Empire won the day so the morale aboard the Konigsberg increased but this was short lived as the Konigsberg would soon be blockaded in the Rufiji Delta by other British vessels, awaiting her final battle. The hospital ship HMS Gascon and the Scottish ship SS Clan Macrae rescued the survivors of Pegasus. Six of Pegasus' guns were salvaged from the wreck and later used in the East African land campaign. The killed British sailors remain overseas.

See also


  • ^ Zanzibar :: Konigsberg: A German East African Raider


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