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A German East African Raider

In the year before world war one, warships from the British Royal Navy were stationed at strategic ports around the world to protect the trade routes of the British Empire.

In East Africa, ships were based at Simonstown in South Africa with regular patrols along the coast at Zanzibar and Mombasa.

E.Africa at that time comprised two colonies of British and German East Africa, now Kenya and Tanzania. In April 1914, the cruiser S.M.S Konigsberg was recommissioned under Commander Max Looff for service in E. African waters.

Konigsberg a German masterpiece was one of the new class sleek, fast, well armed cruiser with a top speed of 24 knots, a range of 3,000 miles and was armed with 10 high velocity Krupp four inch guns. Her arrival caused concern at Simonstown considering the age of the resident ships.

On the afternoon of 19th September 1914, Konigsberg sailed slowly up the coast of Zanzibar and engaged Pegasus – a British navy ship in a 45 minute battle. Pegasus was gunned out and surrendered. 38 People died, 5 were wounded and the ship sunk later that day. This infuriated the Royal Navy and 3 large modern cruisers arrived within two weeks with orders to “sink and destroy Konigsberg”.

What followed was a game of cat and mouse with Looff taking the ship further and further upstream until he was 20 miles inland. Various aircraft were brought in to keep eye on the cornered ship and personnel increased until there were nearly 20 ships offshore.

Two shallow draft ships H.M.S Mersey and Severn were fitted with 6 inch guns and prepared for battle. On the 6th July 1915 the two ships sailed up river to within 5 miles of Konigsberg and with the aid of a spotter aircraft, opened fire. The shooting was not accurate and the ships retired as the tide fell having fired over 600 shells and scored 4 hits. Five days later, they returned and this time they were more successful .Within the hour of opening fire, Konigsberg was seriously damaged, on fire and with casualties. Looff ordered abandon ship and a torpedo was exploded and the ship settled on the bottom with its decks awash.

On 11th July 1915 the raider was eventually sunk in the Rufiji Delta. The Royal Navy retired and within 3 weeks, the Germans had stripped the Konigsberg of all its fittings.

However the captain’s dining table and side board were salvaged and can be viewed today at the Nairobi Railway Museum.