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Destruction under gunfire of Pegasus in Zanzibar Harbour

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Zanzibar

Period/ Conflict: World War I

Year: 1914

Date/s: 20th September 1914

H.M.S. Pegasus was one of eleven Pelorus Class cruisers built for the Royal Navy in the late 19th century. After an uneventful career in the Mediterranean and Australia, the ship was re commissioned in 1913 for the Cape Squadron at Simonstown, South Africa. The squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral King-Hall consisted of three elderly cruisers, H.M.S. Astraea, Hyacinth and Pegasus. At the outbreak of the First World War, Astraea and Pegasus were based at Zanzibar and patrolled the coast until the former was called away for escort duty.

Continuous steaming for weeks on end searching for the Königsberg had reduced Pegasus’ performance and she required maintenance at Zanzibar on 19 September. In the meantime Königsberg was less than two hundred miles away in the Rufiji Delta having taken on seven hundred tons of coal.

HMS 'Pegasus', 3rd-class protected cruiser, at Zanzibar, 19 September 1914William Lionel Wyllie (5 July 1851 – 6 April 1931) [1]

The SMS Konigsberg had been taking on coal in the delta of the Rufiji River when her crew were told that a British cruiser, HMS Pegasus had put in at Zanzibar for repairs. Konigsberg's captain, Commander Max Looff, decided to attack Pegasus while she was in port and arrived off Zanzibar at sunrise the following morning.

Action pinned on

Konigsberg sailed past the picket ship Helmuth at the entrance to Zanzibar harbour. She was unable to warn Pegasus of Konigsberg's approach, with the result that when Koningsberg opened fire she took Pegasus entirely by surprise. As a result Pegasus suffered heavy damage before she was even able to return fire.

Out gunned and outranged Pegasus was disabled within eight minutes, and the ship reduced to a shambles with thirty-eight killed and fifty-five wounded. Commander Ingles ordered the striking of the colours and the raising of a white flag. Looff ceased fire and departed having fired over two hundred and fifty shells.

A Royal Marine, holding up the White Ensign aboard HMS Pegasus during the battle off Zanzibar.

Attempts to beach the ship with a tug failed and she sank that afternoon in thirty feet leaving the masts above the surface.Ingles organized the recovery of six of the 4 inch guns, which were fitted with carriages in the railway workshops and tested in the grounds of the Marahubi Palace ruins. Two guns were mounted on the Zanzibar seafront as part of the town’s defences, while two others were used in the land campaign against von Lettow-Vorbeck. Of the remaining two, one was mounted on the lake steamer Winifred and the other used for the defence of Mombasa.

By 1916 the German threat of attack was over and the land campaign guns and Winifred gun were returned to Simonstown and scrapped. After the war the two Zanzibar guns were kept on the sea front as a memorial, but have since disappeared, while the Mombasa gun is preserved outside Fort Jesus, where it can be seen today.

Of the 38 crew lost 4 were Royal Marines:

ADAMS, James, Private, RMLI, 8638 (Ply):

FARLIE, Edgar J, Private, RMLI, 10266 (Ply):

MCINTYRE, Thomas W, Corporal, RMLI, 14645 (Ply) :

THOMSON David Private RMLI 12483 (Ply) DOW 27th Sept.


[1] This drawing is an almost exact copy of a photograph of the 3rd-class protected cruiser 'Pegasus' (1897) anchored in the harbour at Zanzibar, Kenya, on 19 September 1914 for boiler cleaning and engine maintenance. She has awnings rigged amidships and at the base of the mainmast. The day after this photograph was taken the 'Pegasus' was caught powerless there, soon after dawn, by the German light cruiser 'Königsberg' (1905). Outranged and outgunned she was very badly damaged and started to sink. Attempts were made to beach her but she sank with just her masts above the water. Sources differ concerning the casualties among her 234 crew: figures of 31 dead and 55 wounded are the most common but 45 killed and 59 dead are also quoted. Her eight 4-inch guns were salvaged and used in the land campaign against German East Africa. The wreck was demolished by explosives in 1955-56 and the shattered remains still lie in a corner of Zanzibar harbour. The inscription by Wyllie along the bottom appears to be a diary note not relevant to the drawing: 'Sunday 28th May / 2.45 St Marys Church Kingstone ....BP 1st July'. [National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London]

Some notes taken from the Great War Forum & Kevin Patience, Shipwrecks And Salvage On The East African Coast

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