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The Battle of Latema Nek

The Battle of Latema Nek was a battle of the East African Campaign in World War I, the force included No 9 Field Battery Royal Marines – four 12-pounder naval guns manned by Royal Marines and drawn by oxen, who rushed the enemy and helped to deliver the final blow.

On March 11 Lieut-General Smuts decided that a frontal attack on the German positions at Latema-Reata should commence. The troops used for this attack were approximately 1,500 men from Brigadier-General Malleson’s 1st East African Brigade: 130th Baluchis, 2/Rhodesia Regiment and 3/KAR. Reconnaissance made during the morning of the 11th did little to inform the units of the enemy’s defenses that were concealed along the crests of the two hills.

Action of Latema Nek 11-12 March, 1916

3/KAR and the 130th Baluchis started to advance by noon, but were held up by enemy fire at the foot of the hill. Their leader, Malleson, left the field at 2:30 pm suffering from dysentery. His place was taken a short while later by Major-General Tighe who had just returned from his success in taking Salaita Hill. He deployed additional troops some of which were able to reach the crest of the hill. During this push Colonel B.R. Graham, of 3/KAR was killed, along with several of his officers and askari, as he led the advance. The Rhodesians pushed forward through the 3/KAR forces and held ground at the crest of the ridge until the Germans launched a strong counter attack. In the evening the 5/ and 7/South African Infantry commenced a night attack with bayonets. During the night communication amongst the various troops was lost. Smuts ordered Tighe to withdraw, but when day broke it became clear that British troops including some members of 3/KAR and the 2nd Battalion Rhodesian Rifles were still on the ridge.

British 4-inch naval guns on improvised carriages in position above Njoro Drift during the two day bombardment of German positions at Salaita, 8 March 1916.

Once Smuts realized that he still had men out in the field, he ordered the 8/South African Infantry and No. 9 Field Battery to rush forward from Taveta. This activity precipitated the German retreat from the two hills.

British vehicles below Latema ridge after the battle

Although the British had succeeded in occupying the Reata and Latema Hills and clearing the way for the push into German East Africa, this was just the beginning of a prolonged pursuit of the enemy that continued for hundreds of miles through German East Africa into Portuguese East Africa and didn’t end until after the signing of the armistice.

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