It is sometimes said that truth is stranger than fiction, a maxim which undoubtedly applies to the extraordinary British naval expedition to Lake Tanganyika in 1915 during the First World War.
As part of a plan to seize control of the Lake from the German Navy, two gunboats were transported in an epic journey from Twickenham on the River Thames to Tanganyika in Africa. Documents and photographs at The National Archives reveal the trials and tribulations of the naval expedition, led by the wildly eccentric commander, Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson.
Setting off in June 1915, the two gunboats (named HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou) were transported by train and ship 6,100 miles from the Thames to Cape Town, and then nearly 2,000 miles by train via Elizabethville in theÂ Belgian Congo. They were then hauled by traction engine and ox through the Belgian Congo and the rugged Mitumba Mountains to be launched on the tropical waters of Lake Tanganyika.
Spicer-Simsonâ€™s detailed notes reveal that 5 September 1915:
‘was the record day of the trip, no less than 14.7 miles being covered and the foot of the Manika Plateau being reached. Unfortunately the motor lorry broke the coupling at the rear end of the torque shaft and split the shaft, through dropping through a bridge, about 150 yards from the place chosen for campâ€¦’ 1
- 1. Catalogue reference: DO 119/918 ^