11/7/1915 Battle of the Rufiji Delta: doom of the Königsberg

Since the commencement of the war a key aim of the British has been to bottle up and destroy any German warships at large on the high seas. Germany’s Pacific Squadron was smashed at the Battle of the Falklands, with the one surviving ship caught and eliminated at Más a Tierra. The Emden, a cruiser operating independently from the Pacific Squadron, had already been caught at the Cocos Islands.

Apart from its home fleet and the Goeben and Breslau in the Black Sea, that left Germany with just the Königsberg. This cruiser found itself in the Indian Ocean at that start of the war and was soon blockaded by the British in the Rufiji Delta of German East Africa.

The British are determined to eliminate the Königsberg but it is no easy task. Even finding the German ship in the maze-like channels of the delta is difficult, though the use of spotter planes is a great help. More problematic is bringing suitable ships to bear against the enemy. Sections of the Rufiji Delta are very shallow. The Königsberg itself was only able to retreat into the delta by running across shoals at high tide when they had been swollen by rains. The river waters are now too low for normal British ships to do the same.

But the British have another trick up their sleeve. From Britain they have transported some shallow-draught monitors, ships specially designed for fighting in rivers and coastal waters. These ships are able, just about, to traverse the shallows of the Rufiji’s mouth. Now they are engaging the Königsberg in a strange battle. The British and German ships are in different branches of the delta and cannot see each other. However, the British have aircraft with which they can pin point the Königsberg‘s location and guide shells onto their target.

The battle is slow but the outcome is inevitable. British shells batter the Königsberg. The German death toll rises and their ship increasingly resembles a floating hulk rather than a warship. So that something can be salvaged from the disaster, Commander Max Looff orders the Königsberg abandoned and scuttled. The ship’s guns are detached from vessel to be used as artillery by Lettow-Vorbeck‘s field army, into whose ranks the Königsberg‘s crew are now absorbed.

image sources:

Rufiji Delta map (Royal Navy and Naval History)

Königsberg scuttled (Wikipedia)

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