THE FRAU AND THE BAOBAB (THE SNIPER TREE)

An enduring myth of the Taveta folk is about a German woman whose husband was killed by the British during World War 1. Seeking revenge, the embittered widow hid in a hollow baobab tree and shot many an unsuspecting British soldier.
 
The incidence though has never been verified and truth be told, it is just a legend.
 
BATTLE AT SALAITA HILL
 
11 February 1916 (World War 1) General Malleson, commanding the 2nd Division (British side), completed his operational orders for the long awaited attack on Salaita Hill.
 
Ground and air reconnaissance reports put the enemy strength at Salaita at about 300 rifles, with machine guns but no artillery.
 
The officers ignored the air reconnaissance reports because they were thought to be unreliable. The air reconnaissance report was not to go up the hill but stay on ground because that’s where the German army was. The men advanced up and the German troops opened fire from below. The South African troops deployed by Malleson paid heavily in loss of life.
 
The battle at Salaita emphasized the cardinal error of not ensuring adequate communication and coordination between the separate brigades and units. On this occasion the procedure did not work as the telephone lines were broken due to unforeseen conditions.
 
Captain Meinertzhagen accused the Reverend Captain Verbi and his staff of sabotaging the telephone links between the artillery and their forward observation officers when he allegedly found one of Verbi’s men with wire cutters in his hand during the battle. General Malleson, however, dismissed the accusations. The deep differences between Malleson and Meinertzhagen only became deeper.
 
The refusal of the South African High Command to pay attention to the interpretation of air reconnaissance reports resulted in much ammunition being wasted shelling the dummy trenches. The real defences were invisible from ground level, situated as they were in the dense bush at the foot of the hill. The information from the detailed reports provided by the Royal Flying Corps had been made available to the military commanders the previous day and could have contributed to a successful operation had they not been dismissed by the planners as irrelevant.
 
Casualties were heavy in the South African forces’ first encounter with the Schutztruppe (German Troops). New to the East African condition of welfare, it was a chastening lesson. The 2nd South African Brigade lost 138 men in all. The 7th South African Infantry lost six killed, five officers and 42 other ranks wounded, and one officer and 29 other ranks missing. More disturbingly, reports mentioned that they abandoned 160 rifles and 20 or 30 boxes of ammunition on field of battle.
 

 

 
 

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