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Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika


The next tune in the continuing series on Pipe Tunes of the First World War is “Lake Tanganyika.” This tune commemorates one of the strangest battles of the First World War. It again shows that it truly was a "World War."

Lake Tanganyika is a large freshwater lake located in lower east Africa. It is part of the African Great Lakes and is the largest of these lakes. It is the largest and deepest lake in Africa and is the second largest volume of freshwater in the world, containing 16% of the world's available freshwater. It is currently bordered by 4 African nations, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Zambia.

At the time of the First World War, Africa was dominated by the European powers. The colony of German East Africa, and Germany in general, had plans on creating “German Central Africa,” a German empire in Africa. Great Britain had interests in Africa including South Africa and British East Africa. Portugal and Belgium also had interests the region. Lake Tanganyika was sandwiched between German East Africa and the Belgium Congo.

At the start of the war, German forces in Africa were not large enough to conduct any significant military operations. They developed a plan to try and divert forces from the Western Front to Africa. The hope was that troops would have to be sent to Africa to protect British interests in the region from the German forces.

In what would be called the African Campaign, the conflict in Africa was based more on guerrilla tactics and small battles, rather than the war of attrition taking place in Europe. German forces started launching a series of raids across the region trying to cause unrest.

Lake Tanganyika became strategically important during the war. The Germans had two large warships on the lake, Kingani and Hedwig. They used these ships to launch raids on British interests Rhodesia (just north of the lake) and the Congo, whose rubber plantations and copper mines were vital to the British war effort.

The British resolved to drive the Germans from east Africa. Unfortunately, German control of the lake allowed them to easily move troops and supplies unmolested. Any campaign in Africa would be unsuccessful without eliminating the German threat in the lake.

An unusual plan was created by the British. Two 40-foot motorboats, Mimi and Tuotuo, armed with machine guns and a small canon, were built in England along with specially constructed trailers. These trailers allowed the boats to be towed over land or by rail. After the boats arrived in South Africa they had to be transported by ox, train, steamboat, and at one point rolling them over logs, more than 3,000 miles inland to Lake Tanganyika.

The key part of the British plan was that the small, nimble motorboats would be faster and able to outmaneuver the larger, German steamships.

By the time they arrived and launched, the Germans had assembled and launched a third warship on the lake, the Götzen. This ship had been built in Germany, disassembled and placed into 5,000 shipping crates, sent to German East Africa, and reassembled on the lake.

The Battle of Lake Tanganyika started on December 26, 1915. The German warship Kingani approached the Belgium Congo shore of Lake Tanganyika where Mimi and Tuotuo were hidden and getting ready to launch. After the Kingani passed, Mimi and Tuotuo launched and pursued Germans.

The Kingani only had one gun, a six-pounder mounted on the bow, and it could only fire forward. The two British boats were able to quickly close the range and attack with their smaller, three-pound guns. After a short, eleven-minute battle, the Kingani’s gun was destroyed and the boat was captured by the British. The British repaired and moved the six-pound gun to the stern and added a twelve-pound canon, taken from a Belgium shore battery, to the bow. It was renamed the Fifi.

In late January, the Hedwig was sent to investigate the disappearance of the Kingani. On February 8, 1916, the Hedwig was spotted by the British as it was returning north to meet up with the Götzen. It was pursued by Mimi and Fifi, the Tuotuo was under repair. Hedwig was able to outrun Fifi, but not Mimi.

Hedwig also had a bow mounted, six-pound gun. The quicker Mimi, with it’s 3 pound gun, caught up to, but was unable to hit the German ship. The two ships started circling, trying to hit, but missing, each other. The Fifi approached while the two ships were circling, and after clearing a jammed shell, hit and sunk the Hedwig. This ended the Battle of Lake Tanganyika.

The German position in German East Africa deteriorated while the lake battles were taking place. British infantry forces were closing in and the another, steel-hulled boat was brought to the lake by the British. The Germans realized that British control of the lake was inevitable and on July 28, 1916, sunk the Götzen in twenty feet of water.

The African Campaign would continue for another two years.

The tune “Lake Tanganyika” was composed by Walter Watson. No other information on the composer could be found. The tune is a four-parted 2/4 march and can be found in Book 8 of Logan’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music. The book was published around 1925 and was a War Memorial edition containing tunes written during or just after the war.

Lake Tanganyika


David Lairson David has been playing the bagpipes for over 20 years. He is an instructor and soloist with the Palm Beach Pipes & Drums and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band. David is active in the Florida competition circuit, and when he is not practicing or playing he works as a computer technician. He currently lives in sunny South Florida.


  1. Many thanks for this. Fascinating stuff! Maybe I should learn this tune as my grandfather, who worked for the African Lakes Trading Company for many years, served in the Nyasaland Volunteers.