National Geographic: The Jungle Navy


Central Africa. 1915.

A small band of British soldiers

marches through the jungle

on a bizarre and secret mission.

In Europe, the first World War has

become a murderous stalemate...

but the clash of kings and empires

reaches far beyond Flanders -

to a pivotal naval battle for

control of the Great Lakes of Africa.

In command of the British

expedition is Lt.

- Commander Geoffrey Basil

Spicer- Simson... an officer

whom the fates of war will label

a hero, a madman, and a god.

June 1915.

Under the guidance of South

African John Lee,

hacking a highway

through the unbroken rain forest

- 150 miles of manual labor in

the tropical heat.

Lee's bush road leads across jungles

through swamps and over mountains

to the Great Lakes of Africa

- Tanganyika, Victoria, Nyasa.

Two already are in British hands

- but Tanganyika is the jewel of

the German empire

- a prize that London desperately


to turn the tide of the African war.

It is a vital lifeline needed to arm

and supply a jungle army.

Whoever controls the lake,

controls the surrounding


One man rules her waters.

Kapitan Gustav Zimmer of the

Imperial German Navy

commands a powerful marine

unit of 150 men

- his fleet of three heavily-armed


has obliterated the puny armada

of the Belgian Congo

...- to win the battle for Central


Zimmer's navy must be defeated.

Yet for the job of destroying him,

the Royal Navy selects a former

military surveyor

who has never led a brigade

into battle.

Lt. -Commander Geoffrey Basil


is an old Africa hand who has

spent the first year of the war

behind a desk in London.

Then chance, not choice, gives

him an opportunity for greatness.

"Why did we go to Tanganyika?

Because the Germans with four

ships on the Lake

- were commanding the lake,

and by means of these steamers

were able to supply their troops

on the frontiers with provisions

and munitions.

It was important that this should

be stopped."

Spicer's orders are almost surreal

- London wants him to tote his

own toy navy

from England to Central Africa

a pair of 40-foot motorboats

- to be dismantled and freighted

to Cape Town

- then tugged overland by steam

tractor to the Congo

- a trek of over nine thousand


- with Zimmer's gunships waiting

at the other end.

Spicer assembles the team.

Former architect of the

Rhodesian railway,

Paddy Wainwright is the

chief engineer

- I'm tropical disease specialist,

Dr. Hother Hanschell,

will be the Medical Officer.

As a casual friend of Spicer's,

Dr. Hanschell knows Spicer is

not your average leader.

"Spicer-Simson was a vain man

worthy of ridicule and on occasion,

great admiration at the same time.

This paradox was only possible

because of the very nature of

Spicer-Simson's own behavior,

which was quite often bizarre."

they are gunners, mechanics,

and engineers

- not one has ever served

under Spicer.

The plan to take Tanganyika from

the Germans is a simple one.

Get to Tanganyika, and destroy

the German fleet

by stealth and surprise.

But their own warships are

converted supply boats.

"The two boats taken to Africa

by the expedition were...

not at all suitable as they were,

but they were the only ones

obtainable at the time.

My orders were to get away at once."

Spicer gives his mahogany warships

names befitting pleasure boats

- HMS Mimi and Toutou are quick

- top speed, 20 miles per hour.

Spicer tests them on the Thames

and has a 3 pound Hotchkiss gun

mounted in the fore

and a.303 Maxim in the rear.

June 15, 1915.

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