African Vengeance

 

A Steve Braker Action-Thriller

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Dear Reader,

African Vengeance is somewhat of a major step for me, as it is the first full-length novel I have written. I hope the story flows and the characters develop as I have written them. Any feedback is gratefully received!

The book concentrates on the coastal areas of Kenya and Tanzania and on one tribe in particular: the Swahili. Most people have heard of the language. The Swahili Tribe is a very important tribe of Kenya. The tribe is thought to be an offshoot from the local coastal tribes of the Giriama and the Mijikenda, both of Bantu origin. It is believed that when the Arab traders first started plying their dhows along the coast they interacted and intermarried with the local people. The Arabic language was interwoven with the local languages and so Swahili was born.

I have lived among the Swahilis for well over twenty years and speak the melodic language fluently. The characters, although fictitious, are based on the myriad of people I have met on my journeys along this wonderful coastline.

The majority of African Vengeance is set in Tanga, Tanzania. I love this town; it is small and sleepy and full of history. The museum and graveyard are actual places and worth a visit. Amboni Caves is another wonderful outing if you are ever in the area. The story of the bees is based on a true event. During the First World War, there was a battle between the English and the Germans in Tanga. It so happened that swarms of local bees attacked both sides during the battle. But the English retreated to their ship and the Germans won the day. The battle was called the “Battle of the Bees.” There is a better explanation of the battle on my website: stevebrakerbooks.com.

I hope you enjoy the read and it encourages you to visit us here down on the coast of East Africa.

I would be delighted to hear from you just email me on steve@stevebrakerbooks.com and I will get back to you.

Enjoy African Vengeance and if you have time, please leave a review on the Amazon website as those techies love social proof that I am what I say I am!

All the best,

Steve

Table of contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Epilogue

Chapter One

Pangani River Station, Tanganyika, East Africa

Hauptmann Albrecht vigorously rubbed his hands together over the feeble embers of the dying fire. His freezing fingers were hungry to feel the warmth through threadbare army gloves. “This was meant to be Africa, for God’s sake!” He dragged his dripping nose across the worn sleeve of his ill-fitting, army-issued uniform and took another swig from the bottle of schnapps. Then he hugged himself again. The two-man canvas tent beside him offered little protection from the cold night air, but he hated the clammy sweating cave they normally called home. Albrecht stared up at the clear night sky as he stamped his feet to get some circulation going, army-issue boots were not what they used to be. The soles were so thin lightning bolts of cold shot up his legs. A bright moon lit the heavens and silhouetted a snowy peak in the distance. Kilimanjaro stood proudly some forty miles away, a truly impressive sight to behold. The glistening, snow-covered peak was clearly visible in the otherwise dark night. Imagine, snow on the equator!

His gaze floated further up to the Milky Way, which was flooding the nocturnal skyscape with light as far as he could see. Individual stars hung in space so close, it seemed as if they could almost be plucked like heavy, ripe apples from a laden tree. Albrecht turned the rough wooden cross over in his hand and admired his handiwork, then continued to whittle away the final stubborn splinters. He cut the letters of his comrade’s name into the soft green acacia of the wooden crosses. He was hoping this was the last job he would do in this place. Hauptmann Albrecht stood in silence for a moment in front of sixteen similar rough-cut crosses, then pushed the last one into the hard earth mound. He mumbled a few words from the bible, crossed himself, then took another gulp from his bottle. Africa took its toll on everything. It had no forgiveness. These men would lie here, a million miles from home, lost and forgotten forever.

Two parallel lines of quicksilver stretched off into the distance, glimmering under the light of the moon, beckoning him back to civilization. His three companions were still inside the murky, dank passageway, getting the crates ready. Albrecht had sent Leutnant Lowenhart down to arrange the last of the boxes for shipment. The gaping mouth in the bank beside him was the entrance to a mine.

Imperial engineers had surveyed this lost part of Africa some ten years ago as they searched for the best route for the great German Colonial Railway. A note had been put on the map, “Possible Greenstone Belt.”

Three years ago, Kaiser Wilhelm II had instructed Commander Lettow-Vorbeck, or the “Lion of Africa,” as he was known, to exploit these possible opportunities.

The Hauptmann and his platoon, along with a mining expert, had been sent to find whatever was hidden below the hard, blackened rock.

Labor was free and plentiful, supplied by the able-bodied villagers living nearby. Albrecht was in charge of getting as much of the dirty green rock out of the ground as he could.

Initially, he had not understood what was happening and had approached the mining engineer. “Herr Engineer, why are we trying to dig this heavy green rock from the ground?”

The engineer realized he would have to give this soldier a reason to quarry the worthless looking stone out of the seam of quartz. “Come, Herr Hauptmann. I will show you.” He pointed at three large lumps of the green-stained blackened rock. “And bring those with you.”

Albrecht ordered two of the villagers to carry the rocks over to a shed with a wooden roof next to the railway line. The engineer said, “Make the villagers break the stones into gravel.”

Albrecht was intrigued and did as he was asked. After thirty minutes, the men stood around a pile of rocks smashed to about the size of peas.

The engineer said, “Now tell the villagers to collect a bucket of these stones and smash them to pulp.” Albrecht followed the instructions once again.

When the work was done, the engineer produced a mesh sieve. He put the gravel into the sieve and washed it thoroughly.

“Now, Herr Hauptmann, light a fire with charcoal and get it really hot.”

When the fire was blazing, a cup-sized crucible was placed in the middle of the fire with the gravel loaded in it to the top. Herr Hauptmann watched in amazement as the rocks started to melt in front of his eyes.

The engineer said, “First we will see the iron ore rise to the top,” he scraped off the top crust from the glowing crucible, “then any of the other base metals will either burn off or will rise up.”

The process went on for another forty minutes. As each crust grew on the top of the crucible the engineer would meticulously scrape it off.

“Now, Herr Hauptmann, I think we are finished. Use the tongs to lift the crucible and bring it over here.”

When they were away from the fire, and the villagers, the engineer said, “Now quickly pour what is left onto this rock.”

Albrecht did as he was told and was amazed when a pool of brilliant yellow metal solidified on the smooth granite rock. The Engineer doused it with water and gingerly picked it up.

“That, Herr Hauptmann, is what we are here to find,” he said triumphantly.

“What is it?” Albrecht choked.

“Why, man, that is twenty-carat gold. You must get as much of the ore as possible and bring it to Germany where we can smelt it properly and retain all the precious metals and base metals too.”

Removing the precious ore had cost the lives of several hundred villagers and sixteen of his men. But Albrecht thought it had been worth it for the nearly six tons of gold-bearing ore he had managed to cut from the earth’s core.

Now it was over. Finally, he could follow the tracks back to civilization. If he was lucky, maybe he would see his wife back in Berlin again.

Leutnant Lowenhart strolled out of the six-by-seven tunnel in the side of the hill. Behind him eight ragged Nubian slaves staggered under the weight of the crates slung between them. The villagers stood silently, with heads down, knowing the cost of eye contact all too painfully. They hopped from foot to foot. Their emaciated, cut, gray bodies were covered with clothes that hung like rags on a washing line. Slumped shoulders strained under the weight of the boxes. Each man’s face told a story of pain and agony.

Lowenhart said with a sneer, “Hauptmann, sir, do you share your liquor?”

Albrecht passed the bottle to his friend. “How many more crates do we have to bring to the surface?”

“I have Karsten and Volker stacking the remaining. We should have all one hundred and twelve of them out in plenty of time.”

Albrecht hugged himself. “We have to be ready, Leutnant. The train will not wait for us. There is news of war. Our homeland will need this gold so we can be victorious.”

“Don’t worry, old friend. We’ll be on time.”

Karsten signaled to the exhausted villagers to put the boxes next to the rail, then returned with his ragged gang to the depths of the tunnel.

After tramping about sixty feet along the dripping dark passageway, the cavern opened into a store of sorts. The four German soldiers had made this cavern their home for the last three years. It had been carved from solid rock an inch at a time. The blood of the villagers forever stained the hard-cut stone floor. Their cramped bunkhouse with its dripping ceiling doubled up as the kitchen as well as storehouse for the ore, but now it was time to move out. Commander Vorbeck had sent a runner on horseback four days past. The message was simple: pack up and leave. Take what you have and get on the train to Tanga.

Smokey tallow candles added to the oppressive atmosphere. They gave off a pale-yellow light, hardly enough to see by let alone work. Corporal Volker and Gefrietier Lanc, the lowest-ranked surviving member of their platoon, stood in soaked shirtsleeves, pushing the starved creatures in front of them to finish the work.

When the German Imperial Army had arrived at the site, there had been plenty of labor. But as the months wore on, it became harder and harder to get and keep the locals in the mine. So many had died. Their bodies were thrown in the bush for the animals. After three long years, the remaining villagers had to be chained together or they would run. Half-starved, with lacerated bodies and worked on sixteen-hour shifts, most had died from dysentery or malaria. The twenty remaining were shells of men. They were beaten and worn to mere shadows.

Gefrietier Lanc oversaw the loading of the crates. One villager accidently dropped a box of the precious ore. He crumpled to the ground under the ferocious beating from the bullwhip, open wounds appearing on his already scarred back.

Lowenhart scolded him. “Lanc, what are you doing! We need them for only a few hours more. Who’ll carry the ore if they are all dead?”

Corporal Volker chipped in, “Not me for sure. This place is either hot like hell or cold like a blue whale’s arsehole. If he kills another one, he can carry the stuff himself.”

Lanc was pissed. “They’re animals! It’s the only way to get the work done.”

“We have to get these last crates up to the surface in the next hour,” said Karsten. “The train is coming from Moshi and will not wait. Commander Vorbeck says we must be in Tanga in forty-eight hours.”

Albrecht sat on the surface, waiting, eager to get back to Tanga, then he prayed for his home of Germany. Hopefully, the war had not broken out yet and he could see his family for a while.

Chapter Two

Mavureni, Tanganyika East Africa

The sun broke across the endless hills and savannah that made up this part of Africa. The train had been dragging them along for two days through the endless sunburned grass, but now the German platoon were just twenty miles from Tanga. The old pannier tank steam engine chugged steadily across the last of the open savannah. Tanga, the bustling German stronghold, would soon come into view.

Albrecht and the remains of his platoon had slept with their precious cargo most of the way, only taking breaks to find some food and water. The journey had been arduous. Some of the inclines were so steep the engine barely moved. Albrecht had forced his men to get out and walk.

Early in the morning, as they came to the top of the Lushoto hills, the brilliant azure ocean suddenly came into view, stretching out to the horizon. A golden, fiery orb was rising from the water into the new day. The four men could see their destination shimmering in the distance, nestled in a natural bay of the coastline. The sight lifted their spirits, and soon the soft metallic sound of a mouth organ filled the air, playing time with the clickety clack of the rails.

The African savannah spread out in front of them. Dry brown grass stunted from the ever-present burning African sun. Thousands of animals milled around on the open plain. Herds of elephants two hundred strong wandered along their worn, ancient trails, heading for the precious watering holes. Huge herds of black, satanic-looking buffalo snaked across the open savannah like a river, crushing the dry grass underfoot and leaving a cloud of dust behind them. On the outskirts of the melee, Masai giraffes and zebras chewed on the leaves from acacia trees. To the south on a slight rise, in the otherwise flat plain, a pride of golden-brown lions fought over a wildebeest carcass.

Albrecht was not interested in the wonders of nature passing him by. His thoughts were on his wife and daughter back home. The others in the platoon were more interested in what fun could be found in the busy German colonial town of Tanga.

The engine struggled along the final yards of track, running next to a dry unmetalled surface which was the main street. Clouds of dust billowed up from the road as throngs of people and animals came to the only center of German humanity for a hundred miles. Tanga was a frontier town, full of traders on the make, and makers on the trade. The engine spluttered to a halt in the center of the town beside a pale mud-walled building with a red slate roof. Albrecht jumped off the wagon and ran into the building, shouting for the station master. “Hey, we have important business for the Kaiser. Where can I find a shunting engine?”

The uniformed man snorted, “You think you’re important? We’ve too much to do today. The British are coming. We’re all preparing for a battle.”

Albrecht grabbed the man’s arm. “What are you saying. A battle? Has the war started?”

“Where have you been, man? In the bush? We have been at war for almost a month!”

Albrecht was shocked. “But we were not told. I must get to the harbor with my cargo for the Kaiser. It’s of utmost importance.”

“The harbor is out of bounds to all but essential personnel. You’ll have to go to the barracks to get official papers before we can help.”

“Show me the way to the commanding officer. Is the Lion here?”

“Yes. He arrived this morning from Dar es Salaam. He’s with the other commanders in the Hotel Deutscher Kaiser, near the customs house.”

Albrecht ran back to his platoon. “Men, guard the gold. I’m going to speak to Vorbeck and get us clearance. The war has started! The British are coming!”

He rushed off, leaving a stunned silence.

Lowenhart said, “Shit. That’s turds for us now, but at least we’re here. The generals will never send us back to Germany. Too dangerous. We can sit and wait this one out.”

Volker replied, “Let’s hope. After three years in that stinking mine, I’m not ready to fight for some ass’s freedom.”

Outside in the dry, dusty street, soldiers and askaris—the African regiments of the German colonialists—ran around creating makeshift fortifications in between shops and across roads. An approaching train blew its shrill whistle, signaling more troops arriving from Dar es Salaam. All the wagons were packed with soldiers and ammunition.

Albrecht’s shirt was soaked as he broke into a jog. All the activity was sending waves of panic through his body. Fighting had not been part of this deal; the German colonies were protected. If war broke out, every country knew not to destroy the colonies. Their cash flow would die. It was stupid!

He reached the German-built hotel with the imperial flag hanging limply in the afternoon glare. The foyer was busy with runners coming and going and horses racing off in all directions. Albrecht approached the sentry on duty, “Private, is Commander Vorbeck here?”

“Yes, Sir. Inside, Sir.”

“It’s imperative I see him immediately!”

The sentry replied, “He’s busy now, Herr Hauptman, wait in the shade. The British have just arrived with their demands. We think the accord is broken.” He spat on the ground with feeling. “An Englishman can never keep his word.”

Albrecht was shocked. If the English broke the agreement, then there would be war in the colonies. This was unheard of.

He sat quietly, waiting in the cool of the hotel for well over an hour. Outside in the dry, dusty street, soldiers and askaris ran about creating makeshift fortifications in between shops and across roads. The African shopkeepers and residents of the town were hurrying for their villages and safety, their heads piled high with bundles of belongings. They looked like brightly colored snakes weaving through the dull khaki of the army ranks. This was not their fight!

The afternoon heat lulled Albrecht’s senses. Soon he was dozing in the shade. It was only the metallic click-clack of officers’ boots along the corridor that brought him back to life. A well-dressed captain of the British Royal Navy came striding towards the entrance.

“Listen. Commander Lettow-Vorbeck, we have no choice in this matter. The powers that be have decided the accord is off. The last thing we want is bloodshed here. I will give you one hour to lower your flag, then we can land and take occupation. Your troops will be treated well.”

A stocky fifty-year-old man with a broad-brimmed, dusty brown hat replied, “Captain, we have no choice either. The Kaiser has said we stand. So, stand we must. You have broken the agreement. There were to be no bombardments or invasion on Tanganyika soil. And Tanga and Dar were out of bounds to everyone.”

“You must understand, Commander, we heavily outnumber you. I have been ordered by the admiralty not to stand offshore and send in salvos of artillery. However, you must surrender. You can see it’s hopeless.”

“On the contrary, Captain. We are well-armed and have good defensive positions with many surprises if you wish to attack.”

“Vorbeck, you are infuriating. Tell me, is the harbor mined? My ships need clear passage.”

“My dear Captain, do you think we would leave ourselves wide open to an attack from the ocean when the British are less than one hundred miles away?

“True, Commander. I would do the same. One hour now, and I want to see that flag removed. There will be no more warnings.”

With that, the captain strode out of the building, his contingent of officers racing to keep up. The marines dressed in blue and white hurried down to the harbor, like a group of penguins heading out to fish. The captain’s launch waited at the quayside. Marines and German soldiers, who seconds before had been chatting and swapping cigarettes, jumped to attention as the group appeared in the blinding afternoon sun.

Albrecht stood to attention in the shade as the commander approached him. “So, my dusty friend, where are you from?”

Albrecht was taken aback. This was the commander of the whole of the German East African colonies. “Sir. My platoon has just arrived from Pangani River Station Gold Mine. Sir.”

“Ah, you are late. We expected you yesterday. What was the holdup?”

“The train was delayed, Sir. Climbing the Lushoto Hills, the engine almost gave out. We had to stop to let it cool.”

“Yes, to be expected. Where is the shipment?”

“I have come from the station house in town. My platoon sergeant is guarding the wagon.”

“Fine, Hauptman, you have done well. The Kaiser needs us to get the crates to the harbor tonight before the attack. A ship is coming specially to collect the gold.”

“But Sir. What about the mines?”

“What mines? There are no mines.”

“But you told the captain the harbor was mined.”

“No, Hauptmann, you didn’t listen. He assumed, and I did not demur. It will give us some time. Go quickly to the station. I will ensure you are shown the rail branch. Bring the whole wagon to the port.”

Albrecht rushed off back through the busy streets to the station. Their bogie had been shunted off the main line and stood quietly waiting. His men were drinking tea and smoking in the shade. Albrecht found the station master and gave him the scribbled note from Vorbeck, then explained what he needed. It would take at least three hours before there would be a shunting engine to take them to the port.

As the afternoon wore on, the news came to them that the flag remained high on the pole at the hotel—a sure sign a battle was imminent. Now all they were waiting for was the British to arrive. At nine p.m. the shunting engine approached, noisily slamming into the wagon couplings, forcing them to open, then click back into place.

The engine was a patchwork of welds painted green, brown, and dark red depending on when and where the last repair had been done. Kombo, the driver, stared down from his platform. Dressed in dirty, sweaty coveralls, he impatiently waited for the platoon to board. This was his last shunt, and when it was done, he could head home. His stomach grumbled. It was too late to be working. Kombo’s second wife would be lonely by now and his meal ruined.

The rails had always pulled Kombo. He had run away from his village as a young lad and begged to be allowed to stand next to the engine. He was given a shovel and started as a dog’s body, cleaning and fetching, then worked through the ranks. Now after almost twenty years, he was in charge of his own locomotive. Out on the rails it was fun. There was lots to see and do. For the last six years, however, he had been based in the port. His duties consisted of shunting bogies full of German goods up and down the short stretches of track between the warehouses and the wharf. It was boring work, and he had lost interest in the job. Kombo knew as well as everyone that tomorrow the British would arrive. Then they would all have new masters. But it was the same old game. Different boss, same story. Kombo was hoping the invaders would all have a massive fight and kill each other. When all the British and Germans were dead, he would take his engine back up the line to Moshi. Mkachala, his first wife, and the four kids would be waiting there, ever-patient, knowing their father would return if he could. Kombo’s shamba, a small farm, was set deep in the Taita Hills far away from these Muzungus. The soil was dark and fertile. Clouds regularly poured life-giving rain. There would be three crops in a good year. He could hide there, away from these terrible invaders. The Muzungus had just come and stolen whatever they could, all in the name of some foreign leader his Taita tribe had never heard of and cared less about.

The engine slowly chugged around the town then down the slight incline to the port. Albrecht watched the operation, making sure the wagon was uncoupled correctly, and set ready for unloading. This was the last job he was hoping to have to do for the German Imperial Army for a while. His men were experts at the skill of how to avoid a fight. If his plan went well, tomorrow they would be on the ship sailing for their homeland.

Chapter Three

Off Yambe Island, Tanganyika, East Africa

Korvettenkapitan Erich Edelman cursed as he looked for the tenth time through the periscope of his brand-new, Type-U23, ocean-going diesel-electric submarine. He could not fail his mission at the first real hurdle, but what was he to do? The situation looked impossible. The sub had traveled all the way from Kiel in Germany, where the sleek modern craft had been built.

Several months earlier and what felt like a lifetime ago, Korvettenkapitan Edelman had been summoned to the war office to personally meet Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was such an honor for a mere Kapitan. His best dress uniform was laid out by his wife, his boots and spurs polished by the servants. This was going to be a real day to remember. Erich was led through the maze of corridors and up the polished marble stairs to the Kaiser’s office. As the Korvettenkapitan arrived, the old Kaiser stood to greet him, shaking his hand warmly.

“Do you mind if I call you Erich?” the Kaiser had asked.

“Of course not, Sir. It is my honor to serve.”

“We have a special mission for you. It is fraught with danger, but a necessity for the war effort. You know we are preparing our armed forces for war.”

“Yes, Herr Kaiser. I am aware we are working on defenses.”

“Not only defenses. Europe is a treacherous place at the moment. We believe there will be some act of terrorism which will drag us into a war with Russia.”

“Your Majesty, that is a terrible thought. The Russians are strong, with thousands of men at their disposal.”

“True, Erich, but we are German, and the Empire will prevail. To business. I am personally asking you to agree to an incredibly dangerous mission. You and your crew will be requested to volunteer, as the risks are almost insurmountable, as you will see.”

“Sir. Submariners are all volunteers. We wear the blue jacket with pride. I will do my duty as always to the best of my ability. My crew are behind me and will go wherever I ask them.”

“That is good to hear, Erich. We need you to take your U-boat on a long and hazardous mission. The admiralty have already planned the route. Come take a look and meet Admiral Hugo von Pohl. He is in charge of the High Sea Fleet and will be running the mission.”

The Admiral shook Erich’s hand warmly. “This task is of utmost importance to the whole of the war effort and top-secret. You may well have the fate of Imperial Germany in your hands.”

Erich was taken aback as the Admiral showed him the route. “You are to leave Kiel and head for the Mediterranean Sea. Then pass unnoticed through the Suez Canal and out at the Horn of Africa. You will continue down the coast of Somalia and Kenya until you reach Dar es Salaam. Upon your arrival you will refuel, then head back to the town of Tanga, sixty miles north. Commander Vorbeck will be waiting for you there with a consignment of crates. It is essential these crates get delivered back here to the admiralty. Our glorious nation depends on it.”

Erich replied, “Sir. I will not fail in my duty. My crew and I will succeed or die trying.”

The Admiral slapped Erich on the back. “This is a tough assignment for such young shoulders. Go home. Kiss your wife and children goodbye, then report to Kiel first thing in the morning.”

Erich smiled as he thought of the conversation six weeks earlier at the admiralty in Berlin. The journey had been fraught with danger. They had traveled on the surface under the cover of darkness and sitting at periscope depth during the day. His orders were to have no contact with any other shipping during the passage.

The submarine had sat outside the Suez Canal for three days waiting for a suitable ship to give them cover. The British hawks were watching the canal but did not realize submarines could travel this far. On the evening of the third day, he had managed to slink in behind a fuel bunkering convoy traveling the canal at night. The Korvettenkapitan was sorely tempted to let loose some hell with his torpedoes. He could have blocked the canal for months with two or three choice shots. However, the words of the Kaiser rang in his ears. The fate of Imperial Germany was in his hands, so he refrained. The 1200hp electric motors pushed them silently through the inky water in the wake of the last ship.

After nine hours, the U-boat entered the Gulf of Suez, giving them more depth than the twenty meters of the canal. The sixty-four-yard craft moved stealthily away from the convoy, taking cover for the day. As soon as darkness fell, they ventured out. Enrich ordered the helmsman to travel just below the surface, allowing the diesel engines to vent, and also to recharge the vital batteries. Modern electric submarines carried lead acid batteries, and venting was essential—a build-up of fumes could be fatal. Then it was plain sailing until they reached the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. This twenty-mile-wide stretch of water separated Arabia from North Africa. English warships patrolled the narrow gap twenty-four hours a day, but they were no match for the sleek, silent, almost invisible craft. She coasted within fifty yards of the gray behemoths just below the surface. Her black periscope pirouetted as she glided by in the darkness, like a specter in the night. After that it was easy. The deep wide waters of the Gulf of Aden hid their tiny submarine.

The final run to Dar es Salaam had made the journey nearly eight thousand nautical miles, at their extreme range of fuel. The U-boat barely made it to Dar limping in on fumes. No one on board had seen fresh fruit or vegetables for over two weeks.

After filling the tanks with diesel, it was time for the supplies of much-needed fresh food and water. The U-boat, although sixty-nine yards long, only had a beam of less than seven yards. Space was at a premium. Thirty-five volunteer submariners lived in incredibly cramped conditions. Only the Kapitan had his own bed. Everyone else hot racked—one out one in—in the narrow bunks stacked four high against the bulwark. Two crewmen in a passageway had to almost embrace to pass each other. As the food stuff was loaded, every space was taken. Boxes were stacked on the decks and planks put on top of them so the men could walk to their stations.

Erich stood on the wharf in Dar es Salaam as his beloved submarine devoured the final supplies. The harbor master stood beside him, watching as crates were lowered into all three hatches at once. “That’s one hell of a lot of supplies, Korvettenkapitan. You must be going a long way.”

Ever conscious of the Kaiser’s words, Erich replied cautiously, “Yes, Sir. We are under strict orders from Germany. No contact with any vessels once we leave Dar.”

The harbor master went on, “You have managed to get enough of everything I hope?”

“Yes, Harbor Master. We have everything we need. It was very difficult getting the fresh fruit and vegetables. We would not have made it without your intervention in the market.”

“It was nothing. We are all working for the Empire, so your mission is mine. Since war has broken out, do you mind if I ask one favor?

Erich raised his eyebrows. “Ask away, Sir, but I cannot promise anything until I have heard your request.”

“It’s only something small, Korvettenkapitan. Just a letter to my wife and family. I am sure we will be victorious in our efforts against the Russians, but I may not see my wife for a long time.”

Erich felt for the harbor master. He missed his wife and family terribly after only a few weeks. “Of course, Sir. I will deliver it myself.”

The harbor master handed a thick envelope to Erich. “Please take care, Sir. This may be the last news Ingrid gets of her husband for a long time.”

“I will guard it with my life. I know exactly how important family is.”

“When do you leave?”

“We set sail on the afternoon tide. I hope the supplies are all stored and ready by then. It’s barely two hours away.”

“I will bid you farewell, Korvettenkapitan, and a safe journey wherever you are going.”

The two men shook hands, and the harbor master marched off towards another boat unloading supplies. Erich stared at the letter in his hand for a moment, thinking of his wife, then shouted as a box of cabbages dropped onto the deck and split open.

The U23 made good time along the coast. They stayed on the surface the whole way. This was German territory after all. Nothing to fear. When they were fourteen miles from Tanga, the submarine dived to periscope depth, a handbook requirement for all U-boats in a state of war. On the final approach to Tanga, Erich was shocked to see a battleship steaming over the horizon with a British flag. It slowed, then held a position at the entrance to Tanga harbor. With the mission ever present in his mind, he made the choice to watch and wait.

Two days had since passed. Now things were getting urgent. The Kapitan had no idea what was happening. Any direct communication via flags would be intercepted by the British. The warship H.M.S. Fox sat just off the harbor, effectively blocking his route. Since her arrival, the waterways had been busy with English cutters moving in and out of the harbor.

The night before, the battleship had moved closer, almost blockading the port. More cutters were working their ways back and forth towards the harbor entrance. He assumed they were looking for mines.

If he was going to make the pickup, Erich would have to move soon. His second-in-command, Kapitanleutnant Dieter stood by his side. He asked, “Dieter, what do you make of this?”

Dieter peered into the periscope. “Herr Korvettenkapitan, the battleship has blockaded the town. The cutters are looking for mines, but we have no information on any mines in this area.”

“Exactly, Dieter. No mines. But the captain of that ship is worried, so we should be. Hitting a mine after such a journey would be more than a disaster.”

“Herr Korvettenkapitan, what about a small landing party after dark? I respectfully suggest that I lead the group. We will land on the beach a few miles south of the town and find out what is happening.”

“Good idea, Kapitanleutnant. Make the arrangements. Leave as soon as it’s dark.”

The landing party arrived back on board just before dawn. There had been no problems with the mission. Dieter scrambled over crates of vegetables and boxes of supplies, making his way to the Korvettenkapitan’s cabin to make his report. He knocked on the steel door and waited.

Erich had been snatching a quick forty winks, the first for two full days.

He shouted, “Come.”

Dieter entered the tiny cabin with his head bent over avoiding a spaghetti of pipes attached to the ceiling. “Sir, my report.”

“Go ahead, Kapitanleutnant.”

“We made landing with no problems. The cutters are all concentrating on the harbor entrance. Then it was easy to find Commander Vorbeck. He is at the Deutsche Kaiser Hotel. He reported that there were no mines in the channel, but our main problem is the British have broken the accord and want to take Tanga. He respectfully suggests you get in as soon as possible and leave before the battle starts.”

“How long do we have?”

“Commander Vorbeck said the British are getting impatient. He led them to believe mines were littered in the channel, which has given us some time, but only about twenty-four hours at most.”

Erich considered his plan carefully. The harbor was not deep enough to enter completely submerged. The U-boat would have to creep under the battleship using electric power, then come to periscope depth and move silently into the harbor entrance. Once inside, they could surface completely, load the cargo and get out before the British even knew they were around. Now at least Vorbeck was waiting for them. If everything went smoothly it would be a simple in-and-out. Eight or nine hours at most.

As the sun went down, Erich positioned himself two miles west of H.M.S. Fox just below the surface. There was no moon, but the stars were shining brightly, giving little cover. However, everyone on the ship was concerned with the land. Only one lookout could be spotted on the bridge facing the ocean. Erich measured his distance for the tenth time. There was no room for error. Once fully submerged, he would be blind. Surfacing too early would mean a barrage of artillery, too late and he would ground on the shallow sea floor or hit the harbor wall.

Erich watched the two steersmen. One had the yoke and the other watched the instruments. He calmly said, “Dive to sixty feet. Ahead one-third.”

The boat sank into the dark ocean, disappearing completely.

Erich counted in his head—one, one thousand, two one thousand—trying desperately to gauge the distance traveled. After six minutes, he knew the sub would be under the battleship.

Another eight minutes and he called, “Stop all engines.”

“Ballast tanks. Come to periscope depth.”

Electric motors spun into life, pumping air into the ballast tanks and pulling the sub towards the surface. Once he was signaled that the depth had been reached, Erich raised the periscope cautiously, then looked into the darkness.

Behind him was the brightly lit battleship. The walls of the harbor loomed no more than sixty feet ahead. Another thirty seconds and his U-boat would have smashed into them. Erich let out a breath. His boat was not meant for this kind of maneuvering. She was a class 9 Ocean Attack boat, at home in the open seas.

He whispered to Dieter, “We move at this depth towards the harbor entrance.”

“Ahead dead slow. Bearing 279 degrees. Hold.”

The sleek black boat slipped through the entrance out of sight of the warship. The first part of the mission had been completed safely. Now to load the cargo and escape.

Hauptmann Albrecht idled on the edge of the wagon, smoking his last cigarette. Sweat ran down his back as he stood under the stars once again. “Either bloody freezing cold or boiling hot. This place can never settle,” he murmured under his breath.

The wagon stood forlornly at the end of the wharf, butted up against the final wooden buffer. The members of his platoon were stretched out around a makeshift fire next to the wagon. Albrecht had sent Lanc off to get some food as the sun was going down. Apart from that, everything down at the docks had remained quiet. The town behind him was busy with men getting ready for a battle. Cooking fires were dotted all along the seafront, running down the beach for more than a mile. The trains had been blasting their horns all evening and well into the night. Their human cargo hurriedly disembarked at the station. The locomotive then returned to Dar for another load.

If the British did come, there would certainly be a hell of a fight.

As Albrecht mused over the comings and goings of Tanga, a dark shadow passed the harbor entrance, followed by a whoosh of air and bubbles. A massive, matte-black, goliath rose slowly out of the still-dark waters in front of him. He had never seen or heard of a submarine, so he staggered back, spitting his cigarette onto the stones at his feet, then turned and ran to the wagon.

“Wake up! Wake up! A monster has appeared in the water.”

Karsten was first on his feet. “What, Herr Hauptmann? What’s wrong?”

“Come. Come, something is in the harbor.”

Already Albrecht was feeling stupid. He had seen many things during his twenty years as a German soldier, and most of them could be explained.

The two men rushed over to the wall and peered into the night. The submarine was unlit, but the conning tower was open, and a man stood in the darkness.

Erich saw the soldiers on the wharf and shouted, “Men, we have come for a cargo that is promised to the Kaiser. We must collect it quickly and be gone.”

Albrecht did not understand anything about the boat in front of him. But he knew a superior officer when he heard one and was instantly at attention. “Herr Kapitan, we have the crates here in the wagon. My platoon have been waiting for your arrival. What is this ship?”

“Herr Hauptmann, this is no ship, but a submarine. We live below the waves, not on top.”

Albrecht muttered to himself. “Oh shit, no free ride out of here tonight. That looks more like a coffin than a boat.”

He shouted back to Erich, “Herr Kapitan, we are ready with the crates when you are, but we will need some help. There are many and they are incredibly heavy.”

The crew of the submarine threw lines to Albrecht’s men to secure the sub. A gangplank landed on the harbor wall, and the loading commenced.

Erich stood on the conning tower, peering into the darkness at the warship anchored just outside the harbor. The cutters were getting closer to the entrance, as they had found no mines. “Dieter, how long do you think we have? Those cutters are getting close.”

“Herr Kapitan, it will be a near thing indeed. Stacking the crates is difficult. They are so heavy, each one must weigh 100 pounds—we have to place them evenly throughout the sub.”

“Can’t we do that at sea?”

“I’ll hurry the men.” He disappeared down the ladder into the black interior of the sub.

Once inside the craft, he shouted, “Oberbootsmann, where are you?”

A bald man came running towards him wearing only a grimy white shirt and dirty oily shorts. “Herr Leutnant, what is wrong?”

“Bosun, we are in a rush to get out of here. Can you move more quickly? Herr Kapitan is requesting we place the crates when we are safely away from the harbor.”

“Herr Leutnant to have the boxes loose while we maneuver is dangerous. If one of them slides it could kill one of the crew. The cargo should be balanced and secured correctly.”

“I understand, but we are in a rush and the British are getting closer.”

“I will do my best, Herr Leutnant. How much more time do I have?”

“Less than thirty minutes.”

The Bosun raced off to his duties. The crates were heavy. Moving them around in the already full boat was difficult enough. Really, he should have taken two or three days to place and lash each box to balance the submarine.

Erich noticed a white splash just outside the entrance and shouted to the men on the wharf. “How many more crates to come? We must leave now!”

Albrecht had decided he would not go on the coffin that was sitting in the water but take his chances in the African bush pretending to fight. When the battle was over, he would find some outpost back near Kilimanjaro where he could sit out the war in peace. Even the cold was better than bullets. He had heard the warship was carrying over two thousand men called B Company, and they would land before dawn on the beaches to the north. Albrecht’s plan was to be to the south of the town defending something quiet. He also needed a little extra coinage for when the war was over. He deserved an easy life, and the Kaiser wouldn’t miss a couple of crates. Everyone was saying the war would be over by Christmas. With this in mind, the platoon had mislaid a few crates, accidentally forgetting to notice them in a dark corner of the wagon, as soldiers can do.

He heard the Kapitan from the submarine shout and rushed to the edge of the jetty. “Herr Kapitan. These are the last two, once they are aboard you are ready to leave.”

Erich was relieved. “Herr Hauptmann, thank you for your service. I wish you luck here in Tanga.”

The Kapitan didn’t even wait for an answer but slid down the ladder into the metal kraken of a beast, shouting as he went. “Herr Leutnant, make us ready to dive immediately.”

Albrecht watched the huge craft slip away from the harbor wall, then sink below the waves, almost invisible in the pitch-black waters. She reversed, then turned and headed for the entrance. Only a small white wave moved across the oily surface.

Korvettenkapitan Erich Edelman approached the mouth of the harbor. The next part of his mission was fraught with danger. He had seen the waves from the cutters coming right up to the walls only a few minutes ago. The helmsman looked at his Kapitan for an order. Erich said, “Ahead, dead slow. Navigator bearing 108 degrees.”

The craft moved out into the channel towards the open ocean. Erich knew he had three miles of shallow water with a sandy bottom to navigate. Above his head, cutters were running back and forth looking for the imaginary mines. His body felt slimy in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the harbor. One wrong move, and the long arduous mission would fail. The Kapitan said, “Leutnant, pass the word. Silence on deck.”

On the jetty, Albrecht was planning his next move: First, stash the gold. There were plenty of places around town, but which would be safe during the invasion? He had heard of some limestone caverns a few miles away. They were known as the Amboni Caves. There were stories you could walk all the way to Mount Kilimanjaro without showing your head above the ground. Second, go back to the hotel and inform Commander Vorbeck the cargo had left.

“Karsten,” he shouted, “you take the ore and hide it in those caves we saw from the train. They’re only used by voodoo men who light candles in there and pray to their gods. Make sure you go in a long way and stash it well out of sight. I’ll go and report to the commander all is well.”

Karsten grinned. He had been with Albrecht for ten years, and they were firm friends. Whenever the two of them were in a tight spot, Albrecht always managed to pull through. “Of course, Hauptmann. We’ll meet you under the palm trees on the beach.”

Albrecht turned and headed off to the hotel, knowing his plan was in good hands.

Two hours later, Albrecht and his platoon were on the beach waiting. Commander Vorbeck had listened to the Hauptmann’s report, then dismissed him, saying he would send for him in the morning and give him a good place to fight from. Albrecht knew the commander would probably forget, as he was so busy. There was nothing to worry about.

Herr Korvettenkapitan Erich Edelman wiped his stinging eyes. The sub was sitting on the bottom of the channel. The cutters were everywhere. One had come perilously close to the periscope, forcing him to make an emergency dive. The boat had hit the sandy bottom with a solid thump, throwing them all forward. Two crewmen had reported to the sick bay with minor cuts and bruises.

He waited silently as the boats crisscrossed above him like hornets buzzing around a nest. The sub could not stay here long or they would certainly be discovered. The water was barely forty feet deep.

Erich said, “Helmsman, lift us off the bottom, then ahead slow.” Another engine cut through the water above them. The noise reverberated through the hull of the sub so loudly Erich was sure they would be hit at any moment. But it passed into the distance.

The Korvettenkapitan had to chance a look. He knew the sub was in the channel, but it was narrow, barely sixty feet wide. If there was a current or his navigator did not hold true, the craft could hit the edge or ram a sandbar and be grounded.

He whispered, “Helmsman, bring us to periscope depth.”

The submarine shuddered as she lifted off the bottom and glided through the inky waters.

“Up periscope,” he ordered.

As Erich took the eyeglass and spun it around, he could see H.M.S. Fox brightly lit about a mile away to the east. The land to the west had cooking fires glowing in the night. As he spun the scope to check to the south, an almighty crash vibrated through the boat as a cutter smashed into the periscope in the dark, bending it out of shape. Now they were blind. He shouted, “Dive! Dive!”

The boat crashed onto the sea bottom again sending shock waves up through the superstructure. Grinding groans and creaks echoed through the submarine, setting everyone’s teeth on edge like chalk being drawn across a board. The U-boat had not been built for this.

Above, a British seaman had seen the long pipe, with the right angle at the end, as the cutter hit it. He knew what that meant. Somehow there was a sub here, but that was impossible. The sailor shouted to his patrol lieutenant. “Sir. Sir, come here. We have a sub.”

The lieutenant was only nineteen years old, and this was his first outing on a battleship. He knew, from bitter experience, not to question the older members of the crew. “What is it, Bosun? What have you seen?”

“There, Sir, the periscope of a German submarine. We saw them off the coast of Britain before I left. They just popped out of the ocean like magic and shot at us.”

Forty feet below, Erich was thinking. He could not stay where he was. That would be suicide. The water was too shallow. The British knew they were there. The battleship would come over and sit right on top of them—the safest place. It might even ram them, the water was so shallow.

He decided the only choice now was to make a run for it blind. His stained navigation map had a dark pencil line showing the route so far and the last-known accurate location of the sub. This was all he had left to go on.

Erich said, “Helmsman, periscope depth. Ahead one-half.”

The U-boat 23 lurched off the bottom, heading for open water. On the surface, there was a ripple, then a wave as the submarine passed through the water, barely submerged. One cutter was swamped. Another raced for the H.M.S. Fox.

Erich said, “Ahead three-quarters.”

The U-boat’s silent electric engines pushed the boat through the dark underwater world. The wave on the surface grew, cresting then tumbling behind as if some giant whale was swimming just under the surface.

Thirty feet from the starboard side, an explosion blew water into the air, rocking the sub violently. Erich felt the shock reverberate through the hull. “Helmsman, hold true. We have no choice but to continue.”

Another round landed just to port at midships and exploded as it hit the water, rolling the submarine almost onto its side. She righted herself, throwing boxes and foodstuffs around. One submariner’s chest was caved in by one of the newly loaded crates. It broke its securing straps, and flew through the air, killing him instantly.

Erich held his nerve. “Helmsman, ahead full.”

The submarine raced through the water towards the warship. She was too close now for any more rounds. If they could pass her by and get into open water, then they would be free. The crew were motionless as the electric motors spun, pushing them towards their goal.

Erich counted off the last seconds, hoping he was right. Then he said, “Dive to forty-five feet.” As the words came out of his mouth, a tearing screech went through the ship like a whirlwind, throwing everyone forward, slamming the crew against the bulwarks, throwing men up into the air, then smashing them back onto the hard metal grills of the deck. Arms broke and ankles snapped like dry twigs in a heat wave.

Twenty of the 100-pound crates broke free in the engine room. They slid across the floor, crashing into the lead acid batteries that ran the electric engine. They were so heavy the solid wooden battery cases splintered to smithereens, releasing the mixture of lead and acid which mixed with soft heavy ore laden with minerals. Within seconds, the engine room was filled knee-deep with green, evil-looking fog which spread towards the gunnels.

Erich was stunned for a second. He knew what had happened. The conning tower had hit the solid hull of H.M.S. Fox. It was a fatal blow to the superstructure of the submarine, which was not designed as a battering ram. The twisted periscope was snapped off, and the conning tower had a twelve-foot gash between the top and second hatch. Water started seeping into the submarine.

Out of instinct, Erich shouted, “Dive! Get us out of here.”

The gas had already affected the engine room. Leitender Ingenieur Amstada was coughing blood as the chlorine gas filled the room. He sank to his knees into the thick yellow cloud, his lungs collapsing from the deadly poison. The vapor flooded through the boat as a venomous mist, killing everything it touched. The submarine was so full of supplies the crewmen could not react quickly enough to stop the flow of the green cloud. Wooden planks crossed doorways. Stacks of fresh vegetables hindered movement. As the batteries bled their lethal liquid onto the ore, the electric motors’ power dissipated into nothing.

Suddenly on the bridge, the helmsman shouted, “Herr Kapitan, the motors are losing strength. We are slowing.”

Erich started coughing. His lungs felt tight. Tendrils of the ominous yellow haze drifted up from the grills under his feet. It had already reached them in the operations room, filling the long bilges of the submarine from end to end.

The electric motors stopped. They sat in silence at one hundred and fifty feet, with nowhere to go. Erich was blind. He did not know which direction to turn. His boat had a fatal wound with no engines and was stranded in the ocean. The gas rose around him. He knew they would never get to the surface in time. Suffocation was only seconds away. Even if he did manage to surface, most of the crew would be dead. H.M.S. Fox would board them, walk over the dead crew, and take the cargo for themselves. His men were choking around him, falling like flies. Strangely, no one seemed to panic. There was nowhere to go. Everyone knew it was too late.

Erich slumped onto the desk. His last act would be to take the precious cargo from the British. He staggered over to the helmsman, who had already succumbed to the gas, his dead eyes staring up at Erich. It had happened so quickly. Only minutes before, they had been racing under the water only feet away from success and escape. Erich pushed the large black button with “Diesel” written underneath. The engines turned and burst into life. Anyone left alive would only last a few minutes before the carbon monoxide fumes from the exhaust entered the boat, mixing with the gas. Erich pushed the yoke forward, hoping the submarine had reached deeper water. He managed to ring full ahead before collapsing to the floor. His last thoughts were of his dear wife and child and how he had failed his beloved Imperial Germany. The U23 Ocean Attack submarine lurched forward and headed down. She had just passed a ledge on the reef. Below was two hundred feet of water. Another half a mile away from shore, and the ocean would have been one thousand feet. The nose headed for the bottom as she entered the dark depths. Creaking and straining under the pressure, the sleek black craft spiraled deeper into the abyss. After only a few seconds, her stern tail snagged on a large coral outcrop, twisting the boat and throwing the nose onto a flat shelf at 275 feet. She came to rest. A sealed poisonous steel tomb.

Hauptmann Albrecht had a plan, as usual. It was brilliant in its simplicity: be where the battle was not. This was one of the reasons he had been so eager to sign up for East Africa. When Imperial Germany decided to colonize Tanganyika, Albrecht had seen it as a perfect opportunity to do nothing. Everyone knew that the place was full of savages with no guns. All you needed to do was turn up and shoot a few and the rest would do as you asked. This was pretty much what happened. Then new orders had come through, sending him to the gold mine. Although it was cold, there was very little work to do. Admittedly most of his platoon had succumbed, but that was from the bloody mosquitos. The work was mainly to beat a few villagers then sit in a seat and drink schnapps, which seemed to keep the dreaded malaria away.

Now he was on the beach planning the next few days. If the British won, he could surrender, then spend the war in Mombasa or maybe the English would let the prisoners stay in Tanga. Either way, no fighting. If the Germans won, he would find a way back to the gold mine or some other similar place and wait for the good news. Everyone was saying this war would be done by Christmas. He could be back in the arms of his wife by the end of January—happy, retired, and extremely rich.

His only problem was getting through the next twenty-four hours. Karsten snored loudly beside him. “Are you awake, Sergeant?”

“No, Hauptmann. I am very much asleep.”

“Listen, we need to make a good plan for tomorrow. When I was in the headquarters, all the talk was about the British ‘B’ company landing to the north. We must stay to the south.”

“How will we achieve that, Hauptmann?”

“When dawn comes, we can slope off further down the beach. After the battle, we surrender to the British or say we were fighting a landing party here at the southern end of the beach. Maybe we can wound Lanc or Volker to make it more believable.”

“Herr Hauptmann, you think that’ll work?”

“It has to. There will be loads of confusion. No one will know.”

As the golden globe of the African sun started climbing out of the Indian Ocean in the east, the beach was quiet. The night on the sand had been hot and sticky, with vicious sand flies biting their flesh. In the early dawn, the platoon of just four men were drinking tea and eating some stale bread with dry, hard cheese.

Captain Frances Wade stood on the bridge of H.M.S. Fox staring through his binoculars at the town of Tanga. The flag was still high on the hotel roof, petulantly daring him. “Those bloody stubborn Germans. Why can’t they just give up?”

Standing next to him was Major General Aitkin, head of the British Indian Expeditionary Force “B.” “I think we are going to have to go in and sort this out hand to hand, Captain.”

“Yes, it certainly looks that way. Are you ready?”

Major General Aitkin replied, “We are fit and ready, Captain. When you give the order, I’ll send landing parties as per the plan. Were there any mines found in the night?

“No, nothing. That blighter of a commander in Tanga told me an outright lie. Can you believe it? War or no war, a gentleman’s word is imperative. What? The only excitement so far has been the submarine. I took a few pot shots at it as soon as we were aware it was sneaking around. The bounder crashed right into the bow with a hell of a bang. I think we sustained some damage. I have a party of engineers over the side now. They should be back within the hour with a report. Do you think that Commander Vorbeck was a coward as well as a liar and has left with his tail between his legs? Really with these dirty Huns you just don’t know.”

Although Aitken was from the gentry, he did not hold the same beliefs as the captain. His twenty years in India fighting with the brave Royal North Lancashire Regiment and the Sepoys had taught him that most of what went on in a battle was smoke and mirrors. “Are you worried about the submarine, Captain?”

“Ah, no. It hit us pretty hard. I am sure it got worse than we did. It has probably slunk off to lick its wounds. We’ll keep a lookout posted just to be sure.”

Aitken replied, “What time can I launch the attack? When will the boats be ready?”

The captain said, “First breakfast, then we’ll get underway. I suggest ten o’clock. We should be through by three.”

Aitken shrugged. He had heard of Commander Vorbeck and knew it would not be so easy. The man was as cunning as a cornered rat. With some quick thinking and a few fast words, he had already gained two days just by implying mines were in the harbor.

At ten-thirty boats were made ready and filled with young soldiers eager for a fight. Once the flotilla was in the water the major came to the rails and wished them all luck. By noon the boats were all headed for the beaches and the harbor.

Albrecht laid on the sand well out of sight, feeling very smug. Commander Vorbeck was obviously busy, as no runners came looking for him and his small platoon. The beach looked like it did on any other day—flat golden sand with the occasional crab running around. A much better location than the town. Small arms fire and the distinctive rattle of the German machine guns could be heard in the distance. Soon flames could be seen licking buildings on the outskirts of Tanga a few miles to the north.

Just as the Hauptmann was thinking of getting Volk to brew up some more tea, he saw eighteen twenty-foot cutters appear from H.M.S. Fox and head for his quiet beach. This was not good. That many cutters meant at least one hundred men were on their way to flank the town. Albrecht positioned his four men among the trees ready to surrender at the first opportunity. Then fate dealt him a blow—two platoons arrived from Tanga for support.

The sergeant ran over to Albrecht. “Sir, we have been deployed to assist your force. Tell me where to put the men. You are the senior N.C.O. here.”

Albrecht said, “Scheisse,” under his breath. Then turned to the men. “Line up in the trees. Don’t shoot until they are disembarking.”

The troops dug in just behind the palm trees edging the tropical bay as the boats approached. Four cutters full of heavily armed men hit the beach together. The soldiers were not expecting any resistance until they reached the town. Forty men from the 98th Infantry jumped into the shallows and waded ashore.

Albrecht, now forced to do his job, realized he had no option but to stand and fight. The first volley of shots took out twenty of the infantry soldiers marching up the beach. The rest threw themselves onto the sand and started returning fire as best as they could.

More cutters came to the shore as Albrecht and his soldiers fought. The Germans threw volley after volley into the growing band of attackers.

Albrecht shouted to the new sergeant, “Watch the flank. There are more boats landing just up the beach. Take ten men and hold them off.”

The sergeant led his team further south to engage the new front.

Albrecht was gradually losing ground. There were just too many of the British to hold back. Wave after wave landed only to be pushed back as the Germans fired their five rounds before having to reload. If only he had grabbed one of the new machine guns.

When the British were within thirty feet, he knew it was time to pull back into the jungle and re-group. The Hauptman crawled a few feet from the front line and stood, shouting, “All men fall back in slow order. Keep firing. Fall back in line.”

Albrecht positioned himself behind his men as any good coward would, then allowed them to retreat. Lanc was laying out on the beach. He had taken shots to the chest and head. His days were over. But Karsten was still up firing into the British, as was Volker. He was about forty feet away from them. After retreating in for some one hundred yards, the firing from the British increased. A team had managed to set up a machine gun on the now-taken tree line. This new development created a rout in Albrecht’s men. Suddenly, he was the only man standing as bullets pricked the sand around his feet. All the Germans were running into the jungle, dashing through the bush as fast as they could. Albrecht joined them, racing headlong through the tangled branches that surrounded the beach. All around him were crashing feet as the soldiers rushed to try to get away from the deadly machine guns.

As one, twenty German soldiers reached a clearing, two hundred yards into the jungle. Albrecht was holding his knees, panting. He was scared. He had never faced an adversary with anything more than a spear. Karsten was there. He looked worse than Albrecht felt and was gulping down air like it was rationed. The Germans could hear the British running in the jungle chasing after them.

Volker, certain he was being chased, staggered into the clearing and turned and fired his rifle blindly into the tangled bush behind him. Everyone stood and looked at the soldier in horror. The private’s bullet had gone wide and very high. His shot would only have hit someone who was twenty feet up in a tree.

However, he had managed to hit something. A large black round football shaped object was attached to a tree. When Albrecht looked up, he saw hundreds of them all hanging off the branches and stuck to the trunks of the trees. A sudden thought raced across his brain. There was no time to lose. In his travels over the years through East Africa, these round football shaped objects had appeared time and again. The locals were scared of them and would leave them alone at all costs. Killer bees lived all over the continent. Villagers felt it was better to keep your life than have something sweet. In the town of Moshi, a couple of years ago, Albrecht had forced a couple of teenagers to get him some honey from one of the hives. At first the young teenagers cried, then flatly refused, but the end of his bayonet won the day. He watched from a safe distance as the kids attacked the hive. From nowhere, thousands of infuriated bees had suddenly descended on the children. Three of the boys fell to the ground and were immediately covered in a black layer of the beasts. The fourth ran into the bush, screaming at the top of his lungs, a black swarm of tiny drones giving chase. After sixty yards, he fell and was covered from head to foot in a swarm of creatures stinging him to death.

Albrecht shouted to the troops around him, “Shoot the nests! Then run like hell!”

The soldiers looked at him as if he was mad. He shouted again, “The nests above you. Shoot them! They’re African bees. Killer bees. When they are mad, they swarm. The British will run away. Shoot them!”

The Hauptmann grabbed a rifle from the soldier next to him, emptying the four remaining shots into a hive just forty feet away. Within seconds, it started to hum, and bees began flying. This one, along with the hive, which was already angry from Volker’s bullet, got the rest angry. Soon the air was buzzing with thousands of black angry insects looking for revenge.

Albrecht shouted, “Run! Now run for your lives!”

The German soldiers started racing through the jungle as fast as they could. Crashing through the bush without a care. Thorns tore at their faces and uniforms, the bees hot on their heels, stinging anything they could land on.

The 98th Infantry Battalion led by Captain Bruce had seen the rout of the Germans and wanted to finish the job. He stood at the top of the beach with his brave infantry men behind him. “Lads, for King and Country. We’ll chase them all the way to the main square.”

He drew his sword and charged into the mass of jungle, his trusty infantry men behind him. It had been easy so far. Not so many casualties and now the Germans were running so they could shoot them in the back.

As Bruce charged into the bush, he felt pricks in his neck, then buzzing around his head. He ran headlong into a thick cloud of bees, all racing towards any piece of flesh they could. Then the drones sunk their stingers in as deep as possible on an evolutionary suicide mission to save the queen.

Soldiers around him started screaming as they were covered in the small angry creatures. He staggered back, his face already swollen from the hundreds of stings. Captain Bruce waved his sword around in front of him, trying to ward off the creatures, but they just kept coming in waves. He collapsed onto his knees, his eyes clamped shut as the bees stung again and again. The 98th Infantry ran into the solid wall of pain coming at them, not knowing what it was. The fastest runners were soon heading back to the beach more quickly than they had come. The killer bees just kept swarming, hundreds of thousands of them flying after anything that moved. The birds and animals had long since left, leaving only the humans to bear the brunt of their rage.

Soldiers tumbled out of the jungle screaming, red patches covering their hands and faces. They jumped into the ocean seeking refuge. The 98th Infantry Battalion’s boats were just offshore when they saw the soldiers returning in such a panic, heading for the beach. Infantry men leapt on the cutters to safety. They yelled to the tillerman to get them out of the place. It was a complete disaster. The infantry retreated right back to H.M.S. Fox full of news about a secret weapon in the jungle.

Captain Bruce Jones of the 98th Infantry Battalion had spent six years in India fighting through hot arid lands, all the way to the Khyber Pass and back. He had been wounded on four separate occasions. Twice from shrapnel, once by a musket round and lastly a nasty gash across his stomach from a sword blade. Now he lay in the jungle on the coast of Africa, his only enemy bees. His body shuddered involuntarily as the stings kept coming one after the next. The adrenaline racing through his body caused his heart to beat at well over 300 times a minute. Although the captain was a fit young man, the amount of poison pumped into him in such a short period of time was more than any human could take. His heart gave out there in the dirt as the bees continued to swarm over his now-limp body.

Hauptmann Albrecht ran through the jungle as fast as he could. There was no way he wanted anything to do with either the British or the bees. His men charged alongside him. A few had been stung, mostly the slower ones, but all in all it had been a clean getaway. Albrecht decided to head for the safety of the town. At least there he might be able to find a hideout to wait for the end of the battle. When he saw the white flags, he would appear and surrender or cheer with the victorious Germans.

The three German platoons had lost all semblance of order and were running away from whatever was behind them. They charged into Tanga, finding themselves in empty streets. Albrecht stopped the men in the square and shouted, “Where is the sergeant? Bring him to me!”

The sergeant from the beach stepped forward. “Secure the square and set your men in a defensive line.”

“Yes, Herr Hauptmann.”

He rushed off as the stragglers came into the town from the jungle, leaving his sergeant to grab and push the soldiers into positions around the town center.

Albrecht marched quickly to the hotel. He had expected it to be a hive of activity, but it was empty. There was no one around, and only small arms fire in the distance. What had happened? He reached behind the bar and grabbed a bottle of brandy. “Corporal Volker, go look around. Find out where everyone is.”

He collapsed heavily into a plush, red velvet armchair and took a long swig from the bottle. This was strange. Where was everyone?

An hour later Albrecht was dozing. The day was hot and the brandy free. Volker strolled into the bar. “Herr Hauptmann, wake up!”

Albrecht woke with a start. “Where have you been? What’s happening?”

“It’s odd. The British were winning after landing at the harbor. They took the streets and even this hotel. Then the askaris came in numbers and chased them back to the boats. Now, as far as I can tell, they are all on the battleship. Another battalion of Indian soldiers landed on the beaches, like the ones who fought us. They were hit hard by our brave German soldiers. It was tough, but they were also beaten back for a while. Then another full battalion of Indians made a hard push into town. The askaris ran away and have retreated to the hills. The Indians were flanked by the Germans and chased back to the beach, but they rallied for a while and chased our forces into the bush. So, it seems everyone came and has now gone again.”

Albrecht took another pull on the bottle and passed it to his friend. “So, it seems we have the town. Where is the Lion?”

Volker passed the bottle back. “He went out of town when the harbor fell and is rallying troops in the Lushoto Hills. He knows nothing of the battle. I would wager a bottle of rum that the old man will be mad when he finds out what has happened.”

Albrecht immediately saw the bright side. “We’ll be heroes, protectors of the town. My good friend, our victorious troops saved the place from the marauding British scum. With me in command.” He slapped Volker across the shoulders. “We win again, my friend. As long as the British stay in their battleship for a couple of hours, our story cannot be disproved.”

On H.M.S. Fox, Major General Aitkin was furious. The invasion should have been simple. His forces had superior numbers and firepower. What had gone wrong?

Corporal Vigus stood in front of him, covered in red welts. “Sir, I don’t know what happened.”

Aitken was in no mood for this. “Spit it out, man. Tell me the whole story.”

“We hit the beach and set up the machine gun as soon as we took ground and made a spearhead. It was all going according to plan. The Germans only had about two or three platoons guarding the southern flank.

“So, what went wrong, man? Where are your sergeant and captain?”

Corporal Vigus looked straight above the major general’s head, assuming the one-thousand-yard gaze. “Sir, they’re lost. Fatally wounded by the bees, Sir.”

“That can’t be so. How could this have happened?”

“Sir, we were attacking and had routed the Germans. Captain Bruce ordered us to chase them all the way to the town. The whole battalion charged into the jungle as one, shooting as we went. But then millions of bees started stinging us. Men went down right in front of me, Sir. I was getting stung too but turned at the last minute and ran back to the beach where I jumped straight in the water.”

“Go on, corporal.”

“We just ran, Sir, nothing else to do about it. The bees came out of the jungle and chased us off the beach. We left our weapons and kit, even the machine guns and ammunition. It was a trap sir. The dirty Huns planted it. Must be trip wires or something. They ran away with no problem. The bees only came after us.”

Albrecht sat smoking a fat cigar when Commander Lettow-Vorbeck arrived in Tanga astride his white horse. Albrecht stretched the story out as far as possible, always showing himself as the hero of the hour. His narration had Albrecht leading his troop into the thick of the fighting, taking the town back street by street, then securing the weapons that were left behind by the cowardly English forces. There were two hundred and forty boxes of ammunition at the harbor plus thirty-six machine guns, which the British had simply abandoned.

Unfortunately, for Albrecht, he was promoted to Kapitan First Class and spent the next three years fighting a bloody guerrilla war alongside Commander Vorbeck against the British. He was fatally wounded on the border with Uganda. The treasure was lost and forgotten.