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The Little Clay God of the Ba-holo-holo

1/200th WWI Naval

When war broke out in 1914 it was not confined to the Western Front. One of the stranger campaigns occurred in East Africa on Lake Tanganyika. This 400 mile long lake protected most of the Western flank of German East Africa, and was controlled by three German gunboats that had been brought overland and assembled on the lake before the war. This was not an option for the British, as the German gunboats would be able to destroy any British gunboats on the slips before they were assembled. Desperate measures were called for and two unusual men provided the solution.

John Lee, a big game hunter, proposed transporting two small, fast, motor boats to the lake, these could then be assembled quickly, launched and then destroy the larger, but slower, German boats. This would involve shipping the motor boats by sea to Cape Town, followed by a 3000 mile cross country journey by train, traction engine and ship. All the Admiralty needed was someone to lead the expedition.

Enter Lieutenant Commander Spicer-Simpson, born in 1876, an unorthodox officer, inveterate liar and boaster, who had been court-martialed for allowing his Destroyer to collide with a liberty boat and had one of his command sunk in broad daylight in the early days of the war. He had since been side-lined to a desk job to keep him out of the way. As soon as he heard of the plan he volunteered and set off to Cape Town with an ill assorted body of men and the two motor boats, Mimi and Toutou, both armed with a 3 pdr and a machine gun. By late October 1915 the expedition arrived at the lake.

On Boxing Day 1915 the motor boats encountered the German vessel Kingani, armed with a 6 pdr gun; a single shell from which would sink either British boat. Despite the disparity in the guns the British boats pressed home the attack; a shell from Toutou hit the Kingani’s gun, killing the Captain and two of the crew. Kingani then struck her colours. Kingani was quickly repaired, armed with a 12 pdr gun and renamed Fifi; she was the first German ship to be captured and transferred to the Royal Navy in WW1.

In February 1916 the second German ship, Hedwig von Wissmann was engaged by Mimi and Fifi. Mimi scored several lucky hits which slowed the German ship down and enabled Fifi to get into range. A shell from the 12 pdr hit the Hedwig’s engine room and the ship began to sink.

The British now controlled the lake. The last, and largest, German ship, the Graf von Götzen, was confined to port and was eventually scuttled to prevent her capture. She was later raised, renamed MV Liemba and still steams the lake.

As the land campaign progressed Spicer-Simpson became more and more eccentric; given to wearing kilts, he insisted that an Admiral's flag be flown outside his hut and, towards the end of the campaign, was reluctant to support British and Belgian land forces. He was eventually returned to Britain to recuperate. For his actions on Lake Tanganyika he was promoted to Commander, awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and returned to a desk job. After the war he was elected the first Secretary-General of The International Hydrographic Bureau. He served in that role until 1937 and died in 1947.

And the title of the game? This is inspired by Spicer-Simpson’s impact on one of the local tribes, the Ba-holo-holo. As he grew more eccentric they came to revere him, no doubt impressed by his kilt and some macabre tattoos acquired during his time in Asia. They made many clay statues of him, some up to two feet high, surrounded by feathers, snake skins and blood. Those who knew him said they were a very good likeness!

All models scratch built by Phil Richards. Crew and guns by Langton.

Rules and Other PDFs

The rules used were simplified for participation games, although they still ran to three pages; you can read those here.

Club chairman Andy King made notes on the game's outing at the Milton Hundred Wargames Club's open day in 2012; you can read those here.

Andy King also found and scanned the original handout sheet; you can read that here, along with a map of the route from Cape Town to Lake Tanganyika.

Finally, there's a short biography of Geoffrey Spicer-Simson


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