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20th September 1914 - The Great War, Day by Day - The Wartime Memories Project

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The Wartime Memories Project - The Great War - Day by Day

20th September 1914

On this day:

  • 2nd Btn Rifle Brigade depart India   2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade were stationed at Kuldana in India when war broke out in August 1914. They sailed from Bombay on 20th of September for Liverpool.

  • 110th Heavy Battery proceed to France   110th Heavy Battery RGA arrive in France

  • 22nd Infantry Brigade organising in England   At Lyndhurst, the 2nd Battalion Queens West Surrey Regiment formed part of the 22nd Infantry Brigade under the command of the Brigadier General, consisting of 2nd Battalion The Queens, 2nd Battalion of The Warwicks, 1st Battalion of The Royal Welch Fusiliers & 1st Battalion of the South Staffords. Captain James was Brigade Major and the Brigade formed part of the VII Division under the command of Major General Capper.

    War Diary

  • Battle of Zanzibar 1914   

    HMS Pegasus

    The Battle of Zanzibar was fought between the Kaiserliche Marine and the Royal Navy during the First World War. The German cruiser SMS Königsberg had been taking on coal in the delta of the Rufiji River when her crew were told that a British cruiser—HMS Pegasus, which had been part of the Royal Navy's Cape Squadron sent to counter Köningsberg—had put in at Zanzibar for repairs. Königsberg's captain—Commander Max Looff—decided to attack Pegasus while she was in port. On 20 September 1914, Königsberg sailed past the picket ship HMS Helmuth at the entrance to Zanzibar harbour. Helmuth was unable to warn Pegasus of Königsberg's approach, with the result that when Koningsberg opened fire she took Pegasus entirely by surprise. As a result, Pegasus suffered heavy damage before she was even able to return fire. Königsberg's guns out-ranged those on Pegasus, which was consequently unable to damage her opponent. The one-sided battle ended in a German victory, Pegasus sank later that day, having lost 38 crew dead.

    Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, on 19 September 1914, Commander Max Looff of the light cruiser SMS Königsberg was coaling in the Rufuji Delta, when he learned from coast watchers that a British warship had entered Zanzibar harbour. Looff assumed the cruiser at Zanzibar was either HMS Astraea or HMS Pegasus and ordered an immediate attack. As Königsberg had been recently resupplied, she was prepared for battle. Königsberg left on the afternoon tide for her run to Zanzibar. The protected cruiser Pegasus, under the command of Captain John Ingles, had just left the company of HMS Astraea and Hyacinth for repairs at Zanzibar to her boilers and engines. Also at Zanzibar, the British had armed the captured German tug HMS Helmuth with a 3-pounder gun and posted her as a picket ship at the entrance of the harbour. Königsberg had been built in 1905 and was armed with ten 10.5 cm guns, ten 37 mm autocannon pieces and two 18 inch torpedo tubes. Pegasus—a Pelorus-class protected cruiser built in 1897—was armed with eight QF 4 inch guns, eight 3-pounders and two 18-inch torpedo tubes. Her complement consisted of 234 officers and men.


    At dawn on 20 September, Königsberg entered the southern end of the Zanzibar approaches and sailed past the picket ship Helmuth, firing a few warning shots as she passed. Helmuth could neither stop the Königsberg from entering the harbour nor even warn Pegasus of the German cruiser's approach. Once Koningsberg came within 9,000 yd (8,200 m) of Pegasus, she began firing salvos. Pegasus sat at anchor in Zanzibar Harbour, preparing steam and at that moment, was helpless. For about 20 minutes while Königsberg fired, Pegasus remained stationary. Pegasus did raise the White Ensign and began firing, but her shells splashed into the water well short of Koningsberg. The light cruiser slowly continued forward and fired until the range had closed to within 7,000 yd (6,400 m). One of the first British sailors wounded was gunnery officer Lieutenant Richard Turner, who suffered both of his legs being mangled by shrapnel. Despite his injuries, Turner rallied his men, telling them; "Keep it up, lads, we’re outclassed and done for; but damn them, and keep it up!" The British continued their futile fight for around 20 minutes more, taking additional hits from Königsberg, the majority landing on Pegasus' deck. Her ensign was shot away during the fight. Also, because the Germans were always at least 2,000 yd (1,800 m) beyond the range of Pegasus' guns, no British rounds struck Königsberg. Pegasus became holed near her waterline and began taking on water. All hope of defeating the Germans having gone, Ingles struck his colors and gave the order to abandon ship. Pegasus later sank. After Königsberg had finished with Pegasus, she fired a few parting shots at Helmuth, whose crew managed to abandon ship before one of the German cruiser's salvos struck the tug. With a clear German victory, Königsberg turned around and headed back for the Rufiji Delta.


    The Royal Navy's losses were Pegasus sunk and Helmuth damaged. Thirty-eight British sailors on Pegasus had died; another 55 sailors were wounded, most of whom had been top-side when hit. Staff Surgeon Alfred J. Hewitt was on the deck of Pegasus from the beginning to the end of the battle, aiding wounded sailors and marines. Captain Ingles later recognized Hewitt's courageous behavior in a report on the action. Although Helmuth had taken a hit from Königsberg, the damage to the tug was relatively minor and her crew managed to reboard her after Königsberg had sailed off. Only one man on board Helmuth died, a non-enlisted native working in the engine room. The hospital ship HMS Gascon and the Scottish ship SS Clan Macrae rescued the survivors of Pegasus. Twenty-four of the British sailors that died in the battle were buried in a mass grave in the naval cemetery on Grave island, Zanzibar, while 14 others were laid to rest at the town's cemetery before being moved in 1971 to the Dar es Salaam war cemetery. The British salvaged six of Pegasus' guns from the wreck and later used them in the East African land campaign. Although Königsberg had suffered no hits or casualties, Looff's plans to continue the offensive were soon cut short. One of her main engines failed. The British were watching the port of Dar es Salaam so she had to return to the Rufiji River delta to await the overland transport of spare parts. The British soon discovered Koningsberg's location and blockaded her. They damaged her beyond repair in the Battle of Rufiji Delta when they were able to bring up the monitors HMS Mersey and Severn.

    John Doran

  • 20th September 1914 Ongoing Action

  • 20th Sep 1914 Enemy attacks

  • 20th Sep 1914 Men taken Prisoner

  • 20th Sep 1914 2nd South Lancs in the Line

  • 20th Sep 1914 1/1st Oxford Hussars proceed to France

  • 20th Sep 1914 On the Move

  • 20th Sep 1914 Trench Work

  • 20th Sep 1914 In Action

  • 20th September 1914 Troop relief movements

  • 20th Sep 1914 Under Shellfire

Can you add to this factual information? Do you know the whereabouts of a unit on a particular day? Do you have a copy of an official war diary entry? Details of an an incident? The loss of a ship? A letter, postcard, photo or any other interesting snipts?

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Want to know more?

There are:14 articles tagged with this date available in our Library

  These include information on officers service records, letters, diaries, personal accounts and information about actions during the Great War.

Remembering those who died this day.

  • Pte. John Bannon. Connaught Rangers 2nd Btn. Read their Story.
  • L/Cpl. Harold George Boland. South Lancashire Regiment 2nd Btn Read their Story.
  • Rflm. Edward Brady. Royal Irish Rifles 2nd Btn. Read their Story.
  • Rflm. Edward Brady. Royal Irish Rifles 2nd Btn.
  • L/Cpl. Fred Buckley. West Yorkshire Regiment 1st Btn. Read their Story.
  • Lt. Allan William George Campbell. Coldstream Guards Read their Story.
  • Pte. John Collis. Sherwood Foresters 2nd Battalion Read their Story.
  • 2nd Lt. James Adam Hamilton Fergusson. Highland Light Infantry Read their Story.
  • Pte. William Raylton Freemantle. Yorkshire Regiment 4th Btn Read their Story.
  • Pte. Joseph McCann. Coldstream Guards 2nd Battalion Read their Story.
  • Pte. Robert Winder Parker. West Yorkshire 1st Batt.
  • L/Sgt. Samuel Alexander Richardson. Scots Guards 1st Battalion Read their Story.
  • Mjr. William Stopford Sarsfield. Connaught Rangers 2nd Btn Read their Story.
  • Mjr. Charles Allix Lavington Yate. VC. King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 2nd Btn. Read their Story.
  • Major Charles Allix Lavington "Cal" Yate. VC King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 2nd Btn. Read their Story.

    Add a name to this list.

  • Items from the Home Front Archive

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