- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Pioneer, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment)
- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After several attempts to drive Königsberg from her lair, it was decided to tow to the scene the 6-inch gun monitors, HM Ships Severn and Mersey that had been specially designed for river work. By taking advantage of their shallow draught it was planned to manoeuvre them upstream within range of the raider.
The attack began early on the morning of 6 July 1915, with the two monitors creeping silently into the northerly Kikunya mouth of the river under the cover of darkness. Pioneer’s orders were to proceed with Hyacinth to the southerly Simba-Uranga mouth and bombard its shore defences.2
Serving in Pioneer was Surgeon Lieutenant G. A. Melville-Anderson who described the action as follows:
‘On we went, very cautiously, and when we were about 5,000 yards from the river entrance, we dropped anchor and allowed the tide to swing us broadside on. Hence all our starboard guns bore on the entrance. Previous to anchoring, a shell burst in the water not far from the ship, and another in the air. No one knew from whence they came. Very soon we were firing salvoes and then each gun rapidly independently. Our shells were bursting everywhere, throwing up great clouds of sand and earth. No sign of life was visible in the neighbourhood.
In the meantime, the monitors were steaming up the river under heavy fire from the banks, but they went on and soon were within range of the Königsberg. They then directed their fire on her, the range being five miles. Seaplanes assisted the monitors in locating the position, but they were not very successful. The Königsberg fired salvoes of five guns, the accuracy of which was good. From firing salvoes of five guns she dropped to four then to three and two and finally one. During the last hour and a half of the engagement she ceased fire altogether. One of her shells hit the forward gun of Mersey and practically wiped out that gun’s crew – four men were killed and four wounded.3 At 3:30 pm after firing 600 6-inch shells, both monitors were withdrawn. The Königsberg although badly damaged had not been destroyed and she remained a threat. Consequently the operation was repeated on 12 July. This time Königsberg straddled the Severn as she prepared to drop anchor, but Severn quickly found the range and hit the German ship several times, setting her on fire and forcing the enemy to complete her destruction using demolition charges. While this was taking place, Pioneer was again engaged in bombardment against German shore defences from a range of 2000 yards.
Following the destruction of Königsberg, Pioneer spent a period patrolling off the river mouth, and later, some time in the southern section of the blockade area. By the end of July she had been under way every day for more than six months with the exception of nine days spent in harbour. On 31 August she ceased patrol duties and proceeded to Simonstown, South Africa, for refit. Six weeks later routine patrol was resumed in the southern section with no enemy opposition encountered. It was uneventful and monotonous work.
On 20 December Pioneer anchored in Nazi Bay, south of the Rufiji River, and sent a cutter away to obtain fresh provisions from ashore. A hundred yards from the beach the cutter suddenly came under rapid fire from a small enemy force on the shore and two men were wounded before the boat could be brought about. Pioneer retaliated with 50 rounds from her 4-inch guns and the boat and crew were recovered. The wounded were later transferred to the Severn. Pioneer remained in the southern patrol area until 13 January 1916, by which time she had spent an incredible 287 days underway, travelling 29,434 miles.
Early in February 1916, in fulfilment of a promise made to the Australian Government, the Admiralty ordered Pioneer back to Australian waters; however, on 13 February General J. C. Smuts assumed command of the Anglo-South African forces in East Africa and his plans demanded more naval cooperation than had previously been envisaged. As a result, on 23 February 1916, Pioneer’s crew learned that they were to resume blockade duties in the southern patrol area.