What was the Battle of the Bees?

The Battle of Tanga, an ambitious amphibious attack by British and Indian forces in World War I, is often referred to as the Battle of the Bees..

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On 4 November 1914, in a bid to overrun German East Africa, a British force largely made up of inexperienced soldiers from the Indian Army attacked the important port and railway terminus of Tanga. Although the German defenders were heavily outnumbered they were well-prepared and under the skilled command of Colonel Paul von Lettow Vorbeck. Under his leadership, the British attack was soon facing trouble.

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The 8,000 troops – most of them insufficently trained Indian reserves from Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ – made no progress against Lettow Vorbeck’s reinforced defences, despite his forces being outgunned eight to one. The Germans even went on the offensive.

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Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the fighting disturbed swarms of aggressive bees whose hives were in trees on the battlefield. The angry bees mounted an attack of their own, stinging the troops of both sides and causing some of the British force to fall back in panic. The combination of machine gun and bee attacks had proved devastating and on the following day the British fell back to their ships.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Julian Humphrys. For more fascinating Q&A’s, pick up a copy of History Revealed.