This list doesn’t include any East Africans, just men who fought in East Africa during the World Wars. Isn’t there anyone in this region who was blessed with balls of wrought iron?
#7 Fragetten Kapitan Max Looff
There are two shipwrecks in the Rufiji River Delta in Tanzania. One is that of the Konigsberg while the other is that of its fuelling collier, the Somali. The Germans lost the two ships during the heat of World War I to a fleet of Royal Navy vessels. That’s the boring part of the story.
Fragetten Kapitan Max Looff, who had the most obnoxious surname ever, commanded the ship on several successful raids on British ships. When the light cruiser suffered engine failure, he steered it up the Rufiji Delta from where the damaged parts were transported via land to Dar es Salaam.
He managed to hide the ship for five weeks by camouflaging it and moving it to the upper reaches of the Delta. When it was finally discovered, the British blockaded the delta and began to launch attacks on the ship. The first attacks, using shitty seaplanes and tiny bombs, failed; the Royal Navy ships were too big to go close enough to the ship to make direct hits.
When his ship was finally hit in July 1915, Looff sent a signal to Berlin ‘Konigsberg is destroyed but not conquered.’ But that wasn’t the most poignant written communication Loof ever sent.
On New Year’s Eve the previous year, the Royal Navy Ship HMS Fox sent Loof this message: WE WISH YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON.
Looff, as aloof as a man with a name like that can be, replied: THANKS, SAME TO YOU, IF YOU WISH TO SEE ME, I AM ALWAYS HOME.” If that is not an invitation for a proper ass whoopin’ then I have been watching the wrong action movies. Loof managed to hold on until July that year and though they sank his ship in the end, they never caught him.
#5 Colonel Von Lettow-Vorbeck Tells Hitler to Fuck Off
Whoever says badassery cannot be induced by naming your kids something badass is lying. Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, other than having a mouthful of a badass name, is recognized as the most badass German General to lead a military force during World War I. Free Advice: Call your child Lettow-Vorbeck and watch him become the king of recess. Please don’t quote me if he doesn’t.
When the war started, Lettow-Vorbeck was leading a small garrison of just a little over five thousand soldiers. He used the Konigsberg’s guns-after Loof’s ship was damaged-to shell the Allies in the East African land campaign. One of his victories was so embarrassing to the British that they kept it secret until 1966. He proved to be a hard man to pin down, employing the guerrilla warfare strategy, and managing to keep his troops motivated for four years.
Two days after Germany lost the war, Vorbeck was still busy fighting –and winning territory-in the Congo. He did not even know that his side had lost the war until Hector Croad, a British Magistrate, brought him a letter informing him of the armistice.
He surrendered his undefeated army of about 1, 500 soldiers, and 3, 500 porters in Zambia on 25 November, a whole week and a half after Berlin had fallen. Vorbeck and the man he had been fighting for more than two years, General JC Smuts met in 1929 and became lifelong friends.
Smuts organized a pension for Vorbeck from the same guys he had been shooting at and trying to kill him for four years. He needed the assistance because he had made terrible political decisions, one of them being more badass than anything he ever did in war.
In 1935, he declined a diplomatic position from Hitler by telling the mustachioed dictator to ‘Go fuck himself.’ Seriously. This was Hitler, the man who would enter the annals of history as a villain extraordinaire, and a mere man, a former soldier nonetheless, was telling him, in no less words, to shove it in his own fundamentals. If you were Hitler, you would kill Vorbeck wouldn’t you? But Vorbeck lived until 1963, almost three decades longer than the Furher. If having titanium ball doesn’t kill you, only old age can. Unless you are Nigel Gray Leakey…
#5 Nigel Gray Leakey; ‘I’ll Get them on Foot!”
You don’t know Nigel Leakey, of course not. He is one of the many famous Leakeys and his story tends to fade in the famous family name. May 19 1941; Sergeant Leakey is stationed in the Ethiopian front when the Allied forces encounter strong Italian opposition.
Tired of just shooting around like a fool, and perhaps too eager to get home, Leakey jumped on top of an enemy tank, opened the turret, and killed everyone inside except the driver. Unless you know how to drive or fly the thing you are stealing, never kill the driver/pilot. It’s counterproductive. Leakey knew that, now you do too. Use this information wisely.
He forced the driver to steer the tank to cover from where he tried to fire the canons at the Italians. This failed and he dismounted, yelling to his disbelieving fellow soldiers ‘I’ll get them on foot.” Because badassery doesn’t need a tank, badassery is its own war machine.
He tried the stunt again, this time with three African soldiers. As a fleet of enemy tanks passed, he jumped on the third one and opened the turret. He only managed to shoot one person inside before the fourth tank shot him right off the tank. Italians were having none of his shit this time round. But they lost, and part of the credit for that victory is given to Sergeant Leakey. He was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy among Commonwealth countries. It is only awarded to soldiers with titanium balls, and Nigel had grown his while growing up in Kiganjo.
#4 Private Seidu Issalia
If you think you know badassery but you do not know Private Seidu Issalia’s act of utter stupidity and bravery, then you need to suspend that until you are done reading this entry.
If you Google ‘Private Seidu Issalia’ one of the curious finds you will get is a Dictionary entry for ‘Definition of Groin’ because that’s Issalia’s most badass part. His fundamentals. No, he didn’t kill anyone with his wand, not that we know of anyway. Maybe the titanium alloy prosthetic he got did.
On January 4 1941, Private Issalia, a member of the Gold Coast Regiment fighting in the East African campaign, was sent as a runner by his platoon commander. He was shot through the groin; please take a moment to internalize that, on his way to HQ. As the sniper giggled at his villainous hit, Issalia refused to die.
He crawled, with a bullet in his groin, to command headquarters and did his duty. Badass, no? Now you like a coward for that time you cried when someone kicked you in the groins, right? Private Issalia is just about to multiply that…
He delivered his message and then crawled back, still with a bullet in his fundamentals, back to his platoon commander to confirm delivery of the message. He was one of the few African soldiers who were ever awarded for bravery during the campaign. There is no information as to whether he was reincarnated as the African Robocop with titanium balls and a diamond wand but if there is ever an alien attack, this is one the guys we should consider.
#3 Sergeant-Major Belo Akure
The story of West African troops who fought in the East African Campaign has generally been downplayed and hardly registers a mention in Kenyan history books. Yet when you look at the number of military medals the Brigades amassed you can tell there are numerous stories of badassery and unfulfilled death wishes hidden there. One of them is that of Sergeant-Major Belo Akure.
When an experienced officer, a British one during a time of blatant racial stratification no less, writes of you ‘I have never seen a braver man’ then you must be at the highest attainable level of badassery.
By the end of the war he had amassed three medals: the coveted Military Medal, a clasp, and the Distinguished Conduct in the field medal. The first medal was for a time when he saved eight of his colleagues from sure death. As they retreated from a tactical mistake, the company came under fire. Since they could not all fit in the canoe, Akure was left behind, lying down on the riverbank returning to god-knows-how-many German shooters. He was hit in the sleeve and died. Actually no he wasn’t.
He continued shooting until his company got on the other side, and then he swam across to safety.
In East Africa, Belo captured a middle-level German Officer ‘in spite of a spirited rescue effort’ by the German forces. Here’s how it was described “He left his place of safety and went out to the German who was lying on the ground. History does not relate what he said to the wretched man, but badly wounded as he was, he (the German) got up and followed the sergeant-major to a place of safety.” He probably just told him his name.
#2 Eric Charles Twelves Wilson
Wilson revenged for being given the weirdest set of names by showing such conspicuous gallantry in Somaliland that no one thought he had survived. But he had.
It all began when Italian forces attacked a machine-gun post aptly called Observation Hill. Captain Wilson, in charge of a badass team of Somali gunners, led a successful counter-attack and started helping another nearby post beat off the attackers.
He was so successful that the Italians switched their energies to finishing him off completely. They scored two direct hits on his defenses, one of which wounded Captain Wilson in the right shoulder and the left eye, and shattered his spectacles. His guns were blown off their stand but he repaired them and replaced them, with a useless eye and a useless hand, and promptly went back to the fight. From August 12 to August 14, he manned his guns with one hand and one weak eye, the wounds unattended. He contracted malaria on the 13th, because the Grim Reaper was running out of ideas.
He kept the post in action until 5pm 15 August, his wounds unattended, and his malaria untreated, when the post was finally overran, and he was killed. At least that is how the original gazette notice for his VC reads.
Wilson actually survived the slaughter and wandered off until the Italians captured him. They took him to hospital and then spirited him off to a POW camp in Eritrea where he first learnt of his posthumous VC months later.
When the camp was overrun by the British, Wilson was rescued and given the VC he had been awarded when everyone thought he was dead. He was then deployed to Burma where he was struck by scrub typhus. He was then moved to an infantry-training center in Uganda. The Grim Reaper quit after this and just let old age do its magic.
#1 Premindra Singh Bhagat
The most badass man on this list is Premindra Singh Bhagat! That his exploits did not kill him means death respected him enough to let his nongiveafuckery prolong his life. Here’s what Singh Bhagat did.
Over the course of his training, his company commander frequently complained about Bhagat’s ‘high opinion of himself.” When he was leaving the training camp, his company commander, MacLaughin, said “That chap. He’s off to the wars. You mark my words. He will either get shot or get a VC.” He did the latter.
He was deployed to Sudan where his acts of total-complete-one-hundred-percent-nongiveafuckery happened. On 6 November 1940, Bhagat’s company was tasked with road denial, a sabotage strategy by a retreating army to slow down the pursuing army. They rigged up two derelict tanks with explosives and then jammed them into a culvert. When the charges were fired, one jammed and the culvert held. Well, until Prem dashed from cover and into the tank, under a hail of bullets. He adjusted the charges and then ran back out. The tank exploded. Badass, no? Men like Bhagat are never satisfied with such pussy acts as simply running into a tank filled with explosives.
In January 1942, Bhagat was commanding a column of Royal Frontier Force Rifles during the Battle of Keren. As part of the recce party, Bhagat and his men had to drive out in front of the platoons. The road was heavily mined and the carrier he was in blew up. Everyone escaped unhurt, but Bhagat was not having that kind of uncertainty again. As the column progressed, the carrier drove over another mine and the driver and the sapper died.
Bhagat, after flipping at the Grim Reaper, promptly moved to another carrier and this is where the shit goes from badass to “is this man even human?” Every time the column encountered a mine, Bhagat would alight from the carrier and defuse the mine with his bare hands. For four days!
For four long days, this man worked with no rest or food, like a mine-defusing, death defying, Grim-Reaper-Immune machine. His carrier was blown up a third time on February 2 and Prem’s eardrums, tired of being part of a man with no value for his life, simply punctured.
For a whole day, this guy refused to be pulled away from the war front, arguing with his company commander that he was the most experienced among all mine-defusers. He probably couldn’t hear what his senior was saying so it’s possible he let his exploits speak for him.
After working almost non-stop for 96 hours, clearing 15 mine fields over 55 miles and with blood oozing from his ears, Bhagat accepted to be evacuated. He was awarded the VC for “the longest recorded feat of sheer cold courage.”
—– Richhpal Ram
Now, there are badass men who don’t care much for their lives and then there’s Ricchpal Ram. When a guy’s second name is a verb that implies force and violence, you know he is the real deal.
Ram was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for, as the highest award among Commonwealth Forces is described ‘gallantry in the face of the enemy.’
According to this Gazette notice, Ram and his 6th Rajputana Rifles were fighting in Eritrea when this happened “…his personal example inspired his company with his resolute spirit until his right foot was blown off. He then suffered further wounds from which he later died. While lying wounded, he continued to wave his men on, and his final words were “We’ll capture the objective.”
Owaahh © 2013