Lieutenant Spicer-Simpson the eccentric, skirt-wearing commander of two motor launches HMS Tou Tou and HMS Mimi. He undertook an epic trek across three thousand miles of virtually, unexplored central Africa and then took on the German naval forces on the lake.
A fabulous ‘Boys Own’ adventure.
They had originally been named Dog and Cat by their erstwhile commander, Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, only to have the names rejected by an apparently scandalized Admiralty.
The ships eventually named the Mimi and Toutou were being built at the Thornycroft Yards on the Thames at the beginning of the war. Originally commissioned for the Greek Air Force, the ships were requisitioned by the Admiralty to meet the needs of a scheme to create an African inland navy. Both Mimi and her sister ship HMS Toutou had a length of 40 ft and could travel at up to 19 knots by virtue of two 100 hp petrol engines attached to twin screws. This would make the ships the fastest on Lake Tanganyika when they eventually arrived. The British armed them with a 3 pounder in the fore and a Maxim gun aft. Although it was discovered that the frames of the boats could not endure the 3 pounder’s recoil when not fired straight ahead, it was hoped that the boat’s impressive manoeuvrability would offset this limitation.
The launches underwent trials on June 8, 1915, and by the middle of the month were packed aboard a liner destined for Cape Town, South Africa. The vessels were nucleus of an expedition whose goal was to achieve naval superiority over the strategically important Lake Tanginyika. The expedition’s leader was the colourful naval officer Spicer-Simson. At the beginning of July they arrived in South Africa, where the ships were loaded onto a train bound for Elisabethville in the Belgian Congo, and finally the village of Fungurume, where the line ended. By August 6, the ships and equipment were offloaded and the expedition prepared to drive into the bush.
It took nearly a month and a half to travel the 100 or more miles from Fungurume to Sankisia, the railhead for a narrow-gauge railway. The terrain in between was mountainous and broken, requiring the construction of 150 bridges over various streams and gorges. The movement was accomplished by the brute force of two steam tractors, dozens of oxen, and hundreds of Africans employed for the expedition. At some points, even this was not enough, and complex winching systems were developed to lever the ships over the more formidable inclines. Even after the railroad was reached, the difficulties continued, as there were still some 500 miles to go. Streams which Spicer-Simson had depended on for navigation turned out to be nearly dry: the ships had to be raised on barrel rafts to float, and even then they had to be portaged dozens of times. Finally, however, the wearied expedition arrived at Lake Tanganyika on October 26.
You might have to translate from the Chinese for this, but the pictures are good: