Some real-life tales are so strange one couldn't make sure they are up even if one tried. The MV Liemba ferry in the heart of Africa has to be one of the world's strangest stories. She's the oldest Imperial German Navy ship still running in the world – and she is on the lake in Africa!
The story is a bizarre one of Imperial Empires fighting naval battles thousands of miles from the ocean, a tale of eccentric commanders, along with a story of one from the last legacies of Imperial German rule in Tanzania. It's a story of the ferry that just refuses to die.
The Colonial Background And Getting Her Overland To The Lake
During the colonial duration of Africa before World War One, the majority of what's now Tanzania was German East Africa and area of the German Empire. Neighboring the German colony were the British possessions of Uganda and Kenya towards the north and what is now Zambia and Malawai towards the south. Once the war started in Europe, the war immediately spread the respective Empire's colonies abroad.
- Mainland Tanzania: A German Colony Called German East Africa
In the center of Africa is the massive Lake Tanganyika – thousands of miles away from the ocean and navigable rivers. British, Portuguese, and German colonies converged about this mighty lake and the Germans were going to have mastery of it.
To that end, the Germans built a spead boat in Germany in 1913 after which had it packed into 5,000 wooden crates. They were transported so far as their railway would bring them, and then they had to carry them overland the rest of the way being worn by porters.
- Built: In 1913 In Germany
- Dissembled: She Was Disassembled And Shipped To The Lake in 5,000 Wooden Crates
The Mighty Ferry Within the Battle of Lake Tanganyika
The ship was called the Graf von Goetzen and was intended to be a ferry before the war broke out. However she was changed into an auxiliary warship (called SMS Goetzen) and given a 4-inch gun in the wrecked light cruiser SMS K”onigsberg on the coast. When she was ready in 1915, it had been easily the strongest ship around the lake.
- Armed: With A 4-Inch Gun
The British wanted to challenge this, so throughout the war, they dragged two boats overland under the command of the eccentric British Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson. This oddball assertive christened the boats as HMS Mini and HMS Toutou.
The tiny British task force were able to surprise the (smaller than the Goetzen) German ship Kingani. She was damaged and captured by the British who christened it into the Royal Navy as HMS Fifi.
- British Task Force: HMS Mini, Toutou, and Fifi
- Fate: Scuttled On 26 July 1916 (Later Raised)
The British went searching for the German auxiliary warship SMS Goetzen. When they spotted it they awoke Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson who observed that his three little boats had no chance of taking on the much larger SMS Goetzen with its 4-inch gun. So he just returned to sleep – a very eccentric man. Find out more about this engagement on the YouTube Channel, The Great War's video on it.
But developments on land soon overtook those of Lake Tanganyika and also the Germans removed the guns from the SMS Goetzen and scuttled her in July 1916.
After The War And Service Like a Ferry
She was recovered through the Belgians (who controlled the other side of the lake) but soon sank again inside a storm in 1920. She was raised by a British Royal Navy salvage team in 1924 and brought back into service in 1927.
- Name: Liemba Is the Name of Lake Tanganyika In Swahili
She was then pressed back to service as a passenger and cargo ferry that runs along the eastern shore of the lake. She's called MV Liemba and runs between the ports of Kigoma in Tanzania and Mpulungu in Zambia.
- Oldest: Today She's The Oldest Passenger Ferry In Service
- Last: She Is the Last German Imperial Navy Vessel Still Actively Sailing Anywhere In The World
The SMS Goetzen/MV Liemba is thought to be the inspiration for the German gunboat K”onigin Luisa in C. S. Forester's 1935 novel The African Queen. The novel was later adapted into a black and white movie of the same name.
If you might like a very unusual attraction in Africa – can't get much odder than this. Driving Africa is expensive, but there are also methods to travel in Africa on a tight budget. In Zambia one of many attractions is Victoria Falls – they are perhaps the most spectacular falls in the world.