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Graf von Götzen

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Subject: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle for Lake Tanganyika
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Graf von Götzen

MV Liemba
Career (German Empire)
Name: Graf von Goetzen
Namesake: Gustav Adolf von Götzen
Builder: Meyer Werft
Laid down: 1913
Launched: 5 February 1915
In service: 9 June 1915
Fate: Scuttled on 26 July 1916
Career (Tanganyika Territory)
Renamed: MV Liemba
Reinstated: 16 May 1927
Career (Tanzania)
Name: MV Liemba
Operator: Marine Services Company Limited
Homeport: Kigoma, Tanzania
Status: in active service, as of 2014
General characteristics
Displacement: 800 t,
fully loaded 1200 t
Length: 71.40 m (234.25 ft)
Beam: 10 m (32.81 ft)
Installed power:

Steam 500 ihp (370 kW)

Diesel 1,240 hp (920 kW)
Propulsion: Triple-expansion steam engine, (until 1970, replaced with Diesel): 2 screws
Speed: 11 knots (20 km/h)
Armament: 1 x 10.5cm gun + 1 x 8.8cm gun, + 2 x 37mm revolver guns

The MV Liemba, formerly the Graf Goetzen or Graf von Goetzen, is a passenger and cargo ferry that runs along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. She is operated by the Marine Services Company Limited of Tanzania[1] and operates between the ports of Kigoma, Tanzania, and Mpulungu, Zambia, with numerous stops to pick up and set down passengers in between.

Graf von Goetzen was built in 1913 in Germany, and was one of three vessels the German Empire used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the First World War. Her master had her scuttled on 26 July 1916 in Katabe Bay during the German retreat from the town of Kigoma. In 1924 a British Royal Navy salvage team raised her and in 1927 she returned to service as the Liemba. Liemba is the last vessel of the Kaiserliche Marine still actively sailing anywhere in the world.

Liemba was the inspiration for the German gunboat Luisa in C. S. Forester's 1935 novel The African Queen, and John Huston's subsequent film version. Giles Foden retold the story.[2] In 1992 the ship featured in the Chiwoniso Maraire, in 2010.


Early history

The Meyer-Werft Shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, built Goetzen in 1913 and named her after Count Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen, the former governor of German East Africa.[3][4][5][6] Goetzen was designed to serve as a passenger and cargo ferry in conjunction with the Ostafrikanische Eisenbahngesellschaft (East African Railway Company).

After preliminary assembly Goetzen was taken apart and shipped in 5000 boxes loaded on three cargo vessels to Dar es Salaam in German East Africa (modern day Burundi, Rwanda and Tanganyika (the mainland part of present Tanzania)).[7] From there the trains of the Mittellandbahn ("Central Line") carried the boxes to Kigoma. She was rebuilt there in 1914 and launched on 5 February 1915.

Originally the ship had seven first class cabins (single bed & sofa bed) and five second class cabins (double bed), as well as first and second class dining and smoking rooms.[8]

The machinery consisted at first of two round boilers for steam for the two triple expansion engines with a power rating of 250 ihp. She also had a carbonic ice and cooling unit in an insulated cold storage with a capacity of three kilograms of ice per hour, and a lighting and a ventilation system. The ship was designed for a crew of 64 men (60 men and four officers).[9]

First World War

During World War I the Germans converted Goetzen to an auxiliary warship under the name SMS Goetzen. They gave her a 10.5 cm gun from the light cruiser SMS Königsberg, which was no longer operational and which her crew later scuttled in the mouth of the Rufiji River. She also received an 8.8 cm gun, one of two that Königsberg had brought out from Germany to arm auxiliary cruisers should the opportunity arise. Lastly, the survey ship SMS Möwe contributed two 37mm Hotchkiss revolver guns to Goetzen's armament.[10] 

The Germans appointed Oberleutnant zur See Siebel captain of Goetzen. Under his command Goetzen initially gave the Germans complete supremacy on Lake Tanganyika. She ferried cargo and personnel across the lake, and provided a base from which to launch surprise attacks on Allied troops. It therefore became essential for the Allied forces to gain control of the lake themselves.

Geoffrey Spicer-Simson and the Royal Navy succeeded in the monumental task of bringing two armed motor boats, Mimi and Toutou, from England and via the Belgian Congo to the lake by rail, road and river. The British then launched their two boats at Albertville (Kalemie) on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. The two boats waited until December 1915, then mounted a surprise attack on the Germans, capturing the gunboat Kingani - renamed HMS Fifi. They sank a second German vessel, the Hedwig von Wissman, in February 1916; this left Götzen as the only German vessel remaining on the lake.

As a result of their strengthened position on the lake, the Allies advanced towards Kigoma by land, and the Belgians established an airbase on the western shore at Albertville. From there on 10 June 1916 they used Short Admiralty Type 827 planes for a bombing raid on Goetzen as she sat in the harbour of Kigoma.[11] It is not clear whether the bombs hit Goetzen (the Belgians claimed to have hit her but the Germans denied it), but she remained in the harbour. The Germans had already removed most of her guns in the beginning of May as they needed them elsewhere. At the time of the air raid Goetzen had only one 37mm Hotchkiss left, which she used as an anti-aircraft gun.[12]

The war on the lake had reached a stalemate by this stage, with both sides declining to mount attacks. However, the war on land was progressing, largely to the advantage of the Allies, who cut off the railway link in July 1916 and threatened to isolate Kigoma completely. This led the German naval commander on the lake, Gustav Zimmer, to abandon the town and head south. In order to avoid the ship falling into Allied hands, General Lettow-Vorbeck ordered that Goetzen be scuttled. The task was given to the three engineers from Meyer Werft who had travelled with the disaasembled ship to Lake Tanganyika in order to supervise its re-assembly. The engineers decided on their own that they would try to facilitate a later salvage;[3] they loaded the ship with sand and covered all engines with a thick layer of grease before sinking her carefully on 26 July, in a depth of 20 m near the banks of the Katabe Bay (Belgian designation: Baie de l’éléphant; British designation: Bangwe Bay) at the Position 04° 54' 05" S; 029° 36' 12" E.[13]

Salvage and recommissioning

Goetzen remained on the bottom of Lake Tanganyika until 16 March 1924 when the British Team salvaged her to aid transport around the lake in the new League of Nations mandate of Tanganyika.[14] The British found that the engines and boilers were still usable and the ship returned to service in 16 May 1927 as a passenger and cargo ferry under her new name of MV Liemba.

Recent history

The Liemba has been operating almost non-stop since that date. In 1948 the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation (EAR&H) took over running the ferry, allowing it to link services with the Central Line from Kigoma to Dar es Salaam. In 1970 the ship was overhauled. At this time twin diesel engines replaced the original steam engines.

In 1977 the EAR&H was dissolved and the new Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) took over operation of Liemba. In 1993 the TRC gave Liemba an overhaul managed by the Danish shipyard OSK ShipTech A/S, sponsored by the Danish International Development Agency. The rebuild included the deck house, the electronic system, and the pipes, renovation of the cabins of the passengers and crew, new MAN engines of 460 kW each from MAN, installation of a hydraulic crane on the foredeck, and onversion of the rear cargo hull into a passenger room (capacity increase to 480 passengers.[15]). To improve safety Liemba received a double bottom in the area of ​​the forward cargo compartment. The ship was re-measured and the Danish engineers found that Liemba was 71.40 m long and 10 m wide.[16] With the new machines, the ship can achieve a speed of 11 knots.[17] Liemba now has ten first-class passenger cabins (double bed) and two VIP cabins. Eighteen second-class cabins (six double- and twelve quad-bed) are also available.[18]

In 1997 the UNHCR used Liemba and MV Mwongozo to repatriate more than 75,000 refugees, who had fled Zaire during the First Congo War, following the overthrow of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Liemba made a total of 22 trips between Kigoma and Uvira during this five month operation.[19]

In 1997 TRC's inland shipping division became a separate company, the Marine Services Company Ltd.[20]

Renovation or replacement?

In 2011, TRC wrote to the Federal Government of Germany, requesting assistance in either renovating or replacing the vessel. The German authorities undertook a study that it is thought concluded that it would be cheaper to build a new ship than renovate Liemba. The final request for financial help fell between the governments of Lower Saxony, where the ship was built, and the federal government in Berlin, with the then President of Germany Christian Wulff stating that the vessel had a "singular history" and performed an "indispensable service" to the people of East Africa.[21]

The African Queen

The original version of The African Queen, written by C. S. Forester and serialised in the News Chronicle in 1934, was very different from the one associated with the film. In this Rose and Allnut are planning to attack a German cruiser named Dortmund (loosely based on the SMS Königsberg), with the launch sailing down the river to attack it in the river delta.

In the book the German gunboat Königin Luise (referred to by hero Charlie Allnutt as the Louisa) is based on the Kingani, a German gunboat sunk on Lake Tanganyika and to a certain extent the events portrayed in the film are based on the dramatic naval operation carried out by the Royal Navy, but the events described in the book bear little resemblance to the true historical events.[2](p266)

The book was subsequently made into the 1951 classic film The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The steam-tug Buganda on Lake Victoria, which was used for the long shots, played the gunboat used in the filming. The film brought a certain notoriety to the Goetzen or Liemba. Near the end of the film, like its real life counterpart, Luisa ended up at the bottom of Lake Tanganyika, in this case following a collision with the torpedo-rigged bow of the partially submerged African Queen.

Ferry operation

Liemba runs once every two weeks in each direction, running from Kigoma to Mpulungu Wednesday to Friday, and back again from Friday to Sunday. Accommodation ranges from 1st class (luxury cabin) to 3rd class (seating only).

There are docks at Kigoma, Mpulungu and Kasanga but at all other stops passengers must travel between ship and shore by way of a smaller boat. Notable stops along the route include: Lagosa (for Mahale Mountains National Park), Karema (for Mpanda) and Kipili or Kasanga (for Sumbawanga).





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