Hopeless Fight Of The Little “Pegasus” With The “Konigsberg”
Some of the noblest deeds of heroism in British history have been
performed in the face not only of heavy odds, but also of certain defeat;
and not the least of these was the plucky but hopeless fight which the
little Pegasus put up against the German cruiser Konigsburg.
The Pegasus was a third class cruiser, of 2,125 tons, launched in
1897, during the opening weeks of the war she had done much good service
on the East Coast of Africa, destroying the German port of Dar-es-Salaam,
and sinking a gunboat and a floating dock in the harbour.
She had, too, made a special point of searching for the Konigsberg,
a German vessel of 3,350 tons, launched in 1905, and carrying ten 4.1-inch
35 ½-pounder guns against the eight 4-inch 25-pounder of the Pegasus. While out at sea the two vessels had often been in wireless
touch, and the Pegasus had urged the enemy to come and make a square fight
of it; but to no purpose. The
Kongisberg preferred to keep her distance.
Then, the Pegasus being an old ship, with machinery that had always
been troublesome, there came a time-only a few weeks after the outbreak of
war-when she had to go into harbour to pull herself together.
In the middle of September 1914, she steamed into Zanzibar and came
to anchor. All the fires were
allowed to die out, for the boilers were sadly in need of cleaning, while
the engines stood in need of many minor repairs.
There is good authority for the statement that the Pegasus had no
sooner come to anchor than the owner of a native dhow, bribed with a gift
of two hundred rupees, left the port to convoy the intelligence to the
German cruiser. However that
may be, at daybreak on Sunday, September 20th 1914, the
Konigsberg appeared off the entrance to the port of Zanzibar, and, quickly
settling the account of a little tug boat that was employed as a patrol,
opened her broadside on the Pegasus from a distance of nine thousand
On board the Pegasus everyone was at his war station in a minute;
but it would have taken hours to get up steam from her cold boilers and
unlighted furnaces, and she had to do her best as and where she stood.
She was absolutely outclassed from the start. Her guns, though almost equal in calibre to those of the
German cruiser, were obsolete by comparison, and the Konigsberg was able
to shell her from a distance, which her 4-inch guns could not cover.
For twenty-five minutes the Konigsberg poured in her relentless
broadside, steaming slowly in until she had reduced the range from nine
thousand to seven thousand yards; and still the shells of the Pegasus
failed to reach her. The shot
fell harmlessly into the water hundreds of yards short of the enemy
The poor little Pegasus was in a bad way from the start. The enemy’s shooting was not good, but with the advantage
of range they were able to take their own time, and the British ship soon
began to suffer severely. One
of the first to be hit was the gunnery officer, Lieutenant Richard Turner,
whose legs were shattered by a shell.
As he lay stricken and bleeding to death his thoughts were all for
the honour of his ship and his service “Keep it up, lads,” he said to
his men. “We’re
outclassed and done for; but d--- them, and keep it up!”
So, having asked for brandy and a cigarette, Lieutenant Turner
died; but the men “kept it up.” In
fifteen minutes all the guns of the Pegasus had been silenced and not one
of their shells had reached the enemy, whose guns had a range greater by
two thousand yards. The
cruiser’s flag was shot away from its staff.
Instantly a Marine ran forward, seized the flag, and waved it
aloft; and when he was struck down another came and took his place.
The flag flew until the end.
There was no braver man that day than the medical officer of the
Pegasus, Staff-Surgeon Alfred J. Hewitt.
Nearly all the casualties occurred on deck, and there he was from
the start to the finish, giving what help he could to the wounded men.
On one occasion he was holding a ruptured artery in the neck of one
man, and, with his other hand, stanching the flow of blood in the leg of
another, while his assistants went for bandages.
He could do nothing to help in the fighting, but there was
certainly no braver man in the ship.
When she had fired about two hundred shells, the Konigsberg
withdrew, leaving the Pegasus a battered and fast sinking wreck.
At the beginning of the action there were 234 officers and men on
board the British vessel, and of these 35 were killed and 53 wounded.
The proportion of casualties was high; but it would have been
greater if the Konigsberg had had sufficient pluck to stay and carry on
with her work. She left it
half finished, apparently fearing the approach of British vessels from the
No officer or man was rewarded for the fight the Pegasus made; but
it will be admitted that those who stand up unflinchingly to odds in this
manner are at least equally worthy of recognition with, let us say, those
who approach an unsuspecting enemy in an invisible submarine.
Sir Richard Grenville was beaten when he fought his great fight of
the “one against fifty-three; “but the story of his defeat is one of
the proudest in our naval history. The
Pegasus, like Grenville’s Revenge, was lost, but she was lost in glory.