Published On: Mon, Jul 13th, 2015

100 years of flight – Kenyan aviators set to celebrate

3417181On October 4, it will be 100 years since the first recorded flight in Kenya took to the skies, and as often is the case, this development was driven by war. The Great War, aka the First World War, was in full swing at the time in East Africa, and German forces under Von Lettow-Vorbeck continued to needle the allied forces in the Taita Taveta area and kept an outpost inside the Kenyan territory on Salaita Hill, the tallest in the wider area and a perfect spot from where to monitor troop movements by the allies, besides staging ambushes and raids from there.

Only when General Jan Smuts was handed the overall command in the East Africa theatre, did the allies make progress on the battlefield. When a couple of aircraft were brought from the port of Mombasa to Maktau, where a small airfield had been established inside the allied camp – the planes were in fact assembled in Maktau before commencing surveillance operations – the writing on Lettow-Vorbeck’s wall was that his time inside Kenya was up.

These planes were, according to James Willson’s research (Guerillas of Tsavo) of Caudron Gill, BE2Cs, and Henry Farmans, made and flown by both the Royal Navy Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps from South Africa.

Flights over Salaita Hills and the surrounding area were the signal of things to come, and Von Lettow-Vorbeck withdrew his troops, handing the allies Salaita back without a fight.

Already back in 2012, I had started to write about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the outbreak of this war in August 1914, which drew Africa and Africans into the conflict. This did not happen by choice but as a result of being ruled as colonies by both of the warring factions.

Several commemorations took place in August last year in the Voi and Taveta area of Kenya where several Commonwealth Cemeteries are meticulously maintained.

Willie Mwadilo, General Manager of the Sarova, managed Taita Hills, and Salt Lick lodges, is again working hand in hand with partners, among them the Aero Club of East Africa, to put on another commemorative event in October when the first flight over Kenya will be remembered which took off from the Maktau field.

He kindly made the draft program available as shown below. It is hoped that many visitors will take the opportunity to come to Kenya and to the Taita Hills from the countries back then involved in action and that the diplomatic representatives of these countries will stand side by side to remember:


Navix Competition Nairobi ending Taita Hills airstrip
Check-in to Taita Hills or Lions Bluff
6:00 PM Tour of Taita Hills WWI Museum/display
6:45 PM Slide show of WW1 from James Willson presented by Iain Leckie and Willie Mwadillo
Dinner at Taita Hills Lodge.

AM after breakfast – Navix completion phase 2
Lunch at Taita Hills at 12:30 PM
2:30 PM FLY PAST over Maktau town and Indian WW1 Cemetery (see fly past notes)
PM Dinner at Taita Lodge

9:00 am WWI tour to include Mile 27; Indian Maktau cemetery and Moshoti Fort