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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mimi and Tou Tou Go Forth
This book covers one of the most obscure yet vital actions of WW1, the battle for control of lake Tanganyika in central Africa. At the outbreak of the war the Germans controlled the lake by virtue of being the only power with an armed vessel on it. This book tells the story of the organisation of the naval expedition organised by the British to take control of the lake...
Published on 6 Oct 2004 by Andrew

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but ends a bit disjointedly
This is a fascinating study of one of the more obscure aspects of Britain's WW1 campaign. It is an entertaining read describing how a Biritsh expeditionary force led by a commander considered a liability by every other section of the military somehow led his men to complete their objectives, and ultimately to wrest control of Lake Tanganyiki from Germany. The main...
Published on 13 Dec 2005 by Caterkiller


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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mimi and Tou Tou Go Forth, 6 Oct 2004
By 
Andrew "My main interests are military histor... (Banchory, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This book covers one of the most obscure yet vital actions of WW1, the battle for control of lake Tanganyika in central Africa. At the outbreak of the war the Germans controlled the lake by virtue of being the only power with an armed vessel on it. This book tells the story of the organisation of the naval expedition organised by the British to take control of the lake. The officer in command of the expedition was one Spicer-Simson and his highly eccentric character and actions are well brought out in the narrative. The book is written in an entertaining style with many annecdotes and much detail from eye witness accounts. The story of the expedition is traced from it's starting point in London, via an ocean voyage to South Africa and the overland to the lake. Once at the lake the actions with the German vessels are well described as are the subsequent events. There is also an interesting postscript of the author's travels in Africa whilst researching the book.
One fault with the book is that there are no photographs although there are some rather nice drawings at the start of each chapter. Photos (which do exist) would have been nice. The other thing that grates slightly is that the book reads a little like a novel in places but this is only a minor niggle. Overall an interesting an entertaining book on an overlooked subject.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most unlikely war stories you will ever read!, 6 Sep 2005
By 
Andrew "My main interests are military histor... (Banchory, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
This book charts the progress of a Naval expedition dispatched during WW1 to wrest control of Lake Tanganyika from the Germans. The Germans had the largest flotilla of gunboats on the lake which afforded them easy movement of troops and supplies whilst denying these benefits to the opposing British and Belgians. The expedition consisted of two motor launches sent from London commanded by a singular officer.
So much for the bald detail, the officer in question (Spicer-Simson) was a true eccentric but given the task ahead that was probably an advantage. The ML's were shipped to South Africa and then moved to the lake by rail, overland through jungle and over mountain and by river. Spicer-Simson and his men overcame all sorts of obstacles (some self inflicted) to reach their goal and amazingly fight and beat the Germans! The book captures the almost unreal nature of most of the journey, the obstacles faced and overcome, the bordering on madness obsessivness and eccentricities (often wore a skirt) of Spicer-Simson and the battles on the lake with a superb eye for detail and entertaining narrative style. It's sometimes hard to believe that the expedition was ever mounted and reading the book it's even harder to believe it was a success and in large part to Spicer-Simson's unfailing self-belief. How many officers in the RN have unwittingly started their own religion?!
At the end of the book there's a surprise postscript which neatly finishes of the story and connects it to the present day.
In short, buy this book, you won't regret it (you also might not belive it but it's all true!)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but ends a bit disjointedly, 13 Dec 2005
By 
Caterkiller (Darlington, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
This is a fascinating study of one of the more obscure aspects of Britain's WW1 campaign. It is an entertaining read describing how a Biritsh expeditionary force led by a commander considered a liability by every other section of the military somehow led his men to complete their objectives, and ultimately to wrest control of Lake Tanganyiki from Germany. The main character, Spicer, is like a comic book Captain Mainwaring, constantly boasting of his hunting and military exploits despite evidence to the contrary, and is eventually recalled to Britain after falling out with Britain's Belgian allies. The actual story of Mimi and Toutou (Spicer's two boats) is well written and engrossing but the book flags badly at the end with an over lengthy chapter on the film "African Queen", which was partly based on the story of Mimi & Toutou, and a tour of the region by the author, both of which would have been better served by a separate book. Still, an easy read and very entertaining.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, but true, 25 April 2007
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
Foden's novels - The Last King of Scotland, Ladysmith, and Zanzibar - have always been backed by a lot of research and local knowledge of Africa. This book, whose excellent research is backed by the author's personal visits to the area, is also set in Africa, and is a straight historical account of an episode in the First World War which is little known today, but disguised elements of which would figure in C.S.Forester's novel The African Queen and in the film of the same title.

Lake Tanganyika - its length of 410 miles making it the longest fresh-water lake in the world - then formed the border between German East Africa to the East and Belgian Congo and Northern Rhodesia to the West and South. (There are admirable maps of the region in the book.) In 1915 the British knew that the Germans had a 67-ton warship on the Lake, but did not know that there were on it two other German warships, one of 45 tons, the other a huge 1200 tonner. The British had nothing. The Admiralty decided to put their own warships - two small motor-boats called Mimi and Toutou (French for `miaow' and `bow-wow', although the Admiralty, having rejected the commander's suggestion of `Cat' and `Dog', did not know that), of 8 tons each - on the Lake. Because Africans spying for the Germans would spot ships being built near the Lake, these boats were carried in cradles on board of a larger ship from Tilbury to Cape Town; then, still in their cradles, loaded onto the railway running north from the Cape. This railway line was not continuous to the Lake, and for part of the journey the boats had to be moved along short stretches of river, but for most of its journey through the Congo - 146 miles - they had to be dragged overland - indeed over mountains - by locomotives, teams of oxen, and gangs of African labourers who had previously blazed a trail through the terrain. They covered the 2,500 miles from the Cape to Albertville on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika in 101 days. And all along the way African tom-toms spread the news from tribe to tribe. It reached the Germans, but they did not initially give it much credence, being more interested in some Belgian ships that were being constructed near the Western shore of the Lake.

The Admiralty put in charge of this operation the untruthfully boastful, vain, irascible, pompously authoritarian but hitherto ineffectual Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, who, after a couple of courts martial, had been demoted to a desk-job in the Admiralty. The operation was after all a side-show - it was the time of Gallipoli - and the Admiralty didn't know what else to do with the man. Spicer had some odd habits: though he was a stickler for smart uniforms, in the hot weather in Africa he wore a skirt; he had a full-body tattoo; and he antagonized everybody: the men serving under him as well as the allied Belgian officers he met on the way. Some members of Spicer's crew were pretty odd also; but there were among them sufficient men, notably a Lieutenant Wainwright, who showed not only great endurance but enormous ingenuity in overcoming the many obstacles on the way to the Lake. Spicer naturally claimed the credit for their every achievement.

The journey was astonishing enough; even more so is the story of how the two of the three big German ships were either captured or sunk. The Belgians were now able to take the German headquarters on the West side of the Lake (I would have liked a fuller account of this operation) and the remaining, largest of the German ships, denied a harbour, was scuttled. It was raised after the war, and Foden would be aboard of it on his exploratory journeys on the Lake.

Spicer's victories over the Germans had so impressed the local Africans that they began to reverence him as a god and not only put up statues to him which bore a good likeness (including his tattoos) but sprinkled them with offerings - to the dismay of the local Catholic missionaries. That should have done nothing to reduce Spicer's self-esteem, but in fact, after his second victory, he had refused to run any more risks, and the subsequent successful operation by the Belgians and by Rhodesian land forces at the southern end of the Lake tipped him into such a depression that he was invalided home. There he returned to his old desk job, and was never given a command again. However, he soon bounced back. He was encouraged no doubt by being decorated both by the British and the Belgians; and he gave several lecture about the expedition which certainly lost nothing in the telling.

The whole story was well characterized at one stage by a Belgian officer: `You English have a genius for amateurism. That's what makes you so dangerous. It's always pretty obvious what professionals are going to do, but who but amateurs could have dreamed up an expedition like this?' Foden tells the story with quiet wit, but one can't help feeling that underneath the eccentricities and boastfulness of Spicer there was, at least until his collapse at the end, a quality of determination which contributed to bringing this adventure, against all the odds, to a successful conclusion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History in the vein of Michael Palin and Terry Jones, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
If, like me, you're a fan of 19th and early 20th century real-life ripping yarns, this will be right up your alley. The Naval Africa Expedition ticks all the right boxes for grit, improvisation, derring-do and plain silliness, such as we have come expect from the British Empire's finest in these situations. As a Danish officer in the book remarks: "You English have a genius for amateurism. That's what makes you so dangerous." Foden tells the story with verve - his descriptions of the battles on the lake are particularly exciting. And as for the expedition's colourful leader, Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson - who wouldn't love an inept, vainglorious, skirt-wearing compulsive liar?

So much for the book's good points. Looking over the other reviews, I can only echo the general dismay at the lack of photographs. Also, the story often feels padded, not just during the unnecessary chapter on the making of `The African Queen' or the slightly irksome imagined prologue. Foden embellishes his tale with lyrical passages of people gazing at the "deep-red orb" of the sun sinking into the waters of Lake Tanganyika (a curious optical phenomenon, as they are presumably standing on the west bank at the time).

And finally, a health warning: it might be a tad premature to imagine that, after reading this book, you'll know what really happened in the battle for Lake Tanganyika. This is history in the vein of Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and jolly good fun too. But in a footnote in his more scholarly work on the Great War in Africa `Tip and Run', Edward Paice writes: "Geoffrey Spicer-Simson died in British Columbia in 1947 leaving a widow, Amy, but unfortunately no offspring to defend him against the publication in 1968 of Peter Shankland's The Phantom Flotilla. A `lurid and often inaccurate' account (Mackenzie (1), p 410), this was largely based on the tale as woven by the expedition's doctor. Not only did he not like Spicer-Simson, but he was manifestly an outsider on an expedition governed by naval rules and regulations. The result was a rather grotesque caricature of Spicer-Simson which was perpetuated by other subsequent accounts that drew uncritically on Shankland as a source."

Paice does not mention Foden by name, but as his book was published 3 years after `Mimi and Toutou Go Forth', and Foden certainly relies heavily on Shankland, one suspects he may well have him in mind.

As Foden tells it, Spicer-Simson lost his nerve after sinking the Hedwig, and this explains his subsequent refusal to engage the much larger Goetzen and failure to support the land attack on Bismarckburg. Paice offers very different versions of these incidents.

1. Spicer-Simson didn't have to attack the Goetzen, as he had already achieved stalemate on the lake, which was all the Allies needed. It would have been grossly irresponsible to risk his little fleet in a fight it would almost certainly have lost and hand the advantage back to the Germans. Even so, he tried to get the Belgians to prepare their warship and, when he found he was getting nowhere with them, went to find one of his own which would be the equal of the Goetzen. He succeeded, but by then it no longer mattered.

2. Colonel Murray reached Bismarckburg a day before he told Spicer-Simson he would, so the latter wasn't ready in time. It was Murray who was criticised for letting the German garrison slip away; there's no mention of anyone else blaming Spicer-Simson.

So, anyway, enjoy this book - I did - but keep a few large pinches of salt handy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky amusing history, 4 Mar 2010
By 
David Canning - See all my reviews
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So World War One was all in Europe - well no actually. This is a record of an almost mad little wartime sideshow which took place in East Africa between the Germans and the British over who would control Lake Tanganyika. As though it really mattered! But the participants took it very seriously and went to lengths which now seem ludicrous. But that in itself makes this fragment of history so engaging. Its a very well written book and is a joy to read. You really don't know whether to laugh or cry, but you'll certainly be entertained. It's very rare that you can look at the First World War in an almost light-hearted way - but if you can, this is probably the nearest you'll get to do so.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika, 4 April 2011
This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika

Very poorly researched book about this rather unusual Royal Naval campaign during the First World War. Though I held original documents and lots of original photos taken at the time the author chose not to contact me or make use of the material I had to offer him. Much of the content is very similar if not actually copied from an earlier book " The Phantom Flotilla" by Peter Shankland. That book was a poor account too as much of it seemed to be based on the recollections of the expedition's Doctor. Personal rather than factual recollections from someone who seemed rather bitter towards the expedition's Commanding Officer. The Admiralty's and the Belgian Government's view points differed somewhat as he was awarded the DSO, promoted to full Commander and gived the Begian Croix de Guerre After the First World War still as a Royal Naval Officer he was employed with the League of Nations in Monacco. He was well liked by the Prince and eventually was awarded a further Medal. These facts are rather ignored by the above author who in my opinion has failed to fully appreciate the fact there were no British casualties - something quite unique in the First World War. Neither does he seem to appreciate how the Service operated nor the back ground the CO had.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 21 Feb 2014
By 
B. Ansell (East Stoke) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
I think I enjoyed this tale of shambolic adventure in WW1 Africa more than anything I have read in the last twelve months. I will now order all of Mr Fodens other books.
I strongly recommend William Boyd's 'An Ice-cream War' as a companion volume.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A folly in Africa., 11 Oct 2013
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Bit difficult to read. Does record that war brings out some strange leaders, if you can call the principle character a leader. Having some knowledge of the terrain they crossed I found it an enthralling tale of inexperience, incompetence, and sheer good luck triumphing in the end.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mimi & Toutou Go Forth., 17 April 2012
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This review is from: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (Paperback)
If someone told you this story in the pub, you'd think they were either drunk or daft, or both!
A true, but bizarre (and ingenious) little known story of action in East Africa during the Great War.
A great read.
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