I am writing to inform you of a most terrible occurence on the Zambesi river earlier this month.
With the return of the HMLS Dauntless we have received news of the destruction of our expedition headed by Professor Pratt and Surgeon Major Robertson. At this stage we hold little hope of any members of the expedition being found alive.
The Dauntless was unable to rescue any members of the expedition due to the presence of a large number of native warriors which overwhelmed the defences in a sudden and terrible surprise assault. The correspondent aboard the Dauntless was able to take photographs of the action, and from interviews of the Dauntless Commander and crew we have been able to piece together a rough outline of the event.
As you are aware the expedition headed by Professor Pratt was directed up the zambesi to investigate the site of a temple where there have been rumours of strange creatures and a mysterious power source. The aim of the expedition was to locate the source of the rumours and retrieve any useful material for our country. The expedition was to be conveyed via HMLS Dauntless with two infantry detachments of the 24th foot and Cameron highlanders under overall command of Surgeon Major Robertson.
The British camp beside the river. HMLS Dauntless in the foreground. The 24th foot postioned on the right flank and the Cameron highlanders on the left flank. The light steam tank which had been adapted for jungle terrain occupied the centre position
After establishing their camp on the side of the Zambesi river, a reconnaisance of the surrounding area revealed a temple to north west. A native village was found in the north east but the early contact with this tribe indicated they had hostile intentions. The plan was for the Dauntless to remain on station to protect the camp while the infantry and steam tank were to move towards the temple and secure it.
Our only photgraph of the native camp. By their dress and huts they appear to be related to the fierce zulus tribes of southern africa, possibly a tribe which migrated north following the wars of the great Zulu king Shaka.
Before the force was able to commence operations they were attacked by a Prussian force which had clearly been shadowing our expedition. It appears that there were two infantry platoons supported by marvellous aerial machines, armed balloons and some strange gyrocoptic conveyances employing some galvanic means of propulsion. It is unclear where the Prussians obtained their intelligence of our expedition but enquiries are currently underway in the Cape Colony to discover the source of the leak.
The attack began with the Prussian Gyrocopters firing on the british infantry with their gatling guns. Their fire forcing the infantry to move off the river bank and take cover in the elephant grass lining the bank.
The British take cover.
The infantry could see two armed balloons to the north and moving through the jungle two Prussian infantry platoons. The infantry seemed to be heading towards the temple while the copters and balloons pinned the british to the camp. Major Robertson ordered the steam tank forward to engage the Prussian infantry.
The steam tank moves out of the camp to engage the Prussian infantry.
The steam tank opened fire on the Prussians inflicting several casualties among the infantry and also killed the commanders black alsatian mascot. The Prussian commander was enraged by the death of his pet and ordered the balloons to engage the steam tank.
The steam tank took several hits from dropped bombs and eventually was immobilised when its steam pipe ruptured. As the crew attempted to repair the vehicle a bomb landed right on top of it and it exploded killing all crew.
The steam tank is destroyed!
The Dauntless proved ineffective against the Prussian copters despite scoring two hits. The Prussian infantry were about to secure the temple when they were assaulted by strange blue reptilean savages who assaulted the Prussians with spear, bows and blowguns.
The Prussians were surprised by this new menace and suffered casualties as the reptiles charged home. However the Prussians survived the initial onslaught and then combined rifle volley fire and machinegun fire from the balloons virtually wiped out the blue savages.
At this point in the battle with the temple about to be taken by the Prussians and the British steam tank destroyed and alert infantry man of the 24th spotted a large native force which had moved along hidden paths to assault the british right flank.
The British turned to face this new threat and the guns of the dauntless were aimed at the natives. Interestingly the prussian copters switched their attacks to the natives indicating some previous argument between the Prussian commander the native chieftain.
Despite concentrated fire from the infantry, Dauntless and Prussian copters, the dense grasses provided good cover to the advancing warriors so that they only lost one unit before closing the distance to the british and charging home.
The left horn attacks the 24th. As they charged they threw their assegai killing several british infantry.
The right horn of the buffalo screened by the chest and cover of long grass was able to charge home against the Cameron highlanders at full strength!
Once in contact the massed natives destroyed the infantry.
The 24ft suffered a similar fate.
The last moments of the Cameron highlanders as the piper and sergeant defend the colours.
The following photograph is the last image taken of the battle before the dauntless was forced to retire. We see the last moments of the 24th as they are overwhelmed by the natives. Surgeon Major Robertson standing beside his men. While no one on the Dauntless saw the major fall in battle it would require a miracle for the major and his men to have survived. Our only hope remains that maybe the Major was able to make it to the Prussians for refuge.
A new force is now readying to embark on the Dauntless from Cape Colony to return to the sight of the battle to check for any survivors and recover bodies.
Your Obedient servant,
Sir Henry Bartle Frere
British High Commisioner South Africa