Blog: My Unusual Road of Life....
by kerminator

Zanzibar - One of the Islands in my life!

More on this piece of history can be found in:
" Revolution in Zanzibar " by Don Petterson
Who served as an American Diplomat stationed in Zanzibar during this upheaval... It covers much of what happened in the region and helps explain some of the why!

Date:   10/22/2021 2:19:55 AM   ( 14 mon ) ... viewed 406 times

Blog: Southern Etiquette or life in Dixie
by kerminator

Zanzibar - One of the Islands in my life!

** Sometimes we become a part of Piece of History. Like the landing and rescue of those in need or dire stress. This happened when I was in the Navy aboard the USS Manley DD 940; in January 1964 when we went ashore on the island of Zanzibar! **
A concise and very good record can be found in the book - " Revolution in Zanzibar " By Don Petterson.

Date: 6/25/2013 8:32:33 PM ( 8 y ) ... viewed 4698 times

Space Station Zanzibar

About 15km east of Stone Town, near the village of Tunguu, lie the rusting remains of an American Satellite Tracking Station. This Station was built in 1960 to track and communicate with the first American manned Space Missions.

It functioned first during the early 'Project Mercury' launches when Astronauts were just shot into space in a parabolic arc from Florida to the other side of Africa. It also lay along the "Earth track" of most of the later Orbital missions and thus was a vital part of the tracking and telemetry net that helped communicate with these space craft.

The station was forced to close just after the 12th of January 1964 Revolution.

The new revolutionary government claiming that the Telemetry towers would be used to direct missiles towards Zanzibar.

The Station personnel were hurriedly evacuated while a US Navy Destroyer USS Manley DD940; stood off Stone Town to ensure that the American technicians and their families were allowed to leave unmolested.

** I served on the Manley as we removed almost a hundred people from the riot torn island! 13 January 1964...


More info:

The Nine Hour Revolution

Zanzibar is well known for it's "Shortest War in History". A 19th Century battle that lasted only about 45 minutes but served to demonstrate for all time the Iron fist beneath the per-colonial European domination of East Africa.

** What is less well known is the 20th Century record Zanzibar set for similar brevity in the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964. In this Revolution a government with over a century of continuity was toppled in less than a day. Essentially a Settler Society, with well defined Arabic, Indian, Swahili, Comoran and indigenous elements, and ruled by an Hereditary Sultan, the newly independent Nation of Zanzibar vanished in astounding suddenness.

That night was full of suspense and surprise, courage and despair. It began at 3 am on the day just before a large religious Holiday. The holiday prompted large numbers of people to congregate in and around Stone Town. They set up tents or just sleep under the palms while awaiting the opening of the festivities in the morning. Among the crowds were large numbers of young men, some of these men were followers of a minor politician named John Okello. Just how many men actually followed Okello into revolutionary battle is of some dispute.

It is clear that by the end of that fateful day thousands had joined the revolutionaries but this was after the results were known. It's also true that Field Marshal Okello talked of having had 4 "battalions" in the field against the government forces that night, but how men many were really there when it counted?

Okello reported that the revolution began when he marched in the dead of night on the Ziwani Police Barracks (and Armory) at the head of the 250 men of his "4th Battalion". At 3:00 am he ordered his men to cut the wire surrounding this fortified compound. That was the first real revolutionary act and it served to "separate the men from the boys". Okello said of his men at the time, "The enormity of our predicament was suddenly obvious to them: we, armed with pangas, spears and a few motor car springs were going to face the risk of close combat with men armed with automatic rifles... ". All but 40 men deserted or refused to crawl through the wire.

These 40 men seized the Island of Zanzibar and toppled a dynasty that had ruled the islands through 12 Sultans for over 133 years.

The revolutionaries crawled to within 25 meters of the Barracks building. Inside, asleep were scores of paramilitary police. However like most sensible people on Zanzibar they slept on the upper floors of the building, where cooling ocean breeze could ventilate the hot tropical nights. Only two men were awake and on guard duty below.

John Okello and his men rushed at these guards. Automatic fire rang out and three of the 4th battalion men went down. However one of sentries also fell, downed by an arrow shot by a revolutionary named Albert. By then Okello had closed on the remaining sentry. It was here that the deciding moment of the revolution occurred. The two crashed together, the Field Marshall tells us that "I got hold of the gun, we fought and I managed to hit him in the cheek with the gun butt". The firing stopped.

His men were now at the gates of the armory where hundreds of modern weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were locked up. The police above, who were unarmed, (in keeping with standard peacetime practice, all weapons were locked away "for safekeeping" when the officers were off duty), attempted to storm down the single exterior staircase and enter the fray. However the 4th Battalion men unleashed a rain of spears, arrows and stones on the stunned troops and they piled up upon themselves on the narrow staircase. Okello's liberated rifle, which had only three bullets left, decided the issue with a short burst of fire. The police retreated back upstairs to look for ropes to lower men out of the windows.

It was too late. The doors of the armory gave way and the 4th Battalion rushed in. Soon every man was armed with a modern automatic rifle. The "Freedom Fighters" who had started the night armed with sharpened automobile springs now were the best equipped force on the Island. They poured a fuselage of fire into the upstairs rooms and very shortly the surviving police surrendered.


The Sultan's forces made one serious attempt to counter attack the rebels. The "flying squad" arrived on the scene about an hour after the defeat of the Ziwani garrison. These 75 or so men had only light duty firearms and were no match for the now heavily armed Battalion ensconced in the fortified Armory. The rebels allowed the Sultans' paramilitary police to approach and then poured an overwhelming storm of fire into them. The firing was so intense that the surrounding bush caught fire and the police retreated in despair.

With their new base secure, guns were distributed to the other three Battalions (who had encircled but not yet attacked other key sites). In short order the few other police posts and the communications centers were overrun and captured. The most serious resistance was offered by the Malindi Police Station, where firing could still be heard in the late hours of the morning. However by noon the Sultan had fled, the rest is history.


The following is an account from a western journalist:

The Mass Graves of Zanzibar

The number of Zanzibari killed outright in the revolution has never been clear. Estimates range from 2,000 to 20,000. What is clear however is that the casualties among the Para-military police and the Revolutionary militia were in the minority.

The Field Marshal himself reports that he received a casualty report at 3:30 PM, on the 13th, after the Sultan had fled and all organized government forces had been defeated. He writes that in his victories at Ziwani, his total casualties for both the storming of the armory and the beating off of the government counterattack were 2 killed and 18 wounded. The losses among the Sultan's' soldiers in these 2 battles, which were about two hours apart, were 49 killed and 81 wounded.

In the seizing all other government strong-points that morning, additional casualties occurred. However, the total of these losses “in the field”, including Ziwani, were only 9 Killed and 173 wounded among the militia, and 70 killed, and 401 wounded among the government troops. Another 818 police and Paramilitary soldiers surrendered during or after these battles. This grand total 653 killed and wounded among all combatants, on both sides, pales in relation to the thousands more that perished in the aftermath of these struggles.

There was no apparent advance planning on what to do with the losers if the rebellion actually succeeded. The leaders had no plan and the undisciplined elements in the revolutionary “ranks” seemed driven only by exuberance, greed and fear. Looting started immediately. but fear of counter attacks and reprisals seems to have been the most dominant emotion in the next two days. These fears lead some individuals to engage in acts of great barbarity.

Unfortunately, the Field Marshall seems to have been one of the barbarians. He not only took part personally in some of the more extreme atrocities he also continued to use the radio broadcasting facilities to encourage bloodthirsty acts by his followers.

Most of the larger Households in Zanzibar at the time would include a display of weapons, including old rifles with hand carved and inlaid elements which were handed down from one generation to another. The country estates of the leading citizens would also usually include retainers who occasionally could be armed to serve as guards or escorts. These traditional practices, and the fact that many city dwellers fled to their cousins in the country when the fighting began near Stone Town, became a catalyst for slaughter. Humanity on the Island was shaken by a microcosm of ethnic cleansing unlike anything seen on the Coast before.

*** Here is an extract from the Field Marshall’s writings describing one typical incident.

“War is a horrible undertaking and the result is always heavy destruction.
Nothing showed this more than the surprising battle on the 12th at Bumbwini in the North, an area where many rich Arabs lived. This was a center for making and storing arms, which the Arabs planned to use in their slaughter of Africans; indeed, they had planned to launch this attack on January 13th. I had learned of this through a young boy who was about to be executed by soldiers; the men had already killed more than 40 people in the area and I was fortunate to arrive there just as they were about to shoot the boy.

When I interrogated him he admitted that firearms and ammunition were stored within the area and the Arabs had planned soon to use them; he also told me that many of the people killed by my soldiers had not been residents in the houses where they were found. This news of conspiracy confirmed other information I had received earlier and I became enraged. I ordered my soldiers to fire in all directions and kill whatever came before them - men, women, children, disabled persons even chickens and goats.”

The death toll from the systematic reduction of the large plantation houses and the other attacks on any gathering of perceived 'enemies' was horrendous. The pattern repeated over and over again was one of the loyalists barricading themselves inside large houses with a few weapons while being surrounded by unruly mobs. The revolutionary militiamen would race from one such site to another in commandeered vehicles and upon arrival use their hundreds of newly acquired automatic rifles to blast the houses into submission.

The Field Marshall said of these ‘battles’, “Only God can know how terrible the fighting was at that time; guns roared like heavy rain, and the battle raged throughout the Island.”

After a while the ‘enemies’ abandoned their fortified houses and just fled into bush and eventually into the sea. Only a few escaped by piling into small boats. The others perished or were taken prisoner. The prompt killings of prisoners was not uncommon and many others died later due to harsh conditions in jail or in the in the new detention camps which were established after the blood lust had been spent.

A few days after the revolution, an Italian cameraman took the pictures on this page. They show the long lines of prisoners, the flight into the sea, the dead on the shore, the killing of prisoners, the transporting of bodies and the mass graves for the dead.

This page serves as a small memorial to all those who lost their lives during the 1964 Zanzibar revolution.


Today the NASA site is hard to find but if one turns South, off the road from Stone Town to the East Coast, just before it reaches Tunguu, you will suddenly come upon an unusually straight road that leads to what older locals still call "the American Buildings". Best preserved of these is the Butler-Aluminum "Maintenance Building", still containing the large diesel generator used to power the Station. Also nearby is the "Dormitory Building". It was used by the technicians only when an actual mission was in progress. The rest of the time the Americans lived in or near Stone Town with their families and blended in as just one more minority in cosmopolitan Zanzibar.

The high tech equipment, and the reach for the stars attitude, intrigued many young Zanzibaris. They learned about the schedules and I remember friends would lay on the beach looking up waiting for the American spaceship to pass overhead. One friend who had just heard about this phenomenon joined the beach watchers....only to be disappointed by the small slow moving star-like object that he witnessed. He expected a flying saucer perhaps.

Another who was moved by the future-looking nature of the tracking station was the soon to be famous Farrokh Bulsara. After the revolution he moved from Zanzibar to Britain and became the rock star Freddy Mercury.

Decades after the end of Project Mercury the work begun by those early NASA pioneers continues. Recently that work returned dividends to Zanzibar in the form of these amazing photos from Space of the Spice Islands.

** This is a view from some reporters on sight!

More on this piece of history can be found in:
" Revolution in Zanzibar " by Don Petterson
Who served as an American Diplomat stationed in Zanzibar during this upheaval... It covers much of what happened in the region and helps explain some of the why!

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