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REMEMBERING TANGA AND THE LONG WAY WE HAVE TRAVELLED

Cmde Srikant B Kesnur

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Admiral Sunil Lanba, then CNS, presenting the chart of port Tanga to Kassim Majaliwa, the PM of Tanzania, on 28 July 2017.

Today, 11 Nov 20, is the anniversary of Armistice Day, the day World War 1 ended, more than a century ago, in 1918. Many countries around the world also commemorate this day as the Remembrance Day. India was involved in a significant way in the war but Indian participation has not been given adequate recognition in the annals of history. While there have been some welcome recent initiatives, especially in the years marking the centenary of the Great War, there has been a tendency to either overlook our role or be diffident about it, in part because many people feel it was done for a foreign Flag and, therefore, not worthy of attention. In fact, sadly, many Indian scholars and intellectuals actually look down upon this effort. This neglect or disdain has, therefore, resulted in near obliteration of this chapter from our memory, even though it has happened relatively recently.

While the debates about actions taken ‘at the behest of Colonial power’ are endless, India saw 1.5 million soldiers being involved in the war and give an excellent account of themselves on the front-lines. 74000 Indian soldiers lost their lives and many more were injured. Therefore, it should be possible to venerate and respect that part of the war while negotiating the dialogue about the ‘foreign cause’. In this regard, Indian Navy’s approach may be instructive. Let us take the case of a little-known event of World War I in East Africa, involving Indians. It, in some ways, also connects to our present.

On 28th July 2017, while on an official visit to Tanzania, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba presented a chart of the port of Tanga (in northern Tanzania), to Hon’ble Kassim Majaliwa, the Prime Minister of that country. This chart (as maps in the maritime world are called) was the result of an extensive hydrographic survey undertaken by an Indian Survey Ship, demonstrating not only our prowess in hydrography (the equivalent of surveying on land but hydro ships do much more) but also the contribution of Indian Navy to our international cooperation engagements. 

Admiral Sunil Lanba, then CNS, presenting the chart of port Tanga to Kassim Majaliwa, the PM of Tanzania, on 28 July 2017.
Disposition of units in the battle of Tanga. 
Outline of chart of Tanga surveyed by INS Darshak.
Photo Credit: Taken from the Book “Tanganyikan Guerrilla- East African Campaign 1914-18” written by Major JR Sibley.
MoU with Kenya on exchange of White Shipping info. Kenya was the first African country to sign the MoU with India.

Indians, by and large, are either uninterested or unaware of East Africa, despite both geographical proximity and historical antiquity playing an important role in our centuries long association. While the knowledge of our participation in the WW I is scant, that of the East African theatre is even less known. Not many may be aware, but Tanga has a war historical connection with India. This tale relates to that. 

Within months of war breaking out in Europe, it spread to Africa where the belligerents had colonial interests. British Admiralty was eyeing Tanga, the busiest port in the East African coast under German control. (Do recollect that Tanzania or more specifically Tanganyika then was a German colony). The idea was simple. By taking over Tanga, Britain could not only block German trade in/to Africa but could also further target the Usambara railway line, thus hitting at the heart of German possessions in Africa. This would enable British control of whole of East Africa. In order to do this, an amphibious assault was planned on Tanga. To be fair to the British, the Germans had already moved across the border and seized Taveta in Aug 1914. Also, the greater German strategic goal was a sound one – to keep a bulk of British troops occupied in defending their colonies so as to reduce their numbers in the European theatre.

While the Royal Navy provided the ships for this assault on Tanga, the manpower or the Army troops were predominantly from the Indian Army. The 8000 strong Indian Expeditionary Force B led by Maj Gen Arthur Aitken, consisted of  the  27th Bangalore Brigade (which comprised 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry, the 98th Infantry, the 101st Grenadiers, 28th Mountain Battery RA, the 25th and 26th Companies Faridkot Sappers and Miners and 61st KGO Pioneers) and the Imperial Service Brigade (which comprised 13th Rajputs, the Gurkhas of the 2nd Kashmiri Rifles, a half battalion of 3rd Kashmir Rifles and half battalion of 3rd Gwalior Rifles). After the assault, the Force was to link up with Expeditionary Force B which was already pushing forward to Moshi (at the foothills of Kilimanjaro). Force B consisted of 29th Punjabis, Imperial Service Battalions made from the states of Bharatpur, Kapurthala, Jind and Rampur and the 1st battery of Calcutta Volunteers.

The assault was launched on 02 Nov 1914 but turned out to be a big failure. While total surprise could not be achieved as a local truce agreement to not attack each other’s ports had to be called off and announced to the Germans, the British were facing a light opposition consisting of only one company of East African askaris (security guards). However, in the the slow and lumbering advance of the operation, in part due to being deceived about the harbour being mined, the British controlled troops failed to progress, allowing the opposition under Lt Col Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (let’s call him Col LV for short) to recoup, bolster his strength with the addition of six more companies and put up stiff resistance. The entire Battle reads like a tragicomedy. You can Google for details, but suffice it to say here it was actually a case of both sides committing blunders galore with the British excelling at it. The battle of Tanga is also often called the ‘Battle of Bees’, since in another tragicomic incident, several huge beehives were disturbed by both sides in the battle and they in turn descended on the troops in a swarm injuring and hurting many. Many British stories talk of this as a fiendish German ploy but the truth was more prosaic. The agitated bees added to the X factor in the war.

For three days, the battle went on with 1000 in the German defence force, the Schutztruppe (largely colonial volunteers and native African soldiers, with very few German troops) and 8000 in the invading British Indian force. Fortunes fluctuated and in fact on the night of 04 Nov, when German forces briefly withdrew west to consolidate, Tanga was for the taking but Aitken did not press home the advantage.  Determinedly, the smaller German force held its ground. Ultimately, the British, after incurring several losses, disarray in troops and staring failure, decided to call off the assault and evacuate the troops. On 5th Nov 1914, the evacuation was finally complete but the end result was messy. The casualty count, almost all Indian, was close to1000 with 360 troops dead, close to 500 injured and another 150 reported missing. The distraught and disarrayed troops in many cases fled leaving behind their equipment, arms and ammunition. In contrast, the Schutztruppe had 71 dead and 76 wounded. 

Tanga, in many ways, was a disaster and there is no harm in saying so. In fact, British war history records it as one of their worst defeats. Tanga does not resonate of bravery like the other great episodes of WW 1 or 2 like Ypres or Flanders. It was not heroic like Haifa, not even a courageous defeat after a fierce fight like Gallipoli. There was none of the romanticism that was to be associated (later in WW 2) with Dunkirk. This was simply ignominious. 

British writing makes it out that the Indian troops were unprepared and ill-trained. Perhaps there is a point there, but this was no fault of the Indians. Those that had been trained and equipped had already been sent to the European and Mediterranean theatres. Tanga was hurriedly conceived and launched with the residual troops in India forming a new expeditionary force. Major Roger Sibley, a British Army officer and writer brings out in his book on the East Africa campaign “the names of the Brigades were misleading as both brigades had been recruited from the length and breadth of India; both men and officers were strangers to each other and even more so to their new Commanders”.

Further, as we all know, in war, especially combat, it is the leadership that is mainly instrumental in the ultimate outcome. And the British leadership was, arguably, poor. Be it Aitken himself who was relieved of Command after this campaign or Navy Capt Francis Caulfield, the Captain of HMS Fox, the Royal Navy flagship, they showed lack of understanding of terrain and inadequate temperament. Several aspects stand out for poor planning – the journey to Mombasa and then Tanga on the ships done in a hurry, inadequate training, scanty intelligence, non-use of naval ships for gunfire support and Aitken’s disregard of the advice of his Staff Officers and the Commanders in Kenya who had a better knowledge of the local conditions. In contrast, Col LV proved to be a great leader. In fact, he remained the only German campaign Commander who was undefeated in the War and is considered a heroic figure in Africa. In fact, after the failed attempt at Tanga, the British attempted to attack Tanzania through Kenya from land, targeting the railway lines at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, once again involving several Indian troops, but Col LV could not be overcome.

Many commentators have echoed the description of WW1 as given in the book ‘In Flanders Fields’ where author Leon Wolff says “The First World War was undoubtedly the most horrible war ever fought, the most senseless, the most unimaginative in its strategy and for the men who found themselves in the trenches, the most hopeless”. This applies even more to Africa where, arguably, no great strategic purposes were served, save, possibly, the ‘prestige’ of the Colonial powers. In a book on ‘Command Failure in War – Psychology and Leadership’, the authors Robert Pois and Philip Langer, both Professors at University of Colorado-Boulder, have devoted a full chapter to the British Military in World War 1. Significantly, even they focus on Europe and ignore Africa completely. However, in their overall assessment of British Strategy they bring out that “with a few notable exceptions, the British war effort between 1914 and 1918 was characterised by a seemingly perverse commitment to stale, unimaginative tactics that were responsible for slaughters that would only be equalled only by those on the Eastern Front in WW2”.

Therefore, it could be argued that the dead and injured and missing from India were just as hardy and committed as their brethren elsewhere. It was simply their fate to suffer, as Soldiers often do, the consequences of things beyond their control. The dead in Tanga are a part of the more than 3000 Indian soldiers whose graves lie in various parts of East Africa. As most Indian soldiers were cremated and not buried, their names are mentioned not grave wise, but on long plaques in the many Commonwealth war graveyards that are located in Kenya and Tanzania. An important point that bears mention is that the East African theatre of war was very difficult from the European one. Maj Sibley writes “the campaign was fought mostly in ‘bush country’, which in fact was anything from open parkland to dense forest or thorn scrub. The physical and climatic hazards were arduous enough but coupled with dangers of rhinoceros, elephant, lion and crocodile, Command and Control became formidable tasks. The soldier also had to contend with the constant battle against mosquitoes, tsetse flies, jiggers and ticks, not to mention bilharzias from infected rivers and lakes”.

This military link between India and Africa is often not known or under emphasised in our national narratives. In fact, soldiers from India formed some initial component of the King’s African Rifles (today Kenya African Rifles) from the last decade of the 19th century and were disbanded around 1913, just before the war. As historian Thomas Metcalf in his book ‘Imperial Connections’ puts it “The Indian Army, then, made possible the expansion of the British Empire across territories as widely scattered as Malaya, East Africa and Mesopotamia”. Similarly, it is not known that Kenyan soldiers fought in the North East, in the Burma campaign in World War 2 and many died here. Post-independence, India continued the tradition in a new benign avataar of peacekeeping and many of our troops have played a most distinguished part in Peace Support Operations in Africa. In fact, the first ex NDA officer to be awarded a Param Vir Chakra was Capt GS Salaria, for operations in Congo in early sixties. During my tenure in Kenya, as the Defence Adviser in the Indian High Commission at Nairobi but accredited to East Africa, I tried my best to inform the local Africans, the Indian diaspora and other nationals, especially those from West, about these fascinating historical details. 

That brings me to the present. In Oct 17, at the Goa Maritime Conclave eminent strategic affairs scholar Dr C Raja Mohan made the point that British colonial enterprise was undergirded by three important elements – the Royal Navy, the Indian Army and the carefully enmeshed government and administrative structures of envoys, regents, intelligence officials, collectors, police officials. He also rued the fact that a newly independent India looked inward and had neither the appetite nor imagination to view the world as the British did resulting in a loss of strategic space for India post 1947. He also inferred that it is only in the last few decades that we seem to have recovered our mojo as a regional or middle power. 

Without getting into these debates on power theories and international relations, it can be clearly said that the Indian Navy has been playing a key role in our international engagements, especially in the past two decades. We are the best manifestation of an India that is looking outward again but we do so by invoking new benign paradigms. Instead of expeditionary operations we believe in foreign cooperation. Respect for each other, mutual partnerships, joint stake-holdership, non-invasive frameworks are the buzz words that characterise our initiatives, as brought out by Admiral Sunil Lanba in the same conclave. The same point was forcefully stressed just last week by Admiral Karambir Singh, the current CNS, at the NDC seminar, when he described the first line of effort of Indian Navy’s regional strategy as “Collaboration and Cooperation with partners” to be built on pillars such as ‘trust, interoperability and enhanced engagement’ among others.

Therefore, it was entirely appropriate that the site of a battle between colonial antagonists should become the very location of a new cooperative endeavour of a post-colonial world. Indian Navy’s hydrography standards are world class. By assisting the Tanzanian authorities in surveying the port of Tanga we gave a fillip to regional cooperation. 

And the date that the Navy Chief presented the chart is significant. 28 July 2017. Do remember, 28 July 1914 was the start of World War 1. 103 years later, to the day, the CNS connected the dots of the history. And 106 years later, on Armistice Day, I hope as an amateur historian, that the Indian Navy’s grand gesture finally puts a closure to the disaster of that day. 

We have indeed come a long way from Tanga. 

PS – I understand that the Tanga amphibious campaign is studied and has been analysed in detail by the United States Command and Staff Course. Despite the time gap and the somewhat farcical elements of the battle, it continues to be relevant as a case study particularly for Expeditionary forces.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cmde Srikant Kesnur is a serving navy officer with interest in contemporary naval history.

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ASSAM RIFLES FELICITATES COVID-19 WARRIORS

Ashish Singh

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The Covid warriors worked hand in hand in spreading the awareness and fighting the deadly pandemic. These warriors have worked selflessly to save the humanity. With nationwide rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, these warriors are reaching out to all sections of the society to spread the message about vaccination and its effects.

In its efforts to reach out to the society along with these warriors, 44 Assam Rifles under the aegis of 22 Sect Assam Rifles (AR)/ Inspector General Assam Rifles (IGAR)-EAST in a unique way felicitated these Covid warriors at Tamenglong. Since 16 January Covid-19 vaccination drive has been launched in the state of Manipur. Its prerequisite for the doctors, nursing and other medical staff to be thoroughly aware of the procedures and peculiarities of this vaccination drive. On the sidelines of this function the District Health Society, Tamenglong organised a training session for the medical staff of 44 Assam Rifles in Tamenglong.

The soldiers, being front line workers, are required to be vaccinated timely so that they can discharge their duty well without any risk to their health as well as the without endangering the lives of local populace, especially children and the elders of the society. The interactive and practice session conducted by Dr Sunil Kamei, DIO Tamenglong and his team of four doctors enabled the para medical staff of the unit to conduct vaccination at the unit hospital as well as at the remote outposts.

The CMO and medical team of 44 Assam Rifles felt much more confident in handling and carrying out of vaccination drive for the unit in times to come. Speaking on this occasion the Commandant 44 Assam Rifles thanked Dr Chambo Gonmei, CMO Tamenglong and his medical team for the enriching session and assured them to work hand in hand with them to battle the deadly pandemic till the time it is not fully eradicated from society. He also highlighted various awareness campaigns being undertaken by unit troops in various parts of the district. The troops through posters, banners, plays, interactive sessions, consultive meetings and medical camps are engaged in awareness against Covid-19.

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Navy appoints new FOMA & FOCWF

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Rear Admiral Ajay Kochhar took over as the Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet (FOCWF) from Rear Admiral Krishna Swaminathan, at a formal ceremony held onboard the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya on Wednesday.

Rear Admiral Ajay Kochhar, a specialist in Gunnery and Missile Warfare, was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 1 July 1988. In a career spanning 32 years, he has commanded five warships on both the Western and Eastern seaboard including the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

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Rear Admiral Atul Anand has assumed the office of Flag Officer Commanding Maharashtra Naval Area earlier this week. The formal handing/ taking over ceremony was held at INS Kunjali, where Rear Admiral Atul Anand was presented a guard of honour at a ceremonial parade. The Flag Officer Maharashtra Area, or FOMA, is responsible for administration, coastal security and other maritime operations of the Maharashtra Naval Area. On behalf of the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy, the FOMA liaises with the State Administration as well as the Army and the Air Force in the state of Maharashtra on a regular basis across a wide spectrum of issues.

Rear Admiral Atul Anand was commissioned on 01 Jan 1988, in the Executive Branch of the Indian Navy. He is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, the Defence Services Command and Staff College, Mirpur, Bangladesh and the National Defence College, New Delhi. He has also attended the prestigious Advance Security Cooperation Course at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Hawaii, USA. His educational qualifications include an M Phil, M Sc (Defence and Strategic Studies), Masters in Defence Studies and a B.Sc degree. A recipient of the Vishisht Seva Medal, the Admiral has held several key command appointments in his naval career including the command of Torpedo Recovery Vessel IN TRV A72, Missile Boat INS Chatak, Corvette INS Khukri and the Destroyer INS Mumbai.

He has also served as the Navigating Officer of IN Ships Sharda, Ranvijay and Jyoti. In addition, he was the Direction Officer of the Sea Harrier Squadron INAS 300 and Executive Officer of the destroyer INS Delhi. His important Staff appointments include Joint Director Staff Requirements, Directing Staff at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Director Naval Operations and Director Naval Intelligence (Ops). He has also served as the Principal Director Naval Operations and the Principal Director Strategy, Concepts and Transformation at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy). As a Flag Officer, he has served as Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Foreign Cooperation and Intelligence) at IHQ MoD (N) and Deputy Commandant & Chief Instructor at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla.

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Skynet 6A successfully passes Preliminary Design Review

Ashish Singh

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Airbus has successfully completed the first key phase of the Skynet 6A project with the achievement of the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The project now has permission to move into the next phase leading to the Critical Design Review (CDR).

Airbus was awarded the Skynet 6A contract in July 2020 and teams across its sites in Stevenage, Portsmouth and Hawthorn have been working on the programme to achieve this key milestone. Meetings with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) were held virtually enabling the review board to take place in October and the PDR being achieved in November.

Richard Franklin, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space UK said “This is excellent news and demonstrates our joint commitment to work in partnership to achieve the programme schedule. The progress we are making in building the UK MOD’s next generation military satellite and getting to this stage, despite current restrictions, really highlights the flexible and strong working relationship we have built with the Defence Digital team. Skynet 6A, to be built entirely in the UK, will significantly enhance the UK’s milsatcoms capability, building on the heritage of the four Skynet 5 satellites which were also built by Airbus, and which are all still operating perfectly in orbit.”

Teams from across the space and ground segments in Airbus worked closely with their MOD counterparts to keep the programme on track.

Skynet 6A will extend and enhance the Skynet fleet. The contract signed with the UK MoD in July 2020 involves the development, manufacture, cyber protection, assembly, integration, test and launch, of a military communications satellite, Skynet 6A, planned for launch in 2025.

The contract also covers technology development programmes, new secure telemetry, tracking and command systems, launch, in-orbit testing and ground segment updates to the current Skynet 5 system. The value of the contract is more than £500 million. The Skynet 5 programme, provided by Airbus as a full service outsource contract, has provided the UK MoD with a suite of highly robust, reliable and secure military communications services, supporting global operations since 2003.

Airbus has been involved in all Skynet phases since 1974 and this phase builds on a strong UK commitment to space manufacturing in the UK. The programme commenced by using the legacy Skynet 4 satellites and then augmenting them with a fully refurbished ground network before launching the Skynet 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D satellites between 2007 and 2012. The Skynet 5 programme has reduced or removed many of the technical and service risks for the MOD, whilst ensuring unrivalled secure satcoms and innovation to UK forces. Through the many years of delivering an exceptionally reliable Skynet service the Airbus teams have managed to significantly extend the lifespan of the Skynet satellites many years beyond their design life, offering significant additional value for money and capability to the UK.

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INS PRALAYA REACHES ABU DHABI TO PARTICIPATE IN NAVDEX 21 AND IDEX 21

Participation of an Indian Navy ship in NAVDEX 21 and IDEX 21 also highlights close relations between India and UAE.

Ashish Singh

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Indian Naval Ship Pralaya arrived at Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 19 February to participate in the NAVDEX 21 (Naval Defence Exhibition) and IDEX 21 (International Defence Exhibition), scheduled from 20 to 25 February 2021. Participation of an Indian Navy ship in NAVDEX 21 and IDEX 21 also highlights close relations between India and UAE.

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Further elaborating on the subject, Vice Admiral DK Tripathi highlighted, “The Cyber Landscape’ is both dynamic and borderless. This forces us to address this challenge in terms of technology, international cooperation and educating the general population”.

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Defence Acquisition Council approves proposals worth Rs 13,700 crore

Ashish Singh

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Delhi: The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), under the chairmanship of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, has approved capital acquisition proposals of various weapons/ platforms/ equipment/ systems required by the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force, in New Delhi on 23 February. Three Acceptance of Necessities (AoNs) for an overall cost of Rs 13,700 crore were accorded. All these AoNs are in the highest priority category of Defence Acquisition viz ‘Buy [Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured)].

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TARUN SOBTI TAKES OVER THE COMMAND OF EASTERN FLEET

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Rear Admiral Tarun Sobti took over the Command of the Eastern Fleet, the Sword Arm of the Eastern Naval Command, from Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan on Tuesday. The change of guard took place at an impressive ceremony held on 23 February in Naval Base, Visakhapatnam.

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During his illustrious career spanning 32 years, he served as Navigating Officer of INS Kirpan, commissioning Navigating Officer of INS Mysore, Direction Officer on INS Viraat and Executive Officer of missile destroyer INS Delhi. His sea commands include those of missile vessel INS Nishank, missile corvette INS Kora and missile destroyer INS Kolkata of which he was the commissioning Commanding Officer. His prestigious staff and operational appointments include those as Joint Director of Staff Requirements and Joint Director of Personnel at Naval Headquarters and Captain Work-Up at Local Work-Up Team (East).

He also served as the Naval Attaché at Embassy of India, Moscow. Prior assuming command of the Eastern Fleet, the Flag Officer was Deputy Commandant and Chief Instructor of Indian Navy’s premier officer training establishment Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala.

Over the past 12 months, the Eastern Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan has maintained high level of combat readiness and undertaken various operational missions including Operation Samudra Setu towards repatriation of Indian citizens, Mission SAGAR providing Humanitarian Assistance to friendly foreign countries and Malabar 20. His tenure also saw the commissioning of INS Kavaratti, the indigenously built P28 class ASW corvette. He would be taking over as the Deputy Commandant of the prestigious tri-services institution National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla, Pune, shortly.

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