Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Types of Troops Serving with the German Colonial Forces in the Herero War of 1904

When the first shots of the Herero War were fired at Okahandja in January of 1904, the German colonial Schutztruppe in Southwest Africa consisted of 500 men in four of Feldkompagnien of mounted infantry and an artillery company, along with another 266 police and administrative personnel. There were an additional 766 trained reserves, many of whom were former soldiers who had settled in the Colony.  Detachments of the Schutztruppe were widely dispersed at isolated posts, and many were deployed in action far to the south against the Bondalswart Nama.

According to the outstanding Namibian Chronology compiled online by the late Klaus Dierks;

"In the first couple of days 123 Germans are killed (among them 13 active soldiers, seven Boers and five women), goods and cattle are stolen, and infrastructures, buildings and properties are destroyed, mainly between Okahandja and Omaruru."

The first available reinforcements were a naval detachment sent ashore at Swakopmund on January 18th from the German kanonenboot SMS "Habicht".  This consisted of a 55-man landing party or "landungskorps" of armed sailors under the command of the first officer,  Kapitänleutnant Hans Gygas. 

More reinforcements arrived in Swakopmund on February 9th.  These were German marines or seesoldaten in a Marine-Expeditionskorps comprised of detachments from the I and III Seebataillons under the command of Major Georg Franz von Glasenapp.  It also included 8 machine gun teams with a mix of naval and marine gun teams to serve them  There was one marine-operated maschinekanone , for example, engaged at the Battle of Otijinamaparero.

A Schutztruppe reinforcement was authorized as soon as hostilities broke out and these began arriving in February. 1,576 officers and men had landed by the end of March, along with 1,000 horses, 10  artillery pieces and 6 machine guns.  These fresh troops wore the Schutztruppe uniform though some had only volunteered for a single year's service.

German reservists living in Southwest Africa were called to service during the Herero War.  They were usually issued Shutztruppe uniforms (though these may in some cases have been older models) and had solid Schutztruppe training.  A number of boers also living in the colony fought with the Germans, notably against the Nama later that year at the Battle of Kub.
The Germans did not have uniformed native askaris in the Southwest Africa Schutztruppe.  There were several hundred native auxiliaries, however, who served with them against the Herero in 1904.  These included Namas under Henrick Witbooi ,who fought their traditional enemies the Hereros but who subsequently took up arms against the Germans when they saw their own end presaged by the extermination campaign against the Herero.  They also included a group of mixed race Rehoboth "Basters" who had emigrated to the territory from South Africa and signed a protection treaty with the Germans in the 1880s. 
At the battle of Hamakari, a third group of mounted Native Auxiliaries from the Bethanie Nama served in Oberst Deimling's section under Leuntant Thilo Von Trotha, nephew of the overall commander. 

These tribal-auxillery troops served as scouts and fought as dismounted infantry.  They either wore their own European clothing with imperial colors armbands on their left arms or as a strip around the hatband, or had Schutztruppe uniforms with the silver braid removed from any blue cuffs and collars. 

By April, 1904, there were perhaps 2,500 German effectives able to take the field, organized in three detachments (East, West and Main).  These units were dramatically expanded in June with the arrival of more than 10,000 reinforcements and a new overall field commander, Lieutenant General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha. 

German Forces peaked during the Herero-Nama wars at an astounding 20,000 men, and were ultimately reduced after hostilities ended in 1907 to 4,000.  During these conflicts between January, 1904 and June 1906, they suffered 2,466 casualties, including 916 deaths in battle, from wounds or accidents, or missing and presumed dead; 898 wounded, 652 died of disease.  Estimates of Herero, Nama, Damara and other indigenous losses during this same period approach 100,000 dead.

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