Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Major Ludwig von Estorff: "Der Letzte Römer" (Part I)

When I lived in northwest Namibia, in the shadow of the Grootberg, there was an adjacent farm

called Estorff.  A few miles up the dry Kakatswa River was a stone kraal and the remnants of a mud walled fort once occupied by Captain Estorff of the Schutztruppe during operations against the Topnaar Nama in the 1890s.  Ludwig von Estorff was one of the most prominent - and intriguing - Colonial German officers in Southwest Africa.  He was highly decorated (one of the very few recipients of the "Prussian Quartet" of decorations that include the Order "Pour le Mérite" (PlM), the Order of the Red Eagle (RAO), Order of the Crown (KO) and the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern (HHO).  He took an active part in many of the battles in the Herero and Nama wars, but he also spoke out against the excessive campaign of extermination pursued in Southwest Africa,  and near the end of his long life was an opponent of the Nazis.
He came from an ancient Lower Saxon noble family, the son of a Major General, and in the course of his long military career he rose from Sekonte-Lieutenant to Brevet General der Infanterie.  Estorff joined the Schutztruppe in Southwest Africa in 1894, serving as Captain of a company based at Outjo.  He left to join the Great General Staff in 1899, but was soon serving as Major in the East Afrika Schutztruppe, then as a military observer in South Africa in 1901 during the Boer War and as Deputy Commander of the Schutztruppe in Southwest Africa.  He left Africa later in 1903 when he was appointed Battalion Commander in the Füsilier Regiment Prinz Heinrich von Preußen, but returned to Southwest Africa at the outbreak of the war and was in the field by mid February, 1904.

He arrived to learn that his former batman or bambuse, a Herero man named Sepp, had been killed while fighting alongside Captain Franke's 2nd field company.  Estorff erected a headstone over the grave of his old servant with a verse from Revelations and an inscription in German which may be translated:

"My dear faithful unto death servant, the Herero Sepp, fell on 4 February 1904 in the battle for Omaruru.  Von Estorff, Major."

Estorff initially commanded the Westabteilung, a detachment that included two veteran Schutztruppe companies (the 2nd under Franke and the 4th under von Schönau), a newly arrived seebataillon company (Haering), four field pieces, a mountain gun, and two machine guns. With this force he marched toward Omaruru and Outjo, and on February 25th part of this force fought a ten hour engagement with the Omaruru Herero at Otjihinamaparero. This action produced few casualties and only served to further concentrate Herero forces eastward, but was lauded as a great victory when so much of the war news was verging on disaster. 

His men called him "Der letzte Römer", the Last or Old Roman, and this did not mean they saw him as a martinet but rather one of the old warriors reminiscent of an earlier age. We will continue with the second part of this brief biography of Maj. von Estorff in a subsequent post.


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