Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ambush at Uitkomst by Abbott and Jones: Herero War Skirmish Scenario Playtest Version

Dr. Roy Jones, Jr. and I have finished editing our skirmish scenario: Ambush at Uitkomst; Volkmann's Gambit, and it is now ready for playtesting. Northern Virginia Gamers (NOWAG) will give it a try on January 18th, 2015.  If you would like to do the same, a .pdf can be downloaded here.   Please let us know how it goes.

The scenario is designed for use with  Roy and Eric Alvarado's The Herero War Rules and Scenarios book based on The Sword and the Flame (TSATF) system. You can get a copy of Roy and Eric's Book in the US from Recreational Conflict and On Military Matters and in the UK from Caliver Books.

If you do decide you'd like to ride out into the bush with Oberlt. Volkmann, or lead Mbatona's Herero war band against him, you will need figures representing mounted troops (with foot dismounts and horse holders) for Volkmann's small force of 20 Schutztruppen and war volunteers (including boers), and also for 16 of the 64 Herero and two of their commanders.  If you would prefer to read the extensive documentation for the historic battle that informs this scenario, there is a twelve part series archived with the label Uitkomst that should keep you busy for a while.

More:  A playtested revision of the Uitkomst skirmish scenario is downloadable here: Uitkomst Skirmish Scenario by Abbott & Jones. Thanks again to NOWAG for helping improve it through play!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Decolonizating the Past and Recasting the Present

When I began this project in 2013, the opening post served as a disclaimer.  I have since updated it to reflect the ongoing efforts in Namibia to delist and remove certain national monuments erected during the German colonial period that are now deemed by many Namibians to be inappropriate or insensitive.  The 1912 "Reiterdenkmal" that once stood before the Alte Feste in Windhoek came down from its pedestal over Christmas in 2013, and both the statue of the Schutztruppe horse and rider and commemorative plaque with names of German casualties are currently stored within the courtyard of the old fort.  In its place is a new Namibian Genocide memorial and a statue of founding President Samuel Nujoma holding the Namibian constitution.  Towering over all is the golden Independence Museum.  A greater symbolic contrast before and after would be hard to envision.

Twenty five years after Namibia's UN supported free and fair elections, the injustices of the past still rankle.   Just this past week, one of the younger members of the "old guard" of the liberation movement, 73-yea-old Hage Geingob, was elected President.  Most Namibians, though, were born after Independence (median age 22.8 years), which took place at the end of the Cold War and before the transition to majority rule in South Africa.  Policies of national reconciliation have played out differently in these two countries as well. 

The first time the image of this colonial horse and rider was removed in Namibia actually took place in 1990 when Southwest Breweries became Namibia Breweries and the old logo (above) was updated.  The statue has now been delisted by the National Heritage Council, which stated:

"The Equestrian Statue is viewed to have lost its monumental significance after Namibia gained independence in 1990, therefore, does not have any significance in a liberated Namibia. The public is informed that the National Heritage Council has removed this statue from the National Heritage Register. It is now kept inside the courtyard of the Alte Feste as an ordinary historical object."

How should such an historical object, so laden with highly charged symbolism, be interpreted?  Its placement within the old fort, itself once a museum that held relics including the uniforms of UNTAG soldiers who helped police Namibia in the transition to its first elections in 1990, consigns it to a discredited and dated version of the colonial past.  Yet the very act of removing it imbues it with contemporary political as well as cultural meanings.

Although South Africa was the colonial power in Southwest Africa from World War I until Namibian Independence in 1990, the country retained a strong German cultural presence and visual identity throughout the modern liberation struggle.  Many streets bore German names, though most of these have been successively renamed since black majority rule.  Colonial architecture is a striking feature of towns like Swakopmund and the constituency that was formerly known as Luderitz but was renamed last year as !Nami≠nûs

Decolonization in Namibia is as much about economic disparity as it is about cultural narratives and national identity. Most of the arable land and wealth of Namibia is still held by those of European descent.  Modern South Africa is now an ally and Namibia's most significant trading partner.  While Germany is Namibia's most significant European investor, it is also a lightning rod for the injustices of the colonial past, and a movement to seek reparations and a formal apology from Germany for genocide is ongoing. Efforts to fully repatriate a large number of skulls and human remains from Nama, Herero and Damara prisoners and possibly indigenous San as well who had either been  executed or died under horrible conditions in concentration camps is perhaps the most sensitive element of modern Namibian-German relations.


Namibian historian and former Ambassador to Germany, Dr. Peter Katjavivi, put it succinctly; "With the achievement of independence in Namibia, we declared that we would make every effort to regain our rights, freedoms and our past. The recovery and repatriation of the skulls is an essential component of regaining our past, and consequentially our dignity."

There are dark corners of the Namibian past that cannot be laid solely on the doorstep of the old colonial powers.  Reconciliation in Namibia did not come with a South Africa style Truth Commission which, for better or worse, provided a platform for the public revelation of injustices committed during the apartheid era, sometimes by black South Africans.  Renaming the Namibian panhandle region of Caprivi as Zambezi is resented by some members of the various ethnic groups who identify as Caprivians, but the matter is further politicized by the long running treason trial of Caprivi separatists.  Then, too, there is the unresolved issue of human rights abuses and the alleged murder of SWAPO detainees held in captivity by the liberation movement during the Independence struggle.  These questions have proved intractable and are dismissed by the ruling party as intentionally divisive and disloyal.  For now and for the foreseeable future, these dissenting perspectives are not part of the Namibian creation narrative. 

It is extremely difficult to accept responsibility for one's own offenses when the enormity of the injuries perpetrated by an occupying power is self evident.  Phil ya Nangoloh, himself a SWAPO detainee and Executive Director of the human rights organization NamRights, offered one such statement after it was revealed by founding President Sam Nujoma in 2010 that a German woman, captured during the Ndonga assault on fort Namutoni in late January, 1904, apparently had been given to Ndonga chief Nehale Iya Mpingana as a wife and that her descendants survive today in that region of Namibia.  ya Nangola would later write in 2014:

“As human rights defenders we would fail in our duty to strongly condemn this crime of rape and enslavement. Although quantitatively minimal in comparison to what German troops have done to hundreds of Herero and Nama women, we have found the rape and enslavement of a German prisoner of war (POW) morally and legally indefensible in terms of the very same legal and moral principles under which Germany had to be taken to court to make reparation. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

As Namibians, we share the shame and, hence, we unequivocally apologize to the descendant family of the German POW both in Namibia and Germany, not for the attack on Fort Namutuni and or even for the capture of the said girl, but exclusively for the criminal act of rape and enslavement of the POW”


These are powerful stories, hard to verify and steeped in the values of the present day.  There was a long history of raiding for war captives and slaves in the North - driven, to be sure, by the Portuguese demand for slaves in exchange for alcohol.   ya Nangola's is the only modern voice condemning this one obscure act of white slavery during the year 1904 which saw the deaths of tens of thousands of indigenous people in Southwest Africa and an extermination order by German commander Lothar von Trotha that codified what is widely regarded as systematic genocide.  It does not fit comfortably in the prevailing narrative, any more so than the words on the old Reiterdenkmal commemorating those Germans who fought and fell for emperor and empire.  







Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Herero Kapitän in the Coat of the Kaiser's Guard

In June, 1894, a succession dispute over the Herero chieftaincy of Okahandja turned violent.  Samuel Maharero, son of the dead chieftain Maharero Tjiamuaha, had a weaker claim under the laws of Herero inheritance than his other rivals.  Samuel and his followers were driven out of Okahandja and took refuge on a hilltop at Osona, about a dozen miles to the South.  There they ran up a German flag and waited for military aid from the colonial authorities who had backed Samuel as Herero paramount chief.  When the soldiers arrived from Windhuk, they were greeted by Samuel's cousin and veld-cornet Assa Riarua, wearing "a uniform of the German Kaiser's French Guard regiment (Jan-Bart Gewald 1999:57)."

Assa Riarua's appearance must indeed have been very striking in the Prussian cuirassier uniform of the elite Imperial Body Guard.  The regular uniform was almost cream colored white wool piped with red.  It had a red stand up collar, facings and cuffs that for the enlisted men were trimmed with white tape and for the officers in heavy silver bullion.  It is not known how Assa came by the uniform, whether it was an enlisted man's or officer's, nor whether it was complete or only included the coat.  Perhaps it was sold to him by a German trader.  The men who served in the Kaiser's guard were all at least six feet tall, and judging from a contemporary photograph taken of Assa in the late 1890s the coat would have been large for him.

A decade later during the German-Herero war, Assa fought in a German uniform and carried a sword.  By that time, his old cuirassier koller may have seen better days, but since we have a description of him wearing it in the 1890s I've decided to paint a mounted figure of Assa in the coat of the Kaiser's bodyguard.

The full uniform, it would have included the gilt helmet of the Guard du Corps, possibly

even surmounted by its ceremonial eagle with outstretched wings instead of a spike.  That seems a stretch, both from an historical point of view and as a practical matter to find a suitable figure to represent an African wearing this uniform.  There is better documentation, though, for a spiked cork sun helmet such as the Schutztruppe wore before 1896.  There is even an image from 1904 of a "Bambuse" - a German officer's native orderly - standing at a railroad siding and wearing what is probably the Schutztruppe tropical helmet authorized in 1891.  I have selected a figure to use for Assa Riarua who is wearing one as well.

I'm very fond of the sculpting that Paul Hicks has done for Empress Miniatures and its Anglo-Zulu War line, and  have used his Natal Native Horse figures (sans the spears in their shoulder quivers) for mounted Hereros.  For Assa Riarua, though, I wanted something special and selected one of two figures in a set of Mounted Natal Carbineers.







The cuffs of this figure are pointed, but a little green stuff helped to modify it satisfactorily.  I painted up Assa Riarua in the koller and trousers of an enlisted soldier in the Garde du Corps, mixing Vallejo Sand Yellow and White to get the color of his proud but well worn off white wool uniform.  I painted the old 1891 Schutztruppe spiked pith helmet with Vallejo New Wood for the darker colors, working up through German Ochre Orange with a touch of Dark Sand.  I'm pleased with the finished product, which unfortunately I had to photograph inside with the flash rather than in natural light, but the end result is a proud Herero commander in one of the most unusual uniforms ever to grace a colonial Africa gaming table.




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Images of Seesoldaten from DSWA in 1904

The Marine infantry or Seebataillon companies that arrived in German Southwest Africa in February, 1904 saw heavy service in the months to follow.  Those in the 1st Company suffered the most, taking early casualties at Swartklippe and then joining the ill-fated expedition of the Ostabteilung under marine Major von Glasenapp during which they lost dozens of men fighting as the rearguard or nachspitze at Okaharui.  The 4th Company also served in the Ostabteilung, while the 3rd was initially with Major Estorff's Westabteilung and fought a hard engagement at Otjihinamaparero and a skirmish near the Omatako Mountains on the way back to Okahandja to where Estorff joined forces with Governor Leutwein's main section or Hauptabteilung. The 2nd Company fought at Klein-Barmen and also joined the Hauptabteilung.  

Seesoldaten with the Ostabteilung traveling in open rail trucks
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
Typhus devastated the 1st and 4th companies, and the remnants of these units along with a detachment from the 3rd company served at Waterburg under Graf von Brockdorff.  Members of the Seebataillon's Maschinengewehre Zug under Oberieutenant zur See Wossidlo later garrisoned Fort Namutoni at the very edge of German settlement in the far north of the colony.  The Seebataillon also provided medical staff to the German forces.

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
There are more images of the Seebataillon forces in DSWA than I have located for the sailors in Landungskorps Habicht that I wrote about in the previous post.  Most of these are from the 1st or 4th Companies, though there is at least one from the 3rd Company with Estorffs Westabgteilung.  In this image at left, the overall commander of the Seebataillon in DSWA, Oberst Dürr can be seen together with his staff and naval officers on board the troop ransport ship en route to the colony.

Marine uniforms can be distinguished from those of the Schutztruppe by their bordtfeld tropenhelms (with or without helmet plates) or the white bands on the visored feldmutz that appear lighter in period photographs than the cornflower blue of the Schutztruppe.  Instead of cord shoulder straps in imperial colors, seesoldaten wore detachable white shoulder boards with a gold crown and crossed anchors, but these appear to have been removed while on campaign. There are also differences in NCO insignia.

Crossing the Black Nossob
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
Sometimes other types of equipment typical of the Seebatallion can be seen in the photographs, such as naval bread bags with belt clips worn by seesoldaten in the Ostabteilung, shown in the image above as marines in the 1st or 4th company cross the ephemeral Black Nossob river. In the image, below, an NCO from the 3rd Seebataillon Company (seated at right, possibly a vice-feldwebel based on his uniform collar and cuff insignia) and a detachment of marines posted near Omaruru prepare a meal while others stand watch.

Seesoldaten from the 3rd Company
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
Below, another group of seesoldaten, this time from the 1st or 4th company,  contrives to heat numerous kettles over a single campfire.

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)

















The shoulder boards of the marines in the next two images are quite distinct.  The senior NCO in the first picture, identified as feldwebel Peters, as indicated by his collar and cuff insignia.  They were both taken at Otjosazu near Okahandja. The other pictures show seesoldaten (including a junior and senior NCO), in an open train car, and another marine with a pet zebra.  Most of these pictures are made available by the University of Frankfort and are part of its outstanding digital library.

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)
Marines served both machine cannons (maschinenkanonen) and machine guns (machinengewehre) in southwest Africa during 1904.  Two machine guns were assigned to a section under Oberleutnant zur See Wossidlo, and dispatched north to Grootfontein in June, 1904 along with Oberleutnant von Zülow's 3rd Schutztruppe Company.  Here they met up with the District Commander Oberleutnant Richard D. Volkmann, who featured prominently a series of posts early this year on the Battle of Uitkomst.  Wossidlo had previously served with Estorff, and would later deploy his machine guns to  help defend the heliograph station which Volkmann ordered Lt. Auer to establish at the top of the Waterberg prior to the battles there in August.  In the photograph, below, taken in Grootfontein that June, Wossidlo wears his blue naval officer's coat.  From left to right, adults in this image are identified as Oberlt. Böttlin (in charge of the Bastard Abteilung); Lt. Lehman (field artillery); Frau Gathmann; Oberlt. Richard Volkmann; Werner (possibly Oberarzt Dr. Werner); Theodor Gathmann; Frau Kühnehold; Oberlt. z. See Wossidlo; Lt. Freiherr von Reibnitz; Oberlt. von Madai (field artillery) and Oberlt. v. Zülow.

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Images of the Landsungskorps from S.M.S. "Habicht" in DSWA in 1904

A detachment of sailors from SMS "Habicht" was the first reenforcement to arrive in German Southwest Africa at the outbreak of the 1904 war with the Herero.   Landungskorps "Habitcht" guarded railway stations along the narrow gauge line between Swakopmund and Okahandja and fought several sharp actions at Liewenberg at Groß-Barmen.  Sailors from "Habicht" helped serve in a Machinenkanonen section with Ludwig von Estorff's Westabteilung.  Dr. Belden and two sailors from "Habitcht" were killed, and Oberleutnant zur See Friedrich Hermann, was wounded at Owikokorero with the Ostabteilung. Several more died of typhus.

Several sailors visible, in both blue and white uniforms, 2 with the 1902 Bordtfeld Tropenhelm
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)


Images of sailors from Landungskorps "Habicht" are few and far between.  Those that I have been able to discover show a mix of uniforms (the white Arbeitsbluse, winter blues and perhaps even work shirts stained khaki with a dye of coffee and tobacco) and head wear (naval caps, Bordtfeld tropenhelms and even a Sudwester or two).  If there is a unifying feature it is the blue, removable naval collar, with or without a black neckerchief , and an open, V necked blouse.

Here is an image of Waldau station on the railway line a few kilometers west of Okahandja before the war began, followed by one after it had been burned and was reoccupied and fortified by Schutztruppen and sailors from the Landungskorps.  You can see two sailors in the second image, one in a Sudwester hat, and the corrugated sheet metal used to make the burned out station defensible.

Waldau Station, 1903
(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)



Many of the sailors in the Landungskorps served automatic artillery pieces, including machine cannon (maschinenkanonen), revolver cannons (revolverkanonen) and machine guns (maschinenegewehre).  The following image from Okasise station on the railway line on June 30, 1904 includes a revolverkanone crew and gun platform, and includes a significant number of sailors from the Landungskorps (and one or more officers).

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)


A close up of the gun crew in this photograph (from the digital library of Goethe Universität, Frankfort am Main, which has a wealth of period images), reveals soldiers in their winter blues - appropriate for this time of year in the southern Hemisphere - and summer whites or work blouses.  The officer in front strikes a jaunty pose.

Small detachments of Sailors from the Landungskorps also served machine guns and other automatic cannons with Estorff's Westabteilung at Omaruru and with Glasenapp's Ostabteilung.  One of the former is shown, below, at the grave of  Leutnant Erich Georg Kuno Freiherr von Woellwarth-Lauterburg who died of wounds received during the siege of Omaruru on February 14th, 1904.

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)

Another sailor stands at a pair of graves, unfortunately just too pixelated for me to determine their names, in the image below. His collar is darker than his blouse but the shirt is no longer white.  It may be an example of one of the sailor uniforms that was stained khaki with coffee and tobacco.  It is just possible that the same sailor, in different clothing, appears in this photograph as the one above.  Hard to tell, but there is a resemblance...

(Photo from database maintained by Goethe Universität Frankfort am Main)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

And Now the Namas Too

When I started this blog a year ago, I focused on the German war with the Herero.  I once lived in parts of Northeastern Namibia where this conflict took place, and the war itself is better documented in the secondary sources to which I felt limited given my basic German language skills.  The development and release earlier this year of the  Roy Jones/Eric Alvarado Herero War Scenario and Rules Book was a happy coincidence, and I've got my hands full painting up the figures that these games will require. 

I might have stuck with 1904, but along the way my German translation skills have started to improve and I keep finding more primary sources that have bearing on this period as well as the war with the Nama that began as the Hereros were driven into the Omaheke and continued in various stages into 1908.  Having finished researching a little known skirmish near Uitkomst in the Grootfontein District and developed a game scenario based on what I discovered, I find I have a taste for more, but Roy and Eric have already covered most of the fights from the Herero War that have tabletop potential.

Roy has long had in mind a second volume in his Kaiser Over Africa series dealing with the Nama War of 1904-1908, and I look forward to its development.  For my part, I may from time to time turn my researcher's eye toward the arid mountains and dunes south of Windhoek where Hendrick Witbooi, Simon Koper, Cornelius Fredericks and Jakob Morenga made life very difficult for the Schutztruppen who were sent to oppose them. 

Some of the Germans who served in the South were also involved in the Herero conflict (Estorff, Volkmann and Deimling, among others), while some 250 Hereros fought alongside the Nama at Groß-Nabas in January of 1905: months after their defeat in the North.  This is also the conflict where camels come into use by the Schutztruppe both as draft animals and (in the final campaign) as cavalry mounts, and pack mules were used to transport mountain guns.

To acknowledge this expanded focus, the subtitle of this blog has been updated accordingly.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lost African Penguin Colony of Cape Cross

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) once numbered in the millions.  Today its population has declined by 95% and if the trend is not reversed the species risks extinction in the next two decades.  There are about 5,000 breeding pairs left along the Namibian coast and another 21,000 in South Africa.  Industrial fishing is the main culprit.

Most of the remaining penguin colonies are on offshore islands, and I saw them off Luderitz  in Namibia when I visited there in 1991 and 1992.  At one time, however, there was a large mainland breeding colony in German Southwest Africa at Cape Cross, north of Swakopmund, as the above photograph from a book published in 1904 by Franz Seiner clearly illustrates.  Today, Cape Cross hosts a very large (and very pungent) Cape Fur seal colony, but the penguins that were once there in vast numbers have vanished.  There may still be a few that come ashore, but their last strongholds are far to the south along the Namibia Coast.  Cape Fur seals compete with the penguins for food and sometimes consider them as prey as well.

Alas, there is no historic scenario from the German-Herero war that would call for penguins on the tabletop.  Sadder still is the thought that these marvelous birds may soon have no place in the wild either.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Back to the German-Herero War Painting Table: What's on Deck in 28mm?

The last four months spend researching and developing a skirmish scenario based on the historical battle of Uitkomst have been an exciting and rewarding interlude for me, as I hope they have been for those of you who have been following along with the 12 part series that resulted from that effort.  Although I am considering tackling a second battle scenario from this period, I don't have the bandwidth to take on that project right away: certainly not while also addressing the huge backlog of figures that await my paints and brushes.

It won't surprise readers of this blog that I now possess a large number of Boer figures in 28mm scale, mounted and on foot, that I should start painting in earnest so I can begin play testing the Uitkomst skirmish.  They are a selection of mounted (Black Tree Designs, Foundry and Redoubt) and dismounted Boers (all of the above, plus North Star Africa and Empress).  The Black Tree horsemen are just slightly larger than Foundry's but usable together.  Redoubt's are both stylistically different and as a rule slightly too small for use with Black Tree.  For Uitkomst I'll be using five of Black Tree's and three of Foundry's mounted Boers, and a probably will favor North Star and Empress for the foot figures.  Redoubt's Boer horse holder is not ideal, with extremely long legs and a rough and ready sculpt, but I have not yet found a good alternative.

I've got 12 Mounted Hereros to paint (Empress Natal Native Horse with the spears removed from their quivers), and a really neat idea for one of the Herero's most effective war leaders - Assa Riarua.  Then there are the German civilians who fought at Uitkomst (represented thus far by figures from North Star, Foundry and Redoubt), and a growing number of vehicles with draft animals, drivers and figures representing native handlers (Treiber) that are needed for scenarios such as Groß-Barmen in the Jones/Alvarado Herero War Scenario and Rules Book

I may start, however, with a scenic vignette, featuring an ubiquitous sight characteristic of the terrain in central and eastern Hereroland, along with one of its associated denizens.  It provides a welcome contrast to an otherwise flat and mundane landscape of thorn and savannah, not to mention a bit of cover.  Your guesses are welcome in the comments, but you will need to wait for the big reveal...

Uitkomst on the Tabletop; Adapting the Historical Skirmish for Miniature Wargaming (The Battle of Uitkomst Part XII and last)

In this twelve part series on the Battle of Uitkomst, I have gathered together and evaluated the best available contemporary German source material to document and reconstruct this colonial skirmish and place it in historical context.   Together, these posts provide the most comprehensive analysis ever presented, in English or any other language, of this short but bloody episode from the first weeks of the German-Herero war of 1904. 

In addition to satisfying my own intellectual curiosity about a forgotten incident from long ago that took place in a part of the world where I spent four years during my young adulthood, this research project has informed the development of a skirmish scenario for tabletop wargaming that I have titled "Ambush at Uitkomst: Volkmann's Gambit".

View a .pdf of the full scenario here:
I am indebted to Dr. Roy Jones, Jr., host of the Hererowars blog and co-creator with Eric Alvarado of the scenario and rules book Kaiser Over Africa, Vol. 1 The Herero War (available for purchase through recreationalconflict.com).  Roy has been an enthusiastic and generous collaborator on this project, always willing to consider new evidence whenever I unearthed and forwarded more German source material to him.  He has willingly shared his wealth of knowledge of the time period and experience designing and playing historical scenarios from the conflict using 25mm miniatures.  His Herero War rules derive from the venerable The Sword and the Flame (TSATF) system, but dramatically enhance them by adapting to the unique characteristics of this particular colonial war. 

The scenario for our Uitkomst skirmish assumes that Roy and Eric's adapted rules are used, but also includes modifications to address the unique attributes of the Boer element that are different from those used in TSATF's 1st Boer War statistics.  It also treats the small but significant number of German civilian war volunteers for whom Uitkomst was their first military experience differently from the regular Schutztruppen and reservists who rode in the German column. 

Many of the figures called for in Roy and Eric's Herero War book will work for Uitkomst, but there are some new ones required as well.  You will need 8 mounted and 8 dismounted Boer figures to play this scenario, as well as 8 standing mounts.    Boers do not require horse holders when firing on foot (though they do when charging or in close combat), while Germans do.  You will need figures to represent 2 Schutztruppen horse holders and 1 civilian war volunteer to hold a total of 12 mounts when the Germans fight on foot, and 2 Boers holding a total of 8 mounts when they charge or engage in close combat on foot.  Horse holders do not fire while they are controlling more than one mount.  Both horses and their holders are potential casualties in this scenario.

Battle of Uitkomst game board (4' x6')
There are a few more special scenario rules.  In this skirmish, mounted Hereros who enter the dense thorn bushes that cover more than half the game board are assumed to be fighting dismounted (without the need for horse holders).  Boers can fight from concealment just as Hereros, and are less likely to stand and fight or charge on foot like the German troops unless under Volkmann's firm leadership.

Update: This Uitkomst scenario, co-authored by me and Roy Jones, Jr., had undergone further revisions and will be play tested by Northern Virginia Gamers (NOVAG) in January, 2015.  Here is a link to the .pdf of the pre-play test version. If any readers of this blog decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear about your experience. Contact me in the comments, below.





Saturday, September 20, 2014

After Uitkomst (The Battle of Uitkomst Part XI)

For the price of one man killed and four others wounded out of Oberleutant Richard Volkmann's small force at Uitkomst, the Herero were deprived of several important leaders along with at least 23 fighters killed and an untold number of others injured.  Mbatona of Osendema was dead, and so was Kamaihamagoani of Waterberg.  An unidentified war commander who wore a large white ostrich feather in his hat also lay dead, and if as J Conrad Rust and Paul Rohrbach state he had been dispatched by Samuel Maharero from Okahandja to coordinate the fighting in the North, this was an especially hard blow.

The German Generalstab history says that the surviving Hereros who had fought with Mbatona went south to the Waterburg and no longer troubled the district, but the District was hardly pacified.  At the same time that Volkmann fought at Uitkomst, the small military post at Otjituuo to the East of Grootfontein on the Omuramba Omatako was attacked and overrun by a force said to have been just as large as Mbatona's and all but one of its four defenders were slain.  Two more German farmers to the North of Grootfontein were killed.  Later in the month, the fort at Namutoni (Amutoni) was attacked by an estimated 500 Ovambos from Ndonga under Chief Nehale lya Mpingana's war leader Shivute (Shute), the only incident in which the Ovambo actively participated in the war.

It took several weeks for things to settle down, but small raids on isolated farms continued to be a problem and Volkmann's responsibilities as District commander kept him occupied with patrols and police work and at least one more skirmish while the crisis continued to escalate to the South in the heart of Hereroland.  His  courage and leadership in a backwater of the conflict did not capture the attention of the public, and while he did command one of the six detachments under General von Trotha during the Waterberg campaign, this was the result of his being senior to Oberleutnant von Zülow who had been sent to reenforce the Grootfontein district that June with the 3rd Feldkompagnie, a half battery of field guns and a marine section with two machine guns.

Volkmann had just four officers in his 200 man Abteilung at Waterberg, and was responsible for
keeping the Hereros from breaking out to the North.  Under his direction, Lieutenant Auer mounted a
heliograph unit on the summit of the Plateau overlooking the batteground, which enabled the separate German sections to communicate more effectively.  He was part of the pursuit of the Herero into the Omaheke, coordinating with Maj. von Estorff's section.  He subsequently served in the south against the Nama, having been promoted to Hauptmann, and was instrumental in capturing the Bethanie leader Cornelius Fredericks for which he received the thanks of the Kaiser.

While his distinguished service and accomplishments were worthy of high recognition, his military decorations were modest.  He received the Order of the Red Eagle with swords, IV class, which granted the lowest level of nobility, and the Order of the Prussian Crown III and IV Class with swords, while contemporaries like Viktor Franke who exhibited similar traits of personal courage and intrepidity received far greater honors.  It is unclear whether Volkmann felt slighted in his service after returning to Germany in 1905, but he served honorably during the First World War, commanding in Bucharest in 1916, and received the Iron Cross I and II class.

Paul Rohrbach remained close friends with Volkmann and served for several months as a war volunteer.  In addition to providing the only firsthand accounts that are available for thre Bsttle of Uitkomst, he was made responsible for claims for compensation from the German government for war damage and losses suffered by settlers in Southwest Africa.

Landwehrman Wilhelm Halberstadt established two farms in Grootfontein beginning in 1905 and his descendants live there still.   There was a German farm at Osondema, too, where Mbatona's people had been dispossessed. Two of Mbatona's men who fought with him at Uitkomst, Kanjemi and Kandiapu, survived the war and established a stronghold in the Omaheke, remaining outside German control and using the Omuramba network to raid German farms.  Both were had prior service as police or native soldiers (possibly in South Africa) and Kanjema was known as 'the Captain of the Sandfeld.'  They remained outlawed and at large, providing a refuge for other survivors who tried to remain outside the brutal farm labor system that governed the lives of the defeated Herero in Southwest Africa. It was not until 1911 when their location was betrayed and they were captured by the Germans.  Kanjema was executed n secret on orders of the Governor,, and Kandiapua was beaten to death while a prisoner in Swakopmund awaiting transportation to German Kamerun.

As for the Boer farm Uitkomst, by 1910 it had been divided in two, with Klein Uitkomst comprising the southern part of the original farm.  During South African rule these two farms and a small third property that extended to the Otavi Mountains became a government Agricultural Research station.  In 2009, the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement of independent Namibia acquired Uitkomst as land for the Hai||om "San" or "Bushmen", its original indigenous inhabitants.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sequence of Events at Uitkomst: An Assessment Based on Primary and Contemporary German Sources (The Battle of Uitkomst Part X)

In the preceding posts in this series, I discussed contemporary German accounts and primary source material for the Battle of Uitkomst and what they suggest about the number, composition and armament of the opposing forces.  In this post, I consider the sequence of events of the battle itself and propose the most likely scenario based on an assessment of the evidence.  I start by describing the battlefield location and terrain features, and then lay out each stage of the battle.  These episodes begin with the general position of the opposing forces when the Germans made first contact, and then progress through several distinct combat phases over the course of the engagement.

Battlefield Location and Terrain Features:  The central feature of the battlefield was an oxwagon road running SW to NE between the farm Uitkomst (near the foot of the Otavi Mountains), and Grootfontein.  The terrain here is relatively flat with grayish brown soils sloping very gently East and Southeast. There has been heavy "bush encroachment" in the region since the battle in 1904, and my strongest memories of the landscape from when I was last there in the 1990s was of sand or gravel roads stretching out through a sea of thorn.

There is no sketch map of the Battle of Uitkomst in the Generalstab history, nor in any other German account that I have found.  The maps, below, are conjectural and based on my own research and interpretation of contemporary German sources.  Most of these agree that the Boer farm Uitkomst was located some 18 km West of Grootfontein, but a review of actual farm maps, including an original 1910 German Colonial 1:400,000 map for Grootfontein, confirms that it was situated to the southwest along the wagon road to Otavi. 

Conjectural Battle of Uitkomst General Location and Terrain
The general location of the battlefield can be further deduced by references made in the diary of war volunteer Paul Rohrbach, which says that the Germans were "eine halbe Stunde vor Uitkomst",
or half an hour from Uitkomst, when they first spotted movement on the road ahead that proved to be Batona's warband.  A horse with a rider walks at about 6.4km/hr (4 mph).  It is unlikely that Volkmann would have moved at a faster pace toward an unseen enemy.  This gait would put the Germans about 3.2km or 2 miles NE of Uitkomst when they spotted the Herero coming toward them along the wagon road.

Several accounts of the battle describe the transition from dense thornveld to open savannah between Uitkomst and Grootfontein.  J. Conrad Rust notes that it took the Boer families from Uitkomst and their escorts 3 hours to reach the open grass savannah (freie Grassavanne) after they left the farm early that morning with their livestock and slow moving ox wagons.  These savannah lands extended from the point where Rohrbach says Volkmann's force first saw the Herero (on the road 3.2 km from Uitkomst) to a distance of hour's ride (6.4 km) from Grootfontein.  That open grassland description may well be a relative term, with enough patches of acacia thorn and high grass during the rainy season to obscure the view and allowing Volkmann to achieve surprise when he charged the Hereros on the road. It is not clear whether Volkmann was to the left or right of the road when he made first contact, though the direction of the battle evolved in a westerly direction.

Conjectural 1st positions of Herero and German/Boer forces at Uitkomst
Disposition of the Herero and German Forces at First Contact:  Rohrbach notes that the Herero were out in the open when they were first encountered, and that what first caught the attention of Volkmann's riders was something shining on the road ahead.  At first they mistook what they saw in the distance for the wagons of refugee settlers from Urupupa, a farm located to the west of Uitkomst, but it proved to be an advanced guard (Spitze) of mounted Hereros leading a larger number of Herero coming up the road on foot.  Governor Leutwein's memoir says the Herero maintained poor march discipline and were proceeding in a wide column in a relaxed and unhurried manner. 

Sequence of Events: 
An analysis of the German source material reveals several discernible episodes in the the Battle of Uitkomst, some of which according to Rohrbach's firsthand recollections unfolded somewhat differently than the summary report provided in secondary sources such as the Generalstab history or Leutewein's memoir.  The three main combat phases also illustrate the tactics and fighting styles of one or more of the three combatant groups: Boers, Hereros and Germans.

The battle began with Oberleutnant Volkmann's mixed column of soldiers, reservists, war volunteers and Boers charging on horseback and surprising Mbatona's Herero forces that were out in the open and moving up the road toward them from Uitkomst.   The Hereros immediately dispersed and withdrew back into coverAny Herero casualties at this stage would have been stragglers on foot.  Volkmann's force dismounted after entering the thorns.  I refer to this phase at Volkmann's Charge and describe how it reflects the Boer way of war. 

Having rallied and reconcealed in the dense thornveld, the Herero now opened a sharp but ineffective
fire and Volkmann returned fire at a distance of about 100 meters.  I refer to this phase as Herero Reconcealment and Schnellfeuer and discuss how it demonstrates Herero tactics and use of cover that would become all too familiar to their German adversaries as the war progressed.

Realizing that little was being accomplished, Volkmann remounted and personally lead his still dismounted force forward to engage the center of the Herero position pierced their line and engaging the two divided wings.  It was during this phase that the Germans sustained most if not all of their casualties, and the Hereros most of theirs.  I refer to this phase as Volkmann Pierces the Herero Center and Engages in Close Combat and discuss what it reveals about German officer leadership and combat styles during this conflict.

Following this episode, the Hereros broke contact and withdrew westward towards the Otavi Mountains. They did so initially in good order, but then were put to flight.  I maintain, based based on Rohrbach's account of where casualties were found, that the Hereros lost their senior commanders as they began to withdraw, which caused them to lose morale.    Because of the dense cover and his own casualties, Volkmann did not pursue and was unable to follow up the rout.   I discuss this final phase under the heading: The Hereros Break Contact and Lose their Command Leadership, followed by an examination of the overall casualties taken on both sides.

Volkmann's Charge (The Boer Way of War):

I characterize Volkmann's charge as typical of the Boer way of war rather than the German, because while it had the impetuosity and aggression of the German fighting style, it culminated with the riders dismounting without entering close combat, then firing from cover at some distance from their concealed enemies.  Participant Rohrbach says that the Boers were the first to dismount and fight on foot at the end of the charge, and offers his own observations on Boer tactics and its limitations in achieving a conclusive victory.

"Mir ist der Kampf heute sehr lehrreich gewesen f
ür die Beurteilung der Buren.  Das heranjagen an den Feind zu Pferde, dann Abspringen und Schießen ist ihre alte Taktik, die vir von ihnen angenommen haben, aber wären sie nicht in Volkmanns hand unter sester deutsch-militärischer Führung Gefechts-disziplin gewesen, so hätte sich sehr wahrscheinlich eine Große Schießerei, aus beiden Seiten ohne ernsthaste Resultate, hinter sast  undurchsichtiger Deckung entwickeit; wenig oder gar keine Verluste und nicht entsernt ein solcher Schlag für die Hereros, wie er jetzt gefallen ist. (Rohrbach 1909: 82) 

"To me the fight today has been very instructive for assessing the Boers.  The 'zoomhunt' after the enemies on horseback, then springing off and shooting is their old tactic, which we have adopted from them, but were they not under tight German military leadership and battle discipline under Volkmann’s hand, there would very likely have developed a great shootout from both sides without serious results, behind almost opaque cover; little or no loss and not such a distant blow for the Hereros as has now fallen."  [my translation]

Indeed, for most of the ensuing conflict with the Hereros, the Germans fought Boer fashion as mounted infantry.  Volkmann may have intended to overrun the Herero column, and his charge was certainly recorded that way in the Generalstab history, but it resulted not in close combat but with the column dismounting and engaing in a sharp firefight from cover against a concealed enemy - classic Boer tactics.

Rohrbach describes the charge itself as having been launched very suddenly once Volkmann recognized the enemy was before them, without even time for the Germans and Boers to display into combat formation from column into line.

"Mit einem Male fliegen vorne die Gewehre aus dem rechts am Sattel h
ängenden Gewehrschuh, und die Spitze, wo Volkmann und ein Bur reiten, setzt sich sausende karriere - wir andern nach...die ganze kavalcade verschiebt sich in wenigen Augenblicken nach der Schnelligkeit der Pferde von vorne nach hinten und umgekehrt, aber in kaum zwei Minuten sind die Hereros gestellt." - (Rohrback 1909:80) 
 
"All of a sudden forward flew the rifles from their gun shoes hanging at the right side of the saddle, and the advance guard [Spitze], where Volkmann and one boer rode, set off in a whipping career – we others followed...From the rapidity of the horses it looked as if the whole cavalcade moved from back to front and vice versa in a few blinks of an eye, but in less than two minutes we found the Hereros." [my translation]

Volkmann's charge direction and Herero dispersal directions general and conjectural
The charge developed very quickly as Volkmann's 2 man advanced guard (the Spitze, consisting of the Oberleutnant and a Boer who Rohrbach identifies in another account by the surname Osthuizen) took off at a gallop, with the rest of the column of riders (kavalcade) racing behind.  They did not charge in a broad front, but may well have given the loud "Hurra" as other contemporary histories describe.

The distance between the German/Boer column and the advancing Herero was not close when Volkmann charged.  A galloping horse can travel a mile in two minutes, though Volkmann was probably closer than that when he launched his attack.  He may have felt that the element of surprise would be lost if the Herero came closer, which suggests that Volkmann's mounted force was not in particularly good cover.  Quite possibly they were out in the savannah grasslands where there were scattered acacia thorns rather than the dense thornveld from which the Herero force had just emerged.  
 
The German accounts suggest varying distances between the combatants when Volkmann began his charge, but are in general agreement about the distance between them once Volkmann dismounted and the Hereros rallied under cover of the thorns. 
Rust says: "Volkmann struck a sharp gallop, which brought them from 50 to 60 steps to the enemy."  The Generalstab history says Volkmann was 100 meters from the Hereros when they made contact, but this seems in error given the length of time (less than 2 minutes) that participant Rohrbach estimates it took the galloping column to reach the Hereros on the road. This 100 meter figure may to may refer to the distance between the two forces after Volkmann charged, as the same figure is given by Rohrbach for that distance once the riders dismounted.

Herero Reconcealment and Schnellfeuer (The Herero Way of War):
The Herero reaction was immediate.   The Generalstab history describes them fleeing for cover, with those on horseback escaping while some on foot were ridden down.  This may have happened to a small number of stragglers, but the Herero on the whole did not flee in panic, and even the official history notes they soon rallied and returned a rapid fire from concealment. 

Rohrbach recalls;  "Im Augenblick, als sie uns erblickten, machten die Schwarzen Kehrt, um Deckung in Busch zu gewinnen; kaum steckten sie drin, so waren auf wir heran.  Die Biuren sprangen ab, das Feuer-gefecht began gleich von beiden Seiten mit hestigkeit, aber wahrscheinlich w
äre nicht sehrt viel dabei herausgekommen, denn wenn auch die Entfernung zwischen uns nur ca. 100 Meter betrug, so saßen doch beide Teile so in Deckung gegen Sicht, daß man sich nur schwer erblicken konnte; die Hereros waren dabei entschieden besser placiert. (Rohrbach 1909:80)"

 "The moment they saw us, the [enemy] turned around and gained the cover of the bush.  Just as soon as they went in, we rushed after them.  The Boers leaped from the saddle, the fire fight began on equal sides with vehemence, but probably not very much came of it, for while the distance between us was about 100 meters, even so both sides were so covered from view that one could only see with difficulty; the Hereros were decided better placed. [translation mine]."

Rohrbach recalls dismounting the moment the Hereros returned fire; "Als die ersten schusse knallten, waren auch wir von den pferden (Rohrbach 1908:242)."  Like the Boers, the Herero fighters were adept at fighting from concealed positions and making use of natural cover.   They neutralized the advantage over charging cavalry against troops in the open by reconcealing in the dense thornfeld from which they had only just emerged.  The Generalstab history says that the Hereros rallied when they reached a bush clearing (buschlichtung), which is contradicted by Rohrbach's participant description of being fired upon from dense cover.


The Generalstab history speaks of Schnellfeuer or rapid fire that the sixty or so Hereros armed with Martini Henrys or German rifles brought to bear on Volkmann's dismounted force.  Such fast and heavy shooting was a Herero tactic frequently described by Germans who experienced it during the war, and while it might not have been especially accurate, as suppressing fire it sometimes forced an enemy to hold in place rather than advance and engage in close combat.  This could have been the effect of Schnellfeurer at Uitkomst, and is probably what both the Hereros and the Boers(themselves excellent markmen) expected, but Volkmann had other ideas.

Volkmann Pierces the Herero Center and Engages in Close Combat (The German Way of War):
Volkmann (on horseback) leads his dismounted force to engage in close combat with the Herero center
 The various sources all agree that the climax of the fight took place when Volkmann lead his dismounted force against the center line of their concealed enemies, breaking through and engaging the divided flanks under heavy fire.  This was an act of exception personal courage and command leadership on the part of the German officer which Rohrbach, a volunteer in his first battle, credits as the reason the small mixed force of Germans and Boers was able to prevail against Mbatona's much larger, well armed warband.  The Generalstab account and Leutwein both describe the movement as a response to an encroaching enemy that threatened to flank and possibly envelope the German position. 

Rohrbach, on the other hand, says that Volkmann remounted and then personally lead his (probably still dismounted) men forward because firing at distance at their concealed enemy was not having much effect.  Rust says that Volkmann was excellent and showed great personal courage and intrepidity.  The Lieutenant had already demonstrated that he was an aggressive commander, willing without hesitation to surprise the enemy out in the open with a charge on horseback without even delaying to assume a combat formation by changing from column into line.  Here he realized that the only way to prevail was to engage Mbatona's center in close combat, and that he needed to inspire his mixed force, including war volunteers with little or no prior military experience, and Boers who had a very different way of war.  By riding forward, his personal courage motivated his dismounted men to follow, even in the face of heavy fire from an unseen foe, and even though it meant they were likely to take casualties.

There are other examples from the German-Herero war where German officers displayed great personal courage and inspired their men to follow their example.   Hauptmann Victor Franke of the 2nd Feldkompanie did so two weeks after Uitkomst at Omaruru, wearing a white tropical uniform, no less.  Franke's men, though, were all veteran soldiers and all had the feared Schutztruppe bayonet that made them so feared and effective in melee.  Volkmann had just a handful of regular Schutztruppen augmented by reservists who may have been armed with bayonets, but the Boers and civilian volunteers like Rohrbach most likely were not.  Possibly as many as one in four of his men would have been detailed as horse-holders, reducing the number of men who could follow their leader into close combat to as few as sixteen.

Volkmann's gambit enabled his men to pierce and pass through the Herero center and then fire on the divided left and right wings of Mbatona's force.  There was a brief period of intense fighting at close range and while Volkmann himself was unscathed, the Germans and boers took casualties, but so did the Hereros. 

The Hereros Break Contact and Lose their Command Leadership:  The Hereros started to break contact in the face of the German advance.  Their losses were mounting, and the fight was no longer on terms favorable to their tactics or prior experience attacking small farmsteads with few defenders.  Some may have disengaged on their own, while others may have been ordered to fall back by their commanders, including Mbatona and the unnamed Herero war captain from Okahandja with the white ostrich feather in his hat.  Possibly some of their leaders were hit during this decisive part of the engagement - certainly several of them had fallen by the time the withdrawal became precipitous.  Rohrbach gives several reasons why Volkmann did not try to pursue them after they broke contact and headed off in the direction of the Otavi mountains to the West, including the impenetrable bush, the clear evidence that they had killed and wounded many of the enemy, and the uncertain number of their own losses. 

Casualties: 
Rust's history given the most detail about the casualties in Volkmann's force, though some of the telegrams sent back to Germany the following month provide other interesting details about the men who were shot.  Aside from Volkmann, Rohrbach and the boer Osthuizen who rode with the German Spitze, the other names of confirmed participants on the German side come from the list of casualties.

Unteroffizier Stadler had his leg shattered by gunfire and bled to death later that evening.  Gefreiter d. Reserve Hart Schmiedel, the farmer from Gunuchas, was grazed by a bullet and shot in the hand.  Two landwehrmen were also wounded. Hermann Nitzsche, identified as a carpenter, was shot twice in the abdomen and according to Rust was with the horses when it happened.  Seven horses were also killed.  Wilhelm Halberstadt, a mason or builder who had recently come to Grootfontein from Windhoek, was also wounded.  Finally, one of the Boers named Duplessis was shot through the lung.  The men were brought back to Grootfontein and cared for by Sanitäts-Feldwebel Ragnitz.  If Volkmann's force began with about 20 men, the short but fierce fighting at Uitkomst cause it 25% casualties and the loss of at least a third of their mounts.

The Herero losses were comparable in proportion to their total number, but the impact was greater.  The Generalstab history says that "seven great men" and numerous fighters were killed, while Leutwein says that "Batona" and six Herero leaders were slain.  Rust says that both "Batonna" and the Schlachten-General from Okahandja were among the fallen, with 20 more fighters killed and bloodspoor indicating numerous wounded.  Rohrbach describes the Herero casualties with slight variations in his later published accounts.  His 1908 article"Bei Utikomst" in Deutsche Deiter in Südwest says there were 23 Herero fighters slain "on the battlefield" and that later six or seven more were found dead in the bush, including Mbatona, the "fechtgeneral" with the white feather, and a third leader, Kamaihamagoani of Waterberg.  This seems to indicate that these Herero commanders were killed during the retreat.  Several horses were also captures, and many rifles and ammunition.  If the Herero lost 23 fighters, they may well have lost a third of their firearms as well.

We will discuss the aftermath of the battle, and the fate of some of its participants, in the next post in this series on the Battle of Uitkomst.