Saturday, March 8, 2014

Typhus at Onjatu

This Wikimedia Commons archival image is thought to show a German staff wagon and officers in bivouac at Onjatu during the German-Herero war of 1904.    Oddly, a caption that accompanies another watermarked, electronic version of this image incorrectly identifies one of the officers who "writes his report on a barrel" as Oberleuntant "Stuhlmann of the German colonial troops."  There is, in fact, no officer writing on a barrel in this photograph, but there is in a different picture (viewable here) that does appear to be captioned correctly and in which presumably the officer is Stuhlmann. 

Onjatu (known today as Okondjatu, and also depicted by that name on contemporary German maps) is situated northeast of Okahandja and Southest of Waterberg.  It was the site of the German military encampment where von Glasenapp's Ostabteilung redeployed following ambush at Owikokorero (March 13, 1904) and to which it returned after the disaster at Okaharui (April 3, 1904).  Von Glasenapp remained at Onjatu until April 21 when he pulled back further to Otjihaenena to what became essentially a hospital camp, for it was during the April encampment at Onjatu that typhoid fever first broke out and ravaged the troops.

As was common in colonial conflicts in an age before modern medicine and further exacerbated by  poor sanitation discipline, the Germans lost large numbers of men to disease during the Herero war.  Although southwest Africa has malaria (especially during the rainy season), a greater threat to the Germans at Onjatu were diseases brought on by unsanitary conditions that were ideal for the spread of dysentery and  typhus.  A lack of attention to sanitation by officers and senior NCOs -  8 officers had been killed, 4 wounded and 2 invalided from a total of 22 since March 13-  and poor morale after two major defeats undoubtedly contributed to the unhealthy condition of von Glasenapp's bivouac.

Nearly 1 in 4 of all the German troops deployed in southwest Africa between January 1904 and April 1907 contracted typhus, an astounding 4,737 recorded cases of the disease.  439 died from its effects. During 1904 there were 283 deaths from disease: all but 22 of them from typhus.  The disease caused more German deaths during this year than took place on the battlefield.  87 men in von Glasenapp's depleted force contracted typhus, and the remainder were placed in quarantine at Otjihaenena.

In fact, there is a better caption for the image at the top of this post.  It comes from Kurd Schwabe's Der Krieg in Deutsch-Südwestafrika, 1904-1906 , and it clearly identifies the command wagon as von Galasenapp's, and it seems as if the seated officer were the Seebataillon major himself.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hauptmann Hugo von François

Hauptmann Hugo von Francois,  from his Nama under Damara. Deutsche Süd-West Afrika (1896)
The first German military force posted to Southwest Africa in arrived in June, 1889 and consisted of 21 officers and men under Hauptmann Curt von François (1852-1931).  The " François Troop" was actually a mercenary force under private contract for three years service, and did not formally become an imperial military force until 1894.  Hauptmann von François was accompanied by his younger brother Hugo (1861-1904) , the man with the splendid handlebar mustache, above. 

The von François brothers came an aristocratic German family of Hugenot ancestry.  Their grandfather Karl von François served against Napoleon in 1812-1813 as a junior officer with the Russian Sumschen Hussars and ended his military career as a Prussian Lieutenant General.  Their father, Generalmajor Bruno von François, died leading his division in 1870 at Spicheren, Lorraine, during the Franco-Prussian War.  Another François brother - Hermann (1856-1933) was a highly decorated  German General de Infantrie during WWI - Pour le Mérite with oak leaves - who played a decisive role in several battles on the Eastern Front including Tannenberg. 

Hugo von Francois started his military career in the 26th Regiment and was adjutant of is 2nd battalion before posting to Africa.
Schutztruppen in early uniforms with Commander Leutwein (circa. 1894-1896)
During his service in the François Troop, he was promoted to Lieutenant (1891) and Hauptmann (1896).  In his portrait photograph he wears a brown corduroy dress uniform with the pips of an oberleutnant on his shoulder and a spiked pith helmet, That style of helmet is also visible in the photograph at right from the archives of the Polytechnic Institute of Namibia, which shows a number of Schutztruppen with Theodor Leutwein, who replaced Curt von François in 1894.  Most of these men are in early (1891-1896) Schutztruppe cord uniforms with Polish-style pointed cuffs, but there are two spiked pith helmets worn by the men standing at the extreme left and right of this group.

Hugo von François wrote Nama und Damara: Deutsche Süd-West Afrika (1896) in which he promotes the development of the colony by utilizing native labor (and cattle).  It includes many photographs and illustrations not often seen in other contemporary accounts, such as this non-commissioned officer mounted "Herero-style" on a bull.

Curt von François only spent five years in German Southwest Africa, but his brother Hugo, who later served in 4. Grenadier Regiment, retiring from from military service in 1899, returned as a settler with his family in 1901.  He was a Captain in the Reserves when the German-Herero war began.  He moved his family to Windhoek and prepared its defense.  In February, 1904, he accompanied the Ost-Abteilung under Major von Glasenapp and was killed on March 13th at Owikokorero.