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.

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