Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Battle of Uitkomst: Researching a New German-Herero War Skirmish Scenario (Battle of Uitkomst Part 1)

"Uitkomst" by Carl Becker
The outbreak of the German-Herero War in the middle of January, 1904 was a confused and fearful time.  As the conflict spread from the initial spark that ignited at Okahandja, the commanders of remote German outposts were hard pressed to protect the isolated farms and settlements within their districts.  Word soon came to Grootfontein District commander Oberlt. Richard Volkmann from Berg-Damara and Bushman informants that a sizable force of between 170-180 Hereros, partially mounted and armed with about 60 rifles and plenty of ammunition, was in the dolomite Otavi mountains near a farm named Uitkomst, located about 18 kilometers down a wagon road to the southwest of Grootfontein.  At that time, Volkmann could muster little more than a handful of Schutztruppe to oppose them, bolstered by reservists and volunteers.

What followed was one of the sharpest skirmishes and one of the few early German successes of this first phase of the war.  Other small outposts such as Otjituo and Waterberg were attacked during this same period by Herero forces and their defenders annihilated.  Volkmann not only defeated a Herero force much larger than his own, but he did so by launching a surprise cavalry charge through the thornveld  by a mixed force of soldiers, settlers and boers that scattered the Herero column. After the Herero rallied, and in the face of what the Germans called "Schnellfeuer" from the enemy rifles, he aggressively attacked the Herero center and fought both wings back to back.  After the Herero leader Mbatona (German sources wrote his name Batona or Batonna) was killed and other leaders and numerous fighters had fallen, the Herero withdrew and did not return in force to trouble the district.

Carl Becker's contemporary illustration, above, fancifully represents the moment when Volkmann's charge broke through the Herero column.  My own research indicates that it probably didn't happen like this, and it is more likely the charge was made in column (at least at first) rather than in line.  It shows only his Schutztruppe riders (too many of these) and Volkmann had a larger number of Boers, German farmers and reservists along with his small Schutztruppe detatchment. 

It has been hard to tell much for certain, because aside from short secondary accounts from contemporary German histories or memoirs, little else about the fight at Uitkomst is available to a web-based researcher and nothing at all in English.  There is at least one first person account from one of the German participants, though, which I located during the course of researching this series and will discuss in due course, as it challenges some of what was reported in other accounts and amplifies other aspects of the fight.  None of this takes away from Volkmann's accomplishment, but it has direct bearing on a more accurate understanding of the battle and the circumstances leading up to it.
I spent my first of 4 years in Namibia during the 1990s living about 10 kilometers north of Grootfontein, and I know this landscape well.  I used to drive to Otavi along a road that passes near Uitkomst where the fighting had taken place.  The grave of one of Volkmann's men, Unteroffizier Stadler, who whose right leg was shot up and who bled to death from a severed artery, lies in a German section of the Grootfontein cemetery. 

This engagement has peaked my curiosity, and now that the Jones/Alvarado Herero War Scenario and Rules book has been released, I am motivated to try to research this skirmish and develop an authentic and hopefully playable scenario based on the fight at Uitkomst.  I'm thinking of calling it Ambush at Uitkomst: Oberlt. Volkmann's Gambit, and the following posts in this series will track its research and development.

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