Friday, July 25, 2014

The Commanders at Uitkomst: Oberleutnant Richard D. Volkmann (Battle of Uikomst Part II)

Richard D. Volkmann was one of the "Alte Afrikaners", an old Africa hand of the German Protection Force in Colonial Southwest Africa.  He came to the colony in April, 1894 as a Lieutenant in the Schutztruppe, arriving in time to join the fight against Hendrick Witbooi in the Naukluft mountains.  He left twelve years later during in the Nama War in 1906 with the rank of Hauptmann and the thanks of his Kaiser after undertaking a campaign  in which he captured Kaptein Cornelius Fredericks and his followers from Bethanie.  During his service he held administrative posts of responsibility, was a Lieutenant in Hauptmann Ludwig von Estorff's Feldkompanie, and explored the far reaches of the Colony in the remote Caprivi Strip, that panhandle of territory extending deep into the interior of the subcontinent and connecting to the Zambezi River.

His most important posts, however, were those of District Chief: first in Omaruru (1894-1898) and later in the Military District of Grootfontein (1899-1904).  Especially during the latter assignment, with only a small Schutztruppe force of less than 25 men augmented by some 15 native police, he was expected to cover a vast territory at the northern extent of German administrative control, protecting settlers, traders and missionaries, managing relations with the indigenous population, and exploring the hinterland. 

In 1903, in response to the expulsion (and a killing) of some European traders and Catholic missionaries  from the Uakwangali territory in the Kavango Region located in the far Northeast  near the Caprivi Strip, now Oberleutnant Volkmann lead an armed force against Uakwangali King Hompa Himarwa Ithete and his nephew Kandjimi Hawanga zaShikongo.  After clashes with the local population, including a fight with the Uakwangali King on July 16, 1903, he reached Andara and secured permission from Mbukushu Chief Diyeye to found a Catholic mission.

Volkmann also established the first German military post at Fort Namutoni (Amutoni), the strategic water hole at the eastern edge of the vast Etosha Pan, which controlled access to the vast Oshiwambo-speaking kingdoms beyond.  Namutoni represented the furthest extent of the German military presence in the District.  It was here on the 28th of January, 1904, that 500 Owambo warriors under King Nahale of the Ndonga attacked the outpost's four Schutztruppen defenders and three reservists.  Lead by Unteroffizier Fritz Großmann, these soldiers were able to withdraw under cover of darkness toward Tsumeb and safety.  This was the only reported instance of the Owambo attacking the Germans during the Herero uprising, though they did shelter some Herero refugees who gained their territory after the battles at the Waterberg.

Along with some of his contemporaries, including von Estorff, Hauptmann Victor Franke, Hauptmann Kurt Streitwolf and others, Volkmann generally viewed the Herero (and their wealth of cattle) as important resources for the development of the colony.  He certainly seems to have commanded the respect and loyalty of those Herero who served in his District Police force at the outset of hostilities in 1904.  According to former East German historian Helmut Bley;

"Only Lieutenant Volkmann, Divisional Commander in Grootfontein, far away from the centre of the revolt, managed to establish real relationships.  His success is - among other things - a sign of the way in which German officers brought the Africans into their own ethos.  Volkmann had recruited fifteen young men from respected Herero families into the police force.  When news of the revolt reached Grootfontein, Volkmann gave these men the option of leaving the force, since he did not wish to force them to fight against their own people.  They were, he said, entirely free to leave, but he would 'solemnly curse anyone who leaves.'  Volkmann's standing among the Herero was such that they all remained to take part in the fighting (Bley, Namibia Under German Rule, pg. 179)."

This, then,  was the man in charge in the Grootfontein District at the outbreak of hostilities with the Herero in 1904.  He was a confident and strong willed leader who would go on to play a significant role later that year in August helping to contain the Herero forces at the Waterberg, leading a 200 man section that included a detachment that on his orders established a heliograph station on the very top of the plateau escarpment overlooking the enemy and the converging German sections below.  

That January, though, as news came in the Hereros has risen in arms and frightened settlers converged on Grootfontein from their remote farmsteads, Volkmann was worried about a significant enemy force gathering in the dolomite mountains not far to the West of town near a farm known as Uitkomst that belonged to a Boer named Joubert.    They were lead by a man the Germans knew well: one of the wealthiest and most influential of the leaders of the North Hereros in that region.  His name was Mbatona (spelled variously Batona/Batonna in the German sources), and we will discuss this enigmatic figure and the scanty biographical details that I've been able to glean from a few German sources, in a subsequent post in this series on the Battle of Uitkomst.

No comments:

Post a Comment