Monday, August 18, 2014

German Source Material for the Battle of Uitkomst: An Annotated Bibliography (Battle of Uitkomst Part VI)

The list of German sources that relate to the battle of Uitkomst is a short one.  In some instances, this engagement from the first week of the German-Herero War rates barely a mention, while others offer brief clues as to the identities of some of the participants.  All the contemporary accounts are in German, but through persistent sleuthing I have been able to locate complete electronic versions of a number of these sources online.  There are no known accounts, oral histories or written testimonies, that tell the story from the Herero perspective.

I am aware of just one writer - Paul Rohrbach - who was an actual participant.  Between 1904 and 1909 he wrote three extremely interesting and detailed accounts for different publications that differ from each other in minor but important ways.  I have not been able to locate an official report by the German commander, Oberlt. Richard Volkmann, which in not surprising given the confusion and uncertainty of the time (the Governor was away in the south dealing with an unrelated uprising) and the subsequent destruction of the Schutztruppe records in the British invasion of DSWA in 1915 and during the bombing of Berlin in WWII. 

Still, there is a good deal of information in German that is of value - if one takes the time to reconcile discrepancies among the main accounts and considers the relative value of each source - and that can help us form a better understanding of what likely took place on January 18th when a small mixed force of German troops and war volunteers from the Grootfontein area confronted a larger Herero force marching in column. 

The following is an annotated biography of this source material, with links to where each may be read online and comments about what each contains and its value as evidence.  It probably should have been provided earlier in this series, though some of the most important accounts only became available to me after I started writing it.  If it ever makes its way into publication I'll make it part of the documentation and literature review section.

  • Deutsches Kolonialblatt;Amtsblatt für die Schutzgebiete des Deutschen Reich,  Herausgegeben in der Kolonial-Abteilung des Auswärtigen Amts. [German Colonial Journal: Official Journal for the Reserve Areas of the German Reich, Edited by the Colonial Department of the Foreign Office], Vol. 15; Berlin: E. S. Mittler und Sohn, 1904.      

    :  These colonial records include summary reports of official telegrams received from German Southwest Africa from the start of the Herero uprising.  Pages 164 and 165 deal with German casualty reports relating to Uitkomst and mention the occupations of two of the wounded war volunteers.  Also of biographical interest is also a very long report from Oberleutnant Richard D. Volkmann's expedition to the Okavango and Caprivi region in late 1903.
  • Fitzner, Rudolf; Deutsches kolonial-Handbuch: Ergänzungsband; [German Colonial Handbook: Supplement]; Berlin: Hermann Paetel, 1904  

    :  Fitzner complied these annual accounts "according to official sources".  Essentially an Almanac summarizing census details for the German Colonies, the 1904 handbook includes a general breakdown of the population of the Grootfontein District for the preceding year by primary place of residence and national origin for the year.  Prior editions of the Handbook from 1902 and 1903 differ as to the names and number of farms listed, and indicate that after 1901 the Waterberg station was no longer part of the Grootfontein District.  Boer farms are clearly underrepresented, although the breakdown of Boers to Germans remains at least 2 to 1 and is likely much larger when their extensive families are taken into account.  Fitzner says that there were 215 men women and children of white origin in the District in 1903, only 47 of whom were Germans.  Even if he does not include the Schutzetruppe detatchment in his figures (and he does appear to list them as residents of the military outposts he names), they are a distinct minority of the white population.
  • Großer Generalstab, Armee (Prussia)Die Kämpfe der deutschen Truppen in Südwestafrika.  Af Grund amlichen Materials bearbeitet von der Kriegsgeschichen Abteiling I des Großen Generalstabes.  Erster Band (von 2): Der Feldzug gegen die Herero [The Struggles of German Troops in South-West Africa.  Based on official materials arranged by Military History Division 1 of the Great General Staff.  Volume 1 (of 2): The Campaign against the Hereros]; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1906. 

    :  Together with the the records of the Marine-Expeditionary Force and the Landing Party from S.M.S "Habicht" (neither of which bears directly on the Battle of Uitkomst), the
    Generalstab History is a remarkable achievement and serves as the principle source of information on the German-Herero conflict. The Generalstab History is one of just four sources that describe the events leading up to Uitkomst and the fight itself with any detail (pgs 80, 81), and it informs what other writers had to say about the war when they wrote their own memoirs.  Some of the information used to compile the Generalstab History may not have been, strictly speaking, official materials - images of Owikokorero and Owiumbo, for example, come from the 1905 memoir of Oberlt. Erich v. Salzmann.  As official documentarians the Generalstab were capable of extraordinary precision operating at remote distance from the events it chronicled - in just five weeks they produced complete war maps for the entire colony that are exquisitely detailed cartographic marvels - but they also had blind spots and tended to narrowly focus on the forces within the Army's purview.  This sometimes leads to downplaying or even omitting entirely the roles of its sister Naval branch of service.  In the case of Uitkomst the account glosses over the nature and composition of Volkmann's mixed force, most especially the Boers who made up at least a third of the overall number of men under his command.  It is the only account that specifically a partially mounted Herero force, with the horsemen leading a Herero column with about 170 "well-armed", partialy mounted Herero that Volkmann attacked.   It does not note than only some of the Hereros had firearms.
Theodor G. v. Leutwein

  • Leutwein, Theodor G. v.: Elf Jahre Gouverneur in deutsch-südwestafrika [Eleven Years Governor in German South-West Africa]; Berlin: Ernst Siegfied Mittler und Sohn, 1908.

    Comments:  Leutwein's memoir covers his entire tenure in South-West Africa. 
    Although not entirely do to circumstances he could control or have forseen, the most significant German military defeats and setbacks of the war happened on his watch.  He was supplanted as the senior military commander in June, 1904 with the arrival of Generalleutnant Lothar von Trotha, though he remained Governor of the colony.  Leutwein's war policy differed significantly from von Trotha's and he was brushed aside by the General. He was supported by a faction of long serving Schutztruppe officers (among them Richard D. Volkmann) and his memoir must be seen in these lights.  Leutwein offers a detailed account of the battle of Uitkomst (pgs 482, 483) that differs in some small details from the Generalstab History and goes into more detail about the number of Boers and volunteers who rode with Volkmann.  There is also an excellent profile portrait of Oberlt. Volkmann included in Leutwein's memoir. Leutwein agrees with the Generalstab that there were about 170 Herero with the riders at the head of the column and that Volkmann lost 7 mounts from his own force.  Leutwein also fails to mention that only some of the Hereros had firearms.
  • Rohrbach, Paul: "Zum Hererokrieg im Südwestafrika: Skizze aus dem Norddistrikt Grootfontein" ["For The Herero War in South-West Africa: Sketch of the Northern District of Grootfontein"], In Die Woche [The Week], Vol 6, Issue 23, Pgs 1025-1028, Berlin: June 4, 1904.

    Comments: Dr. Paul Rohrbach was a colonial official (
    Ansiedlungskommissar, or Settlement Commissioner) who was in Grootfontein when the war broke out and who fought as a volunteer in his first engagement at Uitkomst.  His are the only eyewitness accounts that I have been able to locate from Volkmann's small force.  As such they are invaluable, and include a trove of detail not found in other sources, most especially about the Herero leaders and the Boer contingent in Volkmann's force.  Rohrbach was a prolific writer, and over the course of five years he published at least three distinct accounts of the battle, each with different emphasis and audiences in mind. 

    His article in Die Woche was published less than six months after he fought at Uitkomst.  It includes a number of unique photographs of the Grootfontein District taken late in 1903 while touring the District with Oberlt. Volkmann.  Uitkomst itself rates a paragraph in Rohrbach's article, in which he says that Volkmann rode out from Grootfontein to confront the Herero column with half the garrison (very small indeed, given the distribution of his 20-25 man Schutztruppe detachment across the District), and a force mostly comprised of war volunteers and boers.  He estimates the Herero force at about 150 men with 60 rifles.  He does not describe the sequence of events during the battle as fully or as personally as in his later writing about Uitkomst.
  • Rohrbach, Paul: "Bei Uitkomst"["At Uitkomst"], In Deutsche Reiter in Südwest :Selbsterlebnisse aus
    den Kämpfen in Deutsch-Südwestafrika
    [German Rider in South-West: Personal Experiences from the Fighting in German South-West Africa], pgs 242, 243,
    Dincklage-Campe, Friedrich, Freiherr von, Editor; Berlin: Deutsches Verlagshaus Bong & Co, 1908

    Comments: This two page account appeared in Deutsche Reiter in
    Südwest, a remarkable compilation of 1st person accounts by participants in military engagements in German Southwest Africa, These are principally from the Herero and Nama Wars of 1904-1908 but also include early colonial skirmishes.  This was the most widely distributed popular history of the war.  In some ways, in both content and function, it reminds me of the four volume Battles and Leaders of the Civil War published in America by the Century Magazine in the 1880s, though mercifully it has fewer pieces by senior officers with axes to grind.  Some of the participant accounts in Deutsche Reiter, like Rohrbach's, measurably add to our understanding of the course of certain events, while others are anecdotes of less certain veracity. The color Carl Becker painting "Gefecht bei Uitkomst" used in the start of this blog series appears between pages 40 and 41 of Deutsche Reiter.  There is another picture of Volkmann elsewhere in the book, but Rohrbach's is the only description of Uitkomst.  The picture of him at the beginning of this post comes from his contribution. 

    Both this piece and Rohrbach's diary of this period published in 1909 are in close agreement with each other in many respects but differ
    in significant ways from the sequence of events described in Generalstab version of the fight at Uitkomst.   "Bei Uitkomst" omits some of the information contained in Rohrbach's diary - the fighting qualities of the boers are not subject to his analysis - and he rather overestimates the Herero force at 250 men, though again with about 60 rifles.  Rohrbach gives the number of Volkmann's force after they met up with the Boer wagons coming in from Uitkomst at 21 rifles (15 men under Volkmann from Grootfontein and the rest from the wagon escort).  He also provides the only mention made of the last name of one of the Boers who rode alongside Volkmann just before contact was made with the Herero - one of the Osthuizens who farmed near Grootfontein. He also references personal communication with now Hauptmann Volkmann, who had become a good friend, so this may be as close as we will come to Volkmann's perspective in the absence of any official report or letters from him that may yet come to light.  He says there were three Herero leaders killed, including "Batona of Osondema", Kamaihamagoani of Waterberg, and the unnamed War General from Okahandja with the white ostrich feather in his hat.
  • Rohrbach, Paul: Aus Südwest-Afrikas schweren Tagen: Blätter von Arbeit und Abschied [From South-West Afrika's Difficult Days: Leaves of Work and Farewell], Berlin: Wilhelm Weicher, 1909

    Comments: This is the most personal, and the most comprehensive, of Rohrbach's published accounts of
    Dr. Paul Rohrbach, 1931
    his experience at Uitkomst and what took place in that fight.  He may have reworked his diary entries with an eye toward publication, yet seems to have made a conscious effort to set down his impressions as a participant as well as a recorder of history.  There are some sections that are nearly the same as what he contributed to
    Deutsche Reiter - details about the Herero leaders and how the battle played out after Volkmann's charge.  The charge itself is described as it was experienced by Rohrbach: a halt to observe and discuss something "bright" observed moving on the road ahead of them, then the sound of gunshots from where Volkmann and a boer (Osthuizen) were riding on the right, every rifle coming out of its sling or scabbard and Volkmann charging off thorough the bush toward the enemy with the rest of the force following behind.  It is possible, though further analysis of his account is needed before I am confident making this assertion, that Rohrbach's description of the charge indicates that it was made in column rather than in line.  The Herero had just come out into the open and immediately withdrew into the cover of the surrounding thornveld when Volkmann's men approached and plunged after them.  This is a very different version of events than that reported in the Generalstab history or which contends that the Herero column was struck and scattered, with those without horses taking casualties. 

    Rohrbach does not mention mounted Herero as per the Generalstab history (perhaps he was too far back in the column to see them), and he estimates the total number of Herero at around 130.  He does not mention captured horses as Leutwein does. Nor does he describe Volkmann's now dismounted force as in danger of being enveloped after the Herero rallied.  Instead, he describes long distance sniping at unseen targets with negligible effect, leading Volkmann to remount and lead his command forward to engage and pierce the enemy center and then fight its divided flanks.  If the battle indeed happened this way, the German casualties were likely incurred at this stage.  Rohrbach also describes how the Herero left the field, initially in good order but later in full flight, and what prevented Volkmann from attempting to pursue them.  He credits Volkmann's leadership, despite the excellent marksmanship of his men and especially the boers, with the tenacity and discipline that enabled his mixed force to prevail.  He says the boer way of fighting (which the Schutztruppe had emulated), would have been indecisive without the will to engage the enemy in close combat as Volkmann had the will to do. He describes the sound of gunshots from three types of Herero rifles (a few repeaters, Martini Henrys, and German Model 88 rifles).  He also says there were 20 men with Volkmann (4 men of the Troop and the rest about equally divided among Germans and Boers).  He lists the three dead Herero leaders the same way as in
    Deutsche Reiter : Batona, Kamaihamagoani and the War leader with the white ostrich feather.
  • Rust, Conrad: Krieg und Frieden im Hereroland : aufzeichnungen aus dem Kriegsjahre 1904
    [War and Peace in Hereroland: Records from the War Year 1904],
    Leipzig : L. A. Kittler, 1905.

    Comments: Johann Conrad Rust (1855-1921) wrote as a self-identified farmer who settled at Monte Christo near Otjizeva in the Windhoek District of  South-West Africa.  Rust had previously emigrated from Germany to South Africa in 1879, arriving in Southwest Africa from the Western Cape in 1900.  He was also a noted botanist, but his extensive collection was lost when he had to abandon his farm in 1904 during the Herero War and remove to the safety of Windhoek. He also started a newspaper that year, the
    Windhuker Nachrichten [Windhoeker News] - and dedicated himself to writing a "settler's history" of the war as a tribute to the fallen.  Some researchers believe that Rust had official sanction to write his history and therefore access to official sources, some of which may long since have been destroyed, and certainly he provides specific details about civilian casualties in the war that are considered as close to definitive as it is now possible to get.  Rust describes Uitkomst on pgs 18 and 19 of his account, and includes specific descriptions of the wounds suffered by the fallen in Volkmann's force.  He estimates the Hereros under Mbatona (Batonna) at 180 (with about 60 rifles) and also references a war leader with a great white ostrich feather in his hat who Rohrbach identifies as Kamaihamagoani.  He says they had plenty of ammunition for the older Model 71 rifle and that several horses were captured.  He also describes communication between Batona and the Boer Grobler in the days before the battle about removing his children from school and going with the other Boers to a neutral place where they would not be considered combatants.  He provides details of specifric interest to fellow farmers - the number of cattle and wagons with the Boer Joubert's group that fled Uitkomst toward Grootfontein - but offers fewer specifics than either Rohrbach or the Generalstab about the sequence of the fight itself. 
  • Schwabe, Kurd:  Der Krieg in deutsch-südwestafrika, 1904-1906 [The War in German South-West Africa, 1904-1906], pg 112, Berlin: C.A. Weller, 1907

    Comments: Kurd Schabe was a long serving Schutztruppe officer and had a staff position during the Herero War.  His history has many photographs of interest to researchers of this period (including another view of Volkmann) but makes only brief mention of Uitkomst and the distribution of German troops in the district.
  • Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reichstags [Stenographic Reports of the Proceedings of the Reichstag], Volume 209; Berlin, 1905

    Comments:  These official proceedings of the German Empire's legislative branch include a comprehensive list of war damage claims from the German-Herero War broken down for each District in the colony.  They describe not only the farms that were affected but also those that were not, and as such are the most comprehensive census available of the number and location of each settlement in the Grootfontein District. 
    Paul Rohrbach would eventually be appointed by the German government to settle these damage claims. In addition to enumerating losses claimed, the names and nationalities of those at each settlement are provided, along with the size of each property.  From these records, as well as the chronologies provided in Rohrbach and Rust's accounts, it is possible to determine something of the movements and motivations of the Herero force under Batona prior to Uitkomst, and that most of the Boer settlements - even those in the line of march -were not targeted, while their German neighbors were. 

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