Friday, August 29, 2014

Order of Battle at Uitkomst (The Battle of Uitkomst VIII)

Richard D. Volkmann
Contemporary German sources differ as to the number of armed men available to Oberleutnant Richard Volkmann and Herero leader Mbatona (Batona) when they clashed at Uitkomst.  The Generalstab history (1906) and the memoir of Governor Theodor v. Leutwein (1908) underplay or even fail to mention the role of the Boers and other war volunteers, or that only a portion of Mbatona's force had rifles, making it seem like a Schutztruppe affair only against far superior superior numbers.  On the other hand, the Generalstab account is quite clear that the Herero had a mounted force out in front of those on foot, and that these riders evaded Volkmann's initial charge.  Others mention several captured horses among the spoils.

Diarists like settler J Conrad Rust (1905), and the several published accounts of an actual participant, Dr. Paul Rohrbach, are more specific about the Herero armament and the number and composition of Volkmann's force, but do not mention the mounted Herero at all.  Volkmann's own report is not available, though he did correspond with Rohrbach and the official Generalstab version likely draws from what Volkmann relayed to his superiors.

A previous post in this series discussed these sources and considered the quality of the evidence they provide.  In this post I will give my own assessment, based on close reading of these accounts, of the Order of Battle at Uitkomst.

The Herero Forces at Uitkomst:  The various accounts give a range for Mbatona's warband of between 135 and 180 men.  There is one outlying number (250), given by Rohrbach as part of a two page submission to Deutsche Reiter in Südwest (1908).  Rohrbach was a war volunteer at Uitkomst - his first time ever under fire - and he was a good friend of Volkmann's, so the details he provides have added weight.  However, the disparity between this figure and Rohrbach's other published reporting of Herero numbers (given as 150 in his 1904 account and about 130 in his war diary published in 1909) strongly suggests that the number 250 is an editing or a typographical error.  Other sources estimate between 170 and 180 Herero with Mbatona, and the actual number is likely somewhere close to Rohrbach's 150.

Several accounts mention an advanced guard or "Spitze" of Herero horsemen that preceded the rest of the warband that was on foot.  Several horses were captured after the battle, but most of the horsemen escaped.  Rohrback was riding farther back in the German column when it charged and he may not have seen the mounted Herero at all when they turned back under the cover of the surrounding thornbush.  The Generalstab history merely says Batona's force was partially mounted.  There might have been a dozen or so riders, including some of the Herero leaders, but they were not a factor in the Herero response to Volkmann's attack.

At this stage in the war, not every Herero fighter had a firearm, and it was common for between 
Herero warriors with traditional weapons (latter part of 19th century)
half and two thirds of a war band to be carrying close combat weapons only - knobkerries, pangas, or spears.  Both Rust and Rohrbach say that Mbatona's men had about 60 rifles, which is in line for a force of this size.  Rust says they had plenty of Mauser Model 71 ammunition, while Rohrbach's diary (1909) actually describes the sounds made by the varies Herero firearms that were shooting at him.  A few were either repeaters that made a popping sound or"Knall" or Mauser Model 88s that droned or hummed "brummende Sausen", but the majority were older Martini Henry rifles that made cracks and whistles "Krachen und Pfeifen" when fired.  Rohrbach was not a soldier but he was there at the fight and could ask Volkmann or other veterans about the sounds he had heard, so his testimony seems the most reliable. 

There were other Herero leaders with Mbatona, anywhere between 2 and six of whom were killed at Uitkomst. Rust and Rohrbach both mention an unnamed Schlacten-General or war leader sent from Okahandja from paramount chief Samuel kaMaharero, who was recognizable because of the large whuite ostrich feather he wore in his hat.  Rohrbach also mentions Kamaihamagoani of Waterberg, and that both of these men were found killed along with Mbatona after the fight.  The loss of command leadership may well have been a factor in the Herero defeat.

The German Forces at Uitkomst
:  Oberleutnant Volkmann's men were all on horseback when they rode toward Uitkomst.  he started out from Grootfontein with a group of riders that various sources estimate between 10 and 15 men.   Leutwein says Volkmann began with 12 and Rohrbach says had 15 to start with, mostly war volunteers and Boers.  After meeting up with the escort that was bringing in the wagons, livestock and boer families from Uitkomst, some additional men joined Volkmann and rode back to confront the Herero.  Rust says he started with 10 men and added 12.   Kurd Schwabe says Volkmann had 22 men (soldiers and boers) against about 200 Herero.  Volkman says there were 20 or 21 in all.  Leutwein says he had 20 men from the escort join him (14 of which were war volunteers or Boers), but that would have given him a larger force (32) than any other source suggests.  It is more likely that Rohrbach's number of 20 total was confused in Leutwein's memoir for the number of the reenforcements only.  Rohrbach is very clear in his diary (1909) that there were just 20 men with Volkmann, with only four Schutztruppe and the rest war volunteers or boers.  The most likely figure, then, is about 20.

Not all the war volunteers were men like Rohrbach with no military affiliation.  Three of the men who were identified as casualties were either in the Reserves or Landwehr.  If we assume a force of 20, there may have been seven or eight Germans with some military training, including the four Schutztruppen referenced by Rohrbach.  We only know the name of one of these men for certain (Unteroffizier Stadler).  Gefrieter d. Reserve Hart Schmiedel, who had been driven away from his farm Gunuchas when Mbatona's raiders approached from the Omuramba-Omatako, was also with Volkmann.  So, too, were Landwehrmann Halberstadt, a mason and builder who came to the District from Windhoek,  and Landwehrmann Hermann Nietsche, a carpenter.  Neither were farmers at this time, but a Wilhelm Halberstadt had a farm in Grootfontein in 1905 and there are Halberstadts still farming there today.  Perhaps it was he.

Rohrbach mentions in his diary that some of the riders with Volkmann were from the Farm Urupupa, located not far to the West of Uitkomst. 

"We stopped and thought for a moment it could be wagons coming from Urupupa, but there the people felt – we had four horsemen with us from that place – that they were strong enough to stand and defend themselves in place. (Rohrbach 1909 - translation mine)"

Willem Joubert and his wife Anna
It is unlikely, then, that the principle farmers at Urupupa - Franz Sobolewski and Witwe Siemens - were riding with Volkmann.  Maybe Halberstadt or Nietsche had been working there. 

If we consider Volkmann had four people from Urupupa, four Schutztruppe and Rohrbach as the German part of his force, what of the rest?  He probably had seven or eight boers and two are referenced directly.  One was an Osthuizen mentioned by Rohrbach (there were several farmers by that name in the District) and one was a Duplessis, possibly Lorenz Du Plessis who farmed at Okamuhundju south of Grootfontein.  Very likely the rest were from Uitkomst - Willem Joubert and perhaps one or more of his elder sons, and several of the Groblers.  Maybe Heinrich Poolman, who was with the Uitkomst party but was not a Boer, also joined in.

They were all mounted, but would have been variously armed and had different fighting styles.  Volkmann could have issued Mauser 88s and possibly even bayonets to the Reservists and Landwehren, but the Boers had their own rifles and bandoliers.  Probably few of the war volunteers had uniforms, especially if, like Schmiedel, they had been driven from their farms by the advancing Herero.

What happened when these two forces met - unraveling the Battle of Uitkomst itself - will be the topic of a subsequent post in this series.

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