Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Composition of Volkmann's Force (Battle of Uitkomst Part V)

Oberleutnant Richard Volkmann commanded a mixed, mounted force on January 18th, 1904 at the Battle of Uitkomst.  Determining the nature and composition of his troops, both for reasons of historical interest and to inform the development of a tabletop war game scenario based on this engagement, has required considerable detective work.  While the picture remains incomplete, it is coming into clearer focus. I have been able to locate a fair number of contemporary German accounts and additional archival material online.  Having assessed the relative value of each source as evidence, I will soon be able to present an order of battle for Volkmann's force based on what these data suggest.

Schutztruppen: To protect the Grootfontein District, Oberlt. Volkmann had a weak detachment of 20
or so active service Schutztruppen detailed from the 4th Feldkompagnie (headquartered at Outjo).  We can account for at least half of these men whose known whereabouts place them too far away from the fight at Uitkomst to have been involved there. 

Four of these soldiers (Unteroffizier Fritz Großmann;  Sanitäs-Unteroffizier Bruno Lassman; Gefreiter Richard Lemke and Gefreiter Albert Lier) were based at Fort Namutoni (Amutoni) in the far Northwest of the District.  Along with three German settlers (who were also reservists), these men fought here against a large Owambo force on January 28th, 1904.  

There were also four Schutztruppen (an Unteroffizier and three men) based at the District's easternmost station at Otjituo.  This position was attacked and annihilated on January 17th or 18th: the same period as the events leading to the battle at Uitkomst.  A lone settler who escaped from Otjituo was later rescued by a Schutztrupper - Reiter Werner - who had been sent from Grootfontein to warn outlying farms of the Herero revolt.  

There was a small military post at Otavi, 90 km to the West of Grootfontein, and German settler and newspaper publisher Conrad Rust's 1905
account of the war identifies three soldiers who escorted employees of the Otavi mine and nearby settlers to Grootfontein in the days following the fight at Uitkomst.  There were probably 3-4  regular Schutztruppe stationed here (three are visible in the period photograph at right). 

One last post was located at Koantsas, 90km north of Grootfontein. 

The rest of Volkmann's regular soldiers, perhaps about in all, would have been based at Grootfontein itself, including medical personnel and the postal agent (who was also a
Sanitäs-Feldwebel named Ragnitz).  There was a fort at Grootfontein, the strongest defensible structure in the District, and it served as Oberlt. Volkmann's headquarters. 

A colonial official at Grootfontein, Dr. Paul Rohrbach, wrote in his diary on January 14th that the number of regular Schutztruppen available there could not be known out of hand given the uncertainty and ambiguity of the situation.  "There are already hardly 12 men together" he wrote; "All the others from the station are distributed 2-4 men each at small outstations: Otjituuo, Otavi, Koantsas, Amutoni."The Schutztruppen who fought at Uitkomst would have come from those who were left at Grootfontein, and not all of them could be spared for that fight.
Volkmann could also call on an assortment of reserves and war volunteers from the settler community, though in that first week of the war many of these men - former Schutztruppe members, Europeans of other nationalities and a large number of Boers - were widely dispersed across the District at remote farms.  Settlers began to arrive in Grootfontein seeking safety with their livestock and possessions, and only here were there enough of them to send out on patrols and supplement the regular Schutztruppe.

Various contemporary German accounts refer to these reserves and volunteers with specific terms that had particular meanings.  Casualty lists and war damage claims from local farms give additional insights into how these words were used as identifiers.  There are occasional inconsistencies that I have tried to take into account, but what follows is a general description of the various categories of reserves and volunteers that augmented the Schutztruppe in the Grootfontein District.


Unteroffizier  Großmann, 3 additional Schutztruppen, and 3 local German farmers in the Reserves
Former members of the Schutztruppe who settled in German Southwest Africa spent a number of years in the Reserves.  They had access to Schutztruppe uniforms (sometimes of an older issue) and equipment.  These men would have been able to amalgamate reasonably well with active duty Schutztruppen, and if in uniform might be described collectively as soldiers (Soldaten).  The image above, taken after the Battle of Namutoni, includes 4 Schutztruppe and three farmer reservists (Unteroffizier d. Reserve Jacob Basendowski,

Gefreiter d. Reserve Hans Becke, and Gefreiter d. Reserve Karl Hartmann).  A German farmer wounded at Uitkomst was also a Gefreiter d. Reserve.  
Those German settlers (Anseidlern) who had not served in the Schutztruppe or who had been or Reserve status for the requisite number of years, were still liable for what was essentially militia service.  Younger men were part of the Landwehr and older men were part of the Landsturm until they reached the age of 45.  They also drilled in a mix of uniforms, but are less likely to have been mustered into active service at this time.  Some
Landwehren are identified as such in the casualty lists, including two who were wounded at Uitkomst, but they sometimes are listed under the general category of Kriegsfreiwillige, or war volunteer.

Kriegsfreiwilligern (War Volunteers)
Freiwilligern:  War volunteers, strictly speaking, were those who did not owe service in the Schutztruppe or Reserves but who turned out to fight.  They may have included landwehren or landsturmen, or been settlers of German and other nationalities who fought (and sometimes died) alongside the military.  They may have had Schutztruppe equipment or parts of uniforms, or fought in their own civilian clothing like the majority of those shown in the image above.  Not every German was a farmer in his own right, and not every settler was a German.  Contemporary accounts make a distinction between European settlers (Anseildern) and Afrikaner Boers (Buren), and usually Freiwillige is used for the former category even though many Boers, particularly at Uitkomst, were volunteers, and one of them was wounded there.

Volkmann's force at Uitkomst included a handful of regular Schutztruppen and a larger number of Reserven, Landwehren, other Kriegsfreiwilligen and Buren.  We will consider the evidence for their numbers and how they should be treated in an Uitkomst tabletop wargame scenario in a subsequent post.

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