Saturday, September 20, 2014

After Uitkomst (The Battle of Uitkomst Part XI)

For the price of one man killed and four others wounded out of Oberleutant Richard Volkmann's small force at Uitkomst, the Herero were deprived of several important leaders along with at least 23 fighters killed and an untold number of others injured.  Mbatona of Osendema was dead, and so was Kamaihamagoani of Waterberg.  An unidentified war commander who wore a large white ostrich feather in his hat also lay dead, and if as J Conrad Rust and Paul Rohrbach state he had been dispatched by Samuel Maharero from Okahandja to coordinate the fighting in the North, this was an especially hard blow.

The German Generalstab history says that the surviving Hereros who had fought with Mbatona went south to the Waterburg and no longer troubled the district, but the District was hardly pacified.  At the same time that Volkmann fought at Uitkomst, the small military post at Otjituuo to the East of Grootfontein on the Omuramba Omatako was attacked and overrun by a force said to have been just as large as Mbatona's and all but one of its four defenders were slain.  Two more German farmers to the North of Grootfontein were killed.  Later in the month, the fort at Namutoni (Amutoni) was attacked by an estimated 500 Ovambos from Ndonga under Chief Nehale lya Mpingana's war leader Shivute (Shute), the only incident in which the Ovambo actively participated in the war.

It took several weeks for things to settle down, but small raids on isolated farms continued to be a problem and Volkmann's responsibilities as District commander kept him occupied with patrols and police work and at least one more skirmish while the crisis continued to escalate to the South in the heart of Hereroland.  His  courage and leadership in a backwater of the conflict did not capture the attention of the public, and while he did command one of the six detachments under General von Trotha during the Waterberg campaign, this was the result of his being senior to Oberleutnant von Zülow who had been sent to reenforce the Grootfontein district that June with the 3rd Feldkompagnie, a half battery of field guns and a marine section with two machine guns.

Volkmann had just four officers in his 200 man Abteilung at Waterberg, and was responsible for
keeping the Hereros from breaking out to the North.  Under his direction, Lieutenant Auer mounted a
heliograph unit on the summit of the Plateau overlooking the batteground, which enabled the separate German sections to communicate more effectively.  He was part of the pursuit of the Herero into the Omaheke, coordinating with Maj. von Estorff's section.  He subsequently served in the south against the Nama, having been promoted to Hauptmann, and was instrumental in capturing the Bethanie leader Cornelius Fredericks for which he received the thanks of the Kaiser.

While his distinguished service and accomplishments were worthy of high recognition, his military decorations were modest.  He received the Order of the Red Eagle with swords, IV class, which granted the lowest level of nobility, and the Order of the Prussian Crown III and IV Class with swords, while contemporaries like Viktor Franke who exhibited similar traits of personal courage and intrepidity received far greater honors.  It is unclear whether Volkmann felt slighted in his service after returning to Germany in 1905, but he served honorably during the First World War, commanding in Bucharest in 1916, and received the Iron Cross I and II class.

Paul Rohrbach remained close friends with Volkmann and served for several months as a war volunteer.  In addition to providing the only firsthand accounts that are available for thre Bsttle of Uitkomst, he was made responsible for claims for compensation from the German government for war damage and losses suffered by settlers in Southwest Africa.

Landwehrman Wilhelm Halberstadt established two farms in Grootfontein beginning in 1905 and his descendants live there still.   There was a German farm at Osondema, too, where Mbatona's people had been dispossessed. Two of Mbatona's men who fought with him at Uitkomst, Kanjemi and Kandiapu, survived the war and established a stronghold in the Omaheke, remaining outside German control and using the Omuramba network to raid German farms.  Both were had prior service as police or native soldiers (possibly in South Africa) and Kanjema was known as 'the Captain of the Sandfeld.'  They remained outlawed and at large, providing a refuge for other survivors who tried to remain outside the brutal farm labor system that governed the lives of the defeated Herero in Southwest Africa. It was not until 1911 when their location was betrayed and they were captured by the Germans.  Kanjema was executed n secret on orders of the Governor,, and Kandiapua was beaten to death while a prisoner in Swakopmund awaiting transportation to German Kamerun.

As for the Boer farm Uitkomst, by 1910 it had been divided in two, with Klein Uitkomst comprising the southern part of the original farm.  During South African rule these two farms and a small third property that extended to the Otavi Mountains became a government Agricultural Research station.  In 2009, the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement of independent Namibia acquired Uitkomst as land for the Hai||om "San" or "Bushmen", its original indigenous inhabitants.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sequence of Events at Uitkomst: An Assessment Based on Primary and Contemporary German Sources (The Battle of Uitkomst Part X)

In the preceding posts in this series, I discussed contemporary German accounts and primary source material for the Battle of Uitkomst and what they suggest about the number, composition and armament of the opposing forces.  In this post, I consider the sequence of events of the battle itself and propose the most likely scenario based on an assessment of the evidence.  I start by describing the battlefield location and terrain features, and then lay out each stage of the battle.  These episodes begin with the general position of the opposing forces when the Germans made first contact, and then progress through several distinct combat phases over the course of the engagement.

Battlefield Location and Terrain Features:  The central feature of the battlefield was an oxwagon road running SW to NE between the farm Uitkomst (near the foot of the Otavi Mountains), and Grootfontein.  The terrain here is relatively flat with grayish brown soils sloping very gently East and Southeast. There has been heavy "bush encroachment" in the region since the battle in 1904, and my strongest memories of the landscape from when I was last there in the 1990s was of sand or gravel roads stretching out through a sea of thorn.

There is no sketch map of the Battle of Uitkomst in the Generalstab history, nor in any other German account that I have found.  The maps, below, are conjectural and based on my own research and interpretation of contemporary German sources.  Most of these agree that the Boer farm Uitkomst was located some 18 km West of Grootfontein, but a review of actual farm maps, including an original 1910 German Colonial 1:400,000 map for Grootfontein, confirms that it was situated to the southwest along the wagon road to Otavi. 

Conjectural Battle of Uitkomst General Location and Terrain
The general location of the battlefield can be further deduced by references made in the diary of war volunteer Paul Rohrbach, which says that the Germans were "eine halbe Stunde vor Uitkomst",
or half an hour from Uitkomst, when they first spotted movement on the road ahead that proved to be Batona's warband.  A horse with a rider walks at about 6.4km/hr (4 mph).  It is unlikely that Volkmann would have moved at a faster pace toward an unseen enemy.  This gait would put the Germans about 3.2km or 2 miles NE of Uitkomst when they spotted the Herero coming toward them along the wagon road.

Several accounts of the battle describe the transition from dense thornveld to open savannah between Uitkomst and Grootfontein.  J. Conrad Rust notes that it took the Boer families from Uitkomst and their escorts 3 hours to reach the open grass savannah (freie Grassavanne) after they left the farm early that morning with their livestock and slow moving ox wagons.  These savannah lands extended from the point where Rohrbach says Volkmann's force first saw the Herero (on the road 3.2 km from Uitkomst) to a distance of hour's ride (6.4 km) from Grootfontein.  That open grassland description may well be a relative term, with enough patches of acacia thorn and high grass during the rainy season to obscure the view and allowing Volkmann to achieve surprise when he charged the Hereros on the road. It is not clear whether Volkmann was to the left or right of the road when he made first contact, though the direction of the battle evolved in a westerly direction.

Conjectural 1st positions of Herero and German/Boer forces at Uitkomst
Disposition of the Herero and German Forces at First Contact:  Rohrbach notes that the Herero were out in the open when they were first encountered, and that what first caught the attention of Volkmann's riders was something shining on the road ahead.  At first they mistook what they saw in the distance for the wagons of refugee settlers from Urupupa, a farm located to the west of Uitkomst, but it proved to be an advanced guard (Spitze) of mounted Hereros leading a larger number of Herero coming up the road on foot.  Governor Leutwein's memoir says the Herero maintained poor march discipline and were proceeding in a wide column in a relaxed and unhurried manner. 

Sequence of Events: 
An analysis of the German source material reveals several discernible episodes in the the Battle of Uitkomst, some of which according to Rohrbach's firsthand recollections unfolded somewhat differently than the summary report provided in secondary sources such as the Generalstab history or Leutewein's memoir.  The three main combat phases also illustrate the tactics and fighting styles of one or more of the three combatant groups: Boers, Hereros and Germans.

The battle began with Oberleutnant Volkmann's mixed column of soldiers, reservists, war volunteers and Boers charging on horseback and surprising Mbatona's Herero forces that were out in the open and moving up the road toward them from Uitkomst.   The Hereros immediately dispersed and withdrew back into coverAny Herero casualties at this stage would have been stragglers on foot.  Volkmann's force dismounted after entering the thorns.  I refer to this phase at Volkmann's Charge and describe how it reflects the Boer way of war. 

Having rallied and reconcealed in the dense thornveld, the Herero now opened a sharp but ineffective
fire and Volkmann returned fire at a distance of about 100 meters.  I refer to this phase as Herero Reconcealment and Schnellfeuer and discuss how it demonstrates Herero tactics and use of cover that would become all too familiar to their German adversaries as the war progressed.

Realizing that little was being accomplished, Volkmann remounted and personally lead his still dismounted force forward to engage the center of the Herero position pierced their line and engaging the two divided wings.  It was during this phase that the Germans sustained most if not all of their casualties, and the Hereros most of theirs.  I refer to this phase as Volkmann Pierces the Herero Center and Engages in Close Combat and discuss what it reveals about German officer leadership and combat styles during this conflict.

Following this episode, the Hereros broke contact and withdrew westward towards the Otavi Mountains. They did so initially in good order, but then were put to flight.  I maintain, based based on Rohrbach's account of where casualties were found, that the Hereros lost their senior commanders as they began to withdraw, which caused them to lose morale.    Because of the dense cover and his own casualties, Volkmann did not pursue and was unable to follow up the rout.   I discuss this final phase under the heading: The Hereros Break Contact and Lose their Command Leadership, followed by an examination of the overall casualties taken on both sides.

Volkmann's Charge (The Boer Way of War):

I characterize Volkmann's charge as typical of the Boer way of war rather than the German, because while it had the impetuosity and aggression of the German fighting style, it culminated with the riders dismounting without entering close combat, then firing from cover at some distance from their concealed enemies.  Participant Rohrbach says that the Boers were the first to dismount and fight on foot at the end of the charge, and offers his own observations on Boer tactics and its limitations in achieving a conclusive victory.

"Mir ist der Kampf heute sehr lehrreich gewesen f
ür die Beurteilung der Buren.  Das heranjagen an den Feind zu Pferde, dann Abspringen und Schießen ist ihre alte Taktik, die vir von ihnen angenommen haben, aber wären sie nicht in Volkmanns hand unter sester deutsch-militärischer Führung Gefechts-disziplin gewesen, so hätte sich sehr wahrscheinlich eine Große Schießerei, aus beiden Seiten ohne ernsthaste Resultate, hinter sast  undurchsichtiger Deckung entwickeit; wenig oder gar keine Verluste und nicht entsernt ein solcher Schlag für die Hereros, wie er jetzt gefallen ist. (Rohrbach 1909: 82) 

"To me the fight today has been very instructive for assessing the Boers.  The 'zoomhunt' after the enemies on horseback, then springing off and shooting is their old tactic, which we have adopted from them, but were they not under tight German military leadership and battle discipline under Volkmann’s hand, there would very likely have developed a great shootout from both sides without serious results, behind almost opaque cover; little or no loss and not such a distant blow for the Hereros as has now fallen."  [my translation]

Indeed, for most of the ensuing conflict with the Hereros, the Germans fought Boer fashion as mounted infantry.  Volkmann may have intended to overrun the Herero column, and his charge was certainly recorded that way in the Generalstab history, but it resulted not in close combat but with the column dismounting and engaing in a sharp firefight from cover against a concealed enemy - classic Boer tactics.

Rohrbach describes the charge itself as having been launched very suddenly once Volkmann recognized the enemy was before them, without even time for the Germans and Boers to display into combat formation from column into line.

"Mit einem Male fliegen vorne die Gewehre aus dem rechts am Sattel h
ängenden Gewehrschuh, und die Spitze, wo Volkmann und ein Bur reiten, setzt sich sausende karriere - wir andern nach...die ganze kavalcade verschiebt sich in wenigen Augenblicken nach der Schnelligkeit der Pferde von vorne nach hinten und umgekehrt, aber in kaum zwei Minuten sind die Hereros gestellt." - (Rohrback 1909:80) 
"All of a sudden forward flew the rifles from their gun shoes hanging at the right side of the saddle, and the advance guard [Spitze], where Volkmann and one boer rode, set off in a whipping career – we others followed...From the rapidity of the horses it looked as if the whole cavalcade moved from back to front and vice versa in a few blinks of an eye, but in less than two minutes we found the Hereros." [my translation]

Volkmann's charge direction and Herero dispersal directions general and conjectural
The charge developed very quickly as Volkmann's 2 man advanced guard (the Spitze, consisting of the Oberleutnant and a Boer who Rohrbach identifies in another account by the surname Osthuizen) took off at a gallop, with the rest of the column of riders (kavalcade) racing behind.  They did not charge in a broad front, but may well have given the loud "Hurra" as other contemporary histories describe.

The distance between the German/Boer column and the advancing Herero was not close when Volkmann charged.  A galloping horse can travel a mile in two minutes, though Volkmann was probably closer than that when he launched his attack.  He may have felt that the element of surprise would be lost if the Herero came closer, which suggests that Volkmann's mounted force was not in particularly good cover.  Quite possibly they were out in the savannah grasslands where there were scattered acacia thorns rather than the dense thornveld from which the Herero force had just emerged.  
The German accounts suggest varying distances between the combatants when Volkmann began his charge, but are in general agreement about the distance between them once Volkmann dismounted and the Hereros rallied under cover of the thorns. 
Rust says: "Volkmann struck a sharp gallop, which brought them from 50 to 60 steps to the enemy."  The Generalstab history says Volkmann was 100 meters from the Hereros when they made contact, but this seems in error given the length of time (less than 2 minutes) that participant Rohrbach estimates it took the galloping column to reach the Hereros on the road. This 100 meter figure may to may refer to the distance between the two forces after Volkmann charged, as the same figure is given by Rohrbach for that distance once the riders dismounted.

Herero Reconcealment and Schnellfeuer (The Herero Way of War):
The Herero reaction was immediate.   The Generalstab history describes them fleeing for cover, with those on horseback escaping while some on foot were ridden down.  This may have happened to a small number of stragglers, but the Herero on the whole did not flee in panic, and even the official history notes they soon rallied and returned a rapid fire from concealment. 

Rohrbach recalls;  "Im Augenblick, als sie uns erblickten, machten die Schwarzen Kehrt, um Deckung in Busch zu gewinnen; kaum steckten sie drin, so waren auf wir heran.  Die Biuren sprangen ab, das Feuer-gefecht began gleich von beiden Seiten mit hestigkeit, aber wahrscheinlich w
äre nicht sehrt viel dabei herausgekommen, denn wenn auch die Entfernung zwischen uns nur ca. 100 Meter betrug, so saßen doch beide Teile so in Deckung gegen Sicht, daß man sich nur schwer erblicken konnte; die Hereros waren dabei entschieden besser placiert. (Rohrbach 1909:80)"

 "The moment they saw us, the [enemy] turned around and gained the cover of the bush.  Just as soon as they went in, we rushed after them.  The Boers leaped from the saddle, the fire fight began on equal sides with vehemence, but probably not very much came of it, for while the distance between us was about 100 meters, even so both sides were so covered from view that one could only see with difficulty; the Hereros were decided better placed. [translation mine]."

Rohrbach recalls dismounting the moment the Hereros returned fire; "Als die ersten schusse knallten, waren auch wir von den pferden (Rohrbach 1908:242)."  Like the Boers, the Herero fighters were adept at fighting from concealed positions and making use of natural cover.   They neutralized the advantage over charging cavalry against troops in the open by reconcealing in the dense thornfeld from which they had only just emerged.  The Generalstab history says that the Hereros rallied when they reached a bush clearing (buschlichtung), which is contradicted by Rohrbach's participant description of being fired upon from dense cover.

The Generalstab history speaks of Schnellfeuer or rapid fire that the sixty or so Hereros armed with Martini Henrys or German rifles brought to bear on Volkmann's dismounted force.  Such fast and heavy shooting was a Herero tactic frequently described by Germans who experienced it during the war, and while it might not have been especially accurate, as suppressing fire it sometimes forced an enemy to hold in place rather than advance and engage in close combat.  This could have been the effect of Schnellfeurer at Uitkomst, and is probably what both the Hereros and the Boers(themselves excellent markmen) expected, but Volkmann had other ideas.

Volkmann Pierces the Herero Center and Engages in Close Combat (The German Way of War):
Volkmann (on horseback) leads his dismounted force to engage in close combat with the Herero center
 The various sources all agree that the climax of the fight took place when Volkmann lead his dismounted force against the center line of their concealed enemies, breaking through and engaging the divided flanks under heavy fire.  This was an act of exception personal courage and command leadership on the part of the German officer which Rohrbach, a volunteer in his first battle, credits as the reason the small mixed force of Germans and Boers was able to prevail against Mbatona's much larger, well armed warband.  The Generalstab account and Leutwein both describe the movement as a response to an encroaching enemy that threatened to flank and possibly envelope the German position. 

Rohrbach, on the other hand, says that Volkmann remounted and then personally lead his (probably still dismounted) men forward because firing at distance at their concealed enemy was not having much effect.  Rust says that Volkmann was excellent and showed great personal courage and intrepidity.  The Lieutenant had already demonstrated that he was an aggressive commander, willing without hesitation to surprise the enemy out in the open with a charge on horseback without even delaying to assume a combat formation by changing from column into line.  Here he realized that the only way to prevail was to engage Mbatona's center in close combat, and that he needed to inspire his mixed force, including war volunteers with little or no prior military experience, and Boers who had a very different way of war.  By riding forward, his personal courage motivated his dismounted men to follow, even in the face of heavy fire from an unseen foe, and even though it meant they were likely to take casualties.

There are other examples from the German-Herero war where German officers displayed great personal courage and inspired their men to follow their example.   Hauptmann Victor Franke of the 2nd Feldkompanie did so two weeks after Uitkomst at Omaruru, wearing a white tropical uniform, no less.  Franke's men, though, were all veteran soldiers and all had the feared Schutztruppe bayonet that made them so feared and effective in melee.  Volkmann had just a handful of regular Schutztruppen augmented by reservists who may have been armed with bayonets, but the Boers and civilian volunteers like Rohrbach most likely were not.  Possibly as many as one in four of his men would have been detailed as horse-holders, reducing the number of men who could follow their leader into close combat to as few as sixteen.

Volkmann's gambit enabled his men to pierce and pass through the Herero center and then fire on the divided left and right wings of Mbatona's force.  There was a brief period of intense fighting at close range and while Volkmann himself was unscathed, the Germans and boers took casualties, but so did the Hereros. 

The Hereros Break Contact and Lose their Command Leadership:  The Hereros started to break contact in the face of the German advance.  Their losses were mounting, and the fight was no longer on terms favorable to their tactics or prior experience attacking small farmsteads with few defenders.  Some may have disengaged on their own, while others may have been ordered to fall back by their commanders, including Mbatona and the unnamed Herero war captain from Okahandja with the white ostrich feather in his hat.  Possibly some of their leaders were hit during this decisive part of the engagement - certainly several of them had fallen by the time the withdrawal became precipitous.  Rohrbach gives several reasons why Volkmann did not try to pursue them after they broke contact and headed off in the direction of the Otavi mountains to the West, including the impenetrable bush, the clear evidence that they had killed and wounded many of the enemy, and the uncertain number of their own losses. 

Rust's history given the most detail about the casualties in Volkmann's force, though some of the telegrams sent back to Germany the following month provide other interesting details about the men who were shot.  Aside from Volkmann, Rohrbach and the boer Osthuizen who rode with the German Spitze, the other names of confirmed participants on the German side come from the list of casualties.

Unteroffizier Stadler had his leg shattered by gunfire and bled to death later that evening.  Gefreiter d. Reserve Hart Schmiedel, the farmer from Gunuchas, was grazed by a bullet and shot in the hand.  Two landwehrmen were also wounded. Hermann Nitzsche, identified as a carpenter, was shot twice in the abdomen and according to Rust was with the horses when it happened.  Seven horses were also killed.  Wilhelm Halberstadt, a mason or builder who had recently come to Grootfontein from Windhoek, was also wounded.  Finally, one of the Boers named Duplessis was shot through the lung.  The men were brought back to Grootfontein and cared for by Sanitäts-Feldwebel Ragnitz.  If Volkmann's force began with about 20 men, the short but fierce fighting at Uitkomst cause it 25% casualties and the loss of at least a third of their mounts.

The Herero losses were comparable in proportion to their total number, but the impact was greater.  The Generalstab history says that "seven great men" and numerous fighters were killed, while Leutwein says that "Batona" and six Herero leaders were slain.  Rust says that both "Batonna" and the Schlachten-General from Okahandja were among the fallen, with 20 more fighters killed and bloodspoor indicating numerous wounded.  Rohrbach describes the Herero casualties with slight variations in his later published accounts.  His 1908 article"Bei Utikomst" in Deutsche Deiter in Südwest says there were 23 Herero fighters slain "on the battlefield" and that later six or seven more were found dead in the bush, including Mbatona, the "fechtgeneral" with the white feather, and a third leader, Kamaihamagoani of Waterberg.  This seems to indicate that these Herero commanders were killed during the retreat.  Several horses were also captures, and many rifles and ammunition.  If the Herero lost 23 fighters, they may well have lost a third of their firearms as well.

We will discuss the aftermath of the battle, and the fate of some of its participants, in the next post in this series on the Battle of Uitkomst.