Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Review: The Battle of Waterberg, 1904 by the Historical Gaming Company

I was invited recently to playtest a new 2player board game called The Battle of Waterberg, 1904 developed by Steve Kling at The Historical Game Company. During the last two months, I've had the change to play it several times with my teenage son, as well as to play out a couple of test runs on my own and provide feedback to the developers.  With their encouragement, I'm pleased to share this review of the product in its current form and look forward to playing the finished product when it comes to market.

The Battle of Waterberg - the largest battle of the German Herero War of 1904 in what was then Deutche Suedwestafrika - is little known outside of modern Namibia except for a small group of scholars of early twentieth-century genocides and historians specializing in German colonialism.  It followed several months of stagnation and setbacks for the German forces in the face of spirited and effective indigenous resistance. It was fought in the dense thornveld beneath the high escarpment of the Waterberg Plateau where thousands of Herero fighters with their families and vast cattle herds confronted six converging German Abteilung: detachments comprising two full Schutztruppe Regiments, supported by native auxiliaries, field artillery, machine guns, and a communications network that included heliography and wireless radio (funkenstation). Despite these advantages, the German sections fought isolated engagements, suffered considerable losses, and failed to meet their primary objective of containing and preventing the Hereros from escaping envelopment.  Nevertheless the Hereros were deprived of most of their cattle and were ruthlessly pursued into the arid Omaheke in the East where untold thousands perished.

The rules for this game draw closely from historical sources.  The layout is attractive with a hexagonal grid overlying terrain that depicts the Waterberg Mountains (treated as a barrier for game purposes), Herero settlements, waterholes and a large cattle grazing area.  The hexes within the large Herero staging area are honeycombed with thorny hedges that provide considerable obstacles for the advancing Germans while conferring the advantages of concealment, extra defensive value and free movement to the defending Africans. While this reflects the battle tactics and conditions of the historical engagements fought at the Waterberg, in game terms it reduces German penetration of the Herero setup area to an exercise in close combat trench clearing.  As with the tactics used on the Western Front, the German player is wise who takes advantage of ranged artillery before launching strong attacks across a wide front rather than driving right into close combat with whatever Abteilung reaches the battlefield first.

As a student of this battle and the history of German colonialism in Namibia, I appreciated the small "Easter egg" details in the design of the game pieces, from the initials used to delineate each Abteilung that are the first letters of their historical commanders, to the unique and appropriate headgear on the pieces that represent each of the three "native auxiliary" units in the German force and the seebatallion helmet on the elite Herero unit that was equipped with captured gear and uniforms taken after the annihilation of a German marine company the previous April at Okaharui. These touches are for the most part left unexplained in the game rules but add to the sense of fidelity to the source material cited at the end of the short rule book.  I also enjoyed the artwork used for the cover and the game cards - color paintings by Carl Becker that were first published in 1908 as part of Freherr von Dinkelage-Campe's lavishly illustrated Deutsche Reiter im 

Game play is driven by a set of 8 cards for each player that determine which what forces are available

and modify their movement and combat effectiveness.  The cards add a random element that nicely simulates the contingencies of combat, including those unique to this battle: thorny obstacles, cattle stampedes, overheating machine guns. The Hereros have much more latitude to move individual pieces where they are most needed, while the Germans predominantly "phase" and engage by Abteilung.  While that is indeed how the Germans fought, in game terms it leads to inadequate forces, stalled advances and, because of the current rule that requires disordered units to withdraw out of the enemy zone of control (ZOC) if they are able or be eliminated, causes irreplaceable losses in front-line troops. I have recommended that this rule be changed for the German player so that disordered units go prone and remain in place unless successfully attacked again in the same turn which would result in elimination.

A turn consists of each player's opportunity to draw a card and complete a sequence of phasing affected units, movements and defensive fire, ranged and close combat and rallying disordered units.  A game can involve as many as 24 turns, which at least when we were familiarizing ourselves with the rules meant that our games lasted longer than the designers envisioned. 

There are a number of factors for the German player to consider during the early turns when not all the Abteilung are in play, and later when they have been reduced to the point where Abteilung may no longer have the combat strength to function effectively. Although the German forces are more powerful than most of their adversaries, they have fewer numbers and limited options to replenish their numbers as the game progresses.  The German player in our games often performed very well but was unable to meet its victory conditions (all five strategic locations occupied and at least 18 Herero forces eliminated).  A few changes to the line of sight rules and recognition of the fire suppression capacity of the machine gun units helped to better the odds, as did allowing disordered German units to go prone.  In the one game where the Germans eliminated more than 18 Herero pieces, these forces were able to escape to the edge of the game board before the Germans ran out of time to occupy the waterholes, settlements and grazing herd that were among the conditions of victory.  The reason the German plan in August of 1904 involved approaching the Waterberg region from multiple directions was precisely to prevent such a breakout and inflict a decisive defeat.  Stressing this containment role in the German victory conditions would be consistent with historical objectives and give the converging Abteilung the incentive to utilize their artillery, machine gun and ranged attacks to best effect before slowly tightening the noose.

Despite these factors, we found The Battle of Waterberg 1904 to be a highly enjoyable game to
play, and one that challenged us to find ways to overcome the advantages that familiar terrain afforded to the Herero player.  I commend Steve Kling for bringing this game concept to execution.  As one who has written two tabletop scenarios for miniature war-gaming in this period, I appreciate the care that he has taken to simulate historical combat with fidelity while striving for a positive and playable experience.  The Germans, if well deployed, should be able to hold their own, even as they penetrate deeper into Herero territory, but even in 1904, it was a near run thing for two of the Abteilung

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Doctors and Nurses at the Marine-Feldlazarett in Okahandja, 1904

Here is an image from 1904 of German medical personnel at the Marine-Feldlazarett in Okahandja, Southwest Africa.  The identities of all six individuals are known.

Seated in the center is Dr. Gappel, Marine-Stabsartz and Chefartz of the Marine-Expeditionskorps. He was based at Helgoland before shipping out for Africa  in late January, 1904 on board the S.S. Darmstadt.  Initially based with the 2nd Marine-Kompagnie at Okahandja, he established the Marine base hospital here, which is also where this photograph was taken.  He returned to Germany at the end of September, 1904.

Seated in the front row are "Sister" Lili Hartoy (at left) and "Sister" Helene Doll (at right).  I wish I knew more about these nurses.  In the end of march and beginning of April, reinforcements started to embark for Southwest Africa that included "62 hospital nurses and bakers".  Perhaps these two women were among this group.  It could also be that they were members of the German "Womens' League*" which sent an initial seven "sisters" to nurse the sick in the Colony in January and February, followed by another twenty.  It is unclear whether there were any female nurses with the Marine- Expeditionskorps or whether some of these Women's League nurses may have been assigned to it. The main feldlazarett at Okahandja would have been  a logical place for some of them to be posted.

Standing at left is Marine-Assistenzartz Dr. Brüggmann, who was assigned to the Schutztruppe on January 27, 1904.  Next to him is Oberassistenzartz Dr. Janßen, who sailed on Darmstadt with Dr. Gappel and was assigned from the Ostsee station. He served with the Ostabteilung in March and April, 1904, returning to Germany in the Spring of 1905.   Standing at right is Lazarett-Inspektor Brück, about whom I have learned nothing further.

* Possibly the German-National Women's League

Monday, July 17, 2017

Images of Artillery used during the German Herero-Nama Wars

7.2 cm gebirgskanone L/14 M98
The Schutztruppe, Seebatallion and Landungskorps from S.M.S. "Habicht" had a range of artillery and machine guns available during the German/Herero War of 1904.  Other sites do an excellent job of describing most of these artillery pieces, although machine guns will require a bit more research to determine what version of the Maxim gun was provided by the navy and marines, as these branches received machine guns before they were adopted by the army in 1901.  My intention here is to briefly describe the artillery and then provide some historic photographs.

The Schutztruppe had both C73 and C96 feldkanone.  The C73 came in two calibers: 7.85 Leichte feldkanone and 8.8 cm Schwere feldkanone.   The C96 fired a 7.7cm projectile.  At the outset of the Herero war, the Schutztruppe in DSWA had five C73 Leichte feldkanone and was later reenforced with C/96aA and C/96nA field guns from Germany and two feldkanone 91/93 from Kameruun.

The colony also had at least four 5.7 cm quick firing guns or schnellfeurgeschürtzen.  Although these saw service during the Herero War as part of Battery 1 under Hauptmann v. Oertzen, I have not been able to locate any good photographs or even details about the design of these weapons.

Four mountain guns were issued to the Schutztruppe and were in service at the outbreak of the German/Herero war.  These were 7.2 cm gebirgskanone L/14 M98 and saw hard service between 1904 and 1908 when the colony received the new 7.5 cm gebirgskanone L/17 M08.

Four outdated 10.5 cm fixed recoil field howitzers (feldhaubtize M98 by Rheinmetall) were sent to Southwest Africa during the German/Herero War.

The Seebataillon and Landungskorps from S.M.S. "Habicht" contributed 2 or 3 cone-mounted 3.7 cm Gruson-Hotchkiss revolverkanone and 8 M97 Krupp 3.7cm maschinenkanone.

There were several machine gun sections, served both by marines and sailors and by Schutztruppe.

7.7cm C96 Feldkanone, Battery 5, 1904
Mountain gun emplacement
Mountain gun battery on mules
Mountain guns firing
Sailors with M97 Krupp 3.7cm Maschinenkanone on Darmstadt transport, 1904
Schutztruppen with cone mounted 3.7cm Gruson-Hotchkiss revolverkanone  from SMS Habicht
Maxim Gun: Maschinengewehr
(probably purchased in 1901)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kord Waffenrock M1896: Kaiserliche Schutztruppe Deutsch-Südwestafrika

From Die Deutschen Kolonial und Schutztruppen von 1889 bis 1918
One of the most distinctive uniforms used in German Southwest Africa during the period of the Herero and Nama wars and for some years before and after was the model 1896 corduroy waffenrock.
I've decided to try to recreate this uniform tunic, and possibly fashion a complete reenacting impression for a sergeant of the landsturm, which presents a number of challenges, the most significant of which is that I do not have an original uniform to examine in person.   There are, however, many contemporary images, as well as photographs of surviving examples, and by examining the differences between the Prussian M1895 waffenrock on which it is based, I believe a credible interpretation may be achieved.   I have also been able to source most of the trimmings needed to complete this coat as well, and have every expectation that I will be able to gather the materials I require.

Prussian Field Artillery M1895 waffenrock,
rear view
The imperial German waffenrock went through a number of iterations during the 19th century.  The model 1895 Prussian waffenrock was the basis both for the Schutztruppe gray Home Uniform and corduroy waffenrock tunic and trousers that were issued to soldiers in Southwest Africa as a suitable winter weight alternative to wool or tropical khaki.  The DSWA Schutztruppe variant differed in several respects from the basic Prussian design.  It featured a stand and fall collar, Swedish cuffs and piping in cornflower blue: the color prescribed for the troops of the Southwest Africa colony. Because the Schutztruppe were imperial troops, it had white metal buttons with the imperial crown.  It also featured a single white Litzen (silver metallic for senior NCOs and officers) with an internal red stripe on the 5cm collar and two on each cuff.  For my sergeant's impression, I will need to add 2cm wide silver lace on the front edge and bottom of the collar and the edge of the cuffs, along with a large white metal NCO's collar button.  There were eight buttons down the front of the uniform, and an internal cloth drawstring at the waist to adjust the fit.  There were also 2 buttons on the cuffs and s split vent with an internal, small white metal button attached with four holes as a closure.

I'm less certain about the top buttons on the rear flaps of the tunic, and whether these should be imperial crown belt hooks or not.  I have a pair just in case.  All the imperial buttons were pressed through the fabric and attached with what look like split brass rings.  The collar was closed by one or two long hooks that also attached to a brass ring.  Button holes were hand sewn but the rest of the tunic was machine stitched.

The issued waffenrock was lined.  I doubt that the skirts were in black cotton or silk like the Prussian waffenrock..  My interpretation will have white linen lining above the skirts (with an internal pocket at the left breast) and heavy khaki poplin to line the skirts.   The back of the tunic has a working vent which allows access to two skirt pockets.  The skirt flaps and the open edge of the tunic are piped in cornflower blue. There were reinforcement bars stitched at the top, rear of the cuff adjustment slits and above the rear vent of the tunic.

The enlisted Schutztruppe uniforms also had shoulder boards made from white mohair cord with imperial black and red chevrons backed with cornflower blue wool.  I was able to get some reproduction cord and will make the shoulder-boards myself.  Officers had silver bullion cord with imperial black and red chevrons.

Aside from these details, sourcing the uniform fabric has been challenging.  I am going with wool felt in cornflower blue for the collar, cuffs and shoulder board backing.  I've requested a swatch of the Hainsworth True Heritage brown khaki whipcord uniform fabric. Contemproary Germans called corduroy trousers Manchesterhosen after the famous English corduroy manufacturing center, and the color sandfarben specified for field service was variously colored sandy brown corduroy that lightened in the desert sun.  I have an original M1893 canteen cover made from brown corduroy and if the Hainsworth stuff is a close match, that is what I'll use.

As a junior NCO (Unteroffizier ohne Portapee), there is no difference between the insignia on my kord waffenrock and that of a vice-feldwebel.  These ranks are distinguished by bayonet knots.  Unteroffiziers and Sergeants wore a troddel knot in imperial colors, and I have one of those though I do not yet own an appropriate bayonet.  Senior NCOs and Officers were entitled to the more ornate Portapee, which was worn by the vice-feldwebel and feldwebel with a sword while on parade and on the bayonet when on campaign.  Those for DSWA were closed knots with white metallic lace with the lanyard threaded in imperial black and red colors.  I do not have one of these.  On very rare occassions, an historic image shows an unteroffizer wearing both the kord waffenrock and a detachable shoulder chevron such as were worn on the kord litewka and khaki feldrock uniforms, but this was not according to regulation.

I'm far too old to depict the young regular army volunteers who customarily served 3 year terms in the Schutztruppe in southwest Africa.   My impression, should I ever complete it, will be of a reservist from the Landsturm, an old retired member of the Protection Force who settled down int he colony and was called up during the Herero uprising.  I'll wear a mix of uniform types and Schutztruppe kit, which was quite common even for regular Schutztruppen while on campaign.

If anyone reading this post has firsthand knowledge or documentation for the lining of the kord waffenrock, whether it had belt hooks or not at the top of the vent flaps, and what specific fabric comprised the collar, cuffs shoulder-board backing, I would be deeply appreciative of your sharing you knowledge and source material.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Owikokorero Officer Casualties and Medical Personnel in Bivouac.

I've been looking for an un-watermarked version of this historic image for a long time.  It was taken during the German-Herero War in 1904 shortly after the battle of Owikokorero, where an advanced party from Major von Glasnapp's Ostabteilung was ambushed and took very heavy casualties,   10 out of 11 officers in the engagement were hit, with 7 outright fatalities.  The Major commandant was lightly wounded in the head, and the other two more seriously wounded officers appear in this image, along with some of the expedition's medical personnel.

Lying in the cot is Oberleuntnant zur See Friedrich Hermann, part of the Landungskorps from S.M.S. "Habicht".  He was in charge of a machine gun section and was shot through the left shoulder and also in the left hip.  Seated to his right is Marine-Leutnant Theobald Schäfer, who was also adjutant of the Ostabteilung.  He was shot through the bone of his left underarm and also in the buttocks.

They are attended by several known medical officers.  Standing in the rear at right is Marine-Assistenzartz Dr. Janßen.  Seated third from the right is one-year Schutztruppe medical volunteer (Einjährig-freiwilliger) Dr. Ersnt August Kaerger, and seated to his right is Marine-Stabsartz Dr. Wiemann.  Following the death at Owikokorero of Marine-Oberassistensartz Dr. Wilhelm Belden of the Landungskorps from S.M.S. "Habicht", these were the three senior medical personnel attached to the Ostabteilung along with a 30 man medical department.  Possibly the other Germans in the image were part of that hospital section.

The two native auxiliaries remain unidentified.  They could be orderlies or batmen (bambuse) or they could be soldiers serving with the column.  They do not appear to be wounded.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Images of Native Auxilaries in German Service in DSWA

The participation of some indigenous people on the German side was awkward fact of the colonial wars in southwest Africa between 1904-1908.  The bulk of the German forces used in these conflicts were imperial Schutztruppen on detached service from their parent units, augmented by local reserves from the settler population, along with certain marine and naval elements that deployed at the outbreak of the Herero War.  Nonetheless,  there were three native auxiliary units - the Rehoboth Bastards, the Witbooi Orlam (ǀKhowesin) and a half company of Bethanie Orlam (ǃAman) - that fought alongside the Germans in 1904.  There were also indigenous people who accompanied the Schutztruppe in the capacity of officer's servants (bamusen), wagon drivers (treibern), and occasionally even as soldiers attached to predominantly white units, as depicted in the photograph above.  Standing at the far right is a soldier identified as farbiger (colored) Abraham.

The following images from German archives and period publications depict native auxilaries with the Schutztruppe in DSWA both prior to the German-Herero war and during that conflict.  Some of them served with the Germans prior to 1904 and against them afterwards.  The Witboois and some of the Bethanie men fought against the Germans during the Nama War of 1904-1908 after serving with them against the Herero. The Rehoboth Bastards fought by their side throughout, but so did individual Hereros..

Witbooi native auxiliaries (at right) in Okahandja in 1904
Mounted Witboois 1904
Witboois in Windhuk
Baster Company

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Askari Releases Mounted Schutztruppen

Askari Miniatures has filled a much needed gap in 28mm Colonial German wargaming with the release this March of four sets of Mounted Schutztruppen - horses and camels.  They are the same excellent quality as previous releases of Schutztruppen in this scale, which run closer to 26mm than true 28mm but still work with the larger scale.  The sets includes six troopers on either horses or camels, and a 3 person command pack with bugler, NCO and officer for each time of mounted troops.  One interesting feature is the ability to include rifles either in their scabbards or withdrawn.

I plan to pick up several of these sets.  Mounted officers are very rare in this scale from any current manufacturer, as indeed are mounted troops.  The camel riders will only be used in the final expedition of the Nama War in 1908, though they were around in SWA afterwards.