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NAMIBIA HISTORY THE BATTLE OF WATERBERG (Part1)  11 August 1904. The sounding bell for future generations of Namibia Freedom Fighters.


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Battle of Waterberg - 11 August 1904 - Pt 1

The sounding bell for future generations of Namibia Freedom Fighters.



Battle of Waterberg 

The events here are a continuation of the Herero Uprising  page and relate the build up to the battle and events that followed.

A Change of Policy:

There had been rumblings in Berlin as early as March 1904 when Der Reichsbote ran an article speculating on the replacement of Leutwein, and again on 6 May reported on the matter. The government initially denied the report while working the plan of restructuring the command of the colony. The positions of Governor and military leader should be separated having Colonel Leutwein acting as Governor and the superior ranked von Trotha as overall military commander who would fall directly under the control of the Kaiser and the General Staff in Berlin. Von Trotha's appointment was made official and announced on 16 May 1904. It was only 4 days later that his staff officers with their administrative teams plus equipment sailed from Hamburg.


General Lothar Von Trotha

Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha was born in Magdeburg on 3 July 1848, the son of an aristocrat Prussian officer he was raised in the most disciplined of military environments of the time and was destined for leadership. He first distinguished himself in the 1886 Seven Weeks War against Austria, and later in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War. After seeing service with various units in Germany he was promoted to rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1893. In 1894 he was assigned to ( Tanzania ) German East Africa where he served as Commander of the Schutztruppe and acting Governor where he suppressed the Wahehe revolt in 1896. He was posted back to Germany and after three years had risen to the rank of major-general whereupon he was sent to China in command of the 1st East-

Asiatic Infantry Brigade to help suppress the 1900 Boxer Uprising. Von Trotha's reputation was of high standing. He was a man who could be relied upon 'to get things done'.


On 11 June Lieutenant-General von Trotha landed at Swakopmund from where he travelled to Okahandja. On 21 and 22 June he consulted with Governor Leutwein regarding the situation of the war. During the discussions Leutwein requested that the Herero should only be suppressed in a way that would afford them to continue existing as a nation of people, "If one did not offer the hand of reconciliation to the rebels after they had had sufficient punishment one faced the danger of unending conflict." Von Trotha advised of his brief, "His Majesty, the Emperor and King only said to me that he expected that I would crush the uprising with any means necessary and then inform him of the reasons for the uprising." He continued by explaining to Leutwein, " I know the tribes of Africa. They are all alike. They only respond to force. It was and

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is my policy to use force with terrorism and even brutality. I shall annihilate the revolting tribes with streams of blood and streams of gold. Only after a complete uprooting will something emerge."  Leutwein was in no position to argue with the military commander and withdrew from the Herero campaign. He had previously requested to be allowed to return to Germany on von Trotha's arrival in the colony. In November 1904 he returned to Germany following his request to be relieved of his position in South West Africa.


A Lesson in the making

As the British had recently discovered in their South Africa conflict with the Boers, the Germans  were to now to learn that wars in far off colonies place heavy and costly demands on manpower and supplies. The embarrassment of the early defeats of German soldiers by half naked blacks was the motivation for ' moving in the big guns'.


A Time of Preparation: The months of May and June 1904 saw five ships sail from Hamburg loaded with troops, their guns, horses and all the supplies needed to wage war in a far off and hostile land. A total of 169 officers and administrators, 2,185 men and 2,126 horses. For the duration of the native uprising of 1904-1907 the little ports of Luderitz and Swakopmund were to experience a steady inflow of troops until the Imperial Colonial Army had swollen to a force of some 20,000 officers and men.

While the Hereros waited and tended their cattle herds at the Waterberg the Germans laboured as teams of horses and oxen moved the ammunition and supplies that would be needed to a chain of carefully planned supply dumps. Communications networks were established and fresh troops trained in bush warfare techniques. By the mid July the German infantry battalions and field artillery batteries were slowly, but steadily making their way along several different paths towards the Waterberg where they would make their final preparations for attack.


Commander In Chief: Lieutenant General L Von Trotha

Mounted Troops


 1st Field Regiment 

   Lt Colonel Muller  

 2nd Field Regiment

    Colonel Deimling 

B Field Artillery


Replacement Troops


1 Battalion

Major L von Estorff


1st, 2nd, 3rd

1 Battalion

Major von Wahlen


1st, 2nd, 3rd

1 Section Batteries

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th

2 Section Batteries

5th, 6th, 7th, 8th

1 Replacement Company

2 Replacement Company

3 Replacement Company

1 Replacement Battery

2 Battalion

Major von der Heyde


4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

2 Battalion

Major Meister


4th, 5th, 6th

C Machine Gun Detachment

1st Machine Gun Section

2nd Machine Gun Section

Marine Machine Gun Section

Native Troops

Basters, Bethanien


3 Battalion

Major von Muhlenfels


8th, 9th, 10th, 11th

3 Battalion

Major von Lengerke


7th, 9th, 9th

Communication Troops

Telegraph Section

Signal Section



Baking Column

Field Hospitals



4 August - The Germans finalize their plan of attack. They would close in on the Hereros who's camps were scattered below the south western edge of the Great Waterberg Plateau.

  1. Major Von Estorff would advance from the north-east along the Omuramba and then Omatako following the southern mountain slope to the Waterberg station.
  2. Major Von der Heyde would attack from the south-east, from the Omuramba at Hamakari some 20km south of the Great Waterberg Plateau.
  3. Von Trotha with the main force would advance from the south via Ombuatjipiro
  4. Colonel Deimling's 2nd Field Regiment, newly arrived from Germany would advance on Omuveroume from the south-west.
  5. Captain Von Fiedler would move in from the north-west to block any Herero chance of escaping across the low ground between the Greater Waterberg and the Little Waterberg Mountains.
  6. Oberleutnant Volkmannwould be positioned to the north-west of the Greater Waterberg to block any Herero chance of escaping via Omuveroume or the gap between the Greater Waterberg and the Plateau.


Governor Theodore Leutwein

Gvnr.T. Leutwein


Major Ludwig Von Estorff

Maj L. Von Estorff

Battle of Waterberg Map


6 August: Lieutenant von Bodenhausen was sent with 10 men to scout the western slope of the Waterberg. As they were returning to their base at Osondjache they stopped to graze their horses when they were ambushed by Herero who had been monitoring their movements for some time. Only 2 men survived, the rest were killed and on discovery by the Germans had been horribly mutilated.


The nights of 9 and 10 August - Moving only at night Lt. Auer von Herrenkirchen with a contingent of 38 men scaled the north slope of the Waterberg and establish a Heliograph station. The men, guided by a Herero, carried their heavy supplies along with ammunition and equipment for about 12km along the top of the plateau where they had a view that would allow them to monitor the actions across the whole battle field below and then signal the information to their colleagues below. The signalling station was positioned about 100 meters inwards from the edge of the plateau so that the Hereros below would not be able to spot the light from the heliograph.

The night of 10 August was cold with the temperature being measured just above freezing.


The Battle of Waterberg - Aug 11

The scene was set. Von Trotha had at his disposal a force comprising of 96 officers commanding 1,488 troops supported by 12 machine guns and 36 cannons. Samuel Maharero had an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 armed warriors armed with a variety of rifles having an assortment of calibres.


German movements from 02h45 - The start of a Long Day:

General Von Trotha accompanied Major Von Muhlenfels who was in command of the main force that comprised 5th and 6th Field Batteries with 9th, 10th and 11th Field Companies. The 20 officers, 219 rifles, 8 Field Guns and 6 machine guns, began their advance from where they had camped at Ombatuatipiro.  Their objective: to take control of the waterholes at Hamakari. By 06h00 they had reached the dry river bed of the Hamakari with no sight of the enemy, but the Herero were watching them. The Germans moved along the river towards Hamakari where the waterholes were surrounded by sand banks. The bush in the area was dense and the Germans were taken by complete surprise when the Hereros first attacked them at 08h45. The 11th Field Company found themselves embroiled in close bush fighting on three sides. Captain Gansser, in command, was killed and all of his officers either dead or wounded. What was left of the 11 Field Company had no alternative, but to retreat.

The German field guns had initially not been able to identify the enemy target. Many of the grenades went over the field of play and landed in the Herero camps causing death and destruction, but by 09h45 the Germans were able to commence an effective bombardment. within an hour Samuel Mahareroordered his warriors to attack the field batteries from the sides where they nearly overwhelmed the Germans who had to use every available man to defend the guns with fierce close quarter fighting.


12h45 to Sunset

Von Trotha's first communication with them was made by Heliograph at 12h55 with the orders to advance on Hamakari. Shortly following this the Main Section were completely surrounded and attacked so fiercely by the Hereros that every man was called to arms, even Von Trotha had to join in making use of a rifle. By 15h00 Von Trotha realized that whatever support was on its way, would be too late and that his Main Section would have to secure the Hamakari Waterholes on its own. At 16h00 Von Muhlenfels ordered the Heavy guns and machine guns to open up a full fire that became so loud that the Heliograph crew at the top of the Waterberg could hear the explosions. The 10th and 11th Field Battery charged the waterholes and managed to hold them. The Hereros again attacked the German Main Section and once again every man was forced to take up arms and fight for his life, but they held their ground. The Hereros then attacked the wagon section, but failed to overwhelm it. The late winter sun was now low in the sky and the Herero withdrew.


11 August Nightfall: The Germans took stock of the situation and began to ready for the following day. They formed a square and then hacked down thorn trees with which they formed a defensive edge around the laager.


The 1st Day's Casualties: The Germans had lost 5 officers and 21 men and a further 7 officers and 53 men wounded. They had no idea as to how many Hereros had been killed, but Von Estorff counted 20 dead at Otosongombe and Von Trotha knew of 40 dead at Hamakari.


The day's battles had been hard fought and the nightfall found a troubled Von Trotha. Information as to the various sections was either not known, or not good. He was of the considered opinion that the following day would be a difficult and bloody one.


Deimling's section consisting of 498 men had not been heard from and instead of joining the Main Section at Hamakari as ordered he had marched from Omuveroume to the Waterberg Station. The Hereros, not wanting to engage this strong force fled east.


Von Estorff's section did as planned and ordered and became embroiled in heavy fighting that morning at Otjosongombehad where they defeated their foe.


Von der Heyde's section had been fiercely attacked in the afternoon by large groups of Hereros who were in retreat from the Main Fighting. It was only once the cover of darkness came that they were able to make the final push-through to Hamakari.


While the General worried about the morrow, Samuel Maharero had decided that he couldn't beat the Germans, and was already fleeing eastwards from Hamakari. His plan was to seek the asylum of the British in Bechuanaland, but his path would mean negotiating the vast and remote area of the Omaheke Desert.


Acknowledgements and further reading:  H6,  H7, P1, P2,


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