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THE HERERO UPRISING 11th JANUARY 1904. The "Freedom War" Against German colonial oppression that was brutally suppressed.


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The Herero Uprising 11 January 1904

The "Freedom War" Against German colonial oppression that was brutally suppressed.



The causes of the uprising will be addressed in a future paper that is intended to be linked to this page. This page lists the major events that took place from 11 January to the 11 August 1904. Suffice it, here, to note that the disregard of the German colonizers for the land, possessions and human dignity of the Herero as a people had reached a low level at which the Herero as a nation found it no longer tolerable and bravely resorted to take up arms against their oppressors. The Paramount Herero Chief Samuel Maharero issued the following order on 11 January 1904:


"To all the headmen in my country."


"....  I am Samuel Maharero, chief of the Hereros. I have ordered all my people to refrain from touching the following : Missionaries, English, Basters, Bergdamaras, Namas, Boers. We do not touch them. Do not do this. I have sworn an oath that this decision will not become known, not even to the missionaries. Enough."


Thus began the Herero Uprising. The 11th and 12th January saw the German farms and trading posts dotted along the Swakop and White Nossob rivers in the Okahandja and Windhoek districts being sacked. The way in which the German men were murdered was often slow and brutal with the victims suffering death by being systematically burned, clubbed and mutilated. Throughout the conflict many of the Germans, including captured and wounded soldiers, finding themselves outnumbered and with no chance of escape resorted to shooting themselves in preference to being reduced to the tortured playthings of the natives. Those who didn't - suffered the consequences.


The German Force: At the time of the Uprising the number of soldiers available for active duty within the country were:


Line Officers

Medical Officers

Veterinary Officers


Other Ranks










About sixty percent of these were serving in five regular field companies, of which four consisted of mounted infantry having bases at Keetmanshoop, Okahandja, Omaruru and Windhoek. Okahandja was also the base for the artillery company. The Germans also had a reserve force of men who having completed their tour of duty had settled in the protectorate and consisted of 34 officers and 730 men. Further to these there were about 400 civilian men who were capable horse and riflemen and 120 Baster Scouts and members of the Witbooi clan as auxiliaries, making a total of about 2,000 men. Regular

 troops were issued with the Model 88 Mauser which was arguably the best military rifle of its time.


Kapt Victor Franke

Kapt Victor Franke

Windhoek Alte Feste

Windhoek Alte Feste

Okahandja Fort

Okahandja Fort



German Reinforcements:

January 14: The gunboat Habicht that lay in Cape Town sailed under full-steam and arrived at Swakopmund on 18 January. Kapitanleutnant Gygas along with a marine landing-party comprising of 2 officers, 1 medical doctor, 52 marine soldiers. The men were immediately put to the task of restoring the rail track to Windhoek which had suffered an amount of damage owing to a combination of poor maintenance, heavy 'rain' wash away, plus the Hereros had destroyed several sections and the bridge at Osona had been burned. By early February they had opened the line as far as Okahandja. Thereafter they joined with the main Schutztruppe forces in the Okahandja and Windhoek districts.

February 3: Swakopmund - Von Winkler arrived with 230 Schutztruppe.

9 February: Swakopmund - SMS Darmstadt arrives - Marines landed, 1 officer and 17 men, along with a team of railway construction military engineers - 2 officers and 55 men.

February 14: Swakopmund - Von Glasenapp's Marine-Expeditionkorps of 534 men.

February 23: Captain Puder and 1 March von Bagenski land at Swakopmund with a total force of 577 Schutztruppe.


An indication of the urgency with which reinforcements were rushed to the colony to counter the Herero Uprising can be taken from the dress of the landing party of kapitanleutnant Gygas' men who's white uniforms were obviously unsuitable for usage in a bush war. The men took the initiative of staining their clothing 'brown' with a dye made from coffee and tobacco.


During the months of February and March 1904, German reinforcements amounted to: 1,576 officers and men, 10 pieces of artillery, 6 machine guns, and 1,000 horses


The Herero Uprising Force: Governor Leutwein estimated that the Hereros had in their possession about 2,500 rifles and an unknown number of handguns along with a force of about 6,000 warriors.  The Herero fighter was not to be underestimated. His tribal  discipline and warlike traditions soon revealed that he was no simple savage armed with spear and bow, although he could resort to using these weapons with effect if needs be. His 'field-craft' far surpassed that of the German soldier, and as a marksman with a rifle his skills were honed within the first few weeks of the conflict. As a bush-war adversary he could be described in modern terms as being lean and mean, and came standard with an almost religious zeal to protect his land, his possessions, his wife and his very existence.


Those White Women and Children:

Noticeably Samuel Maharero's above letter does not mention anything specific about German women and children being spared. However, the consensus amongst the leadership of the Herero Uprising was that the above instruction should include German women and children. As in most conflicts there are exceptions to the rules, but contrary to 'white Namibian folk-lore' of the twentieth century the 'collateral damage' was remarkably low. On 13 January on the farm 16, Okombahe, about 25km north west of Okahandja the Boer McDonald along with four German men were ambushed by a group of Hereros. The men handed their weapons over to the Hereros in exchange for the promise of safe passage. They were then murdered by the Hereros. A further 15km NW on farm 28 Okarumatero the Boer couples Grobbelaar and Roos were murdered and one of Roos's children was also killed along with one of McDonald's children who had been staying with them. At Okanantjikuma the German farmer Muller was murdered and his wife purposefully beaten to death, but apart from these early casualties to the west of Okahandja throughout the rest of Hereroland the white women and children were given safe passage. As per the order of the letter no Missionaries were harmed. The Reverend Kuhlman and his family were based at the most easterly of the Rhenish Mission stations at Okazeva and journeyed through Herero territory unharmed for seven weeks before arriving at Okahandja on 7 March.


The German Reiterdenkmal in Windhoek bares a plaque that indicates the below.:


  Imperial Colonial Troops 


  Imperial Navy 


The Reiter Statue in Windhoek

Officers 100


Non-Commissioned Officers 254

Non-Commissioned Officers

Troopers 1,180



  Civilians Killed 



Men 119


Women 4



Reiter Denkmal

Children 1



German Imperial Ensign The Battles Leading-up to the Waterberg



 1   12 to 27 January - Okahandja: The Hereros focused on looting the houses and shops in the town in preference to attacking the fort which was defended by 71 able bodied men. The Hereros tore up several sections of the rail track to Windhoek to delay German troop movements. However, by 15 January Von Zulow with about 100 men broke through. The final relief of Okahandja was only realized on 27 January when 2nd Field Company arrived at the town. The Hereros retreated without a fight.

German losses were 5 dead and a number wounded.


  2   18 January - Uitkomst: South of Groofontein. The battle is reported to have been short and involved fierce fighting.


  3   17 January to 4 February - Omaruru: The Hereros besieged the town which was defended by the local Commando of 39 reservists. Omaruru was the home base for the Schutztruppe 2nd Field Company under Captain Victor Franke. The Company was in the south at Gibeon when news broke of the Herero uprising. Franke about-turned and made his way via Windhoek, Okahandja and Karbib to Omaruru. Immediately after completing the march of some 900kms, on 4 February, 2nd Field Company entered into a battle that lasted about 8 hours before finally breaking the siege of the town. German losses were 7 men dead plus 2 who died of there wounds later. Herero losses were estimated at being 100. 

A Sign Of Things To Come: Following the news of the Herero Uprising and their early victories, the call  for the removal of the Herero as a people from the 'protectorate' was being viewed by a growing number of Germans to be the most practical option for the guarantee of long term peace and settlement of South West Africa. Even their extermination was being openly voiced by many Germans within the colony, 'at home' in the Fatherland, and in the halls of power in Berlin.  Governor Leutwein was of the opinion that all diplomatic avenues should be investigated before resorting to 'a total warfare' against the Herero Uprising and wrote to his masters in Berlin of his concern regarding the 'annihilation trend' of thought.


Governor Leutwein's Letter:

"In colonial questions the diplomat must always stand next to the leader. The rebels must know that a line of retreat is open to them which does not in every case lead to death. Otherwise we will drive them to desperation and the war will end in a fashion which will be to our disadvantage. For the enemy will have nothing to lose other than his life which would already be forfeited while we, because our colonization has come to a standstill, must suffer a daily loss. For example, the Spanish continuously won 'victories' in Cuba, but they did not succeed in bringing the war to an end and consequently lost the island.

I agree with the authorities in Berlin that the future conditions of surrender should be such that there should be for the Hereros after all their misdeeds nothing but unconditional surrender. On the other hand I must say that I do not agree with those strident voices raised in favour of total annihilation of the Hereros. Aside from the fact that a people numbering 60,000 to 70,000 cannot be so easily annihilated. I would have to argue that such a measure would be an economic error. We need the Hereros as herdsmen and as workers. The people must only suffer a political death. When this is in some measure realized they will no longer possess a tribal government and they must be confined to reserves which will just suffice their needs..."



Schutztruppe Camel Corps


Schutztruppe Cavalry on parade

Schutztruppe Cavalry Parade

Battle Map January 1904 to August 1904

Map of Battles January 1904 to August April



  4    16 February - Liewenberg: Kaptain  Gygas with his men fought a battle for nearly 7 hours before driving the Herero force into the Khomas Hochland.


   19 February - Gross Barmen: About 4km downstream of Gross Barmen Gygas and his men were attacked by 200 to 300 Hereros. Gygas had lost one man and eight wounded.


   6    25 February - Otjihaenamaparero: Major von Estorff in command of two companies of Schutztruppe along with one company of Marines who had recently arrived in the country moved westward from Okahandja to seek out the Hereros who had moved away from the broken siege at Omaruru. It was at Otjihaenamaparero that they met and fought with about 1000 Herero warriors. Fierce fighting ensued for about 12 hours. The Germans lost 12 men, and estimated Herero losses were put at 50 men.

The war had entered its' sixth week and this was the first battle field victory for the Germans.


  7    4 March - Klein Barmen: Following heavy fighting with Captain Puder's section upstream from Klein Barmen the area south west of Okahandja was considered to be 'clear'.


  8    13 March - Owikokorero: At 16h30 a German patrol of 11 officers, 46 troops and 3 native helpers were involved in a full-scale battle with a large number of Herero. The Germans were overwhelmed, 7 officers and 19 troops being killed. The casualties included two Schutztruppe officers of renown - Captain Hugo von Francois and Oberleutnant Eggers. The remainder of the Germans managed to escape under darkness. Herero dead were estimated at being 10.


   3    April - Okaharui: Shortly after 08h00 a German patrol of  237 soldiers moving between Okaharui and Otjikuara were attacked by Tjeto's eastern Herero force. The battle lasted until 13h00 and left 32 Germans dead and 17 wounded. The Herero lost 75 dead and many wounded. Later, the bodies of the Germans who were captured or left wounded were found to have been clubbed to death and horribly mutilated. This practise was abhorrent to the Germans and no doubt was the cause of an amount of fear mixed with disgust and later contributed to the brutalities meted out by some Germans on their foe.


   9    April - Ongandjira: There is a hill at Onganjira that the Germans later named Leutweinsberg. It was on the flat bush plains below that Samuel Maharero's warriors formed two fronts, with a third on the higher ground of the hill. The Herero battle strength was between 5,000 to 6,000 men of which 2,000 to 3,000 were armed with rifles. The German force of 800 whites and 160 native soldiers made their advance at 06h00 under the command of Major Theodore Leutwein and Major von Estorff. They were under clear view of the Herero Uprising leadership, and their dust trails indicated that they did not quite know  where the Herero warriors were. The two sides only engaged in battle before mid-day, and by late afternoon the situation for Leutwein's infantry was becoming critical. It was only the sustained machine gun fire, and artillery making use of the newly developed Pikrin grenades exploding with devastating effect that eventually caused the Herero withdrawal. The Germans were oblivious of the Herero retreat and charged the 'Leutweinsberg' only to find it deserted by the enemy. The German losses included 3 officers, 2 men and 11 wounded. The following day 80 dead Hereros were found at the battle field. Samuel Maharero expressed his anger by personally shooting some of the Hereros who had retreated.


  13   April - Oviumbo:  Following the battle at Ongandjira the Hereros using the night as cover retreated north to the waterholes at Okatumba and Oviumbo. The German force followed, making their way first to Okatumba by road and then on to Oviumbo. They arrived at the waterhole at about 11h00 on the morning of the 13th and began the task of watering their animals and preparing lunch. The dense bush of the area allowed the Hereros to take the Germans by surprise who's heavy mechanized guns were of little use in this terrain. Oberleutenant Reiss with 17 of his men rushed to the support and aid the group. Within minutes Reiss and 3 of his men were shot dead and another 4 wounded. The Herero force melted away under cover of thick bush. The Germans formed a rectangle and awaited to engage the enemy. The eastern front experienced the heaviest fighting and the 1st Field Company were forced to retreat and take position between the 4th and 6th Field Companies that had formed a front. The battle continued through the afternoon and at about 17h30 the Herero launched the final attack of the day. The German machine-gun posts burst into fire and mowed down everyone and everything in front of them. The Herero dead soon began to pile up and by evening fall they withdrew. The battle had raged for over 10 hours and unbeknown to the Hereros the Germans had barely avoided defeat. Their main section had nearly used its ammunition supply. The infantry had used 75% of their ammunition and the artillery virtually all of theirs. Under cover of darkness the tattered Schutztruppe withdrew from the field of play. The following morning witnessed a tired and tattered main section arriving at Otjosasu. Their losses 8 dead with an estimated 84 Herero killed.


Leutwein then made a decision to withdraw from the conflict and await the arrival of reinforcements and supplies from Germany. The news of the near defeat of the Germans at Oviumbo was the turning point of the 'struggle'. Only a couple of years earlier the Berlin High Command and German press had scorned the British over the difficulties that they had experienced in quelling the 'uprising' of the Boers of South Africa. Now they had an African style 'uprising' of their own, but failed to grasp the fact that a half naked black man armed with a rifle and using Guerrilla tactics was just as capable of reeking death and destruction as was a trained and uniformed European soldier. The warriors of the Herero Uprising were a formidable enemy.  The blame for the 'lack of success' was laid at the feet of Governor Theodore Leutwein.


Meanwhile the true reflection of the German situation was unknown to Samuel Maharero. The lack of victory at Ovuimbi was misread by him as being that of failure and within the week thousands of Hereros were trekking to the north where they would eventually congregate en-mass at the foot of the great Waterberg Plateau. It was at this place that they would make their "last stand".

  The Battle Of Waterberg


Acknowledgements and further reading: H6,  H7, P2,

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