THE HERERO UPRISING 11th JANUARY 1904. The "Freedom War"
Against German colonial oppression that was brutally suppressed.
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
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:
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.
troops were issued with the
Model 88 Mauser which was arguably the best military rifle of its time.
Kapt Victor Franke
Windhoek Alte Feste
January 14: The gunboat Habicht that
lay in Cape Town sailed under full-steam and arrived at
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
Swakopmund - Von Winkler arrived with 230
- SMS Darmstadt arrives - Marines landed, 1 officer and 17 men,
along with a team of railway construction military engineers - 2
officers and 55 men.
- 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:
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.:
The Battles Leading-up to the
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
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
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 Cavalry Parade
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.
5 19 February -
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Plateau. It was at this place that they would make their "last
The Battle Of Waterberg
Acknowledgements and further reading: H6, H7, P2,
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