Day 32: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

This afternoon Mitsubishi presented us with a beautiful Triton double cab 4×4 vehicle for our expedition which gets underway tomorrow morning very early.

Braam
Braam Faul of Mitsubishi SA hands over the keys to a Triton 4×4 double cab. The vehicle will lead us into the remote Botswana wilderness where we hope to locate the Lost Battlefield.

At long last we are ready. Tomorrow evening the members of this historic expedition will converge on the little town of Hukuntsi where we will meet the local Nama people and listen to a presentation by Carsten Mohle.

We have been planning this mission for months. We are now going to search for and find the battlefield where the forces of Simon Koper’s KharaKhoen and those of the German Schutztruppe led by Captain Friedrich Von Erckert engaged each other on 16 March 1908. Captain Von Erckert was killed by one of the first shots and was buried on the battlefield together with 12 of his fallen men. Simon Koper managed to escape and spent the rest of his days in Lokgwabe near Hukuntsi, a free man, hero to his people.

Readers of this blog will know that the exact location of this battlefield has been lost and many people including ourselves have tried to find it. This time we come prepared with experts, most notably Xander and Ben van Wyk who have imported special equipment to search the area. We are confident that we will succeed.

From Saturday morning we will be out of reach, except by satellite phone, but as soon as we find real evidence we will let the world know. Watch this space.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 31: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

 

In less than 36 hours we will be leaving Pretoria and Windhoek for Lokgwabe in Botswana on the great expedition to locate the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari.

Logo

This will be the 12th expedition of its kind since 1990 when Wulf Haacke first attempted it. Haacke had 5 attempts but never came close. In 2010 Carsten Mohle set out on the first of his 5 attempts and in 2018 I tried twice, once with the legendary Elias Le Riche, the last eyewitness of the graves of the 13 German soldiers buried in the warm Kalahari sand on 16 March 1908.

It has been a hectic few weeks preparing for the expedition. Coordinating the travel arrangements of the members from four different countries had challenges of its own. At last we are ready. On Friday morning the SA delegation will leave Pretoria. We will consist of a team of metal detector specialists and a filming crew, amongst others. Carsten Mohle will leave from Windhoek tomorrow bringing with him Chief Hanse of the KharaKhoen, the tribe of Simon Koper.

We will all meet each other in Hukuntsi on Friday night where Carsten will do a presentation on his work so far. On Saturday morning we will proceed, first to Kaa Gate and then on to Sesatswe, 168 kilometers away on a dirt track, which will be our base for the week. The area is devoid of any kind of human activity and services. Read no fuel, water, nothing. We must be totally self reliant. I have arranged an aeroplane to be on standby for emergency evacuation and our only form of communication will be by satellite phone.

We will spend the entire week working through the area identified by us to be the actual site of the Great Battle. We will be looking for artefacts which could confirm our suspicions. In particular we will be searching for machine gun cartridges. The ultimate prize would be to find the actual graves of the two officers, Captain Friedrich Von Erckert, Lieutenant Oskar Ebinger and the 11 other soldiers.

We hope that the location of the battlefield will bring closure and reconciliation to the German and Nama families and we also hope that in future thousands of interested tourists will visit the area.

Our mission is sponsored by Mitsubishi. I hope to report briefly about that tomorrow evening, just before we leave.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

 

Day 30: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

 

At long last I can tell the interesting story of our own expedition last year to locate the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari. For various reasons I was constrained not to do so but the embargo has been lifted to some extent.

Wulf Haacke in his seminal article “Simon Kopper and the Kalahari Expedition of 1908 in the Journal of the Namibia Scientific Society 1993/1994 wrote, “Mr E. Le Riche reports (pers.com.) having been at that site twice. On his first visit, when he still quite young, the graves were marked with wooden stumps identified with metal discs cut from ration cans, while on on the second occasion apparently a veldfire had destroyed these markers.”

These two sentences dominated my and Carsten Möhle’s thinking for a long time. We both knew instinctively that our searches would be almost foolish if we did not make use of Elias Le Riche’s knowledge. Elias grew up inside the greater Kalahari Gemsbok Park, which was established by his uncle and father in the 30’s of the previous century.

The problem was that Elias was long retired and now not a young man anymore. Would he even be interested in undertaking such an arduous expedition just to satisfy our fancy whims? Would he still be in decent health? How were we to approach him?

Remember that initially Carsten and I did not even know of each other, yet we shared the same thoughts and questions.

Through a series of chance happenings, a long and detailed story of its own, it happened that I met Elias in Pretoria one day. He agreed to accompany me on a search expedition at some or other stage.

One of the hoops to jump through was to get permission to enter the area. Through another series of events of equal intricacy that also transpired. One fine day last year three vehicles left Pretoria for the Kalahari where we met the officials who would accompany us on our search.

For the next four days we were guided by the legendary Elias Le Riche, former Head of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. He took us on the most amazing routes indicating trees where he had camped fifty years ago. He also took us directly to certain sites near Grootkolk where we saw with our own eyes remnants of the 1908 expedition: empty water canisters, bully beef tins, clearly marked “Rindfleisch” even with date stamps. He took us to the few branches left over from the formerly glorious Königsbaum, the big camel thorn tree at Grootkolk into which the soldiers clambered to search the horizon for signs of the enemy and their own distant heliographs. The German Schütztruppe had hammered horse shoes into the tree to act as steps and we even found one of these as well as some ammunition and cartridges.

The unwavering way Elias had led and directed our search gave me a lot of confidence. Eventually after four days we came to a place where he stated that that was where he thought  that the graves were located. Naturally we marked the place and I recorded his words for posterity. Elias speaks in Afrikaans. He says that he thinks this the place where he met a group of Kalahari people who told them that this was the place of Simon Koper. Watch the video.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 29: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Captain von Erckert, leader of the Schutztruppe, was dead and Simon Koper, his enemy and leader of the Fransmanne, Der Fuchs aller Füchse, was still at large.

It was the year 1908 and during the following years relations between Germany and Great Britain would deteriorate. The German administration did not anticipate that Britain would allow them access to British territory. For this reason no endeavours were made to erect proper tombstones or take the remains back to Namibia. Ultimately memorial stones were erected at the Gochas cemetery and they are still there to this day.

Simon Koper settled at Kgatlwe (the same place as Lokwabe) in Bechuanaland. There he sired two sons, Little Simon and Hendrik. Simon’s wife was taken prisoner during the battle and sent to Windhoek. The name of the biological mother of the two little boys is not known.

Simon Koper’s escape was a huge embarrassment and consternation to the German colonial government. Reams of letters followed between the British High Commissioner and his German opposite number. Eventually Germany agreed to pay Simon Koper an annual pension but subject to two conditions: that he never, ever set foot in Namibia again and also that he would never know the source of the pension money. Britain had to state that it came from them.

1909 contract with Simon Kooper
A copy of the contract according to which Germany would pay Simon Koper and his retinue an annual pension.

 

Koper died on 31 January 1913, five years after the battle and was buried at Lokwabe. His descendants continued to receive the pension from Germany up to the independence of Botswana in 1966.

Wulf Haacke undertook five expeditions in an endeavour to locate the battlefield, and more lately a German group under Carsten Möhle also made attempts in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018.

http://www.bwana.de/spezialreisen/expeditionen/erckert-expedition.html

Carsten and I have joined forces and we will depart on 11 October 2019 for hopefully the final expedition to locate the battlefield and the graves.

 

Koosbygraf
In August 2018 I attended the annual International Nama festival at Lokgwabe where Simon Koper was buried in 1913.

 

There is only one person alive today who saw the German graves at the battlefield with his own eyes and who might therefore have some idea of where they were located. This man is Elias le Riche. It was of the greatest importance that he shared this information with us. He did exactly that during our 2018 expedition.

 

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 28: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

On 16 March at 02h00, under cover of darkness, Captain von Erckert’s troops began surrounding the sleeping Namas. The Germans were unaware that the famed Nama leader known, according to Haacke, as Der Fuchs aller Füchse (the wily fox or fox of all foxes) and a small group of men had already left the previous afternoon in search of tsammas. According to Kloppers Koper also took part in the battle and escaped.

erckert01
A map of the battlefield indicting how the Namas were surrounded.

 

Captain Willeke’s troops were deployed in the east and those of Grüner in the west. They were instructed to move to within 1000 metres from the Nama camp. The machine gun unit of Lieutenant Boetticher had to remain on the north-western side, approximately 1500 metres behind the enemy lines. At first light the units had to advance, moving in to the left and right in an endeavour to totally surround the Namas. Grüner’s men were deployed over a distance of two kilometres with distances of 10 to 20 metres between each man. Von Erckert himself would be in the north-east with the 16th Company.

According to later narratives, the Namas were well aware of the Germans but totally underestimated their numbers. Thus they did not attempt a silent exit during the night but instead decided to lie in wait for them. They even dug trenches fortified with tree branches while waiting for the attack to begin.

In the meanwhile Grüner sent messengers to Molentsan to call up the medical unit.

The battle began at 05h15 on 16 March 1908 with the two large companies of Grüner and Willeke moving towards one another. Grüner made contact with the enemy within five minutes. Von Erckert, at the forefront on the north-eastern side, died immediately. It is ironic that his planning of this dramatic attack over several months was terminated in such a way.

Grüner took command.

The machine guns were firing from the north into and between the two columns that were moving towards one another from the east and west. At 06h30 the order was given for a bayonet charge. The Namas fled towards the south where there was least resistance and here Lieutenant Ebinger and ten members of his unit were killed. At least 25 Nama fighters escaped in the midst of the waiting camels and their guards. Because the few soldiers that were guarding the camels did not shoot at them the Namas left them alone.

In the heat of the battle the German soldiers saw a moving oxwagon among the Namas. Later the wagon was gone.

The main camp of the Namas that was situated on a so-called `island dune’ was easily captured. It is presumed that the tem refers to a lone dune entirely surrounded by deep valleys. The German soldiers searched the battlefield thoroughly for casualties and drove all the captured animals towards the island dune. The medical unit arrived at 0900 and established a first-aid post at the north-eastern end of the island dune.

The chief medical officer, Dr Ohlemann, walked across the battlefield and discovered a wounded white man. He left him lying where he was and when he returned later to fetch him, the man had disappeared.

Apart from Von Erckert and Lieutenant Ebinger, altogether 11 German soldiers were killed and a further 19 wounded of which 10 were in a serious condition. Two of them died the next day and were buried at Lang Rambuka; 58 Namas were killed in the battle among them Isaak Koper, Simon’s brother.

Eliesaar, the leader of the patrol that had ambushed and killed Sergeant Jaeger and his men on 3 March, was wounded during the battle. Eliesaar was also involved in the incident when Robert Duncan Jr was shot and killed at Daberas on 5 June 1907. Willie Duncan, Robert’s brother, was one of Von Erckert’s guides. He first interrogated the wounded Eliesaar and then summarily shot him.

Ohlemann and others speculated afterwards that the wounded white man that disappeared was a trader, it was hìs oxwagon they saw and the Namas came and took him away together with several other wounded Namas. How this could have happened remains a mystery. A few Nama women, among them the wife of Simon Koper, were taken prisoner. She was taken to Windhoek as a hostage.

On the battlefield 28 guns, 10 horses, 50 head of cattle and 200 sheep, saddles and household wares were collected.

During that afternoon deep graves were dug and the thirteen battle casualties buried, the two officers in separate graves and the soldiers in a mass grave. On a photograph of the graves a large shepherd’s tree can be seen close to the graves.

erckert08
Captain Von Erckert’s grave left at the back, that of Lieutenant Ebinger on the right at the back, and the mass grave of the soldiers in the foreground.

 

The return journey began at 19h00. The seriously injured were tied to special stretchers and transported between two camels, a totally unsatisfactory manner of transport because one of the wounded fell off the stretcher and was killed in the fall.

erckert20
A camel ambulance. One of the wounded fell to his death from a stretcher like this.

On 17 March they rested near Molentsa Pan. They managed to make contact with Geinab which in turn communicated with Windhoek. Oxwagons were requisitioned from Aranos to go to the aid of the returning troops to care for the wounded. On the evening of the 17th they trekked further and reached the 5 kilometre mark east of Lang Rambuka, the site of the heliograph, at 05h00 on 18 March. Here they they were given water and provisions while the two injured soldiers who died during the journey were buried. It rained during the night and the men were able to collect drinking water.

They reached Geinabvlei, near Grootkolk on 19 March, and the ambulance section departed from there. On 22 March the expedition reached Aranos.

Of the 710 camels only five had to be shot because they fell and sustained fractured bones. Most of the camels were without water for 12 days, and some for up to 16 days.

According to Kloppers, Captain Grüner realised that the care of the wounded was a first priority and the cannon (field battery or pom-pom) would be a burden on the return journey. For this reason they removed a crucial component to render it useless and dragged the canon up a hill and concealed it beneath a large overhanging black-bark tree. Hence the legend of the cannon. Haacke makes no mention of this at all.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

 

 

Day 27: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The trail left by the group of 35 Fransmanne that attacked and killed Seargent Jaeger and his company on 3 March at Kubub, north of Koes, ran straight across Geinab.

Koos
Koos Marais at Geinab, a few kilometres north of Grootkolk. The two locations are not clearly indicated in Haacke’s article. The headquarters of the expedition might have been based at any one of the two places but it is not critically important.

Logic dictates that they would be underway to their leader Simon Koper, leaving the tracks that Von Erckert’s troops would follow on the evening of 12 March when they began their advance at 20h00. Although already 10 days old, the tracks were still visible in the moonlight. At 01h25 on the morning of 13 March the moon set, and because they could no longer follow the tracks, they stopped at a place that Haacke does not indicate precisely. They reckoned that they had by then already progressed 20 kilometres. This coincides with a travel time of just under 4 hours per kilometre. In the early hours of 13 March the columns were on the move once more and after a two-hour trek they crossed the Lang Rambuka pan. In truth, the pan was located approximately 22 kilometres from Grootkolk which affirms that the Germans’ calculations, as reported by Haacke, were indeed correct.

Pan
The Lang Rambuka pan

From Lang Rambuka pan they travelled for another five kilometres and, according to Haacke, erected a heliograph station at that location and thus made contact with the heliograph station at Geinab. Haacke states here that the heliograph station was erected at Geinab but it could be that he is referring to the heliograph station at Verkennerskop, a few kilometres west of Grootkolk. It is also possible that there were heliograph stations at both Grootkolk/Geinab and Verkennerskop because Verkennerskop is more elevated than Grootkolk. Grootkolk and Geinab were not directly visible from the five kilometre point east of the Lang Rambuka pan. The signallers would therefore have communicated with Verkennerskop from this point and Verkennerskop would then relay the message to Grootkolk/Geinab and vice versa.

telegraafstasie
A telegraph station in German Southwest-Africa

Kloppers simply states that the combat troops reached the Rooi Rambuka “between two or three days” after departing from Grootkolk and from there moved on to Tweeling Rambuka. They then moved slightly northwards and reached the “Pollenswa” (Polentswa), following the river bed for some distance before leaving it at the opposite side of “Boerekoppe”. According to Kloppers they were then only a few kilometres from the Nama camp, which might finally have been the battleground, and erected a heliograph there. It is very unlikely that the Germans would have exposed themselves to the Namas by putting up a heliograph on high ground.

Haacke writes about the existence of another report which indicates that contact was made with Geinab from a high dune next to the pan. Whether this pan was Lang Rambuka or another pan, perhaps even Tweeling Rambuka, makes it difficult to calculate further troop movements as well as the eventual location of the battlefield. According to Kloppers the combatants were by now 61 kilometres inside the border of Bechuanaland which, given the total context, might not necessarily be correct.

The construction of the heliograph station and communication network must have taken considerable time in hot conditions because Haacke writes that the troops only moved on at 18h00 from the position where the heliograph station was located. The support division and medical unit remained behind there. The fighting unit moved on for a further 13 kilometres and rested again.

The following day, 14 March, water was provided to the combat unit, and a section of the support troops were sent back to Geinab to replenish rations. The combat unit rested until 17h00 and moved on again at dusk. Two hours later they arrived at a pan the scouts named Molentsan where they discovered traces of an old Nama camp and a tsamma field. Since the camels had been watered eight days previously, on 7 March, they were fed tsammas and the soldiers were also encouraged to eat some.

That night Von Erckert did reconnaissance himself and became lost. He had to use a signal flare to find his way back to the camp. The Namas also observed this signal and knew that the Germans were on their trail. According to later accounts by Nama prisoners the signal made Simon Koper decide to move on the next day to search for new tsamma fields.

Kloppers relates that the Germans made use of the services of Damap, grandfather of Dawid Kuiper. Elias believes that the Namas had been aware for some time that the Germans were in pursuit of them because the Fransman Namas had their own scouts, the Bushmen.

The following morning, 15 March, the Germans found Bushmen tracks, followed them and fired off shots in their direction but the Bushmen managed to escape. The German spies found another old camp and a clear indication of a path of tracks which showed the direction of the Namas’ flight.

During the afternoon Lieutenant Geibel and 12 armed scouts were dispatched to follow these tracks while the main army remained behind waiting for information. In the meanwhile the ambulance unit waited at Molentsan pan.

After approximately three hours Geibel’s patrol discovered another old Nama camp with still warm glowing coals.

At 22h30 a message from Geibel reached the soldiers that were advancing slowly from the rear, saying that the Nama fighters were located approximately 14 to 16 kilometres east of Molentsan pan. The German field troops were by now 2 to 3 kilometres south-west of the Namas whose campfires were visible. Even the lowing of cattle could be heard.

Von Erckert decided to attack the following morning at daybreak. At 00h35 on 16 March he gave the order for the attack to begin.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 26: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

 

The accounts of Hannes Kloppers in his book Gee my`n man, and Wulf Haacke in his paper Simon Kopper and the Kalahari Expedition of 1908, published in the Journal of the Namibia Scientific Society, 44, 1993/1994, differ from one another. According to Haacke Von Erkert issued an order the day after the six German Schutztruppe were shot to death on 4 March 1908, to begin with the advance.

erckert16
A detachment in one of the river beds. The windmill in the background indicates that this photograph must have been taken somewhere on German territory. Nowhere east of the German border was there a windmill on the route taken by the expedition. Christoffel Brand, a farmer near the Nossob River, supplied water to the Germans during the expedition. It is not unlikely that this photograph could have been taken on his farm.

Kloppers describes it somewhat differently. He says on page 112 that the Germans carried out certain tasks at or close to Grootkolk while they were at their main bases, i.e. Gochas and Aranos, and that they were still busy training the camels. According to Kloppers they would have erected a heliograph station at Verkennerskop, installed a field cannon, constructed pens for the riding and pack animals and hoarded rations. All this was done while they were waiting for the arrival of the large camel patrol. Haacke also mentions that a heliograph station was erected at Grootkolk.

Von Erckert appeared to have been an emotional and impulsive leader, a trait that might have eventually led to his death. The annihilation of Sergeant Jaeger and his men on 3 March probably upset him to the extent that he immediately embarked on his punitive expedition the very next day. In addition it would have been highly unlikely for the Germans to have entrenched themselves for months or weeks on South African (then British) territory, which differs from what Kloppers tells us.

According to Haacke the two divisions, i.e. the Nossob division under Captain Willeke from Aranos and the Auob division under Captain Grüner from Gochas, had trekked from 4 to 11 March all along the course of these two rivers respectively, as far as Geinab or Grootkolk which were a few kilometres apart. Grüner had a shorter distance to go than the 120 kilometres Willeke had to cover but he would at some stage have had to turn directly eastwards, thus moving out of the course of the Auob River, in order to reach Grootkolk.

erckert09
Camels resting somewhere in the Kalahari.

Haacke mentions that 12 March was a day of rest at Grootkolk. This gives a clear indication of the stamina, capacity and endurance of the soldiers and the camels. In theory a camel could cover a distance of 70 kilometres or more a day, whereas Willeke’s men and camels needed seven or eight days to travel the 120 kilometres from Aranos to Grootkolk and then needed a day’s rest there. Grüner’s division had a shorter distance to cover and admittedly over slightly more difficult terrain. This is important when calculating the precise location of the battlefield, as would become clear later. These men and their camels moved slowly, probably not more than 3 or 4 kilometres per hour.

Haacke wrote that the camels had water for the last time on 7 March. This must have been somewhere between the towns of Gochas and Aranos, and Grootkolk. From personal narratives (Hannes Kloppers and Elias) we know that a farmer from the Nossob River, Christoffel Brand, provided water to the soldiers. The date, 7 March, could indicate that the camels drank at Brand’s farm.

erckert19
Enter A German soldier demonstrates how his camel kneels. Note the equestrian saddle.a caption

According to Kloppers 550 camels turned up at Grootkolk, but Haacke described in detail that 710 camels, 23 officers, 373 soldiers, 4 medical officers, 120 Coloureds, who were non-combatant servants, two horses, 5 mules and 11 riding oxen were part of the expedition. There were also four machine guns. Kloppers mentions only one field battery. His sources consisted mostly of personal narratives whereas Haacke’s article is based on dozens of documents.

Haacke mentions that the Willeke division uncoiled a telegraph cable all the way from Aranos, which accounts for the long time spent on the road while Christoffel Brand, the farmer from Auob, denied this in conversations with Hannes Kloppers. He said that the Germans used a heliograph to communicate from Grootkolk to Kowise Kolk in Namibia, and from there further as far as Gochas.

According to Haacke’s description there was telegraph communication between Grootkolk and Aranos. Aranos was in touch with Windhoek and therefore also with Berlin.

There was no telegraph connection from Grootkolk to Bechuanaland. A heliograph station was therefore established, probably at Verkennerskop (Spioenkop according to Elias), which was a few kilometres from Grootkolk.

Another disparity in the Haacke and Kloppers accounts of this history deserves mention here. Kloppers writes that the camels and the troops waited at Grootkolk for 28 days and received further training there while Haacke describes the train of events as set out above, namely that the two divisions began moving out from Gochas and Aranos on 4 March respectively. Kloppers also relates that the fighting unit moved into Bechuanaland on 7 March.

According to Haacke, on the afternoon of 12 March which was a day of rest, a strange and unusual event occurred that allows a glimpse into the life, and possibly death, of Captain Friedrich von Erckert. A group of concerned officers went to the senior medical officer and head of the medical corps, Dr Ohlemann, and requested him to declare Captain von Eckert to be mentally deranged and that he be relieved of his duties. They questioned the motivation of the mission and on this account believed that is was too dangerous. Dr Ohlemann refused.

That evening Von Erckert spoke briefly to his men before the troops left the bed of the Nossob River at 20h00 and moved out in a north-westerly direction. Grüner’s fighting unit went on ahead while Willeke’s troops followed a kilometre behind with medical and other supplies. The soldiers were allowed a ten-minute rest after every hour of marching, an important factor in respect of the locality of the battlefield. This was no hurried pursuit.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders.