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. 

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