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. 

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