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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

 

 

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