- from the War Illustrated Deluxe volume IV page 1171
- 'General Botha's Victorious Campaign'
The Great Episodes of the War
Undoubtedly Louis Botha was one of the heroes of the Great War. It is something to be both a statesman and a soldier, and quite unusual, at least in these days, for the Prime Minister to be also the Commander-in-Chief; but when in addition this soldier- premier is a man who, only a few years ago, was fighting against his present king and country, it is more remarkable still. Add to this record the fact that he conquered, in a short time and with extraordinary skill, a country nearly four times as large as Great Britain, and we need not wonder at his popularity and prestige. Such is the man, now for his work.
Botha's Plan o! Campaign
While the rebels under De Wet and Maritz were being crushed in Cape Colony and the Orange Free State, Botha was making his plans for the conquest of South-West Africa, which was defended by about 10,000 Germans who, like their countrymen everywhere, were well provided with arms and ammunition, their equipment including mines and aeroplanes. Our Government in London had asked him to undertake this task, and so to perform a great and urgent imperial service. He consented because, as he said in one of his speeches, he knew enough of German plots and intrigues to make the hair of his hearers stand on end; he knew that the German Emperor had telegraphed to the Governor: " I will not only acknowledge the independence of South Africa, but will even guarantee it, provided the rebellion is started immediately." On September 23rd, 1914, therefore, we were all delighted to read in the papers the following sentence: "General Botha will take supreme command of the operations against German South-West Africa." We knew him well enough to realise that the work would be thoroughly done.
Botha's plan of campaign was quite simple, and as soon as De Wet had been captured and the rebellion was nearly at an end, troops for the invasion were collected. The idea was to invade the colony in several places, both from the sea and the land, and then to march along the railway lines. If this were done the defending force would either have to stand somewhere and fight a pitched battle, or would be compelled to retreat into the desert, where water and provisions would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to obtain. There, at their leisure, they could choose between starvation and surrender. Altogether the Germans had built over 1,300 miles of railway line in the colony, and these ran into every part of it, so if Botha once got possession of them he would be master of the situation. For his campaign he relied wholly on South Africans, but he was greatly assisted by the Imperial Navy, which alone made it possible for men and stores to be carried from Cape Town to Walfish Bay and the captured German ports.
The Germans Driven Back towards Windhoek
In September the German port of Luederitz Bay, called also by its Portuguese name of Angra Pequena, had been seized, and in January Swakopmund, the other port, suffered the same fate. By this time Ramans Drift and Schuit Drift, the two principal crossings of the Orange River, were in the possession of Botha's men, and so the general held the four chief gates into German South-West Africa. The Germans did not attempt to defend their ports, but, like the Russians in Poland, took away all they could, and withdrew into the interior towards Windhoek, their capital, intending doubtless to give as much trouble as they could to the invading armies.
Botha divided his men into two divisions, called the northern and the southern army. He himself took command of the northern one, which, during December and January, the South African summer, was taken bv sea to Swakopmund and Walfish Bay, which are only a few miles apart. Before this force was ready to start a good deal of preparatory work was necessary, for neither of these two northern ports was at the time a suitable place for the landing of a large army, perhaps 20,000 men, and its guns and stores. Wharves and landing-places, however,
were quickly erected, a sea-wall and coast railway were built, and when Botha arrived at Swakopmund on board one of H.M.'s cruisers on February gth, everything was ready for the start. On February 22nd the army set out, keeping near the fine of railway which runs to Windhoek, but its progress was slow, and it was nearly four weeks before the men first tasted the joy of battle.
On March 20th, Botha, having carefully studied the strength and position of the enemy, planned an attack. At nightfall on the 19th two brigades of mounted men left Husab. One of these was divided, and part of it under Colonel Celliers cut the railway line and then fell upon the Germans at Jakalswater. This attack was a failure, but fortunately the other part of the brigade succeeded in carrying out its instructions, for it captured Pforte, where two hundred and ten men surrendered. Meanwhile, the other brigade, which was commanded by Colonel Brits and accompanied by Botha himself, marched against Riet, a place south of the railway, where the road to Windhoek and the Swakop River make their way through the hills. There the Germans were in force, and making the lw st use of the ground, they had prepared a very strong position. However, the South Africans were too good for them, and before the day was out they were in retreat. In spite of the one failure the sweeping movement had been successful.
A month or so was then spent in making good the ground won and in preparing for a fresh advance, and in April and May the army moved steadily towards Windhoek, which is about two hundred miles from the coast. On May 1st Kubas was taken by Colonel Brits, and a day or two later the force was only sixty miles from the capital. Karibib, an important railway junction, was occupied on May 5th.
Surrender of the German Capital
Except around Jakalswater there had been as yet no serious fighting, but most people expected that the retreating Germans would make a serious attempt to defend their capital. However, this was not to be. The vanguard of the army, led by General Myburgh, had hurried on past Karibib, and on its approach on May 10th the Germans in Windhoek telephoned to Botha, who was still at Karibib, saying they were willing to surrender the town. At once the general got into his motor-car telephones and motorcars play a prominent part in war to-dayand was driven thither, overtaking on the way Myburgh s dusty and tired men, marching bravely on. Just outside Windhoek he was met by the burgomaster; terms of surrender were soon arranged, and on May 12th Botha, with an escort of mounted burghers, entered the German capital, saw the Union Jack hoisted over the Court house, and heard his proclamation read in English, Dutch, and German. He then addressed and thanked his troops for carrying out an enterprise which "means practically the complete possession of German South-West Africa."
This was a very successful piece of work, but it had been helped by the exploits of the southern army, which should now be described. This was under the command of General Smuts, who, like Botha, was a Boer, distinguished both as a soldier and a statesman. For the earlier part of its task it was split up into three divisions. One, under Colonel Dirk Van der Venter, a general who had taken a leading part in crushing the Boer rebels, invaded South-West Africa from the south-east, and after seizing some posts and stores in that region, reached and occupied Warmbad, the southern terminus of the colony's railway system. From there he marched north with great rapiditv. At Kalkfontein Smuts joined him, and together they planned a march which, with very little loss, drove the Germans from their positions on the slopes of the Karas Mountains. Soon they entered Seeheim, which is the junction where the line from Warmbad joins the one from Luederitz Bay.
The second of these three divisions of the southern army was led by Colonel Berrange. Leaving Kimberley, the men crossed the southern part of the Kalahari desert.
Their supplies were carried by oxen, and were distributed by motor-cars, and these supplies included water, for in one section of the march there was no water to be found for over a hundred miles. In the middle of March, Berrange entered South- West Africa somewhere near Rietfontein, seized an entrenched position at Hasuur, and at length, after constant skirmishes with isolated bands of Germans, managed to join Van der Venter somewhere near Seeheim in April.
The Task of the Southern Army
Not far from Seeheim stands the station and market town of Keetmanshoop. There the line coming from the coast at Luederitz Bay turns to the north, and then pursues an almost straight line to Windhoek. The united forces of Van der Venter and Berrange occupied this without trouble on April 20th, and for a time General Smuts made it his headquarters.
The third column which made up the southern army was commanded by Sir Duncan Mackenzie, a leader with a remarkable knowledge of the country and of the peculiar conditions of South African warfare. His task was not unlike that entrusted to Botha's northern army. From Liideritz Bay, his base on the coast, he was to march inland and join Smuts somewhere near Keetmanshoop, which is about two hundred miles from the sea. First of all he cleared away the Germans from one or two places near Liideritz Bay, and then led his men across the seventy miles of desert which lie between the sea and the hills. At Aus he expected the Germans to make a stand, and there they had dug trenches, laid mines, and made other preparations for resistance. However, a clever move on the part of some of Mackenzie's mounted men threatened to cut off: their retreat, and without striking a blow they abandoned the place.
The work of the southern army had driven the Germans to the north of Keetmanshoop, and in order to trap them, Mackenzie left the railway soon after passing Aus, and struck away to the north-east. Bethany and Berseba were entered by him, and on April 24th he reached the line running from Keetmanshoop to Windhoek. He was about seventy miles to the north of the former place, and the retreating Germans were almost between his column and the main one led by Smuts and Van der Venter. Van der Venter had a skirmish with them at Kabus, but neither side could claim a victory, and the enemy succeeded in reaching Gibeon, a station nearer Windhoek, with Mackenzie in hot pursuit. This, of course, was before the surrender of the capital on May 10th, and at this time the object of the Germans was to join their comrades there.
The Fight at Gibeon
The fight at Gibeon was one of the few battles of this little war, and even that was not a battle on the European scale. Mackenzie heard that the Germans were going to take train for Windhoek, so he sent a small party to cut the railway line north of Gibeon, and hurried forward one of his brigades to attack the enemy. This attack was a failure; but on the next day (April 28th) Mackenzie and the rest of his men came along and totally routed the Germans, who lost their field guns, their transport, and about two hundred prisoners. They were pursued for some twenty miles.
There was by now no organised force of the enemy in the south of the colony; the work of General Smuts was practically over, and in May some of his men were sent back to their homes. After May 12th the retreating and demoralised Germans could not take refuge in Windhoek, and for those hemmed in between the two South African armies there was nothing left but to surrender, or to escape in twos and threes to the north of the colony.
The campaign, however, was not yet over, for the main German Army was not yet destroyed, and one stretch of railway was not yet in Botha's possession. Before the enemy surrendered Windhoek the soldiers had retired to Grootfontein, which was declared the new capital of German South-West Africa, and from Swakopmund a line runs to that place, which is in the most northernly and inhospitable part of the colony.
As soon as supplies had been brought up, the northern army, divided into mobile columns, was again on the march. One division marched along the line leading to Grootfontein, while another scoured the country between it and Windhoek. There were various skirmishes, for instance, at Seeis, where one hundred and fifty prisoners and some provisions and ammunition were captured, and at Omaruru, but nothing which could be called a battle. An entrenched position at Kalkfeld was abandoned without a struggle, and before the end of June the whole Waterberg district had been subdued.
When on June 26th the station of Otjiwarongo was occupied, the end was evidently near. Fifty miles further on stands Otavi, a place noted for its copper mines and a railway junction, and near there the Germans made their last stand. On June 30th they were attacked by a brigade led by General Manie Botha, and although his men had marched forty-two miles in sixteen hours they succeeded in defeating the Germans and in occupying Otavi. Another brigade under General Lukin met with no resistance, but just marched rapidly forward, capturing prisoners on the way. In touch with this force was Botha, with his staff, while away to the west of the line was General My burgh, who captured nearly a hundred Germans at Ghaub, and about six hundred more at Tsumeb, one of the two termini of the railway. Another column under Colonel Brits was also gathering in captives and releasing British prisoners taken by the Germans, and it was soon announced officially that all these had been freed.
Unconditional Surrender of the Germans
The position of the Germans was now hopeless, and they knew it. Supplies were failing, water was by no means abundant, and if they retreated much further they would be surrounded by native tribes who would not hesitate to take revenge for past injuries. Under these circumstances, the governor, Dr. Seitz, asked Botha for terms, and the reply was unconditional surrender. It was uncertain what the German answer would be, and our army stood to arms through the night, ready, if need be, for a final battle. At two o'clock on the morning of July 9th, however, a messenger arrived at a spot on the railway between Otavi and Khorab, where Botha was waiting, and gave in the German reply. Botha's terms were accepted. Particulars were then arranged, and on July nth the prisoners began to arrive at Otavi. Some of them, we were told, were wearing a cross of black cloth, doubtless the nearest they could get to the iron one they loved.
Altogether, at this time 204 officers and 3,293 of other ranks surrendered with fifty- nine guns. About 1,700 Germans had previously been captured and a certain number killed, so there could not be many left of their original force. On the British side the number killed was only 440, less than a single day's losses in Flanders or the Dardanelles. Botha and his men received the thanks of the King and the Imperial Parliament; everyone realised that quick and complete success had attended this really great episode of the Great War.
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