Fellow member Rodney Warwick continued with his presentation from last year on the 1915 campaign in German South West Africa. Using digital projection to great effect, he first again sketched the political and social background of the war. The capture of Windhoek was deemed vital to the defence of the country because it commanded the railway to the south, to Karibib and to Tsumeb in the north. The German forces' rapid deployment depended on train transport. SA riflemen and mounted units were far less dependent for their mobility on the railway line.. UDF commanders were required to concentrate for an advance on Windhoek along the shortest possible route. Col. P.Skinner landed in Walvis Bay on 25 December 1914 and continued to Swakopmund which was undefended. Gen. L.Botha landed in Luderitz on 8 January 1915 and on 10 February took over from Col. Skinner, and this put a force of 4 700 rifles and just over four artillery batteries at his disposal. The Germans had 13 000 rifles and 26 guns, but of these only 5000 rifles and 8 guns covered the line to Windhoek. Botha had two lines of advance open to him. One was along the railway line to Usakos, the other along the Swakop river to Riet.
Since the grass veld, which meant forage and mobility for his commandos, was reported to begin at Riet, Botha decided to take the second route, even against advice from Cape Town. The Germans had removed the railway tracks between the coast and Roessing and it would have taken until end of May to build a new line, and by waiting Botha believed that he would sacrifice the commandos' mobility and risk losing his personal influence on them as many would want to return home. He therefore decided on the riskier river route, advised DHQ of his decision and asked for preparations regarding supplies to be made. If his commandos could reach Riet and its wells, their mobility would be considerably increased. On 18 March Botha's 1st and 2nd Mounted Brigades arrived at Husab, then separated on the next day to advance.. Cmdt Bezuidenihout, with 300 men, was to move against Riet from the southeast, while the remaining 1 800 men were to advance on the road to Langen Heinricht from the west. Cmdt Alberts split his command into its right and left wings, with the right under Cmdt Badenhorst moving against Pforteberg from the south. The left wing under Cmdt Collins was to ride north of the Pforteberg. Botha's intention was to encircle the Germans who blocked his way, some 2 000 men, all well trained, with a thorough knowledge of the country, ample supplies and entrenched in strong positions.
Their artillery was sited above Riet and Pforte. On 20th March battle commenced, with the THA guns inflicting severe damage on the Germans, but the commandos could not budge the well entrenched enemy, nor could they turn his flanks. The Germans had particularly protected their right with skilfully positioned machine guns. Cmdt Brits sent 200 men into the Langen Heinricht heights to turn the enemy's flank, but the terrain was rugged and progress slow. Cmdt Brink sent his Brig-Maj Brink to cross the river with horses but the steep cliffs made this difficult. However, instead of reporting the static situation back to Botha, Brits and Brink did nothing but waited or gave up and returned. It was only late in the afternoon, and after the successes at Pforte forced the German guns to withdraw, that the position changed. At Pforte Albert's commandos and Cmdt Swart's scouts, helped by Cmdt Badenhorst's mounted force, had been much more successful. They seized the gap between Husabberg and Pforteberg and moved behind the Germans, cutting the railway line between Pforte and Jakkelswater, forcing the enemy to pull back. The action at Pforte became an artillery duel, and eventually the Germans, after suffering considerable losses, were forced to surrender.. The losses of the UDF were small. As a result of the action, the wells at Riet were secure and the UDF now had a clear path to Windhoek. In particular the UDF Artillery must be given credit for their skilful operations. The horses were too spent to pursue the Germans further south, and because of the lack of stores.
Rodney closed his extensive talk, supplemented by a host of unusual illustrations, some of them of the "then-and-now variety", facts and maps, with an excellent Video. It was shot by himself on the actual battle site, underlining the remoteness and vastness of the country and the difficulties faced by both sides during the battle. Even after so many years remnants of uniforms, equipment, ammunition etc. are still lying around.
All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797-5167