Roy S. Jones


AN IMPORTANT CAUTIONARY NOTE: There is no equivalence – morally or in terms of scale – between the German combat casualties discussed in the analysis below and the murder of tens of thousands of Hereros – men, women, and children, young and old – during the genocide committed against the Herero people by German forces.


By the time the war was over, 65000 Hereros, i.e., perhaps as much as 80% of the Herero population, would die of starvation, hunger, or bullets. They were victims of a genocidal German campaign explicitly directed to ignore the distinction between armed or unarmed, between women and children and military age men.


There is thus an indisputable moral difference between German combat casualties and the Herero victims of the genocide.



This essay focuses on German combat casualties during the Herero War – specifically, on the misconception among some that German casualties were generally light and thus the battles and engagements were one-sided in favor of the Germans.


In fact, German casualty rates were as high as 70% (at Owikokorero, a disastrous German defeat), with casualty rates well above 10% in several other battles (e.g., 47% at Okaharui and 19% at Hamakari). Thus nearly 1 in 2 Germans were killed or wounded in the fiercest fighting at Okaharui, while nearly 1 in 5 Germans fell at Hamakari. Even at Omaruru, where the Hereros were caught slightly off-balance, the German casualty rate was 1 in 8 (i.e., 13%) - with 3 out of 4 of the platoon commanders wounded, two of them mortally.


As the Omaruru example shows, officer casualty rates were often especially high during Herero War battles: 25% officer casualties at Hamakari, 33% officer casualties at Otjihinamaparero, 75% officer casualties at Okaharui, 91% officer casualties at Owikokorero.


This essay is the first work to present German casualty rates – i.e., the percentage of the total force that was killed or wounded – for the individual Herero War battles[1].


The underlying raw data needed to calculate those percentages have been publicly available for more than a century.  The official histories of the Herero War have richly detailed annexes (i.e., appendices) that list every German killed, wounded, missing, died from disease, etc. In addition, within the main body of each history are descriptions of the individual battles, with the numbers of officers and men killed and wounded.


The official histories also provide detailed German orders of battle – number of officers present, number of men present, etc. – for the various Herero War engagements.


However, until this essay, the German casualty lists and casualty numbers had never been combined with the German orders of battle to calculate the casualty rates: the percentage of officers and men that had been killed or wounded in each of the battles.  With the exception of Löbell’s attempt for Owikokorero, even the official histories and the other original German sources never presented the casualty rates[2].


Thus, subsequent derivative works on the Herero War have only presented the absolute casualty numbers – because that was all that was readily available. This has often led to misinterpretations of how severe German casualties were during Herero War engagements. Because it is the casualty rate, rather than the absolute number of casualties, that is the true measure of the effect of casualties on a unit. Two examples below demonstrate this point.



On August 11, 1904, at the waterholes at Hamakari, Abteilung Mühlenfels was ambushed, immobilized, and completely surrounded by superior Herero forces during a nearly 11-hour-long battle.


During this battle the Germans had 2 officers and 10 men killed, 3 officers and 30 men wounded.


Those numbers - 12 dead, 33 wounded - at first glance might appear insignificant. However, those 45 total casualties came out of 239 officers and men. Abteilung Mühlenfels thus suffered a total casualty rate of 19% (i.e., nearly 1 in 5 Germans at Hamakari were killed or wounded).


This overall casualty rate was reflected in the losses of the individual infantry companies. 11th Feldkompagnie suffered an 18% casualty rate, which included losing all 3 of its officers in a matter of minutes. The 50 officers and men of the 10th Kompagnie had a 22% casualty rate (Bayer, pg. 154; Generalstab, pg. 165).


As these examples from Hamakari demonstrate, absolute numbers (i.e., the number of dead and wounded) can be deceiving when analyzing German casualties during the Herero War. What appear to be “small” absolute numbers may actually reflect significant, even devastating, casualty rates. And Hamakari was hardly the worst battle for the Germans in terms of casualties.


At Owikokorero, 7 officers were killed and 3 officers were wounded, for a total of 10 German officer casualties. Those absolute numbers may not seem particularly large or significant. However, expressed as a casualty rate of 91% (i.e., 10 out of 11), it is immediately obvious that the German officer cadre at Owikokorero was wiped out.  Similarly, the fact that 21 of the enlisted men were killed in this battle may seem unimpressive, until one realizes this means that 58% of the men were killed outright.


At Owikokorero, the total German casualty rate (killed and wounded) for officers and men was 70%, with the number of dead (7 officers and 21 men) vastly exceeding the number of wounded (3 officers and 2 men).  Leaders with a decade of military and political experience in South-West Africa were killed (e.g., Eggers and von François). Thus the Germans lost not only men but also institutional memory at Owikokorero. By any standard, the Battle of Owikokorero was a disaster for the Germans.



Owikokorero was by far the worst battle for the Germans in terms of casualty rates. However, Owikokorero and the previously referenced Hamakari were not the only battles in which the Germans suffered significant total casualties.


The table below presents data for the Herero War battles with high German casualty rates, where I have defined “high” as a total KIA & Wounded rate of 10% or higher.


The battles are sorted by total KIA & Wounded rate (which is the last column), in descending order. The casualty rates were calculated by the author (i.e., Roy Jones), using the casualty information and orders of battle found in the original German sources.



OWIKOKORERO 64% 91% 58% 64% 60% 70%
OKAHARUI 25% 75% 35% 45% 35% 47%
HAMAKARI 10% 25% 5% 18% 5% 19%
OTJIWARONGO 10% 16% 15%
OMARURU 0%/29%* 43% 3% 11% 4% 13%

The casualty rates above were calculated by the author, Roy Jones, and were derived from the casualty information and orders of battle found in the following sources. 

SOURCES: Generalstab, pp. 48, 51-57, 66-69, 116, 165, 171, 188, 228-230, 232-236, 248; Marine-Expeditionskorps, pp. 30, 45, 48-49, 97-98, 101-104; Bayer, pp. 139; 154


Hamakari and Owikokorero have already been discussed in the text (see “Examples: Hamakari and Owikokorero” above). Thus the notes below refer to Okaharui, Otjiwarongo and Omaruru.


OKAHARUI: The casualty rates are for the 1st Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnie only. This is not just because that Kompagnie bore the brunt of the casualties at Okaharui (28 of the 32 KIAs came from the unit). It is also because more fundamentally, until the rest of the column eventually came to its aid, the 1st Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnie was fighting the battle literally on its own.


The 1st Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnie’s battle at Okaharui was a particularly brutal fight: more than 1 in 3 Germans were killed; nearly 1 in 2 were killed or wounded. The number of KIA was greater than the number of wounded: 1 officer and 27 men killed, 2 officers and 8 men wounded (Owikokorero was the only other high-casualty battle where the dead outnumbered the wounded).



OTJIWARONGO: The official histories do not provide separate KIA and wounded casualty numbers for Otjiwarongo. Therefore, only the combined (KIA & Wounded) casualty rates could be calculated.



OMARURU: The casualty rates are for Kompagnie Franke only, for two reasons: (a) Kompagnie Franke bore the overwhelming majority of the casualties – 4 of the 6 KIA and 13 of the 15 wounded came from Kompagnie Franke; (b) there is no order of battle for 2nd Ersatz.


3 of the 7 officers in Kompagnie Franke (43%) were wounded at Omaruru. 2 of these wounded officers eventually succumbed to their injuries. Thus, while no officers were killed outright at Omaruru (hence the 0% KIA rate), 2 of the 7 officers eventually died (hence the 29%* notation). It should be noted that the officers wounded at Omaruru were 3 of the 4 platoon commanders; thus the platoon commanders at Omaruru suffered a 75% casualty rate, with 50% of them eventually dying.



A crucial fact to note is that the casualty rate amongst German officers was significantly higher than that amongst the German rank-and-file, sometimes markedly so.


For example: 


91% officer casualties vs. 64% rank-and-file casualties at Owikokorero;

75% casualties for officers vs. 45% casualties for the men at Okaharui;

43% officer casualties (75% of the platoon commanders) vs. 11% casualties for the men at Omaruru;

25% casualties for officers vs. 18% for the men at Hamakari.


Even when the overall KIA & Wounded rate was low (i.e., less than 10%), the rate for officers in particular could still be significant.  A good example of this phenomenon is the Battle of Otjihinamaparero.


The total size of the Westabteilung that set out for Otjihinamaparero was 179. Of these, 1 German was killed and 8 were wounded, translating into a total KIA rate of 0.6%, and a total KIA & Wounded rate of 5%.


However, these apparently low casualty rates do not accurately reflect the intensity of the battle. The Westabteilung consisted of 12 officers, 3 Sanitätsoffizieren, and 164 men (Generalstab, pg. 72). The casualties consisted of 1 officer killed, 3 officers wounded, 1 Sanitätsergeant wounded, and 4 corporals wounded (Generalstab, pg. 79).


In other words, 33% of the officers were killed or wounded and 33% of the Sanitätsoffizieren were wounded – hardly insignificant numbers. And a substantial fraction of the corporals were wounded (the total number of corporals in the Westabteiling are not available, so an exact casualty rate can not be calculated).


It should also be noted that German leadership bore ALL of the casualty burden at Otjihinamaparero: every German killed or wounded was an officer or NCO.

Why were officers more likely to be killed, or wounded, than the men they led?

It was NOT because an officer’s uniform, equipment or armament distinguished him from the rank-and-file. Hauptmann Maximilian Bayer’s description of his appearance makes this clear:

“I wore, like all officers except [Commander-in-Chief] Leutwein, a common enlisted-man’s uniform, a cartridge belt, no insignia and in the gun shoe a Gewehr 98.” (Translation by Roy Jones)

“[I]ch trug, wie alle Offiziere außer Leutwein, einfache Mannschaftsuniform, einen Patronengurt, keine Abzeichen und im Gewehrschuh ein Gewehr 98.” (Bayer, pg. 39)


This description is echoed in Leutnant Richard Max von Rosenberg’s after action report from Klein-Barmen:

“That we officers during the charge escaped with our lives was probably due to the fact that we were without insignia and were equipped and armed precisely like the enlisted men, and also that we rushed forward with the bayonet, so that were not recognizable as officers.”[3]  (Translation by Roy Jones)

‘“Das wir Offiziere beim Sturme mit dem Leben davon gekommen sind,” heißt es in dem Berichte weiter, “lag wohl daran, daß wir ohne Abzeichen, genau ebenso ausgerüstet und bewaffnet wie die Mannschaften waren und auch mit dem Bajonett vorstürmten, so daß wir als Offiziere nicht zu erkennen waren.” (Generalstab, pg. 87)

Thus the Hereros could not have identified and targeted an officer based on how he was uniformed, armed or equipped. However, while officers may have looked the same as the men they commanded, they could not have behaved the same. The very act of exerting leadership at the platoon and company level resulted in distinguishable behavioral differences between officers and enlisted personnel.


In order to lead, an officer had to receive information from his men and communicate his decisions to them (i.e., give orders). This meant that at crucial moments all eyes and/or ears had to be on him, i.e., he was literally the focus of attention, even if discretely so. It also meant he had to convey information to his subordinates clearly and quickly through the noise and chaos of a battle.


At the platoon and company level this was often done by voice command. German sources note occasions in which a single officer or NCO exerted command over multiple Züge (multiple platoons, i.e., a company or company-sized unit) via his loud voice or a loud shout (“befahl mit lauter Stimme”, “mit lauten Zuruf”; see Generalstab, pp. 99, 52).


In some cases that loud voice had to be augmented by bolder, bodily action – especially when trying to get troops to charge. At Onganjira, for example, after discovering that two of his fellow Zug (i.e., platoon) commanders had been killed Leutnant von Wurmb rushed to the front of his company and took command of all the Züge:

“[The company commander] shouted to the skirmishing line from the right wing the order: ‘Fix bayonets -charge’. The platoon commander of the platoon on the right wing, 2nd Lieutenant von Wurmb, shouted the order to the left to the next platoon commander along, 1st Lieutenant von Estorff.  ‘[Estorff’s] dead’ was reported back; ‘Pass on [the order] to 2nd Lieutenant von Errfa’, shouted Lieutenant von Wurmb to the other side; ‘Lieutenant von Errfa’s also dead’ was the response back. Then 2nd Lieutenant Wurmb sprang upwards, just he alone, and rushed with a loud shout in front of the middle of the company. As if in a single stroke the entire line stood up, and with wild cheers full of vengefulness charged at the [Hereros].” (Translation by Roy Jones)

“Er rief vom rechten Flügel den Befehl in die Schützenlinie: ‘Seitengewehre aufpflanzen – stürmen.’ Der Zugführer des rechten Flügelzuges, Leutnant v. Wurmb, rief den Befehl nach links an den nächsten Zugführer, Oberleutnant v. Estorff, weiter. ‘Tot’ wurde zurückgemeldet; ‘an Leutnant v. Erffa Befehl weitergeben’ rief Leutnant v. Wurmb hinüber; ‘Leutnant v. Errfa auch tot’ lautete es zurück. Da sprang Leutnant v. Wurmb allein empor und stürzte mit lauten Zuruf vor die Mitte der Kompagnie. Wie mit einem Schlage erhob sich die ganze Linie und drang mit wildem Hurraruf voll Rachedurst auf den Feind ein. “(Generalstab, pg. 99)


At Omaruru, Hauptmann Viktor Franke chose an especially audacious – arguably even reckless – course of action: instead of merely rushing to the front of his Kompagnie, Franke mounted his horse and galloped forward to attack the Hereros by himself, thus inspiring his men to follow their daring leader.

“Hauptmann Franke now put his decision to proceed to the assault into immediate effect. He shouted to the skirmishing line the order to fall in for the assault. Be it that the men were too exhausted, or be it that the order was not passed on along the widely-dispersed lying-down skirmishing line, however it may be [the order] was not immediately and generally obeyed. Then Hauptmann Franke leaped onto his white horse, galloped on horseback at full speed to the front of the company, and was about to attack the enemy by himself. This enthralling deed was an igniting spark; as if in a single stroke the entire line stood up; filled with enthusiasm and with loud hurrahs the 2nd Feldkompagnie followed their beloved leader, with lance-corporals Nuschke and Besso leading the way. Against the utterly-fearless onrush of the brave men [of Kompagnie Franke], the enemy did not stand firm. His heretofore [quite] tough resistance collapsed; he fled in a northwesterly direction over the Omaruru River. (Translation by Roy Jones)


"Hauptmann Franke brachte nunmehr seinen Entschluß, zum Sturm zu schreiten, unverzüglich zur Ausführung. Er rief der Schützenlinie den Befehl zu, zum Sturme anzutreten. Sei es, daß die Mannschaften zu erschöpft waren, sei es, daß der Befehl in der weit zerstreut liegenden Schützenlinie nicht weitergegeben wurde, gleichviel, er wurde nicht sofort allgemein befolgt. Da schwang sich Hauptmann Franke auf seinen Schimmel, sprengte hoch zu Roß vor die Front und wollte allein auf den Feind eindringen. Diese hinreißende Tat zündete; wie mit einem Schlage erhob sich die ganze Linie, begeistert und mit lautem Hurra folgte die 2. Feldkompagnie ihrem geliebten Führer, allen voran die Gefreiten Nuschke und Besso. Dem todesmutigen Ansturm der tapferen Männer hielt der Feind nicht stand. Seine bis jetzt so zähe Widerstandskraft brach zusammen, er floh in nordwestlicher Richtung über den Omaruru-Fluß[.]" (Generalstab, pg. 56)


These sort of leadership actions – shouting orders, rushing to the front of a unit, galloping on horseback – may have allowed the Hereros to recognize who were officers. At a minimum, these actions made officers stand out, thus making them easier targets.


Despite this, Hauptmann Franke and Leutnant von Wurmb emerged alive and unscathed after leading their companies in combat against the Hereros. Other German platoon and company commanders were not so lucky.


For example, Hauptmann Gansser, Oberleutnant Streccius, and Leutnant Leplow were shot down in succession while leading the 11th Feldkompagnie in its charge at Hamakari:

“Captain Gansser, shot through the head, fell at the front of the onslaughting company; a few moments later, 1st Lieutenant Streccius was severely wounded. This did not stop the company in its brave forward charge. Just in front of the enemy position 2nd Lieutenant Leplow, mortally struck by several bullets, collapsed. On their own, even though without officers and despite the murderous fire that confronted them, the brave troopers penetrated into the enemy position and took the forwardmost waterhole with fixed bayonets.

The [Hereros] vanished into the thick bush at lightning speed, however reappearing after a short time with overwhelming strength, in order to again take back the waterholes from the company. Unteroffizier Bötzel in the meantime had taken over leadership of the company, as all the veteran Unteroffiziere [i.e., NCOs] were among the dead or among the wounded.”  (Translation by Roy Jones)


“Hauptmann Gansser fiel durch den Kopf geschossen vor der Front der stürmenden Kompagnie; wenige Augenblicke später wurde der Oberleutnant Streccius schwer verwundet, allein die Kompagnie ließ sich hierdurch in ihrem tapferen Vorstürmen nicht aufhalten. Dicht vor der feindlichen Stellung brach auch der Leutnant Leplow, von mehreren Kugeln tödlich getroffen, zusammen, allein wenn auch ohne Offiziere, drangen die tapferen Reiter trotz des mörderischen Feuers, das ihnen entgegenschlug, mit aufgepflanztem Seitengewehr in die feindliche Stellung und nahmen die vordersten Wasserlöcher in Besitz.

Der Feind verschwand blitzschnell in dem dichten Busch, erschien jedoch nach kurzer Zeit mit überlegenen Kräften wieder, um die Wasserlöcher der Kompagnie wieder zu entreißen. Ihre Führung hatte inzwischen Unteroffizier Bötzel übernommen, da alle älteren Unteroffiziere teils tot, teils verwundet waren.”  (Generalstab, pg. 165)


Similarly at Otjihinamaparero the 4th Feldkompagnie lost both of its company leaders within moments:

“The 4th company was already completely surrounded on all sides, and the [confidently advancing Hereros] approached until within 150 m. The company was leaderless. 1st Lieutenant Schultze … had received a shot in the underarm.  Directed by his company commander, 1st Lieutenant Freiherr von Schönau, to make his way to the rear so that he could be bandaged, [Schultze] was about to obey this order, until the company commander was likewise severely wounded, by a bullet in the thigh. Acclaiming [to his commander]: ‘Now let you be bandaged first, your wound is more severe than mine.’, 1st Lieutenant Schultze remained lying down in the skirmishing line, in order to take command of the company. A few moments later [this] brave officer was mortally struck down by a bullet to the chest. A catastrophe was imminent.” (Translation by Roy Jones)


“Die 4. Kompagnie war bereits von allen Seiten völlig umfaßt, und der übermütig vordrängende Feind bis auf 150 m herangekommen. Die Kompagnie war ohne Führer. Oberleutnant Schultze … hatte einen Schuß in den Unterarm erhalten.  Von seinen Kompagnieführer Oberleutnant Frhrn. v. Schönau, aufgefordert, sich nach rückwarts zu begeben, um sich verbinden zu lassen, wollte er diesem Befehle gerade nachkommen, als der Kompagnieführer selber durch einen Schuß in den Oberschenkel schwer verwundet wurde. Mit dem Zuruf:  ‘Nun lassen Sie sich aber zuerst verbinden, Ihre Verwundung ist schlimmer als die meinige’, blieb Oberleutnant Schultze in der Schützenlinie liegen, um das Kommando über die Kompagnie zu übernehmen. Wenige Augenblicke später wurde der tapfere Offizier von einem Schuß durch die Brust tödlich getroffen. Eine Katastrophe stand bevor.” (Generalstab, pg. 76-77)


It was not only company commanders who were struck down quickly – platoon leaders were also at risk. At Onganjira, two platoon commanders from the 4th Feldkompagnie – Oberleutnant von Estorff and Leutnant von Erffa – were killed within moments of each other while leading their respective platoons in an assault. Ironically, this assault on a Herero-occupied knoll had been ordered by Oberleutnant von Estorff’s brother: Major von Estorff (commander of the German left flank).

“Major von Estorff ordered [the Hereros] to be driven off and the hillock – which offered an advantageous firing position – to becaptured. Before [their company commander] 1st Lieutenant Epp had even arrived back at his company, the riflemen rushed forward with loud hurrahs, with 1st Lieutenant von Estorff  (a brother of the major) and 2nd Lieutenant von Errfa (who as a staff sergeant had participated with great distinction in Kompagnie Franke’s triumphal march) leading the way. Within a few moments both brave officers – the hurrahs scarcely having left their lips – collapsed silently at the front of their platoons, one struck in the middle of the heart, the other shot through the head. Full of wrath over the loss of their leaders the troopers closed in on the enemy with fixed bayonets; but [the Hereros] evacuated their position just in time, eschewing hand-to-hand combat.” [4] (Translation by Roy Jones)


“Major v. Estorff befahl, ihn zu verjagen und die Geländewelle, die eine günstige Feuerstellung bot, zu gewinnen. Mit lautem Hurra stürzten, noch ehe Oberleutnant Epp wieder bei seiner Kompagnie eingetroffen war, die Schützen vor, allen voran Oberleutnant v. Estorff, ein Bruder des Majors, sowie Leutnant der Reserve Frhr. v. Erffa, der den Siegeszug der Kompagnie Franke als Vizewachtmeister mit großer Auszeichnung mitgemacht hatte. Nach wenigen Augenblicken brachen die beiden tapferen Offiziere, das Hurra noch auf den Lippen, der eine mitten ins Herz getroffen, der andere durch den Kopf geschossen, vor ihren Zügen lautlos zusammen. Voll ingrimm über den Verlust ihrer Führer drangen die Reiter mit aufgepflanzten Seitengewehren auf den Feind ein; doch dieser räumte, den Kampf Mann gegen Mann scheuend, rechtzeitig seine Stellung.”  (Generalstab, pg. 98)


At Owiumbo, raising one’s head in order to assess the tactical situation proved fatal for the commander of the 6th Feldkompagnie:

“Immediately after the deployment of his company fell here the leader of the 6th Company, Captain von Bagenski, shot through the head as he slightly raised himself to able to be better observe the effectiveness of his company’s fire”.  (Translation by Roy Jones)  

“Unmittelbar nach der Entwicklung seiner Kompagnie fiel hier, durch den Kopf geschossen, der Führer der 6. Kompagnie, Hauptmann v. Bagenski, als er sich etwas erhob, um die Feuerwirkung besser beobachten zu können.” (Generalstab, pg. 106)


As these examples demonstrate, exercising command functions – leading a charge against an enemy position, making an observation, assuming command from a replacement – could be quite hazardous for German officers. These leadership actions made an officer stand out, despite his being uniformed/armed/equipped just like his men, and thus increased the risk that a German officer would fall in battle.


And if an officer went down, his replacement would initially stand out even more than his predecessor. While the predecessor would have to engage in the actions described above, he wouldn’t have to change his “mode of behavior”: he was the company or platoon commander, engaging in the routines appropriate for his role.  His replacement, on the other hand, would have to immediately change his mode of behavior in order to assume command: changing from a man silently receiving orders to the man shouting orders to his troops, from a man waiting for the next move to the man rushing to the front, from a man lying down to the man raising his head to better observe.


The Hereros would very likely notice the man who had suddenly changed his behavior thus. The Hereros would then draw the appropriate conclusion and deliver the appropriate – very often fatal – response. For humans, like most predators, are very sensitive to changes in their potential prey.


This may explain while officers were killed or wounded just moments after assuming command from a fallen superior. At Otjihinamaparero, for example, Oberleutnant Schultze was struck down immediately after replacing his wounded company commander.


Similarly at Hamakari, all three commanders of the 11th Feldkompagnie were rapidly shot down in succession: first the original company commander, Hauptmann Gansser; then moments later his replacement, Oberleutnant Streccius; and finally, the new replacement – Leutnant Leplow.


It was not only the officers who were swiftly shot down. In a short period of time (“nach kurzer Zeit”) all the veteran NCOs of the 11th Feldkompagnie were also killed or wounded (“alle älteren Unteroffiziere teils tot, teils verwundet waren”).  With the entire senior leadership (i.e., all the officers and all the veteran NCOs) dead or incapacitated by wounds, command of the company devolved upon the shoulders of an inexperienced NCO, Unteroffizier Bötzel.


Die Kämpfe der deutschen Truppen in Südwestafrika. Auf Grund amtlichen Materials bearbeitet von der Kriegsgeschichtlichen Abteilung I des Großen Generalstabes. Erster Band (von 2): Der Feldzug gegen die Hereros; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1906; (hereafter, Generalstab)

Bayer, Maximilian Mit dem Hauptquartier in Südwestafrika; Berlin, Wilhelm Weicher, 1909; (hereafter, Bayer)

Marine-Expeditionskorps in Südwest-Afrika während des Herero-Aufstandes Auf Grund amtlichen Materials bearbeitet im Admiralstab der Marine; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1905; (hereafter, Marine-Expeditionskorps)

Die Tätigkeit des Landungskorps S.M.S. "Habicht" während des Herero‑Aufstandes in Süd‑West‑Afrika, Januar/Februar 1904 Auf Grund amtlichen Materials bearbeitet im Admiralstab der Marine; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1905; (hereafter, Landungskorps)

Generaleutnant z. D. Gerhard von Pelet-Narbonne (ed), V. Löbell's Jahresberichte über die Veränderungun und Fortschritte im Militärwesen. XXXI. Jahrgang: 1904; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1905**; (hereafter, Löbell)

** = The publication year is listed as 1904 in most references (in fact, in all the references I've seen). However, von Pelet-Narbonne's forward ("Vorwort") is dated April 1905, and that cannot be a misprint for April 1904 since the book covers events into at least August of 1904. Thus the correct year of publication must be 1905. 

[1] Prior to this current essay, I had already calculated and presented the casualty rates for Owikokorero (see The Herero War, Roy Jones and Eric Alvarado, pg. 93). Subsequent to the April 2014 publication of the latter work I discovered that Löbell's 1904 Jahresberichte had attempted to calculate the Owikokorero casualty rates (see Löbell, pg. 468). While Löbell's casualty rate for the officers is correct, the casualty rate for the men is incorrect (88% vs. the correct value of 64%). This is the result of two errors: (a) Löbell includes the men of the machine gun team in the casualties but excludes them from the order of battle; (b) the men protecting the cattle are subtracted twice. A comparison with the detailed order of battle for Owikokorero in the Marine official history demonstrates this (see Marine-Expeditionskorps, pp. 30, 101-102). In defense of the authors in Löbell, that detailed Marine data may have been inaccessible to them (Löbell's authors were working with data from the Heer, i.e., the Army).


With the exclusion of Löbell’s attempt, no one else has presented total casualty rates for the individual Herero War battles. For Hamakari, Bayer’s 1909 first-person account provided casualty percentages for the two hardest-hit infantry companies (the 10th and 11th Feldkompagnien – see Bayer, pg. 154). However, Bayer did not provide casualty percentages for Abteilung Mühlenfels as a whole. Those total casualty rates for Hamakari have been calculated by this author (i.e., Roy Jones) and are presented in this current essay, as are Bayer’s fine-detailed numbers for individual companies.


German casualty rates for multiple battles combined have been presented for the Landungskorps SMS “Habicht” and for the Ostabteilung (see respectively Landungskorps, pg. 30, Löbell, pg. 470). However these combined, campaign-level casualty rates did not look at the individual battles. In addition, the combined casualty rates include not just combat casualties but also casualties due to disease (although the combat casualty percentages could be backed out from the data).


[2] See Footnote 1 above for a discussion of Löbell’s casualty calculations for Owikokorero.

[3]The Battle of Klein-Barmen was a fierce and tough fight. Heavy Herero rifle fire – delivered from the heights overlooking the Swakop River – had stymied the Germans’ attack across the entire battlefront. The Hereros then went on the offensive and attempted to envelop the German right flank; only a determined foray by a group of Marines thwarted a serious threat (“verhinderte eine ernste Gefahr”).


Hauptmann Puder – the overall German commander – realized that the Germans were not going to win this battle through sheer firepower. Even German artillery had virtually no effect against concealed Herero troops fighting behind boulder cover (“das Feuer der Maschinenkanonen gegen den in den Felsen versteckten Feind als nahezu wirkungslos”). Herero rifle fire, on the other hand, had halted any German attempt to advance.


Puder therefore ordered Leutnant von Rosenberg to take his 5th Feldkompagnie, dash across unprotected open ground, swing around the Hereros’ right flank (which was opposite the German left) and take the Herero position by storm! Rosenberg confessed that his heart pounded as he acknowledged receipt of his orders (“Ich muß ehrlich gestehen, daß mir das Herz klopfte, als ich den Empfang des Zettels bescheingte”).


To safely reach their jumping-off point on the left, Leutnant von Rosenberg and his 5th Feldkompagnie crawled for 800 meters on all fours through concealing thorn bushes that tattered their uniforms and tore their flesh. After a 15-minute pause to recover, Rosenberg and his men sprang out of the concealing bush and charged across 150 meters of open ground that was completely devoid of cover, and that was swept by Herero Höllenfeuer (“hellish fire”) delivered from three sides: front, left, and right. The 5th Feldkompagnie then charged with fixed bayonets into the Hereros’ fortified position. While doing so, the Germans were unexpectedly attacked from the rear; it was only through the intervention of their artillery that they were saved.


Klein-Barmen was clearly a ferocious battle. The Germans, however, suffered no officer casualties here. While officers being uniformed and equipped like their men was certainly a significant reason, it may not have been the dominant one (despite Leutnant von Rosenberg’s believe to the contrary). After all, several of Hauptmann Bayer’s fellow officers were killed or wounded at Onganjira, Owiumbo and Hamakari despite being indistinguishable from the rank-and-file. In fact among the officer casualties at Onganjira (which took place 5 weeks after Klein-Barmen) was Leutnant von Rosenberg himself, who was mortally wounded. Clearly, looking like an enlisted man did not save him.


At Klein-Barmen, on the other hand, the concealed approach crawl may have saved von Rosenberg and his officer comrades. Had the Hereros been able to observe the 5th Feldkompagnie as it was preparing to charge, the combat casualty picture may have been very different. Although von Rosenberg and the other officers were not killed or wounded by Herero bullets, they did not come out of the battle unscathed. Von Rosenberg and several of his men had to be partially bandaged because of thorn wounds to their faces and hands.


(The account above of the Battle of Klein-Barmen is derived from Generalstab, pp. 84-89)




[4] While their fury provided the impetus for the leaderless troopers to complete this initial charge, the deaths of Oberleutnant von Estorff and Leutnant Erffa severely disrupted the 4th Feldkompagnie’s command structure – preventing orders from being passed down the skirmishing line when the company had to charge again, and requiring Leutnant von Wurmb to take bold actions to re-establish command and control (see the description in a previous paragraph of Leutnant von Wurmb’s actions at Onganjira).

Copyright  Dr. Roy S. Jones, Jr,  2006-2017