The World at War

German South West Africa 1844-1920

German South West Africa Timeline

1844The Rheinidch-evangelische Missionsgesellschaft establishes a Protestant mission among the Herero.
1878March The Union Jack is hoisted at Walvis Bay, and a small part of the adjacent land is declared to be part of the British Cape Colony.
1882November Adolf Lüderitz, a Bremen merchant, informs the German government of his intention to establish a factory on the coast of southern Africa between the Orange River and the Little Fish River, and asks if he might rely on them for protection should the need arise.
1883February The German ambassador in London informs the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Granville, of Lüderitz's plans, and asks, "whether Her Majesty's government exercise any authority in that locality?" It is implied that if such is not the case, then Germany will extend to Lüderitz's factory, "the same measure of protection which they give to their subjects in remote parts of the world, but without having the least design to establish any footing in South Africa." The British reply is somewhat inconclusive.
April An agent for Lüderitz lands at Angra Pequeña Bay and concludes a treaty with the Nama Chief Joseph Fredericks to acquire 215 square miles surrounding the Bay. Lüderitz’s domain is extended southward to the border of the Cape Colony at the south bank of the Orange River in subsequent treaties.
November The German ambassador again asks if Great Britain makes any claim over the coast of South West Africa. Lord Granville replies that British sovereignty extends only to certain parts of the coast such as Walvis Bay. The Foreign Secretary further suggests that an accord might be reached under which Germany might assist Lüderitz’s enterprise.
1884April 24 Chancellor Bismarck telegraphs Mr. Lippert, the German Consul in Capetown, instructing him to inform the Government of the Cape Colony that, “Lüderitz Land”, is now formally under the protection of the German Empire.
June 22 A German protectorate is proclaimed over Lüderitzland.
August 15 The German Consul delivers a note to the British High Commissioner at Capetown informing him that the Kaiser has issued a proclamation taking, “the territory belonging to Mr. Adolf Lüderitz on the west coast of Africa under the direct protection of His Majesty." The German protectorate is extended over a 20 mile wide strip of the coast between the north bank of the Orange River and 26°south latitude and islands adjacent there to.
September 8 Germany informs the British Government that, “the west coast of Africa from 26° south latitude to Cape Frio, excepting Walvis Bay” has been placed under the protection of the Kaiser. Afterwards, the Germans expand their colony by annexing "uninhabited regions", "terra nullius", and signing so-called "protection treaties" with different Namibian communities far into the interior. Within six years the giant "Schutzgebiet Deutsch-Südwestafrika" develops from Lüderitz's small private enterprise.
1885May Heinrich Ernst Göring is appointed acting German Commissioner for South West Africa.
October 21 Herero Chief Maherero Kajamuaha, who formerly favored British protection, is forced to conclude a treaty of protection and amity with Germany.
1886October 24 Adolf Lüderitz dies. Angra Pequeña Bay is renamed Lüderitzbucht (Lüderitz Bay) shortly thereafter.
December 30 Germany and Portugal sign an accord establishing the Cunene River as the boundary between Lüderitzland and Angola. The entire Atlantic coast between the Cape Colony and Angola with the exception of Walvis Bay and the a few off shore islands is in German hands.
1890The Protectorate of German South West Africa (Schutzgebiet Deutsch-Südwestafrika) is proclaimed.
July The Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty signed between Great Britain and Germany moves the boundary between South West Africa and the Cape Colony from the south bank to the north bank of the Orange River from its mouth on the Atlantic to its intersection with 20° east longitude.
July Great Britain cedes a 100 km wide, 480 km long, strip of territory along the Angola border with British Bechuanaland extending German South West Africa’s frontier to the Zambezi River. German Chancellor Georg von Caprivi, for whom the strip is named, hopes to establish a trade route linking the protectorate with German East Africa via the rivers and Lake Tanganyika.
During the Year Herero Chief Maherero Kajamuaha dies. The Germans install his younger son, Samuel Maherero, as supreme chief, bypassing the rightful heir.
1892November Samuel Maherero and Hendrik Witbooi sign a treaty ending 12 years of warfare between the Hereros and the Namas.
1896Governor Leutwein charters the protectorate’s first municipality, Windhoek.
1904January 12 Herero leader Samuel Maherero launches a general uprising against German settlers in Hereroland. First reports of the rebellion reaching Berlin speak optimistically of the rebels being rounded up.
January 14 The Herero destroy the Osona railway bridge at Okahandja and cut the telegraph line to Winhoek. Communications between Swakopmund and Windhoek are cut.
January 19 A German cruiser lands a company of 2 officers and 52 men at Swakopmund. The detachment armed with a machine gun and two small field guns advances as far as Karibib.
January 25 A Central Emergency Committee is organized by the Deutsch Kolonialgeschellschaft to house and feed the evacuees from South West Africa.
February 10 The first detachment of the Sea Battalion under Major von Glasenapp lands at Swakopmund. Von Glasenapp assumes supreme command in the Protectorate.
March 1 More German troops land at Swakopmund.
A battle is fought at Otjihinamaparero springs east of Omaruru.
13 March The Herero attack von Glasenapp’s detachment killing 7 officers and 13 enlisted men and wounding 5 others.
April 2 Von Glasenapp defeat the Herero in a skirmish at Okaharui.
April 9 A German detachment under Colonel Leutwein defeats a 3000 man Herero force in an eight hour battle at Onganjira.
April 22 The Reichstag approves a 2 million mark loan to cover damages from the Herero uprising.
April Von Glasenapp’s column is stricken with typhoid fever at the end of the month. Sickness claims more victims than the Herero.
German settlers meet in Windhoek and draw up a petition demanding aid. A five man delegation is dispatched to Berlin to explain the causes of the rebellion and request compensation for damages.
May Lieutenant General von Trotha, division commander in Trier and former Deputy Governor of East Africa, is appointed Commander in Chief of German troops in Southwest Africa.
June 11 Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha arrives in Swakopmund to assume command of German forces.
August 11 The Battle of Hamakari commences on the Waterberg Plateau. General von Trotha attacks the Herero from three sides. The Herero are drawn to a weak spot in the German lines and when they eventually break through it von Trotha moves reinforcements into the gap trapping 25,000 Herero including women and children in a sandy valley whose only opening leads to a 200 mile waterless desert called the Omaheke sandveld. Von Trotha erects a 150-mile line of guardposts, keeping the Hereros in the desert where he has poisoned the few water wells. The Herero are left with no choice but to flee across the desert into British Bechuanaland. Thousands of Herero and their livestock perish on the “Trail of Bones”.
August The settlers’ delegation is given an audience with Kaiser and the Chancellor who promise to send additional troops to Southwest Africa and to submit a request to the Reichstag for an appropriation 5 million marks in aid to the protectorate.
German troops are sent to the south to suppress a band of rebels led by Morenga.
September German troops engage a small band of Herero stragglers near Epukiro.
October 2 General von Trotha issues a proclamation declaring that, “any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people or I will shoot them."
October 8 Governor Leutweins learns that the Namas, on whose loyalty he had counted, have risen up. Most of the tribes have joined Hendrik Witoois who has organized a well armed force of 600 men at Rietmont and Kalkfontein. They are quickly reinforced by the Red Nation, the Franzmann Hottentots from Gocha and the Northern Bethanians. Only the Bethanier and Rehobether bands have remained loyal to the Germans.
October 24 General von Trotha and his staff arrive in Windhoek from the northern theater to plan the suppression of the Nama rebellion in the south.
November 13 Governor Leutwein is dismissed and leaves the colony. General Trotha assumes responsibility for the conduct of civil affairs pending the arrival of the new governor Friedrich von Lindequist, the German Consul in Capetown.
November The Deutsch Kolonialgeschellschaft has collected 275,000 marks to aid German settlers. 70,000 marks and a large shipment of clothing has been sent to the Central Emergency Committee in Windhoek. Similar amounts have been sent to other committees in Karibib, Grottfontein, Omaruru, Swakopmund and Outjo.
December 4 A German column under Colonel Deimling occupies Rietmont after inflicting heavy losses on the Namas including the capture of 15,000 cattle.
During the Year German forces in South West Africa number 10,400. Thirty nine 39 officers and 286 are men are killed in the field. Typhoid fever kills another 15 officers and 247 men.
1905January German troops defeat the Namas and 250 Herero after a 50 battle at Gross Nabas near Stamprietfontein but are unable to persue the fleeing rebels due to lack of water and ammunition.
Colonel Deimling defeats the Simon Kopper men to the south of Gochas and the Witbois, who had withdrawn in front of Major Meister, at Auob. However, problems with transportation and a deadly disease affecting horses, donkeys and mules prevent further exploitation of the German success.
January 31 The Reichstag’s budget commission reduces the Government’s request for a 5 million mark supplemental appropriation for Southwest Africa to 3 million marks.
March 19 Lieutenant Liebert’s column pushes the Morenga band to the South African border.
August 19 Friedrich von Lindequist becomes Governor of South West Africa.
September 13 A German column under Major Meister dislodges the Namas from their positions near Nabib, west of Haruchasafter a 6 hour ascent in steep mountains and a 5 hour struggle ending in hand-to-hand combat.
October The Lengerke column advances against Hendrik Witboi at Aminuis.
November 19 Lieutenant General von Trotha departs Lüderitzbucht on the steamer Prinzregent bound for Germany. Colonel Dame takes command of the Schutztruppe.
November 27 Friedrich von Lindequist arrives in Windhoek to take up his duties as Governor.
November 2 Captain Goliath reports that Nama Chief Hendrik Witbooi has sustained a severe wound to his upper thigh while leading an ambush on a supply wagon near Fahlgras and that Witbooi’s son Samuel Isaak has taken command of the rebels.
November 3 Hendrik Witbooi, Chief of the Namas, dies of his wounds.
November Samuel Isaak and 17 Nama chiefs along with their followers voluntarily surrender at Berseba.
December The Reichstag approves construction of the 167 km long South West African southern railway to connect Lüderitzbucht with Kubub with plans to eventually continue it to Keetmanshoop and perhaps into the Cape Province of South Africa.
During the Year The German military authorities establish concentration camps modeled after those established by the British during the Boer War at Swakopmund, Windhoek, Okahandja and Luderitz for the internment of Herero prisoners of war. The mortality rate for the 17,000 prisoners housed in the camps during the course of the war exceeds 42%.
1906January 26 Casualty figures for the 14,537 German forces engaged in the South West African War total: 642 killed in battle, missing or died of wounds, 719 wounded, 638 deaths from disease.
September The first train of the Otavi railroad reaches Tsumeb, the terminus of the 570 km line connecting the port of Swakopmund with the Otavi mining district.
October 10 The railway from Lüderitzbucht has reaches Kubub after surmount the wide girdle of dunes in the hinterland of Lüderitzbucht.
During the Year Governor von Lindequist grants a municipal charter to the town of Swakopmund.
1907January 1 The European civilian population numbers 7,110 nearly double the figure prior to the start of the war in 1903. The female population has risen extraordinarily, while the number of men in the colony remained stable. This is attributed to the large number of teamsters and Schutztruppe employees who left the country at the end of the rebellion and were replace by settlers with families.
April 1 An official proclamation declares the war against the rebellious natives ended. Estimates of Herero and Nama killed or dead from starvation exceed 60,000. The German High Command reports that 7,682 Herero and Nama prisoners of war have died in captivity.
May 20 Bruno von Schuckmann becomes Governor of Southwest Africa.
December The first shipment of copper leaves the smelter at Tsumeb. The new smelter has the capacity to process South West Africa’s low grade ore profitably.
During the Year Governor von Lindequist issues a series of decrees designed to keep the native population under strict control. They require every native to carry passport with him at all times, to take employment with a European, and be subjected to permanent control. The decrees are based on legislation in neighboring southern African colonies, particularly that of British Rhodesia.
The Colonial Office issues strict orders that no native (except the Ovambos) can own land or cattle, all males over 17 are to carry passes, and all natives are subject to compulsory labor.
A Commission of Native Affairs is appointed. The importation of alcohol for sale to natives has been banned. Purchase and consumption of alcohol by Coloureds is prohibited.
The end of the rebellion and consequent reduction in the ranks of Schutztruppe has altered the focus of the South West African economy. Farmers replace merchants as the dominant force in the economy. The change is particularly evident in the port cities of Swakopmund and Lüderitzbucht.
Locusts invade the farms around Swakopmund in gigantic swarms. They annihilate plants and gardens. Small farmers suffer damages totaling 10,000 to 12,000 marks.
Construction continues on the Lüderitzbucht to Keetmanshoop railroad’s main line and the branch line from Aus to Keetmanshoop. Progress is slow. Rock cuts and dams have to be constructed on the dunes segment between km 19 and 26 and for a long time all water has to be brought in by wagon from Lüderitzbucht. A liter of potable water cost 22 Pfennigs.
1908January 1 The European population has increased by nearly 9% during the preceding year to 8,213 despite the emigration of 3,000 foreigners and unemployed men from the South African Cape Colony.
During the Year Diamond finds are reported in the hinterlands around Luderitzbucht.
Governor von Schuckmann dispatches Major Franke to explore the Ovamboland. The Ovambo chiefs sign treaties recognizing the sovereignty of the Kaiser and placing themselves under his protection. They also agree to allow recruitment of workers in their territory. Ovamboland is still closed to the general public. Only a small number of freight drivers are granted permission to enter the area to deliver supplies to resident missionaries. Ovambo migration to the south increases considerably at year’s end. The mines at Tsumeb and Gochab register sufficient Ovambo workers after Christmas.
Despite a declaration of peace on April 1, 1907, raids by natives continue. The Coloured leader Morenga, one the Germans bitterest opponents, is neutralized but beyond the Orange River Simon Kopper and other native leaders roam with impunity.
Imports exceed exports by a wide margin. The only export of importance is copper ore. Some cattle and fowl have been exported to supply the British Cape Colony’s enclave at Walvis Bay.
1909January 1 European population numbers 9,410 civilians and 2,381 military forces. British and Boer immigration accounts for nearly the entire increase over the previous year.
During the Year Diamond fever strikes the colony. Nearly a hundred companies are busy searching for the stones. Their stocks reach record highs on the recently established Windhoek stock exchange and there is heavy speculation in them back in Germany. The jewels of Lüderitzbucht replace cattle breeding in Damara- and Namaland as the chief topic of discussion regarding Deutsch-Südwestafrika.
Copper exports rise by 485% to 6.3 million marks. The Otavi mines which some had predicted would play out are now expected to remain profitable for the foreseeable future.
Governor von Schuckmann charters the municipalities of Lüderitzbucht, Karibib, Omaruru, Grottfontain and Keetmanshoop
Farming suffers first from drought and later from excessive rainfall. The breeding of wool sheep is severely damaged by diseases. Some farmers and corporations lose almost their entire stock. The Karakul sheep imported from central Asia are almost wiped out.
Rebellious Stuermann tribesmen are relocated from Keetmanshoop to North Grootfontein.
Hauptmann Streitwolf explores the Caprivi Strip and establishes a German station opposite the British station at Sesheke. The Masubias residing there accept German administration without resistance.
1910January 1 The European civilian population numbers 10,644 an 11.5% increase over the previous year. There are 7,935 German settlers in the colony. The number of British subjects residing in South West Africa increased to 1,483.
April 1 There are 73 post and telegraph offices operating in the protectorate.
August 28 Theodor Seitz is appointed Commissioner for South West Africa.
During the Year Germany suggests that the Anglo-German dispute over the southwestern boundary of the Caprivi Strip and German demands for a revision of the Orange River boundary be submitted to international arbitration. The British ignore the note fearing that they might be vulnerable on the question of the Orange boundary as international frontiers following the course of rivers are normally drawn through the median of the main navigation channels at this time.
The number of reported malaria cases rises sharply over the previous year in both the European and native population. The government provides quinine free of charge. Thirty four people are hospitalized with typhoid fever at Ruhr and scurvy is reported among the Ovambos working the diamond fields.
Diamond fields produce 656,710 carats worth nearly 20 million marks. The tax on diamonds brings 3 million marks into the protectorate’s treasury. Copper exports total nearly 48 million tons and 158 tons of vanadium ore are mined in the Otawitale district.
Special police authorities are established at Lüderitzbucht and Swakopmund to fight increased smuggling and diamond thefts. The colony’s police number about 250 and are stationed at 105 posts.
A National Exhibition of agriculture, industry and manufacturing is held in Windhoek.
1911January 1 Swakopmund minister Hasenkamp publishes the first issue of the monthly Evangelical Newsletter for German South West Africa.
1912February 18 Construction the South West African rail network is completed with the connection of the northern and southern segments of the Windhoek-Keetmanshoop line. It is now possible to travel by rail from Grootfontein to Lüderitzbucht by rail. Settlers continue to complain about high freight rates but colonial undersecretary Wilhelm Solf announces his intention to intervene.
During the Year The colony’s European population numbers 12,645. The proportion of Germans increases.
The native population is subdued and peaceful this year though a rumor circulates that rebel leader Simon Copper has reappeared at the eastern border.
The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce backs construction of a railway line into Amboland and a branch line to the Gobabis district. The latter could be extended eastward to connect with the South African railway system at a later date.
The mining sector overcomes the stagnation of 1911. The value of the exported diamonds and copper increases. The diamond tax is now imposed on net value which should encourage smaller mines to reopen. The lifespan of South West African diamond fields is estimated at about 12 to 20 years.
South West Africa’s farm economy recovers from the previous year’s draught. The number of farms in the colony rises from 1,144 to 1,245 and the Kaiser purchases two farms in the central region of the protectorate. The number of cattle and sheep increases considerably, especially that of wool sheep.
A model ostrich breeding farm is established at Otjitueso. The German consulate general in Cape Town assists in importing 24 adult ostriches from South Africa. The Cape Colony has profited greatly ostrich breeding and the sale of ostrich feathers.
A model Tobacco farm is established at Okahanja to perfect reliable methods for the selection of species and methods of cultivation and fermentation.
Introduction of better cattle breeds is interrupted by outbreaks of disease in Germany and South Africa.
Experimental forestry continues. There are five forestry stations operating in the colony in addition to the government gardens in Windhoek, which supply most of the country’s casuarines, eucalyptus trees, prosopies, pepper shrubs and vines. The forestry garden in Ukuib has a stand of 7,387 date palms and further experiments are under way to cultivate the most valuable indigenous species for timber.
1913March Deutsche Diamanten-Gesellschaft (German Diamond Mining Company) reports that 6,687,000 diamonds have been found during the preceding year. The Company has constructed a 45 km long narrow gauge railway from Prinzenbucht to Bogenfels. Wholesale diamond prices have risen from 30 to 45 marks per carat and revenues to the state have increased despite the replacement of the gross value tax with a tax on profit.
November A special session of the Landesrat approves the budget for construction of a 150 km rail line between Etoscha and Kunene in the Amboland.
During the Year The European population increases by 366, of whom 250 are women. The districts of Grootfontein, Omaruru and Okahandja experience the greatest growth. Decline in the southern districts is primarily due to lower demand for railway workers.
Demand for native labor in the diamond mines and on farms in the south continues to increase. The government has established lodgings in Outjo and Windhoek to facilitate labor migration to Lüderitzbucht and adjacent stretches. The Ovambo are the only tribe permit to perform this work at present and 9,000 of its 70,000 people have moved there from the northern part of the colony.
The ostrich breeding farm Otjutuesu is expanded. The 10 breeding pairs together laid 147 eggs. Two pairs of South African breeding ostriches were imported to improve breeding. The success of the model ostrich breeding farm has attracted the interest of farmers. Several have imported ostriches and begun rational breeding.
The state experimental station for wine and fruit cultivation at Grootfontein, which in future will supply the colony's north with vines, fruit- and lemon trees, reports 17 ha under cultivation and partially irrigated.
Tobacco is being grown in several localities. The pipe tobacco of Osona is prized throughout the protectorate. Samples of Turkish cigarette tobacco sent to German manufacturers have received favorable evaluation.
1914August 15 A radio telegram from Kamina, Togo informs the Government of South West Africa that war has been declared.
September 15 South African troops attack the German garrison at Ramansdrift on the Orange River. German forces withdraw and later capture the South African garrisons at Stolzenfels, Nakab and Rietfontien.
September 19 An 8,000 man South African expedition lands at Lüderitzbucht. The German garrison withdraws to fortified positions on the Lüderitzbucht-Keetmanshoop line.
September The Schutztruppe raids Angola to retaliate for the execution of several German officials by the Portuguese. The Germans defeat the Portuguese in a skirmish near Naulila and storm the fort before withdrawing.
September A Southern Rhodesian police force occupies the Caprivi Strip without resistance.
November 20 Captain Eason, the British Special Commissioner for the Caprivi Strip, arrives in Schuckmannsburg to assume his station.
December 15 German aerial reconnaissance reports South African forces moving inland from Lüderitzbucht.
December 16 South African forces attack German outposts 100 km inland of Lüderitzbucht.
December 24 A South African taskforce led by General Botha lands at Walvis Bay and recaptures the German occupied South African enclave. Construction of a railway linking Walvis Bay with Swakopmund begins.
1915February A South African attack forces the Germans to abandon their positions between the Otavi Railroad and Swakop. The South African advance threatens Windhoek. The Governor and his staff abandon the capital and move to Grootfontein. The Germans launch a rearguard action against South African troops working to repair the Otavi Railroad to cover the retreat of the main body of Schutztruppes from Windhoek.
July 6 Governor Seitz enters truce negotiations with General Botha at Otavi.
July 9 The Schutztruppe surrenders to South African forces.
1920December 17 The League of Nations ratifies the Union of South Africa’s mandate over South West Africa.

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