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South-West Africa Campaign: Wikis


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South-West Africa Campaign
Part of African theatre of World War I
Südwestafrika 1915.jpg
The South-West Africa Campaign in 1915.
Date September 1914-July 1915
Location South Africa, Namibia
Result British and South African victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom German Empire Germany
South Africa Jan Smuts
South Africa Louis Botha
German Empire Victor Franke
67,000 of the SADF (South African Defence Force) 3,000 Schutztruppe plus c.7,000 male settlers
Casualties and losses
113 1,131

The South-West Africa Campaign was the conquest and occupation of German South West Africa, now called Namibia, by forces from the Union of South Africa acting on behalf of the British Imperial Government at the start of World War I.



The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in August 1914 had been anticipated and government officials of South Africa were aware of the significance of their common border with the German colony. Prime Minister Louis Botha informed London that South Africa could defend itself and that the Imperial Garrison may depart for France; when the British government asked Botha whether his forces would invade German South-West Africa, the reply was that they could and would.

South African troops were mobilised along the border between the two countries under the command of General Henry Lukin and Lt Col Manie Maritz early in September 1914. Shortly afterwards another force occupied the port of Lüderitz.

Boer Revolt

There was considerable sympathy among the Boer population of South Africa for the German cause : it was only twelve years since the Second Boer War during which Germany had supported them. Lieutenant-Colonel Manie Maritz, who was head of commando forces on the border of German South-West Africa, issued a proclamation that

"the former South African Republic and Orange Free State as well as the Cape Province and Natal are proclaimed free from British control and independent, and every White inhabitant of the mentioned areas, of whatever nationality, are hereby called upon to take their weapons in their hands and realize the long-cherished ideal of a Free and Independent South Africa."

Maritz and several other high ranking officers rapidly gathered forces with a total of about 12,000 rebels in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, ready to fight for the cause in what became known as the Boer Revolt (also sometimes referred to as the Maritz Rebellion).

The government declared martial law on 14 October 1914, and forces loyal to the government under the command of Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts proceeded to destroy the rebellion. Maritz was defeated on 24 October and took refuge with the Germans; the rebellion was effectively suppressed by early February 1915. The leading Boer rebels received terms of imprisonment of six and seven years and heavy fines; however, two years later they were released from prison, as Botha recognised the value of reconciliation.

Combat with German forces

South African gun in desert sand

A first attempt to invade German South-West Africa from the south failed at Sandfontein, close to the border with the Cape Colony, where on 25 September 1914 the German fusiliers inflicted a serious defeat to the British troops, although the survivors were left free to come back to the British territory. In March 1915, the South Africans were ready and 67,000 troops, moving in four columns began the complete occupation of the German territory. Botha himself commanded the force that occupied Walvis Bay and Swakopmund in the north of the territory. During the campaign the occupying forces encountered land mines and poisoned wells, as well as some stiff resistance. The capital, Windhoek, was occupied on 12 May, by which time the South Africans had taken over most of the country. An attempt was made to persuade the Germans to surrender at this stage but it was unsuccessful and the campaign continued with the German forces gradually being squeezed into the northwest corner of the territory. They were defeated at The Battle of Otavi on 1 July and surrendered at Khorab on 9 July 1915.

See also

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