ON the 15th October, 1914, the day de la Rey died and Botha and Smuts knew that rebellion was sure, the first South African troops from Cape Town under General McKenzie landed at Luderitzbuk, the southern port of the German South West African colony.
This expeditionary force did not prosper. General McKenzie made little headway. Smuts, as Minister of Defence, could send him little help, for Smuts' time and energy were concentrated in suppressing the rebellion. Though Botha had promised the English Government that he would invade the German territory in case of war as long ago as 1911, Smuts had not had data collected, nor even maps of the country prepared, and these were now hard to get. He had few trained staff officers to help him. So McKenzie had to be neglected.
Von Spee, the German admiral, had defeated an English fleet off the Coronel and was out on the open sea in the South Atlantic, in touch both with Berlin and with the Governor of the South West Colony through the powerful wireless station at Windhuk. At any moment he might appear off Cape Town, bombard the town, and sink any transports. The Germans holding McKenzie back with one force had pressed south over the Orange River and threatened Port Nolloth and the mines round it, as Smuts had threatened them in the last war. Maritz had been sent to watch and hold up the Germans. Smuts ordered General Grant, who was at Upington, to march to Port Nolloth. Grant was ambushed by the Germans. Maritz took his troops, joined the Germans, and left the frontier unprotected.
Grant's friends said that Smuts mishandled this: that he knew the Germans were advancing and that Maritz was in touch with them; that he sent Grant a warning by letter, which arrived too late, when he should have sent it by telegram, and so was responsible for the defeat. Grant demanded a court of inquiry. Smuts, already overburdened and irritated with work, refused him abruptly. It was clear that in the Defence Office in Pretoria there was much confusion.
The Germans were concentrating against McKenzie, and with von Spee out and able to isolate McKenzie from the sea and Maritz gone, there was the possibility of a disaster at any moment.
As soon as the rebellion was crushed, Botha took command of the expedition. Smuts wished to take command. Botha was a sick man, he said, and had better stay in the office in Pretoria. The troops were volunteers, and their leaders were the old commando leaders, tough old fighting men who did not mince their words. They had come because of their personal trust in Botha. They loved Botha. They had come because Botha had personally called them to follow him. They made it bluntly clear that they would not follow Smuts.
Botha's plan of campaign was simple. One railway ran up from south to north through the centre of the German colony, with branch lines off to Luderitzbuk and Swakopmund. He decided to send two columns in from the Cape and advance McKenzie's force up the branch to Keetmanshoop, while he himself took the main force into Swakopmund, dashed into the interior, cut the railway at Karibib, divided the German forces into two, and cut off those being driven up from the south. He had fifty thousand men against nine thousand Germans, but he wanted to cut them off and surround them so as to prevent their carrying on guerilla tactics, for the country was vast, bare, and as difficult as the Transvaal veld.
He landed at Swakopmund without difficulty. A British squadron had sunk von Spee and his ships off the Falkland Islands. With great speed he advanced on to the central railway at Karibib, sent a force to take Windhuk and the wireless south station, and reorganised his force to push on after such Germans as had gone north.
Smuts remained in Pretoria in his office, preparing and organising. As well as Minister of Defence he acted as Prime Minister. He worked with fury. He hustled the whole Government and the departments. He appeared untirable, and any reverse seemed only to spur him on to greater energy, but he was not happy. He was weary of the office work. The strain of the rebellion had been great. He wanted a change. He was eating his heart out to be on the move. Messages from Botha showed him how good life was out in the open, in action, ordering, commanding, moving, as in the old days with his men in the Cape raid. Botha was a new man now that he was fighting a real enemy. The depression of the rebellion had fallen away from him. He was like a schoolboy. Smuts yearned for that life. He wanted to be there.
The speed of the three columns in the south also did not satisfy him. It was vital that someone should control them from one centre, so as to time them to advance together and at top speed and so pinch the enemy in between themselves and Botha's column. He did not believe anyone could control them as well as he could. He did not trust anyone else to do it. He must be there himself, with everything right under his own hand.
Leaving his office he made post-haste to Luderitzbuk and took command of the three southern columns. He acted not so much as a general in command of a considerable force, but as he had acted when he was the leader of this three hundred men raiding full tilt across the Cape. He would take no excuses. The columns must hurry forward; supplies or no supplies, they must bustle. He sent McKenzie riding hard into the blue, without keeping contact, from Aus across the desert to Gibeon, to cut off the Germans retreating down the railway, and then messengers after him to urge him on. He himself pushed on with his tireless, fearless, and unreasoning impetuosity, and so rapidly that often his staff and even his personal secretary could not keep up with him, lost him, and found him again stranded away out alone on the bleak veld. Once he was captured and brought in by his own patrols.
Botha was somewhat troubled at these methods. He was afraid that Smuts might make some precipitous rash move which would lead to a defeat; and he tried to tone down his rampaging impetuosity.
But within a month the Germans in the south were on the run. Finding Botha across their retreat they surrendered. Smuts returned back to Pretoria with the same speed that he had come away.
Botha now reorganised and turned north, pushing the Germans who were there easily before him up the railway. At Otavi the Germans entrenched themselves. Behind them was wild country in which they could carry on guerilla warfare for months. Botha was determined to prevent that. He held them in front and sent Koen Brits a tremendous ride through desert and the marshes of the Etosha Lake on to their rear and then attacked. The German commander, who was a regular officer, protested that "this was not war but a circus," and surrendered. The whole of German South West Africa had been overrun and the German forces completely destroyed. The campaign was over.
|« NEXT »||« Part 4 »||« Grey Steel »||« History »||« Library »||« Home »|