Germans Surrender in SW Africa

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 191st installment in the series.

July 9, 1915: Germans Surrender in SW Africa 

With a few thousand German defenders massively outnumbered by the South African invasion force, there was never any doubt about the final outcome of the war in German Southwest Africa (today Namibia); the only question was how the endgame would unfold. As it turned out, the death throes of the German colony were surprisingly quick and painless, at least by the standards of the First World War, with a handful of casualties before capitulation. 

After suppressing a short-lived Boer uprising in December 1914, South African Prime Minister Louis Botha led a multi-pronged invasion of Southwest Africa, including landings at the ports of Swakopmund (above) and Lüderitzbucht and incursions by cavalry converging from the South African interior on the southern city of Keetmanshoop. On March 20, 1915 Botha’s force sallied from Swakopmund to defeat the Germans at the Battle of Riet, clearing the way for an advance on the capital, Windhoek, which fell to the invaders on May 12, 1915. Henry Walker, a medical officer with the South African army, recalled the almost supernatural landscapes encountered during the advance in spring 1915: 

It is quite impossible to do justice to the beauty of the country we passed through this night. The road and river were winding up a narrow gorge, frequently crossing each other. Giant acacias fringed the snow-white bed of the river, and extended to the greensward beyond. White rocks shone like silver in the river or on the mountain-sides, which towered high above everything… All this, illuminated by a most brilliant moon, has left an indelible impression on my memory. 

The fall of Windhoek meant it was only a matter of time – but no one was sure how just how much time that meant. Would the German commander, Victor Franke, disperse his forces to continue the struggle with guerrilla tactics? Or might he try to retreat north into Portuguese West Africa (today Angola), or even head east and try to stir up tribal rebellions in British Rhodesia?  

Actually Franke intended to make a last stand outside the northern town of Tsumeb, taking advantage of strong defensive positions in the hills around the town. To give his troops enough time to build fortifications, Franke sent a smaller detachment of around 1,000 men under of his subordinates, Major Hermann Ritter, to fight a holding action against the approaching South Africans under Botha. Ritter decided to fight the South Africans at Otavi, about 20 miles southwest of Tsumeb. 

Botha, determined not to allow the Germans to dig in, drove his troops hard and covered a distance of 120 miles in less than a week, moving north along the main rail line – a remarkable achievement, considering the conditions and lack of supplies. One observer, Eric Moore Ritchie, recalled the final approach in the last week of June: 

The pace of the trekking was now becoming phenomenal, and though the country was quite good, water was as scarce as ever, the bush being intensely dense, with thick sweet grass as much as eight feet high in places… During this trek the army had had water only twice… delay of any kind was now highly undesirable: the columns could not afford to pause long owing to the consumption of rations… water was uncertain, and congestion of columns at the watering places had to be avoided as much as possible.

Following this swift advance, on July 1, 1915 Botha managed to take the German rear guard under Ritter by surprise at the Battle of Otavi, pitting around 3,500 South African cavalry against 1,000 Germans – an encounter that would barely qualify as a skirmish on the Western Front. The Germans were overextended and had also failed to prepare fortified positions on the high ground behind them; thus when the German left flank began to crumble, the retreat quickly turned into a rout, leaving three German and four British soldiers dead.

As Ritter withdrew north, Botha divided his army of 13,000 cavalry and infantry into two wings, forming two arms of a pincer that encircled Franke’s smaller force of less than 3,000 men at Tsumeb over the following week. Franke’s troops, still digging in, suddenly found themselves surrounded and cut off from their only plausible line of retreat to nearby Grootfontein.  

Facing overwhelming numbers with incomplete defensive works, Franke convinced the colony’s civilian governor, Theodor Seitz, to throw in the towel. The Germans surrendered to Botha on July 9, 1915 at Tsumeb (top, the surrender). Total casualties for the war in German Southwest Africa were 113 South Africans killed in battle, versus 103 Germans – a rounding error by the standards of the European war. 

Having secured this victory the South Africans could now examine their conquests, prompting some to wonder whether it was all worth the effort. On returning to Lüderitzbucht, Walker summed up his impressions of the tiny harbor town (below, the town’s main street):

I don’t suppose there is a more desolate, dreary, God-forsaken site for a town in the whole world than this, and nobody except extreme optimists like the Germans would ever have dreamed of trying to establish one here. There is not a drop of fresh water anywhere near, nor a plant nor tree of any description except seaweed. There is not even a flat space where buildings can be erected, and many are perched on pinnacles or in fissures in the rocks. Its only natural advantages are the sun, sea, rocks, sand, and wind. 

Whatever the land’s actual value, Botha fully intended for South Africa to profit territorially by its assistance to Britain in the Great War, and on July 15 the South African parliament voted to annex Southwest Africa in a customs union. South African domination of Namibia would continue after the Second World War, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, leading to the Namibian War of Independence from 1966-1988. This was followed by South African recognition of Namibian independence in 1990, as South Africa’s own apartheid regime began to collapse. 

Battle in a Tornado 

Meanwhile the Allies were also advancing in German Kamerun (today Cameroon), another vast but sparsely inhabited African colony located near the equator. The campaign in Cameroon was doubtless slow going as British, French, and Belgian colonial troops contended with rough terrain, thick tropical forests, and primitive infrastructure, but by July 1915 the (again, vastly outnumbered) German colonial forces had mostly retreated to the central plateau dominating the territory’s mountainous interior (below, British forces fire a field gun at the Battle of Fort Dschang, January 2, 1915). 

On a map the Allies had Cameroon more or less surrounded, but this was hardly going to translate into an easy victory, as huge areas of mostly empty jungle allowed small guerrilla bands to slip in and out of contested areas at will. Thus as in German East Africa the Allies often found themselves fighting for possession of the same territory twice, or more: on January 5, 1915 they fought off a German counterattack at Edea, first conquered in October, and on July 22 they had to defend Bertoua, scene of a previous victory in December.

Nonetheless the Allies kept up the pressure and their native troops fought bravely in a number of actions. On April 29 they beat back a daring German incursion into Allied territory at Gurin in British Nigeria, then defeated the Germans again at the Second Battle of Garua from May 31 to June 10, 1915 (below, German native troops at Garua), completing the conquest of northern Cameroon (aside from the ongoing siege of Mora, where a small German force was now completely cut off on an almost impregnable mountain). 

A small but dramatic encounter took place a few weeks later, when a British force attacked German defenders at Ngaundere on July 29 – in a tornado. The severe, indeed terrifying, weather conditions served to distract the small German garrison holding the village, allowing the British force of around 200 native troops to take them by surprise and capture many of them without a fight. As the storm cleared the remaining Germans launched a counterattack but were defeated, clearing the way for the British to advance to Tingere, repulsing a German counterattack from July 19-23, 1915. The arrival of the rainy season forced the end to campaigning for the middle of the year, although the siege of Mora dragged don to the north.

Allies Plan New Offensive 

Back in Europe the Western Allies were planning a fresh offensive that would prove to be yet another costly disaster. On July 7, 1915 the first inter-allied military conference met at Chantilly, France, bringing together the French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre, War Minister Alexandre Millerand, British chief of the general staff William Robertson, commander of the British Expeditionary Force Sir John French, and others to plot overall strategy.

Despite some initial resistance from the British, aghast at the huge cost of recent offensives at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, and Festubert, French, Robertson and Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener ultimately gave in to Joffre’s determination to keep up the pressure on the Germans. As Kitchener told French: “We must do our utmost to help the French, even though by so doing, we suffer very heavy losses indeed.” 

After all, Joffre argued, the French had sustained far more casualties than the British, while the Western Allies needed to do everything they could to take some of the burden off the Russians, still reeling backwards in the Great Retreat. Additionally, the French war effort would be greatly increased by liberation of northern France, which held most of France’s factories and coal mines. Reflecting pre-war beliefs about the importance of “spirit,” Joffre also warned that if they stopped attacking, “our troops will little by little lose their physical and moral qualities.” 

Although plans were vague, it was clear that a new coordinated Anglo-French offensive was intended for sometime in the late summer or fall, after the Allies had a chance to stockpile artillery shells for a massive opening bombardment. The plan that coalesced over the following months called for two simultaneous attacks, forming a huge pincer to cut off the German salient in northern France. In the south the French Second and Fourth Armies would attack the German Third Army, in what became known as the Second Battle of Champagne. Meanwhile to the west the British First Army would mount a huge push (using chlorine gas) with help from the French Tenth Army in the Third Battle of Artois – seared into British memory as the Battle of Loos. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

25 Most Extreme Actor Transformations for Movies

Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's Vice (2018)
Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's Vice (2018)
Greig Fraser, Annapurna Pictures

When an actor is critically acclaimed for their work, it's not just the talent people are looking at. It's the dedication that truly drives the star to dive deep into their character and persuade us as viewers of their story. While some are more convincing than others, the best actors frequently go to dangerous extremes to craft as authentic a performance as possible. Sometimes this means undergoing unbelievable transformations, as Christian Bale recently did to inhabit the role of Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's upcoming Vice—and not for the first time. Here are 25 of the most extreme actor transformations.

1. CHRISTIAN BALE // THE MACHINIST (2004)

Christian Bale's most extreme transformation is hands down for his performance in The Machinist. The Method actor played the part of an industrial worker who hadn't slept in a year, and truly looked worse than that. Bale lost 63 pounds in four months, thanks to eating only one can of tuna or one apple a day.

2. CHARLIZE THERON // MONSTER (2003)

In the role that proved Charlize Theron was more than just a pretty face, the actress played real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, completely transforming her appearance. Besides her facial differences,Theron gained 30 pounds for the part, by mostly eating donuts and other junk. Her performance earned her an Oscar. It wasn't the last time Theron transformed her body for a role; she gained 50 pounds to play a mom with post-partum depression for this year's Tully.

3. JARED LETO // DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

To play a transgender person living with HIV in Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto basically stopped eating—and dropped down to 116 pounds. "I think the role demanded that commitment," Leto said of the extreme diet plan. "It was about how does that affect how I walk, how I talked, who I am, how I feel. You know, you feel very fragile and delicate and unsafe." He ended up winning an Oscar for his performance.

4. TOM HARDY // BRONSON (2008)

To play the real-life British criminal Charles Bronson, Tom Hardy put on 42 pounds for Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson. He reportedly did so with the help of an ex-Marine, who motivated and trained him. Hardy said he ate mostly chicken, rice, chocolate, and pizza while training, gaining about seven pounds a week.

5. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY // DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

Alongside co-star Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey had to drop some serious weight for his role as the real-life HIV-positive Ron Woodrooff in Dallas Buyers Club. Ultimately, he dropped 38 pounds by dieting and eating in small quantities. McConaughey went on to win an Oscar for his performance.

6. ROBERT DE NIRO // RAGING BULL (1980)

For one of his most iconic roles ever, Robert De Niro played real-life boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and won an Oscar for his performance. In order to play this part, the actor got extremely buffed up through a grueling training routine with the actual LaMotta. Then, to play the boxer in later years, De Niro put on 60 pounds. Director Martin Scorsese was said to have only been able to shoot the actor for short periods of time in the later parts of filming, due to his struggle to breathe and general decline in health.

7. MICHAEL FASSBENDER // HUNGER (2008)

To take on the role of real-life activist Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen's Hunger, Michael Fassbender lost more than 40 pounds. Sands participated in the 1981 Irish hunger strike, and ultimately died doing so. For the role, Fassbender restricted himself to a 600-calorie-day diet, along with exercising.

8. 50 CENT // ALL THINGS FALL APART (2011)

To play a cancer patient in All Things Fall Apart, rapper 50 Cent lost his muscular frame by dropping 54 pounds. His method involved a liquid diet and running on the treadmill for three hours a day. “I had so much muscle on me that it was hard for me to lose definition even as I got lighter and slimmer," he said of preparing for the role. "I started running to suppress my appetite. Towards the end it was really difficult."

9. JARED LETO // CHAPTER 27 (2007)

In order to play Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon, Jared Leto had to gain nearly 70 pounds. By eating a lot of ice cream and other junk food, the actor put on 67 pounds, and ultimately developed gout, making it painful for him to simply walk.

10. ANNE HATHAWAY // LES MISÉRABLES (2012)

Anne Hathaway was already thin when she landed the iconic role as Fantine, a factory worker-turned-prostitute in Les Misérables. Still, she ended up losing 25 pounds for the part, claiming to have eaten two small squares of oatmeal paste a day. For the shoot's final 13 days, she basically stopped eating altogether. Though she only logged 15 minutes of screen time despite the film's whopping 158-minute runtime, Hathaway won an Oscar for the role

11. CHRIS PRATT // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

Chris Pratt's weight has fluctuated over the years, from his heftier Parks and Recreation look to his extremely ripped figure in Guardians of the Galaxy. For the Marvel role, Pratt lost 60 pounds in six months with intensive workouts and a diet change, including lots of water. "I was peeing all day long, every day," Pratt told Men's Journal. "That part was a nightmare,”

12. CHRISTIAN BALE // AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

Christian Bale is known for his incredible transformations for roles. For American Hustle, he gained 43 pounds to play a conman; he relied on junk food to reach his "goal" weight. His performance earned him an Oscar nomination.

13. ROONEY MARA // THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

​In order to play the iconic role of Stieg Larsson's antihero Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara truly transformed her look for David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The normally innocent-looking actress got her lip, eyebrow, nose, and nipple pierced, bleached her eyebrows, chopped off her hair. Mara was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.

14. MATT DAMON // COURAGE UNDER FIRE (1996)

In his breakout role, Matt Damon lost over 50 pounds in three months to play a heroin addict in Courage Under Fire. His diet consisted of chicken, egg whites, broccoli, and a baked potato everyday, along with running 13 miles daily, which resulted in him weighing only 137 pounds during filming. “I went too far," Damon once said of his extreme diet. "I got sick and I wouldn't do that again because it was just too much."

15. TOM HANKS // CAST AWAY (2000)

To prepare for his Oscar-nominated role in Cast Away, Tom Hanks put on 40 pounds to bulk up for the first half of the film. Once his character was stranded on the island, Hanks then had to lose the weight he had gained—and then some—for a 55-pound weight loss. (When it came time for Matthew McConaughey to lose weight for Dallas Buyers Club, he called Hanks for advice.)

16. JAKE GYLLENHAAL // NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

Jake Gyllenhaal was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as a reporter in Nightcrawler.
The actor dropped around 20 pounds for the film by basically starving himself to get into the mindset of his character, Lou. "I knew that Lou was literally and figuratively hungry, so I got into the mode where I was always a bit hungry," the actor revealed.

17. NATALIE PORTMAN // BLACK SWAN (2010)

To play a troubled ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Natalie Portman ate a few hundred calories a day, underwent a grueling training schedule, and eventually dropped 20 pounds. Portman went on to win an Oscar for her performance.

18. TOM HANKS // PHILADELPHIA (1993)

To portray a gay man with HIV in his Oscar-winning role in Philadelphia, Tom Hanks shaved his head and lost 35 pounds. His fragile and sickly look only added to his amazing performance.

19. HILARY SWANK // BOYS DON'T CRY (1999)

For her Oscar-winning role as Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was killed in 1993 as the result of a hate crime, Hilary Swank underwent a dramatic transformation. Not only did she play a male, but she literally lived as a man for a month to prepare. This included binding her chest and using socks as a prosthetic penis. She also lost weight in order to maintain a more masculine figure. Kimberly Peirce, the film's director, spent more than two years searching for an actress who could play the role; Swank won an Oscar for the role.

20. CHRIS HEMSWORTH // IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015)

Known best for playing the jacked Thor in the Marvel films, Chris Hemsworth had to get seriously skinny for his leading role in In the Heart of the Sea. In order to do this, the actor dropped 33 pounds in just four weeks, which he said took a toll on both his body and his mind. “In order to do it justice, the story, we had to suffer in some way and we did,” he told People. “In other words, not a whole lot of acting was required. We were desperate.” 

21. EMILE HIRSCH // INTO THE WILD (2007)

To play the late Christopher McCandless, Emile Hirsch and director Sean Penn decided that the actor should embark journey similar to the real-life traveler he was playing for Into the Wild. McCandless's experience through North America to Alaska caused him to lose a dramatic amount of weight before eventually passing away in the wild. Hirsch dropped 40 pounds by not drinking, cutting out sugar, and running five miles a day. “It took more willpower to lose that weight than to do anything I've ever done in my entire life,” Hirsch told USA Today of his transformation.

22. TOM CRUISE // TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

Tom Cruise had the help of prosthetics for his role in Tropic Thunder, but the actor really transformed his whole image a bit with this role.

23. CAMERON DIAZ // BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

With her normal blonde locks transformed into a frizzy, red mess, Cameron Diaz was practically unrecognizable as the wife of a puppeteer (John Cusack) in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich.

24. RUSSELL CROWE // THE INSIDER (1999)

Russell Crowe put on 35 pounds, shaved back his hairline, bleached his hair, and had liver spots and wrinkles applied with makeup to age him 20 years for his part in Michael Mann's The Insider—a role that earned Crowe went an Academy Award nomination.

25. EDDIE MURPHY // COMING TO AMERICA (1988)

In addition to his starring role as Prince Akeem in John Landis's Coming to America, Eddie Murphy also played the role of Saul, an old, white, Jewish man who hung out with the other characters at the barbershop. This role led Murphy to go on and play multiple characters in other films.

Daniel Radcliffe Says Kids No Longer Recognize Him as Harry Potter

John Sciulli, Getty Images for Turner
John Sciulli, Getty Images for Turner

Take a deep breath. If you're standing, sit down. Relax and find your happy place. Now try your best to stay there while I remind you that the first Harry Potter movie came out in 2001 and the last of the core films was released seven years ago. It's been so long, in fact, that series star Daniel Radcliffe—who made his debut in the role at age 11—will turn 30 next summer.

Apparently that separation of time has caused Radcliffe to lose some of his fame among the younger generation, as ​he discussed on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I do have a thing sometimes where I meet kids now and their parents will bring them up to me and they'll be like, '​this is Harry Potter' and the kids will be like 'No it's not,'" Radcliffe said.

In the same interview, Radcliffe elaborated on what being a generational icon has meant to him. "It is very strange but also genuinely lovely when somebody comes up and says, '​You were a huge part of my childhood.' For me The Simpsons was a massive thing and the idea that I could occupy a similar place in someone's else life is so crazy and wonderful," he shared.

"I always say I'm incredibly lucky to have got famous with Harry Potter because it is a genuinely beloved thing," he added.

Radcliffe is currently starring in the Broadway production of The Lifespan of a Fact.

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