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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.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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15 Surprising Facts About Hill Street Blues
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NBC

Until the impressive record was surpassed by The West Wing in 2000, Hill Street Blues held the title of most Emmy-awarded freshman series, with eight trophies for its debut season alone (despite its basement-level ratings). The drama that chronicled the lives of the men and women working the Hill Street police station beat has been credited with changing television ever since its debut in 1981.

Among Hill Street Blues's innovations are the use of handheld cameras, a large ensemble cast, multi-episode story arcs, and a mix of high drama and comedy—elements which still permeate the small screen today. Here are 15 facts about the groundbreaking series.

1. STEVEN BOCHCO AND MICHAEL KOZOLL CREATED IT, DESPITE NOT WANTING TO DO ANOTHER COP SHOW.

MTM Enterprises was specifically hired by NBC to create a cop show, so Steven Bochco (who later co-created L.A. Law and NYPD Blue) and Michael Kozoll (co-writer of First Blood) agreed to do it—as long as the network left them “completely alone to do whatever we want,” according to Bochco. NBC agreed, and the two wrote the pilot script in 10 days.

2. IT WAS INFLUENCED BY A 1977 DOCUMENTARY.

The show's creators looked to The Police Tapes, a 1977 documentary that chronicled a South Bronx police precinct during a particularly hostile time in New York City's history, for inspiration. NBC's then-president Fred Silverman was inspired to create a cop show in the first place after seeing Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), which stars Paul Newman as a veteran cop in a South Bronx police district.

3. BRUCE WEITZ HAD AN AGGRESSIVE AUDITION.

Bruce Weitz landed the role of undercover officer Mick Belker by playing the part. "I went to the audition dressed as how I thought the character should dress—and loud and pushy," Weitz recalled. "When I got into the room, I jumped up on [MTM co-founder] Grant Tinker's desk and went after his nose. I heard he said afterwards, 'There's no way I can't offer him the job.'"

4. JOE SPANO THOUGHT HE WAS MISCAST.

Joe Spano in 'Hill Street Blues'
NBC

Joe Spano auditioned for the role of Officer Andrew Renko, but ended up playing Lieutenant Henry Goldblume. “I was always disappointed that I didn’t end up playing Renko,” Spano told Playboy in 1983. Spano also wasn't a fan of his character's penchant for bow ties, which he claimed was Michael Kozoll's idea. "I fought it all the way," he said. "I thought it was a stereotypical thing to do. But it actually turned out to be right. You don’t play into the bow tie—you fight against it."

5. BARBARA BOSSON WAS BOCHCO’S WIFE, BUT WASN’T PLANNING ON BEING A SERIES REGULAR.

Barbara Bosson played Fay, Captain Frank Furillo’s ex-wife, who was only supposed to appear in the first episode in order to “contextualize” the captain, according to Bochco. But when Silverman watched the episode, he asked, “She’s going to be a regular, right?”

6. IT TOOK MIKE POST TWO HOURS TO WRITE THE ICONIC THEME SONG.

The composer—who also wrote the themes for The Greatest American Hero, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order—was instructed by Bochco to write something “antithetical” to the visuals. Post wanted to add more orchestration to the piano piece; Bochco disagreed.

Post also spent four to five hours writing five minutes of new music for each episode of Hill Street Blues.

7. THE PILOT TESTED POORLY.

According to a network memo, among the many problems test audiences noted were that "the main characters were perceived as being not capable and having flawed personalities ... Audiences found the ending unsatisfying. There are too many loose ends ... 'Hill Street' did not come off as a real police station ... There was too much chaos in the station house, again reflecting that the police were incapable of maintaining control even on their home ground." NBC picked it up anyway.

8. RENKO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE FIRST EPISODE, AND COFFEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEASON.

Charles Haid had other projects lined up, so he agreed to take the part of Renko, a man destined to die almost immediately. But another series Haid was relying on didn’t get picked up, and NBC claimed Renko tested too well for him to meet an early end. Ed Marinaro's Coffey was meant to be shot and killed in “Jungle Madness,” the final episode of the first season. The ending was changed to make it a cliffhanger, and Marinaro’s character survived.

9. THEY HAD HISTORICALLY BAD SEASON ONE RATINGS.

A 'Hill Street Blues' cast photo
NBC Television/Getty Images

In its first season, Hill Street Blues show finished 87th out of 96 shows, making it the lowest-rated drama in television history to get a second season. Bochco credited the show’s renewal to two things: NBC being a last place network at the time, and the NBC sales department noticing that high-end advertisers were buying commercial time during the show.

10. THEY NEVER SPECIFIED WHERE THE SHOW WAS LOCATED, BUT IT’S PROBABLY CHICAGO.

The exterior of the Maxwell Street police station in Chicago filled in for the fictitious Hill Street precinct for the opening credits and background footage. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1996 and is currently the University of Illinois at Chicago police department headquarters.

11. PLENTY OF FUTURE STARS MADE EARLY APPEARANCES.

Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, and Michael Richards all found early work on the series.

12. SAMMY DAVIS JR. WANTED ON THE SHOW.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Michael Fresco, Evening Standard, Getty Images

Unfortunately, it never happened. Sometime after Bochco wrote in a reference to the singer, Davis and Bochco ran into each other. Davis said he loved it and started jumping up and down.

13. BOCHCO HAD A WAR WITH THE CENSORS.

Loving to use puns for titles, Bochco wanted to title an episode “Moon Over Uranus,” after Cape Canaveral was just in the news. Standards and Practices said no. Bochco eventually got his way, and proceeded to name the next two season three episodes “Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel” and “Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy.”

14. DAVID MILCH AND DICK WOLF’S CAREERS WERE LAUNCHED FROM IT.

David Milch (co-creator of NYPD Blue and creator of Deadwood) went from Yale writing teacher to a TV script writer through his former Yale roommate, Jeff Lewis. His first script for the show was season three's “Trial by Fury” episode, which won an Emmy, a WGA Award, and a Humanitas Prize. He later became an executive producer on the show. The first TV script credited to Dick Wolf (creator of the Law & Order franchise) was the season six episode, "Somewhere Over the Rambow." His first sole credit, for “What Are Friends For?,” earned Wolf an Emmy nomination in 1986.

It’s also worth noting that journalist and author Bob Woodward received a writing credit for season seven's “Der Roachenkavalier” and David Mamet penned the same season's “A Wasted Weekend” for his first television credit.

15. DENNIS FRANZ’S CHARACTER HAD A BRIEF, COMEDIC SPIN-OFF.

Dennis Franz (later Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue) first played corrupt cop Sal Benedetto in five episodes, before reappearing for the final two seasons as Lt. Norman Buntz. After Hill Street Blues ended its seven-season run, Franz reprised the latter character in Beverly Hills Buntz, which ran for one season beginning in 1987. In the 30-minute dramedy, Buntz was a private investigator after quitting the police force. Only nine episodes were broadcast by NBC.

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