Tuesday, August 5, 2014

First World War in Africa- Part 1

The capture of Shuckmannsburg

This year marks the Centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, and while the most horrific and heart wrenching conflicts would take place far from Africa’s shore’s, the battles that did take place here, are the subject of some of the most extraordinary tales in Africa’s history. 

Since Germany were late comers to the “Scramble for Africa” they had relatively little territory- Cameroon and Togoland in West Africa as well as, what is today, Namibia and Tanzania in Southern and East Africa respectively. At the outbreak of war, on the 4th of August, it seemed unlikely that the remote area of Victoria Falls would be effected, but the Bridge spanning Batoka Gorge was the only link between Northern and Southern Rhodesia and as such, was deemed to be, of vital strategic importance. It’s close proximity to the Caprivi Strip of German South West Africa was cause for alarm and at the tip of the Caprivi Strip lay the German “fort” of Shuckmannsburg. In stark contrast to the British perception of this being the “point of the German saber” it was in fact a godforsaken spot in the howling wilderness, bone dry and baking hot in the summer and home to billion voracious mosquitos during the rains- it was, in short, the sort of place you dreaded being posted, if you were in the German Imperial service. It was occupied by a Resident, four Officers and a handful of Askari but someone in the Administration deemed their presence a threat to the “Empire” so orders were given for the taking of Shuckmannsburg. 

On the 12th of August 1914, after digging trenches and establishing sentry posts to protect the bridge, a patrol of 37 men, under the command of Major Campbell, set off to capture the “fort”. In the hope of avoiding unnecessary bloodshed, a small party of men crossed the river under a white flag to negotiate the surrender of the Germans and fortunately for all concerned, the German Resident saw the sense in laying down their arms. The truth was they were outnumbered 3 to1 and the mud walls of their “fort” would have offered scant protection to it’s occupants once the bullets started flying. Given the British penchant for pomp and ceremony, the formal surrender took some time to finalize, but fortunately once everyone had surrendered and been arrested to everyone else's satisfaction, there remained just enough time for the officers and Resident to be formally paroled in time for everyone to sit down and have dinner together, in civilized fashion. Having captured the “fort”, the British would soon learned that anyone left in the middle of the swamp was was likely to end up in the infirmary in swift fashion so eventually they abandoned the fort, taking with them the German Imperial Residents’ water cart and this fine example of German engineering would spend the next 20 years delivering water daily to the British District Commissioners Boma at Sesheke. In time the major settlement in the Eastern Caprivi would become Katima Mulilo but Shuckmannsburg retains it claim to fame, as being the very first piece of German Territory captured by the British in the First World War.

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