The surrender of the Schutztruppe in the First World War - News - Gondwana Collection

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The surrender of the Schutztruppe in the First World War

Avatar of inke inke - 10. July 2015 - Discover Namibia

Sergeant Digby typing the final surrender document under a tree in the veld. (Museum Africa)

The First World War in German South West Africa. Exactly 100 years ago, at the beginning of July 1915, it was apparent to the German authorities that the Schutztruppe were completely surrounded. The Commander in Chief, Victor Franke, had two choices: fight on or surrender!

Franke telegraphed Governor Seitz, who was then at Grootfontein, on the evening of 2 July stating that the position was hopeless. Seitz decided to start peace negotiations with General Botha, Commander in Chief of the Union Defence Force in the Field. 

A few kilometres outside Otavi on the railway to the north a solitary UDF officer waited in the dark night with the engine of his car slowly turning over as it stood beside the railway line. It was the 9th of July, the 02:00 deadline passed and there was no sign of a train coming down the line with the German response. General Botha told the officer to wait until 02:30 and then leave. At 02:30 he looked at his watch once more and walked to his car. Then through the bush he saw a light. The light drew nearer and now he could hear the puffing of a locomotive. 

A few minutes later the locomotive slowed to a stop beside the car and from the single carriage behind it stepped Hauptmann Virmond. He solemnly handed a sealed envelope to the UDF officer who then leaped into the car and sped off to Otavifontein and General Botha’s headquarters. At Botha’s headquarters, preparations were being made for the resumption of hostilities when the car carrying the envelope drew up. The envelope was opened and smiles broke out all around the room. The German authorities had accepted the terms of surrender. The orders to call off the advance were issued.

The formal signing of the surrender was set for 10:00 on 9 July 1915 at Kilometre 500 on the railway line. The German delegation arrived by train from their position at Khorab. The formal signing of the surrender was done by Seitz as Imperial Governor of German South West Africa, Franke and Botha. The German delegation then climbed back into their train and returned to Khorab with the locomotive puffing in reverse in an unavoidable bit of symbolism that might have gone unnoticed.

The surrender document determined that all active i.e. permanent members of the Schutztruppe be interned for the duration of the war at a camp at Aus. Officers would be allowed to retain their weapons and would reside at an approved place of their choice. Reservists and Volunteers would be allowed to return to their places of residence and retain their weapons for self-defence. Lukin was appointed to oversee and implement the surrender. A German-language version of the surrender document was also signed with the stipulation that in the event of any interpretation of meaning becoming necessary the English version alone should be used.

In total, 3293 Schutztruppe officers and troops surrendered at Kilometre 500 and 37 field guns of various calibre and 22 machine guns were handed over to the UDF. The weapons and ammunition that had been thrown into the Otjikoto Lake were only recovered at a much later stage.

The campaign in German South West Africa was now over and German control over the colony had ended. Botha proclaimed Martial Law over the country on 9 July. A strong garrison was left in the country while Botha and the majority of the UDF returned to South Africa.

In Europe, the war continued.

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