The Black Rock – Monument to a Fatal Misunderstanding - News - Gondwana Collection

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The Black Rock – Monument to a Fatal Misunderstanding

Avatar of inke inke - 19. February 2016 - Discover Namibia

The former oxwagon route from Windhoek to Seeis passes a rock with “Schwarze Klippe 14.2.04” (Black Rock) inscribed on it. On noticing this rock one cannot help but wonder what happened there. It is little known that at the beginning of the Herero uprising in 1904 German soldiers accidentally shot at their comrades in a skirmish close to this rock.  

On 14 February 1904, at six in the morning, 1st Company under Captain Fischel marches off from Windhoek to Gobabis. They have orders to take action against rebellious Hereros en route. Decommissioned Captain Hugo von François (the brother of Kurt von François) rides ahead with a patrol. They encounter a group of Hereros that very morning. During a brief exchange of fire the Hereros suffer several losses while on the German side one mounted soldier has a finger shot off and his rifle is damaged.   

At midday 1st Company arrives at Abraham’s farm (today’s Finkenstein). They find it totally destroyed but stop to rest during the heat of the early afternoon. Captain von François reports to Fischel and then rides back to Windhoek. At four in the afternoon the company is on its way again, expecting to reach the waterhole at the Black Rock after a march of about one-and-a-half hours. As it turns out, they misjudge time and distance and after covering a total of 40 km that day, the company finally reaches the waterhole at dusk. 

Several non-commissioned officers ride on ahead to find a suitable spot for their camp. Since darkness is already falling there is no time to reconnoitre for traces of the enemy. The vanguard coordinates the pitching of the camp, which is no easy task due to the company’s large number of wagons and cattle.  Among other things, there are wagons and carts with provisions, medical supplies, ammunition and oats. All of them are arranged in a square lager. The draught oxen are tied to the chains of their harness and the cattle are driven into the lager. The non-commissioned officers get together for roll call and decide on a password to be used when entering the camp at night. Guards are posted on every side of the camp. 

No fires are allowed that night. While the soldiers are still preparing their bivouac they hear several shots ring out from sentry position number 4. The Hildebrandt unit is immediately sent out with fixed bayonets. After barely 50 paces the unit is fired on from both sides, but since they do not know the surroundings they are ordered to retreat to the lager again.  

Sentry 3, who was also shot at, comes running back into the lager, shouting “don’t shoot, this is sentry 3”. Total confusion reigns when minutes later the suspected enemy also approaches the camp shouting: “Don’t shoot, we are German soldiers!” They are asked for the password and their names. As no reply is forthcoming, 1st Company starts firing in the direction of the would-be attackers.   

Gradually the sound of rifle fire dies down on both sides of the camp. The soldiers spend the night at the firing line with their rifles at the ready. At dawn several grenades are thrown into the surrounding area, followed by an inspection of the night’s “battlefield” by the Hildebrandt unit. They find four German marines, one of them still alive. Herman Haense is badly wounded and immediately taken back to Windhoek. 

Ernst Mahnke, Johann Schneider and Wilhelm Luttermöller (or F Suttermüller according to other sources) are buried at noon with military honours. A pile of rocks and a wooden cross mark their joint grave near the Black rock. Even today the grave is clearly recognisable. The barbed-wire fencing, which was probably added later, is still there.  

Three graves on the eastern side of the war cemetery in Seeis are also in memory of the three marines, although it is unlikely that their mortal remains were transferred there. 

The results of an investigation into the Black Rock incident were probably never published due to the utter embarrassment over the mishap. It is clear that the four marines were not part of the 1st Company. Apparently it was an ill-fated encounter of German soldiers who had not been informed about each other’s presence in the area.

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