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Oberleutnant Friedrich Freiherr von Hadeln led a reconnaissance section during the war in German South West Africa. He played a prominent part in supporting the South African rebel forces and was involved in the German attack on Kakamas, the only invasion of a British Commonwealth town by German forces in the First World War.

Background to the Raid:

At the end of 1914 South Africa was in a predicament. The government had entered the war on the side of the Allies, but many high ranking officers had gone into open rebellion and had taken to the field with groups of Boers who thought the time had come to finally kick the British out of southern Africa. Amongst the most dangerous rebels was Manie Maritz, commander of the troops on the South West African border who instead of getting ready to attack the Germans, crossed the border and joined them.

Riding to join Maritz was General J.C.G Kemp, another hero of the Boer war. He had led his group of 800 men on a dramatic chase of 700 miles through the Kalahari Desert losing most of their horses and almost 300 men. By the end of the chase most of his men had lost their horses and were marching and fighting on foot. The conditions endured by Kemp and his pursuers can best be summed up by a doctor in the Loyalist Govt forces who wrote “I had seen Kemp’s pursuers pass through Prieska and, when they came back disappointed over his gallant escape, I saw their over-ridden, starving horses so desperately hungry that they devoured the guide ropes of a number of our tents”.

Leutnant von Hadeln, Kommandant D. F. Flemming, General J. C. G. Kemp, Veggeneraal A. P. J. Bezuidenhout. Flemming and Bezuidenhout were part of Gen. Kemp's commando that trekked through the Kalahari desert to meet up with Gen. Maritz. (This superb Photo courtesy of Gordon McGregor)

Kemp and his men joined Maritz and his men as well as a “Burenfreikorps” that had been been formed in South West Africa from Boers who lived there.

Maritz had promised the Germans more than he could deliver. Although they were keen to see a rebellion in South Africa the general lack of discipline of the Boers did little to satisfy the German sense of order.

Maritz’s organisational skills were disastrous. At the end of January 1915 Maritz and his men were to attack the Loyalist government forces at Upington. To support them the Germans sent a detachment under Major Ritter to attack Steinkopf. Hearing of the failure of Maritz’s attack Major Ritter changed direction towards Upington hoping to support the Boers but then changed direction again and headed towards Kakamas, a town along the Orange river about fifty km south of Upington. Here, for want of a better target Ritter decided to attack. The detachment had 205 men, four artillery pieces and four machine guns.

Left: Typical terrain in the area in which the raid took place.

A member of the detachment wrote:    

The advance went through areas where there was little or no fodder or water to be found. There had been no possibility to arrange for supplies along the way as the orders had come at such short notice. The Boers under Maritz had left eight days earlier and on the evening of the 31st of January, as we left Ukamas, we received the news that despite an initial success at Upington, they had been beaten. In the following days we heard that they had negotiated with the enemy and that most had surrendered. Maritz had returned with a handful of followers, Hausding's battery and the machine guns. In spite of this setback our advance continued. There was no specific goal, but Kakamas on the Oranje River was where we headed.

Right: A map of the GSWA-South Africa border. From Gerald L'Ange's excellent book "Urgent Imperial Service"

On the morning of the first of February we reached Nakab, on the border.
There was not a single blade of grass and very little water. Not all the horses were able to drink before we left that night in spite of the men working all day on the well. That night we marched to Esterhuizenputz, a farm with good grazing, but only one well. Once again the men spent the day trying to get water for the horses. There was barely enough for the horses of the 1. Komp. and 2. Batt. The 8. Komp. had to move ten km further to Longklipp where the horses could drink from a muddy pond. 
During the night we marched fifty km to Ceydas on the Molopo where once again we found bad grazing and little water. Once again during the day the men and animals had little rest.

A "Bastard" (from the Bastard tribe) was questioned about Kakamas. He informed us that there were two ferries across the river and that about 1000 soldiers were encamped there. We were also told that telephone cables ran along our side of the river. That evening we marched through Luriputz whose superb well had unfortunately been destroyed. At this point our excess baggage was sent back. In the night of the third-fourth of February we halted about five km form the Oranje River. We had covered 175 km from Ukamas. The Patrol Abteilung von Hadeln, always a number of hours ahead to reconnoitre the way, had captured an ox wagon with natives. A "Bastard " was questioned. Hauptmann Petter was told that the ferries were approximately 1.5 km apart and that there was an enemy encampment on our side of the river. It was decided that the Abteilung von Hadeln would overpower the enemy post just in front of us on the road to Kakamas, then advance to the lower ferry. The rest of the troops would curve to the left to attack the upper ferry. To protect the remaining baggage wagons a section of the 8. Komp. remained to the rear.

Above: The Iron Cross 2nd class award document to Freiherr von Hadeln (The Iron Cross is not his)

In reality the ferries were five km apart and during the march contact between the two groups was lost. The two companies and artillery battery (the left wing) advanced rapidly, guided by a "Bastard" on horseback. At sunrise we stood on the last heights looking down to the river 1000 m below us, the fertile ground flanking the Oranje River and its canals.

Enemy concentrations were only to be seen on the far side of the river.

The town of Kakamas consisted of isolated houses surrounded by gardens, spread along the banks of the river for a number of kilometers.

War Graves at Kakamas, including that of Reiter Kriegsfreiwilliger Hendrik Lerm of Abteilung von Hadeln, killed at kakamas on the 4th of February 1915.

Up on the heights we had to decide our course of action. Crossing the river would be pointless as there was no place to cross back to our side. Time was our enemy as reinforcements would soon be on the way from Upington and they could easily cut off our retreat. Behind us the narrow mountain pass at Bisjepoort was critical to our withdrawal. After coming so far we could not turn around without having done something, so an attack on the houses on our side of the river was ordered.

Once we had secured the river bank we could at least let the horses drink. There were few enemy soldiers on our side and soon the 1. Komp. and two sections of the 8. Komp. were at the river. The artillery destroyed the ferry and fired on the enemy positions on the far side of the river, then advanced to join the infantry. There was no news from von Hadeln”s detachment. The patrols sent to establish communications with him were missing. Hauptmann Petter therefore decided to march along the river with the men of the 8. Komp. and the artillery battery and to connect up with von Hadeln. Hauptmann Petter rode with me on this mission, and we were soon under fire from the front and both flanks.

Leutnant Moebius and one of his men were killed while riding ahead of the column. Leutnant d.R. Voigt of the 2. Gebirgsbatterie was also killed. The clock was ticking against us and due to the danger of enemy reinforcements arriving from Upington Hauptmann Petter called off the march.

Above: The award document for Von Hadeln's wound badge, issued in 1936. I have been unable to find out exactly when he was wounded.

The two sections of the 8. Komp. were sent back to join the baggage column. The 1. Komp. and artillery retired to the heights where they stayed until about one pm. A message had arrived from von Hadeln asking for artillery support. The enemy occupied the heights in front of his position covering the way that led down to the Oranje. His detachment would suffer heavy losses if forced to withdraw without the artillery to aid it. Half of the 2. Gebirgsbatterie under the command of Leutnant d.R. Bertram was sent to support von Hadeln and his men. At three pm the main column had assembled at the baggage column. Hauptmann Petter announced his intention to take the 8. Komp. to go to von Hadeln's aid but this was vetoed by Major Ritter. Time was running out, the column had to cross through the narrow Bisjepoort before the arrival of the enemy troops from Upington. With heavy hearts we pulled back leaving the Abteilung von Hadeln and the two supporting guns to their fate. We were delighted to get news at six pm that the Abteilung had succeeded in breaking contact with the enemy and had retreated, supported by the two guns.

We were all weak from exhaustion and thirst, the Abteilung von Hadeln suffering most as they had not been able to water their horses at the river and had also spent the last three days and nights doing reconnaissance patrols. Luckily it rained at Bisjepoort and the animals were able to drink from puddles. By early morning we had crossed the narrow pass at Bisjepoort. I received orders to bring up the rear, encouraging the last stragglers, exhausted men from the 1. Komp. A message arrived that the enemy was advancing from Upington. When the last of the stragglers arrived at Ceydas (on the road to Ukamas) the rest of the column continued the withdrawal. The enemy had reached Luriputz and had found no water. When they saw we had already crossed the narrows at Bisjepoort they turned back. We heard that a number of their men and many animals died of thirst and exhaustion on their return journey. Our slow withdrawal continued under the hot sun, Major Ritter hoping that our exhausted men could avoid a skirmish with the enemy. A number of horses and mules died of thirst along the way. On the evening of the fifth of February we reached Longklipp, There was not a single drop of water. We marched through the night and in the morning we arrived at the border at Nakab. Here there was very little water. Most of the animals had to continue 18 km further to Ariams where they stampeded into the water, a number of animals dying in the process.

We arrived back at Ukamas on the morning of the seventh. A large percentage of the horses had died, the remaining ones would needing a long time to recover if they recovered at all...

We had achieved...nothing. Yet every man who had participated would look back on the endeavour with pride. We had acted with discipline and courage. We had continued our march in spite of thirst, deprivation, exhaustion and extreme heat.

According to L'Ange The Germans lost 7 officers and men killed. 6 were wounded and 16 captured. The Germans wrote that the South Africans had cleverly exploited the terrian and that "Their marksmanship, even at far distances, was good, resulting in heavy losses of horses and mules".

For the further adventures of Freiherr von Hadeln go HERE

To continue to the Group of a man who was opposing the rebellion and attack at Upington click HERE