On a superficial consideration of this campaign it may be thought that the numerical superiority of the Union forces eliminated all questions of strategy except those of the steam-roller. It must, however, be remembered that the wide and formidable strategic obstacle of the desert (See map No.2) effectually attenuated any force committed to it however numerically strong, and that the long lines of communication also absorbed large numbers. How this intervening desert was crossed will be considered elsewhere. But the question of where the penetration would be most inconvenient to the enemy, was a strategic problem of some importance. It was known that the enemy derived most of his supplies from the area North of the Karibib-Windhuk railway line, and that if he intended to prolong the campaign by ultimately leading it into a Guerilla phase, he had practically the whole Central African continent at his back door. The strong expedition pushed beyond his Northern frontiers in December 1914 was perhaps not so much with the object of pilfering in Portuguese Police posts as to get experience of operating in that area, and to impress the Native mind.
The strategic objective an the first instance was thus to secure a Jumping off place beyond the desert situated so as best to facilitate the realisation of the next and final objective which was the enemy's fighting forces in the field, their destruction before they could initiate a guerilla campaign. A glance at a map will be sufficient to establish the claims of Karibib as the first strategic objective, its fall decides the fate of Windhuk and all the country to the South. The first indication of its being seriously threatened caused the enemy to concentrate for the defence of this area, but owing to the rapidity of the Union operations the defensive concentration was so hurried and imperfect that the enemy declined to risk a decisive action and retired Northwards. The first objective was gained and the difficulties of the second could now be more clearly realized. The destruction of the enemy's living forces will always remain the grandest aim of strategy, also the most difficult, and what accentuated the normal difficulties in this case was the fact that the scarcity of water and supplies would compel the employment of isolated forces for the wide turning movements out of communication with each other or with the commander -in-chief, and each considerably weaker than the concentrated body of the enemy. A text-book advance would always have enabled the enemy to disengage and escape under cover of a rearguard action until the time arrived for him to adopt guerilla methods. The strategic operations in connection with the second objective are remarkable for two reasons, the departure from traditional methods - launching comparatively weak, isolated forces, out of communication for days - and the complete success that results from these innovations. In military history Cannae and Sedan have always been looked upon be the two classical examples of a realization of the highest strategic ideal, strictly speaking this is open to question. Cannae was more of a tactical envelopment while Sedan was the destruction of only a portion of the French Army in the field. The South West Campaign however presents what appears to be a unique instance of strategical operations culminating in an development that completely destroyed the enemy as a fighting force in the entire theater of operations . How this result was attained may be seen best by means of the diagrams Nos. 2,3,4,5,5A and 6.
Diagram No.2 presents the problem: The enemy area entirely, surrounded by a wide strategic obstacle. His railway lines leading to the weaker links in his armour and thus not presenting any possibility of being turned. Diagram No. 3 represents the dispositions on January 1st 1915. Up to this time the Union Government had been engaged in suppressing the Rebellion in the Union and it was necessary in the first place to prevent the enemy assisting the rebels or the latter escaping into enemy territory. The dispositions up to this date are thus not the result of a strategy exclusively directed against South Went Africa. Diagram No. 4 shows some advance towards the first objective. A bad part of the desert had been penetrated, the enemy had been defeated at Riet and it was clear to him that his communication with the North - from where his supplies came and where he hoped to prolong the campaign - was being seriously threatened. Diagram No. 5 shows the first objective gained. In the course of this, an interesting problem presents itself, the solution of which is recorded in diagram No. 5A. On the 26th of April 1915 when the advance began that resulted in the Drill-book like dispositions of the 6th of May shown on diagram 5A it was not quite clear what the enemy intentions and and dispositions were. The Intelligence of the Union Northern force was to the effect that most of the enemy force was concentrated at or North of Karibib, a view which was strengthened by the enemy attack on Trekkoppies the same day. But on the following day, 27th of April the enemy had also offered stiff resistance to General MacKenzie at Gibeon (vide diagram 5). The possibilities that had to be considered by General Botha were thus either that the main force of the enemy was somewhere near Karibib or that the general retirement had been delayed too long and that the enemy would be found at Windhuk or any place between Windhuk and Karibib. The dense bush and vastness of the country, which on several occasions had rendered it impossible for the Air Force to locate our own brigades even when their position was known approximately, prevented the situation being cleared up by these means. The advance had therefore to be so arranged that while in the main directed against Karibib and the railway eastwards, it kept the possibility in view that the enemy might be in force anywhere in the area Windhuk-Otjimbingue, Karibib and then along the railway to Windhuk. The diagram No. 5a perhaps conveys a clearer idea of the strategy than may be obtained by any further written explanation. It can be seen there that the strategic direction of pressure was at first in the direction Otjimbingue, Okahandja by the 5th, 3rd and 2nd Mounted brigades. The 1st Mounted Brigade and the 4th Infantry Brigade following up with pressure an the direction Kubas, Karibib. When about halfway between Otjimbingue and Qkahandja the 5th and the 3rd Mounted brigades suddenly doubled North West and got astride the railway at Willemsthal. Up to this point it could not have been clear to the enemy what their intentions were, Willemsthal,Okahandja or Windhuk as they were on the only possible line of advance from Otjimbingue to Windhuk up to the point from where they deviated North Westwards and they were at any time most favourably disposed to hold an attack from either Windhuk, Okahandja or Willemsthal until reinforcements arrived while they were always available should an attack on the 1st and 4th brigades develop from Karibib. As it was the enemy had barely escaped being partially cut off and was in no condition to risk a serious engagement but took up the position shown in the diagram. Diagram No.6 shows the strategic operations that resulted in realizing the final objective of destroying the enemy as a fighting force in the field and preventing him from prolonging the operations by a guerilla Campaign. After the first objective had been gained as shown in diagram No.5A there was a six weeks period of refitting and reorganization (see chapter on organization) and then the final operations were commenced which within eighteen days enveloped the enemy and compelled his surrender a few days later. The surrender of Windhuk, the Capital, on May 12th was an inevitable result of the first objective being gained and has no further strategic interest. The strategic advance began on June 18th. The diagram shows a convergence of the lines of march on Kalkveld where it was considered that the enemy would attempt the determined rearguard action that might be expected in a long strategic pursuit. He did not however take advantage of the possibilities offered by this place for that purpose and as it was known that the country was less suitable further North up to Otavi the strategic directions were not again deviated for this reason. The convergence shown towards Otjiwarongo was for water and supplies for the 1st Mounted Brigade. It was known that the enemy had prepared a line of retirement from Tsumeb over Namutoni and then northwards. Of the depots established on this line Namutoni was by far the most important from the supplies collected there. The objective of the 1st Mounted Brigade under Brig.General Brits was to get astride this line of retirement at Namutoni. To do this he would be entirely out of communication for some time and also out of reach of assistance, a strategic risk which cannot be taken without the absolute confidence of Headquarters in the tactical superiority of the detached force in marching and the ability to disengage themselves from an unprofitable action. The 2nd and the right wing of the 3rd mounted brigade under Brig.Genaral Myburgh had a somewhat similar task as regards the want of communication and possibility of support, they were, as can be seen on the diagram, to envelope from the eastwards. The 5th Mounted Brigade under Brig.General M. Botha acted as the advance guard to the main body, 6th Mounted Brigade, Brig.General Lukin and 1st Infantry Brigade, Brig.General Beves, marching along the railway. This brigade in the most brilliant tactical operation of the campaign on July 1st at Elephants Neck, Osib and Otavifontein (see chapter Tactical Operations) secured the water and high ground at Otavi. This was a condition on which the whole strategical scheme hinged, there was no water between Otavi and Okaputa and a check at Otavi would have given the enemy opportunity to throw himself in superior numbers on the isolated forces in his rear. But the confidence of the Commander in Chief in the tactical superiority of his troops again enabled him to realise a strategy which without this tactical superiority would have been hazardous in the extreme. On the 1st July the main body of the union force was in occupation of the water and strong positions at Otavi, the enemy main body was at Korab about 15 miles from Otavi with detachments at Tsumeb and Namutani, while the force under Brig.General Myburgh was a little way North of Grootfontein and the force under Brig. General Brits nearing Namutoni. The enemy could retire over Tsumeb or direct to Namutoni only to be met in either case by a force strong enough to delay it until the main body came up.In a few days these places were occupied, their garrisons surrendering after slight resistence and the main body of the enemy acknowledged the success of the union strategy by surrendering on the 9th July with 204 officers, 3166 other ranks, 37 guns and 22 machine guns. Although no opportunity to add to the records of elegantly solved strategical problems presented itself to the forces in the southern theater of operations, a study of the direct strategy employed there is far from unprofitable.The march of the eastern force under Brig.General Berrange (then Colonel) for instance will remain a fine example of the difficulties that may be overcome in a strategic advance across a desert. The rapid rate of building the strategic railway from Prieska into the enemies country (three miles per day) is also an instance of what may be done with limited resources in a desert when strategy demands it. On a consideration of diagrams Nos 3,4 and 5 it may be asked why this great strategic pressure in the South when obviously a thrust at the enemy vitals at Karibib would attract all his resistance there. The reason, as previously pointed out, is that up to January 1915 the Union had to reckon with the rebellion in Territory adjoining that of the enemy, and had to prevent a joining of hands of rebel and enemy forces. That the southern forces were not superfluous is evident from the fact that one rebel force succeeded in joining hands with the enemy. After the suppression of the rebellion the Southern forces were established on long lines of communication that had been laboriously created and it would have been unwise to abandon these before the Northern Force had definitely gained its first objective. In strategy, as in other matters, nothing but uncertainty is certain, and there may have been serious checks in the North before the first objective was attained, the Southern Forces then would have served to Minimize the pressure on the Northern Army. Their strategic object therefore all through was to exert a converging pressure on the most suitable point which from Diagram No.5 is seen to be situated somewhat North of Keetmanshop. That the strategic movements were well coordinated taking into account the long and diverging lines of communication, can be seem from the diagrams. The timing of the Eastern Force under Colonel Berrange especially draws attention in diagram No.4 and more so when it is remembered that his bases are Kimberly and Kuruman (see diagram No.2).
Full justice to the Southern strategy can however only be done in a history of the Military Operations in 1914 when the Union had its forces there strategically fronting back and forward.
The Union Forces were organized in a Southern, a Central, an Eastern and a Northern Force. Great modification in the sub organization of these four strategic units were from time to time conditioned by the varying circumstances. The Central Force field troops were for instance at one time entirely composed of mounted units while previously they had been formed of infantry battalions. The military tradition of South Africa have been very largely influenced by the so called “Commando” system, which for more than a century has been the organization basis of many military operations and also influenced the evolution of South African tactics. The principle of the Commando system is to organize a tactical unit so as to retain the cohesion that exists among the individuals inhabiting the same locality or district. It has no fixed numerical establishment, the recruits from one area or district being organized into one commando it follows that thinly populated areas furnish small commandos and vice versa, there always however remaining an automatic check on over heavy commandos in the civil subdivision of districts when the population increases. It is not the purpose here to investigate the advantages and weak point of the commando system, but as this system had got a firm hold on the South African military mind, a few characteristics must be briefly sketched to throw light on the tactics and organization of this campaign. In the subsection of the Commando, the men probably knew each other and their officers from boyhood. The Commandant and the officers are generally men of considerable individuality and influence and are natural leaders of men even in civilian life. The result is great internal cohesion and a somewhat refractory external attitude with reference to other units. As a minor tactical unit the commando is an ideal organization, in grand tactics it requires very careful handling. The relations between the men and officers in peace time make discipline rather difficult, but the subtle influence of the officers over the men enables them to get more out of the latter in a forced march or a “hot corner” than is possible in a regular unit. The tactical initiative of the commando is thus a joy to the staff just as their behaviour in combined operations is always a source of considerable concern. Without the commando influence, many mistakes in this campaign may possibly not have occurred, but then also several tactical achievements would certainly not be on record today. The South African Defence Force in the eighteen months of its life before the war had done much by inspiration, organization and training to develop the wider coherence required for combined operations. Brigade organization was aimed at, and this was also the organization of the four strategic forces in the campaign. The spirit of the Commando system is however perceptible everywhere, the mounted brigades were of two types, some being on regular lines with regimental establishment, while others were modified to make more use of the commando principle. These last were formed of two wings, left and right, each under a Colonel Commandant, the wings being of three commandos, each about 300 rifles strong. The whole mounted brigade of from 1800 to 2400 rifles was at first under the command of a Colonel but the rank was later advanced to that of a Brigadier General.
The Southern Force
This force which had experienced organization changes demanded by the Rebellion operations previous to January 1915 from which date we are considering the campaign, was composed of one Battery Field Artillery and 29 mounted commandos together with 5000 rifles under the command of Lieut General Sir J. van Deventer. It operated in five and later in four columns. This force was on the 24th April combined with the Eastern Force to form the 2nd Division of the Southern Army which was demobilized on the 5th of May as the enemy had evacuate the Southern theatre of operations.
On the 18th September 1914 this force landed at Luderitz Bay and was reinforced from time to time so that in January 1915 it comprised: 2 six gun batteries Field Artillery 2 four gun batteries Heavy Artillery 2 Mounted Brigades of two regiments each 7 Infantry Battalions organized in two brigades. The necessary Engineering, Medical and Communication Services.
In March 1915 this was reinforced with another Mounted Brigade of two regiments. In April 1915 it formed the 1st Division of the Southern Army.
This consisted of 4 Mounted Brigades and a section of 12 pdr Heavy Artillery together with a special Motor Transport and Water Supply Service. On establishing contact with the Southern Force in March 1915 it was combined with the latter to form the 2nd Division of the Southern Army.
On the 1st January 1915 this stood organized in 2 three battalion Infantry Brigades which had, together with 7 guns of the Artillery Brigade and 1 Mounted Regiment landed at Walvis Bay on 25th December 1914. In March 1915 the mounted troops had been reinforced and the organization had to provide for the Field, Line of Communication and special troops to protect the railway reconstruction as the railway did not coincide with either the line of communication or the intended direction of advance (see diagram No.4).
The force was thus organized as follows.
Field Troops 2 four gun batteries of Field Artillery 2 Mounted Brigades (Modified Commando system) 1 three Battalion Infantry Brigade. Engineering, Medical and Communication Services. (Each of the Mounted Brigades had one of the above Batteries attached)
Railway Construction Protective Troops
1 Section Heavy Artillery 1 Mounted Regiment 1 three Battalion Infantry Brigade Medical and Communication Services. (The actual reconstruction work was of Native labour under direction of the S.A. Engineer Corps, see Chapter Engineering)
Line Of Communication Troops
1 Battery Heavy Artillery (4 guns) 1 Armoured Car Division 2 Infantry Battalions Medical and Communication Services.
In April the Field Troops were increased with two additional Mounted Brigades each with a four gun battery Field Artillery and the organization then remained as described until after the occupation of Karibib. As the nature of strategic objective had then changed (see Strategic Operations) a reorganization of the Northern Force was necessary and the other 3 Forces which had previously been combined into an army of two divisions were demobilised. The new organization had to provide the Field Lines of Communication and Garrison troops.
The Field Troops were
5 batteries Field Artillery (4 Guns) 2 batteries Heavy Artillery (4 Guns) 4 Mounted brigades (less one wing)(modified Commando type) 1 Mounted Brigade (5 Regular established regts), 1 Infantry Brigade (5 Battalions) 1 Squadron Armoured Cars South African Aviation Corps (6 planes) Transport, Engineering, Medical and Communication Services.
The distribution of Artillery was one battery Field Artillery per Brigade, the detached Mounted Brigade wing having a section of 12 pdr Heavy Artillery while the two Heavy Artillery Batteries were attached to the Infantry Brigade.
Lines of Communication Troops
2 Infantry Brigades of three battalions 2 Infantry Battalions 2 Squadrons Mounted Infantry Engineering and Railway Construction Services, Transport, Medical and communication Services.
Garrison Troops 1 Section 12 pdr Heavy Artillery 1 Mounted Brigade less one Wing detached for field troops. 1 Mounted Regiment (Commando Type)
NOTE For organization of Engineering, Railway Construction, Medical etc. Services see Chapters under these heads.
This organization sufficed for the object in view and terminated the campaign.