World War 1 comes to the Northern Cape-Ken Gillings

Posted in Durban and Coastal Branch

 Ritter’s men then managed to capture 11 members of the Calvinia Commando at the ferry landing. On arrival at the drift, the Germans discovered that the ferry was on the south bank and they therefore had no means of crossing the deep, fast-flowing river. To complicate matters, some South African soldiers managed to position themselves between the two flanks and realising that he was in danger of a counter-attack, Ritter decided to withdraw.The South Africans then seized the initiative; reinforcements were transported across the Orange River on the ferry and on arrival on the north bank, they subjected the retreating Germans to heavy rifle fire. The German artillery swung their guns’ trails and opened fire in an attempt to cover their comrades’ retreat, but the German rearguard was captured and the guns withdrew. The one section and the guns reached their rendezvous at Biessiespoort by nightfall while the other section was still dealing with the strong South African counter-attack and they only managed to break away at 23h00, reaching Biessiespoort shortly before dawn on the 5th February 1915. The soldiers were parched after fighting without water for the entire day in the scorching sun. That day, they crossed the border back into German South-West Africa, having lost 7 officers and other ranks killed, 6 wounded and 16 taken POW in the battle. The German soldiers who were killed in the action were buried on the slope above the north bank of the Orange River a short distance outside Kakamas, where they still lie buried under an impressive monument. Ironically their graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, while the Kriebsgräberfürsorge in Namibia assists the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the maintenance of Springbok graves in that country.Two South African soldiers who died while on duty in Kakamas lie buried in the town cemetery; they are Lieutenant J Neethling of the Remounts Department, who died of wounds received on the 3rd February 1915 and Trooper JC Kruger of the Britstown Commando, who died in the town on the 5th December 1915. An interesting aspect of the Battle of Kakamas was that the Kakamas Commando’s commanding officer was on sick leave, and led into battle by an ordinary burgher named du Preez. One of the men fighting under him was his aged father.This was the furthest south that German forces attacked into South Africa during WW1. Two more attacks occurred on the 1st and 19th March 1915 at the remote police border post of Rietfontein but they were beaten off with heavy losses.

The campaign for German South West Africa had by then begun in earnest and the South African forces converged on GSWA from four directions, eventually concluding what has been described as one of the most successful campaigns in modern military history.