Germans Surrender in SW Africa

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 191st installment in the series.

July 9, 1915: Germans Surrender in SW Africa 

With a few thousand German defenders massively outnumbered by the South African invasion force, there was never any doubt about the final outcome of the war in German Southwest Africa (today Namibia); the only question was how the endgame would unfold. As it turned out, the death throes of the German colony were surprisingly quick and painless, at least by the standards of the First World War, with a handful of casualties before capitulation. 


After suppressing a short-lived Boer uprising in December 1914, South African Prime Minister Louis Botha led a multi-pronged invasion of Southwest Africa, including landings at the ports of Swakopmund (above) and Lüderitzbucht and incursions by cavalry converging from the South African interior on the southern city of Keetmanshoop. On March 20, 1915 Botha’s force sallied from Swakopmund to defeat the Germans at the Battle of Riet, clearing the way for an advance on the capital, Windhoek, which fell to the invaders on May 12, 1915. Henry Walker, a medical officer with the South African army, recalled the almost supernatural landscapes encountered during the advance in spring 1915: 

It is quite impossible to do justice to the beauty of the country we passed through this night. The road and river were winding up a narrow gorge, frequently crossing each other. Giant acacias fringed the snow-white bed of the river, and extended to the greensward beyond. White rocks shone like silver in the river or on the mountain-sides, which towered high above everything… All this, illuminated by a most brilliant moon, has left an indelible impression on my memory. 

The fall of Windhoek meant it was only a matter of time – but no one was sure how just how much time that meant. Would the German commander, Victor Franke, disperse his forces to continue the struggle with guerrilla tactics? Or might he try to retreat north into Portuguese West Africa (today Angola), or even head east and try to stir up tribal rebellions in British Rhodesia?  

Actually Franke intended to make a last stand outside the northern town of Tsumeb, taking advantage of strong defensive positions in the hills around the town. To give his troops enough time to build fortifications, Franke sent a smaller detachment of around 1,000 men under of his subordinates, Major Hermann Ritter, to fight a holding action against the approaching South Africans under Botha. Ritter decided to fight the South Africans at Otavi, about 20 miles southwest of Tsumeb. 


Botha, determined not to allow the Germans to dig in, drove his troops hard and covered a distance of 120 miles in less than a week, moving north along the main rail line – a remarkable achievement, considering the conditions and lack of supplies. One observer, Eric Moore Ritchie, recalled the final approach in the last week of June: 

The pace of the trekking was now becoming phenomenal, and though the country was quite good, water was as scarce as ever, the bush being intensely dense, with thick sweet grass as much as eight feet high in places… During this trek the army had had water only twice… delay of any kind was now highly undesirable: the columns could not afford to pause long owing to the consumption of rations… water was uncertain, and congestion of columns at the watering places had to be avoided as much as possible.

Following this swift advance, on July 1, 1915 Botha managed to take the German rear guard under Ritter by surprise at the Battle of Otavi, pitting around 3,500 South African cavalry against 1,000 Germans – an encounter that would barely qualify as a skirmish on the Western Front. The Germans were overextended and had also failed to prepare fortified positions on the high ground behind them; thus when the German left flank began to crumble, the retreat quickly turned into a rout, leaving three German and four British soldiers dead.

As Ritter withdrew north, Botha divided his army of 13,000 cavalry and infantry into two wings, forming two arms of a pincer that encircled Franke’s smaller force of less than 3,000 men at Tsumeb over the following week. Franke’s troops, still digging in, suddenly found themselves surrounded and cut off from their only plausible line of retreat to nearby Grootfontein.  

Facing overwhelming numbers with incomplete defensive works, Franke convinced the colony’s civilian governor, Theodor Seitz, to throw in the towel. The Germans surrendered to Botha on July 9, 1915 at Tsumeb (top, the surrender). Total casualties for the war in German Southwest Africa were 113 South Africans killed in battle, versus 103 Germans – a rounding error by the standards of the European war. 

Having secured this victory the South Africans could now examine their conquests, prompting some to wonder whether it was all worth the effort. On returning to Lüderitzbucht, Walker summed up his impressions of the tiny harbor town (below, the town’s main street):

I don’t suppose there is a more desolate, dreary, God-forsaken site for a town in the whole world than this, and nobody except extreme optimists like the Germans would ever have dreamed of trying to establish one here. There is not a drop of fresh water anywhere near, nor a plant nor tree of any description except seaweed. There is not even a flat space where buildings can be erected, and many are perched on pinnacles or in fissures in the rocks. Its only natural advantages are the sun, sea, rocks, sand, and wind. 


Whatever the land’s actual value, Botha fully intended for South Africa to profit territorially by its assistance to Britain in the Great War, and on July 15 the South African parliament voted to annex Southwest Africa in a customs union. South African domination of Namibia would continue after the Second World War, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, leading to the Namibian War of Independence from 1966-1988. This was followed by South African recognition of Namibian independence in 1990, as South Africa’s own apartheid regime began to collapse. 

Battle in a Tornado 

Meanwhile the Allies were also advancing in German Kamerun (today Cameroon), another vast but sparsely inhabited African colony located near the equator. The campaign in Cameroon was doubtless slow going as British, French, and Belgian colonial troops contended with rough terrain, thick tropical forests, and primitive infrastructure, but by July 1915 the (again, vastly outnumbered) German colonial forces had mostly retreated to the central plateau dominating the territory’s mountainous interior (below, British forces fire a field gun at the Battle of Fort Dschang, January 2, 1915). 


On a map the Allies had Cameroon more or less surrounded, but this was hardly going to translate into an easy victory, as huge areas of mostly empty jungle allowed small guerrilla bands to slip in and out of contested areas at will. Thus as in German East Africa the Allies often found themselves fighting for possession of the same territory twice, or more: on January 5, 1915 they fought off a German counterattack at Edea, first conquered in October, and on July 22 they had to defend Bertoua, scene of a previous victory in December.


Nonetheless the Allies kept up the pressure and their native troops fought bravely in a number of actions. On April 29 they beat back a daring German incursion into Allied territory at Gurin in British Nigeria, then defeated the Germans again at the Second Battle of Garua from May 31 to June 10, 1915 (below, German native troops at Garua), completing the conquest of northern Cameroon (aside from the ongoing siege of Mora, where a small German force was now completely cut off on an almost impregnable mountain). 


A small but dramatic encounter took place a few weeks later, when a British force attacked German defenders at Ngaundere on July 29 – in a tornado. The severe, indeed terrifying, weather conditions served to distract the small German garrison holding the village, allowing the British force of around 200 native troops to take them by surprise and capture many of them without a fight. As the storm cleared the remaining Germans launched a counterattack but were defeated, clearing the way for the British to advance to Tingere, repulsing a German counterattack from July 19-23, 1915. The arrival of the rainy season forced the end to campaigning for the middle of the year, although the siege of Mora dragged don to the north.

Allies Plan New Offensive 

Back in Europe the Western Allies were planning a fresh offensive that would prove to be yet another costly disaster. On July 7, 1915 the first inter-allied military conference met at Chantilly, France, bringing together the French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre, War Minister Alexandre Millerand, British chief of the general staff William Robertson, commander of the British Expeditionary Force Sir John French, and others to plot overall strategy.

Despite some initial resistance from the British, aghast at the huge cost of recent offensives at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, and Festubert, French, Robertson and Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener ultimately gave in to Joffre’s determination to keep up the pressure on the Germans. As Kitchener told French: “We must do our utmost to help the French, even though by so doing, we suffer very heavy losses indeed.” 

After all, Joffre argued, the French had sustained far more casualties than the British, while the Western Allies needed to do everything they could to take some of the burden off the Russians, still reeling backwards in the Great Retreat. Additionally, the French war effort would be greatly increased by liberation of northern France, which held most of France’s factories and coal mines. Reflecting pre-war beliefs about the importance of “spirit,” Joffre also warned that if they stopped attacking, “our troops will little by little lose their physical and moral qualities.” 


Although plans were vague, it was clear that a new coordinated Anglo-French offensive was intended for sometime in the late summer or fall, after the Allies had a chance to stockpile artillery shells for a massive opening bombardment. The plan that coalesced over the following months called for two simultaneous attacks, forming a huge pincer to cut off the German salient in northern France. In the south the French Second and Fourth Armies would attack the German Third Army, in what became known as the Second Battle of Champagne. Meanwhile to the west the British First Army would mount a huge push (using chlorine gas) with help from the French Tenth Army in the Third Battle of Artois – seared into British memory as the Battle of Loos. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.
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This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

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2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.
BetaFresh

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

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3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
XtremeTime

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

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4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

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5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.
Triple7Deals

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

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6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.
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You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

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At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Q&A: Kristen Bell Celebrates Diversity In Her New Kid's Book, The World Needs More Purple People

Jim Spellman/Getty Images
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Kristen Bell is one of those household names that brings to mind a seemingly endless list of outstanding performances in both TV and film. She is Veronica Mars. She is the very memorable Sarah Marshall. She's the voice of Gossip Girl. She just recently wrapped up her NBC series The Good Place. Your nieces and nephews likely know her as Princess Anna from the Frozen films. She also has one of the most uplifting and positive presences on social media.

Now, adding to her long list of accomplishments, Kristen Bell is the published author of a new children’s book called The World Needs More Purple People. Born out of seeing how cultural conversations were skewing more toward the things that divide us, the new picture book—which Bell co-authored with Benjamin Hart—encourages kids to see what unites us all as humans.

We spoke with Kristen Bell about what it means to be a purple person, her new animated series Central Park, and becoming a foster failure. We also put her knowledge of sloths to the test.

How did The World Needs More Purple People book come to be?

Basically my genius buddy, Ben Hart, and I were looking around and sort of seeing how our children were watching us debate healthily at the dinner table, which is fine. But it occurred to us that everything they were seeing was a disagreement. And that’s because that can be fun for adults, but it’s not a good basis for kids to start out on. We realized we were not really giving our kids a ton of examples of us, as adults, talking about the things that bring us together. So The World Needs More Purple People was born.

Book cover of Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart's 'The World Needs More Purple People'
Random House via Amazon

We decided to create a roadmap of similarities to give kids a jumping off point of how to look for similarities ... [because] if you can see similarities, you’re more likely to walk through the world with an open mind. But if you walk into a conversation seeing only differences, your mind is going to think differently of that person’s opinion and you just never know when you’re going to hear an opinion that might enlighten you. So we wanted to give kids this roadmap to follow to basically say, “Here are some great features that no one can argue with. Have these features and you’ll have similarities with almost everyone on the planet.”

Part of the reason I love the book so much is because it encourages kids to ask questions, even if they're silly. What are some silly questions you’ve had to answer for your kids?

Oh my god. How much time do you have? Once she asked in rapid fire: Is Santa Claus real? Why is Earth? Who made dogs?

How do you even answer that?

It was too much; I had to walk away. Kids have a ton of questions, and as they get older and more verbal, the funny thing that happens is they get more insecure. So we wanted to encourage the question-asking, and also encourage the uniqueness of every child. Which is why Dan Wiseman, who did our illustrations, really captured this middle point between Ben and I. Ben is very sincere, and I am very quirky. And I feel like the illustrations were captured brilliantly because we also wanted a ton of diversity because that is what the book is about.

The book is about seeing different things and finding similarities. Each kid in the book looks a little bit different, but also a little bit the same. The message at the end of the book is with all these features that you can point out and recognize in other people—loving to laugh, working really hard, asking great questions ... also know that being a purple person means being uniquely you in the hopes that kids will recognize that purple people come in every color.

What was it like behind-the-scenes of writing a children’s book with two little girls at home? Were they tough critics?

Shockingly, no. They did not have much interest in the fact that I was writing a children’s book until there were pictures. Then they were like, “Oh now I get it.” But prior to that, when I’d run the ideas by them, they were not as interested. But I did read it to them. They gave me the two thumbs up. Ben has two kids as well, and all our kids are different ages. Once we got the thumbs up from the 5-year-old, the 7-year-old, the 8-year-old, and the 11-year-old, we thought, “OK, this is good to go.”

I hope that people, and kids especially, really do apply this as a concept. We would love to see this as a curriculum going into schools if they wanted to use it to ask: What happened today in your life that was purple? What could you do to make tomorrow more purple? Like as a concept of a way of living.

Weirdly, writing a children’s book was a way of getting to the adults. If it’s a children’s book, there is a high probability an adult is going to either be reading it to you or be there while you’re reading it—which means you’re getting two demographics. If we had just written a novel about this kind of concept, we’d never reach the kids. But by writing a kid's book, we also access the adults.

Your new show Central Park looks so incredible. What can you tell us about the show and your character Molly?

I am so excited for the show to come out. I’ve seen it and it is exceptional. It is so, so, so funny and so much fun. I signed on because I got a phone call from my friend Josh Gad, who said, “I’m going to try to put together a cartoon for us to work on.” And I said, “Yes. Goodbye.” And he and Loren Bochard, who created Bob’s Burgers, took basically all of our friends—Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, and myself—and created a family who lives in the middle of Central Park.

I play a teenager named Molly who is very socially awkward but has this incredible, relentlessly creative, vivacious personality going on only inside her head … and it’s a musical! So, she's awkward on the outside but when she sings her songs she really comes to life. And she's a comic book artist, so the cartoon often switches to what she's seeing in her head.

It's so funny and Josh Gad plays this busker who lives in Central Park, who is the narrator. Stanley Tucci plays this older woman named Bitsy who is trying to build a shopping mall in the center of Central Park, and the family’s job is to basically save Central Park. But the music is so incredible. We’ve got two music writers, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, who write the majority of the music, but we also have guest writers that come in every episode. So Sara Bareilles wrote some music and Cyndi Lauper wrote some music. It is such a fun show.

My husband, who does not like cartoons or musicals, watched the first couple of episodes, and he looked at me and said, “You’ve got something really special in your hands.” And he doesn’t like anything. It made me so happy. I cannot wait until this show comes out, I am so proud of it.

What was it like to reunite with Josh Gad on another musical animated series that isn't Frozen?

Josh and I talk a lot, and we had a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations about how we can work together again, just because we adore each other. And part of it is because we get along socially, and part of it is because we trust each other comedically. He's a creator and writer more so than I am, so I usually leave it up to him and say, "What’s our next project?" We have other things in the pipeline we would love to do together, but [Central Park] was an immediate yes because I trust how he writes. Josh is at every single one of my recording sessions; he is very hands-on with the shows that he does or produces or creates. I trust him as much as I trust my husband, creatively, and that’s saying a lot.

Given your well-documented love of sloths, we do have to throw out a few true or false questions about sloths and put your knowledge to the test …

Oh my gosh. OK, now I'm nervous. Hit me.

True or false: Sloths fart more than humans.

Fart more than humans?

Yes.

I’m going to say it's true.

It’s actually false. Sloths don’t fart at all. They might be the only mammal on the planet that does not fart.

You’re kidding. Another reason to love them. You know, I was trying to think medically about it. I know they only poop once a week and that if you only go poop once a week ... I thought, “Well in order to keep your GI healthy, perhaps you have to have some sort of flow from the top to the bottom during the seven-day waiting period until you release.”

True or false: Sloths are so slow that algae sometimes grows on them.

One hundred percent true. In the wild, they’re always covered in algae and it helps their fur, all those microorganisms. But in zoos, they don’t have it.

Nice. OK, last one. True or false: Sloths poop from trees.

No way. They go down to the ground, and they rub their little tushies on the ground, and then they go back up.

You are correct.

I know a fair amount about sloths but the farting thing was new. My kids will be excited to hear that.

We heard recently that you are a part of the “foster failure” club. What went wrong? Erright?

Well, what I learned from Veronica Mars is you root for and cherish and uplift the underdog always. And my first foster failure was in 2018; I found the most undesirable dog that existed on the planet. She is made of toothpicks, it is impossible for her to gain weight. She has one eye. She looks like a walking piece of garbage. Her name is Barbara. She's 11 years old. And I saw a picture of her online and I said, “Yes. I just want to bring her over. I don’t even need to know anything else about her other than this picture," which was the most hideous picture. I mean it looks like a Rorschach painting or something. It was so awful. I was like, “She’s mine. I’ll take care of her. I’ve got this.” And it turns out she is quite lovely even though she can be pretty annoying. But she is our Barbara Biscuit, and she is one of the most charismatic dogs I have ever met. She piddles wherever she damn well pleases. So that is a bummer, because she is untrainable, but we love her.

That was our first failure. Then last year, we genuinely attempted to just foster a dog named Frank. And about two weeks in, I realized Frank was in love with me—like in a human way. He thought he was my boyfriend.

Oh no …

I just felt like … I didn’t even want a new dog—well I shouldn’t say that, because I always want all the dogs—but we weren’t planning on getting a new dog. But I had to have a conversation with my family and I said, “I think it’s going to be like child separation if I separate him. We have to keep him.” And sure enough, he can’t be more than two feet from me at any time during the day.

Does he still give you “the eyes”?

Oh my gosh. Bedroom eyes all day long. I can’t sit down without him like … not even just sitting comfortably in my lap. He has to have my arm in his mouth or part of my hair in his mouth. He’s trying to get back in my womb or something.

That’s love.

Yeah, I said, “What am I going to do? The guy is in love with me. He can live here.” So there is foster failure number two.

Wow, so it’s Frank and Barbara.

Frank and Barbara. And we also have Lola, a 17-year-old corgi-chow chow mix. Who I have had since she was one-and-a-half, who was also a pound puppy. She is our queen bee.

Before you go, we do this thing on Twitter called #HappyHour, where we ask our followers some get-to-know-you questions. If you could change one rule in any board game, what would it be?

I am obviously going to Catan ... oh I know exactly what I would do. In Catan, I would allow participants to buy a city without buying a settlement first. In Catan, you have to upgrade from a settlement to a city first, which is a waste of cards. If you have the cards for a city, you should be able to buy a city.

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book as a child was Are You My Mother?

Aw, I love that one. I forgot about Are You My Mother?

It’s a good one.