Back in 1970 when Donald Featherstone wrote Battles with Model Soldiers, a chapter on World War 1 gaming was quite unusual. He admits in the opening sentence of his WW2 chapter that “If World War 1 lacks its wargaming devotees then World War 2 certainly makes up for the deficiency.”
In his WW1 chapter he notes that “This open warfare of 1914 is about the only period of World War 1 on the Western Front that lends itself to campaigning with Model Soldiers” (p.167) and ” … seems merely to be an extension of ‘horse and musket’ warfare plus the added involvement of machine-gun sale together with more numerous and longer-range artillery.” (P.170)
As a young gamer in the late Seventies the only WWI figures I had access to were a precious handful of lively posed Airfix OOHO WWI figures, which were frustratingly only occasionally available. These would suffice only for the Western Front, admittedly at different time periods of soft caps and steel helmets.
Fortunately in the mid 1980s and recently online, I have bought a small handful of 15mm Peter Laing figures that would suit a WW1 African or Colonial campaign.
I recently redound this Roy Link article on SW Africa in WW1 in my scrapbook.
An interesting scenario for colonial or WW1, Zwillinge Twin locos and all.
These South African Railways photos give an idea of the dry terrain. More photographs of terrain, bridges, stations, Schutztruppe and South Africans can be found in the German website http://www.klausdierks.com/Eisenbahnen/
and in English http://www.klausdierks.com/Namibia_Rail/annexure2.htm
Lots of interesting games scenarios here, set in Southwest Africa, quite similar to the Turkish Middle Eastern WW1 railway scenario that I played through recently in 2017.
This German South West African area is also briefly covered in Railways and War Before 1918 (Mechanised warfare in colour) by W.J.K. Davies and Denis Bishop, 1972. A superbly illustrated book, full of information, out of print but well worth tracking down second hand. A German Feldbahn o-8-oT type loco developed in SW Africa and widely used in their thousands elsewhere is shown (top) on the cover. A separate armoured water tender with ride-on troop escort was carried.
Peter Laing 15mm figures produced a WW1 / Colonial range that would suit, sadly no longer available. I have some of these figures that would stand in for Schutztruppe, askaris and WWI British or South African troops.
Donald Featherstone mentions in his 1962 book War Games the possibility of an East African campaign scenario c. WW1 “Few collectors seem interested in World War 1, although there is much to be found in the Battles of 1914 and early 1915, before the war bogged down in a mass of trench warfare – a fascinating little campaign can be made of the German East African fighting in which native troops can be used.”
In reality and in any gaming scenario, the rail link to the SW African inland mines of copper and vanadium would be crucial to the allied of German war effort.
What was the historic background to these Colonial German Railway in wartime?
The Namibian railway system dates from the time when Namibia was a colony of the German Empire known as German South West Africa.
This arid part of the African continent was not very productive for agriculture. Initially, overland transport was operated entirely by ox-cart. A small mining rail line opened at Cape Cross in 1895. Soon afterwards, the ox-cart transport system totally collapsed, in the wake of a rinderpest epidemic in 1897.
As it was necessary to react quickly to the now extremely precarious transport situation, decisions were made:
1. to build a railway line from the German port of Swakopmund to Windhoek
2. to use existing, 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) gauge military Feldbahn material
3. to entrust a railway brigade with the construction work, which began in September 1897.
Train services on the whole of the new line, which was called the Staatsbahn (State Railway), began on 19 June 1902.
The historical background (thanks Wikipedia)
Construction of the railways connecting with the Staatsbahn was aimed partly at military strategic objectives (following the uprising of the Herero and Nama peoples) and partly at the economic requirements of serving the inland mines.
I had not heard of the Herero Wars and quickly realised that this was not a pleasant period of history, certainly not something lightly suitable for gaming.
Herero Wars history blogs do exist such as Tim Abbott’s extensive blog at http://omaheke.blogspot.co.uk
Askari Minis produce a range of 28mm figures including Hereros and Askaris but also other colonial types that could easily be adopted for a Colonial SW Africa scenario or Hollywood pulp B movie scenario. Straight out of Tintin or Indiana Jones!
Certainly reading more about the Herero Wars / Genocide convinced me that this was not to be confused with the Hollywood style Wild West / Lawrence of Arabia type train ambush scenario that caught my eye when I first glimpsed Roy Link’s article in an old issue of Continental Modeller.
The Herero Wars (1904-08) were particularly nasty, with German use of concentration camps (invented by the British in the recent Boer War), a conflict recently classified as one of the first genocides of the 20th century.
World War 1 background
With the outbreak of World War I, the German Schutztruppe military units retreated from the coast, and withdrew into the inland.
In the process, as in the American Civil War, there was deliberate track and train wrecking to deny this route and transport to the enemy invaders. The German Schutztruppe destroyed the Otavibahn and the old Staatsbahn railways towards Karibib, as far as Rössing.
British troops immediately moved forward from the British enclave of Walvis Bay, and by the end of 1914 they had built a 37 km (23 mi) long 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) railway to Swakopmund.
The Otavibahn destroyed by the Schutztruppe was also reconstructed by British and South African engineers in 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge as far as Usakos, and the section between Usakos and Karibib was realigned.
Neighbouring South Africa was also on the Allied side, effectively forming a local enemy of the German Empire. From South Africa, a new railway was constructed as an extension of the De Aar-Prieska railway. This was designed and built to achieve a secure supply route for the South African troops. By 1916, the line was connected to the old German network at Kalkfontein (now Karasburg).
By chance, Tony of the Tin Soldiering On blog mentioned the savageandsoldier.com website which features material on the German military presence in Africa.
Tha is the web version of the Colonial Wars of Imperial Germany articles by Paul Beck, with very useful uniform plates by Nick Stern, webified by John Switzer.
Another interesting WW1 in SW Africa blog at http://ww1blog.osborneink.com/?p=1437
As mentioned on my main Man of TIN blog, there is an interesting WW1 website called Away from the Western Front which mentions Africa in WW1, but so far only a focus on East Africa in WW1.
So I have some painting of WW1 Peter Laing 15mm figures to do to populate another scenario, inspired by these other desert railways. My trusty Train In a Tin has just acquired a German accent …
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, 17 April 2018.