by John H Marsh

BACK in Windhoek there had been growing anxiety as day followed day without news of Smith's convoy.
When Naude's message that the tug was ashore near Rocky Point reached Windhoek late on the afternoon of December 3, police headquarters immediately radioed the police post at Kamanjab asking that Smith should be informed of the second wreck and instructed to pick up the tug crew on his way to the liner wreck. But the convoy had already left Kamanjab and there was no means of overtaking it.
Colonel van Coller now decided to organise a second military convoy to follow in the tracks of the first, pick up the tug crew, and try to salve Naude's bogged aircraft. The plane was worth about 30,000 UK Pounds and its loss could be ill-afforded by the S.A.A.F. at that time. Instructions had been given that every possible effort must be made to salve it.
The second convoy comprised five three-ton troop carriers, some Fords and the others Chevrolets, and it was put under the command of Captain H. Borchers, of the Union Defence Force. The trucks were loaded with petrol, water, and food, as well as spare parts and planks, block and tackle, and wire netting, which were to be used in trying to get the plane out of the sand. Balloon tyres were obtained for all the trucks except one, for which Borchers had to be content with ordinary standard tyres. They were to cause endless trouble in the days that followed.
The second convoy left Windhoek on the evening of December 5, three days behind Smith's expedition.
Colonel Johnston, the police chief in Windhoek, waited anxiously for news of the first convoy's progress. Such news, he knew, could come only through the reconnaissance aircraft which the S.A.A.F. were sending out from Walvis Bay. When, day after day, the planes came back from their search to report no signs of the convoy, he began to fear that it was itself in trouble somewhere out there "in the blue." When December 7 came, and four days had passed since Smith sent his last message from Kamanjab, Colonel Johnston determined to go himself to see what had happened. Accordingly he gave instructions for a "flying squad" of three light vehicles to be prepared and manned, fuelled, and stored, and he left Windhoek with this third convoy at seven o'clock the same evening. The convoy comprised the divisional police headquarters' car and two light delivery vans. Each had a European police driver, the expedition numbering four men in all.

Following in the well-defined tracks of the two convoys ahead of them, the police made rapid progress via Outjo to Kamanjab, which they reached next day. They missed the two Hottentot runners who on the same day delivered their message there from Smith, asking for the air pumps, spares, and tyres, to be dropped from the air at Rocky Point. The police immediately radioed the message to Windhoek, where Major E. Howe, acting in Colonel Johnston's place, arranged with the defence authorities for the required articles to be put aboard a plane the same afternoon and flown to Walvis Bay, from where they would be taken to Rocky Point by one of the Venturas.
Pushing on from Kamanjab, Colonel Johnston's party passed through Zesfontein next day, December 9. After that his expedition, too, vanished. Major Howe after two days became worried and asked Major H. C. van Diggelen of Defence Headquarters, Wind- hoek, to send a plane out to try to locate his chief. There was no suitable plane at Windhoek, but one of those at Walvis Bay was asked to search for the missing police chief and his party. The search was unsuccessful.
Another two days went by, and then, late in the afternoon of December 13, the Kamanjab police post radioed that Colonel Johnston and his party had arrived back there. On the following evening they reached Windhoek, with one van left out of their three vehicles, and each man having lost considerable weight (Colonel Johnston lost 12 lbs.) after their adventurous eight-day journey. They described how they had followed the tracks of the convoys beyond Zesfontein, how unexpected rains had come and transformed the fine sand into mud, and how they had had to manhandle their vehicles through sand and mud and across rivers that the others had crossed dry-shod, but which now had running water in them. Being only four, they had found their strength taxed to the utmost to get the three vehicles out every time they became bogged. Eventually one of the vans broke its driving shaft and had to be abandoned, and later the battery of the car gave in and it, too, had to be discarded. In the remaining van the four men pressed on to within 25 miles of Purros, when they learned that Smith's convoy had crossed the river there three days ahead of them. As the convoy was apparently safe and making progress, and as they themselves might be running into unnecessary peril in risking a breakdown of their last serviceable vehicle in the waterless desert, Colonel Johnston on December 10 turned back and retraced his course. He and his drivers knew full well when they reached Windhoek that they had taken great risks in penetrating so far into the Forbidden Land, and were lucky to have got out of it alive.

Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)

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