The Naval Bombardment of Swakopmund during the First World War

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Wednesday, 7th February 2018

When war was declared in 1914 Brittain asked the Union of South Africa (then part of the British Empire) to perform an “urgent Imperial service” : take control of the ports of Luderitz and Swakopmund and destroy the wireless station at Windhoek. This was the tallest in Africa, powerful enough to communicate directly with Germany in good conditions. By denying the German Navy communications and friendly harbours, vital shipping would be protected. (CWGC)

In September 1914, South African forces prepared to destroy the Swakopmund harbour facilities and wireless station by naval bombardement.

On the 22nd September 1914 the Whaler “Vaila” manned by members of the the armed merchant cruiser Kinfauns Castle, left to reconnoitre off Swakopmund.

The bombardment was performed on 24 September 1914 by the British warship,  HMS Kinfauns Castle.

At 11:03 am The ship fired 9 Rounds (Common Shell) towards the end of the Pier. They seized fire when a Flag of Truce was observed ashore. At 12:20 a boat brought Town Officials, the Judge, Mayor and a Town Councillor who were allowed on board under the flag of truce.

The delegation was informed that the Pier will be shelled at 14:00. At 14:02 shelling started and seized at 14:23. The pier was  left smouldering and the cranes wrecked. The Harbour Warehouse (where the Swakopmund museum is today, was also destroyed. During the bombardment 38 rounds (Common) and 16 Lyddite shells were used.

The Kinfauns Castle returned to Walfish Bay. No mention is made of the Radio Station.

Below is the extract from the ships log on 24 September 1914 covering this incident.

  • At Walfisch Bay
  • Lat -22.7, Long 14.5
  • 1.0am: Sentry at each gun with rifle and megaphone.
  • 6.10am: Observed SS “Vaila”. 6.15am: On look out.
  • 6.35am: Guns Crews Return ammunition and fall out.
  • 7.10am: SS “Vaila” returned and moored alongside.
  • 7.38am: Shore signal “Enemy reported”. Sent “Vaila” in to Settlement.
  • 8.44am: Anchor aweigh.
  • 9.20am: Proceeded to Swakopmund. Course N2E, 60 Revs.
  • 10.18am: Altered course N34E. 10.23am: Altered course N2E. 10.31am: Full Speed.
  • 10.35am: Rounded Submarine Buoy distant 0.75 miles.
  • 10.55am: Engines Slow, altered course SE.
  • 11.3am: Customs Pier S15E (Magnetic) 8 cables. Fired 9 rounds (Common Shell) at end of Pier.
  • 11.11am: Ceased fire. Observed Flag of Truce ashore.
  • 0.20pm: Boat alongside with Town Officials, The Judge, Mayor and a member of the Town Council brought flag of truce on board.
  • 0.25pm: Flag of Truce left with information that pier would be shelled at 2-0[pm].
  • 2.2pm: Commenced firing at Customs Pier. Pier bearing S5E (Magnetic) 8.5 cables.
  • 2.23pm: Ceased fire and turned to port. Pier smouldering and cranes wrecked.
  • [Expended 38 Common and 16 Lyddite shelling Pier.
  • 2.30pm: Proceeded 60 revs. Course N56W.
  • 2.50pm: Submarine Buoy to port 1.25 miles. 3.2pm: Altered course S34W. 3.40pm: Altered course S27E.
  • 4.25pm: Altered course: S12W. Engines Slow. 4.35pm: Stopped.
  • 4.35pm: Anchored in 5.5 fathoms, one shackle of Starboard cable. Steam at ten minutes notice. Sent “Vaila” to tow and anchor lighters off shore.
  • [Anchor Bearings: Pelican Beacon N42W, Church S12W, Eastern Beacon East]
  • 7.30pm: Darkened ship. 7.40pm: Manned and armed ship.
  • 8.10pm: SS “Vaila” alongside.
  • [Supplied to “Vaila”: 1 lbs Tea, 1 lbs Coffee, 2 lbs Sugar, 2 lbs Cheese, 2 lbs Butter, 1 lbs Cocoa, 50 Eggs, 2 Tins Milk, 30 lbs Fresh Meat, 36 lbs Bread]
  • 8.30pm: Sent “Vaila” out on a N.05E bearing to anchorage in 12 fathoms.
  • 10.50pm: Weighed anchor. Shifted ship 4 cables NNE.
  • 11.0pm: Anchored (Starboard) in 6 fathoms, first shackle on board.
  • [Course and Distance made good: Indirect, 22 miles]
  • [True Bearing and Distance: Swakopmund Light House S55E, 1.25 miles]

Information from Accessed on 7 February 2018.


More information about the Kinfauns Castle.

Built 1899 this Union-Castle Line vessel was taken over by the Admiralty on 4th August 1914 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser for service in South African waters.

In this guise HMS Kinfauns Castle was involved in a number of actions, capturing several German vessels and two German islands.

In 1916 the vessel became a troopship and returned to the mail service after the end of the war.

Commanded by Captain DB Crampton RN; Lieutenant Commander WB Wilkinson RN

For the period commencing 8th of August 1914 and ending 30th of April 1915.



Tonnage (Displacement)


Extreme Length


Extreme Breadth



Establishment of Ship’s Company:








Mercantile Ratings: Engine-room Establishment


Other non-executive ratings







Nature and Number of Guns and Mountings

On Topgallant Forecastle

4.7 inch QF 2 in number on PIV Mountings

On Fore Well Deck

4.7 inch QF 2 in number on PIV Mountings

On After Well Deck

4.7 inch QF 2 in number on PIV Mountings

On Poop Deck

4.7 inch QF 2 in number on PIV Mountings

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