Schutztruppe Askari flag carrier, German East Africa, 1906
Allegiance German Empire
Size80,330 troops (including Seebataillon III (3rd Marine Battalion) and 200 camels
EngagementsAbushiri Revolt
Adamawa campaign
Herero Wars
Herero and Namaqua Genocide
World War I

Schutztruppe (German: [ˈʃʊtsˌtʁʊpə] , lit. Protection Force) was the official name of the colonial troops in the African territories of the German colonial empire from the late 19th century to 1918. Similar to other colonial armies, the Schutztruppen consisted of volunteer European commissioned and non-commissioned officers, medical and veterinary officers. Most enlisted ranks were recruited from indigenous communities within the German colonies or from elsewhere in Africa.[1]

Military contingents were formed in German East Africa, where they became famous as Askari, in the Kamerun colony of German West Africa, and in German South West Africa. Control of the German colonies of New Guinea, in Samoa, and in Togoland was performed by small local police detachments. Jiaozhou in China under Imperial Navy administration was a notable exception. As part of the East Asian Station the navy garrisoned Qingdao with the marines of Seebattaillon III, the only all-German unit with permanent status in an overseas protectorate.


Hermann Wissmann

The name of the German colonial force dates back to the parlance of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who had the term Schutzgebiete, "protectorates", used instead of colonies. Schutztruppe contingents arose from local police forces or private paramilitary units, where German colonizers met with stronger resistance.

When in 1888 the Abushiri Revolt broke out in the dominions of the German East Africa Company, Bismarck's government in Berlin had to send mercenary troops under Reichskommissar Hermann Wissmann to subdue the uprising. Upon the establishment of German East Africa, these Wissmanntruppe were changed to Schutztruppe by an act of the Reichstag parliament on 22 March 1891. The police forces for South-West Africa under Curt von François and for German Cameroon were re-established as Schutztruppe by the act of 9 June 1895.

Schutztruppe formations under the supreme command of the German Emperor were organizationally never a part of the Imperial German Army, though German military law and discipline applied to its units. Initially supervised by the Imperial Navy Office, they were under the authority of the Colonial Department in the German Foreign Office by the act of 7 and 18 July 1896. In 1907 the Colonial Department with the Schutztruppe command was set up as the independent Imperial Colonial Office (Reichskolonialamt) agency directly answerable to the Chancellor of Germany.

In 1896 a central Schutztruppe command (Kommando der Schutztruppen) was established as part of the Colonial Department. Despite its name, this agency exercised no military leadership but served as an administrative authority. It was located at Berlin’s Mauerstrasse, in proximity to the Colonial Office. At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there were three Schutztruppe military commands, one in each of the German colonial regions in East Africa, South-West Africa, and in Kamerun, subordinate to each governor.

German East Africa

See also East African Campaign (World War I)
Schutztruppen, colonial volunteer contingent, German East Africa, 1914
Schutztruppen, Askari company formation, German East Africa, 1914
Schutztruppen, carriers, German East Africa, 1899

At the outbreak of the First World War, the Schutztruppe in German East Africa was organised into 14 field companies (Feldkompanien) with 2,500 men under arms, with headquarters at the capital Dar es Salaam. Including carriers and labourers, the force had about 14,000 personnel. On 13 April 1914, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck assumed command in German East Africa. He led his units throughout the First World War, eventually being promoted to Generalmajor.[2] The Schutztruppe in East Africa became the last German formation to surrender – days after the armistice in November 1918.

A pre-war company consisted of 160 (expandable to 200) men in three platoons (Züge) of 50 to 60 men each, including two machine-gun teams. Each of the 14 companies also had a minimum 250 man carrier contingent as well as native irregulars known as Ruga-Ruga, called Fita-Fita in German Samoa, of approximately the same size units.[3]

The Dar es Salaam garrison further included a recruitment depot, a signals department and quartermaster unit.

Overall strength was 300 European recruits and 2,472 Africans, specifically 68 combatant officers, 60 warrant officers and NCOs, 132 non-combatant medical officers, civilian administrators, ammunition technicians, and 2 African officers and 184 African NCOs and 2,286 Askari.[5][6]

During the First World War, companies numbered 15 through 30 were added, plus eight (A through G, and L) temporary companies; and 1st through 8th Schützenkompagnies [rifle companies]. The Schützenkompagnies were originally composed of white settlers, their sons, plantations administrators and trading company employees but some units became racially mixed as the war dragged on. Numerous other small detachments were also formed. Several, possibly four, Reserve Kompagnien were also raised consisting of older Askari, they were prefixed by the letter "R".[7]

German Southwest Africa

Main article: Imperial Schutztruppe for German South West Africa

See also: Herero and Namaqua Genocide and South-West Africa Campaign

Camel cavalry, German Southwest Africa, 1904
Camel patrol, German Southwest Africa, 1907
Cavalry of Schutztruppe in German East Africa (1911)

The Schutztruppe in German Southwest Africa was structured in 12 companies of mounted infantry totalling 1,500 men, primarily Germans. The 7th Company, stationed in the northern desert area of the colony, was mounted on imported camels. A single unit, called the Baster Company, consisting of non-local biracial white European-black Africans, was raised and deployed. Relations between the German administration and the natives in this colony had deteriorated to the point that few local Africans were recruited. Some Boers and Afrikaners were able to be recruited, bolstering the fledgling force.[citation needed]

The colonial forces for German Southwest Africa consisted of volunteers from the imperial army and navy (including some Austrians) but essentially consisted of members of German regiments. Before their deployment to Africa these troops were prepared for their special tasks and future environment. Such a training base was at Karlsruhe. Because of the often humid conditions in the upper Rhine valley of the grand-duchy of Baden, the area provided some early acclimatisation.[citation needed]

The structure of the Southwest African forces was as follows:

German Southwest Africa Command at Windhuk (modern Windhoek) consisted of headquarters, administration and legal (judge advocate), medical corps, surveying and mapping units.

Northern district command: Windhuk

Southern district command: Keetmanshoop

At the outbreak of the war the force had a total strength of 91 officers, 22 physicians, 9 veterinarians, 59 civilian administrators, ammunition technicians, 342 NCOs and 1,444 German other ranks for a total of 1,967 personnel.[8]

German West Africa


Schutztruppe contingent of 5th field company at Ebolowa, Kamerun, 1894

German West Africa encompassed two colonial entities, Kamerun and Togoland.

The Kamerun force in 1914 consisted of 12 companies, totalling 1,600 men with headquarters at Soppo and established in 1894 from the existing police force (formed in 1891).

The structure of the Kamerun forces was as follows:

Central Command: Soppo near the capital Buea[9]

The companies were assigned to 49 garrisons in Kamerun and consisted of 61 officers, 23 physicians, 23 civilian administrators, ammunition technicians, 98 German NCOs and 1,650 African enlisted ranks for a total personnel count of 1,855.[9]


Togoland had a total police force of 673 personnel deployed throughout the colony.[10] Approximately 1,000 troops were raised after the outbreak of the war. With very little arms, ammunition, or provisions, by the end of August 1914, all units had surrendered to French and British forces.[citation needed]


Die Reichskokarde (National Cockade) 1871-1945
Schutztruppe grey uniform

When the Schutztruppe for German East Africa was founded in 1891, special uniforms were created which, among other things, were intended to underline the special position of the Schutztruppe as an independent part of the Reichsheer. The uniforms corresponded to the cut of the Prussian Army, initially in grey but later in "field gray" for home service ("Tuchuniform"/"Tuchrock") or khaki ("Feldrock") for the tropics. Schutztruppen in Southwest Africa could wear the home service uniform in the protectorate. A white dress uniform was also worn by European officers and NCO's for ceremonial occasions. The white and khaki uniforms were cut the same. The Schutztruppe arm of service color was blue so their uniforms were trimmed blue down the trousers seam, the fly of their four-pocket tunic, collar edge, plus NCO's wore silver on blue inverted chevrons on the left sleeve only[11] They were also supplied a grey or khaki slouch hat called the Schutztruppenhut (aka Südwester) on which the edge of the hat and the cap band were in the color of the respective Schutztruppe. The protectorate colours were as follows; German East Africa white, Cameroon dark red, German South West Africa cornflower blue, Togo yellow, German New Guinea green, German Samoa light pink. Additionally, as Imperial Troops, the 'Reichskokarde' cockade in black, white and red was worn on the folded brim of the Schutztruppenhut, a black, white and red cord could be worn around the tropical helmet (Tropenhelm), and black, white and red intertwined shoulder straps were worn on both tunic shoulders.

Schutztruppe Askari Trumpeter wearing swallow's nests in 1914.

African personnel wore a pocketless cotton khaki tunic and breeches with blue puttees and ankle boots, which replaced bare lower legs and feet. African personnel also wore a red fez over which a khaki cover could be worn in the field. Company numbers were often worn on the front of the fez. In field conditions the askari wore either a khaki cover over their red fez or a khaki tarbush consisting of a khaki cloth over a wicker frame. Later in the war African troops wore a large floppy hat en lieu of the fez.[12] The arm of service color for African/native troops was red so their uniforms, when trimmed, were trimmed red down the trousers seam, the tunic fly, collar edge, plus NCO's wore red, later brown, chevrons on the left sleeve only.[13]

Ranks and insignia

Schutztruppen in Afrika

The rank insignia of Africans differed by one chevron from German ranks (eg. a German Gefreiter wore no chevrons, an African wore one, a German Unteroffizier wore one chevron, and African wore two etc). Despite them having nominally similar ranks, European NCOs always outranked Native NCOs.[14]

German/European Ranks: Standard Imperial Army collar and or shoulder rank insignia was worn by German/European Officers and men.[14]

Rank group Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee Enlisted
Schutztruppe[14] No insignia
Feldwebel Vizefeldwebel Sergeant Unteroffizier Gefreiter

German East Africa

Many of the original East African Askaris were Sudanese therefore the East African Schutztruppen utilized existing Turkish rank titles. The following ranks existed for East African other ranks:[15]

German West Africa

German other ranks
African Feldwebel, ca 1910.
African other ranks


  1. ^ Gann, L. H.; Duignan, Peter (1977). The Rulers of German Africa, 1884–1914. Hoover Institution publications. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-8047-0938-5.
  2. ^ Hoyt, Guerilla, p. 175
  3. ^ Miller, Battle for the Bundu, p. 18
  4. ^ Haupt, p. 34, Schutztruppe garrisons
  5. ^ Farwell, The Great War in Africa, p. 109
  6. ^ McNab, Chris (2002). 20th Century Military Uniforms (2nd ed.). Kent: Grange Books. p. 89. ISBN 1-84013-476-3.
  7. ^ Armies in East Africa 1914-1918 by Peter Abbot (Men-at-Arms 379) 2002 OspreyISBN 978-1-84176-489-4
  8. ^ Haupt, Deutschlands Schutzgebiete , p. 56
  9. ^ a b Haupt, p. 70
  10. ^ Haupt, p. 79
  11. ^ Armies in East Africa 1914-18, Osprey Men-at-Arms, Peter Abbott, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84176-489-4
  12. ^ King's African Rifles Soldier versus Schutztruppe Soldier East Africa 1917-18, Osprey Combat 20, Gregg Adams, Copyright 2016 ISBN 978-1-4728-1327-5
  13. ^ Armies in East Africa 1914-18 Osprey Men-at-Arms, Peter Abbott, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84176-489-4
  14. ^ a b c "NCO Rank Insignia". Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  15. ^ Abbot, Peter (2002). Armies in East Africa 1914-1918. Men-at-Arms 379. Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84176-489-4.
  16. ^ "German Colonial Uniforms".



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