German East African Schutztruppe
Officers and NCOs in The First World War 1914-18
Figure 1
Schutztruppe NCO
Figure 2
Schutztruppe Medical Officer
Figure 2
Schutztruppe Artillery Officer
Figure 4
Schutztruppe NCO


Uniforms of the German Officers and NCOs of the East African Schutztruppe in the First World War
German Officers and NCOs started off the war very uniformly dressed in 1896 Schutztruppe Khaki Uniforms piped in blue. Khaki Tropical Helmets were usually worn, with grey field caps (with white hatbands and piping for East Africa) sometimes replacing them. Occasionally East African officers and NCOs wore the grey Südwester Hat again with hatband and edging in white.

Most Peacetime Uniforms, such as the grey home uniform and white tropical uniform were not worn in wartime. Old white Tropical Helmets were worn with khaki covers. Elaborate insignia such as medals, parade aiguillettes, marksmanship awards and musicians nests were removed from uniforms. Rank Insignia for Officers and for NCOs was retained but again not always worn. With the absence of any uniform item to show which side they were on, some German troops wore brassards in the imperial colours. Often the only insignia worn was the pre-war Schutztruppe belt buckle.

As the war dragged on with no new supplies of uniforms, uniform regulations had to be relaxed (the Schutztruppe 1916 uniform regulations specifically state  that uniforms in the colonies will not be affected by new rules. This is somewhat ironic as the Colonial Office in Berlin authorising new regulations had little chance of issuing new uniforms in East Africa and all other colonies had surrendered by this date). Some clothing in East Africa was modified, improvised or obtained from private sources. Civilian white shirts were dyed with tea, coffee or local plant mixtures to different shades of light brown to khaki. This improvisation was especially the case with new officers and NCOs from Reservists and Naval Officers and Sailors who had never owned the original pre-war Schutztruppe uniform. Captured British, Portuguese and Belgian uniforms and headdress were also commonly worn, stripped of enemy insignia.

Short trousers were not issued to the Schutztruppe before the war and yet many photos show them being worn during the war. Some of these may have been captured from British stocks but most were probably old Schutztruppe trousers cut down to size. Likewise tunic sleeves were sometimes cut down or tunics were simply not worn and were replaced by lightweight shirts. Various camouflage efforts were made, foliage was worn in the headdress.

One passage in "Blockade and Jungle" by Christen P Christensen describes a scene where one German narrowly avoids shooting another German by mistake and only recognises the fact that he is friend rather than foe by the fact that his target has a long beard- the British were usually clean shaven while the Germans allowed their beards to grow on campaign, probably mostly due to a shortage of razors. The Portuguese Official History of the War says that German troops often blackened their faces to aid in camouflage and make them stand out from their askaris less.

Equipment and weapons were likewise either of pre-war, improvised or captured stocks, although the two blockade running ships "Reubens" and "Marie" also brought some new German weapons to the colony.

The illustrations above are fairly typical of the appearance of German Schutztruppe officers and NCOs in the later stages of the war.

Schutztruppe Other Ranks Belt Buckle
(See Belt Buckle Details Page)
Photo ©  Doppler

East African Schutztruppe Brassard
(See Identification Brassard Details Page)
Imperial War Museum Collection

East African Schutztruppe Tunic 1916
The Iron Cross ribbon is probably a later addition
(See Schutztruppe 1916 Tunic Page)
Photo © Mike Murrie-Jones

British Wolseley Tropical Helmet
(See Tropical Helmets Details Page)
Bavarian Army Museum Collection

Opera glasses used in East Africa
(See Imperial War Museum Collection Page)

Imperial War Museum Collection
  The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of an NCO of the 21. Feldkompagnie of the East African Schutztruppe taken on campaign in the later years of the First World War. He wears his original 1896 khaki uniform with blue piping, white metal buttons bearing the imperial crown, shoulder straps of twisted cords in the imperial colours and NCO chevrons in white metallic lace on the upper left arm. His trousers are matching khaki and are probably piped down the outside in blue. They are tucked into grey puttees and brown leather boots. His equipment is a Schutztruppe brown leather belt and NCOs belt buckle. He is dressed much as he would have been before the war but wears a non-regulation slouch hat, which may be privately purchased or possibly captured (it looks very similar to the Portuguese army slouch hat).

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of a Medical Officer of the 9. Feldkompagnie of the East African Schutztruppe taken on campaign in the later years of the First World War. He wears a khaki Schutztruppe tropical helmet of the old tall 1896 type. The officers cord and imperial cockades from these helmets were often lost or removed on campaign. He still wears his original Schutztruppe blue piped khaki tunic with an other ranks belt and buckle (see right) but his shorts are non-regulation, either cut down from full length Schutztruppe trousers or possibly captured British items. The khaki puttees commonly worn by the Schutztruppe later in the war were again from captured or improvised stocks. Being a doctor or medic he wears a white red cross armband to identify him as a non combatant.

Figure 3 is based on a late wartime photograph of Oberleutnant zur See Wenig of the 2. Batterie of the East African Schutztruppe taken on campaign in the later years of the First World War. Wenig had been a naval gunnery officer on the SMS Königsberg and then commanded the 2nd Schutztruppe Artillery Battery on land. It should be noted that former naval personnel serving in the Schutztruppe during the First World War kept their naval rank titles.

Like most former naval crew later in the war, he has discarded his naval uniform entirely. He wears a captured British Wolseley tropical helmet, an unidentifiable khaki shirt with no rank distinctions and corduroy shorts. His shorts have been preserved and are photographed in "The German Colonial Troops 1889-1918" by J Kraus and T Müller. They are dark khaki, similar to the shade often issued to the South West African Schutztruppe. They may have been cut down from a pair of officers riding breeches. In the original photograph upon which this illustration is based his puttees can been seen to be quite roughly made, and are probably cut from strips of khaki cloth or blanket. His "boot" is in fact a homemade prosthetic foot which he made himself after being wounded in action. It should be noted that like many German and Entente European officers in the East African campaign he wears nothing to clearly identify himself as belonging to either side.

The use of horses in East Africa was very limited due to their susceptibility to diseases carried by the tsetse fly especially in the south of the colony. Officers were sometimes mounted (often on mules or small tough ponies) at the head of columns of askaris.

  Richard Wenig had been a gunnery officer as a Leutnant Zur See on the SMS Königsberg. When the crew of the Königsberg were incorporated into the Schutztruppe Wenig went on to command von Lettow-Vorbeck's artillery including the salvaged guns from the Königsberg. Wenig lost his left foot in action around the Rufiji Delta on 11th July 1915, but was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See on 23rd March 1916 and continued in service right up to the end of the war (being one of the last 30 officers to surrender in November 1918) with a prosthetic foot he made himself. This may explain why he is one of the few mounted officers seen late in the war. After the war Wenig wrote a book called "Kriegs-Safari" based on his experiences during the war in East Africa.
Recommended External Link - Discussion on DOA Schutztruppe Officers at the Axis History Forum

Figure 4 is based on a photograph of a Schutztruppe NCO taken on campaign in the later years of the First World War. He wears a khaki tropical helmet, which may be the Schutztruppe new lower type authorised in 1913 or possibly a private purchase item. It has no cockades or NCO cords. He wears a white shirt, which again may be issue or private purchase in origin. It may also have been dyed a slightly darker colour. He wears Schutztruppe khaki trousers (possibly piped in blue). They are tucked into non-regulation gaiters and short ankle boots.

Like many officers and NCOs in the field he finds binoculars very useful and like most things for the Germans in East Africa they were hard to come by, so captured and civilian items were used alongside issue stocks. The Imperial War Museum in London even has a pair of opera glasses captured from the German forces in East Africa during the First World War. His equipment consists of 1909 ammunition pouches on shoulder straps and a brown leather belt held at the front with a Schutztruppe NCOs belt buckle. This is the only clue as to his rank, even then it is not certain as many officer also wore the less conspicuous NCO belt in action. He is armed with a K98 carbine and a pistol. The small size of the holster suggests this is again a privately purchased item rather than the larger Reichsrevolver 1883 or Luger 1908 issue weapons. As with the previous figure, he wears very little to distinguish him as belonging either side.


Period Photographs

All the following photographs show German officers, NCOs and other ranks (whose rank is mostly indistinguishable), during the later period of the First World War. They all wear a mixture of Schutztruppe and naval issue uniforms and civilian or captured attire. Many have the tall 1891 Schutztruppe topical helmet, usually covered in khaki, others have the later lower 1913 Schutztruppe helmet, some have captured helmets and some have locally acquired slouch hats. Some of the uniforms are Schutztruppe 1896 issue in need of repairs, some are askari pocketless tunics, others are locally made or captured items while some just wear civilian loose shirts. Similarly their equipment is a mixture of German issue, captured and improvised items.  Likewise they are armed with a mixture of issue Mauser rifles and British Lee Enfields. Note that most officers carry binoculars and walking canes.

German Officers and NCOs of the 4. Schützenkompanie
Note that the The NCO in the rear centre left is the only man with clear rank insignia.

Photo by Dr. Ruppert  © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

German Officers and NCOs of the 9. Feldkompagnie
Note the clear difference between the lower 1913 tropical helmets worn by the two taller officers in the centre as compared to the taller 1891 tropical helmets worn by the officers on both sides. The medical officer on the far right has a red cross brassard.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

German Officers, NCOs and Askaris
Note the machine gun on a tripod the right side.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

German Officers, NCOs and Askaris on the march
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

10.5cm Naval Gun on an Improvised Gun Carriage and Limber with Crew
This salvaged naval gun from the SMS Königsberg is being dragged across a bridge by a team of African porters overseen by German officers.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

7.5cm Mountain Gun and Crew of the 2. Batterie
This was most likely one of the guns brought to East Africa by the blockade running SS Marie. Note the different styles of slouch hat none of which appear to be regulation issue.
Photo by Wilhelm Erhart © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

German Officers and Askaris Making Camp in Portuguese East Africa, 1917
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Governor Dr. Schneee with the last German officers to lay down their arms in November 1918
The mixture of uniforms and headdress can clearly be seen here. Some have regulation Schutztruppe or specialists' field caps while the officer on the far left has an issue Südwester slouch hat. Some have naval officers caps in dark blue or white. Most are bare headed or have tropical helmets. An interesting point is that none of these officers wear medals or medal ribbons, although most if not all would have been entitled to do so. A full list of the last 155 Germans to surrender and idenfication of these officers can be found at Traditionsverband.

Photo courtesy of Cobus Boshoff


Main Sources
Photographs from the Frankfurt University Colonial Archives and the Axis History Forum
"Lettow-Vorbeck's Soldiers" by Walther Dobbertin (Battery Press)
"Armies in East Africa 1914-18" by Peter Abbott, illustrated by Raffaele Ruggeri (Osprey Men at Arms)
"Colonial Armies: Africa 1850 to 1918" by Peter Abbott (Foundry Books)
"The German Colonial Troops 1889-1918" by
Jürgen Kraus and Thomas Müller (Verlag Books)
"Die Deutsche Schutztruppe 1889/1918" by Werner Haupt (Dörfler Publishing)
"Blockade and Jungle" by Nis Kock, edited by Christen P Christensen (Battery Press)
"My Reminiscences of East Africa" by General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Battery Press)

See Book Reviews Page for more on these books and links to order them.


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