African Auxiliary Troops in German South West Africa




Figure 1
Witbooi Chief

Figure 2
Witbooi Trooper

Figure 3
Police Auxiliary

Figure 4
Baster Company

Figure 5
Cameroon Company


Background to African Auxiliary Troops in South West Africa
Due to the dreadful state of relations between the German occupiers and the main Namibian tribes no regular African Schutztruppe units were raised in South West Africa. At various times several temporary auxiliary units were formed from African soldiers.

The two main South West African tribes, the Herero and the Nama were bitter enemies. In the 1890's Herero auxiliaries fought alongside the Germans against the Nama. After their defeat in 1894, the Witbooi Nama then sided with the Germans and fought alongside them in several small campaigns and later against the Herero in 1904-05. The Rehobot-Basters also supplied troops to serve under he Germans during the Herero Rebellion. This policy of employing tribal auxiliaries led to the unfortunate side effect of having both the major warlike tribes becoming familiar with German weaponry and tactics. After the final defeat of the Herero and Nama Rebellions by 1908, the tribes were disarmed and all African units serving the Schutztruppe were disbanded.

Armed Africans did however occasionally still serve in the Landespolizei. In August 1909 a small armed African unit (15 men) was recruited to serve in the Landespolizei in the area of the Caprivi Strip.

When the First World War broke out more African units were recruited for second line duties such as garrisoning the Northern outposts and guarding Prisoners of War, thus freeing up German troops for frontline service. The Rehobot-Basters formed a company strength unit and a half-company of mounted Berseba Nama was also recruited. Another under-size company was formed from former Cameroon Schutztruppe soldiers who had been exiled to South West Africa in 1910 after a mutiny. The "Kamerun Kompanie" were promised their freedom to return home in return for service. These wartime African units saw no frontline action and were all disbanded before the end of the campaign in South West Africa (the Baster Company after a mutiny amongst them due to being posted to guard South African POWs outside their initially agreed service area). Some of those disbanded men then served as drivers, labourers or police auxiliaries. The Kamerun Kompanie were finally returned home in 1917.
Recommended Reading- ""Askari und Fitafita - Farbiger Söldner in den deutschen Kolonien" by Thomas Morlang

Many Africans also served the Schutztruppe as scouts, guides and servants ("Bambusen"). As mentioned above, the Landespolizei also employed African Auxiliaries. Unlike other German colonies in Africa, the deserts of South West Africa did not suit the use of large numbers of African porters to follow Schutztruppe units.

Uniforms of African Auxiliary Troops in South West Africa
The first African tribal auxiliary troops to serve the Schutztruppe of German South West Africa (such as the Herero and Witbooi Nama) usually wore their own clothing often with an armband in the German imperial colours on the left arm. On other occasions the imperial colours were worn as strip around the hatband, or a sash over the shoulder. Unlike the tribes of German East Africa and Cameroon, the Nama and Herero of German South West Africa usually wore western clothing after contact with Boer settlers. From the Boers they also learned guerrilla warfare tactics and sometimes adopted Dutch names and titles. They were armed with a variety of firearms and often carried bandoliers of ammunition over their shoulders in the style of the Boers.

Later African auxiliary troops were issued Schutztruppe uniforms and weapons. Unlike in German East Africa and Cameroon where African soldiers had their own design of uniforms, African soldiers in the South West African Schutztruppe wore the same uniforms as their German counterparts. These uniforms were however sometimes of an obsolete pattern and were often stripped of the Schutztruppe insignia such as shoulder straps and Litzen. While some photographs of units of African auxiliaries serving alongside the Schutztruppe show them dressed very uniformly, other photographs show them wearing mixtures of uniforms and partial civilian dress.

Gustav Frenssen recalls in his memoirs, "A Narrative of the German Campaign in South-West Africa" translated by Peter Moor (available in PDF format at the US Archive)- "In one corner was quartered a whole troop of Witboys, hideous looking men with wild, yellow faces. They had come from the south of the colony to help us, and wore our uniform and were commanded by German officers."

The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of Hendrik Witbooi, a Nama Chief in German Service taken in about 1904. Despite being a tribal chief he wears little to distinguish his high ranking status and is dressed typically for a Nama warrior, although some were noticeably less well dressed and most carried cartridge bandoliers across their shoulders. The sign of the Witbooi tribe was a white scarf on the hat, Hendrik also wears the Nama sign of being at war, which was a white feather in the cap. While in German service Nama warriors often, though not always, wore armbands in the German imperial colours as seen here (and see right).

Hendrik Witbooi (c1835-1905) was a well educated, multi-lingual Christian born into Nama royalty. Hendrik succeeded to the title of chief ("Kapitein", after the Dutch) of the whole Witbooi Nama tribe in 1888 after his father, Chief Moses Witbooi was murdered by his rival Paul Visser. Hendrik then had Visser murdered and united several groups of Nama under his control. Hendrik initially resisted German rule but after the defeat of the First Nama Rebellion of 1893-94, he signed a peace treaty with the German governor, Leutwein, and became a loyal ally of the Germans. As such, he provided Nama auxiliary troops to several small German campaigns and the early phases of the 1904 campaign against the Nama's sworn enemy, the Herero. In October 1904 however Hendrik and the Witbooi Nama rose up in revolt against the Germans once again. Hendrik was killed in action in October 1905 but the rebellion lasted several years until it was finally crushed in 1908. Hendrik Witbooi is now seen as a national hero in Namibia and his face appears on modern Namibian banknotes (see right). 

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of a Witbooi Nama Trooper taken in about 1904 after they had been issued with Schutztruppe uniforms. He wears a Schutztruppe 1896 khaki tunic piped in blue (see right) with an armband in the imperial colours on the left sleeve, corduroy riding breeches, Schutztruppe mounted equipment (see right), leather gaiters (of a style also seen in Cameroon) and short leather boots. His hat is a Nama slouch hat with a white Witbooi scarf or cover on the top and a cockade and hatband in German imperial colours. He also appears to wear a dark coloured scarf around his head and neck probably to protect against sandstorms in the desert.

In the original photograph upon which this illustration is based, are several other Witbooi Nama mounted troopers. They all wear various combinations of Nama and German clothing including the Südwester (see right) and Kord Litewka

Figure 3 is based on a photograph of an African Police Assistant ("Polizeidiener"). Typically for many photographs of Africans serving with the Schutztruppe this police assistant wears standard Schutztruppe uniform (in this case the Kord Waffenrock and Südwester hat piped in blue for South West Africa- see right) but stripped of Schutztruppe insignia such as the collar and cuff Litzen and shoulder straps. He also wears a red sash to denote he is serving the police.

In the original photograph upon which this illustration is based, are several other African Police all wearing Schutztruppe corduroy uniforms with a red sash over the shoulder. One curiously wears an old 1894 Kord Waffenrock with Polish cuffs. Some wear Südwester hats and one a Schutztruppe corduroy peaked cap (see right).  

Africans serving in the South West African police from 1907 onwards began to be issued standard German Landespolizei uniforms with a red armband with "LP" in white to replace the sash (see Landespolizei Page).

Figure 4 is based on a photograph of a Trooper of the "Baster Kompanie" taken in about 1905. This African soldier, like others in the original photograph upon which this illustration is based, is dressed exactly as his German counterparts. He wears an 1896 Schutztruppe Kord Waffenrock (see right) with blue collar and cuffs, still retaining the Schutztruppe double white Litzen. He wears khaki trousers worn loose over his boots and a corduroy field cap again with blue hatband and piping and a small imperial cockade on the front (see right). He carries Schutztruppe mounted equipment in brown leather.

Figure 5 is based on a photograph of a Trooper of the "Kamerun Kompanie" taken in 1914. Again this trooper wears the same uniform as his German counterparts. He wears a Schutztruppe 1896 khaki tunic piped in blue (see right), with matching khaki trousers tucked into brown leather gaiters and short boots. His headgear is the Schutztruppe Südwester hat (see right). He also carries Schutztruppe mounted equipment (see right).

While the Schutztruppe of South West Africa did not seem to have a shortage of uniforms during the First World War, they do appear to have suffered from a shortage of horses. Photographs show the Kamerun Kompanie were only mounted on oxen.

Armband in the Imperial German Colours
(See Identification Brassard Details Page)
Photo Copyright Doppler

Hendrik Witbooi as he appears on a modern Namibian ten dollar banknote.

Schutztruppe 1896 Khaki Uniform
(See Schutztruppe Khaki Uniform Details Page)
Photo Copyright Doppler

Schutztruppe Mounted Equipment
(See Mounted Equipment Details Page)
Photo from an Anonymous Collector

Schutztruppe Südwester
(See Südwester Details Page)
Photo Copyright Doppler

Schutztruppe Kord Cap
(See Rödelsee Museum Collection Page)
Photo Copyright Arne Schöfert

Schutztruppe Kord Waffenrock
(See Rödelsee Museum Collection Page)
Photo Copyright Arne Schöfert

Witbooi Troopers
This photograph shows Schutztruppe General Lothar von Trotha inspecting Witboois in German service c1904. The Witbooi troopers wear Schutztruppe uniform with white scarves around their hats. In the background is Fort Okahandja.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Baster Company
This photographs shows soldiers of the Baster Company taken in about 1905. They wear the Schutztruppe 1896 Kord Waffenrock with the Litzen removed from the blue collars and cuffs. Their caps are matching corduroy with a blue hatband and small imperial cockade. Their German NCO wears the Schutztruppe 1896 Khaki uniform.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Cameroon Company
This photograph shows soldiers of the Cameroon Company in 1914. They wear the same uniform as the Germans in the Schutztruppe: the 1896 Khaki Uniform with the Südwester hat.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

African Artillery Drivers
This photograph shows howitzers of the
Schutztruppe 2. Reservebatterie (also known as the "Ochsenbatterie" as they were usually pulled by oxen) packed onto a train during the First World War. The Africans drivers with them wear Schutztruppe uniform with identification brassards that are unformatunetly illegible.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv


Highly Recommended Reading- ""Askari und Fitafita - Farbiger Söldner in den deutschen Kolonien" by Thomas Morlang


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