Machine Guns of the Schutztruppe and Overseas Forces

East African Schutztruppe Machine Gun, c1914
MG08 with canvas barrel cover and M09 Tripod
From an original photograph by Walther Dobbertin, colourised by Reinaldo Elias courtesy of Cristiano Campos.

Early Repeat Firing and Revolver Guns
The repeat firing machine gun was a new weapon in the late 19th century. Early types of multi-round Millitareuse and Gatling guns with multiple barrels had seen action during the American Civil War and been used by the French against the German armies in the Franco-Prussian War. Some of these early weapons were also occasionally used in colonial warfare. 

One early repeat firing weapon that did see colonial action (but due to its calibre of shells should more properly belong on the Artillery Page) was the 1873 Hotchkiss 37mm Revolver Cannon. This was a hand cranked gun with revolving barrels that was often fitted aboard naval ships and was sometimes used on land in the colonies in times of need (such as those of the SMS Habicht used in South West Africa during the Herero Rebellion).

The Maxim Gun and its Effect on Warfare
In 1884 Hiram Maxim invented the first modern machine gun. It had a single water cooled barrel and fired rounds fed from a belt. Soon all European armies adopted the Maxim gun or began to produce their own licensed version of it.

The Maxim Gun revolutionised warfare and to a large extent caused the stalemate of the western front in the First World War as it was a very effective defensive weapon but because it had to be dismantled and carried by a crew of three or four men before being reassembled in a new firing position was of limited use when on the offensive meaning that in a battle the defender in a well prepared position always had the advantage.

In the colonies, machine guns were particularly effective in terrifying locals with a brief blast of fire or against whole tribal armies attacking en masse, as was seen at the Battle of Mahenge in 1905 in German East Africa, where the Schutztruppe 12. Feldkompagnie armed with two machine guns fought off around 8,000 warriors causing around 600 casualties among them, while not losing a single German or Askari casualty themselves. In a prepared defensive situation such as this the machine gun was devastating.

Without preparation the machine gun was useless. Its weakness was its relative immobility and the time spent setting it up which made it prone to ambush, as happened at the Battle of Lugalu in East Africa in 1891, where despite being equipped with machine guns, the Schutztruppe were so entirely overwhelmed by the sudden Hehe attack that they did not get a chance to deploy the guns before they were overrun. Against an elusive foe they were of equally limited use.

During the First World War in Africa the machine gun was essential to the defenders of the German colonies against a similarly armed foe. In the colonies as on the Western Front, when used in defensive or counter attacking actions such as seen at the Battles of Sandfontein in South West Africa, the River Chra in Togo and Tanga in East Africa, the coordinated use of machine guns could be decisive.

Types of Machine Gun Used the the German Colonies
The German made MG01 based on the Maxim design was by far the most commonly used machine gun in the German colonies but several others saw limited use. Aside from the very first Maxims, which fired 11mm rounds later German produced Maxims fired the same 9mm rounds as used with G98 rifles. Existing early guns were then re-fitted to accommodate the new ammunition. While the German army usually issued its machine guns with a heavy sled ('or Schlitten') mounting those in naval and Schutztruppe service are most commonly seen with a tripod stand.

1887 World Standard Maxim Gun
Maxim's gun was first mass produced in England and marketed as the Maxim World Standard Machine Gun from 1887. The first Maxim guns deployed by the Germans for action were World Standard Maxim guns of the Imperial Navy in the Samoan Civil War 1888-89. These World Standard Guns fired 11mm rounds, which was the standard rifle ammunition of the Prussian Infantryman at the time. Kaiser Wilhelm II himself tried the World Standard Gun in 1888 and was suitably impressed by it. He donated this weapon to the Wissmanntruppe expedition to East Africa the following year.

Marine Maschinengewehr M94
It was
Ludwig Loewe & Co of Berlin that licensed the Maxim design in Germany in 1892 (the company was renamed Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken Aktien-Gesellschaft or DWM from 1896). The Imperial Navy first placed an order for these guns in 1894, introducing them as the Maschinengewehr M94 or MG94. These remained in naval service into the First World War, although by 1914 the navy had also begun using the updated MG08.

Maschinengewehr M01
The German army also showed an interest and ordered their first machine guns from DWM five years later as the MG99 in very limited numbers. The Maschinengewehr M01 or MG01 followed with modifications and was again used in small numbers (only a few hundred were manufactured) by the German army. It was however the MG01 that was most commonly used by the Schutztruppe in Africa and also Marine Infantry of the Tsingtao garrison.

Maschinengewehr M08
Later modifications including replacing cast iron parts with alloys to reduce the weight led to the Maschinengewehr M08 or MG08, which was the standard machine gun used by the German army in the First World War. The MG08 was made by both the DWM and the Spandau arsenals in Berlin. Over 12,000 MG08 guns were issued to the German army and navy by 1914. Though the MG08 was a standard weapon on the Western and Eastern Fronts as well as in Palestine during First World War, they were rarely issued in the colonies.

Machine Cannons- the Maschinenkanone M97
The basic Maxim belt feed design was also used for guns of a larger calibre, most notably the
3.7cm Maschinenkanone M97 manufactured by Krupp. This weapon was first put into action by the Imperial Navy in South West Africa during the Herero Rebellion. Around eight naval MK97 guns are believed to have been deployed during the Herero Rebellion and to have remained in South West Africa until the First World War.

British Lewis Light Machine Gun
While the Maxim gun and its licensed versions were a breakthrough in military technology, their weight and immobility were their most obvious weakness. Several attempts were made to make machine guns more manoeuvrable in the years before and during the First World War. This was usually done by lightening the weapon wherever possible, using air cooling systems rather than carrying a tank of water, introducing a shoulder butt and by replacing belt feed ammunition with magazines. Common wartime examples of this design are the German MG08/15 (which did not see service in the colonies), the French Chauchat and the British Lewis LMG. The latter of which when captured was often used by the Schutztruppe in East Africa and the Ottoman army in Palestine during the First World War.

Bergmann Light Machine Gun MG M15nA
The Bergmann LMG M15nA was one such light machine gun, it was designed by Theodor Bergmann and produced for the German army and newly formed air force, although it never replaced the MG08 or MG08/15. It had a 200 drum round magazine, shoulder stock and bipod stand. Several of these Bergmann guns were by the Asienkorps in Palestine from 1917.

German Overseas Machine Gun Deployments
At the outbreak of war in 1914 the garrisons of all four African colonies (South West Africa, East Africa, Cameroon and Togo) and the port of Tsingtao in China were armed with machine guns. The Pacific colonies of New Guinea and Samoa by contrast had no machine guns. Ships of the Imperial Navy were usually equipped with machine guns and repeated firiung cannon which could be deployed on land in the colonies in times of rebellion and war.

South West Africa
The first machine gun used in South West Africa was a naval MG94 deployed on land from the SMS Habicht in 1904 in their initial reaction to the outbreak of the Herero Rebellion. More naval machine guns soon followed from other ships and the Marine Infantry, bringing the total to eight. Six MG01 machine guns were brought by the Schutztruppe reinforcements later that year.

By 1914 the Schutztruppe had two machine guns per field company. Most were mounted on wheeled carriages, though those of the 3. Feld Kompagnie were not wheeled and were carried by pack animals. The Schutztruppe use of machine guns in setting up an ambush for the South African invasion force at the Battle of Sandfontein in 1914 proved decisive in the German victory. According to Werner Haupt in 'Die deutsche Schutztruppe', the Schutztruppe of South West Africa had twenty four machine guns in service in 1914.

East Africa
The first machine gun in East Africa was the demonstration model World Standard Maxim gun that had been presented to Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser was suitably impressed and donated this first gun directly to the Wissmanntruppe. It fired 11mm black powder rounds.

Over the years and especially during the Maji-Maji Rebellion the machine gun strength was updated and increased until by the outbreak of war in 1914, the Schutztruppe of East Africa had a total of fifty five machine guns in service (according to Werner Haupt in 'Die deutsche Schutztruppe'). These were MG01 or MG08 models deployed as two or three per Field Company with remainder in fixed defensive portal positions or in depot at Dar Es Salaam. During the war, the Schutztruppe also benefitted from several naval MG94 machine guns from German naval ships such as the SMS Königsberg and SMS Möwe, as they were scuttled. In 1915 and 1916 two German supply ships, the SS Rubens and SS Marie each brought four MG08 machine guns to the Schutztruppe with their European sled mountings (one of these guns still survives in the South African Naval Museum in Simonstown).

The tactical use of the Schutztruppe machine guns in defensive positions at the Battle of Tanga in 1914 was one the decisive factors of the German victory. After the battle they were able to capture sixteen British Vickers machine guns (the British licensed variant of Hiram Maxim's original gun). Throughout the war many more captured British and later Portuguese machine guns were put to use by the Schutztruppe. By November 1918 when they finally laid down their arms, the Schutztruppe still had twenty-four machine guns and fourteen Lewis guns.

According to Werner Haupt in 'Die deutsche Schutztruppe', the Schutztruppe of Cameroon had sixty machine guns in service in 1914. This seems an unusually high number when compared with only twenty four in the usually better equipped, South West African Schutztruppe. Yet the superiority of German machine gun fire is referred to on several occasions in the British Official History of the Campaign as a reason why it took so long to defeat isolated German outposts in Cameroon.

According to Werner Haupt in 'Die deutsche Schutztruppe', the Polizeitruppe of Togo had four machine guns in service in 1914. Three of these were used with great effect in entrenched positions to repulse British and French attacks during the Battle of the River Chra in 1914.

New Guinea and Samoa
The Polizeitruppe of the Pacific colonies did not have machine guns, though machine guns were deployed by landing parties of the Imperial Navy
during the Samoan Civil War 1888-89 and the Sokehs Rebellion 1910-11.

The German East Asian Expeditionary Corps were not equipped with machine guns to face the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Neither at that time were the III. Seebataillon stationed at Tsingtao and Peking. Other allied armies did however have machine guns during the uprising; the US Marines at the Peking Legation had a Colt–Browning M95 machine gun and the Austro-Hungarian navy brought Skoda Mitrailleuse M93 machine guns with them.

After the rebellion a machine gun company was added to the East Asian Occupation Brigade and in 1911 a machine gun company was added to the III. Seebataillon. These both consisted of six MG01 guns all equipped with the original sled mounting. The naval fortifications of Tsingtao also had machine gun emplacements.

Ottoman Fronts
Before the outbreak of war, the Ottoman army already been equipped with some exported German MG08 machine guns. Many more were supplied during the war. The Germans also gave large numbers of captured Russian Maxim guns to the Ottoman army during the war. However, these weapons were spread across a large army over several fronts of their empire and German units heavily armed with machine guns were often deployed to back up the Turkish army.

The first German machine guns deployed to the Gallipoli front were several MG08 guns and their crews from the ships SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau. The Pascha I Expedition in deployed to the Sinai front in 1916 had eight machine gun companies (Maschinengewehr-Kompanien 601-608) each equipped with six MG08s. The Pascha II Expedition of 1917 included the 701st Infantry Battalion with another six MG08 machine guns and later eighteen Bergmann LMGs. Pascha II was reinforced in 1918 by the 146th Infantry Regiment ("1. Masurische Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 146") whose three battalions each had six MG08 machine guns and the 11th Reserve Jäger Battalion who also had six MG08 machine guns.

Recommended External Links

Discussion on Machine Guns of the Schutztruppe on the Axis History Forum
Article on the Maxim World Standard Machine Gun on
Article on the German System of Maxim Machine Guns based on 'Guns in the First World War' by S Fedoseyev
Article on German Maxim Guns on
Reference to the first Machine Guns in South West Africa on

MG01 Article on

Discussion on Asienkorps Bergmann LMG 15nA on the Axis History Forum

Published Sources

'German Machine Guns of World War I' by Stephen Bull (Osprey)
'Die Deutsche Schutztruppe 1889-1918' by Werner Haupt (Dörfler)
'Die Kaiserliche Schutz- und Polizeitruppe für Afrika' by Reinhard Schneider (Druffel & Vorwinkel-Verlag)
'The Battle of Tanga 1914' by Ross Anderson (Tempus)


German East African Schutztruppe, c1914
with a Hotchkiss M73 37mm Revolver Cannon
mounted on a C73 gun carriage
Photo by Walther Dobbertin at WikiCommons / Bundesarchiv

Hiram Maxim and his
World Standard Machine Gun

Photo WikiCommons

German Naval Landing Party, Samoa 1888-89 with an M87 Maxim World Standard Gun
Photo from House of Pereira

SMS Königsberg Crew, East Africa 1914-15
with an MG
94 Naval Machine Gun
on a tripod mounting
Photo © Peter Klein

MG Company of the III. Seebataillon, Tsingtao
with an MG01 Machine Gun
Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons

3.7cm Maschinenkanone M97 
of the South West African Schutztruppe
Photo by Phil Buhler at Tsumeb Museum, Namibia

Asienkorps Palestine c1917/18
with a Bergmann M15nA LMG
Photo from , originally published in "Kampf in der Wüste" by Laar von Clemens Laar, Verlag Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1936

South West African Schutztruppe c1904
with an MG01 Machine Gun on a sled mounting
Postcard C Dale Collection

East African Schutztruppe 1897
with the World Standard Maxim Gun
Premier Leutnant Engelhardt demonstrates his weapons to the chiefs of Ungoni including Germany's first World Standard Maxim gun presented to the Wissmanntruppe by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Note the wheeled gun carriage.

East African Schutztruppe c1914
with an MG01 Machine Gun

Photo by Walther Dobbertin at Wikimedia / Bundesarchiv

Cameroon Schutztruppe c1914
with an MG01 Machine Gun on a Tripod Mounting

Turkish Army on the Gaza Front 1917
with an MG08 with telescopic sight and
an M09 Tripod Mounting

Photo Wiki

Markings of the DWM on an MG08
Photo © Gilles Sigro



MG08 Machine Gun used by the Imperial German Navy at Gallipoli
Photo © Gilles Sigro



New Guinea Polizeitruppe Officials with a French Volley Gun
The German New Guinea Polizeitruppe with a French 13mm Montigny Mitrailleuse. This was an early volley machine gun captured during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. How this gun got to be in New Guinea, if it was ever used in  action and where it ended up are unknown.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

East African Schutztruppe MG01 c1914
Officers gather around an MG01 mounted on a small artillery gun carriage on exercise.
Photo by Walther Dobbertin © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

South West African Schutztruppe Machine Gun Crew c1905
A Schutztruppe machine gun crew cleaning and oiling the MG01 machine gun. Note the tripod stand and the ammunition belt.
Photo © Gilles Sigro

Machine Gun Company of the East Asian Occupation Brigade c1905
This photograph shows the six MG01 machine guns that made up the MG Company on sled mounts posed next to the Great Wall of China.
Photo Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons

Machine Gun Company of the III. Seebataillon in Tsingtao, c1914
The Machine Gun Company of the III. Seebataillon with their six MG01s on sled mountings. This photograph was taken on manoeuvres shortly before the First World War.

Photo © Mark Skurka see For Sale Page

East African Schutztruppe Machine Gun Crew c1914
This photograph shows a Schutztruppe MG01 machine gun mounted on a wheeled carriage.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Schutztruppe Entrenchment, Cameroon c1914-15
Two German Schutztruppe NCOs man an MG01 on a tripod on the left of the photograph while the African soldiers and casually dressed German reservists are armed with the Kar98AZ rifle.
Photo originally published in Kämpfer an vergessenen Fronten, by Wolfgang Förster, 1931

Machine Gun from the SMS Emden on Direction Island 1914
This is one of four MG94's landed on the island by SMS Emden
Photo © Imperial War Museum

SMS Königsberg machine gun crew in German East Africa, c1915
These sailors are deployed to defend the Rufiji Delta and are probably armed with a Naval MG94.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Captured German Fort, Cameroon c1914-16
French officers and their colonial soldiers inspecting captured German weaponry including three MG01 machine guns on tripods.
Photo © Imperial War Museum

603rd Machine Gun Company, Sinai Desert September 1916
Two MG08 machine guns with sled mountings and their crews. These soldiers are wearing modified 1910 field grey uniforms with locally acquired Arabian headdress. A smudged stamp on the back of the photo shows the unit probably as MGK 603 of the Pascha I Expedition.

Photo © Sam Wouters

German Officers, NCOs and Askaris, East Africa c1917
Note the machine gun on a tripod the right side. From this photograph it is unclear if this is a German or a captured British machine gun. The tripod appears to be the design used with the British Vickers gun, of which large numbers were captured by the Schutztruppe at the Battle of Tanga in 1914.

Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv




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