The German Pacific Colonies


Map of the German Pacific Colonies
Picture from the New York Times New York Times Current History; The European War, Vol 2, No. 5, August, 1915 / WikiCommons

From the mid 1850s German traders began to take an interest in the Pacific South Seas. By 1884 they had started to make territorial claims. The German Pacific empire was never big in terms of landmass, population or wealth but it covered a large expanse of the Pacific Ocean from Northwest New Guinea, the Carolines, Marshalls and Marianas in the West all the way to Samoa in the East. This gave German ships coming from the East Asian fleet's base at Tsingtao useful coaling stations and some limited radio contact across the Ocean. This radio coverage was still in the process of completion when the First World War broke out. The German Empire in the Pacific was divided into two colonies; German New Guinea (including Micronesia and other smaller islands) and German Samoa.

German New Guinea

The German New Guinea Company was formed in 1880 and in 1884 it raised the German flag over the North Eastern part of Papua New Guinea (which was then "Kaiser-Wilhelmsland") and what is still called the Bismarck Archipelago- consisting of modern New Britain and New Ireland, which were known as New Pomerania ("Neu Pommern") and New Mecklenburg ("Neu Mecklenburg"), respectively. Other islands were soon added to the colony; the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands and Palau in 1885, three of the Solomon Islands in 1886 (of which only Bougainville and Buka were retained after 1899), Nauru in 1888 and finally the Marianas in 1899. Also in 1899 administration of the the colony was transferred from the German New Guinea Company to the German colonial office. New Guinea was largely a peaceful colony exporting mainly coconut products and supporting scientific explorations of the islands and their uncharted interiors.

After Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 stripped Germany of all her colonies and overseas possessions. Kaiser-Wilhelmsland and the Bismarck Archipelago (the bulk of of German New Guinea) was awarded to Australia, the phosphate rich island of Nauru became British (under joint rule from Britain, Australia and New Zealand) and the islands North of the equator went to Japan.

Campaigns in German New Guinea

The Sokehs Rebellion 1910
In 1910 the Sokehs people on Pohnpei ("Ponape" in German) in the East Caroline Islands, rose up in rebellion led by a warrior chief named Soumadau. The cause of the uprising was the German imposition of forced labour as a form of taxation and the violent way in which it was enforced. The rebels killed the local German governor, Carl Boeder, two other Germans and five islanders in German employment. There was no radio communication between Ponape and the outside world so it took several anxious weeks before news of the uprising reached Rabaul.

Once alerted, the German response was both swift and harsh. About 300 Melanesian Polizeitruppe soldiers (sources vary as to the exact number deployed, with some stating as low as 138), a German Police Officer and a Judge, were despatched from New Guinea, together with the guns and landing parties of the SMS Emden, SMS Comoran and SMS Nürnberg. They stormed the Sokehs stronghold in a disused Spanish fort but found the rebels had escaped by the time they had captured it. The Germans then searched the island rounding up the rebels, the ringleaders were shot and the remaining Sokehs population was deported to Palau. This was the only major rebellion against German rule in the Pacific.
Recommended External Link -  The Sokehs Rebellion section on Micronesia Over the Years
Highly Recommended Reading - "Rebellion in der Südsee - Der Aufstand auf Ponape gegen die deutschen Kolonialherren 1910/11" by Thomas Morlang

Overseas Deployment of the New Guinea Polizeitruppe
Although they never saw action overseas the New Guinea Polizeitruppe were deployed for active service on two occasions.

The Maji-Maji Rebellion in East Africa 1905
During the Maji-Maji Rebellion, the governor of German East Africa, von Götzen sent a telegram to governor Hahl in New Guinea asking if it would be possible to send reinforcements as it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to recruit reliable new askaris within German East Africa. In January 1906, about 150 Polizeitruppe soldiers from the Buka people of Bougainville in the Solomons were shipped to German East Africa. During their initial training on arrival under the command of Leutnant Phillip Correck they were deemed unfit for military service partially due to their small physiques and partially due to their susceptibility to Malaria and other local diseases. They were employed only on garrison duties and saw no action. Within a few months they were sent back to New Guinea. During their short term of service in East Africa, the Buka soldiers were issued standard Schutztruppe Askari Uniforms.
Recommended Reading -
"Askari und Fitafita" by Thomas Morlang (see Book Reviews Page)

The Mau A Pule Rebellion in Samoa 1909
The second occasion was during the Mau A Pule unrest in Samoa in 1908-11 when about 100 Melanesian Polizeitruppe soldiers were dispatched there as a precautionary measure. The unrest was resolved peacefully before they saw any action.

The First World War in German New Guinea 1914
When Britain declared War on Germany in August 1914, the Commonwealth of Australia stood by Britain. The Australians were invited by the British government to invade and occupy German New Guinea, principally the mainland of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland and the Bismarck Archipelago.
Recommended External Link - The Australian Official History of the War in the Pacific at the Australian War Memorial Website

The Battle of Bita-Paka
The only place worthy or capable of resistance in German New Guinea was the radio station at Bita-Paka, adjacent to Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula in New Pomerania. There were about 240 Melanesian Polizeitruppe soldiers available for its defence at Rabaul and nearby Herbertshöhe (now known as Kokopo), approximately half of which were new recruits still in training. These were led by two German army officers assigned to police management functions and a handful of German Polizeitruppe NCOs. They, along with about 50 German reservists including some reserve officers, comprised the radio station’s defensive capability. The Australians invaded on 11th September 1914. Their total force was about 3,000 strong and was supported by naval artillery. A detachment of Australian Naval Reservists made its way up the track to Bita-Paka where it encountered German resistance. After fighting involving casualties on both sides the Germans surrendered the following day. A formal surrender ceremony was conducted on 21st September 1914. The terms of the surrender stated that no further resistance would be made by the Germans in their former colony.
Recommended External Link - The Battle of Bita-Paka on FirstWorld

The other islands of German New Guinea that lay North of the equator such as the Carolines, the Marshalls, the Marianas and Palau were all seized by the Japanese navy between 29th September and 21st October 1914 without a struggle. The only thought of resistance was on Ponape, where deputy District Officer Koehler and two German Polizeitruppe NCOs retreated into the bush with about 50 Melanesian Polizeitruppe to plan a defence. After seeing the size of the Japanese landing force they wisely surrendered.
Recommended External Link - Axis History Forum Discussions on World War I in the Pacific and When Germany lost the Marshall Islands

Detzner's Adventure
While most Germans accepted the surrender, some did not. One small band of Polizeitruppe soldiers under Schutztruppe Hauptman Herman Detzner who had been part of an expedition to explore the interior of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland when war broke out, escaped into the jungle interior of the island and evaded capture until after the 1918 armistice. Other small groups of Germans escaped into neighbouring neutral Dutch New Guinea, where they were interned
for the duration of the war.
Recommended External Link - Hauptmann Detzner a WW1 Hold Out on Suite 101


Forces in German New Guinea

Melanesian Polizeitruppe on Kaiser-Wilhelmsland and the Bismarck Archipelago
The first police force ("Polizeitruppe") was raised by the German New Guinea Company at Finschhafen in 1887. It originally consisted of one German Officer, two German NCOs and 24 locally recruited Melanesian police soldiers ("Polizei-Soldat" or "Soldaten" in the plural). The troop operated on a part time basis. Soldiers trained for two hours each morning and then spent the remainder of their working day on plantation duties. They mobilized for full time duty only in the event of emergencies or when required for extended operations. The troop relocated to Friedrich Wilhelmshafen when the German New Company moved its headquarters. A second part time police troop was raised at Herbertshöhe in 1894.

When the Colonial Ministry in Berlin finally relieved the German New Guinea Company of its governmental responsibilities in 1899, it also assumed responsibility for the Polizeitruppe. As the new administration gradually opened District Offices ("Bezirksamt") around the colony, a full time Polizeitruppe unit was assigned to each. The Melanesian Polizeitruppe were initially led by the colonial District Officers ("Bezirksamtmann") although later German police NCOs ("Polizeimeister") with military backgrounds were recruited to take direct command of the various detachments. The German NCOs themselves still remained under the command of their local District Officers as no overall police command existed. Despite being armed and partially trained the local Polizeitruppe were not reliable fighting forces.

After the Sokehs Rebellion exposed the difficulties of mobilising men from different District Offices, an expeditionary company of about 120 Melanesians was formed in 1911. These soldiers were better trained and were intended to respond to any future rebellion. They were commanded by a regular German army officer seconded from his home regiment, along with German police NCOs.

The total 1914 peacetime strength of the Melanesian Polizeitruppe (including the expeditionary company) was two German army officers, 17 German police NCOs and about 670 locally recruited police soldiers across the different islands.

When the First World War broke out many of the Polizeitruppe were on an expedition to explore uncharted territory on the interior of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland under a Schutztruppe officer, Hauptmann Herman Detzner. By the time news of the war reached them, the colony had already surrendered.

When the Australian invasion became imminent, Governor Hahl found he had to recruit new soldiers. "Clearly my troop was too small. It was urgent to obtain reinforcements in order to be forearmed. My attempts to raise the numbers of the troop by calling on the resources of the German New Guinea Company failed, I was thrown back on my own resources and therefore called for volunteers among the young men of the villages inland from Herbertshöhe and Rabul. To my joy, seventy-five strong young men volunteered and declared their willingness to report to me daily, without pay, for training at six o'clock in the morning. I was never able to parade more than half of them under arms at any one time, for I only had thirty six reserve rifles. From six till eight every day I drilled the men on the parade ground and also took them to the rifle range which had been set up in a gorge inland from Herbertshöhe. Not one of the young men ever failed to turn up, and in a short time I had a well trained rese4rve in the hinterland to call on."
Quoted from "To Find a Path- the Life and Times of the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment Vol1" by James Sinclair

Recommend External Link - See the article of the Neu-Guinea Polizeitruppe at Traditionsverband

Micronesian Polizeitruppe on the Smaller Islands
In 1899 the first Polizeitruppe were established on the Micronesian Islands, under the command of a handful of German Polizeitruppe NCOs. The other ranks were recruited from Malays in the Dutch East Indies. Some, but not all, had previous military experience in Dutch service. There were originally 12 in the West Carolines, 22 in the East Carolines and 12 in the Marianas. Later some Micronesian Polizeitruppe were recruited locally as well as more Malays being employed. After the Sokehs Rebellion Melanesian Polizeitruppe soldiers were permanently stationed on Ponape to deter future revolts. The Micronesian Polizeitruppe were clearly not considered reliable enough. Melanesian Polizeitruppe also served on Nauru.

By the outbreak of the First World War the numbers of police in Micronesia had increased to 71 in the West Carolines, 122 in the East Carolines, 30 in the Marianas, 39 in the Marshalls and 21 on Nauru.
Highly Recommended Reading - "Askari und Fitafita" by Thomas Morlang (see Book Reviews Page)

Schutztruppe and Army
There was no Schutztruppe force in German New Guinea, although individual regular army officers were seconded there by the colonial office to command and train the Polizeitruppe between 1911 and 1914. These officers came under the command of the colonial office and therefore the overall Schutztruppe command.

Despite being of strategic importance there was no permanent militarised naval presence in New Guinea. The SMS Emden, SMS Cormoran and SMS Nürnberg did however steam to assist in the Sokehs Rebellion in 1910. They not only bombarded rebel positions but also landed sailors and officers to fight onshore alongside the Polizeitruppe.

German New Guinea also had her own non-military ships, separate from the Imperial navy. These vessels came under the control of the colonial governors and were officered by Germans with locally recruited crews. They were not intended for military use although they could be used to ferry supplies and troops in times of war.
Recommend External Link - Axis History Forum Discussion on the Nachtigal

Germans living on the islands of New Guinea were called up as reservists upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Most, but not all, had undergone basic military training back in Germany. About 50 reservists participated in the defence of Bita-Paka.

German Samoa

There had been German trading stations, coconut plantations and other commercial interests in Samoa since the 1850's. German influence in the area grew with a consulate and increasing naval presence in the 1880's. After negotiations with Britain and the USA, the Samoan Islands of Upolu and Sawai were recognised as a German protectorate in 1899. The people of Samoa were largely peaceful, there were no major rebellions, and as a result German rule was less harsh there than in the African colonies. The main export of Samoa was coconuts and coconut oil but it was also a useful naval base for Germany in the Pacific.

After Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 stripped Germany of all her colonies and overseas possessions. German Samoa was awarded to New Zealand.


Campaigns in German Samoa

The Battle of Vailele 1888
There were no major rebellions on Samoa under German rule, ironically the only major conflict to take place there occurred before Germany took possession of the islands. In 1888 a Samoan chief, King Mataafa led an armed rebellion against German traders and settlers. About 150 sailors from SMS Olga, SMS Eber and SMS Adler were landed near Apia to confront the rebels. In the ensuing fighting the Germans lost 16 dead and 39 wounded- almost 40% of their force.
Recommended External Link - Robert Louis Stevenson's Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

The Mau A Pule Rebellion 1908-11
Not so much a full scale rebellion, as a period of unrest occurred with the formation an indigenous resistance movement known as Mau A Pule. The unrest was quelled without significant violence in 1911 when the Germans arrested the leader of the movement, Lauaki Namulau'ulu and sent him into exile on the Marianas.
Recommended External Link - Germans and Rebels, Chapter 3 of "Guardians and Wards (a study of the origins, causes, and the first two years of the Mau in Western Samoa)" by Albert Wendt

The First World War in German Samoa 1914
With such limited defences at his means, the German governor, Dr. Schultz-Ewerth, was under no illusions as to his ability to defend the colony against a serious invasion. Indeed, his orders from Berlin were simply to negotiate with any aggressors. When a 1,400 strong New Zealand invasion force with back up from British and French warships arrived off Apia on 29th August 1914 he negotiated a surrender without a shot being fired.
Recommended External Links -
Capture of Samoa at New Zealand History
The New Zealand occupation of Samoa at Chakoten
Erste und letzte Tage Deutsch-Samoas at Traditionsverband
German Prisoners from Samoa at Axis History Forum

Two weeks after the surrender and the departure of the French and British warships, the German Admiral von Spee arrived off Apia with the SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau on the 14th September 1914. The New Zealanders prepared for action, but not wishing to waste ammunition von Spee sailed off again after four hours in search of more lucrative targets.


Forces in German Samoa

The Samoan police force ("Polizeitruppe" in German or "Leo-Leo" in Samoan) were a small force of locally recruited other ranks commanded by German police NCOs. In 1914 they consisted of four German NCOs with about 20 Police on Sawai and eight on Upolu. Although they were armed with breech loading rifles and given some basic training they were not a reliable fighting force.

Ceremonial Guard
In addition to the Polizeitruppe, there was a ceremonial guard known as the Fita-Fita (the Samoan word for soldier) who numbered about 30. These ceremonial guardsmen were recruited only from the sons of local tribal chieftains. They were also armed with breech loading rifles and had one out-dated artillery piece that took half an hour to load and was fired once a day from Apia harbour.

Citizens Force
The few German civilians on Samoa were not officially called up as reservists at the outbreak of the First World War, but about 50 German traders, planters and officials formed a citizens force ("Bürgerwehr"). This was organised into three detachments - one guarded the wireless station and the other two took turns serving as coastal guards. The Bürgerwehr saw no action and was disbanded after the New Zealand invasion.

Other Forces
Despite being of strategic importance there was no permanent militarised naval presence in German Samoa. Neither were any Schutztruppe, Seebataillon nor army personnel posted there.

Special thanks to Bruce Swanton for his help on this page.


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