The three Imperial German Marine Infantry Battalions
("Seebataillon" or "Seebataillone" in the plural)
developed from the Prussian Seebataillon which itself was formed in 1852
for coastal protection and guarding naval bases. During the Danish,
Austrian and Franco-Prussian Wars of 1864-71 the Prussian Seebataillon
was deployed to protect ports along the Northern coast of Germany, as
such it saw no action.
In 1886 the single Seebataillon was reformed
firstly into two half battalions, then later in 1889 into two full
battalions, the first (I. Seebataillon) was based at Kiel and the
second (II. Seebataillon) at Wilhelmshaven. A third (III.
Seebataillon) was formed in Tsingtao in China in 1898 and
permanently based there, with small staff base at Cuxhaven.
Germany's new outward looking foreign and colonial policy from the
1880's onwards saw the Seebataillone used as elite rapid reaction forces,
quickly deployed overseas in times of war, rebellion or for
international peacekeeping duties in much the same way as the modern US
Marines or British Royal Marines.
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Deployment and Actions of the Seebataillone
The Dahomey Slaves Rebellion, Cameroon 1893-94
The first colonial deployment of the
was a company sized expedition formed from elements of the I. and II.
Seebataillone, sent to Cameroon to help defeat the mutiny of the Dahomey Slaves.
They arrived too late to take part in
any action and returned to Germany early the following year.
The Occupation of Tsingtao, China 1897-1914
In 1897 Germany annexed Kiaochow (with the port of Tsingtao) in China as a
reaction to the murder of two missionaries. Two companies each from the I. and
II. Seebataillone were sent to China. On
1898 they were officially formed into the III. Seebataillon and along with a
Marine Horse Artillery Battery (formed on 4th December 1898) and several land based naval heavy artillery batteries became the permanent garrison of Tsingtao.
By 1914 the III. Seebataillon had been further
strengthened by a
mounted company (first formed as a mounted detachment in 1900, later named the
5. berittene Kompanie), a pioneer company (formed on 27th September 1910) and a
machine gun company (formed on 25th November 1911).
At the outbreak of war the III. Seebataillon consisted
of 30 officers and 1269 other ranks. Further Reserve companies were added to its
strength in wartime.
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The Boxer Rebellion, China 1900-01
When the Boxer Rebellion broke out
in 1900, the III. Seebataillon in Tsingtao were the only German troops stationed
in China. Fifty men under Oberleutnant Graf von Soden were sent to Peking to
protect the foreign legations. These fifty soldiers saw action as part of the
allied defence when the legations came under siege. Another 25 soldiers from the III.
Seebataillon were also sent from Tsingtao to defend Tientsin, while the bulk of
the III. Seebataillon remained in Tsingtao.
Meanwhile back in Germany the first force that could be
sent to China was the Marine Expedition Corps ("Marine Expeditionskorps")
made up of the complete I. and II. Seebataillone. They arrived in China in
August 1900 just ahead of the full East Asian Expeditionary Corps. They were
then incorporated into the 1st East Asian Infantry Brigade of the East Asian
Expeditionary Corps as the Combined Marine Infantry Regiment. They were returned
to Germany in 1901.
The Herero Rebellion, German South West Africa 1904-05
In January 1904 two companies each from the I. and
II. Seebataillone along with additional naval artillery and medical personnel
were formed into a Marine Expedition Corps under the command of Major Glasenapp
for service in German South West Africa against the Herero Rebellion.
Once in Africa the four companies were divided amongst Schutztruppe formations.
They saw heavy action and suffered casualties in various actions against the
Herero, although they also suffered just as heavily from disease and the harsh climate.
In March 1905 they returned to Germany.
The Maji-Maji Rebellion, German East Africa 1905-07
In August 1905
one company each from the I. and II.
Seebataillone were formed into a Marine
Expedition Corps under Hauptmann von Schlichting for service in German East
Africa as the Maji-Maji Rebellion spread across the colony. Once again the
Seebataillon troops were split up amongst different Schutztruppe units. They did
not see heavy action and returned to Germany in early 1907.
The Occupation of
Peking and Tientsin, China 1909-17
After the Boxer Rebellion a German East Asian Occupation Brigade was
formed from regular German army soldiers to protect German civilians and trading interests in China. As the threat of further rebellion
diminished so the force was reduced. In 1909 it was withdrawn entirely and
replaced by the naval East Asian Marine Detachment ("Ostasiatische Marine-Detachement")
made up of one company of Seebataillon troops under the command of the III.
Seebataillon in Tsingtao. In 1912 in reaction to the Chinese Revolution
it was expanded to three companies, with two in Tientsin
and one in Peking under its own separate command. When the First World War broke out the detachment made its
way to Tsingtao where it fought and surrendered alongside the III. Seebataillon. Remaining staff
elements of the detachment stayed in Tientsin until China entered the War on the
allied side in 1917 when they were interned.
The Peacekeeping Mission to Skutari, Albania 1913-14
At the Treaty of London in 1913 ending the First Balkan War it was agreed
that Albania be recognised as an independent state. The city of Skutari (modern
given an international peacekeeping force mainly to defend it from the
Montenegrins who had occupied it during the recent war. The international force consisted of troops from Great
Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany. The German contribution was
an 100 strong detachment from the I. and II. Seebataillone, known as the Marine-Detachment Skutari
commanded by Major Paul Schneider. When the First World War
broke out the German troops were placed under Austro-Hungarian command and
served as part of the Austrian 87th Infantry Regt (who had also been part of the
Skutari garrison). As such they saw action against the Serbians at Višegrad,
Bosnia on 20/21st August 1914. The Marine Detachment Skutari was
withdrawn to Germany in September 1914 where it was used to form the cadre of the
10th Seebataillon of the Marinekorps Flandern on the Western front.
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The Siege of Tsingtao, China 1914
Japan declared war on Germany on 23rd August 1914
under the terms of its secret alliance with Britain of 1902. Japan's only war
aim was to conquer German territories in Asia- the Pacific islands North of
New Guinea and more importantly Tsingtao. Japan assembled an invasion force of
60,000 troops with heavy artillery and naval support, to lay siege to the German
protectorate. Britain also sent a battalion of the South Wales Borderers and two
companies of Indian infantry to assist and observe. The defenders of Tsingtao
consisted primarily of the III. Seebataillon and naval artillery batteries with
reinforcements from the East Asian Marine Detachment, crews of German and
Austro-Hungarian ships in the area and local German reservists. The vastly superior
Japanese force suffered heavy casualties but succeeded by means of bombardment from both land
and sea in forcing the German garrison to surrender once their ammunition ran
short in November
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Die Helden von Tsingtau at the
The Western Front, Flanders 1914-18
In 1914 the I. and II. Seebataillone were sent to the Western front to
occupy the far Northern edge of the frontline along the Flanders coast. The I. and
II. Seebataillone were each expanded with reservists to form the 1st and 2nd
Marine Infantry Regiments respectively, while the remnants of the Marine
Detachment Skutari (now known as the 10th Seebataillon) formed the 3rd Marine
Infantry Regiment. Together they made up the Marine Infantry Brigade, as part of
the Marine Infantry Division of the Marinekorps Flandern.
By December 1914 the term Seebataillon was dropped from usage. The Marinekorps
Flandern was involved in much heavy fighting including defending against the Zeebrugge
Raid in April 1918. They continued to hold the Flanders coastline up until the
armistice in November 1918.
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