|Uniforms of the
Most of the Melanesian Polizeitruppe simply wore a
loincloth and some form of German headdress as
their only signs of uniform. They were
mostly topless and were not issued boots or puttees. Uniformity varied from the casual and irregular
dress seen in some period photographs to the very smart
appearance of the Polizeitruppe noted by the special commissioner to
"The Sydney Morning Herald" with the Australian invasion force of 1914-
the road the head of a marching column swung into sight rifle on shoulder, the
red lava-lavas of the black troops gleaming through the white dust clouds in
picturesque contrast to the khaki of the thirty-five Germans who came first.... And the perfection of the drill
displayed, not only by the whites but by the black soldiery, one hundred and
twenty strong, was a thing to make seasoned soldiers open their eyes with
admiration and amazement. "Never seen anything to surpass it," murmured one
officer to me, "and I've seen the Hausa troops, and the Somalilanders, and even
native regiments in India."
Germany by FS Burnell)
The loincloth was standard issue to all Melanesian Polizeitruppe and was
variously known as a "Hüfttuch" (hip-cloth)
or "Lendentuch" (loin cloth) in German, a "Sulu" in Tok Pisin or a
"Rami" in Hiri Motu, a widely spoken Papuan language. Note that FS
Burnell, the Sydney Morning Herald correspondent quoted above uses "Lava-lava",
a Samoan word for the loincloth. It simply consisted of a locally made dark red
photographs it appears that the loincloth varied from almost being ankle length
to knee high, though it is probable that the same length cloth was simply folded
up higher for greater mobility on active service.
Khaki Naval Style Uniform
A khaki naval style top (similar to that worn by the
was introduced for use in cold whether or on night patrol. It had red edging on
the naval collar and around the cuffs. Matching three quarter length khaki
trousers were worn. NCO rank insignia was worn in the form of red chevrons on
the upper left sleeve of the khaki top (see
NCO Rank Insignia Page).
Some photographs show other ranks topless while only the NCOs have khaki tops,
this may have been simply to display the rank chevrons.
Surprisingly the German authorities seem to have tolerated the islanders
habit of wearing non-uniform adornments while in Polizeitruppe service. These
adornments (known locally as "Bilas") consisted of plaits of plant fibres adorned with seashells, animal
bones and teeth, pieces of coral, beads, agate, coloured stones or even large
insects. They could be worn around the upper arms, wrists, neck, ankles or in
During the Australian invasion of 1914, members of the Polizeitruppe in Rabaul
on civilian policing duties were
authorized to wear white armbands to show their non-combatant status . So far I have come across no photographs of
these brassards in use.
The headdress of the Melanesian Polizeitruppe
came in various forms, though some of them went without headgear at all.
Some had short cropped hair, while others had large Afro-style haircuts some
decorated with locally made adornments (see above).
Headgear issued by the German New Guinea Company consisted of a brown kepi-style
cap with a black leather peak and chinstrap and a large imperial cockade on the
front. In 1899 the German government and colonial office took control of the
colony and its Polizeitruppe from the New Guinea Company, although it was some
time before changes to uniform and equipment were made. One photograph taken in
this early period shows a Melanesian NCO wearing a German police NCOs white
peaked cap with red hatband and small imperial cockade (see
German Polizeitruppe NCOs Page). It is
not known if this was common practice.
In 1902 the kepi was replaced with a dark khaki peaked cap
with a red hatband and a small imperial cockade, the peak and chinstrap were
also in black leather (similar to those worn by the
This became the most commonly worn headdress of the Melanesian Polizeitruppe,
and is seen being worn in most photographs of them after 1902.
Melanesian Polizeitruppe are sometimes seen wearing a straw hat held up on the
right hand side with a large imperial cockade (as originally worn by the
East Asian Expeditionary Corps), though this from
of headdress was more common amongst the
Equipment worn by the first Polizeitruppe of the
New Guinea Company consisted simply of a leather belt holding a single large
ammunition pouch at the front. This was later replaced by two 1871 pattern
ammunition pouches (though many photographs show them only wearing one
ammunition pouch) worn at either side of a navy other ranks belt buckle (see
Most photographs of the New Guinea Polizeitruppe
show them equipped only with a belt, ammunition pouches and a bayonet. They were also
issued with a water bottle, metal canteen, groundsheet and a large backpack. This backpack was not of the pattern usually issued to the German army (or colonial
troops) but of a loose shape and appears to be similar to the "Seesack"
carried by the German navy (see below).
In 1887 fifty Chassepot 1866 Carbines were purchased by the German New Guinea
Company from the Prussian War Ministry to arm the first Polizeitruppe. These
weapons had originally been captured during the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71 and
converted to fire Mauser 11mm ammunition. Mauser Kar71 carbines were also used by
the New Guinea Company Polizeitruppe. Later photographs show the Melanesians
armed with Commission Gew88 rifles and S71/84 bayonets (the earlier carbines of
the New Guinea Company did not take bayonets). Other types of rifle may also
have been in use. The Polizeitruppe had neither machine guns nor artillery.