Seebataillon - Marine Infantry
Tropical Uniforms in China, Africa and Skutari 1898-1914

Figure 1
Seesoldat
III. Seebataillon
Tsingtao c1898

Figure 2
Seesoldat
III. Seebataillon
Tsingtao c1914

Figure 3
Seesoldat
Marine Expeditionskorps
South West Africa c1905

Figure 4
Seesoldat
III. Seebataillon
Peking 1900

Figure 5
Seesoldat
III. Seebataillon
Shazikou 1910

Figure 6
Unteroffizier
Marine Expeditionskorps
South West Africa c1905

Figure 7
Unteroffizier
Marine Detachment Skutari
Vienna 1914

Figure 8
Feldwebel
III. Seebataillon
Japan 1916

Figure 9
Officer
III. Seebataillon
Tsingtao c1910

Figure 10
Officer
Mounted Company, III. Seebataillon
Tsingtao c1910

 
Tropical Uniforms of the Imperial Marine Infantry ("Seebataillone")
   
On 13th June 1898 a new khaki tropical uniform was authorised for the III. Seebataillon to wear in China during the Summer months. This same uniform was later issued to other Seebataillon units in China, South West Africa, East Africa and Skutari.

Other Ranks Uniforms
The Khaki Tunic
(see right) had a stand and fall collar, six plain brass buttons down the front and plain cuffs. There were two buttoned, unpleated hip pockets and no breast pockets. The rear of the tunic was plain with only mounted troops having two retaining buttons to support the belt at the back. The shoulder straps were the same as worn on the Home Uniform and Litewka- they were white with yellow insignia showing an imperial crown above two crossed anchors with the battalion Roman numeral below that (see right). According to Knötel (see Illustrated Plates Page) khaki shoulder straps were worn instead of white ones but I have yet to see photographic evidence of this. These shoulder straps were sometimes removed in action. The button retaining the top end of the shoulder strap had the company number in Arabic numerals.

One surviving other ranks tunic from the artillery battery (Marine Feld Batterie) attached to the III. Seebataillon, is very curious in that it has plain white shoulder straps and Brandenburg style cuffs, piped in white with three cuff buttons (see right, the tunic itself is up for sale at the German Militaria Website). It is possibly an early variant though I have so far seen no period photographs showing tunic like this in use.

NCO Rank Insignia was worn in the form of strips of lace in the collar and cuffs and buttons on the collar (see NCO Rank Insignia Page). The bars of lace were in white with threads of red and black making up the imperial colours (see right), and were usually worn on the front and upper edge of the collar. Photographs of the Marine Expeditionskorps in South West Africa 1904-05 show groups of NCOs with some wearing lace on the upper edge and other on the lower edge. According to Knötel (see Illustrated Plates Page) the Marine Detachment Skutari also  wore them on the front and lower edge. NCO rank buttons on the collar were worn at the front of the collar rather than halfway back as was usually seen on German uniforms.

Specialist Insignia was usually worn on the khaki uniform in the form of khaki patches with red or yellow insignia, but some photographs show white patches with red insignia. Musicians swallows nests were also worn in colours more suited to the khaki uniform (see Specialist Insignia Page).

Trousers were matching khaki, although photographs show that the blue trousers with white piping of the home uniform were also sometimes worn with the khaki tunic on manoeuvres in China. Khaki riding breeches were worn by mounted troops with some being issued breeches in brown corduroy.

Officers and Senior NCOs Uniforms
Khaki Uniform worn by officers and senior NCOs were similar to those of the other ranks except that the tunic often had an unpleated left breast pocket with a buttoned square flap. Being privately purchased, these uniforms were of better quality and some had other slight variations such as a higher or standing collar. Matching khaki trousers or riding breeches were worn, again these were often of better quality due to private tailoring.

White Uniform was also authorised for officers and senior NCOs (see right). It was identical in cut to the khaki uniform but with a standing collar. Again variations in private tailoring meant that some white tunics had a breast pocket, others did not. White trousers were worn with the white tunic.

Officers Rank Insignia was shown on shoulder straps in the same style as those worn by the regular army and Schutztruppe (see Officers Rank Insignia Page) but with a brass imperial crown added to the shoulder straps (see right).

Tropical Helmets
Along with the tropical uniform a white tropical helmet was issued in 1898 with a white metal imperial eagle superimposed over an anchor in the style worn on the Seebataillon shakos (see right), over a small imperial cockade.

Several changes to the design of the helmet occurred over the following years. On 28th June 1900 the eagle was authorised in bronze rather than white metal, and in 1905 the helmet was officially changed to a khaki one for other ranks with officers and senior NCOs still wearing white. These uniform orders do not however tell the full story and are often contradicted by photographic evidence.

For example, khaki helmets have been seen in photographs of the Seebataillone as early as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. From such photographs it seems that the I. Seebataillon had khaki helmets, while the II. Seebataillon had white helmets (sometimes worn with khaki covers). The III. Seebataillon also received khaki helmets around this time, either shortly before or after the Boxer Rebellion. This theory is supported in text by Eberhard Hettler (see Illustrated Plates Page). During this period, as mentioned above photographs of officers and senior NCOs of all battalions seem to be mostly wearing white helmets. Furthermore photographs clearly show that the Marine Expeditionskorps in South West Africa wore khaki helmets in 1904, so the regulation order of 1905 for khaki helmets seems to have been largely retrospective. Later photographs of III. Seebataillon officers and senior NCOs in China show them sometimes  wearing khaki tropical helmets too. Officers were also authorised to wear a gold coloured cord around the hatband of the helmet.

Early issues of the helmet were quite low in height with a rounded brim. Later helmets were taller with a more steeply inclined brim and removable neckshades. The 1902 Bortfeldt tropical helmet (see right) with its folding rear peak was issued to Seesoldaten in South West Africa during 1904-05, and also to the III. Seebataillon in China from about the same period. Throughout these changes, officers often wore privately purchased versions which varied further in shape.

Some photographs taken on campaign in South West Africa and China show the helmets worn without their metal eagles.

Photographs of troops on manoeuvres in Tsingtao show them sometimes wearing a red hatband around the tropical helmet. These red bands were introduced into the German army as a whole in 1909 and were to distinguish different "sides" during simulated battles, similar red bands were also worn on Seebataillon shako covers while on manoeuvres in Winter months.

Other Forms of Headdress
When not wearing the tropical helmet various types of peaked and peakless caps were worn. All bore a small imperial cockade at the front of the hatband.

The Khaki Peaked Cap ("Bordmutze") was all in khaki with no coloured hatband or piping and had a small imperial cockade at the front. Like most German peaked caps it was issued with a wire retaining loop that held the shape of the top of the hat. This loop was often removed to give a more comfortable appearance. The chinstrap and peak were in brown leather. A removable khaki neckshade was also issued and was attached to the chinstrap buttons. As no photographs or contemporary accounts that I have seen show proof of the khaki cap in Africa, it may have only been issued to the III. Seebataillon in Tsingtao.

The Officers White Peaked Cap (see right) was a plain white peaked cap (see right) with a small imperial cockade on the front and a black leather chinstrap and peak, worn by Seebataillon officers to match their white tropical uniform.

The Blue Field Cap (see right) from the home uniform is also often seen in photographs worn with the khaki uniform. They were dark blue to match the peacetime uniform and had white hatband and piping with an imperial cockade at the front. They were usually peakless for other ranks and peaked for officers and senior NCOs, although other ranks could also privately purchase the peaked version. The chinstrap and peak were in black leather. This peaked version of the cap had a wire retaining loop that held the shape of the top of the hat. This loop was often removed to give a more comfortable appearance and was not present on other ranks peakless caps.

The Onboard Cap was another form of headgear worn by members of the Seebataillone while at sea and also sometimes worn by the III. Seebataillon in China. From photographic evidence, it seems to have specifically been worn by members of the III. Seebataillon on police duties. The cap was a white naval style peakless cap with a pale blue hatband and an small imperial cockade on the front.

Non-Regulation Headgear occasionally seen worn with the tropical uniform include naval straw hats sometimes worn in China and Schutztruppe Südwester hats sometimes worn in South West Africa. Neither of these hats seem to have been regulation issue, although entire Schutztruppe uniforms were routinely worn by the Marine Expeditionskorps in South West Africa to replace their battered Seebataillon uniforms.

Footwear
The Seebataillone like most German Infantry units of the time wore short jackboots in back leather, later brown leather boots the III. Seebataillon at Tsingtao. "A Narrative of the German Campaign in South West Africa", the journal of Peter Moor, a member of the Marine Expeditionskorps to South West Africa in 1904 describes how the men are issued "yellow" (presumably light brown) boots along with their khaki uniforms en route to South West Africa.
Officers and mounted troops usually wore leather gaiters and short boots.

Equipment
The personal equipment issued to other ranks of the Seebataillone was the same as issued to the German infantry of the period. It consisted of two 1871 ammunition pouches on a leather belt clasped with a naval other ranks belt buckle (see right). Two shoulder straps supported the ammunition pouches and met in a Y configuration at the back. The first Seebataillon troops in China wore black leather equipment to match their blue peacetime uniforms, soon the III. Seebataillon were authorised to clean the black polish off and wear natural brown leather to match the khaki uniform. It is unclear from period photographs whether other Seebataillon troops in khaki (such as those in Africa and Skutari) also wore natural brown leather equipment or kept their equipment polished black as worn on home duty. A backpack with tent section, canteen, water bottle, and bread bag (see right) was also carried when in marching order.

Mounted troops wore bandoliers, rather than ammunition pouches on the belt, while pioneers carried either a spade or pick axe attached to the left side of their backpacks.

Officers usually carried as little as possible, often just having a naval officers belt made from silver thread woven with one red central and two black outer stripes, clasped with a naval officers' belt buckle. The brass buckle showed an imperial crown above an anchor and W (for Emperor Wilhelm II) surrounded by a laurel wreath (see right). Brown leather belts with plain open buckles were also worn. The belt usually had the minimum of equipment on it, often only a pistol holster.

The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of a Marine ("Seesoldat") of the III. Seebataillon taken in Tsingtao in about 1898. He wears the khaki tropical uniform with the white tropical helmet (with white metal eagle) and black leather personal equipment as it was first issued to the III. Seebataillon in Tsingtao.

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of a Seesoldat of the III. Seebataillon taken in Tsingtao prior to the First World War. He wears the khaki tropical uniform with the khaki tropical helmet (with yellow metal eagle) and brown leather personal equipment as was issued to the III. Seebataillon replacing the old white helmets and black equipment. Note also the lack of shoulder straps, these were often removed on active duty.

Figure 3 is based on a photograph of a Seesoldat of the Marine Expeditionskorps taken in South West Africa in about 1905. He wears the khaki tropical uniform with the khaki tropical helmet and brown leather personal equipment as was issued to the Marine Expeditionskorps on their way to South West Africa to fight the Herero Rebellion. Note the plain rear of the tunic, the lack of shoulder straps (almost all photographs of the Seebataillone in South West Africa show them without shoulder straps) and the crease lines on the back of the Bortfeldt tropical helmet allowing its rear peaked to be folded upwards. Note also his equipment with a bread bag (bread bags for the Seebataillone came in at least two different types, one shoulder slung and the other fastened onto the belt as shown here- see right) alongside two water bottles, probably a very wise precaution in the arid heat of South West Africa.

Figure 4 is based on a photograph of a Seesoldat of the III. Seebataillon taken in Peking in about 1900. He may in fact be one of the troops under Graf von Soden that defended the Legation during the siege of Peking, although other photos of this unit also show them wearing blue peakless field caps. This Seesoldat wears the khaki tropical uniform and khaki peaked field cap with a small imperial cockade. Other soldiers in the photograph upon which this illustration is based are wearing khaki removable neckshades attached to their caps. Note the use of the bread bag or water bottle strap around the neck to support the belt, heavy with ammunition.

Figure 5 is based on a photograph of a Seesoldat of the III. Seebataillon taken in Shazikou (known in German as "Schatzykou") in 1910. While the bulk of the III. Seebataillon was based at Tsingtao, small detachments were also based at other towns within the German leased territory of Kiaochow. One such unit was the "Marine Detachment Schatzykou". The photograph upon which this illustration is based shows members of this unit in their khaki tropical uniforms (mostly without shoulder straps) and unusually wearing naval style straw hats with plain black hatbands. The straw hats would have presumably have proven comfortable in hot weather, although I have so far found no official authorisation of their use by the Seebataillone.

Figure 6 is based on a photograph of an NCO ("Unteroffizier") of the Marine Expeditionskorps taken in South West Africa in about 1905. While the majority of photographs of the Marine Expeditionskorps in South West Africa show them either wearing standard tropical uniforms or blue Litewkas, a few show items of Schutztruppe uniforms being worn. Later in the campaign it seems some were issued full Schutztruppe uniform, as their tropical uniforms deteriorated.

The following quotations are by Seesoldat Gustav Frenssen, who served in the Marine Expeditionskorps in South West Africa. He describes how the Seebataillon tropical uniforms were unsuited to the climate of South West Africa- "And it was bad that we had only thin khaki uniforms. In the morning we marched up to our knees in wet grass, at noon in hot sand, and all day through thorny bush, so that the lower part of our trousers fringed out and soon hung in threads. When, as sometimes happened, a thunderstorm or a shower came up and then night came on, we were horribly cold. There were some very cold nights." Later he recounts happily replacing his Seebataillon tropical uniform with a Schutztruppe Corduroy Uniform - "so disgusting did I seem to myself- (that I) went into a room and had given to me a whole new cord uniform with riding boots... I tore off my rags (ie the remains of his Seebataillon tropical uniform), plunged into the water, and washed and soaped and scrubbed till my whole body was red. When I came out into the yard again in my fine new home-guard (Schutztruppe) uniform, the lieutenant was talking with a citizen and did not recognise me. Then he laughed". Frenssen's journal, "A Narrative of the German Campaign in South-West Africa" translated by Peter Moor, is available in PDF format at the US Archive

This illustrated NCO wears his Seebataillon tropical uniform with a Schutztruppe Südwester hat (with hatband and edging in blue for South West Africa -see right), Schutztruppe boots for mounted troops with spurs and Schutztruppe equipment for mounted personnel (also see right).

Note the NCO lace (in this case one row of lace with no buttons indicating an "Unteroffizier") is seen on the front and upper edge of the collar. As mentioned above, NCOs of the Marine Expeditionskorps in South West Africa wore their collar lace on either the top or bottom edge. Also of curious note is that the lace clearly shows a simple black stripe above and red stripe, whereas most Seebataillon NCO lace consisted of several alternately coloured threads. It is difficult to see in the original photograph upon which this illustration is based if NCO lace is worn on the cuffs of this tunic.

Figure 7 is based on a photograph of an Unteroffizier of the Marine Detachment Skutari taken in Vienna in September 1914 on their return journey to Germany after seeing action against the Serbs in the opening phase of the First World War. He wears the khaki tropical uniform with the khaki tropical helmet as was worn by the Marine Detachment during the Summer months. Note the NCO lace (this time with several red and black threads on a white background) on the lower edge of the collar and the cuffs. Note also the newly awarded Austro-Hungarian silver medal of military merit. Several of the detachment, including their commander Major Paul Schneider, received awards for their service under Austro-Hungarian command.

According to "Unsere Marineuniformen" by J.Zienert, (H.G.Schulz, Hamburg 1970), during their time under Austro-Hungarian command the Marine Detachment Skutari wore their grey Litewkas, with Austro-Hungarian army peaked caps (see right) bearing an imperial German cockade between the two brass buttons and were armed with Mannlicher rifles. This would presumably been to prevent friendly fire incidents by making their appearance similar to that of the Austro-Hungarian infantry (in pike-grey with peaked caps) and to have standardised ammunition issue among the two allied forces.

Figure 8 is based on a photograph of Adolf Krampe, a Senior NCO ("Feldwebel") of the III. Seebataillon taken while a prisoner of war in Japan about 1916. He wears a senior NCOs khaki tropical tunic with standing collar and single left breast pocket. His rank, Feldwebel, is shown as two white lace bars with black and red threads on his cuffs, a similar single bar on the upper and front edge of the collar and by the brass button on the front of the collar (see NCOs Rank Insignia Page). He wears an NCOs peaked blue cap with white hatband and piping and a single imperial cockade on the front, still with the wire loop retaining its shape (photographs show the blue cap was quite commonly worn with the khaki uniform. Other ranks wore a peakless version without wire loop). The trousers appear to be from his white tropical uniform. Such mixes of uniforms were not uncommon, and became more so amongst prisoners of war.

After the fall of Tsingtao, Feldwebel Adolf Krampe of the 7th Company, III. Seebataillon was held prisoner at the Marugame and Bando camps in Japan before being repatriated to Germany in December 1919.

Figure 9 is based on a photograph of an Officer of the III. Seebataillon taken in Tsingtao in about 1910. He wears the white tropical tunic as authorised for officers and senior NCOs. He also wears the white peaked cap to match the tunic. A white tropical helmet was also authorised for officers even after other ranks had been issued khaki versions. White trousers were issued to match the tunic but this officer wears dark blue riding breeches and brown leather gaiters from his winter uniform in preference. As previously mentioned mixtures of uniforms were not uncommon in the III. Seebataillon, especially amongst officers.

Figure 10 is based on a photograph of an Officer of the Mounted Company of the III. Seebataillon taken in Tsingtao in about 1914. He wears the khaki tropical uniform with the khaki tropical helmet (with yellow metal eagle, and officers gold coloured cords around the hatband) and brown leather personal equipment as was issued to the III. Seebataillon in Tsingtao in the period after the Boxer Rebellion up to the First World War. The mounted company of the III. Seebataillon had no distinguishing insignia or uniform, except having two buttons on the rear of the tunic (the normal Seebataillon khaki tunic had a plain back) and wearing riding breeches and riding boots (as with this figure) or short boots and leather gaiters. Officers uniforms and boots were usually privately tailored and therefore of better quality and sometimes varied in details such as having a higher collar. From 1911 corduroy brown-grey riding breeches as worn by the Schutztruppe in German South West Africa were issued to the mounted company. The silver, red and black braided officers shoulder straps bore the imperial crown but no crossed anchors and battalion numerals as worn by other ranks (see right).


Seebataillon Khaki Tunic
(See Colonial Tunic at German Militaria)
This Item is For Sale at German Militaria
©

I. Seebataillon Shoulder Strap
(See Seebataillon Blue Uniform Details Page)
Photo
© Doppler Collection

Seesoldat in khaki uniform & field cap
(See Uniform Photographs Page)
Photo © Doppler Collection

Unique Brandenburg Style Cuff
(See Colonial Tunic at German Militaria)
This Item is For Sale at German Militaria
©

Seebataillon Officers White Uniform
(See Seebataillon White Uniform Details Page)
Photo
© Doppler Collection

NCO Collar Lace Detail

(See IWM Collection Page)
IWM Collection

Seebataillon Officer's Shoulder Strap
(See Seebataillon White Uniform Details Page)
Photo
© Doppler Collection

1902 Bortfeldt Tropical Helmet
(See Tropical Helmets Details Page)
Photo from the Wehrgeschichtliches Museum


Seebataillon Helmet Plate
(Click here for a larger image)
Photo
© Chip Minx

Officers White Tropical Cap
(See Seebataillon White Uniform Details Page)
Photo
© Doppler Collection

NCOs Blue Field Cap
(See Field Caps Details Page)
Photo
© Doppler Collection

Naval Other Ranks Belt Buckle
(See Belt Buckles Details Page)
Photo © Doppler Collection

Naval Officers Belt Buckle
(See Belt Buckles Details Page)
Photo © Doppler Collection

Naval Bread Bag with Shoulder Strap
(See Naval Equipment Page)
Photo © Doppler Collection

Naval Bread Bag with Belt Clips
(See Naval Equipment Page)
Photo © Doppler Collection

SW African Schutztruppe Südwester
(See Südwester Details Page)
Photo © Doppler Collection

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

Schutztruppe Riding Boots
(See Rödelsee Museum Collection Page)
Photo
© Arne Schöfert

Austro-Hungarian Other Ranks Cap
Brussels Army Museum Collection

 III. Seebataillon S98aA Bayonet
(See Bayonets Page)
Photo © Dow Cross

Marine Field Artillery Battery
in Tropical Uniforms
(see Full Version of this Photograph)
Photo © Doppler Collection

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