Schutztruppe Askari flag carrier, German East Africa, 1906
Active 1891–1918
Allegiance German Empire
Type Infantry
Size 80,330 troops (including 3rd Sea Battalion)
Engagements Abushiri Revolt
Adamawa campaign
Herero Wars
Herero and Namaqua Genocide
World War I

Schutztruppe (literally "protection force") was the official name of the colonial troops in the African territories of the German colonial empire from the late 19th century to 1918. Similar to other colonial armies, the Schutztruppe consisted of volunteer European commissioned and non-commissioned officers, medical and veterinary officers. Most enlisted ranks were generally recruited locally.

Military contingents were formed in German East Africa, where they became famous as Askari, in the Kamerun colony of German West Africa, and in German South-West Africa. Control of the German colonies of New Guinea, in Samoa, and in Togoland was performed by small local police detachments. Kiautschou in China under Imperial Navy administration was a notable exception. As part of the East Asian Station the navy garrisoned at Tsingtao the marines of 3rd Sea Battalion, the only all-German unit with permanent status in an overseas protectorate.


Hermann Wissmann

The designation for the German colonial force dates back to the parlance of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who had the term Schutzgebiete, "protectorates", used instead of colonies. Schutztruppe contingents arose from local police forces or private paramilitary units, where German colonizers met with stronger resistance.

When in 1888 the Abushiri Revolt broke out in the dominions of the German East Africa Company, Bismarck's government in Berlin had to send mercenary troops under Reichskommissar Hermann Wissmann to subdue the uprising. Upon the establishment of German East Africa, these "Wissmann troops" were transformed into Schutztruppe forces by an act of the Reichstag parliament on 22 March 1891. Likewise, the police forces for South-West Africa under Curt von François and for German Cameroon were re-established as Schutztruppe units by the act of 9 June 1895.

Schutztruppe formations under the supreme command of the German Emperor were organizationally never a part of the Imperial German Army, though German military law and discipline applied to its units. Initially supervised by the Imperial Navy Office, they were under the authority of the Colonial Department in the German Foreign Office by the act of 7 and 18 July 1896. In 1907 the Colonial Department with the Schutztruppe command was set up as the independent Imperial Colonial Office (Reichskolonialamt) agency directly answerable to the German chancellor.

In 1896 a central Schutztruppe command (Kommando der Schutztruppen) was established as part of the Colonial Department. Despite its name, this agency exercised no military leadership but served as a mere administrative authority. It was located at Berlin’s Mauerstrasse, in proximity to the Colonial Office. At the beginning of World War I in 1914, there were three Schutztruppe military commands, one in each of the German colonial regions in East Africa, South-West Africa, and in Kamerun, subordinate to each governor.

German East Africa

See also East African Campaign (World War I)
Schutztruppen, colonial volunteer contingent, German East Africa, 1914
Schutztruppen, Askari company formation, German East Africa, 1914
Schutztruppen, carriers, German East Africa, 1899

At the outbreak of World War I, the Schutztruppe in German East Africa was organized into 14 field companies [Feldkompanien] with 2,500 men under arms, with headquarters at the capital Dar es Salaam. Including carriers and laborers, the force totaled approximately 14,000 personnel. On 13 April 1914, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck assumed command in German East Africa. He led his units throughout World War I, eventually being promoted to Generalmajor.[1] The Schutztruppe in East Africa became the last German formation to surrender – days after the armistice in November 1918.

A pre-war company consisted of 160 (expandable to 200) men in three platoons [Züge] of 50 to 60 men each, including two machine gun teams. Each of the 14 companies also had a minimum 250 man carrier contingent as well as native irregulars known as Ruga-Ruga.[2]

The Dar es Salaam garrison further included a recruitment depot, a signals department and quartermaster unit.

Overall strength was 300 European recruits and 2,472 Africans, specifically 68 combatant officers, 60 warrant officers and NCOs, 132 non-combatant medical officers, civilian administrators, ammunition technicians, and 2 African officers and 184 African NCOs and 2,286 Askaris.[4][5]

During the Great War, companies numbered 15 through 30 were added, plus A through H temporary companies; and 1st through 8th Schützenkompagnies [rifle companies]. The Schützenkompagnies were originally composed of white settlers, their sons, plantations administrators and trading company employees, i.e., colonial volunteers, but some units became racially mixed as the war dragged on. Numerous other small detachments were also formed. Several Reserve Kompagnien were also raised consisting of older askaris, they were prefixed by the letter "R."[6]

German Southwest Africa

Camel cavalry, German Southwest Africa, 1904
Camel patrol, German Southwest Africa, 1907
Cavallery of Schutztruppe in German East Africa (1911)

The Schutztruppe in German Southwest Africa was structured in 12 companies of mounted infantry totalling 1,500 men, primarily Germans. The 7th Company, stationed in the northern desert area of the colony, was mounted on imported camels. A single unit, called the Baster Company of non-local Africans was raised and deployed. Relations between the German administration and the natives in this colony had deteriorated to the point that few local Africans were recruited; however, Boers and Afrikaners did join to renew their fight against Great Britain.

The colonial forces for German Southwest Africa consisted of volunteers from the imperial army and navy (including some Austrians), but essentially consisted of members of German regiments. Before their deployment to Africa these troops were prepared for their special tasks and future environment. Such a training base was at Karlsruhe. Because of the often humid conditions in the upper Rhine valley of the grand-duchy of Baden, the area provided some early acclimatization.

The structure of the Southwest African forces was as follows:

German Southwest Africa Command at Windhuk (modern Windhoek) consisted of headquarters, administration and legal (judge advocate), medical corps, surveying and mapping units.

Northern district command: Windhuk

Southern district command: Keetmanshoop

At the outbreak of World War I the force had a total strength of 91 officers, 22 physicians, 9 veterinarians, 59 civilian administrators, ammunition technicians, 342 NCOs and 1,444 German other ranks for a total of 1,967 personnel.[7]

German West Africa


Schutztruppe contingent of 5th field company at Ebolowa, Kamerun, 1894

German West Africa encompassed two colonial entities, Kamerun and Togoland.

The Kamerun force in 1914 consisted of 12 companies, totaling 1,600 men with headquarters at Soppo and established in 1894 from the existing police force (formed in 1891).

The structure of the Kamerun forces was as follows:

Central Command: Soppo near the capital Buea[8]

The companies were assigned to 49 garrisons in Kamerun and consisted of 61 officers, 23 physicians, 23 civilian administrators, ammunition technicians, 98 German NCOs and 1,650 African enlisted ranks for a total personnel count of 1,855.[8]


Togoland had a total police force of 673 personnel deployed throughout the colony.[9] Approximately 1,000 troops were raised after the outbreak of World War I. With few arms, ammunition or provisions, by the end of August 1914, all were forced to surrender to invading French and British forces.


  1. Hoyt, Guerilla, p. 175
  2. Miller, Battle for the Bundu, p. 18
  3. Haupt, p. 34, Schutztruppe garrisons
  4. Farwell, The Great War in Africa, p. 109
  5. McNab, Chris (2002). 20th Century Military Uniforms (2nd ed.). Kent: Grange Books. ISBN 1-84013-476-3.
  6. Armies in East Africa 1914-1918 by Peter Abbot (Men-at-Arms 379) 2002 Osprey Printing Company Ltd ISBN 978-1-84176-489-4
  7. Haupt, Deutschlands Schutzgebiete , p. 56
  8. 1 2 Haupt, p. 70
  9. Haupt, p. 79



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