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Imperial German Colonial and Overseas Troops 1885-1918 –

Imperial German Colonial and Overseas Troops 1885-1918

Tuesday , 18, April 2023 Leave a comment

I ran across this article by Emil Kirkegaard which reviews Bruce Gilley’s In Defense of German Colonialism. I have read at least three books on WWI in Africa over the years. The story of Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commander of German forces in Tanganyika is an incredible story.

This made me pull out the Osprey Men-at-Arms booklet Imperial German Colonial and Overseas Troops 1885-1918 (#490). Alejandro de Quesada wrote this booklet from 2013. Stephen Walsh did the illustrations.

De Quesada has an overview of the German colonial empire. Generally German companies or missionaries would establish footholds. Bismark enacted the protectorates. Kaiser Wilhelm II went all out for colonies. The history of expansion and conflicts.

The Germans would detach some officers and NCOs from the regular German Army for overseas territory. They would recruit natives who were organized in company sized units of around 150 (Schutztruppen). The Germans originally used Sudanese who had been in the Egyptian Army as the basis of their forces in Tanganyika.

German uniforms strike me as emimantly practical. Khaki uniforms, made of cotton, some made of corduroy (!), and slouch hats. Native troops in Tanganyika had the tarbush head gear. The Germans never had much of a native force of Schutztruppen in German South West Africa (now Namibia) and had more European troops and European reservists. All German men had served in the army so all colonists were reservists.

I was surprised the Germans were never able to get a reliable Chinese force at Tsingtao. One unit was disbanded and absorbed into a police force.

As to weapons, lots of black powder Mauser rifles, some Schutztruppen companies had the Model 98 when WW1 broke out. I know von Lettow-Vorbeck used lots of captured British Lee-Enfields and Portuguese Mausers to arm his troops as most had black powder rifles originally.

German marines were used quite a bit in Africa during native revolts. De Quesada gives some space to the Seebatallions, which were part of the Kriegsmarine.

The German colonial empire only lasted around 35 years. Their forces were outfitted and uniform in a practical matter and loyal native troops. They were efficient in the management of their empire though only Togo produced a profit. Maybe in time the Germans would have created colonies that were of economic benefit. Fritz Fischer stated in Germany’s Aims in the First World War that Germany had planned on vastly enlarged empire in middle Africa that probably would have run from Cameroon south to Angola and Mozambique after winning the war. There is fodder for an alternate history.

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