German Volunteers in the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902

  Figure 1
German Officer
Transvaal Sate Artillery
Figure 2
German Officer
German Johannesburg Commando
Figure 3
German Volunteer
German Johannesburg Commando
  Background to the German Volunteers in the Second Anglo-Boer War
In 1899, at the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War (commonly referred to simply as the 'Boer War'), the modern South Africa was divided up into the British Cape Colony in the south and two autonomous Boer states to the north, the Transvaal (or South African) Republic and the smaller Orange Free State. The Boers were mostly descended from Dutch migrants who had settled in South Africa from the seventeenth century onwards but their communities also included more recent European immigrants especially after the discovery of gold in 1886. Among them was a sizable German minority.

German sympathies back home were firmly on the side of the Boers but short of declaring war there was little they could do assist the Boers. A British naval blockade meant that volunteers (except for a German Red Cross Unit) and weapons could not make their way to Africa. However, many German arms were already in the Boer republics. Both the Transvaal and Orange Free State artillery were equipped with Krupp guns among others, they were also often trained and officered by Germans (for example Prussian Major Richard Albrecht commanded the Orange Free State Artillery in the war) and many of the Boer fighters were already armed with Mauser rifles previously purchased from Germany. When war broke out many Germans already living in the Boer Republics volunteered for active service.

Schiel's German Commando
A former Transvaal artillery officer, Adolf Schiel was given permission to raise a German volunteer Commando unit in Johannesburg in the Transvaal Republic, numbering around 400 strong. The Johannesburg German Commando took part in the invasion of Natal and were effectively destroyed at the Battle of Elandslaagte on 20 October 1899. It was here that Graf Harra von Zeppelin was killed leading a charge against the Gordon Highlanders. Schiel himself was wounded and captured. He returned to Germany after the war and died from the after effects of his wounds received at Elandslaagte a few years later. Some survivors of the unit continued to serve in other German and Boer Commandos.

Krantz's German Commando
In Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal Boer Republic another German volunteer Commando unit around 400 strong was originally commanded by Leutnant Hans Ulrich von Quitzow but later taken over by Leutnant Paul Krantz who himself had previously disagreed with Schiel about the formation of one larger German un it. This unit was also sent to Natal and took part in the Siege of Ladysmith. After the fall of Pretoria, the Commando was disbanded and their ranks split into other Commandos and scouting units.

Von Quitzow's and Other German Commandos
After his fall out with Krantz, Hans Ulrich von Quitzow formed a new Commando of fifty German volunteers in the Orange Free State. There were now several small Commando units of German volunteers operating in the war. Arguments among command were a common trait in the common splintering of them.

Austro-Hungarian Volunteer Unit
An Austro-Hungarian reconnaissance unit with 28 Austrians and nine Hungarians was also formed by Baron A von Goldeck to support the Boers.

Uniforms of the German Commandos
Uniformity was not one of the strong points of the Boer Commandos. Most Boer soldiers wore civilian attire, slouch hats and bandoliers of ammunition. The German volunteers were no exception. Some privately made khaki tunics are seen but there were seemingly no regulations to their uniforms and rank insignia was very rarely seen. Likewise no German national insignia seems to have been worn. The only true uniforms seen among the German commandos are those of the artillery units of the Boer republics.

Schiel's German Commando in Johannesburg did however at least have their own flag, donated by the German community of Johannesburg. It was a Transvaal four colour flag (basically the horizontally striped red white and blue of the Netherlands with a green bar down the left side) with the German national shield (black/white/red) in the centre and the Republic's coat of arms surrounded by oak leaves upon it.


The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of a German Officer of the Transvaal State Artillery. He wears the uniform of the Staatsartillerie, a grey slouch hat with blue hatband, a black braided parade tunic with blue facing and gold lace trim, khaki field trousers and leather boots.

Figure 2 is based on  a photograph of an Officer, Count Harra von Zeppelin of the German Commando formed by Adolf Schiel. He wears a privately purchased khaki uniform, with three rank pips on the collar, a slouch hat, leather belt, pistol holster and boots.

Figure 3 is based on  a photograph of a Volunteer of the German Commando formed by Schiel. He wears civilian clothes and a carries a Mauser rifle and ammunition bandolier, looking typical of most Boer fighters.


Officers of the German Commando at Ladysmith, 1899
They wear a mixture of civilian working and hunting clothes with some privately made khaki uniforms too. The soldiers all wear slouch hats with the doctor on the right, identified by his red cross armband wears a tropical helmet. The men carry bandoliers of ammunition slung over their shoulders and are armed with Mauser carbines. There is nothing in their appearance to distinguish them from any other Boer Commando of the period.

Sources and Further Reading-

The German Commando in the South African War of 1899-1902 by Neville Gomm, South African Military History Journal
Transvaal Staatsartillerie Uniforms by D G Friend, South African Military History Journal
Boer Rebels and the Kaiser's Men, Kaiser's Cross
German Article describing the German Commandos in the Boer War at
Anglo-Boer War forum has a roll list of the German Commando
Anglo-Boer War forum also has interesting notes on the Foreign Attaches

Two other articles were also very informative on this topic, they have since been removed from their original links. They were an article on the Freiwillingen-Corps in der Burenkrieg on Traditionsverband and an article on the German Commando at

Special thanks for information on this page is due to MC Heunis, Johan Wolfaardt, Sven Schepp and Gordon McGregor.


Please contact me here if you have more information or photos on this topic. 

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