German East Africa


The colony of German East Africa (in modern Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda) was largely founded by the efforts of Dr Carl Peters and the German East Africa Company. It was recognised as a German Protectorate in 1885, although its borders changed with the loss of Wituland, Zanzibar and Pemba to Britain in 1886. The first capital at Bagamoyo was later changed to Dar-Es-Salaam. It was the largest of the German colonies at 958,300 sq km, but was largely dense jungle or mountainous regions making its profits from agriculture small.

There were three major rebellions against German rule, the largest of which was Maji-Maji Rebellion of 1905-07. After its brutal crushing, German rule became more focussed on economic growth (exporting peanuts, coffee, cotton and rubber) and slightly less harsh. And as in the other African colonies, civilian Governors were appointed to replace the former military governors.

Following Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 stripped Germany of all her colonies and overseas possessions. German East Africa was awarded to Britain in the form of Tanganyika with some Western territories (Rwanda and Burundi) going to Belgium.


Map of German East Africa 1900
Picture from Westermanns Neuer Schulatlas / WikiCommons  

Campaigns in German East Africa

The Abushiri Rebellion 1888-90 (also known as the Arab Revolt)
Rivalry from the German East African Company had angered Arab traders who had previously dominated the trade of the East African coast, in particular the slave trade to which Germany was opposed. In 1888 one of the Arab traders, Abushiri ibn Salim al-Harthi led a rebellion of fellow Arabs and local tribes against the Germans in the North of the colony. Initially the rebellion was successful in taking several important towns and trading posts from the Germans. Bagamoyo, the capital at the time, was only saved by the timely arrival of naval reinforcements
. In response, the German government sent Hermann von Wissmann to take control of the situation. In 1889 he arrived in German East Africa with a force of 60 European officers and NCOs having recruited about 1,000 trained African troops mostly from Sudan. With ruthless efficiency he cleared up the rebel strongholds one by one until German rule was fully re-established along the coastline and trading routes.
Recommended External Link -
 Bagamoyo Expedition

The Wahehe Rebellion 1891-98
In 1891 the Wahehe tribe (sometimes known as the Hehe) in the centre of German East Africa rose against German rule under their chief Mkwawa. The newly appointed German commissioner, Emil von Zelewski, led an expedition to crush the rebellion. His force of thirteen Germans with three askari companies, machine guns and light artillery were caught in a well organised ambush on the way to the rebel stronghold at Iringa. Von Zelewski and over 350 of his men were massacred. Fighting between the Germans and the Wahehe continued sporadically for several years until in 1894 a new commissioner, Oberst Freiherr von Schelle, led a larger force of Schutztruppe askaris to defeat the Wahehe at Iringa. The rebellion was largely finished here. Mkwawa and a small band of followers continued guerrilla resistance until his final entrapment and suicide in 1898.
Recommended External Link - See "The Colonial Wars of Imperial Germany" section at
Savage and Soldier

The Maji-Maji Rebellion 1905-07
Starting in 1905, several tribes in the South of the colony, the Ngindo, Matumbi and Kichi rose up against the harsh German rule inspired by a shaman named Kinijikitile Ngwale who spread word of a magic potion (the "Maji-Maji") that protected against German bullets. They were soon joined by neighbouring tribes until much of southern and central German East Africa had fallen to the rebels. This was by far the largest and most serious revolt in German East Africa. The rebellion caught the Germans by surprise but one by one the tribes became disillusioned by the powers of the Maji-Maji and were eventually defeated by the Schutztruppe askaris reinforced by Marines from the I. and II. Seebataillon. In crushing the rebellion the Germans destroyed many villages and crops causing a famine in which tens of thousands of Africans died. After the Maji-Maji rebellion the tribes of German East Africa became more pacified while German colonial government became less harsh and the colony became more prosperous.
Recommended Extern
al Link - Maji Maji Bibliography Project

Campaigns in the Interior 1890-1914
As German expeditions gradually ventured further into the colony mapped out as theirs by agreement with the other European powers they encountered armed resistance on many occasions. On other occasions, individual tribes threatened German traders and missionaries or rose against German rule sparked off by local disputes. These small campaigns were usually dealt with by by company sized expeditions of the Schutztruppe often with assistance from African auxiliary troops from rival tribes.
Recommended Reading- "History of the East African Schutztruppe 1889-1911" by Ernst Nigmann published by Battery Press (see Book Reviews Page)

The First World War in German East Africa 1914-18
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, a veteran of the Boxer and Herero Rebellions, was appointed commander of the Schutztruppe for German East Africa in February 1914. Von Lettow-Vorbeck immediately started preparing and training the Schutztruppe for the possibility of a war with other European powers' colonies. When that eventuality happened plans were already in place. Reservists were called up, the colony was put on alert and raids were made into enemy territory in British East Africa, the Belgian Congo and mistakenly into Portuguese East Africa (Portugal did not join the allies until 1916 and so at this stage was neutral). All this was protested against by the German East African governor, Dr Schnee who favoured a neutral response to Entente aggression.

In November 1914 a British Indian army attempted a landing at the port of Tanga on the East African coast. Expecting no resistance, they blundered into von Lettow-Vorbeck's newly trained askaris and Schützenkompagnien and suffered a terrible loss forcing their complete withdrawal. This and costly victories for the Germans at Longido Hill and Jasin held the borders of German East Africa for the first two years of the war. During that time von Lettow-Vorbeck recruited and prepared as large a force as possible peaking at about 11,367 askaris, 2,700 Germans and 2,500 native auxiliary troops with many more native porters by late 1915.

By 1916 numerical superiority from the forces of South Africa, Britain, Belgium and now Portugal forced von Lettow-Vorbeck onto the defensive. After a series of retreats and evasive manoeuvres, in 1917 he slimmed his troops down to the fittest 3,000 or so (mostly the ones who had not succumbed to malaria) and set off to invade Portuguese East Africa rather than be trapped on German territory. He again evaded large numbers of enemy forces, turned back and invaded British Rhodesia. It was here that he heard news on the 13th November 1918 of the German unconditional surrender two days previously. Shortly afterwards he lead his band of 1,168 askaris and 155 Germans to lay down their weapons to the British at Abercorn.
Recommended External Link -
 Der I. Weltkrieg auf den Seen von Deutsch-Ostafrika in the "Magazin" section of Traditionsverband

Forces in German East Africa

"Truppe des Reichs-Kommissars von Wissmann" or "Wissmanntruppe" were formed in 1889 by the newly appointed Imperial Commissioner, Hermann von Wissmann to crush the Abushiri Rebellion. Von Wissmann with 60 German officers and NCOs, recruited his soldiers mostly from Sudanese askaris many of whom had prior experience in the Anglo-Egyptian army. They proved to be well disciplined and excellent fighters. Along with the Sudanese were smaller numbers of Ngoni Zulus (recruited from Portuguese East Africa), Swahili Askaris (already in the service of the German East African Company), Somali sailors and some Turkish Police. These troops were formed into 6 Sudanese companies, a Zulu company and several auxiliary units totalling about 1,000 men. After crushing the rebellion the Wissmanntruppe was retained, reorganised and expanded.

In 1891 the Wissmanntruppe was officially re-titled the "Kaiserliche Schutztruppe für deutsch Ost Afrika". Over the years many Sudanese remained in the Schutztruppe and new askaris were recruited from German East Africa and other neighbouring territories. When askaris were recruited from German East Africa itself, they usually served in units far from their homeland, so as to make them less liable to side with the locals in times of rebellion. The German officers and NCOs of the German East African Schutztruppe all had previous military experience in the imperial army or navy and had volunteered for overseas service.

The Schutztruppe was formed into Field Companies ("Feldkompagnien") of about 150 or more troops and were based in various towns and small forts across the colony. Gradually the distinctions between Sudanese, Zulu and local askaris disappeared. They were a well trained, loyal and disciplined force with high morale and a level of mutual respect between the askaris and their German superiors which was only strengthened during the long campaigns of the First World War.

From their formation as the Wissmanntruppe, the standard weapon of the Schutztruppe askaris was the Mauser Jägerbüsche 71 rifle. This was the light infantry (or "Jäger") version of the Mauser 1871 infantry rifle and as such was about 3 inches shorter than the standard infantry version. Its heavy calibre of 11mm made it ideal for stopping charging tribesmen but its smokey discharge made it unsuitable for use in modern warfare. Gradually all German NCOs and some askaris were equipped with the smokeless Mauser 98 rifle. By the outbreak of war in 1914 five field companies (the 1st, 4th, 8th, 10th and 13th) had received the newer rifles. The Wissmanntruppe only had one machine gun between them but by 1914 each field company had at least two or three of their own and often a light artillery piece too.

In 1914 the Schutztruppe field companies were undergoing re-training by their new commander Oberstleutnant Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who foresaw the possibility of war with other European colonial powers. At that time their strength was approximately 300 German officers, NCOs and staff and 2,700 askari other ranks organised into 14 field companies, with one artillery Abteilung, a signals detachment and a recruiting depot. Upon the outbreak of the First World War the Schutztruppe were further expanded by recruiting or pressing into service thousands more askaris from the Polizeitruppe, former askaris and the general populace of German East Africa.

In May 1914 the Feldkompagnien of the Schutztruppe were based at:
1.FK- Arusha and Neu Moshi
2.FK- Iringa and Unbena
3.FK- Lindi
4.FK- Kilimatinde and Singida
5.FK- Massoko
6.FK- Udjidiji and Kassulo
7.FK- Bukoba, Ussuwi and Kifumbiro
8.FK- Tabora
9.FK- Usumbura
10.FK- Dar-es-Salaam
   The Dar-es-Salaam garrison also included the Artillery Abteilung, the Signals Abteilung and the recruitment depot.
11.FK- Kissenji and Mruhengeri
12.FK- Mahenge
13.FK- Kondoa Irangi
14.FK- Muansa and Ikoma

The German East African Police force ("Polizeitruppe") was a separate force formed in 1892 under the command of the colonial governor. Although they were fully armed (with Jägerbüsche 71 rifles) and often consisted of former Schutztruppe askaris they were only partially trained as military units- not up to the standards of the Schutztruppe askaris. They were after all, only intended for police duties, collecting taxes and maintaining law and order. The 1914 peacetime strength of the German East African Polizeitruppe was approximately 65 German officers, NCOs and staff and 2,000 askari other ranks. On the outbreak of the First World War they were incorporated into the Schutztruppe forming much needed additional field companies. This was against the wishes of the colonial governor, Dr Heinrich Schnee, who wanted to keep them as a separate force in case of further local uprisings in wartime.

German East Africa had no permanent imperial naval establishment, but the imperial navy did serve in East Africa as reinforcements during the Abushiri and Maji-Maji Rebellions. The colony also had their own non-military ships, separate from the Imperial navy. Some were used on the Indian Ocean coast of German East Africa, ferrying between Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanga and Zanzibar, others were used on the great lakes bordering German territory to the West and North. These vessels came under the control of the colonial governors and were officered by Germans with locally recruited crews. They were not intended for military use although they could be used to ferry supplies and troops in times of war.  

At the outbreak of the First World War the pocket cruiser SMS Königsberg was in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. After sinking several Entente vessels in the area it was trapped and sunk in the Rufiji Delta in July 1915. The crew and guns then joined the Schutztruppe forces on land, the crew being formed initially into the Schützenkompagnie Königsberg, and the guns mounted on improvised chassis (see Königsberg Guns Page). The crews of other smaller German vessels that found themselves stranded there, such as the survey ship SMS Möwe and the German/Danish re-supply ship, Kronberg/Rubens, were also added to the Schutztruppe.

Another form of naval warfare existed within German East Africa during the First World War- on the great lakes. The colony was bounded on several sides by lakes which formed the natural borders with neighbouring colonies. Lake Victoria in the North bordered British East Africa, Lake Tanganyika in the West bordered the Belgian Congo and Lake Nyassa (also known as Lake Malawi) in the South bordered British Rhodesia and Portuguese Mozambique. It became essential to the survival of German East Africa to maintain control of these lakes for the movement of troops. As such several old steamers were armed and manned by the crew from the SMS Möwe, the Schutztruppe and African recruits. Several victories were scored against British and Belgian ships and bases but by 1916 increasing entente pressure from all sides of the colony caused the Germans to retreat from the great lakes.

Marine Infantry
The German Marine Infantry- the Seebataillone were also deployed in East Africa. In August 1905 one company each from the I. and II. Seebataillone were formed into a Naval Expeditionary Corps ("Marine Expeditionskorps") under Hauptmann von Schlichting for service in German East Africa as the Maji-Maji Rebellion spread across the colony. Once again the Seebataillon troops were split up amongst different Schutztruppe units. They did not see heavy action, mainly being used in a defensive role to garrison towns and protect trading routes, while freeing up Schutztruppe askaris to seek out the rebels. The Expeditionskorps returned to Germany in early 1907.
Recommended External Link - Marine Infanterie

Reservists and Volunteers
Reservists in Dar-es-Salaam had been called up during the Maji-Maji Rebellion to defend the city against potential attack, but it was not until the outbreak of the First World War that full conscription of all available man power was implemented. The Schutztruppe commander, Oberstleutnant von Lettow-Vorbeck, called up all Germans (and the few Austro-Hungarians) resident in East Africa. Many were already partially trained or members of shooting clubs and were formed into Shooting Companies (Schützenkompagnie), with regular Schutztruppe officers and NCOs. As mentioned above the crews of the SMS Königsberg and other naval vessels stranded in German East Africa were also formed into the Schützenkompagnien. In all nine Schützenkompagnien were formed during the war along with several miscellaneous Abteilungen and Landsturm units. Some of these served only as garrison units but most of the Schützenkompagnien served as experienced front line fighting units. As the war progressed Germans and askaris were cross posted from Schützenkompagnien to Feldkompagnien and vice versa until most units contained both askaris and Germans.

Many Germans and Afrikaaners in the colony also volunteered for service when the First World War broke out, among them were the retired Saxon Major General Wahle (who happened to be on holiday there and although technically ranking as von Lettow-Vorbeck's superior, served under him commanding the Western front in East Africa against the Belgians), Piet Njeuwenhuizen (von Lettow-Vorbeck's Boer advisor) and the civilian pilot Bruno Brüchner with his AGO biplane (see below).

African Irregulars
The Germans were keen to employ native irregulars (known as "Ruga-Ruga") in their forces as guides and light escorting infantry. Often the Germans would employ tribes to turn against their rebellious neighbours, for example, the once rebellious Hehe fought alongside the Germans against the Maji-Maji rebels.

An Arab Volunteer Corps ("Arabische Korps") was formed in 1914, under the command of Oberleutnant Hengstenberg. Very little is so far known about this unit. It is reported to have been about 400 strong and fought on the Northern frontier of German East Africa at the Battle of Jassin in early 1915. In action the unit proved unreliable and it was soon disbanded.
Recommended External Link - Axis History Forum Discussion on the Arab Corps

The Schutztruppe of German East Africa also relied heavily on large numbers of native porters for transportation, hauling immense loads such as the guns of the SMS Königsberg vast distances over difficult terrain. Often their families and cattle travelled with them behind the Schutztruppe columns.

A civilian pilot, Bruno Brüchner, was the first pilot to fly in German Africa. He was sponsored by a confectionary company, Rudolf Hertzog, so take part in various air shows in Africa with an AGO pusher Biplane made by Pfalz. He first stopped off in German South West Africa in May 1914 to fly several displays, then travelled to German East Africa to fly shows there but the events were cancelled by the outbreak of the First World War. In August 1914 he and his mechanic and the biplane were incorporated into the Schutztruppe. During one of the first reconnaissance missions over the Northern coastline of German East Africa Brüchner was shot down by a British gunboat. He managed to land on the coast but was badly injured and the plane severely damaged. Both were out of action. The plane was repaired at Dar-Es-Salaam and Brüchner's place was taken by Oberleutnant Erich Henneberger, a Schutztruppe officer who had previously passed his pilot's test in Germany. Before he saw action he crashed during a test flight and was killed. His observer, Leutnant der Reserve von Gusmann, was badly injured and the plane again was wrecked. This time the plane was rebuilt on floats as a seaplane to assist the SMS Königsberg in time for Brüchner's recovery from his injuries. Soon however, petrol supplies ran low and the plane was dismantled.


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