Colonial Spiked Helmets
Schutztruppe Pickelhauben

German East African Schutztruppe Uniforms 1891-96
Note the officer with a Pickelhaube, second from left
Illustration by R Knötel from German Schutztruppe in East Africa 1889-1911 by Ernst Nigmann

The spiked helmet or 'Pickelhaube' is famously associated with soldiers of the German imperial era, yet is was very rarely worn by the colonial Schutztruppe.

The Pickelhaube was authorised for the Schutztruppe of German East Africa only for home use from 1891-96 (and those of German Cameroon 1895-96) again for a very limited number of officers at the Colonial Office in Berlin from 1916-18. This makes Schutztruppe Pickelhauben extremely rare and in some cases entirely unique.

The Schutztruppe came under direct imperial command and so wore an Imperial Eagle or 'Reichsadler' on the front rather than a state emblem as worn by the German armies. The Reichsadler came in two main forms, either 'flying' with its wings outstretched or 'heraldic' with downswept wings. The eagle and all metal fittings on the helmet generally matched the button colour of the uniform. Another point to note is that the Pickelhauben of the Schutztruppe had no state cockade on the left side, only an imperial cockade on the right.

That is not to say however that all Pickelhauben with the Reichsadler and imperial insignia are from the Schutztruppe. The vast majority are not. Several other units coming under direct imperial command such as the East Asian Occupation Brigade in China and the Gendarmerie of  Alsace-Lorraine also wore imperial insignia and the Reichsadler on their Pickelhauben. Some officials and fortress personnel serving with the Marine Infantry were also authorised to wear the Pickelhaube with a Reichsadler

Famously all Imperial German uniform regulations have an exception to every exception, so we shall look at all the helmets authorised with a Reichsadler individually and then compare then in an easy chart.


1916 Schutztruppe General's Pickelhaube
Photo from Traditionsverband





1891 Schutztruppe Pickelhaube

The uniform regulations of 4 June 1891 for the Schutztruppe of East Africa authorised a Pickelhaube to be worn by offices and NCOs when on home duty back in Germany. This regulation also applied to the Cameroon Schutztruppe upon their formation in 1895.

The helmet was based on those used by the Prussian Infantry at the time but with several distinctions. The Schutztruppe Pickelhaube had a squared peak and an imperial eagle with spread wings in yellow metal across the front. The fittings, spike and chinscales were also in yellow metal.

Officers spikes were fluted and had a cruciform base pinned with a star in each corner. NCOs spikes were smooth with a base held by four plain buttons. An imperial cockade was worn under the right side chinstrap boss. No cockade was worn on the left side. The chinscales were also in yellow metal.

The Pickelhaube worn by non combatant officials (doctors, medics, paymasters and gunsmiths) was notable in that it had a heraldic eagle (with downswept wings) and smooth spike even for officers. On 3 May 1894 a new uniform regulation was passed specifically for the one paymaster officer in East Africa. His Pickelhaube fittings were of white metal, though the stars on the base of the spike were of yellow metal.

The uniform regulations of 19 November 1896 replaced the 1891 regulations and in them the Pickelhaube was replaced for home duties with a Südwester hat similar to that worn in South West Africa.



East African Schutztruppe c1891-96

He wears the 1891 dark blue home uniform with the Schutztruppe Pickelhaube bearing the heraldic eagle and smooth spike of a medical officer.
Photo © Sergio Semino of Militaria-Online




1913 Schutztruppe General's Pickelhaube

In 1913 new regulations authorised the Pickelhaube but only for General Officers. This was a curious regulation as there weren't any serving Schutztruppe Generals in 1913. It seems some helmets were at least made for demonstration purposes.

The authorised helmet was based on that of a Prussian infantry general and had a squared peak, an imperial cockade under the right hand chinstrap boss, yellow metal fittings, a heraldic imperial eagle and a fluted spike with a cruciform base. On parade a plume of white feathers, white red and black feathers underneath replaced the helmet spike.



1913 Schutztruppe General's Pickelhaube
© Martin Svoboda




1916 Schutztruppe Pickelhaube

On 25 February 1916 new regulations authorised a Pickelhaube again for home service. By this stage in the war most the German colonies had surrendered, while those Schutztruppe still fighting were stranded in East Africa with no chance to implement new uniform regulations. These regulations therefore only applied to the officers and staff of the Colonial Office in Berlin meaning that few very were ever made.

The helmet was again based on that of the Prussian infantry but with a flying imperial eagle, a single imperial cockade on the right chinstrap boss and a squared peak. The eagle, spike and fittings followed the button collar of the tunic.

Schutztruppe Officers had white metal fittings on their Pickelhaube. Their helmet spike was smooth and had a rounded base with yellow metal stars attaching it. On parade a white hair plume was worn in place of the spike.

General Staff Officers also had white metal fittings but their helmet spike was fluted and had a cruciform base. On parade a white hair plume was worn in place of the spike.

General Officers had yellow metal fittings and a fluted spike with a cruciform base. On parade a plume of white feathers, white red and black feathers underneath replaced the helmet spike.

Officials had metal fittings that matched the tunic button colour of their branch. Senior officials had a small imperial eagle super-imposed on their helmet eagle, while junior officials had the imperial shield super-imposed.


1916 Schutztruppe Officer's Pickelhaube
Formerly of the
Siebentritt Collection, here photographed by
Der Rittmeister


Other Pickelhauben that bore the Reichsadler
The Schutztruppe were not the only imperial unit to wear the Reichsadler and imperial insignia on the Pickelhaube. These helmets sometimes appear in modern collections and sales mistakenly labelled as Schutztruppe helmets.


East Asian Occupation Brigade Pickelhaube

The East Asian Expeditionary Corps were sent to China in 1900 with the Pickelhauben of their home units. These were made of black leather, with variations on the helmet plate and cockades for the different German states and further variations in the style of spike, peak, chinscales and the type metal used for them with different ranks and arms of service.

On 9 February 1901 new uniforms in field grey were authorised for the East Asian Expeditionary Corps (and its later successors, the East Asian Occupation Brigade and East Asian Detachment). These uniforms included a new universal Pickelhaube bearing a heraldic Reichsadler. The new helmet varied most notably from the army and Schutztruppe Pickelhauben by being made of field grey pressed felt rather than black leather.
Recommended Internal Link- East Asian Pickelhaube



East Asian Grey Felt Pickelhaube
© Francois Fischer 




Alsace-Lorraine Gendarmerie Pickelhaube

As the military police of an imperial territory (rather than a part of Prussia or state of its own), the Gendarmerie of the conquered provinces of Alsace and Lorraine ('Elsass-Lothringen') wore the Reichsadler on their Pickelhauben and had a single imperial cockade under their right side chin strap boss. On first glance these are sometimes mistaken for Schutztruppe helmets in modern collections.

Several varieties existed with plain and fluted spikes (local officials wore helmets with fluted ball end spikes), but all had a heraldic eagle with yellow metal fittings (whereas the Schutztruppe usually had flying eagles and white metal fittings). The helmet of the dismounted Gendarmerie was based on that of the Prussian guards infantry with a round spike base and a rounded peak. The helmet of the mounted Gendarmes was based on that of the Prussian dragoons and had a cruciform spike base and a squared peak.



Alsace-Lorraine Gendarmerie Pickelhaube
Photo © Der Rittmeister





This chart is intended as easy reference to help recognise different types of spiked helmet or 'Pickelhaube' bearing the imperial eagle or 'Reichsadler' on the front. With the exception of the East Asian grey felt helmets, these Pickelhauben were made of black leather. They all had a single imperial cockade under the right hand strap boss and bore the Reichsadler on the front. In summary, unless the Pickelhaube has a flying imperial eagle and a squared peak is most likely not of Schutztruppe origin.

  Fittings Eagle Spike Base Peak Plume

Schutztruppe Pickelhauben 1891-1918

Schutztruppe 1891-96 Regulations

  Officer yellow flying fluted cruciform squared none
  NCO yellow flying smooth   squared none
  Doctor yellow heraldic smooth cruciform squared none
  Junior Official yellow heraldic smooth   squared none
  Paymaster 1894 white heraldic smooth cruciform squared none

Schutztruppe 1913 Regulations
  General Officer yellow heraldic fluted cruciform squared feathers

Schutztruppe 1916 Regulations
  Officer white flying smooth rounded squared hair
  General Staff white flying     squared hair
  General Officer yellow flying fluted cruciform squared feathers
  Official varied* flying     squared none

Other Pickelhauben with the Reichsadler

East Asian Occupation Brigade 1900 Grey Felt Pickelhaube

  Infantry and  Cavalry yellow heraldic smooth rounded rounded none
  Artillery yellow heraldic ball rounded rounded none
  Pioneers white heraldic smooth rounded rounded none
  General Staff white heraldic smooth rounded rounded  
  Generals yellow heraldic smooth rounded rounded  

Alsace-Lorraine Gendarmerie
  Mounted yellow heraldic     squared none
  Dismounted yellow heraldic   rounded rounded none

Marine Infantry Officials and Fortress Personnel
  Officials varied* heraldic smooth   rounded none
  Junior Officials            
  Fortress Personnel white heraldic smooth   rounded none
* Metal fittings on the Pickelhaube usually matched the button colours of the uniform. In the case of officials this varied from branch to branch, usually based on the Prussian army system. For example a medic or gunsmith would have yellow metal and a paymaster or ... would have white metal.

Recommended External Links-
Traditionsverband Information on Schutztruppe Pickelhauben

Schutztruppe General's Helmet Article on Traditionsverband
Reichsadler Discussion on Pickelhaubes Forum
Photos of the Alsace-Lorraine Gendarmerie at Kukri

Recommended Further Reading-
The German Colonial Troops 1889-1918 by
Jürgen Kraus and Thomas Müller, Verlag Militaria
Die deutschen Marinen 1818-1918: Organisation, Uniformierung, Bewaffnung und Ausrüstung by Rolf Noeske and Claus P. Stefanski, Verlag Militaria
Das Deutsche Heer, Friedensuniformen bei Ausbruch des Weltkrieges written and illustrated by H. Knötel and P. Pietsch

Thanks to Jim Turritnetti, Arne Schöfert  and Joe Robinson for help with this article. 


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

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