German East Africa
African Auxiliaries

Figure 1

Not only did the Germans employ askaris for the Schutztruppe and Polizeitruppe, they also employed large numbers of Africans to serve in many other combatant and non-combatant roles. No uniform regulations were issued for these auxiliary personnel and the only sources to go from are contemporary photographs and illustrations.

The Germans employed and armed large numbers of African irregular troops (known as "Ruga-Ruga") in their forces as skirmishers and light escorting infantry. Numbers of Ruga-Ruga were attached on a semi-permanent basis to the Schutztruppe Feldkompagnien.

The Ruga-Ruga had no standard uniform, they usually wore coloured loin cloths, sometimes long enough to wrap over the shoulder or simple smocks also fashioned from coloured cloth. Some contemporary illustrations  show the Ruga-Ruga more elaborately dressed with striped cloths and headdress decorated with feathers.

Some irregulars were armed with German Mauser rifles but many carried older firearms, hunting rifles, old percussion caps and spears. On display in the Imperial War Museum in London is an old .60 inch percussion cap musket captured from German forces in East Africa. The musket has a very interesting history having been sold by the United States to France after the American Civil War, captured by the Prussians in 1870 and was still in service in the 1914-18 war.

Figure 1 (on the left) is based on a photograph of a Ruga-Ruga Irregular Soldier taken in about 1917. They usually had no uniform at all and often wore their traditional tribal costumes. This figure typically wears a dark red cloth or blanket wrapped around his lions and shoulder. He has sandals but many Ruga-Ruga were barefoot. As with this figure most Ruga-Ruga carried ammunition bandoliers along with locally made water bottles, knapsacks, machetes and blankets. The other figures in the original photograph upon which this illustration is based are dressed equally casually, some with battered old askari tunics and some with non-regulation fezzes with a single feather stuck in the top. They are all armed with breech loading rifles, probably the Jägerbüsche 71.


  Friendly Tribes
As well as recruiting individual scouts from local tribes, the Germans would sometimes employ (and often arm) war parties from friendly tribes to turn against their hostile neighbours. For some examples, the once rebellious He-he fought alongside the Germans against the Maji-Maji rebels. The Massai as well sided with the Germans during the rising of the Iraku in 1906 towards the end of the Maji-Maji Rebellion and supplied hundreds of warriors. And the Sultan of Bukoba's warriors were given 400 Jägerbüsche 71 rifles in September 1914 to help fight alongside the Schutztruppe.

These warriors wore their traditional tribal dress which would vary from tribe to tribe. Many had decorated plaited hair or partially shaven heads, some wore loin cloths others, simple plaited thongs or even less. Most were armed with spears and decorated shields although as mentioned above others had firearms either from the Germans or private traders.
Recommended Reading- "Warrior Peoples of East Africa 1840–1900" by CJ Peers, published by Osprey

The Sultan of Bukoba, Kahigi Kanassi wore a German Cuirassier style uniform similar to that worn by the Sultan of Bamum in Cameroon. And at least some of his men wore European style uniforms- white tunics and trousers with red fezzes.
Recommended External Link - Axis History Forum Discussion on the Sultan of Bukoba's Force

The German forces needed a large number of locally recruited porters to carry their supplies and equipment on campaign across many miles and varieties of terrain. Often their families and cattle travelled with them behind the Schutztruppe columns. These porters were usually seen dressed lightly and poorly, in simple shirts with tied skirts or shorts, none of which were uniform.  

Naval Auxiliaries
African sailors were employed by the German colonial government to man craft on the great lakes. These men and their uniforms are described on the Naval Auxiliaries Page of this website.

Other Non-Combatant Africans Employed by the Schutztruppe
The Schutztruppe and colonial government in East Africa also employed large numbers of Africans as g
uides, servants, cooks, hospital staff, railway and armaments workers and by 1914 as aircraft ground crew. As with other auxiliaries they usually wore no uniform at all, just loin cloths. Occasionally servants did wear cast off Schutztruppe uniform items and from photographs it seems hospital staff were also sometimes uniformed.

Figure 2 (on the right) is based on a pre-war photograph of a Hospital Askari NCO. This askari attached to hospital duties unusually wears a German hospital assistant's white tunic- of the same cut as the Schutztruppe tunic with brass buttons and with Schutztruppe white/red/black twisted braid shoulder straps but without the usual Schutztruppe blue piping. On the upper left sleeve is a white circular badge bearing a medical red cross (see Specialist Insignia Page). Often a simple red cross armband was worn instead. Below this is his rank insignia- two chevrons for Schausch or corporal. Both German and African medical NCOs in East Africa wore gold chevrons on a black background (see right). He wears a watch chain from the left breast pocket to the third tunic button.

Aside from the tunic he is dressed similarly to most East African askaris with the tarbush and white metal eagle, brown belt with plain brass buckle, bayonet, khaki trousers, brown boots and dark blue/grey puttees.

Figure 2
Hospital Askari NCO


Period Photographs

African Tribal Warriors in German Service
Photo by Paul Hoffmann from Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons

African Porters during the First World War
Photo from Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons

African Medical Assistants
Note "Gesundheits-dienst" or medical service, on their fezzes
Photo by Walther Dobbertin from Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons

A Schutztruppe NCO, his servant and an unknown woman.
The servant wears a Schutztruppe khaki uniform without shoulder straps, possibly one of the officer's cast offs.
Photo © Peter Klein





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