Early German South West African Uniforms
"Truppe des Reichs-Kommissars" or "Francois-truppe" 1889-91


Figure 1

Background of the Francois-truppe
The very first German troops sent to South West Africa in May 1888 were led by Leutnant Ulrich von Quitzow and consisted of two officers and five NCOs who commanded twenty African soldiers (recruited from the Baster and Nama) to protect the first Imperial Commissioner, Dr. Heinrich Göring (father of the later infamous Hermann Göring). These first German troops, the "Truppe des Reichs-Kommissars" , wore civilian clothes on their journey to Africa on board a British ship so as to pass for settlers or merchants.

In 1889 the force was expanded to 21 German troops now under the command of Hauptmann Curt von Francois. Some further reinforcements and replacement troops followed along with another officer, Sekondlieutenant Hugo von Francois, brother of the commander but by 1892 the strength of the "Francois-truppe" was still only 45 men. This was enough to protect the governor and show some military prescence but not enough to put down any large scale rebellion.

Uniforms of the Francois-truppe
The first uniforms known in South West Africa are those worn by the Francois-truppe sent to Africa in 1889. It is not known if von Quitzow's troops of the previous year wore the same uniforms or not. These uniforms were used until the reinforcements of 1891 brought newly designed uniforms (see South West African Uniforms 1891-96).

The replacement uniforms were officially authorised on 4th June 1891 and retained several similarities with the Francois-truppe uniforms. The most notable of which were what would become known as the Südwester hat held up with an imperial cockade and the Manchester corduroy uniform. Both of these innovations became symbols of the Schutztruppe and were retained until the First World War in modified form.

Figure 2

Tunic and Trousers
The tunic had a standing collar, a single buttoned left breast pocket, two buttoned hip pockets and six buttons to fasten the front. The buttons were made of horn. It had no shoulder straps or piping and the cuffs were plain. The tunic was longer than later Schutztruppe uniforms. Matching trousers were issued both as long trousers and riding breeches.

The tunic and trousers were made of yellow-brown "Manchester" corduroy, so called because it was made in the cotton mills of Lancashire, England and exported to Germany. Later corduroy was made in Germany.

Officers Rank Insignia
Officers wore two strips of lace in the Imperial colours diagonally from the shoulder across the breast. This rank insignia is something I have never seen elsewhere in the Imperial German armed forces and is based on a Russian style, according to Stefanski (see sources listed below). Hauptmann Curt von Francois and later his brother Hugo were the only officers in the Francois-truppe.

NCOs Rank Insignia
Stefanski also states that the NCOs ("Unteroffizier") wore a single chevron. An illustration by H
Lüders (see below) shows this chevron worn on the right sleeve. It is difficult from this black and white drawing to tell the colours of the chevron but it may be in the Imperial colours like the officers breast stripe.

As the force grew so too would the need for rank distinctions. It is not known for certain if the different ranks of the Francois-truppe wore numbers of chevron (one for Unteroffizier, two for Sergeant and three for Feldwebel) as worn by the later Schutztruppe. Stefanski notes that the rank of Gefreiter was later identified by a stripe of Imperial colour lace on the shoulder.

Drill Uniform
Stefanski describes a "Drillichanzug" being worn in hot weather but I have yet to see it photographed or illustrated. It may have been similar to the Prussian Drill uniform of the period which was in off white cotton drill. Another possibility is that it was a khaki drill uniform of the same cut as the corduroy tunic with a single left breast pocket. If this is the case one may have been seen in a period photograph of an Landespolizei Wachtmeister taken in early 1907 before the introduction of the Landespolizei Khaki Uniform later that year.

The cold nights of the Namibian desert proved that warmer clothing was needed. A plain grey single breasted greatcoat of lama wool was issued with a large collar. Like the tunic, it was fastened with six horn buttons.

The Francois-Truppe wore a grey felt slouch hat, the first "Südwester", although period documents refer to them at the time as Old Brandenburger hats ("Alt-Brandenburgischer"). They had grey ribbon edging and hat band and were held up on the right hand side with a large imperial cockade. The hats of other ranks appear to be smaller than those of the officers in some period photographs.

Long brown leather riding boots and short ankle boots were issued, with period photographs showing officers wearing privately purchased riding boots.


Reiter Heinrich Gathemann
Francois-Truppe 1889
He wears the 1889 Francois-truppe corduroy uniform with a small other ranks Südwester hat and riding boots. On his belt he has two 1871 ammunition pouches and the large bowie knife.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv 

Equipment was also of brown leather with ammunition pouches of the 1871 box type. I have not been able to identify the belt buckle for certain from period photographs but it does appear to have been blank, like the East African askari buckles. All ranks were also issued with a woollen blanket, bread bag and water bottle of Prussian army issue.

All ranks were originally armed with a Kar71 carbine and a large bowie knife held in a brown leather scabbard. From 1890 some new recruits carried the Gew71/94 rifle and later some were issued the Gew88. For mounted service these had to be held in a newly designed rifle bucket. Officers also carried the Reichsrevolver 83 pistol.

  The Illustrations

Figure 1- Officer of the Francois-truppe, 1889-91
This illustration is based on a photograph of an Officer of the Francois-truppe taken between 1889-91. This same photograph has been captioned by different sources as either being Hauptmann Curt von Francois or his brother Sekondlieutenant Hugo von Francois. Certainly he has the same beard as Curt had throughout his career, whereas other photographs of Hugo later show him with a clean shaven chin and a moustache.

He wears the Francois-truppe corduroy uniform with single breast pocket and horn buttons. It has diagonal breast stripes in imperial colours to show him as an officer. He also wears privately purchased riding boots with a raised heel. Aside from these details the uniform is the same as for other ranks. He wears the grey felt slouch hat held up on the right side with a large imperial cockade. His equipment is the same as for other ranks. He is armed with a privately purchased hunting rifle or shotgun and the standard issue bowie knife and 1883 Reichsrevolver.

  Curt von François (1852-1931) came from a Prussian military family of French Huguenot origin. His father Bruno, was a General in the Prussian army, killed at the Battle of Spicheren in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Curt (sometimes later spelled Kurt) was the eldest of three military brothers. Hugo served under him in South West Africa and was later killed during the Herero Rebellion in 1904, and Hermann served in the regular German army, reaching General rank and famously commanding the I Army Corps in East Prussia in 1914 where he was instrumental in the victory over the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg. Curt von François had accompanied Hermann von Wissmann on his expedition to the Congo and also explored the interior of Togoland before going to South West Africa. Once there, he formed and became the first commander of what was to become the Kaiserliche Schutztruppe for German South West Africa in 1889 and fought against the Nama in the Rebellion of 1893-94. He also founded the town of Windhoek (now the capital of Namibia) where a statue of him still stands. In 1895 he returned to Germany to work in the Imperial Naval Office.

Statue of Curt von François in Windhoek
(See Photos of Namibia)
© Greg Gerardi

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of a Reiter in the Francois-truppe taken in a photographic studio in Germany in 1890. He wears the same corduroy uniform as the previous figure but without the officers breast stripes and with standard issue riding boots. He is armed with the bowie knife and a Gew71/84 rifle as was issued to the new recruits of 1890.



Uniforms of the Francois-truppe c1889-91
They wear the corduroy uniforms as described above with Südwester hats and riding boots. Notice the chest stripes worn by the officer in the left foreground and the NCO chevron worn on the right sleeve by the figure in the right foreground. Other points of interest are the greatcoat with a large upturned collar worn by the mounted figure in the centre and the large bowie knives carried at the front of the belt by all ranks. The figure second from left may be wearing the khaki drill uniform although its details are not clear.
Illustration by H Lüders originally printed in the Illustrirte Zeitung 9th November 1889, provided for us by Arne Schöfert of Traditionsverband

The study of early German South West African Uniforms is problematical because the original uniform regulations were lost many years ago. Since then several historians have tried to re-create the regulations, the most notable of these being Hettler and Stefanski.

"Die Schutztruppe für Deutsche Südwestafrika 1889-1915" by Eberhard Hettler
"Von der Francois-Truppe zur Schutztruppe der Landeshauptmannschaft von DSWA" by Claus P Stefanski (Zeitschrift für Heereskunde #429)
"Die Deutsche Schutztruppe 1889/1918" by Werner Haupt (Dörfler)
"Die Kaiserliche Schutz- und Polizeitruppe für Afrika" by Reinhard Schneider (Druffel & Vorwinkel-Verlag)
"The German Colonial Troops 1889-1918" by
Jürgen Kraus and Thomas Müller (Verlag)
Photographs from the Frankfurt University Colonial Archives.

Thanks to Arne Schöfert of Traditionsverband for his help on this page.

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

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