German West Africa


Map of the German West African Colonies of Togo and Cameroon 1900
Picture from Westermanns Neuer Schulatlas / WikiCommons  

Gustav Nachtigal obtained treaties with several native chiefs to establish German protectorates in Cameroon and Togo in 1884. They were recognised and the borders settled by the European Powers at the Conference of Berlin in 1885. Initially the two territories were governed as one colony known as German West Africa. From 1891 they were separated into Cameroon and Togoland.


The colony of Cameroon (known in German as "Kamerun") had its port and capital at Duala. There had been a German trading post there since 1868. Rubber was the major export of Cameroon but tobacco, palm oil and bananas were also produced. Although the borders of German Cameroon had changed on paper several times in negotiations (with Britain and France in 1885, 1894, 1906 and 1913) some parts of the interior still remained unexplored and largely untouched by colonial rule.

After Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 stripped Germany of all her colonies and overseas possessions. Cameroon was awarded to France with a small section next to Nigeria going to Britain.

Campaigns in Cameroon

The Yoss Rebellion 1884
Rebellion broke out amongst the Yoss people shortly after the German colonial rule had been declared. Germany also suspected Britain of stirring trouble in the region's tribes. German reinforcements arrived in the shape of SMS Bismarck and SMS Olga in early December 1884. The ships landed parties of sailors to fight on land while the SMS Olga shelled local villages up river. The rebellious tribes were crushed and their leaders arrested before the year was out.
Recommended External Link- Medal Net - Cameroon 1884  

The Abo Rebellion 1891
When the Abo people rose in rebellion against German rule the Polizeitruppe under Hauptmann Karl von Gravenreuth had to call upon the assistance of two German warships in the area to crush the rebellion and restore order. The cruiser SMS Habicht and the gunboat SMS Hyäne supplied landing parties and artillery support. The rebellion collapsed after naval landing parties and the Polizeitruppe stormed the fortified rebel village of Miang.
Recommended External Link- Medal Net - Cameroon 1891

The Dahomey Slaves Rebellion 1893
To expand the strength of the Cameroon Polizeitruppe, Hauptmann von Gravenreuth bought slaves from the King of Dahomey in 1891. The idea was that the slaves could then earn their freedom and that of their families by five years of German service. Although the idea was a humane one in which the slaves ultimately became free, during their service in the Polizeitruppe they and their families were still slaves, unpaid, harshly treated and harshly punished. In December 1893, after having been forced to watch their wives being flogged for refusing to work, fifty of them rose up in mutiny, killing their commanders and occupying government buildings. Although the rebellion failed to catch on in other parts of the colony the mutineers resisted attempts to quell them. Ironically their German military training served them well. It was not until the gunboat SMS Hyäne under Kapitänleutnant Reincke along with other sailors based on ships in the area arrived that the rebellion could be crushed with sailors and shellfire from the ship. The remaining 29 mutineers were hanged and their families sent into hard labour.

The long term effects of this rebellion were felt throughout the colonies. The scandal of using slaves as police was revealed in Germany and became a national disgrace. It was one of a series of scandals in Cameroon which led to a lessening of the harshness and cruelty of colonial rule in Cameroon (and later in German East Africa and German South West Africa after the Maji-maji and Herero Rebellions respectively). Another effect of the slave rebellion was that the colonial authorities realised a Polizeitruppe was not enough to control Cameroon and formed the Cameroon Schutztruppe in 1894.
Recommended External Link - "Der Aufstand der Polizeisoldaten, Kamerun 1893" in the "Magazin" section of Traditionsverband

Campaigns into the Interior
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 several occasions. Hauptmann von Gravenreuth was killed in one such action against the Beua in 1893. These campaigns were usually fought by company sized units of the Polizeitruppe or Schutztruppe often with assistance from African auxiliary troops from rival tribes.

The First World War in German Cameroon 1914-16
The surrounding British and French colonies launched simultaneous invasions of Cameroon in August 1914. But hopes for a quick victory as in Togo were dashed by stiff German resistance along with raids and counter attacks as the invaders tried to advance through Cameroon's difficult terrain. The Germans and their forces abandoned Duala and other towns while fighting an armed retreat into the interior. It took months of tough campaigning across jungles, swamps and mountain ranges for the allies to bring the last outpost of the  Schutztruppe to a surrender on 18th February 1916. Even then, most of the Germans and African troops had already managed to evade capture by escaping to neighbouring neutral Spanish Muni territory, rather then surrender to the British, French and Belgians (the latter had joined in the campaign in its later phases).
Recommended External Link- Deutsche-kriegsgeschichte - Kamerun 1914-16

Forces in Cameroon

The Cameroon police ("Polizeitruppe Kamerun") were first formed in 1889. As with most other colonial police forces it consisted of a few German police officers and African other ranks (recruited mainly from Serra Leone, Liberia, Togo and Dahomey). Initially they were considered sufficient to maintain law and order in the colony and accompany expeditions to the interior of the country. In fact it was a mutiny by Dahomey slaves within the Polizeitruppe in 1893 that was the biggest upheaval in law and order in the history of German Cameroon. As a result the Cameroon Schutztruppe was formed to back up the Polizeitruppe. Nevertheless the Polizeitruppe continued to expand as a paramilitary police force until the outbreak of the First World War when it was fully incorporated into the Schutztruppe. The 1914 peacetime strength of the German Cameroon Polizeitruppe was approximately
40 German Officers and NCOs and 1,225 African other ranks.

The Cameroon Schutztruppe was formed in 1894 as a result of the failure of the Polizeitruppe to defeat the Dahomey Slaves Rebellion. It was made up of German officers and NCOs with regular army or colonial experience and African other ranks. Initially Sudanese askaris were recruited from the Anglo-Egyptian army (as had been recruited for the Wissmanntruppe in German East Africa), unfortunately the damp climate of Cameroon did not suit them. Many fell ill and eventually they were disbanded. Other African soldiers were more successfully recruited from among the Jaunde, Bule, Bali, Haussa and other peoples. By 1914 they were a large and well trained force mostly armed with the latest Mauser 98 carbines, machine guns and artillery. The pre-war peacetime strength of the German Cameroon Schutztruppe was approximately 185 German Officers, NCOs and staff and 1,550 African other ranks organised into 12 infantry field companies ("Feldkompagnie") and one artillery Abteilung consisting of four 9cm 1873/91 field guns. Once the Polizeitruppe, reservists and re-enlisted soldiers had been added to their strength the wartime peak of the Schutztruppe in Cameroon was 1,460 Germans and 6,550 Africans organised into 34 companies. This full strength was however impeded by shortages of weapons and ammunition.

Although Cameroon had no permanent naval establishment naval gunships were called upon to supply landing parties and artillery to help quell local rebellions in 1884, 1891 and 1893.

The colonial government of Cameroon also had their own non-military ships, separate from the Imperial navy. 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. One of these ships, the steamer Nachtigal rammed the British gunboat SMS Dwarf in the estuary of the Cameroon River in 1914.
Recommend External Link - Axis History Forum Discussion on the Nachtigal

Marine Infantry
The Seebataillone, were also briefly deployed in Cameroon. A company sized unit with men from both the I. and II. Seebataillon were sent out to assist in the Dahomey Slaves Rebellion of 1893. They saw no action however as the rebellion had already been crushed before their arrival. They returned to Germany in early 1894.

Recommended External Link -
Marine Infanterie

German civilians living in Cameroon were called up to serve with Schutztruppe during the First World War. These Reservists, Landwehr and Landsturm were originally formed into their own units but as were later dispersed amongst existing Schutztruppe formations. Ultimately lack of equipment and weapons hindered their full potential.

African Irregulars
The Germans in Cameroon did make use of native auxiliaries mainly as guides and light infantry. During the campaign against the Nso in 1905, 100 men of the Bamum army under King Njoya served alongside the Germans. During the First World War the Germans also motivated loyal tribes to attack neighbouring pro-Entente tribes. Large numbers of African porters were also needed by the Germans on expeditions and campaign.

Air Power
Two aeroplanes, a Rumpler Taube monoplane and a Jeannin monoplane were sent to the Schutztruppe in Cameroon during 1914. They arrived just before the outbreak of war and were still unassembled in their packing crates when they were captured by British troops. The airfield to which they had not yet been delivered was being built at Garua in the North of the colony by Hans Surén, a Schutztruppe officer who had previously passed his pilot's test in Germany. The captured aeroplanes were sent, still cased, to assist the newly formed South African air force but did not see action.


Like Cameroon, German trading posts had existed in Togoland for several years before it became a German colony and like Cameroon its borders changed frequently depending on the latest treaty with Britain and France (in 1897, 1899 and 1904). In 1905 the colony's name was officially changed from Togoland simply to Togo. It was in some ways a model colony in that it was fairly free of revolt and was unique among the African colonies in that it made a modest profit from trade and therefore did not depend on financial subsidies from Berlin. When the First World War broke out, Togo was of strategic importance not only because of its capital and port of Lome but more importantly the newly completed radio station at Kamina which enabled Berlin to stay in touch with both shipping in the South Atlantic and the other African colonies. After Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 stripped Germany of all her colonies and overseas possessions. Togo was split between Britain and France, the British section becoming part of the colony of Gold Coast.

Campaigns in Togo

Expeditions into the Interior
There were no major rebellions in Togo but 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 several occasions. These expeditions were usually accompanied by small units of Polizeitruppe under German command. The largest battle fought in German Togo by one of these expeditions was the Battle of Adibo in September 1896 when 91 police troops under Oberleutnant von Massow defeated the 5,000 strong army of King Yaan Naa Andani II of the Dagbon and various allied tribes.
Recommended External Link- Ghana Web Article Part 1 and Part 2

The First World War in Togo 1914
On the outbreak of War in Europe, the German deputy-governor Major Doering (deputising for Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin) declared Togo to be neutral under the terms of the 1885 Treaty of Berlin. The British rejected this and led an invasion force from the South and West on August 6th 1914 (the first shot of the First World War by a British Imperial soldier was to have been fired here by Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi of the Gold Coast Regiment). A French force simultaneously invaded from the North. The Germans destroyed communication lines and fought several small delaying actions (the largest of which was at the River Chra on 22nd August) as they retreated into the interior to the radio station at Kamina but believing their defences to be unmaintainable, they destroyed the radio station and surrendered after a very short campaign on August 26th 1914.
Recommended External Link - Axis History Forum Discussion on the Battle of Kamina

Forces in Togo

The paramilitary Togo Police Troop ("Polizeitruppe") was initially formed in 1885 to police the German capital at Lome. The force was gradually expanded to cover the rest of the colony with recruits mostly from Nigeria. Although not a fully trained military force they were the only permanent armed troops in Togo. By 1914 they were armed with the latest Mauser 98 rifles and Maxim machine guns. The 1914 peacetime strength of the Togo Polizeitruppe was approximately 12 German police officers and NCOs and 530 African NCOs and other ranks ("Polizei-Soldaten"). These forces were divided into nine police districts, each with between 60-120 Polizei-Soldaten. At the outbreak of the First World War their strength was roughly doubled by calling up former Polizei-Soldaten and recruiting new ones. 

Schutztruppe and Army
There was no Schutztruppe force in Togo, although individual regular army officers were seconded there by the colonial office to command the expeditions and give military training to the Polizeitruppe. These officers came under the control of the colonial office and therefore the overall Schutztruppe command.

At the outbreak of the First World War Togo called up its German reservists to assist the police in the short lived defence. Approximately 200 Germans were formed into a separate unit called the European Company ("Europäer-Kompanie"). The Europäer-Kompanie was deployed at Kamina to defend the radio station there. The colony surrendered before the unit saw any action.

Despite being of strategic importance there was no permanent militarised naval presence in Togo. Neither were any naval battleships deployed there to support land actions.  The same non-military ships, separate from the Imperial navy, used by the colonial government of Cameroon also visited Togo and could potentially be used to ferry supplies and troops in times of war.

Native Irregulars
As in the other African colonies the German forces in Togo recruited native guides, scouts and light infantry. African porters were also needed by the German expeditions to the interior.


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