Bowie Knife
of the South West African Schutztruppe




Photo Private Collector

  The first permanent German unit stationed in South West Africa, the Francoistruppe, were armed with a large bowie knife from 1888, as seen in period photographs and illustrations of the time. The Francoistruppe had an initial strength of 21 troopers, so presumably at least that number of bowie knives were issued.

Very little is known about the weapon itself; where it was made, who designed it or how many were produced are all unknown. It seems to have been dropped from service shortly after it was introduced and the later Schutztruppe are not known to have used them.

No clear period photos have been seen of the blade itself, no detailed descriptions found and no examples have been seen in modern collections, until this very curious item arrived in my inbox recently.

It appears to match that of the period photograph on the right in its basic details. The scabbard appears of a similar design, with the same leather strap and button holding it in place. The wooden grip appears the same with the same two rivets.

Most curiously, the scabbard is stamped with 'K.A. 1906'. The size and lettering of the stamp matches bayonet frogs of the Schutztruppe and would seem to indicate that it was issued by the Colonial Office (Kolonial Amt) in 1906.

However, as previously mentioned these weapons were not general issue after their first use in 1888. No photographs of the German forces in South West Africa have been seen with them on active service after 1889. If any were still in use by that time, they were very few and far between and certainly not commonly issued.



Francois-truppe Reiter, 1888
Note the large bowie knife in its leather scabbard carried on his belt.
Photo Frankfurt Colonial Archive


Schutztruppe Reiter, Special Parade 1904
He wears the old 1891 Schutztruppe uniform with tropical helmet and carries the bowie knife in its leather scabbard on his belt.

Photo Frankfurt Colonial Archive

  I used the phrase "active service" deliberately there because there are a series of photographs (see left) from 1904 taken of a parade in Windhoek when a number of the Schutztruppe paraded in old uniforms to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the official formation of the Schutztruppe. On that occasion the old bowie knives were worn again.

These presumably had been kept in storage along with the old uniforms and were just brought out for the occasion. So we know that some these bowie knives survived until 1904 (at least five of them are seen in the photos and there are probably twelve there in total as there are three rows of four troopers similarly dressed and equipped).

The question with the recently found example (if it is indeed one of the original 20 or so issued) is why the scabbard was stamped decades after its issue?

The details of this example are as described by the owner:

1. Scabbard shows all colonial leatherwork norms, brown leather, tooled edges, riveted construction.

2. 'K.A. 1906' exactly matches size/font on markings on many frogs.

3. Only marking on the knife itself is trademark of the god Hermes or Mercury,  not managed to trace that exact marking yet.

4. Blade length is 340mm (overall length of knife 467mm) sawback has 28 double teeth (ie. 56 in total)


Photos Private Collector



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