Tropical Shako
of the German East Asian Expeditionary Corps


In December 1900 the East Asian straw hat was officially replaced with a tropical helmet patented by Ludwig Bortfeldt of Bremen. It was a khaki covered cork helmet with rubber front and rear peaks, the latter was split into five segments and could be folded upwards. It had an imperial eagle on the front and a hatband in arm of service colours. Pinned onto the right side of the hatband was a large imperial cockade. The helmet came with a removable khaki neck shade.

One curious variation of the East Asian tropical helmet was the tropical shako. It was made to the same rough flat-topped shape as the Jäger shako, but made of the same khaki covered cork and with the same rubber folding rear brim as the standard Bortfeldt helmet. It also had the same eagle, cockade and removable neck shade as the tropical helmet. It was worn by the East Asian Jäger (with a green hatband, until they were disbanded in 1901), East Asian machine gun units attached to the infantry (with white hatbands) and to East Asian train troops (with a blue hatband). The tropical shako was not a success and was replaced by the field grey Bortfeldt 1904 helmet soon after. I have so far not seen an example in a period photograph (Please contact me here if you have one). It remains a rare anomaly.

Here are some interesting notes from the owner, "It is heavier than I would have expected. It is made from thick and sturdy cork that 120 years ago I could see taking a beating. It doesn’t feel fragile. I’m fairly sure the wear near the top vents was caused by polishing the brass fittings. There are two small pin holes on the left of the body which look as if something else was mounted there. Was it ever regulation to cockades to the other side? In the same photo with the pin holes, if you look directly below the blue band is slightly raised. There is a thick brown leather band that is strapped under that band. Not sure what that is there for. Stability maybe? Also the blue band is made from a cotton or some other linen, not wool as the bands most seen on the 1900 sun helmets. The Wappen is fitted using spread butterfly wings clips though the forehead. You can see there are horizontal threads that in the area where the plate is pushed through. These are the mounting loops that would have been used for clothes pin style mounting of an eagle. I don’t dare remove the front plate since the butterfly wings seem brittle with use and age. In the close up of the eagle you can see one of those loops popping out from behind him between his left wing and the feather coming off his neck. There is no marking on the helmet itself other than the Bortfeldt embossing on the leather head band. The neck cover does have a Nice clear BAO 1902 stamp though."
1900 Bortfeldt Tropical Shako
for the East Asian Train Company
Photo © JH Collection



Issue stamp on the inside of the neckshade. B.A.O. 1902 for the East Asian clothing depot, Bekleidungsamt Ostasien.

The split pin holding the Eagle in place.

Inside of the helmet pommel bearing the maker's name, Ludwig Bortfeldt, Bremen.

Inside of the helmet showing the leather hatband bearing the maker's mark, Ludwig Bortfeldt, Bremen.

Photos © JH Collection

Thanks very much to JH for sharing these photographs with us. Please respect his generosity by not reproducing them further without accreditation.

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

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