Naval Auxiliaries in the German Colonies

  The German colonies employed their own locally recruited naval crews separate from the Imperial navy. These were used to man the colonies' own shipping on their rivers, lakes and coastal routes (mostly unarmed steamers, though they were sometimes fitted with guns or used to transport troops in times of war) and also for tasks such as rowing small boats out to larger vessels that could not dock at the shoreline.

Recommended Link
Dr Chris Mason has written an article on the African Auxiliary Sailors or Bacharia
see PDF here.

Uniforms of the Naval Auxiliaries

I have found no official uniform regulations for these sailors, and most likely none were issued. Judging from period photographs many locally recruited auxiliary sailors and harbour crews had no uniform at all. They simply wore their civilian attire (often just coloured loincloths in Africa and the Pacific).

When they were uniformed they wore either locally improvised naval uniforms or a mixture of standard Imperial naval uniforms. It seems from photographs taken in Cameroon and New Guinea that locally recruited sailors and oarsmen wore standard white Imperial navy uniforms while serving Imperial naval ships, and may also have worn these uniforms while serving on colonial ships.

The German East African sailors have been seen in several photographs, both working from the main coastal ports and manning boats on the great lakes. From these photographs it seems they wore a white naval style uniform, though it was clearly not of standard Imperial Naval issue. It consisted of a white naval shirt, with a dark blue square cut naval collar with three white stripes around the edge. Unlike in the Imperial Navy, no neckerchief or ties were worn with the collar. The cuffs were blue, edged in white at the top and bottom, as were two pointed breast pocket flaps (these are very distinctive from the Imperial Navy white shirts without breast pockets). Likewise some photographs show the three quarter length white trousers to have had a blue cuff, again edged in white. These sailors appear to be barefooted in most photographs. A white naval cap with a black tally but without an imperial cockade was worn. Unfortunately the tally cannot be read in any of the photographs I have seen. These tallies may have shown the name of the ship on which they served (eg. "Hedwig von Wissmann") or the title of their employer (eg. "Gouvernment Deutsch Ost Afrika") in white or gold lettering as worn by the Imperial navy. It is also possible that they may have been blank. Other photographs show East African sailors wearing a red fez with a black tassel, as worn by East African askaris. The East African sailors do not seem to have worn any footwear.

There was also a musical band formed in Dar-es-Salaam who wore naval style uniforms. They preformed on ceremonial occasions and were formed from African youths. They wore white naval style uniforms with blue naval collars and white naval caps but were not part of any maritime unit.


Figure 1
Auxiliary Oarsman
German New Guinea

The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of an Auxiliary Oarsman in New Guinea (taken in the Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands). He wears standard Imperial German Naval other ranks uniform consisting of a white cotton summer shirt with blue collar and cuffs stripped in white, matching white trousers and a white naval cap. While he does wear the Imperial navy's black neckerchief under his collar, it does not have the white ties as usually worn by German sailors.

In the original photograph upon which this illustration is based the writing on the cap tally cannot be made out clearly. It could be the name of a ship to which this oarsman was attached or possibly "Gouvernment Neu Guinea", judging from similar tallies seen in Tsingtao. Unlike regular German sailors this oarsman wears no shoes and has a darker coloured vest worn under his white naval shirt.

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of an East African Sailor in Schutztruppe service taken on one of the Great Lakes of German East Africa c1914. He wears the curious naval style uniform commonly seen in photographs of East African sailors (as described above). Note the dark blue cuffs and pocket flaps both edged in white. The trousers also have a blue cuff with white edging, although they appear to be worn rolled up by this sailor.

He carries a leather belt and appears to have it clasped with an other ranks Imperial naval belt buckle, although it is impossible to be certain from the original photograph upon which this illustration is based.

Figure 2
African Sailor
German East Africa

Special Thanks for additional research on this page is due to Per Finsted (of the Chakoten Danish Military History Website)


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