Officers Rank Insignia
of the Schutztruppe and other Overseas Forces

German Schutztruppe Officers ranks were distinguished on both the home and tropical uniforms by their shoulder straps in the manner of the Prussian army.

This same system was used throughout the German armies including the East Asian forces in China and those in Palestine, Macedonia and Georgia in the First World War. The Marine Infantry used the same system but the remainder of the Imperial Navy used an entirely different officers ranking system.



  Schutztruppe Officers Rank Insignia  
Junior Officers Senior Officers
Second Lieutenant
Lieutenant Colonel

As shown above, Junior Officers wore shoulder straps made of white metallic lace cords with black and red threads on a colony coloured backing. Having no pips, one pip or two showed the grade of junior officer.

Senior Officers wore shoulder straps made of twisted white metallic braid on a backing of the colony colour. Again having no pips, one pip or two showed the grade of senior officer.

The colony colours of red for Cameroon, white for East Africa and blue for South West Africa are shown on these examples.

A Comparative Table of Schutztruppe and British Army Officer's Ranks

Junior Officers

Leutnant - Second Lieutenant
Oberleutnant - Lieutenant
Hauptmann - Captain

Senior Officers

Major - Major
Oberstleutnant - Lieutenant Colonel
Oberst - Colonel

General Officers

Generalmajor - Brigadier General
Generalleutnant - Major General
General der Schutztruppe - Lieutenant General
Generaloberst - General
Generalfeldmarschal - Field Marshall

Notes on German Officers Ranking System

Errors in Rank Translation
As can be seen from the above table several ranks that sound similar in German and English do not exactly equate (eg. Leutnant/Lieutenant and Generalmajor/Major General). This has caused errors in translation in several English language sources (probably occasionally repeated on this website). This is one reason I prefer to stick to German rank titles on this website

Generals and the Highest Ranking Officers
The subject of General Officers and their rank insignia is covered on the Schutztruppe Generals Page although for the study of the German Colonies it is largely academic as very few officers of General rank ever served there. At the outbreak of the First World War the highest ranking active military officers in each colony were-

Oberstleutnant von Heydebrerck (South West Africa)
Oberstleutnant von Lettow-Vorbeck (East Africa)
Major Zimmerman (Cameroon)
Major von Kessinger (of the III. Seebataillon at Tsingtao)
Hauptmann Georg Pfähler (Togo)
Rittmeister von Klewitz (New Guinea)
Samoa had no active military officers

Pre-1899 Lieutenant Titles
Prior to 1st January 1899, the rank of Leutnant was called "Sekonde-Lieutenant", while Oberleutnant was known as "Premier-Lieutenant" in the Imperial army and also the Schutztruppe (see Axis History Forum). The Wissmantruppe had never made a difference between grades of Leutnant.

Rittmeister Cavalry Captain Title
The rank of Hauptmann was called a "Rittmeister" in cavalry units. While this did not apply to the Schutztruppe in Africa where no true cavalry units existed, it did apply to the East Asian cavalry in China and to the Asienkorps cavalry in Palestine. Also army officers were sometimes seconded to the colonies, keeping their original rank title, for example the commander of the German forces in New Guinea in the First World War, Carl von Klewitz, was a cavalry captain and bore the title Rittmeister von Klewitz.

Marine Infantry Insignia
Officer shoulder straps for the Seebataillon were similar to those of the Schutztruppe but had a yellow metal Imperial crown on the shoulder strap above any pips.

Overseas Imperial Army Officers Rank Insignia
The same system of shoulder straps with pips was used by the Schutztruppe was used by units of the Imperial army overseas including the East Asian Expeditionary Corps, Pascha Expeditions in the Ottoman Empire and army officers seconded overseas and to the colonies. The differences being that the army had state coloured threads in their shoulder straps (Prussia- black and white, Bavaria- blue and white, Saxony- green and white etc) and that they wore a yellow or white metal numeral or monogram of their unit above any pips.

First World War Variations
During the First World War white metallic lace shoulder straps were replaced in army (and naval) units with dull grey lace. This of course did not apply to officers in the colonies who were cut off from Germany throughout the war.

Privately Purchased Uniforms
Officers almost always had privately purchased uniforms. These were made by tailors in Germany following the regulations issued by the Colonial Office. This meant that they were usually of better quality than other ranks uniforms but also that they often varied slightly in cut and manufacture. The same principles were applied to footwear and weaponry.

Other Officers Uniform Distinctions
Officers were distinguished by having metallic insignia such as collar ands cuff Litzen while other ranks had plain white or yellow cloth. Small details such as more elaborate cockades and silver cords around the tropical helmet distinguished them though most uniforms were essentially the same cut as for other ranks.

Officers Weapons and Equipment
Officers carried swords with sword knots on parade with silk belts. On campaign they usually had pistols and Sam Brown belts. These were sometimes replaced with other ranks rifles so as not to make the officers so easy for enemy snipers to spot.


Schutztruppe Oberleutnant Shoulder Strap
Shown on a Schutztruppe 1897 officers grey home tunic. Note the single pip of an Oberleutnant on the white metallic lace shoulder strap with threads of red and black with blue (for South West Africa) as the underlay.
Photo by C Dale at the Bavarian Army Museum

East African Schutztruppe Hauptmann
Shown on a Schutztruppe 1897 officers grey home tunic. Note the two pips of a Hauptmann on the white metallic lace shoulder strap with threads of red and black with white (for East Africa) as the underlay.
Photo by C Dale at the Bavarian Army Museum

Marine Infantry Leutnant Shoulder Strap
 Shown on a Marine Infantry Officers white tropical tunic. Note lack of pips of a Leutnant but the Imperial Crown of the Marine Infantry on the white metallic lace shoulder strap with threads of red and black with white (for Marine Infantry) as the underlay.
(see Seebataillon Officers White Uniform Page)
Damien Doppler Collection

Prussian Railway Oberleutnant Shoulder Strap
Shown on the corduroy tunic of a Prussian officer, Oberleutnant Kloevekorn who worked on the Baghdad Railway during the First World War. Note the single pip of an Oberleutnant, the stylised E (for railway- "Eisenbahn") as a unit badge, the Prussian black and white threads in the grey wartime shoulder strap with the blue underlay of a railway officer.
(See Baghdad Railway Officers Uniform Page)
Photo © A Private US Collector

  Period Photographs of Junior Officers  

Unknown Leutnant
East Asian Occupation Brigade
His uniform is the 1902 East Asian Interimsrock and the 1902 officers double breasted greatcoat. Note the shoulder straps without pips showing his rank to be a Leutnant. At his throat is the Chinese Double Dragon Order. He wears the officers 1900 East Asian Pickelhaube with pearl ring and chinscales.
Photo © Joe Robinson

Oberleutnant Hans Dominik
Cameroon Schutztruppe
He wears the 1897 Schutztruppe grey home uniform with Südwester hat, all edged in red for Cameroon.
Note the lace shoulder straps with one pip for Oberleutnant. His medal bar is very interesting showing three Prussian awards (Order of the Red Eagle fourth class with swords, Crown Order with Swords and the Wilhelm I Centenary Medal) and an Ottoman one, the Medjidie Order.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Unknown Hauptmann
East African Schutztruppe 1911

He wears the 1896 Schutztruppe khaki uniform with a privately purchased tropical helmet. Note the lace shoulder straps with two pips for Hauptmann.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv
  Period Photographs of Senior Officers  

Major Georg Mäerker
South West African Schutztruppe
Georg Maerker served in East Africa, Tsingtao and South West Africa, he later headed the German Colonial Fighters' Union (DKKB) in the 1920s. He wears the 1896 Schutztruppe khaki uniform with the field grey peaked cap from his home uniform. Note the braided shoulder straps with no pips for Major. He has an impressive ribbon medal bar including the campaign medals for South West Africa and China.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Oberstleutnant Georg von Glasenapp
Commander of the II. Seebataillon
Glasenapp commanded the Marine Expeditionskorps in the South West Africa during the Herero Rebellion and was later in overall command of the Schutztruppe from the Colonial Office in Berlin 1908-14. He wears the dark blue home uniform of the Marine Infantry with the Marine Infantry Jäger shako.
His braided shoulder strap with the Imperial Crown and a single pip below shows his rank to be Oberstleutnant at this point. His medal bar shows several Prussian awards including the Order of the Red Eagle third class with bow and swords, Prussian Crown Order third class with swords, China Campaign Medal with campaign clasp and interestingly a Japanese Order of the Rising Sun fourth class in the final position.
Photo © Joe Robinson

Oberst Berthold Deimling
South West African Schutztruppe
At the time this photo was taken c1905, Deimling was commander of the the Schutztruppe 2. Feldregiment, he later commanded the South West African Schutztruppe 1906-07. He wears the 1896 khaki uniform with corduroy field cap. Note the braided shoulder straps with two pips for Oberst.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv



Exceptions to the Usual Officers Rank Insignia
Most Schutztruppe, Marine Infantry and overseas Army units wore the form of rank insignia shown above. There were however a few exceptions which are covered on their respective pages.

Imperial Navy
Officers of the Imperial Navy usually wore their rank insignia as lace bars on their cuffs. A system of shoulder strap insignia was worn on some types of uniform. See Naval Officers Page.

General Officers in the Schutztruppe wore gold braided shoulder straps and insignia. See
Schutztruppe General Officers Page.

Early Francoistruppe officers in South West Africa wore a striped band in the imperial colours across their breast. See right and also see Francoistruppe Page.

Wissmanntruppe officers in East Africa wore lace bars on their cuffs. See Wissmanntruppe Officers Page.

Effendi, African officers in the East African Schutztruppe wore silver stars on their shoulder straps. See Effendi Page.

Non-Combatant Schutztruppe Officials such as doctors, paymasters and gunsmiths wore their own system of rank insignia on shoulder straps. These will be covered in future updates to this website.


Schutztruppe Generalmajor Wilhelm Müller
Germany c1908
Müller was the commander of the Cameroon Schutztruppe with the rank of Oberst from 1903. He was promoted to Generalmajor upon his retirement back to Germany in 1908. He wears the Schutztruppe generals home uniform with gold decorated collar and cuff Litzen and a twisted cord left shoulder strap and a braided gold right shoulder strap.
See Schutztruppe General Officers Page.
Photograph Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons


Leutnant Wilhelm Langheld
East African Wissmanntruppe
Bukoba, East Africa 1891

This officer wears a Wissmanntruppe officer's khaki tunic with his rank as Leutnant shown in the form of two yellow metallic lace bars with a loop on the cuff. His officers shoulder straps may be from his home unit, the 12th Saxon Field Artillery Regiment ("
Königlich Sächsisch 1. Feld-Artillerie-Regiment Nr.12"), and as such would have been in silver cords with Saxon green threads. Wissmanntruppe officers confusingly wore the shoulder straps of their home units. See Wissmanntruppe Officers Page for full rank insignia details and variations.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Hauptmann Curt
von Francois
South West African Francoistruppe
Germany c1890
Initially there was only one officer in the Francoistruppe, Hauptmann Curt von Francois. Thus there was no need to distinguish between different officer ranks. The only insignia to distinguish him from his men were two diagonal stripes of lace in the Imperial colours from his shoulders down and inwards. Later his brother Sekondlieutenant Hugo von Francois served as the second officer in the colony.
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Fregattenkapitän Karl Nerger
Germany 1918
Nerger was the commander of the raider SMS Wolfe whose 451 day mission from Germany around Africa, across the Indian Ocean around Australia and back was the longest voyage of any warship in the First World War. Along the way he captured and sank numerous Entente merchant vessels. He wears a blue officers double breasted frock coat with his rank as Fregattenkapitän shown as four gold bars below an imperial crown. He wears the Prussian Pour-le-Mérite at his throat, the Iron Cross first class on his breast and second class in his buttonhole, and the Mecklenburg-Schwerin  Military Merit Cross again with the  first class on his breast and second class in his buttonhole.
Photo by Nicola Perscheid on Wikimedia

Highly Recommended External Link-
Article on How Officers were Chosen for the Imperial Army on the Pickelhauben website.

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

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