Black Soldier who fought for Germany in WWI

German African askaris served nobly under General von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa during WWI. Africans also served in the Kaiser’s Army in Europe.

The Colonial Army (Schutztruppe) of the German Empire employed native troops–called askaris–led by German officers and NCOs. The highest concentration of such locally recruited troops was in German East Africa (now Tanzania). The first askaris in German East Africa were organized by the German East Africa Company around 1888. It was during the First World War, however, that the Askaris became the pride of the short-lived German empire.

Askaris were harshly disciplined and well paid

Harshly disciplined–as were all German troops of that time–and well paid–askaris received double the pay of their British counterparts in the King’s African Rifles, and received specialized training from German officers who were themselves subject to an extremely rigorous selection process. Before the onset of war in 1914, the basic Schutztruppe unit in Southeast Africa was the feldkompagnie comprised of seven or eight German officers and NCOs with around 160 askaris, including two machine gun teams. Such small independent commands were often supplemented by tribal irregulars or ruga-ruga.

The well-trained askaris in German East Africa commanded by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck managed to resist numerically superior British, Portuguese and Belgian colonial forces from 1914 until the end of World War I in 1918.

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his askaris‘ exploits in Africa during World War I

General von Lettow-Vorbeck is possibly the most successful guerrilla commander in military history. He and his native askaris are famous for their exploits in German East Africa during World War I. Lettow-Vorbeck was fluent in Swahili, which earned the respect and admiration of his African soldiers. Appointing black officers, he said with conviction, “we are all Africans here.” Lettow-Vorbeck greatly admired his askaris, who displayed a fanatic loyalty in return. He treated them with fairness and shared their hardships.

Read more at Suite101: Africans Fought for Kaiser and Germany in World War I

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