The Germans…1885-1890s


…Tom Prince holds the line…


Last month we focused on the Masai. Lots of figures, some game reports with their army now in good shape to defend their homeland. Their most implacable foreign foe, when they weren’t beating up on their neighbours, were the Germans. Off all the European powers the Germans laid claim to areas of Masai land and surrounds that caused confrontation. Off course, other enemies exist but the Colonial Germans were always the main protagonists in mind for a ‘clash of cultures’ type scenario and the Kaiser’s men admirably step up to the plate to give us plenty of gaming opportunities.

The German force I am building is some what generic but leans toward the earlier German East Africa Company (DOAG) and Wissmanntruppe forces roughly from the mid-late 1880s to the early 1890s. This would allow me to explore the Germans in the early stages of their colonial expansion under men such as Dr Carl Peters and then to the more formal and expanded forces of Wissmanntruppe under Hermann von Wissmann taking in the actions fought around Mt. Kilimanjaro against the Chaga as well.

By taking in this time period the troops to paint provide a bit of flexibility as the uniforms varied from the more formal look of the DOAG askari which I like, to being able to field an eclectic force with armed porters and askaris of a more tribal nature. This period also saw the use of muskets, breechloaders and repeaters as well as the inclusion of light artillery and machine guns. So the German forces offer a good mix of troops in the ‘early days’ and they also offer up a variety of opponents, not just the Masai.

Principally they fought the Arabs in the Abushiri Rebellion (1888-90) and the Wahehe Rebellion (1891-98). Though the Wahehe war went long into the 1890s the early stages of the war were fought by Germans dressed much as they had been at the start of the decade and in some respects this is the more interesting end of the conflict. The expeditions of  commissioner Emil von Zelewski and Captain Thomas von Prince more or less define the end of the period I’m looking at (initially). That said, there is much to offer by pushing things out into the Schele offensives that drove the Hehe leader Mkwawa from his fortress stronghold at Iringa and the subsequent guerrilla war he fought afterwards.

Other expeditions into the interior of East Africa also saw the Germans clash with the Nyamwezi (Ruga-Ruga), Chaga and Ngoni. The Chaga are an army I am looking to build to create a different kind of ‘Masai force’, one that combines shock and firepower in varying measures. These will be the subject of a future project largely inspired by Mr. Plyknes’s LAF thread on this topic. The Chaga are interesting in that the battles Kiboshi and Moshi provided the Germans with new challenges against a determined and well led foe…more to come on the Chaga.

…so you can see the Germans managed to involve themselves with plenty of actions against a wide variety of enemies offering up lots of interesting gaming and historical study opportunities. They fought in towns on the coastal strip, engaged with naval landing forces, fought Arabs and Africans, trekked ‘up country’ and constantly took the fight to their enemies providing rich pickings for the German colonial gamer.

As an aside, at some point I’d like to take a look at the subsequent Maji-Maji Rebellion which still involved spear and firearm equipped warriors fighting much as they had done the decade before. This rebellion saw a general uprising involving many tribes like the Ngoni, Yao, and Bena and the Hehe now fighting for the Germans. Tactics and weapons hadn’t changed much into this period so this looks like interesting ground for further use of troops, particularly my WW1 Schutztruppe which are uniformed the same way. In addition to this the Herero War in Southwest Africa is most certainly worthy of study as well…I digress.



German East Africa theatre of operations.


Building a force

The army that I’m going to put together will follow a similar logic to how the Masai are built. That is, the initial force will comprise enough troops to provide a 400pt game of Rifles & Spears with a range of options to keep them ‘fresh’. To create variation the idea will be to build a force that will serve both as an Explorer list which will take in the Carl Peters and Gustav Fischer’s expeditions and the more ‘conventional’ Germans In East Africa force lead by Wissmann, Zelewski, Prince and Schele.


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With that broad brief I want to get maximum use out the minimum number of figures possible to get the greatest gaming return for painting input. So using these two force lists we can get a look at the troop types needed from select orders of battle for the respective ‘challenges’ met by the German at this time.

Note that some sources do differ in numbers so these lists can at least be taken to represent all the types of troops that would be present at the very least and hopefully they are accurate in numbers for the most part as well. I have seen the same author differ on the same OB so there clearly is a small degree of confusion, but nothing that adds too much to unbalance things. For us this matters little as the OBs more than represent the troops present in one form or another.


The opening of the Arab Rebellion saw the Germans in very weak numbers;

  • 56 Agents scouted throughout the country
  • 50 DOAG askaris (under siege in Pangani)
  • 110 Sailors from the Cruiser Carola (reinforcements in Pangani)
  • Detachments in Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo (DOAG askaris)
  • Zanzibari regulars (that deserted to the Arabs along with the aforementioned detachment DOAG askaris)


The make up of the initial forces under Wissmann sent to restore order c.1888 in what was now the Abushiri War were;

  • 5 Officers (incl. medical and administrative staff)
  • 7 Warrant Officers (supply officer)
  • 40 NCO’s (‘sharpshooter’ detachment)
  • 600 Askaris (organized into 6 companies, 4 Sudanese*, 1 ‘Zulu’ and 1 Somali)
  • DOAG Askaris (approximately 60-80 men)
  • A naval landing force of 200 German marines under captain Hirschberg from the ships Leipzig, Schwalbe, Sperber, Carola and Pfeil.

*2 Turkish Officers plus 20 other ranks to issue orders to the Sudanese troops who only understood orders in Turkish.


Building off this existing force Wissmanntruppe (1889-90) had;


  • 5 Officers (incl. medical and administrative staff)
  • 7 Warrant Officers (supply officer)
  • 56 NCO’s (including medical staff), 40 of which were a designated ‘sharpshooter’ detachment

Native troops 

  • 600 Askaris (organized into 6 Sudanese companies)
  • 30 Sudanese artillery staff
  • 100 Zulu (Ngoni) from Portuguese East Africa
  • 80 locally recruited askaris from the DOAG
  • 40 ship crews from Somalia
  • Zaramo allies
  • 100 loyal Nyamwezi allies

Naval troops 

  • A naval landing force of 200 German marines under captain Hirschberg from the ships Leipzig, Schwalbe, Sperber, Carola and Pfeil.


Turning our attention to Carl Peters’s Emin Pasha Expedition in 1889 who led an independent operation up country on the as yet to be established German-British East Africa border, we see he had;

  • Carl Peters and Lt. von Tiedemann
  • 21 Somali soldiers (nine with repeaters, the rest breechloaders)
  • 85 porters (approx. 1/3 with muskets) plus donkey and camel ‘train’
  • 37mm Krupp ‘bush piece’ with crew


Peters expedition LR

Peters ‘on the march’. This pic shows a good mix of the troops in his force. Note the DOAG style uniform of the lead asakris.



Kilimanjaro Campaign (1891-92) forces were;

  • 9 German Officers and 7 NCOs
  • 100 Sudanese askaris (1 company)
  • 200 ‘Zulu’ askaris (2 company)
  • Artillery detachment (Wissmann 1891) – 37mm revolving cannon and one Maxim machine gun
  • Artillery detachment (Schele 1892) – 65mm field gun, 37mm mountain gun and one Maxim machine gun
  • 250 Ambulance Corps and Baggage plus a section of escorts
  • 400 Chaga Warrior allies (armed with breechloaders) under Sultan Mandara

(note that in the initial Wissmanntruppe force only 100 Zulu askaris were present – in this force a second company has now been added).


Hehe Campaign forces in 1891 led by Zelewski to crush the uprising led by chief Mkwawa were;

  • 4 companies of Sudanese askaris (approximately 90 men each)
  • 1 Company of ‘Zulu’ askaris (approximately 90 men )
  • 3 C.73 Field Guns or 2 Maxim machine guns*
  • Supply elements – 170 African Porters
  • Supply elements – 27 Donkeys (total including those ridden by officers, pack animals and those pulling the artillery), 20 Cows, 60 Sheep and Goats

*Some confusion as to the exact numbers of field and/or maxim guns remains. It seems reasonable to assume that at least one of each type is present and up to 2 Maxims and most likely  1 or 2 C.73 field guns would be available given the nature of the operations undertaken.

This early HeHe campaign was where the German Schutztruppe suffered their greatest defeat at the battle of Lugalu (Rugaro River) resulting in them losing the strategic initiative until resuming operations in 1894, led by the able leader Tom von Prince who fortunately avoided the disaster at Lugalu.


Zelewski-Expedition_klein t3

Defeat at Lugalu, 1891

In summation, you can see there is a lot of crossover of the various types of troops and still a good deal of variety. As we shall see some uniform change also occurred and this both works to our advantage (by allowing some crossover) and against us slightly when trying to ‘accurately’ represent German colonial forces in this period of change.


So what figures to use? Good question! There are easy answers and more detailed ones. This is not a new question off course and others have answered it in the past but for my project I’m looking at principally using Copplestone Castings, Wargames Foundry (WF) (same sculptor) and whom ever else can fill in the bits these two manufacturers don’t cover- so that focus on ‘high quality sculpts’ limits me a bit…which is entirely my fault for being fussy!

Rather than try and nail down every single figure available or that I’m likely to use, which is impractical, a few general guidelines will do. In this high Victorian era there are good opportunities to use figures from a range of sources and from different nations to depict troops, and characters in particular, in a unique way. So let’s look at the troops from the above OBs to see what 28mm minis do the job.


Officers and Warrant Officers can be taken from the command packs of Copplestone Castings and Wargames Foundry as well as using figures from Pulp Figures and Northstar’s Africa range. Specialist figures from a range of other manufacturers really opens up the field on possible command figures for this period.

For the NCO Sharpshooter detachment I plan on using Brigade Games WW1 figures but may mix in both Pulp and Northstar’s line with the odd Wargames Foundry as well. The Schutztruppe in slouch hat is what I’m looking to use but a more ragged look would be to mix in Northstar’s British South African figures which may be more appropriate to give an ad-hoc colonial unit look.

The Schutztruppe Askaris will be from Copplestone Castings and Brigade Games WW1 Schutztruppe. The WW1 Schutztruppe look is more or less for the properly organised and provisioned 1891+ scenarios with the Wissman askaris from Copplestone Castings East Africa Company figures being able to be used before then. Look here for details on the Schutztruppe uniform.

The Sudanese recruits were initially in the uniform from their Egyptian service so in the early period you can use figures that would look like those from an Anglo-Egyptian army. The slightly later ‘in theatre’ (less Egyptian) look can use the Copplestone Schutztruppe Askaris for these Askari companies with the DOAG Askaris painted in khaki representing the uniform inbetween the two (and probably most appropriate for the 1889-90 period).

The DOAG askaris naturally enough will be the Copplestone Castings East Africa Company figures sculpted to represent these types. Swahili Askaris (ie the existing DOAG Askaris recruited directly into the Kaiserliche Schutztruppe für deutsch Ost Afrika (1889-91) to guard German interests on the coast) use these same figures in their same uniforms from their DOAG days….a nice fit.

The DOAG figures (at a pinch) can also be used painted in blue or khaki to represent the Zulu company of Wissmanntruppe when better provisioned. However, the Zulu company was variously described as being in ‘tatters’ as well so any partly dressed askaris with rifles will do for these to. Northstar’s Matabele with Rifles would be good candidates to represent a ‘rough and ready’ Zulu company force which is what I plan to use, though I may add some ‘blue uniform’ Askaris for variation. See the Wissmantruppe Uniforms page to read about the uniforms of all these troops.

For the adventurous “Wali Askari” or village police can be made from DOAG askaris with straw hats – a head swap with the Wargames Foundry Force Publique figures would do the job…expensive way to get village police however unless you can be neat enough to swap them from figure to figure…good luck!

The Sudanese artillery element could allow one to use the Perry Egyptian artillery crew at a pinch as they were recruited from Cairo though they are very well dressed…if painted in khaki that might make for a nice look, though I’m not sure if that’s stretching it a bit though. Another option is to use Askari Miniatures German Colonial Askari gun crew which  will work but have a distinctive post 1891 look.

Ship crews can be made from Pulp Figures and possibly the Brigade Games German Sailors.

The Zaramo allies can easily be made from Wargames Foundry Ruga-Ruga range, Foundry Askaris and can fight alongside The German Nyamwezi allies who use these same figures.

German Marines will be from Copplestone Castings.

Chaga Warriors were influenced by both Masai and Arab trends so a mix of these two ranges from Wargames Foundry will achieve the desired effect.

The 37mm revolving cannon will come from Houston’s artillery line…very useful. The small ‘bush piece’ in Peters’ expedition can be fashioned from Northstar’s 7 Pounder Mountain Gun.

The 4.7 cm Krupp field gun is rather small so I shall repurpose my existing 2nd Afghan War British Army screw gun or perhaps the Askari Miniatures small mountain gun that will cover me for the 6 cm mountain gun as well.

Maxim MGs could be mounted on a carriage or in a tripod configuration. I shall use them from Brigade Games or the Pulp Figures Germans for fixed mounted MGs. A tripod mounted gun is available (code WC-39) from Houston’s artillery line. Even though the Pulp Germans have slouch hats they are very nice (if a little small) and for gun crews and the like I’m less particular about being ‘exact’ if close enough is good enough.

Maxim MG on carriage








The C.73 9cm Krupp Field Gun is a larger weapon. This looks like the Egyptian 6.5cm Krupps so the Perry Egyptian Gun may be a good choice for this weapon suitably recrewed with German Colonial Askari gun crew. Alternatively for a German looking gun crew I’ll need to track down some Artillery types (yet to be found).







Painting and Uniform Guide

This really is the ‘easy one’ on a not so easy topic. There is a one stop shop on the internet that tells you all you need to know about the German uniforms and alot of history as well which a number of the above links take you to.

If you missed them, then go to the German Colonial Uniforms website and you’ll find all you need to know. Names of troops and what they wore were to a degree interchangeable depending on who was talking about them and the German Colonial Uniforms spells it out probably as well as it can be.

That said there is a ‘dead link’ on the website that offered some useful additional/complimentary information by Rudy Scott Nelson (described below) that is worth including here as it forms the basis of other comments on the German Colonial Uniforms site. It is a nice brief summary to get us going on the non German uniforms for many of the troops involved and a few not mentioned that formed part of the campaign. Use both sources to get the best ‘take’ on non German uniforms for this period.


Non Germans uniforms
The Sudanese soldiers wore a khaki jacket with brass buttons, khaki knee-length trousers, blue puttees, and natural color leather lace-up shoes. On their head they wore a light gray or pale yellow turban wound around a fez. Toward the end of 1890 the turban was changed to a gray tarbush and neck shade.

The Effendis (native officers) wore a khaki jacket after the pattern worn by German NCO’s, with trousers, puttees, shoes, and headdress as for the soldiers. Their jacket buttons were brass also.

The designation “Effendi” originated during the time of the Wissmann Unit. The equivalent German rank was Leutnant or Second Lieutenant. For insignia they wore three, golden, five-pointed stars on each shoulder strap.

Chevrons denoted rank among the men. These were of blue braid (Zinnfigur mentions that some sources state yellow) and worn on the right forearm of the khaki jacket. From 1890 onward they were red, and worn on the upper left sleeve. One chevron denoted the rank of “Ombascha” (Gefreite, or Lance Corporal), two chevrons denoted the rank of “Schausch” (Unteroffizier, or Corporal), three denoted the rank of “Betschausch” (Sergeant), and four the rank of “Sol” (Feldwebel, or Sergeant-Major). Askaris (Privates) wore none. Specialist badges were worn on the upper right sleeve of the jacket. There was a red flaming grenade for artillerymen, and red crossed flags for signals personnel.

The German East Africa Company askaris continued to wear their white uniform and fez. A photo in Schmidt dated 1889 shows a group of them wearing a waist belt with belly box and their jacket is being worn outside the trousers. Zinnfigur states that during the period of the Wissmann Unit a white jacket with standing collar and black buttons came to be worn with long white trousers; jacket outside. There was a black-white-red braid running along the base of the collar.

Soldiers of the Zulu company wore the same dress as the Company askaris mentioned earlier, but the jacket and knee-length trousers were blue instead of white, and the jacket was worn outside the trousers. For parade they wore a long sleeved white shirt beneath the jacket, and white puttees. According to Zinnfigur, later, when a second company was added, the soldiers of the second company wore a white tassel on their fez as a distinction. At the end of 1889 the Zulu soldiers were given the same sort of dress as the Sudanese; with the exception of headwear as they continued to wear the fez, and the lack of shoes.

The Bacharia, or station oarsman, wore the same white jacket and knee-length trousers as the Company askari, jacket worn inside the trousers, with a blue anchor on the right sleeve. In addition to this, the leader wore a blue chevron on the left sleeve. Headwear was a straw hat similar to the British sennet hat.

Native sailors of the Reich Commissar’s flotilla wore the same white jacket and knee-length trousers as the Company askari. The jacket had a blue anchor on the chest, and was worn inside the trousers. They wore the straw hat described above, with a ribbon bearing the ships name. According to Zinnfigur it appears that on occasion the red fez was also worn.

The policemen wore the same dress as the Sudanese soldiers, but had no shoulder straps or rank chevrons on the jacket. They wore a red “P” on the upper right sleeve, and when on duty a red police sash running right shoulder to left hip. Headwear consisted of a gray tarbush with brass eagle on the front. One source mentioned that the fez was also worn.

The Village Policemen (Wali Askari) wore the same white jacket and knee-length trousers as the Company askari, and a red fez without tassel. They wore a cartridge belt and were armed with muzzleloaders. The village policemen were subordinate to the authority of the local magistrate, the Wali jumbe or village headman who had responsibility for collecting the hut tax.


Sudanese company – Wissmantruppe 1891+.


Other blogs of use.

It’s always good to see what other people have done and Wissmanntruppe is one of those ‘niche’ colonial armies that often receives a bit of colonial enthusiasts ‘love’. So in no specific order here are some online resources, gaming or otherwise, worth checking out when looking for info on this force and the German Colonial experience in East Africa.


German Colonial Uniforms

Darkest Africa

Gaming the German Colonial Wars

Axis History – Colonial German Wars

Deutsche Kolonialgeschichte Forum

Ost Afrika Yahoo Egroup

Maji Maji Bibliography Project


Peters v Masai

…Peters (in white) bumps into trouble up country…

What next?

So first thing will be to paint up some askaris, then DOAG troops and some explorers. This will give me a small Explorer force for use with Rifles & Spears providing me with an historical opponent for my Masai warriors.

These will form Peters’ Emin Pasha expedition and can take on the Masai which I have already done and provide a few ‘what if’ scenarios against the Galla (Abyssinians) though this didn’t happen historically…but was possible given Peters’ modus operandi.

They will also form the basis of the troops that will fight in the Arab Rebellion and also the initial campaigns of the Hehe war. By adding some artillery and support equipment along with the German Marines this will provide for a more all encompassing Wissmanntruppe force able to engage in many types of actions.

With Arabs to follow in the painting queue these three armies; Masai, Arabs and Germans all fought one another at various times and can provide allies to each other as well for maximum utility.

A pretty good return for time invested in building these forces.

8 thoughts on “The Germans…1885-1890s

  1. A well researched and informative piece. Yet another interesting period on a continent full of them. I look forwards to reading more!


  2. Thanks J,

    Always good to lay it out and plot a way forward…hopefully useful for others as well…

    …slowly working my way back to the interwar…looking forward to your next piece on Eastern Europe imagination 👌


  3. Hugely enjoying your articles, not least because I have a large collection of Masai in store back in Europe awaiting my return in the Autumn.

    I hesitate to suggest it because of your “quality sculpts” comment might militate against, but the Minifig 25 mm Colonial Series do an excellent Cavalry Maxim of the type in the photo. It could easily be “upgraded” if you so desire with other wheels and a different gun but the basic structure is right.



  4. Hi Graham,

    Glad you enjoy the blog 😉

    I’m not overly precious about ALL the figures I can get and realise that the bits and pieces will have too come from a range of sources. That Minifig colonial Maxim gun looks pretty good and a nice clean, crisp casting…thanks for the tip.

    Much appreciated.

    Happy W


  5. Hi,
    Great post. Out of historical curiosity what is your source for the OOB for the Kilimanjaro campaign against Sina of Kibosho? Thank you.


  6. Hi Ephron,

    I’m on holidays at present, but IIRC I got the orbat from the Wargames Foundry East Africa book…but I can’t be sure – I’d need to check that when I am home.


    Happy W


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