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Askaris, before 1910

As an askari (from Swahili for “soldier”, originally Arabic عسكري, also occurring as a loan word in languages ​​such as Turkish , Persian and Somali , plural in German Askaris ), native soldiers or policemen in the colonial troops of the European powers were mainly used in Africa . The term was used in the colonial troops of Italy, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium. Askaris played an important role both in the conquest of colonies and subsequently in maintaining colonial rule. In both world wars they also fought outside their areas of origin. In the Schutztruppe for German East Africa , Askari was also the designation for the lowest rank of the team .

Askaris in the German protection force

Tropical landscape in German East Africa by Themistokles von Eckenbrecher , 1896, depiction of a military conflict between the local population and colonial rulers, supported by Askaris
Askari in German East Africa, between 1914 and 1918
Askari company in German East Africa, between 1914 and 1918
Askaris in battle

In the German-speaking area, Askaris first became known through Karl May's oriental novels , then through the Askaris of the protection force for German East Africa . They formed the bulk of the German colonial force in German East Africa and contributed in the First World War the brunt of the struggle against the British troops .

The first Askari in German service in East Africa were by Hermann Wissmann 600 in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan recruited mercenaries from Sudan , which previously for the British in the Mahdi uprising had fought and about 100 Zulu from the Portuguese Mozambique, with which the East African coast 1889 was conquered against the resistance of the coastal population under Abuschiri . They were taken over from the so-called "Wissmann Troop" in the Schutztruppe.

Together with the Sudanese soldiers, Wissmann also took on some Ottoman officers who, regardless of their origin from the European or Asian parts of the Ottoman Empire, were also classified as "colored" and were not supposed to have any command over Germans. The Ottoman rank of Effendi was the only officer rank . In addition to Ottoman effendis, there were later also African officers of the rank. Due to the unclear position towards the soldier, the rank was set to the extinction budget around 1900. No further promotions took place. When the First World War broke out, only two Effendis were still in active service. During the war itself, Africans were once again promoted to this rank for bravery.

The use of the Askaris was significantly cheaper for the Reich than the use of Germans. A simple Askari received 400 Reichsmarks a year, a long-serving Askari Sergeant, Rank Sol, 1200 Reichsmarks a year. The Askaris also had to cater for themselves. On the other hand, German NCOs of the Schutztruppe received 3,000 to 3,600 Reichsmarks and allowance. In addition, it was thought in Europe that black soldiers could cope better with the climate and diseases there. As a result, fewer medicines and equipment were used for the Askaris, which saved additional costs. At the end of the service, an Askari was entitled to a lifelong pension.

The troops mostly had only German officers and a few Effendis. There were about as many Germans as German officers and numerous black NCOs. Until the outbreak of war in 1914, the teams were almost exclusively Askaris. Orders in German were given in the troops. The rest of the communication between the officers and Askaris took place in Swahili .

At the start of the war in 1914, around 30% of the Askari were Sudanese, Zulu, Somali and Ethiopian, as Britain banned the recruitment of mercenaries at the turn of the century. Instead, Askaris were recruited from among the tribes of the Ngoni , Hehe , Sukuma and Nyamwezi , who were considered warlike and reliable. The protection force was able to recruit Askaris without any problems, as Askaris were well paid for the conditions at the time in East Africa and the wages guaranteed a high standard of living. Many of the Askaris recruited later were sons of the first generation of Askaris. It was the declared goal to alienate the Askaris from their tribal traditions and to create a kind of military caste whose loyalty was primarily to the protection force. Foreign traditions such as B. cultivated Sudanese battle cries. Original Ottoman rank designations were also retained: Ombascha ( private ), Schausch (non-commissioned officer), Betschausch ( sergeant , Unterfeldwebel ) and Sol ( sergeant ). Also from the Ottoman tradition of Wissmann's mercenaries who came Tarbusch as part of the uniform.

Assaults by the Askaris such as looting and rape were only rarely punished by the officers. The Askaris looked down on the normal "Bush Negroes" (the term for normal black rural population at the time) with contempt. In each field company at least 30% were Askaris from other African countries. Askaris from German East Africa were always deployed far from their tribal areas. The machine guns remained under the control of German NCOs. The German NCOs and officers should not scold randomly or abuse askaris. The culture and way of life of the Askaris should be respected. Intervention should only be taken if business issues were affected. It was even recommended to keep your distance from the Askaris less than with the conscripts in the empire. The officer was supposed to be the father of the Askaris, so to speak. Askaris usually had several wives and lived with the family in the barracks. Before the start of the war, 67% of the Askaris belonged to Islam, 28.3% were animists and less than 5% Christians, although 90% of the population in German East Africa were animists. Although the fact that Islam was widespread in the empire was criticized by churches and the colonial lobby, the Schutztruppe did nothing to prevent it from spreading among the Askaris. It was considered important by the Schutztruppe that the officers were role models in combat and showed warlike qualities. However, because of the racial barrier, there was no friendly relationship between the Askaris and Germans.

Before the outbreak of war, the German officers considered the Askaris to be reliable and physically excellent soldiers who were loyal to their officers. They were thought to be particularly suitable for attacks, especially with the bayonet . However, one mistrusted her steadfastness in retreat. When the war broke out, the equipment was out of date. The Askaris still had the M71 infantry rifle with high-smoke ammunition, and this could only be loaded with one cartridge, while the Reich's standard rifle 98 at the time could be loaded with five cartridges. There were only outdated guns. It was modern, however, that from 1912 the machine guns were distributed among the field companies, while the opponents in the World War in East Africa initially kept the machine guns in reserve. In addition, the Askaris were well trained in the use of machine guns, which had a devastating effect on the British troops at the Battle of Tanga . There was no training in the then modern, relaxed battlefield tactics because of the firepower of the machine guns. Even the shooting training was poor, and in contrast to the Reich, the Askaris still shot volleys. The askaris were only trained to fight against attacking and poorly armed blacks. The Schutztruppe also had no reserves of weapons and equipment. At the central facility, the protection force in East Africa only had a small directorate and a recruit depot for training new recruits. There was also a small military band and a training unit for heliographers .

Until 1914, 12 porters and two European boys each were planned for each white soldier. Even the luggage and rifle of the whites carried porters. However, there was only one carrier per Askari. The Askaris had Askariboys that they paid for themselves. Until 1914, a field company had two German officers and NCOs and a doctor, with a nominal strength of 150 Askaris, and 322 porters. When the war broke out, the porters of a field company were limited to 160. On the other hand, there were 700 porters in the rifle company formed from German settlers. In the armies of the enemy in East Africa the situation with regard to porters and askaris was similar. The porters carried around 30 kg of weight on their head or on the forehead strap and mostly came from the Sukuma and Nyamwezi tribes , where there was a tradition of porting for around a century. In the social order, the porters were still among the Askariboys. Because of the almost pathless land, carriers had to be used. Carrying and draft animals had problems at lower altitudes in the country with diseases transmitted by the tsetse fly .

Some of the brutal warfare in the Maji Maji War of 1905 is often attributed to them, carrying out the orders of their German officers' scorched earth tactics .

At the Battle of Tanga , the German officers were amazed at the achievements of the Askaris. When British troops fled during the battle, the Schutztruppe did not immediately go into pursuit to destroy the enemy and allowed them to retreat. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck reprimanded his officers for this.

Together with the small contingent of German soldiers, they also launched attacks on enemy territory. The Germans and Askaris could count on the support of the local population, who by no means wanted to come under Allied rule. The war was fought as a mixture of positional and mobile warfare as well as in hunting combat and combined German military tactics with local knowledge of the conditions and mobility to create a powerful warfare.

Overall, the number of Askaris in the Schutztruppe rose to over 13,000 by early 1916. Of them, around 2,850 deserted in the further course of the war. This contrasts with information that at least a third of 14,598 Askari deserted.

A myth of German colonial history developed around the Askari, which was intended to show the humane conditions prevailing in the German colonies and to support the historical revisionist efforts of the period after the First World War. In fact, the Askaris had served the German colonial rulers with voluntary loyalty and after the end of German rule longed for it; tears are said to have flowed when he left in 1918. For a long time, the Askari's loyalty to the Schutztruppe during World War I was attributed to the charisma of the military chief Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck . Stories about the "Askari loyalty" were propagandist exploited and exaggerated by colonialism advocates of the 1920s.

Based on this, the word Askari was also chosen as the title for the news from the colonial youth movement . This mostly only four-page sheet was enclosed with the editions of the Jambo (entertainment and instruction booklets on colonies and overseas) for the years 1924 and 1925.

Lettow-Vorbeck made sure in 1926 that the Askaris received their promised pensions. Payments ended in World War II. The Askari pensions were paid out again by the Federal Republic of Germany from the beginning of the 1960s until the death of the last Askari at the end of the 1990s.

Far less humane, however, was how the Third Reich dealt with Askari Bayume Mohamed Husen . He was brought to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1941 on charges of " racial disgrace " , where he died in 1944 after three years' imprisonment.


In 1938 the so-called “German East Africa Memorial” was built at the entrance to the HamburgLettow-Vorbeck-Kaserne ”. It was in the tradition of the veneration of the German colonial troops, which began immediately after the First World War and which took on cult-like features at the time of the National Socialists.

After the barracks were closed in 1999, the erection of the relief as part of a memorial for the victims of the colonial era was discussed. It was criticized that “[…] a concept that explains the historical references [is missing].” “The Askari relief shows a troop of African soldiers who apparently loyally follow their white officer. This blurs the view of the rule of the colonial empire. The place of issue is problematic. The Lettow-Vorbeck-Kaserne was set up by the National Socialist rulers as a central place for the colonial revisionist tradition of the military. Today the 'traditional association of former protection and overseas troops' collects money for the restoration of the Askari relief. "

Temporarily dismantled, the relief was rebuilt in 2003 as part of the so-called " Tanzania Park " amid protests.

Askari Monument in Dar es Salaam

In the city center of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania is the Askari Monument, erected in 1927 . It stands on the roundabout between Azikiwe Street and Maktaba Street and is dedicated to the British Carrier Corps .


Askari reliefs in the Tanzania Park
  • Jürgen Kraus , Thomas Müller: The German colonial and protection troops from 1889 to 1918. History, uniforms and equipment , Vienna (Verlag Militaria) 2009. ISBN 978-3-902526-24-3 (catalogs of the Bavarian Army Museum Ingolstadt 7).
  • Stefanie Michels: Black German Colonial Soldiers - Ambiguous Representation Rooms and Early Cosmopolitanism in Africa. Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2009, ISBN 978-3-8376-1054-3
  • Heiko Möhle: Colonialism and the Politics of Remembrance. The debate about the Hamburg “Askari reliefs”. In: Upheavals in African societies and how to cope with them. Contributions from the Collaborative Research Center 520 of the University of Hamburg. Edited by Ludwig Gerhardt, Heiko Möhle, Jürgen Oßenbrügge , Wolfram Weisse, Lit Verlag, Berlin / Münster 2006, ISBN 3-8258-7518-0 .
  • Eckard Michels : The hero of German East Africa. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. A Prussian colonial officer. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-506-76370-9 .

Individual evidence

  1. Inflection of Askari ( Canoonet )
  2. a b c d e f g Eckard Michels: The hero of German East Africa. Schöningh, Paderborn et al. 2008, p. 125 ff.
  3. ^ Effendi, Askari Officers of the German East African Schutztruppe and Polizruppe, website "germancolonialuniforms", with reference to the Greek Effendi
  4. Stefanie Michels, Total Mobilization in Africa in: Elise Julien, Arnd Bauerkämper Perseverance !: War and Society in Comparison 1914–1918, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-525-36389-8 , page 244, view via google books; Mention of a Greek and an Armenian Effendi
  5. ^ Art. Rank in: Heinrich Schnee (Ed.): Deutsches Kolonial-Lexikon , Quelle & Meyer, Leipzig 1920; on-line
  6. Werner Haupt, Die deutsche Schutztruppe 1889/1918, p. 43, Utting: Ed. Villagers in Nebel-Verl. 1988, ISBN 3-89555-032-9
  7. Eckard Michels: The hero of German East Africa. Schöningh, Paderborn et al. 2008, p. 154 ff.
  8. ^ John Iliffe : A Modern History of Tanganyika. P. 248 (Iliffe via google book search)
  9. ^ Heinrich Loth: History of Africa. From the beginning to the present. Part II: Africa under imperialist colonial rule and the formation of anti-colonial forces 1884–1945. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1976, p. 119.
  10. ^ Heiko Möhle: Colonialism and the politics of memory. The debate about the Hamburg “Askari reliefs” . In: Ludwig Gerhardt, Heiko Möhle, Jürgen Oßenbrügge, Wolfram Weisse (eds.): Upheavals in African societies and their management (African studies, University of Hamburg), Lit Verlag, Münster 2006, p. 277 f.
  11. ^ Sigrid Meissner: Scientists against the war memorial.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Hamburger Morgenpost from August 6, 2002.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  12. Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst: Faithful to death. Ch. Links Verlag, 2007, p. 159 f.
  13. "Tanzania Park" ,
  14. Sigrid Meissner: Why do we need this monument?  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Hamburger Morgenpost , September 6, 2003.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  

Web links

Commons : Askari  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Askari  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

See also