5m Africans, Carribeans and Asians who fought in WW1 and WW2: Spotlight on the German West Africa Askari (Schutztruppe)

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west african states and people at time of partition by Europe
West African states and peoples prior to partition by European powers c. 1840-1850 (UNESCO)

A Schutztruppe was the name for a black African soldier in the colonial regiments of the German colonial empire in the African territories that lasted from 1896 to 1918 over the area of 582,200 sq. km in West Africa. The mentioned area at the time of the German empire in Africa included countries of today like Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, Central African Republic, Ghana, and Togo.

The German protectorates in Africa were split into three: German East Africa, Southwest Africa, and West Africa.

The German West Africa was a designation given to the western areas of Africa controlled by the German colonial empire during and before World War 1. It included the two colonial entities – Kamerun and Togoland. In a modern day frame of reference, it also included a few other major territories that you would not expect.

Kamerun (partly modern Cameroon)

Kamerun was known as an African colony during the period of 1884 to 1916 controlled by the German empire. The Republic of Cameroon in the present day is not identical to the German Kamerun as it comprised of Western parts of Central African Republic, northern parts of Gabon and the Congo, Southwestern parts of Chad and the eastern parts of Nigeria.

german west africa schutztruppe - transition to Cameroon
Transition of Kamerun to Cameroon (Source)

History of Kamerun

C. Woermann created the first trading post in Africa during German colonialism in the Duala area on the Kamerun River coast in 1868. The firm’s agent in Gabon, Johannes Thormahlen, expanded affairs to the Kamerun River delta. [iii] In 1874, with the Woermann representative in Liberia and Wilhelm Jantzen, both the traders established their own company, Jantzen & Thormahlen in the coastal areas of the Kamerun river only to exploit the Kamerun resources and to make political and economic gains. [iv]

Both of these West African harbours expanded and started transportation and shipment services using their own sailing ships and steamers. They also started a transportation service to provide connections to passengers between Hamburg, Germany, and Duala. [v] These companies and others received enormous acreage from local leaders and began systematic plantation operations.

By 1884, Adolph Woermann, representing all West African companies as their spokesperson, petitioned the royal foreign office for “protection” by the German Empire. Bismarck, the Imperial Chancellor, proposed to outsource “military protection” to the merchants on site to govern the region via “chartered companies”. However, in answer to Bismarck’s proposal, the companies terminated their petition.

In the midst of the commercial interests was the pursuit of profitable trading ventures under the protection of the Reich, but these entities may have initially avoided political engagements. Eventually, Bismarck yielded to the Woermann requests and directed the admiralty to dispatch a gunboat to West Africa. As a show of German interest, SMS Möwe – the small gunboat arrived in West Africa.[vi]

Protectorate of Kamerun

A puppet government was established to oversee Kamerun during the period between 1881 and 1914 which is well-known as “Scramble for Africa”. The German researcher, doctor, royal ambassador and commissioner for West Africa, Gustav Nachtigal, was the director made responsible for establishing the colony.[vii] From that time, more than a dozen German companies, located in Bremen and Hamburg, started the process of organizing plantations and trading activities in Kamerun.


With investments of royal and aristocratic wealth, the protectorate built two major railway lines of that time to bring agricultural items to market from the port city of Duala. The two lines were the Northern line of 160-kilometers (99 mi) to the Manengouba Mountains, and the 300-kilometers (190 mi) long mainline to Makak on the river Nyong. Along with building railway stations, a postal and telegraph system, a river navigation network system was built for government ships to connect the coast to the interior land. It helped people to get connected and trade from far off locations.[viii]

Kamerun Campaign

The Campaign took place in the Kamerun in the First World War when the  French, British and Belgians occupied the German colony from August 1914 to March 1916.

german west africa schutztruppe - Kamerun
Map of 1914 Allied advances against German forces (source)

Majority of the campaign took place in German Kamerun but the effect also spilled out into British Nigeria and other areas. [ix] By the spring of 1916, which brought Allied victories, the majority of German armed forces and the civil administration had relocated to the nearby neutral colony of Spanish Guinea. The campaign ended with the defeat of Germany and the partition of its former colonies between France, Belgium and Britain.

german west africa schutztruppe - British 12-pounder firing at Fort Dachang in 1915
British 12-pounder firing at Fort Dachang in 1915 (Source)


german west africa schutztruppe - togoland 1914
Map of Togoland in 1885 (source)


Togoland was a German colony during the period of 1884 to 1914. It was composed of the nation of Togo as known to us today and the Volta Region of Ghana. During the 19th century, the German-occupied Togoland was measured to be nearly 77,355 square kilometers.

History of Togoland

The territory was established towards the end of the era of European colonization in Africa usually known as the “Scramble for Africa”. Two different protectorates were created in 1884. In February 1884, the leaders of the town of Aneho were seized by German armed forces and forced to sign a treaty of protection. From a capital in Lome, the German researcher, medical doctor, royal consul and commissioner for West Africa Gustav Nachtigal was given responsible for developing Togoland, as well as Kamerun. [x] From his base on the Spanish possession of the Fernando Po island in the Bight of Biafra he moved extensively on the mainland of Africa. On 5 July 1884 Nachtigal signed a treaty with the local leader, Mlapa III (fr), and declared a German protectorate over a span of territory near the Slave Coast on the Bight of Benin. [xi] With the small gunboat SMS Möwe at anchor, the royal German flag was held up for the first time on the African continent. Consul Heinrich Ludwig Randad, Jr., resident assistant of the firm C. Goedelts at Ouidah, was selected as the first commissioner for the colony.

In 1899, Great Britain and Germany traded territory in the Samoan Islands for the Northern Solomon Islands and control in Tonga, using the Togoland Neutral Zone and the Volta Triangle as dealing chips.

Economic Prosperity

Germany continuously expanded its control inland. Colonial commanders and settlers changed agricultural focus of country to crops in demand in Europe and for export, like cacao, coffee, cotton, etc. The total number of German administrators in the territory was only 12 in 1890. The colony’s infrastructure was developed to a high standard to support the German priorities, rather than domestic supply and demand. Colonial officials built roadways and bridges toward the interior mountain ranges and 3 rail lines from the capital, Lome: along the coast to Aneho in 1905, to Palime (modern Kpalime) in 1907, and the longest line, the Hinterland Bahn, to Atakpame by 1911. [xii] By 1910, with investments of German private, royal and aristocratic wealth, thousands of roads had been built by the colonial office.

The Polizei Truppe was used to enforce colonial authority over the hinterland of Togo which was arranged in 1888 with 25 Hausa infantry. Later, it was expanded to 144 men in 1894, and carried out operations against Kpandu, and “a number of towns in central Togo which had resisted the colonial government were invaded and demolished to the ground, the property of the inhabitants confiscated and the people fined sums ranging from 200 marks to 1,110 marks.” Over the remainder of the decade, an additional 35 expeditions were sanctioned by the colonial government.

In 1895 the capital Lome had a population of 31 Germans and 2,084 Africans. By 1913 the African population had aggregated to 7,042 persons and with 194 Germans, including 33 women, while the whole colony had a German population of 316, together with 61 women and 14 children. In the short period just before World War I, Lome had emerged into the “prettiest town in West Africa”. [xiii] Because it was one of Germany’s two self-supporting colonies, Togoland was approved as a small but treasured possession. This lasted until the spark of World War I.

Beyond World War I

german west africa schutztruppe - louis botha alters the face of africa
Louis Botha makes an alteration to the Face of Africa (Source)

After calling on the German colony to capitulate on 6 August 1914, French and British troops invaded unopposed the following day. No military forces were posted in the protectorate. The police force composed of a commander and deputy commander, 10 German sergeants, 1 native sergeant, and 660 Togolese policemen disbanded throughout the territory. The Entente forces occupied Lome, and then advanced on an important German radio station near Kamina, east of Atakpame. The colony surrendered on 26 August 1914, after the German technicians who had built the radio installation destroyed the station during the night of 24/25 August. In the weeks prior to the devastation, Kamerun, German Southwest Africa, German East Africa and 47 ships on the high seas were sent reports of Allied activities, as well as warnings of trouble ahead. On 27 December 1916, Togoland was divided into French and British administrative zones. After the end of World War I, newly formed Czechoslovakia attempted unsuccessfully to obtain the colony. Following the approval of the Treaty of Versailles, on 20 July 1922, Togoland formally became a League of Nations Class B mandate divided into British Togoland and French Togoland, covering nearly two-thirds and one-third of the territory respectively.

The British part of the former German colony was integrated into Ghana in 1957 after a May 1956 referendum in which 58% of British-area residents voted to join Ghana upon its independence, rather than staying under British-administered United Nations Trusteeship.

The French-ruled area became the Republic of Togo in 1960 and is now known as the Togolese Republic. In 1960, the new state brought the last German governor of Togoland, Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg, to the country’s official independence celebrations.

Togoland Campaign

The Togoland Campaign that occurred between 9 to 26 August in 1914 was a French and British invasion of the German territory of Togoland in West Africa, which began the West African Campaign of the First World War. [viii] German colonial forces came back from the capital Lomé and the coastal province, to fight to delay actions on the way north to Kamina, where the Kamina Funkstation (wireless transmitter) connected the government in the Atlantic and South America and the Berlin to Togoland. The major British and French armed forces from the neighbouring territories of Gold Coast and Dahomey, proceeded from the coast up to the road and railway, as smaller forces converged on Kamina from the north. The German defenders were able to hold up the invaders for many days at the battles of Agbeluvhoe and Chra but left the colony on 26 August 1914. [i] In 1916, Togoland was partitioned by the winners and in July 1922, French Togoland and British Togoland were formed as League of Nations mandates. [ii]


Evidently, the Askaris or the Schutztruppe in the western parts of Africa had left a great impact on the society. The transformation and thoughts of the people changed during the era and were very important to keeping them united in critical situations.

The German colonial era ended in the year 1918 soon after the end of World War 1, but soon the people had to submit themselves in the hands of Britain and the French mandate. In short, the colonial period for the Africans was full of struggle and strife.

The Germans (mostly Europeans leading the German Askari of West Africa) were caught in the middle of French and British attacks when World War 1 started. Some of the people they were fighting may have been related historically. They had to lay down their lives for territories drawn on a map by Europe at a time when they had no political power, and received little in the way of ex-service pensions or mental health support afterwards.


Growing up, I had always seen Germany as the 1914 evil that the Allies were fighting – the bad guys you needed to have in a Great War movie. I never thought about the sad complexity and tragedies of the Africans who were thrust into a World War by Europe. Where the Askari laid down their lives, I wondered “Who looked after their wives and children?”

One hundred years later, with some research effort, I have re-discovered that I was not an outsider in Briton all along, but that all African territories had played a vital part in helping the UK and other “Superpowers” of the time fight their “World War”. It is sad to read articles on Wikipedia and other sources written about the two World Wars and see the African lives sacrifices omitted.

Today, we face new questions like “Should Commonwealth citizens serve in Britain’s armed forces?”. I am not sure of the answer, but I think we should start by acknowledging that African, Caribbean, Indian and Chinese soldiers need more monuments, than the donkeys and horses that served in the Great War, or than they currently have. Paying the ultimate sacrifice should never be cheap or ignored.


[i] “Battle of Chra – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Chra. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[ii] “Battle of Agbeluvhoe – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Agbeluvhoe. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[iii] “German colonial empire – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_colonial_empire.  Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[iv] “Schutztruppe – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schutztruppe. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[v] “Kamerun – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamerun. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[vi] “Togoland – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Togoland. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[vii] “British Togoland – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Togoland. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[viii] “Togoland Campaign – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Togoland_Campaign. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[ix] “Kamerun Campaign – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamerun_Campaign. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[x] “Naval operations of the Kamerun Campaign – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_operations_of_the_Kamerun_Campaign. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[xi] “German West Africa – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_West_Africa. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[xii] “Colonisation of Africa – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonisation_of_Africa. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

[xiii] “The Colonization of Africa.” https://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-colonization-of-africa.html. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

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5m Africans, Carribeans and Asians who fought in WW1 and WW2: Spotlight on the German West Africa Askari (Schutztruppe)

by Editorial Team time to read: 9 min