The Schutztruppen (“protection troops” or “protection force”) were troops stationed in the African colonies of Imperial Germany. The mission of the Schutztruppen was twofold: (a) to deter and defeat organized armed resistance by indigenous people to German rule (the feared “Aufstand” or “Revolt”); (b) to defend against external attack from the neighboring colonies of other powers (a role they performed in World War One, with varying degrees of success).


In German South-West Africa, essentially all Schutztruppen, of all ranks – officers, NCO’s, and the men – were volunteers drawn from regiments of the Germany Army. This was true of the four companies and one battery that were already in the colony when the Herero War began, as well as of the two waves of reinforcement Schutztruppen sent from Germany in response to the war1

The depth of the connection between the Schutztruppen and their home regiments is made clear by the casualty list in the General Staff official history of the Herero War. In this list of all Schutztruppe dead, wounded, and missing from the war (a list which is 22 pages long and contains 632 names2), each casualty is identified NOT by the Schutztruppe Kompagnie or Feldbatterie in which he fought in South-West Africa, but by the original German Army regiment or battery to which he belonged (see Generalstab, pp. 227-248).  

Thus, although they had a distinct uniform (including the famous Südwester hat) and were formally under the supervision of the Foreign Office’s Colonial Department (Kolonialabteilung), the Schutztruppen of the Herero War were German Army troops transplanted to Africa. 


The Schutztruppen were mounted infantry, not cavalry. While they traveled on horseback, they fought almost exclusively on foot. When confronted with the Hereros, they would leap from their horses, leaving them with horse holders. For example

At Otjihinamaparero:

“To drop from the horses and fix bayonets was a matter of a moment” (Translation by Roy Jones)

"Von den Pferden herunter, die Seitengewehre aufgepflanzt, war das Werk eines Augenblicks" (Generalstab, pg. 77)

At Hamakari3 

“We jumped from our horses; this is now finally the longed-for decisive battle, for which we had prepared for a month!“ (Translation by Roy Jones)

“Wir springen vom Pferde; – da ist es nun endlich, das ersehnte Entscheidungsgefecht, auf das wir uns monatelang vorbereitet hatten!” (Bayer, pg. 146)

At Owikokorero (where the Mounted Detachment – the Reiterabteilung – dismounted to fight as riflemen, leaving their horses with the horse holders):

“Only now did one realize, that one had on the opposite [side] a vastly superior, several-hundred-riflemen strong enemy, against which Major von Glasenapp was able to oppose, after subtracting the horse holders and cattle guards, only approximately thirty riflemen.” (Translation by Roy Jones)

“Jetzt erst erkannte man, daß man einen weit überlegenen,  mehrere hundert Gewehre starken Feind sich gegenüber hatte, dem Major v. Glasenapp nach Abzug der Pferdehalter und Viehwächter nur etwa 30 Gewehre entgegenzustellen vermochte.” (Generalstab, pg. 67)

Because of their mounted infantry role, Schutztruppen were referred to as Reiters (i.e., riders or troopers). 


A Schutztruppe Feldkompagnie (field company) was referred to by its number and by the name of its commanding officer. Both appellations were used interchangeably, e.g., 2nd Feldkompagnie or Kompagnie Franke (commanded by Hauptmann Viktor Franke), 5th Feldkompagnie or Kompagnie Rosenberg (commanded by Leutnant Richard Max von Rosenberg).

A Schutztruppe Feldkompagnie was organized into four platoons (or four Züge). At full strength a Feldkompagnie consisted of ~90 men (i.e., more than 20 Reiters in each Zug). However, a depleted Feldkompagnie might only have 12-15 men in each platoon. In fact, a very depleted Kompagnie might only have three Züge, instead of four4

Even if a Schutztruppe Kompagnie were at relatively full-strength it would still be reinforced substantially if its mission required it. For example, when the Herero War began on January 12, 1904 Kompagnie Franke consisted of only ~90 mounted infantrymen. A little more than a week later on January 20 Hauptmann Franke had 110 Schutztruppe infantry and 8 officers and 2 doctors under his command, as well as 2 attached guns with 27 artillerists5 . It was this larger force that set out to relieve the settlements of Okahandja and Omaruru.

As previously noted, there were 4 Schutztruppe infantry companies and 1 artillery battery in German South-West Africa when the war began in January. By August 1904, during the decisive Waterberg Campaign, there were 20 Schutztruppe infantry companies in the colony – organized into two field regiments (11 companies in the 1st Feldregiment and 9 companies in the 2nd Feldregiment) – as well as 8 artillery batteries and 3 machine gun detachments (2 Schutztruppe and 1 from the Marine-Expeditionskorps)6.


1.   There were ~ 500 Schutztruppen in German South-West Africa when the war began on January 12, 1904. The two reinforcement waves sent from Germany in January and March/April 1904 added 1753 more Schutztruppen. In addition to the Schutztruppe reinforcements, ~ 630 Marines organized in four companies were sent in January 1904 as a separate Marine-Expeditionskorps (Marine Expeditionary Corps). See Generalstab, pp. 12-13, 59-60, 119.

For more on the Marines, who played a decisive role in some of the toughest battles, see my essay “German Marines and Sailors, Part 1” on this website.

Before the Marine and Schutztruppe reinforcements entered combat, the sailors of a 55-man Landungskorps (“Landing Corps” or Naval Landing Party) played a crucial role in the early battles in February. For more on the sailors during the Herero War, see my essay “The Landungskorps SMS ‘Habicht’ in South-West Africa” on this website. 

 2.   Casualty breakdown: 127 killed in action, 305 died from disease, 167 wounded in action (12 later succumbed to wounds), 6 dead of other causes, 9 injured from other causes, 18 missing.

 3.  Upon hearing large Herero cattle herds and seeing their dust clouds the Germans at Hamakari advanced in a skirmishing line while still on horseback (“Noch dringen wir in Schützenlinie beständig vor und folgen der Pad”, Bayer, pg. 146). However, the Schutztruppen jumped off their horses once it was time to fight.

4.  See Generalstab, pp. 35, 72

5.  Generalstab, pp. 37.

6.  Generalstab, pp. 219-221.


Die Kämpfe der deutschen Truppen in Südwestafrika. Auf Grund amtlichen Materials bearbeitet von der Kriegsgeschichtlichen Abteilung I des Großen Generalstabes. Erster Band (von 2): Der Feldzug gegen die Hereros; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1906; (hereafter, Generalstab)

Bayer, Maximilian Mit dem Hauptquartier in Südwestafrika; Berlin, Wilhelm Weicher, 1909; (hereafter, Bayer)




Copyright  Dr. Roy S. Jones, Jr,  2006-2017