German Marines and Sailors, Part I

While the Schutztruppe were the backbone of the German field force, they were certainly not the only German infantry fighting in the Herero War. Marines and Sailors were crucial participants. It was sailors who assaulted the Herero Main Line at Liewenberg, fighting against ambushing Hereros concealed behind nearly impregnable rock. It was Marines who saved the Schutztruppe Reconnaissance Detachment from total annihilation at Owikokorero, where the Hereros killed 64% of the officers and 50% of the men. It was Marines who not only fought off mounted Hereros at Okaharui, but also pursued those mounted Hereros for more than a kilometer while the Marines were on foot! (thus in The Herero War scenario book, the Marines are the only foot troops that can charge routed mounted troops).


There’s confusion on the part of many, however, on who the Marines were. Partly it’s due to language. Since “Marine” in German means “navy” or “naval”, some people mistakenly think that there WERE no German Marines. They think that the word “Marine” must be referring to sailors and naval landing parties. Not true!



A) There were sailors who would form a naval landing party or landing corps (Landungskorps) during a colonial war or expedition. These sailors served on a ship - operating the ship and its weapons - but in an emergency would be sent ashore to fight on land temporarily. When the Herero War began the gunboat SMS “Habicht” (His Majesty’s Ship “Hawk”) was in Cape Town, South Africa for maintenance. It was sent to German South-West Africa and a 55-man Landungskorps was formed. The Landungskorps HMS “Habicht” (reinforced with artillery, a small mounted Schutztruppe force, and other troops) fought against the Herero forces in the boulder hill country.


So if you see a reference to “Landungskorps”, those are sailors in a naval landing party. The sailors will be discussed more fully in Part II.



B) In addition to the Landungskorps temporarily serving as infantry, the German Navy had a force specifically dedicated to the role of fighting on land. These men were specially trained as infantry. In fact, by 1895 they no longer were even based on warships. They were permanently organized into four Seebataillons (“Sea Battalions”).


The troops were called Seesoldaten (“Sea soldiers”) and fought in the Herero War organized in Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnien or “Naval Infantry Companies”.  “Sea soldiers” or “naval infantry” specially trained and organized for ground combat are what Americans, British, Dutch, etc. call Marines.


When the Herero War broke out in January 1904, Berlin immediately ordered the mobilization of a Schutztruppe reinforcement group and a Marine-Expeditionskorps (literally “Naval Expeditionary Corps” but more properly translated as “Marine Expeditionary Corps”).  The Marine-Expeditionskorps consisted of Seesoldaten selected from the I. and III. Seebataillons. These Marines were formed into four companies (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnien).  An artillery Abteilung (i.e., “detachment”) of eight Maschinenkanonen (“Machine cannon”) was also part of the Expeditionskorps. Major Franz Georg von Glasenapp, leader of the II. Seebataillon, was assigned command of the Marine-Expeditionskorps.


The Marine and Schutztruppe reinforcements began arriving in German South-West Africa in February. The Marines served in three different Abteilungen (“detachments”) during the Herero War:


(1) The Ostabteilung (or “East Detachment”) was a predominantly Marine force, consisting of the 1st and 4th Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnien and a Schutztruppe Kompagnie; it was commanded by Major von Glasenapp. It was the Marines of the Ostabteilung who fought at Owikokorero and Okaharui.


(2) The 2nd Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnie served with the Westabteilung (“West Detachment”), a predominantly Schutztruppe force. The Marine Infantry and a Marine-operated Maschinenkanone fought alongside Schutztruppe on the threatened northern flank during the desperate battle of Otijinamaparero.


(3) The 3rd Marine-Infanterie-Kompagnie was part of the Hauptabteilung (“Main Detachment”). There were five Schutztruppe Kompagnien in the Hauptabteilung, plus a Witboi Abteilung and a Bastard Abteilung (these detachments were both African infantry allied with the Germans). Since the Marines were such a small part of the Hauptabteilung, they did not have much of an independent identity in it.


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