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German East Africa

German East Africa

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Project Blog by blipvertus Cult of Games Member

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About the Project

Let’s get obscure! Here I explore gaming in one of the lesser well known theaters of WW1.

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How it got started

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I first read this book back in the 80s. This fascinating account of the East African campaign served as the spark for this project. I first read this book back in the 80s. This fascinating account of the East African campaign served as the spark for this project.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbek as he appeared circa 1914. Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbek as he appeared circa 1914.

Lettow-Vorbeck was the commander of the German East Africa Schutztruppe (translates roughly as “protection force”) from 1914 to 1918. Even though the entirety of German East Africa was occupied by the Allied powers, and being outnumbered by a factor of 21 to 1, he remained undefeated throughout the war and carried out the only successful incursion onto British territory of the war. He surrendered after the armistice because he didn’t know the war was over and had to have news of the armistice to be confirmed by the British. His success in tying down some 300,000 allied troops is largely due to his use of guerrilla warfare. He is sometimes referred to as the first guerrilla but at the time was called The Lion of Africa.

The Great War YouTube channel is an absolutely fascinating and monumental work covering the First World War in one week segments, for the entire four years of the war. There are also specials on various personalities, weapons and tours of historic locations. Even just casually interested viewer’s will find themselves watching just more and more videos. Well worth checking out.

When I first got a demo game of Blood and Plunder, I liked the mechanics but don’t really care for pirate themed games. But I did see it’s potential for other eras.  So when Blood and Valor came out, I was very excited to see it covered the East African campaign as well. When I first got a demo game of Blood and Plunder, I liked the mechanics but don’t really care for pirate themed games. But I did see it’s potential for other eras. So when Blood and Valor came out, I was very excited to see it covered the East African campaign as well.

The Schutztruppe

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Each German colony had its own Schutztruppe and while independent from each other, their activities were coordinated by the Schutztruppe staff officers assigned to the German general staff. However, in practice, each colony was largely on it’s own once the war started.

The East African force started with 14 Feldkompanien of roughly 160 to 200 men under arms. An additional 250 man contingent of unarmed porters was assigned to each company. As the war progressed, this was expanded to a total of 30 companies plus another 8 Schutzenkompagnies (rifle companies) made up of white settlers, hunting and rifle clubs, plantation managers or trading company employees.

The prewar units were mixed race units of roughly one European soldier to eight African soldiers known as Askari, an Arabic word meaning soldier. Each company also had machine gun teams attached. There was a limited amount of light artillery available. While German soldiers had a version of the 1898 Mauser, the Askari were mostly armed with 1871 Mausers, a single shot rifle firing a black powder cartridge that created huge plumes of smoke.

Schutztruppe

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A pre-war image of a German Schutztruppe in the “home” uniform. This grey uniform was mostly only worn in Germany, for portraits or formal events. A pre-war image of a German Schutztruppe in the “home” uniform. This grey uniform was mostly only worn in Germany, for portraits or formal events.
Here is the more practical khaki field uniform. This photo is of Schutztruppe of the German Southwest African colony. The uniforms were the same but the trim on the hat was in different colors to denote which colony the wearer was assigned to. White trim was the assigned color for East Africa. Blue for Southwest Africa. Here is the more practical khaki field uniform. This photo is of Schutztruppe of the German Southwest African colony. The uniforms were the same but the trim on the hat was in different colors to denote which colony the wearer was assigned to. White trim was the assigned color for East Africa. Blue for Southwest Africa.
A more typical and realistic look of soldiers on campaign. With no supplies from Germany uniforms became increasingly less uniform. A more typical and realistic look of soldiers on campaign. With no supplies from Germany uniforms became increasingly less uniform.
German officers at the end of the war upon their surrender. Note that none have complete uniforms and some appear to be wearing captured British uniforms or possibly civilian clothes.  German officers at the end of the war upon their surrender. Note that none have complete uniforms and some appear to be wearing captured British uniforms or possibly civilian clothes.

Askari

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Wearing a similar khaki uniform the Askari headdress was the main difference in appearance. The hat had a built in neck flap. Wearing a similar khaki uniform the Askari headdress was the main difference in appearance. The hat had a built in neck flap.
Here the neck flap is easier to see as is the marching kit.Here the neck flap is easier to see as is the marching kit.

Naval Landing Party

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When the light cruiser SMS Koningsberg was scuttled her crew joined the Schutztruppe as both artillery men using the big guns removed from the cruiser as well as infantry.

A pre-war photo showing the tropical uniform of the Imperial German Navy. A pre-war photo showing the tropical uniform of the Imperial German Navy.
One of Koningsberg’s guns put on an improvised gun carriage. Her ten guns represented the only heavy artillery the Schutztruppe had. Each gun was eventually captured or destroyed. One of Koningsberg’s guns put on an improvised gun carriage. Her ten guns represented the only heavy artillery the Schutztruppe had. Each gun was eventually captured or destroyed.
One of Koningsberg’s guns on the move. One of Koningsberg’s guns on the move.

Choosing the miniatures

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As there is currently no official Blood and Valor range for the German East Africa force, I had to pick and choose from a couple of different ranges. The three I looked most closely at were Askari Miniatures, Brigade Games and Pulp Figures, all in 28mm.

Left to right, Askari Miniatures, Brigade Games and Pulp Figures. All are in 28mm. Left to right, Askari Miniatures, Brigade Games and Pulp Figures. All are in 28mm.

Blood and Valor uses a fairly straight forward unit organization. There’s a HQ consisting of an officer with a pistol and two riflemen. The rifle squads are the core of the force and the three rifle squads are Schutztruppe, Askari and Sailors. Schutztruppe and Salior squads can have a single light machine gun attached. You can add heavy machine gun teams consisting of three men or single snipers and a specialist close combat squad.   That’s it. Nothing super difficult to find. Except …

No one makes a light machine gun for German East Africa  Now, some people will say they weren’t used and it’s true, the Germans had none at the start of the war. But more on this later.

All three ranges can give you the Schutztruppe HQ and heavy machine gun teams. However Pulp Figures has no Askari or German sailors. They do have Seebattalion but those are specialist Marine equivalents and there was no large formation present in East Africa. Now, I do fudge things a bit and include a few individuals, but no formations. The Pulp Figures Schutztruppe all wear high leather boots which were worn but were not that common.

Brigade Games can cover all the core units and has several uniform variations so you can have some variety. One of the best things they have is a Schutztruppe MG team, an Askari MG team and a Naval MG team. You could buy all three and mix and match your teams. All figures are in the low cut boots and putees  common to the period.

Askari Miniatures has all of the above plus light field guns, cavalry and camels!  Cavalry wasn’t present in large numbers in East Africa but Southwest Africa had a large cavalry force and some troops mounted on imported camels. There were a small number of mounted troops in East Africa but not a lot and mostly only played a mounted infantry role in the early part of the campaign.

The big difference between the ranges is the scale. All three advertise themselves as 28mm. And they are.

But it depends on how you measure them.

Brigade Games and Pulp Figures measure 28mm from foot to eye. Askari miniatures measures 25mm foot to eye. If you measure to top of head, then you get 28mm.  You could make an argument that the difference is minimal and just reflects normal human variations but everything is scaled to the figure so weapons, canteens, bread bags, etc look smaller compared to figures from the other two ranges.

Ulitmately I limited myself to Brigade Games and Pulp Figures

 

Resources

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Researching historical uniforms and units is one of more challenging but also entertaining aspects of historical war gaming. One of the best resources for this campaign is the German Colonial Uniforms website.

http://www.germancolonialuniforms.co.uk/

Just absolutely choke full of useful information there are period photos, surviving examples of period uniforms, color illustrations and brief histories of numerous German colonial forces.

Another, well established resource is the vast library at Osprey.  This Men at Arms series book covers the forces on both sides of the conflict. Another, well established resource is the vast library at Osprey. This Men at Arms series book covers the forces on both sides of the conflict.

It’s all about the hats.

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The iconic image of the Schutztruppe was a jaunty khaki uniform topped off by the turned up hat known as the Sudwester. Seen frequently in pre-war portraits and post war veterans organizations, it wasn’t worn that often during the campaign. Nevertheless, the majority of my force sports them because let’s face, they’re cool.

Much more common in period photos is the tropical helmet. The high peak was supposed to allow air to circulate via air vents in the sides while also providing protection from the sun.

The field cap had mostly been replaced by 1914 but a very view photos show them being worn.

Left to right, the classic Sudwester, the tropical helmet and the field cap. Left to right, the classic Sudwester, the tropical helmet and the field cap.
The issue hat of the Askari was called the tarbush and is seen on the left. The figure on the right wears a scrounged up hat, probably civilian or handmade by the soldier himself. As the war progressed, uniforms were constantly modified or replaced by using captured uniforms or civilian clothes.  The issue hat of the Askari was called the tarbush and is seen on the left. The figure on the right wears a scrounged up hat, probably civilian or handmade by the soldier himself. As the war progressed, uniforms were constantly modified or replaced by using captured uniforms or civilian clothes.
A German naval officer on the left in a white tropical hat and khaki landing party uniform while on the right, an enlisted sailor in the tropical landing party uniform with naval cap. Why the officer’s uniform was issued in khaki and the enlisted sailor’s uniform was issued in white boggles the mind. The white uniforms and hats were quickly dyed to a khaki color. Most naval caps were also replaced by tropical helmets. Both figures are by Brigade Games. A German naval officer on the left in a white tropical hat and khaki landing party uniform while on the right, an enlisted sailor in the tropical landing party uniform with naval cap. Why the officer’s uniform was issued in khaki and the enlisted sailor’s uniform was issued in white boggles the mind. The white uniforms and hats were quickly dyed to a khaki color. Most naval caps were also replaced by tropical helmets. Both figures are by Brigade Games.

Command Squads

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The command unit is made up of one officer armed with a pistol and two riflemen. Here’s  a variety of officers that can be used in the command squad.

Two Schutztruppe officers, one in the classic Sudwester, the other in the more common tropical helmet. Both figures by Brigade GamesTwo Schutztruppe officers, one in the classic Sudwester, the other in the more common tropical helmet. Both figures by Brigade Games
Two naval officers in the khaki tropical uniform. They’d be officers from the SMS Koningsberg after she’d been scuttled and the crew had joined the Schutztruppe. Both sport the tropical helmet but in white. As the war progressed they would probably be dyed khaki. Both figures by Brigade Games. Two naval officers in the khaki tropical uniform. They’d be officers from the SMS Koningsberg after she’d been scuttled and the crew had joined the Schutztruppe. Both sport the tropical helmet but in white. As the war progressed they would probably be dyed khaki. Both figures by Brigade Games.

While the remaining two members of the command squad are riflemen, here’s some buglers and flag bearers. While the core book doesn’t have rules for them, the next supplement to Blood and Valor will allow you to add either a flag bearer or a bugler.

A Pulp Figure on the left and a Brigade Games figure on the right, either one of them could replace a rifleman in the command squad. A Pulp Figure on the left and a Brigade Games figure on the right, either one of them could replace a rifleman in the command squad.
Both flag bearers are from Brigade Games. The flags are from Flags of War. On the right is the national flag. On the left is the military or Reichskriegsflagge.  Both flag bearers are from Brigade Games. The flags are from Flags of War. On the right is the national flag. On the left is the military or Reichskriegsflagge.

Snipers

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I couldn’t find any specific sniper models so I had to get creative. I found these two big game hunters in the Pulp Figures range. The fact that they have upturned hats just like the Schutztruppe was the deciding factor.
In doing some research I found out that the reserve companies that got called up were formed around shooting clubs. So my bit of historical fiction is that the older sniper had a daughter that were both members of the club and they both joined up to defend the colony. While sporting some civilian gear, they tried to equip themselves as much as possible with standard military uniforms and equipment.
I also learned that the reservists frequently didn’t have any uniforms or only had partial uniforms, so they wore black, white and red colored arm bands to mark themselves as legitimate combatants.

Minis from the Pulp Figures rangeMinis from the Pulp Figures range
Photo of armband issued to reservists that lacked uniforms. Photo of armband issued to reservists that lacked uniforms.

Light Machine Gun teams

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It is true that the Schutztruppe had no light machine guns when the war started. It’s also true that the colony wasn’t supplied with any by Germany during the war. But the British forces were. And capturing and using those machine guns became a standard feature of the African campaign.

Asiankorps figures from Brigade Games sporting captured Lewis guns. Painted up as East African Schutztruppe. The uniforms are similar and the field caps virtually identical but in different colors. Asiankorps figures from Brigade Games sporting captured Lewis guns. Painted up as East African Schutztruppe. The uniforms are similar and the field caps virtually identical but in different colors.
More figures from Brigade Games. In terms of game mechanics, there is just one figure that is added to a squad.  But I like adding the assistant gunner as a bit of narrative. This team represents the LMG team of the Naval Landing Party. They’re in the uniforms of the Seebattalion, basically the German version of marines. While I have no information that any Seebattalion personnel were present on the SMS Koningsberg or in East Africa, it fits thematically and it amuses me so I did it. More figures from Brigade Games. In terms of game mechanics, there is just one figure that is added to a squad. But I like adding the assistant gunner as a bit of narrative. This team represents the LMG team of the Naval Landing Party. They’re in the uniforms of the Seebattalion, basically the German version of marines. While I have no information that any Seebattalion personnel were present on the SMS Koningsberg or in East Africa, it fits thematically and it amuses me so I did it.
The “light” machine gunner from Pulp Figures. The mini as equipped had a lighter tripod, so I just eliminated and had the gunner brace himself on a log to represent it as an improvised field modification. The “light” machine gunner from Pulp Figures. The mini as equipped had a lighter tripod, so I just eliminated and had the gunner brace himself on a log to represent it as an improvised field modification.

Heavy Machine Gun Teams

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In game terms, you’re limited to two heavy machine gun teams. Each has three men. Since casualty removal is a thing, and I didn’t want to clutter up the table with more dice or counters, I decided to magnetize the figures and just remove figures as they are eliminated.
And because I didn’t want to look at the metal washers the magnets adhere to, I decided to make magnetized terrain replacements.

Fully manned machine gun team. Figures by Pulp Figures. Fully manned machine gun team. Figures by Pulp Figures.
Casualties removed showing the metal washers. Casualties removed showing the metal washers.
Figures removed and replaced by magnetized terrain Figures removed and replaced by magnetized terrain
Crew figures and terrain caps. Crew figures and terrain caps.

Core Units

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In game terms, core units are the command squad and the rifle squads. The three types of rifle squads are the Schutztruppe, the Askari and the Naval Landing Party squads. Each can have 4 to 12 men. Schutztruppe and Naval squads can take one light machine gun.

Schutztruppe rifle squad. A mix of Pulp Figures and Brigade Games figures. Schutztruppe rifle squad. A mix of Pulp Figures and Brigade Games figures.
Schutztruppe Brigade Games figures. Schutztruppe Brigade Games figures.
Naval Landing Party. Figures by Brigade Games. Naval Landing Party. Figures by Brigade Games.
Askari figures by Brigade Games. Askari figures by Brigade Games.

The Jungle Jim’s

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I saw these figures and had to include them somewhere. They’ll probably go in the Close Assault squad. In game terms it’s just a rifle squad with special rules. To represent it on the table I’ll probably make it a mixed squad of Germans and Askari.

Figures by Pulp Figures. Figures by Pulp Figures.

Objective Markers

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There are any number of scenarios that require objective markers and I have a few ideas for African themed scenarios and I figured these guys would come in handy. Painting the butterflies on the collector was a lot of fun.

More Pulp Figures. More Pulp Figures.

Termite Mounds

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There’s quite a wide variety of terrain that can be included in an African campaign from jungles, to swamps to savanna’s, cities, towns, rivers, plucky little steam launches, Zeppelin’s….

Yes, Zeppelin’s. But more on that later.

Large termite mounds are one of the more interesting features to be found and for a short time Warlord Games sold resin termite mounds in partnership with Sarissa Precision MDF. In game terms we’ll probably treat this as area terrain that provides hard cover. May or may not be line of sight blocking. We’ll have to experiment with that.

Resin termite mounds on MDF bases. Resin termite mounds on MDF bases.

Palm Trees

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I originally thought that palm trees were mostly in North Africa but I’ve learned that various species are scattered throughout Africa so, here we are!  In game terms they’ll be treated as forests which makes them area terrain that blocks line of sight and provides light cover.

Palm trees by Woodland Scenics. MDF bases by Sarissa Precision. Palm trees by Woodland Scenics. MDF bases by Sarissa Precision.

Heia Safari!

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Heia Safari is the title of a book published post-war by Lettow-Vorbeck about his time in East Africa. It’s also the title of a song first published in 1916. The phrase was originally Arabic that got translated into Swahili. It roughly translates as either Hurry or Hurray,  a journey! It was spoken as a rallying cry/motivational phrase when the Schutztruppe broke camp.

Another version of the song appeared in WW2 and is about the Akrika Korps. Below is a video of the original lyrics sung in German but with English subtitles.

 

Jungle Terrain

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I don’t make enough terrain for my games so I’ve set that as a new goal. Jungle terrain works for a variety of games so this project was good motivation to get stuck in.

I used cheap aquarium plastic plants and decorative plastic plants from local craft stores. I then put them on Sarissa Precision MDF terrain pieces.

The resin rock piece shown below came from Warlord Games.

Battle Report Part 1

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We recently played a 200 point game using a modified scenario with three objectives.  The objectives were worth more points the farther away they were from your deployment zone

For the German East African force I took:

1 Captain
1 Sniper
1 HMG
3 x Askari squads with 8 rifle
1 x Schutztruppe squad 5 rifle + LMG
1 x Naval squad 4 rifle + LMG

The French were:

1 Major,

1 x Riflemen x7 (lmg, rifle grenade),

1 x Riflemen x8 (lmg),

2 x Inexperienced Riflemen x6,

1 x Sniper,

1 x HMG

1 x Trench Raiders x6

Initial deployment of the German force. Initial deployment of the German force.
Right flank of German force Right flank of German force
Initial French deployment Initial French deployment
French left flank initial deployment French left flank initial deployment

The photos above show the relevant objectives. From left to right, the closest  objective to the German line, the central objective and the far right objective closest to the French line.

Starting position of German forces. Askari in front, command unit behind, sailors and more Askari to the right. Starting position of German forces. Askari in front, command unit behind, sailors and more Askari to the right.
Center Askari move up to the termite mounds and central objective and are trying to get into charge range of a French squad. Center Askari move up to the termite mounds and central objective and are trying to get into charge range of a French squad.
German left flank of sailors and Askari secure the close objective. German left flank of sailors and Askari secure the close objective.
French squad opposite the mixed sailor and Askari squad. They and the French HMG team consistently target the naval squad eventually forcing it to break. French squad opposite the mixed sailor and Askari squad. They and the French HMG team consistently target the naval squad eventually forcing it to break.
A small Schutztruppe squad moves into the jungle to provide suppressing fire while an Askari squad uses cover to move into assault positions. A small Schutztruppe squad moves into the jungle to provide suppressing fire while an Askari squad uses cover to move into assault positions.