In 1964 the German government decided to back pay East African

In 1964 the German government decided to back pay East African

Did you know that in 1964 the German government decided to back pay East African soliders (Askari) that had fought for them in WWI. Many had no proof of service so they had to perform the Manual of arms in German with a broom to prove themselves. Not one of them failed


Askari is an Arabic word meaning “soldier” (Arabic: عسكري‎ ‘askarī). It was normally used to describe local troops in East Africa, Northeast Africa, and Central Africa serving in the armies of European colonial powers. The designation can, however, also describe police, gendarmerie and security guards. The word has since been adopted in Amharic, Bosnian, Italian, Persian, Polish, Somali, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu.

During the period of European colonial empires in Africa, locally recruited soldiers were employed by Italian, British, Portuguese, German and Belgian colonial armies. They played a crucial role in the conquest of the various colonial possessions, and subsequently served as garrison and internal security forces. During both World Wars askari units served outside their colonies of origin, in various parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The German Colonial Army (Schutztruppe) of the German Empire employed native troops with European officers and NCOs in its colonies. The main concentration of such locally recruited troops was in German East Africa (now Tanzania.) Formed in 1881 after the transfer of the Wissmanntruppe (raised in 1889 to suppress the Abushiri Revolt) to German imperial control.

The first askaris formed in German East Africa were raised by DAOG (Deutsche Ost-Afrika Gesellschaft – the German East Africa Company) in about 1888. Originally drawn from Sudanese mercenaries, the German askaris were subsequently recruited from the Wahehe and Angoni tribal groups. They were harshly disciplined but well paid (on a scale twice that of their British counterparts in the King’s African Rifles), and highly trained by German cadres who were themselves subject to a rigorous selection process. Prior to 1914 the basic Schutztruppe unit in Southeast Africa was the feldkompanie comprising seven or eight German officers and NCOs with between 150 and 200 askaris (usually 160) – including two machine gun teams.

Such small independent commands were often supplemented by tribal irregulars or ruga-ruga.

They were successfully used in German East Africa where 11,000 askaris, porters and their European officers, commanded by Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, managed to resist numerically superior British, Portuguese and Belgian colonial forces until the end of World War I in 1918.

The Weimar Republic provided pension payments to the German askaris. Due to interruptions during the worldwide depression and World War II, the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) voted in 1964 to fund the back pay of the askaris still alive. The West German embassy at Dar es Salaam identified approximately 350 ex-askaris and set up a temporary cashiers office at Mwanza on Lake Victoria.

Two Russian askaris peer into a doorway past the bodies of Jews killed during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Picture from Stroop Report.

Original caption: “Askaris used during the operation.”

Only a few claimants could produce the certificates given to them in 1918; others provided pieces of their old uniforms as proof of service. The banker who had brought the money came up with an idea: as each claimant stepped forward he was handed a broom and ordered in German to perform the manual of arms. Not one of them failed the test

Read more