Africans in German Imperial Army, 1870-1918


The Germans, as the only colonial power among the Central Powers, made great use of African troops from their Schutztruppen in the African theaters of the war, but they never planned to deploy these troops to Europe and during World War I. Were not able to do so. Anyway, the first war happened due to logistical reasons.

However, there were few black soldiers recruited into the German Imperial Army (Continental Army). Like most musicians he was involved in non-combat duties. Almost nothing has been written about them and the probable total number is less than 15.

By comparison, millions of Germans served in combat and non-combat roles. Much of this was due to conscription which was not enforced on the Kaiser's African subjects.

From the 17th century onwards, it was popular for European armies to have African bandsmen in their elite regiments. As early as 1685 an African known as Ludwig Basemann was promoted to first class drummer ("Heeres-Pauker Erster Klasse") in the army of Friedrich Wilhelm, Great Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia.

Other Prussian principalities continued this tradition until the 18th century. King Frederick I's Life Guards ("Libregiment") had 15 African pipers. There were sixteen African musicians in the artillery of Friedrich Wilhelm I.

Under Frederick the Great (King Frederick II) these were doubled so that by 1759 there were 32 African musicians in the Prussian artillery. There were also African musicians in the armies of several other German states.

Hessian mercenary armies fighting on the British side in the American War of Independence recruited freed African-American slaves as their bandsmen and sometimes soldiers. Richard Knottel portrays an African drummer in the Oldenburg Grenadiers of the Napoleonic Wars.

During the imperial era, there were a handful of Africans who served as musicians in the imperial army. There were also other Africans living in Germany who were brought there by various royal houses or upper classes as servants or entertainers.

One hundred Africans were brought from African colonies to Germany for the Colonial Exhibition in Berlin in 1896. Some of these people remained in Germany, took German wives and became naturalized German subjects.

They generally felt loyalty to their adopted country and many are known to have served in the Imperial Army on the Western, Eastern and Palestinian fronts during World War I.

This photograph of Musikmeister Gustav Sabac el Cher shows him in the uniform of the 1st Prussian Grenadiers ("Grenadier-Regiment Kronprinz (1.Ostprussiasches) No. 1") and was taken in 1908.

Their uniform consists of the dark blue Prussian infantry tunic with the regimental elite collar Litzen and the music master's fringed swallow's nest and shoulder straps. Being the oldest regiment of the Prussian Army, this regiment's Pickelhaube peaked helmet bears the notable scroll of their formation date "1655" across the eagle.

Medals worn on the left breast are the Prussian General Honor Decoration, the Prussian Wilhelm I Centenary Medal, the Bavarian Military Merit Cross (an initial without the flames) and an unidentified Russian medal. Below his bar is a Prussian Long Service Award from before 1913.

Gustav Sabak el Cher (1868–1934) was the son of a Sudanese servant of Prince Albrecht of Prussia and his German wife. Gustav attended the Imperial Music High School in Charlottenburg and later served as music master in the elite 1st Grenadiers ("Grenadier-Regiment Kronprinz (1.Ostprussiasches) No. 1").

He retired from the army in 1909 and worked as a civilian music conductor on radio at times in the 1920s. He and his wife opened a café in Berlin but were forced to close it under pressure from the Nazi authorities. He died shortly afterwards. Upon hearing the news, the Kaiser sent a personal telegram of condolences to Gustav's widow.

This photo of Unteroffizier Ben Aissa of the 1st Prussian Foot Guards ("1. Garde-Regiment zu Fu") was taken in Potsdam in 1907. He wears a full dress uniform consisting of a dark blue Prussian infantry tunic with white metal buttons, red. White Litzen is featured on both the piping and red collar and Swedish cuffs.

The shoulder straps are plain white. As a player of the "Schellenbaum" or Turkish Crescent, he wears the red and white musicians' swallow's nest on each shoulder. The headdress is a grenadier-style mitre, worn only on parade.

Ben Aissa was born in Morocco in about 1887. He was employed as a servant to guide Kaiser Wilhelm II's horse through Tangiers on a visit in 1905. During this tour he befriended the Kaiser and was invited to visit Berlin the following year. Went to Germany in 1907.

He joined the band of the elite 1st Prussian Foot Guards ("1. Garde-Regiment zu Fu"). He continued to serve with them during World War I. In 1917–18 he served with the Asiatic Corps in Palestine. After demobilization in 1919, he returned home to Morocco.

This photo of Elo Sambo shows him wearing the dolman tunic of the Prussian Life Guard Hussars ("Leib-Garde Hussaren Regiment"). It was dark blue with yellow metallic braiding and fur trim at the back.

Note that the musician swallows nest on the shoulder. His peakless cap would have matched his uniform, being red with a dark blue hatband and a small Prussian cockade.

Eloise Wilhelm Sambo (1885–1933) was born in Jaoundé, Cameroon. It is unknown how he reached Germany but he was favored as godson of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He joined the Prussian Army in 1905 ("EisenbahnRegiment No. 1") but in 1907 he was transferred to the Life Guard Hussars ("Leib-Garde Hussaren Regiment") and trained as their kettle drummer.

He served with this regiment during World War I and after the war with the 4th Mounted Regiment of the Reichswehr ("Reiterregiment No. 4") until 1923.

1 comment:

  1. There where Black volunteers for the German army in WW2 as well, among other minorities.


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