Askaris were African soldiers in the German forces in what is now Tanzania, but then was German East Africa. Their formation was known as the Schutztruppe. These soldiers were from many ethnic groups, many from the Sudan. They were commanded by German officers and trained to respond to commands issued in German, but the usual language of communication was Kiswahili.
They were employed originally as a police force in German East Africa. In 1914, Germany controlled other African territories: what are now Namibia, Togo and part of Cameroon. The askari force was used to police the countryside, put down rebellions and enforce German rule—which could be brutal.
When World War One broke out, the Allies quickly took over Togo, Cameroon and Namibia. Tanganyika was much more difficult. A few thousand of these askaris and a few hundred Germans under the remarkable commander Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964) had a four-year campaign that baffled Allies. The German Askaris inflicted severe defeats on British Indian troops, on British troops and Portuguese troops. The German force was reinforced by the crew of a couple of German naval vessels caught in East African waters. Over the course of the war, about 3,000 Germans and 11,000 Askaris served.
The Askaris were among the very best German soldiers. Their loyalty was amazing, despite not being paid for years, and not being well supplied. The unit developed a remarkable sense of equality.
The Germans and their Askaris in the Schutztruppe were the last German fighting unit in the field, not surrendering until late November of 1918.
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