German East Africa #35 (1911)

German East Africa #35 (1911)

German East Africa #35 (1911)
German East Africa #35 (1911)

German East Africa (Deutsch-Ostafrika) was a German colony in the African Great Lakes region, which included what are now Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of present Tanzania (formerly known as Tanganyika). Its area was 384,170 square miles (994,996 km²), nearly three times the area of present-day Germany. The colony was organized when the German military was called upon to put down a revolt against the activities of a colonial company during the late 1880s. German East Africa’s indigenous population numbered seven and a half million and was governed by just 5,300 Europeans. It ended with Imperial Germany’s defeat in World War I. Ultimately, it was divided between Britain and Belgium and reorganized as a mandate of the League of Nations.

German East Africa (1892)
German East Africa (1892)

The African Great Lakes (Maziwa Makuu in Swahili) are a series of lakes constituting the part of the Rift Valley lakes in and around the East African Rift. They include Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world by area, and Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second largest freshwater lake by volume and depth. Collectively, they contain 7,400 cubic miles (31,000 km³) of water, which is more than either Lake Baikal or the North American Great Lakes, and constitutes about 25% of the planet’s unfrozen surface fresh water.

The highlands are relatively cool, with average temperatures of 17-19˚ C and abundant rainfall. Major drainage basins include those of the Congo-Zaire, Nile, and Zambezi rivers, which drain into the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Indian Ocean, respectively. Forests are dominant in the lowlands of the Congo-Zaire Basin, while grasslands and savannas are most common in the southern and eastern highlands. Temperatures in the lowlands average about 95°F (about 35°C). Around Lake Turkana, the climate is hot and very dry. A short rainy season in October is followed by a longer one from April to May.

The Bantu Swahili language is the most commonly spoken language in the African Great Lakes region.

Around two to three million years ago, Lake Turkana was larger and the area more fertile, making it a center for early hominids. Richard Leakey led numerous anthropological excavations in the area, which yielded many important discoveries of hominin remains. The two-million-year-old Skull 1470 was found in 1972. It was originally thought to be Homo habilis, but some anthropologists have assigned it to a new species, Homo rudolfensis, named after the lake (previously known as Lake Rudolf). In 1984, the Turkana Boy, a nearly complete skeleton of a Homo erectus boy was discovered. More recently, a 3,500,000-year-old skull was discovered there, named Kenyanthropus platyops, which means “The Flat-Faced Man of Kenya”.

Being the long sought after source of the Nile, the region had long been of interest to Europeans. The first Europeans to arrive in the region in any numbers were missionaries who had limited success in converting the locals, but did open the region to later colonization. The increased contact with the rest of the world led to a series of devastating epidemics affecting both humans and livestock.

Like other powers, the Germans expanded their empire in the Africa Great Lakes region on the basis of fighting slavery and the slave trade. Unlike other imperial powers, however, they never actually formally abolished it, preferring instead to curtail the production of new “recruits” and regulate the extant slaving business.

The Society for German Colonization (Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonisation, or GfdK) was founded on March 28, 1884, in Berlin by Carl Peters. Its goal was to accumulate capital for the acquisition of German colonial territories in overseas countries. Peters had just returned from London, where he lived with his well-off uncle Carl Engel and studied the principles of British colonialism. In the autumn of 1884, he proceeded, together with his friend Karl Ludwig Jühlke and Count Joachim von Pfeil, to the Sultanate of Zanzibar. Peters had initially planned to prospect for gold in Southern African Mashonaland (in present-day Zimbabwe) but discovered that the territory had already been overrun by the British.

Peters’ Zanzibar expedition was a nuisance to the German government of Chancellor Bismarck, focused on good relations with both Sultan Barghash bin Said and the British Empire, and the German consul Gerhard Rohlfs made that clear to him. Peters, Jühlke and von Pfeil, suspiciously eyed by the British envoy John Kirk, thereupon embarked to the East African Tanganyika mainland. During their journey in November and December 1884, Peters concluded several “treaties of protection” (Schutzverträge) with tribal chiefs in the Useguha, Ussagara, Nguru, and Ukami regions as a “Representative of German Colonization”. The provisions, issued in German, conferred all rights to exploit the territories on the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonisation in exchange for some inexpensive gifts.

Returning to Germany in February 1885, Peters demanded the implementation of an official protection status for the areas. Bismarck meanwhile had developed own colonial strategies and from November 15, 1884, hosted the Berlin Conference that fueled the “Scramble for Africa”. Though the chancellor still expressed serious doubts regarding Peters’ land acquisitions, he finally gave in with respect to the expansion of the Belgian colonial empire in Congo while the British were stuck in the Mahdist Sudan revolt. One day after the end of the Berlin Conference, on February 27, 1885, the GfdK obtained an imperial charter issued by Emperor Wilhelm I.

A German postal agency was established on February 27, 1885, in Lamu using German stamps for mail.

On April 2, 1885, Peters formed the German East Africa Company (Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft, GOAD), modeled on the East India Company. He was aware that the imperial charter marked the beginning of a large-scale seizure of land to create reality, which soon resulted in an official note of protest by Sultan Barghash bin Said of Zanzibar, since he claimed to be ruler on the mainland as well, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sent five Imperial Navy gunboats under Admiral Eduard von Knorr to the port of Zanzibar, which arrived on August 7, 1885, and trained their guns on the Sultan’s palace. The British and Germans agreed to divide the mainland between themselves, and the Sultan had no option but to agree. The sultan relented and on December 20, 1885, signed a “treaty of friendship” recognizing the acquisitions of German East Africa. Peters then recruited specialists, who began exploring south to the Rufiji River and north to Witu, near Lamu on the coast.

The GOAD superseded the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Kolonisation which was merged on December 19, 1887 with the German Colonial Association Deutscher Kolonialverein into the German Colonial Society (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft). In 1888, the German East Africa Company absorbed the bankrupt German Witu Society, which had been created to trade in the German protectorate of Wituland (within modern Kenya) only a year and a half before. In April of that year, the company leased the coastal strip opposite Zanzibar from Sultan Khalifa bin Said for 50 years. Its attempt to take over the administration led to a general revolt along the coast of what is now Tanzania. The company could only hold Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo with the help of the German navy.

German rule was quickly established over Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam, and Kilwa, even sending the caravans of Tom von Prince, Wilhelm Langheld, Emin Pasha, and Charles Stokes to dominate “the Street of Caravans”. Peters’ ongoing impetuous advance caused further unrest, culminating in the Abushiri Revolt of 1888-89. In 1889, the GOAD had to request the assistance of the German government to put down the rebellion.

In 1890, London and Berlin concluded the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, returning Heligoland (seized during the Napoleonic wars) to Germany and deciding on the borders of German East Africa (the exact boundaries remained unsurveyed until 1910).

In 1891, after it became apparent that the company could not handle its dominions, it sold out to the German government, which began to rule German East Africa directly. The company initially continued to operate its many activities, including mines, plantations, railways, banking, minting, etc., before it consented to relinquish them to the German colonial administration and other organizations. It subsequently operated as a land company within the German territory prior to its occupation by Britain during World War I.

Bagamoyo was the first capital, serving as the German headquarters of German East Africa (first under the auspices of the German East African Company and then the German Imperial Government) between 1886-1891. Dar es Salaam became the new capital of the colony, following the official establishment on February 27, 1891. Initially, German stamps were used.

The first postage stamps issued specifically for German East Africa were released on July 1, 1893, as surcharges in pesa values on regular German stamps, along with the inscription DEUTSCH-OSTAFRIKA. In 1900, Germany issued the “Yachts,” a common design used for all of Germany’s colonies, featuring the Kaiser’s yacht Hohenzollern. In German East Africa, they were denominated in pesas and rupees (64 pesas to a rupee), and inscribed DEUTSCH-OSTAFRIKA. In 1905, new stamps were printed in hellers (100 hellers to a rupee).

Between 1891 and 1894, the Hehe tribe, led by Chief Mkwawa, resisted German expansion. They were defeated because rival tribes supported the Germans. After years of guerrilla warfare, Mkwawa himself was cornered and committed suicide in 1898. The Maji Maji Rebellion occurred in 1905 and was put down by the governor, Count Gustav Adolf von Götzen. But scandal soon followed, with stories of corruption and brutality, and in 1907 Chancellor Bülow appointed Bernhard Dernburg to reform the colonial administration. It became a model of colonial efficiency and commanded extraordinary loyalty among the natives during the First World War.

German colonial administrators relied heavily on native chiefs to keep order and collect taxes. By January 1, 1914, aside from local police, military garrisons of Schutztruppen (“protective troops”) at Dar es Salaam, Moshi, Iringa, and Mahenge numbered 110 German officers (including 42 medical officers), 126 non-commissioned officers, and 2,472 native enlisted men (Askaris).

Commerce and growth started in earnest under German direction. Early on it was realized that economic development would depend on reliable transportation. Over 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) were under sisal cultivation — the biggest cash crop. Two million coffee trees were planted and rubber trees grew on 200,000 acres (81,000 ha), along with large cotton plantations. To bring these agricultural products to market, beginning in 1888, the Usambara Railway, or Northern Railroad, was built from Tanga to Moshi, Tanzania. The longest line, the Central Railroad covered 775 miles (1,247 km) from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro, Tabora and Kigoma. The final link to the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika had been completed in July 1914 and was cause for a huge and festive celebration in the capital with an agricultural fair and trade exhibition.

Harbor facilities were built or improved with electrical cranes, with rail access and warehouses. Wharves were remodeled at Tanga, Bagamoyo and Lindi. In 1912, Dar es Salaam and Tanga received 356 freighters and passenger steamers and over 1,000 coastal ships and local trading vessels. By 1914, Dar es Salaam and the surrounding province had a population of 166,000, among them 10,490 (1,050 Europeans, 1,000 of them Germans. In all of the German East Africa were 3,579 Germans. In its own right, Dar es Salaam became the showcase city of all of tropical Africa.

Gold mining in Tanzania in modern times dates back to the German colonial period, beginning with gold discoveries near Lake Victoria in 1894. The first gold mine in the colony was the Sekenke Gold Mine, which began operation in 1909 after gold was found there in 1907.

Despite all these efforts, German East Africa never achieved a profit for the German Empire and needed to be subsidized by the Berlin treasury.

German East Africa (1911)
German East Africa (1911)

Although the colonial regime was relatively secure, the colony had recently been shaken by the Maji Maji Rebellion of 1904–05 whose effects were still being felt by 1914. The German colonial administration could call on a military Schutztruppe (Protection force) of 260 Europeans and 2,470 Africans, in addition to 2,700 white settlers who were part of the reservist Landsturm, as well as a small paramilitary Gendarmerie.

The outbreak of World War I in Europe led to the increased popularity of German colonial expansion and the creation of a Deutsch-Mittelafrika (“German Central Africa”) which would parallel a resurgent German Empire in Europe. Mittelafrika effectively involved the annexation of territory, mostly occupied by the Belgian Congo, in order to link the existing German colonies in East, Southwest and West Africa. The territory would dominate central Africa and would make Germany as by far the most powerful colonial power on the African continent. Nevertheless, the German colonial military in Africa was weak, poorly equipped and widely dispersed. Although better trained and more experienced than their opponents, many of the German soldiers were reliant on weapons like the Model 1871 rifle which used obsolete black powder. At the same time, however, the militaries of the Allied powers were also encountering similar problems of poor equipment and low numbers; most colonial militaries were intended to serve as local paramilitary police to suppress resistance to colonial rule and were neither equipped nor structured to fight wars.

Even the largest concentration of German troops in the continent in East Africa, was numerically unable to fight an aggressive war. The main objective for the German forces in East Africa, led by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, was to force Allied governments to keep military forces and supplies in Africa, rather than sending them to fight in Europe. By threatening the important British Uganda Railway, von Lettow hoped to force British troops to invade East Africa, where he could fight a defensive action. In 1912, the German government had formed a defense strategy for East Africa in which the military would withdraw from the coast into the hinterland and fight a guerrilla campaign.

For the Belgians, the German presence in East Africa was a threat to the security of Congo but some Belgian officials viewed the fighting in East Africa as an opportunity to expand Belgian territory. The Colonial Minister, Jules Renkin, favored a policy of trading territory gained in East Africa with the Portuguese, to expand the western Congo coast in a post-war settlement. A successful campaign in Africa was also seen as a way for the De Broqueville government to avenge the German invasion of Belgium.

In East Africa, the Congo Act was first broken by the British. On August 5, 1914, troops from the Uganda protectorate assaulted German river outposts near Lake Victoria, and on August 8 a direct naval attack commenced when the Royal Navy warships HMS Astraea and Pegasus bombarded Dar es Salaam from several miles offshore. In response, the commander of the German forces in East Africa, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, bypassed Governor Heinrich Schnee, his nominal superior, and began to organize his troops for battle. At the time, the German Schutztruppe in East Africa consisted of 260 Germans of all ranks and 2,472 Askari and was approximately numerically equal with the two battalions of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) based in the British East African colonies.

On August 15, German Askari forces stationed in the Neu Moshi region engaged in their first offensive of the campaign. Taveta on the British side of Kilimanjaro fell to 300 Askari of two field companies with the British firing a token volley and retiring in good order. In September, the Germans began to stage raids deeper into British East Africa and Uganda. German naval power on Lake Victoria was limited to Hedwig von Wissmann and Kingani, a tugboat armed with one “pom-pom” gun, causing minor damage but a great deal of news. The British then armed the Uganda Railway lake steamers SS William Mackinnon, SS Kavirondo, Winifred and Sybil as improvised gunboats. The tug was trapped and then scuttled by the Germans. The Germans later raised her, dismounted her gun for use elsewhere and continued to use the tug as an unarmed transport; with the tug disarmed “teeth removed, British command of Lake Victoria was no longer in dispute.”

German Schutztruppe, Askari Company with German officers in German East Africa
German Schutztruppe, Askari Company with German officers in German East Africa

In an effort to solve the raiding nuisance and to capture the entire northern, white settler region of the German colony, the British command devised a two-pronged plan. The British Indian Expeditionary Force “B” of 8,000 troops in two brigades would carry out an amphibious landing at Tanga on November 2, 1914, to capture the city and thereby control the Indian Ocean terminus of the Usambara Railway. In the Kilimanjaro area, the Force “C” of 4,000 men in one brigade would advance from British East Africa on Neu-Moshi on November 3 to the western terminus of the railroad. After capturing Tanga, Force “B” would rapidly move north-west, join Force “C” and mop up what remained of the broken German forces. Although outnumbered 8:1 at Tanga and 4:1 at Longido, the Schutztruppe under Lettow-Vorbeck prevailed. In the 1941 volume of the British Official History, Charles Hordern described the events as one of “the most notable failures in British military history.”

In the Battle of Zanzibar on September 20, 1914, the light cruiser SMS Königsberg of the Imperial German Navy  sank the old protected cruiser HMS Pegasus in Zanzibar harbor and then retired into the Rufiji River delta. After being cornered by warships of the British Cape Squadron, including an old pre-dreadnought battleship, two shallow-draught monitors with 6 inch (150 mm) guns were brought from England and demolished the cruiser on July 11, 1915. The British salvaged and used six 4-inch (100 mm) guns from the sunken Pegasus, which became known as the Peggy guns; the crew of Königsberg and the 4.1 inch (100 mm) main battery guns were taken over by the Schutztruppe and saw major use in various points throughout the area until the end of operations.

Mafia Island was captured by the British in January 1915. At first letters were allowed to be sent unstamped but on January 14, 1915, stamps were made available by handstamping German East Africa stamps G.R. MAFIA in two lines. More stamps were made available in May 1915 by overprinting German East Africa stamps G. R. POST 6 CENTS MAFIA in four lines. In September 1915, German East Africa fiscal stamps were overprinted with O.H.B.M.S. Mafia in a circle. In addition to these, stamps of the Indian Expeditionary Forces (India overprinted I.E.F.) were additionally overprinted G. R. POST MAFIA (September 1915) or G. R. Post MAFIA (October 1916) in three lines.

East Africa Campaign (1914-1918)
East Africa Campaign (1914-1918)

The Germans had controlled Lake Tanganyika since the outbreak of the war, with three armed steamers and two unarmed motor boats. In 1915, two British motorboats, HMS Mimi and Toutou each armed with a 3-pounder and a Maxim gun, were transported 3,000 miles (4,800 km) by land to the British shore of Lake Tanganyika. They captured the German ship Kingani on December 26, renaming it HMS Fifi and with two Belgian ships under the command of Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, attacked and sank the German ship Hedwig von Wissmann. The Graf von Götzen and the Wami, an unarmed motor boat, were the only German ships left on the lake. In February 1916, the Wami was intercepted and run ashore by the crew and burned. Lettow-Vorbeck then had its Königsberg gun removed and sent by rail to the main fighting front. The ship was scuttled in mid-July after a seaplane bombing attack by the Belgians on Kigoma and before advancing Belgian colonial troops could capture it. It was later refloated and used by the British.

In early 1916, German East African postal authorities ordered supplies of provisional stamps, printed by the press in the Evangelical Mission of Wuga. Three values in the denominations most urgently needed were produced in March, but before they could be issued, new stocks of regular stamps were received from Germany. In order to prevent their capture by the British, the provisionals were buried. In 1922, these were retrieved by the German government. Because of their long storage in the tropical climate, 90-95% of these stamps were destroyed and those surviving are usually brittle and somewhat faded.

General Horace Smith-Dorrien was assigned with orders to find and fight the Schutztruppe, but he contracted pneumonia during the voyage to South Africa which prevented him from taking command. In 1916, General J.C. Smuts was given the task of defeating Lettow-Vorbeck. Smuts had a large army (for the area), some 13,000 South Africans including Boers, British, and Rhodesians and 7,000 Indian and African troops in a ration strength of 73,300 men. There was a Belgian force and a larger but ineffective group of Portuguese military units based in Mozambique. A large Carrier Corps of African porters under British command carried supplies for Smuts’ army into the interior. Despite all these troops from different allies, it was essentially a South African operation of the British Empire under Smuts’ control. During the previous year, Lettow-Vorbeck had also gained personnel and his army was now 13,800 strong.

Smuts attacked from several directions: the main attack was from the north out of British East Africa, while substantial forces from the Belgian Congo advanced from the west in two columns, over Lake Victoria on the British troop ships SS Rusinga and SS Usoga and into the Rift Valley. Another contingent advanced over Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) from the south-east. All these forces failed to capture Lettow-Vorbeck and they all suffered from disease along the march. One unit, 9th South African Infantry, started with 1,135 men in February, and by October its strength was reduced to 116 fit troops, without doing much fighting at all. However, the Germans nearly always retreated from the larger British troop concentrations and by September 1916, the German Central Railway from the coast at Dar es Salaam to Ujiji was fully under British control.

After the colony was occupied by Belgian and British troops, each issued its own provisional stamps. In 1916, the Belgians overprinted stamps of Belgian Congo in several ways, first with RUANDA and URUNDI, although these were never actually used. A second series was overprinted with the dual-language EST AFRICAIN ALLEMAND / OCCUPATION BELGE / DUITSCH OOST AFRIKA / BELGISCHE BEZETTING. At the request of Brigadier General Edward Northey, to the Governor of Nyasaland, Nyasaland stamps were overprinted N.F. in 1916. The overprint was intended to be N.F.F. for “Nyasaland Field Force”, but the telegraph operator omitted one “F.” when sending the request to the governor. The stamps could only be used by troops of the Nyasaland Rhodesian Field Force. Although they were primarily intended for use in German East Africa, they were also used from field post offices in Nyasaland and Mozambique. They were not issued to any civilian post office nor could they be used by any civilians.

The civilian population were able to send mail through the Indian Army postal service field post offices using Indian Expeditionary Forces stamps (Indian stamps overprinted I.E.F.). When civilian post offices were opened in 1917, stamps of East Africa and Uganda were issued overprinted with G.E.A. The same overprint appeared on stamps inscribed East Africa and Uganda Protectorates, but these were issued after the establishment of Tanganyika, and are considered part of Tanganyika’s postal history.

With Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces now confined to the southern part of German East Africa, Smuts began to withdraw his South African, Rhodesian and Indian troops and replaced them with Askari of the King’s African Rifles, which by November 1918 had 35,424 men. By the start of 1917, more than half the British Army in the theatre was already composed of Africans and by the end of the war, it was nearly all African troops. Smuts himself left the area in January 1917 to join the Imperial War Cabinet at London.

Major-General Reginald Hoskins (KAR) took over command of the campaign and was then replaced by Major-General Jacob van Deventer of South Africa. Van Deventer began an offensive in July 1917, which by early autumn had pushed the Germans 100 miles (160 km) to the south. From October 15-19, 1917, Lettow-Vorbeck fought a mutually costly battle at Mahiwa, with 519 German casualties and 2,700 British losses in the Nigerian brigade. After the news of the battle reached Germany, Lettow-Vorbeck was promoted to Generalmajor. British units forced the Schutztruppe south and on November 23, Lettow-Vorbeck crossed into Portuguese Mozambique to plunder supplies from Portuguese garrisons.

The Germans fought the Battle of Ngomano in which the Portuguese garrison was routed and then marched through Mozambique in caravans of troops, carriers, wives and children for nine months but was unable to gain much strength. Lettow-Vorbeck divided the force into three groups on the march, a detachment of 1,000 men under Hauptmann Theodor Tafel, was forced to surrender before reaching Mozambique, after running out of food and ammunition; Lettow and Tafel were unaware they were only one day’s march apart. The Germans returned to German East Africa and crossed into Northern Rhodesia in August 1918. On November 13, two days after the Armistice was signed in France, the German Army took Kasama, which had been evacuated by the British. The next day at the Chambezi River, Lettow-Vorbeck was handed a telegram announcing the signing of the armistice and he agreed to a cease-fire. Lettow-Vorbeck marched his army to Abercorn and formally surrendered on November 25, 1918.

In one capacity or another, nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers, sailors, merchant marine crews, builders, bureaucrats, and support personnel participated in the East Africa campaign. They were assisted in the field by an additional 600,000 African bearers. The Allies employed nearly one million people in their fruitless pursuit of Lettow-Vorbeck and his small force. Lettow-Vorbeck was cut off and could entertain no hope of a decisive victory. His aim was purely to keep as many British forces diverted to his pursuit for as long as possible and to make the British expend the largest amount of resources in men, shipping and supplies to his pursuit. Although succeeding in diverting in excess of 200,000 Indian and South African troops to pursue his forces and garrison German East Africa in his wake, he failed to divert additional Allied manpower from the European Theatre after 1916. While some shipping was diverted to the African theatre, it was not enough to inflict significant difficulties on the Allied navies.

The Treaty of Versailles broke up the colony, giving the north-western area to Belgium as Ruanda-Urundi, the small Kionga Triangle south of the Rovuma River to Portugal to become part of Mozambique, and the remainder to Britain, which named it Tanganyika. The colony of Germany East Africa was formally disestablished on June 28, 1919.

Scott #35 is the 20 heller denomination in German East Africa’s series in the “Yacht” standard design. This particular stamp was printed in orange and black on yellow paper watermarked with the lozenges design. It was produced using the typography printing process, perforated 14 and released in 1911. The “Yachts” were first released in 1900 and remained the standard postal design for all German colonial mail until shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. Bearing the image of the German Kaiser’s yacht, Seiner Majestät Yacht Hohenzollern II, millions of the stamps were produced and were the principal means of postage from 1900 until 1915 in Samoa, Marshall Islands, Mariana Islands, Caroline Islands, Kiautschou, Togo, Kamerun, German New Guinea, German South-West Africa, and German East Africa.

Individual Yacht issues were printed from master printing plates which were blank in the “scrolls” surrounding the design. These “key plate stamps” could be engraved with names and denominations as needed. Because the size of the blank scrolls could not be altered, significant changes to font size and structure were necessary to accommodate colony names of varying length. German Southwest Africa stood out from other issues for its tightly cramped letters, while Togo and Samoa required decorative emblems to fill in the yawning blank spaces around their names. Sometimes blank stamps were printed and stored, and the text would be overprinted later. On fully engraved plates, the text color matches the design color, while overprinted blanks have their text in rich black ink.

Artist's rendering of blank key plate used to print German Imperial postage stamps as "Yacht issues" for overseas colonies.
Artist’s rendering of blank key plate used to print German Imperial postage stamps as “Yacht issues” for overseas colonies.

The printing was done by the intaglio method, which required moistening of the paper before printing. After the drying process was complete, the irregular contraction of the paper would sometimes cause the finished stamps to have designs of slightly different size. Early printings were not watermarked, but from 1905 onwards, the classic “lozenges” watermark was applied to the back of the paper.

The seafaring nature of the design underscored the new hopes of the German Empire under Wilhelm II. The Kaiser had embarked on a quest to expand worldwide and by 1898 was rapidly building his navy to compete with other world powers, particularly Great Britain.

This was the second of three yachts used by the German Emperors between 1878 and 1918, named after their House of Hohenzollern. SMY Hohenzollern II was built by AG Vulcan Stettin, a German shipbuilding and locomotive building company founded in 1851 near the former eastern German city of Stettin, today Polish Szczecin. She was 390 feet (120 meters) long, had a beam of 46 feet (14 meters) and drew 18 feet (5.6 meters), with 9,588 indicated horsepower (7,150 kW). She was used as the Imperial Yacht from 1893 to July 1914. Emperor Wilhelm II used her on his annual prolonged Nordlandfahrt trips to Norway between 1894 and 1914 with the exception of 1906. In total, he spent over four years on board.

Hohenzollern II, Norwegian Postcard (1906)
Hohenzollern II, Norwegian Postcard (1906)

In June 1914, Hohenzollern II attended the Kiel regatta and on June 25 the last state banquet was held on board to entertain officers of the British fleet whose ships had been invited to attend. At the end of July 1914, Hohenzollern II was put out of service in Kiel, the last captain being Kapitän zur See Johannes V. Karpf. The ship became property of the Weimar Republic in 1918. Struck on February 27, 1920, she was scrapped in 1923 in Wilhelmshaven.

Following Allied occupation in the First World War, the German colonies had their stamps seized, but most were rereleased within a few days. The stamps were overprinted with the occupiers’ postal codes and redenominated to the appropriate new currency. This breach of postal etiquette was taken quite poorly in Germany, and at least one provincial governor, in Belgium, decreed heavy penalties for any stamp collectors or dealers possessing Allied stamps.

Issues of German New Guinea and Marshall Islands were, like Samoa, surcharged by the British with G.R.I. for Georgius Rex Imperator. In Kamerun, issues were overprinted C.E.F. for the Cameroon Expeditionary Force. The stamps of Togo were surcharged TOGO Anglo French Occupation and TOGO Occupation franco-anglaise by British and French authorities respectively. Many of these Allied overprints are now exceedingly rare and there are numerous known forgeries. The Yachts thus continued in service throughout the war years, unlike the Kaiser’s yacht itself which was decommissioned in June 1914.



2 thoughts on “German East Africa #35 (1911)


    My relative, Ewald J. Owiir was killed in German East-Africa in 1896.

    Great story about euro-afro relations on stamps.

    Greetings from Estonia , AD 2021.


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