The numbers game: how many men fought in Africa

Trying to work out how many men saw action in Africa during World War 1 has been rather a challenge as there is no one source which confidently covers this. The same goes for the number who were injured, fell ill or lost their lives. When an opportunity arose to concentrate on locating the various figures, I jumped at it and thought it worthwhile sharing with others.

The forces are split into where they originate from and then the theatre served.  The figures have been listed to provide a more coherent picture of what information is available. If you have different numbers for any of the campaigns or forces, please share them as we know that accurate records were not kept by all administrations. It is hoped that in time these figures will be supported by the names on the ‘In Memory‘ lists which are being compiled by the Great War in Africa Association.

Overall totals are still to be determined, although a rough calculation using the figures below suggests that the British Empire contributed 846,026 men to (and from) the East and Central African theatres. An analysis of the results below will highlight some gaps such as female non-combatants (nurses, camp followers), medical staff and other non-combatant support services (YMCA) and naval forces other than those who served in the German Army in East Africa. Another group missing is the Chinese who were contracted and paid for their labour in East Africa. A clearer picture of the extent of the forces and numbers involved in the African theatres is definitely starting to materialise.

Brief references are included – it is assumed that most readers will know that Paice refers to Ed Paice’s Tip and Run, etc. However, “Statistics” refers to Charles Lucas; Statistics of the Military effort of the British Empire during the Great War 1914-1920 (available online)

British Forces serving in East Africa
Jamaica – total = 507
from the British West Indian Regiment which went to Egypt, 500 men and officers (300 1st battalion, 100 2nd battalion, 100 3rd battalion) were sent to East Africa. They joined the 2nd battalion West Indian Regiment of the Regular Army. In addition to the men above, there were 7 officers. They returned to Egypt in 1917.
Reference: With the Jamaicans in East Africa

Nyasaland (Malawi)
population at outbreak of war:
approx 1,150,000 natives (male and female),
799 Europeans (540 male, 259 female)
Fighting force:
267,060 natives (70% of population of military age):
9,819 soldiers,
125,194 carriers,
132,047 non-combatants eg labourers but not carriers
Losses: 3,001 combatants including
1,256 dead,
1,745 wounded ;
3,360 non-combatant dead mostly in the carrier corps due to disease and exhaustion
Reference: Sir HL Duff memoirs at IWM

195,652 – Porters/carriers/bearers
1,262 – Labourers
5,000 approx – special porters
15,000 troops were recruited
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges Carrier Corps

Nyasaland Field Force
455 – Total
158 – armed forces
180 – various capacities along lines of communication
51 – commissioned into KAR/NFF
Reference: Peter Charlton

British East Africa (Kenya)
Total population on outbreak of war:
25,000 Indians
5,000 whites
4,083,000 blacks

145,967 – Porters/carriers
16,611 – special porters
10,961 – casual labourers
14.6% = death rate
10,500 approx – Black Troops
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Zanzibar & Mafia
1,000 – troops
3,542 – total non-combatants
4 – gun porters
107 – medical staff
3,404 – carriers
27 – casual labourers
Reference: Hodges Manpower statistics

Uganda
182,014 and approx 120,000 for Belgian service – Porters/carriers
989 – special porters
1,243 – casual labourers
10,000 approx – Black Troops
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Seychelles
776 – carriers (Hodges)
1/3 did not return home (Paice)

Sierra Leone
5,005 – carriers
9 – casual labour
Reference: Hodges

Nigeria
6,216 – troops
812 – gun porters
3,087 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

Gambia
380 – troops
37 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

Gold Coast
3,976 – troops
177 – gun porters
204 – carriers
Reference: Hodges

India
population at outbreak of war – 315 million (Charles Lucas, Empire at war)
77,000 British and 159,000 Indians in Army at outbreak of war
1,500 British and 10,250 Indians went to East Africa in 1914
928 British officers
4,681 British other ranks
848 Indian officers
33,835 Indian other ranks
13,021 Indian non-combatants
Reference: Lucas (Statistics)

South Africa
population in 1911 (census): Total 8,973,394
white population 1,276,242

1,065 white officers to East Africa
29,558 white other ranks
18,845 coloured other ranks
Reference: Statistics

103 white officers to Central Africa
1,970 white other ranks
Reference: Statistics

South Africans to Egypt
76 white officers
1,244 white other ranks
1,962 coloured other ranks
Reference: Statistics

White South Africans to Egypt in 1916:
160 officers
5,648 other ranks
Reference: SA Official History of the war

Total South African losses for Africa (East, Central and Egypt)
2,361 whites died
211 coloureds died
1,374 whites wounded
10 whites missing
1 white prisoner
99 Union Imperial Service details (it’s not clear who these are as they should be included in the numbers above and France as all, other than GSWA, were Imperial service troops)
Reference: Statistics

South Africans served in German South West Africa 1914-1915
43,402 whites including 3,397 in administrative roles
295 whites died
318 whites wounded
Reference: statistics and Official History

South Africans who rebelled in 1914 = 11,472 of which some 52 joined the German forces
190 rebels were killed
300-350 rebels wounded
against
30,000 loyal South Africans, of which
132 loyal South Africans killed or died of wounds
242 loyal South Africans wounded
Reference: SA Official History of the war

7,267 coloured South African troops remained in South Africa
Reference: Statistics

Southern Rhodesia
30,000 approx – white population
750,000 approx – black population
BSAP:
550 whites
600 Black
850 – European reserve
525 white men served in South West Africa
500 white men served in East Africa
Reference: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/366822.html

Northern Rhodesia
2,000 approx – white population on outbreak of war
850,000 approx – black population on outbreak of war
Reference: http://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/366822.html

Total British troops – 126,972 (Reference: Paice)
Deaths: 11,189
total including deaths, missing, wounded etc = over 22,000
Total British carriers – over 1million of whom no fewer than 95,000 died (includes 41,000 carriers recruited in GEA) (Paice)

187,369 non-combatants (excluding black and Indian)
397 white officers and 9,051 white other ranks killed/died
480 white officers and 7,294 white other ranks wounded
30 white officers and 911 white other ranks missing and prisoner
286 Indians killed
Other numbers should be visible in an original copy
Reference: Statistics

1,297 white officers in King’s African Rifles
1,916 white NCOs in King’s African Rifles
29,137 black soldiers in King’s African Rifles
Reference: Statistics

Belgian Congo
West Africa
570 Congolese soldiers support French troops against Cameroons

East Africa
1,415 Congolese
55 Europeans
support the British in Katanga from June to November 1915

719 officers
11,698 soldiers
invade Rwanda in 1916

over 260,000 bearers are recruited over the course of the war of which 20,000 accompany the soldiers all the way of which 6,600 lose their lives
no numbers are kept of the other bearers who lost their lives
Reference: Belgian Royal Military Museum Lisolo na Bisu 1885-1960: our history – the Congolese soldier of the Force Publique (2010)

over 260,000 bearers are recruited over the course of the war
of which 20,000 accompany the soldiers all the way of which 6,600 lose their lives
no numbers are kept of the other bearers who lost their lives

Portugal
East Africa – before Portugal declared war in 1917, the country sent out 1,527 men from Portugal to protect the colony.
3,000 approx – 10 native companies each with 250 native soldiers and at least 4 Europeans and 3 batteries (no numbers quoted. These consisted of black and white)
Reference: Peter Abbott Armies in East Africa 1914-1918

19,438 – Total number of men and officers sent from Portugal to East Africa during the war
Deaths – suggests 1/2 the number Correira does below; Correira’s breakdown is more recent
8,000 approx – Levies
60,000 approx – Carriers service Portuguese troops and approx 30,000 service British forces = 90,000
Paice notes that records were not kept
Reference: Edward Paice

13,872 – Total losses East Africa
4,811 – dead
1,600 – disabled
5,500 – missing
1,283 – injured
678 – prisoners
2,133 – Total losses Angola
818 – dead
683 – disabled
200 – missing
372 – injured
68 – prisoners
Reference: Sylvia Correira
The Germans who fought in Angola invaded from GSWA whilst the South African rebellion was under way.

German East Africa
3,526 – white males on the 1913 census
At start of war:
218 – European and German NCO (130 combatants)
55 – European officers and NCO paramilitary police
1670 – European reservists and sailors in port
192 marines from Mowe,
322 marines from Konigsberg

Total served:
2,700 approx Europeans
12,000 approx askari soldiers
losses: 20% died, killed, missing in action

2,542 – Askari (Schutztruppe)
2,160 – Askari paramilitary police at start of the war

losses:
6,308 Schutztruppe (soldiers) died, killed or missing in action
References: Boell & Edward Paice Tip and Run

Porters/carriers/bearers – 191,719
special porter – 44,031
casual labourer – 125,817
Reference: Geoffrey Hodges

Urundi
8 – casual labourers serving in British forces (Hodges)

German South West Africa
Population in 1912 = 14,816 Europeans of whom 9,046 were of military age
Native population = 80,900

Germans surrendered: 204 officers and 3,166 other ranks
Reference: Official History

West Africa
Combined West African force: 4,300 black troops (Gold Coast/Ghana = 800 civil police, 320 Northern Province constabulary, 400 Customs Preventative Service, 900 volunteer corps)
increased to 9,700 including Indian troops
roughly equal French and British split
2,000 carriers and labourers
150 Senegalese
Reference: http://www.naval-history.net/WW1Battle1409Cameroons.htm & http://kaiserscross.com/188001/300143.html

See above for West African forces who served in East Africa

German forces in Togoland
800 armed police
200 German civilians

German forces in Cameroon
200 German soldiers
3,200 Black soldiers
Reference: http://kaiserscross.com/188001/207901.html

 

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4 thoughts on “The numbers game: how many men fought in Africa

  1. Pingback: Misconception 3 of World War 1 in Africa: South West Africa | Anne Samson - Historian

  2. Pingback: Tanzanian Affairs » WORLD WAR I IN EAST AFRICA “WHO CARES ABOUT NATIVE CARRIERS?”

  3. Pingback: Review: Kariakor by Geoffrey Hodges | Anne Samson - Historian

  4. Pingback: Carriers, labourers and others in WW1 EA | Anne Samson - Historian

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