Schutztruppe, or 'Protective Force', was the German force established to 'protect' their African colonies, German West Africa (GWA - modern Togo and Cameroon), German South-West Africa (GSWA - modern Namibia) and German East Africa (GEA - modern Tanzania), although this mainly entailed protecting them from their own inhabitants when they rebelled. Established from the late 1880s, like all imperial powers they used mostly natives as fighting men, and Germans as officers and NCOs, although in GSWA the force was entirely European. Prior to 1914 these forces faced numerous rebellions from within the colonies, but with the start of the European war the troops were effectively surrounded by colonies owned by the Entente powers - Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal - all of whom wanted to eliminate the German possessions, in part so they might gain them for themselves. All the colonies duly fell, but in GEA a small colonial army under the inspired leadership of Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964) avoided capture or destruction, skilfully occupying troops that could otherwise have been sent to some other theatre of war.
All but one of the figures in this set are European and they have some variety of uniform. The first three figures in the top row wear the tropical helmet which began to be replaced by the model worn by the fourth figure from 1913, although extreme difficulties of supply meant the older type would still have been worn during the fighting in GSWA, and probably even at the war's end. The first figure in the second row wears a brimmed hat called the Südwesterhut, particularly appropriate for the GSWA garrison and much worn by mounted troops there. The machine-gunner wears the newer model tropical helmet, and the officer has the slouch hat. Every figure wears a tunic, which is certainly part of the uniform and accurately done, but in the heat of the African summer few would have chosen to wear the tunic much. Trousers and breeches look fine, as do the ankle boots with puttees or gaiters these men wear.
The Schutztruppe had their own form of belts, with pouches attached to the braces, but where visible these men all seem to have the standard pouches as worn by the Army in Europe. Such pouches certainly were worn in Africa, but we would have liked to have seen both types on show here. Other kit consists of a haversack, canteen and bayonet scabbard, which is as it should be. The officer has no kit at all on his person, and the machine gunner correctly has a pistol on his belt although no dragging straps.
The poses consist of five other ranks, one officer and a two-man machine gun crew. The poses are OK as far as they go, although we couldn’t understand why there are two almost identical apart from details of clothing. The gunners are in the usual poses, which is perfect, although by virtue of the gun not having a base the man feeding ammunition aims too high for the actual feed block on the weapon. The officer comes with a choice of right arms - either holding binoculars, as we have chosen, or else holding a pistol, as pictured above him. Although both are reasonable options they do suggest the man should have the container for either or both on his belt. The gunner also has a separate right arm in order to make the pose better, which it certainly does. However the machine gun crew is an expensive luxury in a set with only eight poses in total, especially when two are so similar.
The sculpting is not so great and the detail is a bit 'soft', while the askari figure has lost half his sunshield. Weapons and kit are quite difficult to make out, and faces are particularly vague. There is no excess plastic to speak of, but there is some flash on many of the seams, so some cleaning up will be required. All the separate arms fit on a peg on the shoulder pretty well, and don't even need gluing unless they are to be roughly handled, although as can be seen on the officer, the resulting shoulder is massive compared to the other one and looks not a little bizarre. The machine gun is the common MG08, and has been produced in two parts - the barrel and the carriage - to produce a slightly simplified but very acceptable model. The parts fit well together, and the main issue is the lack of the brace between the two front legs. Some 08s in Africa were given a large front wheel and a non-standard carriage, but whether this was universal is not known so the standard carriage here seems OK.
In general these figures wear the uniform that applied from 1896 to 1918, although the later tropical helmet and of course the machine gun would be for a much shorter period than that. Although many could serve for conflicts like the Herero and HeHe rebellions, it is likely that these figures are primarily intended for von Lettow’s World War One campaign, in which case these Europeans would all be officers and NCOs - the machine gun was usually operated by a European NCO, as here, even in a unit otherwise made up entirely of native troops. Technically there are no accuracy problems, although shirt sleeves would have been far more believable than smart tunics in the African sun. This, and the standard of sculpting, left us a bit cool on the set, although it is certainly nice to see such figures being realised in plastic.