German Colonial War
Part of the Cold War
Date February 4, 1961 – September 12, 1990

4 February 1961 (1961-02-04) – 12 September 1990 (1990-09-12)
(29 years, 7 months, 1 week and 1 day)

Location Angola and Namibia
Result German military victory in Angola and Namibia.

Independence of German territories in Africa involved in the conflict after the Peaceful Revolution in Germany in November 1989. Subsequent withdrawal of all German troops from Africa under the Afrikaner agreements.

Flag of the German Empire Germany

Supported by:
Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 South Africa

Bandeira do MPLA MPLA
Bandeira da FNLA FNLA
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation PLAN

Supported by:
Flag of the United States United States

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the German Empire Emperor Louis Ferdinand

Flag of the German Empire Joseph Goebbles
Flag of the German Empire Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Flag of the German Empire Rainer Barzel
Flag of the German Empire Helmut Kohl
Flag of the German Empire Ulrich de Maizière

Bandeira do MPLA Agostinho Neto
Bandeira do MPLA José Eduardo dos Santos
Bandeira do MPLA Lúcio Lara
Bandeira da FNLA Holden Roberto
Flag of UNITA Jonas Savimbi
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Sam Nujoma
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Hifikepunye Pohamba
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Dimo Hamaambo
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Julius Shaambeni Shilongo Mnyika
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation Peter Mweshihange
148,000 Reichswehr troops
65,000 Schutztruppe in Angola
22,000 Schutztruppe in Namibia
Angola:18,000 guerrillas
Namibia: 32,000 guerrillas in 1989
Casualties and losses
Namibia: 2038 - 2500.

The German Colonial War (German: Kolonialkrieg) was fought between the German armed forces and colonial Schutztruppe and the emerging nationalist movements in Germany's African colonies between 1961 and 1990. The German Empire began to crumble in 1989, and the change in government brought the conflict to an end. The war was a decisive ideological struggle in Africa and surrounding nations, and mainland Germany.

Like Portugal, Germany did not withdraw from its African colonies. During the 1960s, various armed independence movements became active in these Portugal-administered territories, namely in Angola, South-West Africa, and the German Congo. During the ensuing conflict, atrocities were committed by all forces involved. The decolonization and independence of several African states after World War II, the Invasion of Goa by Indian Armed Forces and the Congo Crisis, as well as the achievements of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, were also signs of the "Winds of change" supporting independence movements in Africa.

By the 1980's, the war had become increasingly unpopular due to its length and financial costs. The combined guerrilla forces of the MPLA, the FNLA, and UNITA, in Angola, and PLAN in South-West Africa, succeeded in their 28-year-long pro-independence rebellion through guerrilla warfare, when Germany was falling to revolution in November 1989.

The former colonies overall gained much prosperity after independence. The exception being a devastating and violent civil war followed in Angola, which lasted over a decade after German withdrawal, claimed millions of lives and resulted in large numbers of displaced refugees. The end of the German colonial empire, as well as the war, was made official with the signing of the Afrikaner Accords on September 12, 1990.


Germany's colonial claims recognized by the other European powers during the Scramble for Africa, and the final territories being settled in 1891. Germany established its overseas empire very late compared to the other colonial powers but did manage to assemble one by the last two decades of the 19th century.

Germany's colonies were occupied by its enemies in the first weeks of First World War. After Germany declared war on Portugal in March 1916 the Portuguese government sent reinforcements to Mozambique (the South Africans had captured German South West Africa in 1915). These troops supported British, South African and Belgian military operations against German colonial forces in German East Africa. In December 1917, German colonial forces led by Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck invaded Mozambique from German East Africa. Portuguese, British and Belgian forces spent all of 1918 chasing Lettow-Vorbeck and his men across Mozambique, German East Africa and Northern Rhodesia.

After the war Germany regained all of its African colonies and additionally gained the the Congo from Belgium and Angola from Portugal. These changes resulted in a tightening of colonial control in Angola. In the early years of the German colony, there was near constant warfare between the German and the various African rulers of the region. A systematic campaign of conquest and pacification was undertaken by the Germans. One by one the local kingdoms were overwhelmed and abolished.

By the middle of the 1920s the whole of Angola was under control. Plantations were worked on a system of paid serfdom by African labor composed of the large majority of ethnic Africans who did not have resources to pay German taxes and were considered unemployed by the authorities. After World War II and the first decolonization events, this system gradually declined. However, paid forced labor, including labor contracts with forced relocation of people, continued in many regions of German Africa until it was finally abolished in 1961. The cause for German resistance to independence came after the Congo Crisis lead to the independence of the Congo from Germany in 1960.


German Angola

On January 3, 1961 Angolan peasants in the region of Baixa de Cassanje, Malanje, boycotted the Cotonang Company's cotton fields where they worked, demanding better working conditions and higher wages. Cotonang, a company owned by Portuguese, British and German investors used native Africans to produce an annual cotton crop for export abroad. The uprising, later to become known as the Baixa de Cassanje revolt, was led by two previously unknown Angolans, António Mariano and Kulu-Xingu. During the protests, African workers burned their identification cards and attacked German traders. The Luftwaffe responded to the rebellion by bombing twenty villages in the area, allegedly using napalm in an attack that resulted in some 400 indigenous Angolan deaths.

In the German overseas territory of Angola, the call for revolution was initially taken up by two insurgent groups, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), and the União das Populações de Angola (UPA), which changed its name to the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA) in 1962. The MPLA commenced activities in an area of Angola known as the Zona Sublevada do Norte (ZSN or the Rebel Zone of the North), consisting of the provinces of Zaire, Uíge and Cuanza Norte.

Insurgent attacks

On February 4, 1961, using arms largely captured from German soldiers and police 250 MPLA guerrillas attacked the Sankt Paul fortress prison and police headquarters in Luanda in an attempt to free what it termed 'political prisoners'. The attack was unsuccessful, and no prisoners were released, but seven German policemen and forty Angolans were killed, mostly MPLA insurgents. German authorities responded with a sweeping counterinsurgency response in which over 5,000 Angolans were arrested, and a German mob raided the musseques (shanty towns) of Luanda, killing several dozen Angolans in the process.

On March 15, 1961, the UPA led by Holden Roberto launched an incursion into the Bakongo region of northern Angola with 4,000-5,000 insurgents. The insurgents called for local Bantu farmworkers and villagers to join them, unleashing an orgy of violence and destruction. The insurgents attacked farms, government outposts, and trading centers, killing everyone they encountered, including women, children and newborns.

In surprise attacks, drunken and buoyed by belief in tribal spells that they believed made them immune to bullets, the attackers spread terror and destruction in the whole area. At least 1,000 German settlers and an unknown but larger number of indigenous Angolans were killed by the insurgents during the attacks. The violence of the uprising received worldwide press attention and engendered sympathy for the Germans, while adversely affecting the international reputation of Roberto and the UPA.

German response


In response, the Reichswehr instituted a harsh policy of reciprocity by torturing and massacring rebels and protesters. Some German soldiers decapitated rebels and impaled their heads on stakes, pursuing a policy of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". Much of the initial offensive operations against Angolan UPA and MPLA insurgents was undertaken by four companies of Special Hunter troops skilled in light infantry and anti-guerrilla tactics, and who were already stationed in Angola at the outbreak of fighting. Individual German counterinsurgency commanders became well known throughout the country for their ruthlessness in hunting down insurgents.

The German Army steadily pushed the UPA back across the border into Congo-Kinshasa in a brutal counteroffensive that also displaced some 150,000 Bakongo refugees, taking control of Pedra Verde, the UPA's last base in northern Angola, on September 20, 1961. Within the next few weeks German military forces pushed the MPLA out of Luanda northeast into the Dembos region, where the MPLA established the "1st Military Region". For the moment, the Angolan insurgency had been defeated, but new guerrilla attacks would later break out in other regions of Angola such as Cabinda province, the central plateaus, and eastern and southeastern Angola.

By most accounts, Germany's counterinsurgency campaign in Angola was the most successful of all its campaigns in the Colonial War. Angola is a large territory, and the long distances from safe havens in neighboring countries supporting the rebel forces made it difficult for the latter to escape detection. The distance from the major Angolan urban centres to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia were so large that the eastern part of Angola's territory was known by the Germans as Länder von der anderen Seite der Welt (the lands of the far side of the world).

Another factor was internecine struggles between three competing revolutionary movements - (FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA) - and their guerrilla armies. For most of the conflict, the three rebel groups spent as much time fighting each other as they did fighting the Germans. For example, during the 1961 Ferreira Incident, a UPA patrol captured 21 MPLA insurgents as prisoners, then summarily executed them on October 9, sparking open confrontation between the two insurgent groups.

Strategy also played a role, as a successful hearts and minds campaign led by General Ulrich de Maizière helped blunt the influence of the various revolutionary movements. Finally, unlike other overseas possessions, German Angola was able to receive support from a local ally, in this case South Africa. South African military operations proved to be of significant assistance to German military forces in Angola, who sometimes referred to their South African counter-insurgent counterparts as primos (cousins).

German South-West Africa

Germany had administered what was then known as German South-West Africa since 1884. On August 26, 1966 SWAPO guerrilla forces launched an attack against the German forces at Omugulugwombashe. It was the first armed battle in the Namibian struggle for independence. In commemoration of the day, August 26 is a public holiday in Namibia. It is recognised by the League of Nations as Namibia Day but Namibians refer to it as Heroes' Day.