The Force Publique in German East Africa during World War One.
Map of the 1916 campaign by the Force Publique.
The Belgian Force Publique in Congo contained some 12.000 fighting men, of which more than 11.000 were native soldiers. All officers and NCO’s were Belgians, most of them with a “colonial past”. They became famous as the “Brigade Tombeur”, in honour of their OC, General Tombeur. In the first months of the war, the Belgian force was really a small armed force. It contained a mere 2000 soldiers, most of the native. After the first German attack at Lukuga on the 22th of August 1914, there were some clashes of which the fighting at Kissegnies (4th October 1914- 28th may 1915) and the battle for Luvungi (26th of September 1915) were the most famous.
On April the 18th 1916, after regrouping, reinforcing (from the Belgian Front) and rearming the scattered Belgian African Forces, Tombeur started his famous attack. Two main fighting groups carried out these operations. The first one, led by colonel Molitor was called “le brigade Nord”, which operated manly north of Lake Kivu and the second one, “le Brigade Sud” (led by Colonel Olsen), which operated between Lake Kivu and Lake Tanganyka.
On May the 6th 1916 the brigade led by Molitor reached Kigali, in the heart of German Ruanda. While the 4th regiment fought in and around Kissengenie, the 1st regiment entered on the 19th of May Nyanza, and capital of the kingdom of the Watutzis.
In June the 2nd regiment took Usumbae, while the 1st crossed the river Ruwuwu in the direction of Kitega. In the meantime, another Belgian regiment reached Muanza on Lake Victoria. In July there was fierce fighting at Kato and Djobahika During the month of September the Belgians focused on regaining Tabora, which they reached on the 19th of September 1916.
In regard of the OB: each regiment contained some 1000 soldiers, accompanied by some 3000, considered as logistic forces (ammo & food bearers,…)
The Official British History of East Africa (by Hordern) gives little information about the Force Publique. It was a kind of police force, not intended for military action, divided into 26 companies and a mountain artillery battery. Numbers varied, as each company recruited locally, but the total eventually reached 1,300 Europeans with 13,000 native levies. Small numbers of Belgians assisted the Allies in the Cameroons, in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (in 1914) and in Uganda (in 1914). The main Belgian front was always in Ruanda and Urundi, where 2 German Feldkompanien outfought a vastly superior force for almost 2 years before being pushed back. The British gave the Belgians the use of almost 200,000 porters (this figure double-counts individuals who signed up for more than 1 stint).
A few extra facts (from Hordern) about the Belgian Force Publique. In August, 1914, it numbered 15,000 men, but this figure counts many local district police levies. Four of its companies (all in Katanga) were armed with modern Mauser rifles. The remaining 22 companies had only old Albini rifles. Frontier posts had some machine-guns and old field guns. There was no medical, signals or transport service at all, so they were unprepared for pitched battle or manoeuvre or marching.