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corrections/questions: my comments

October 9 2015 at 8:43 PM
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Nelson  (no login)
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Response to Re: Nordenfelt 37mm auto cannon

A pal contacted me off-line regarding my previous posting, bringing into question certain points I made. I believe his contentions are of interest, viz.:

1. The uniforms in the photo of the crew-served Hotchkiss revolving cannon are British, particularly the style of the pith helmets.
2. The view in the background is not African plain, but rather appears to be a bay. Although the contrast is poor, is that surf in the middle distance?
3. As with the British Army, the German army did not adopt the Hotchkiss revolving cannon. [Okay, then either way, how to explain that photo?]

First of all, virtually all of the European powers having colonies in Africa adopted tropical sun helmets identical or nearly so to the British Foreign Service pattern, as seen in such classic films as Zulu, Gunga Din, and Wee Willie Winkie. I’m certainly no authority on tropical colonial uniforms, but I believe the German late 19th century equivalent to the Brit Foreign Service sun helmet was the Pfeiffer, named for the firm in Hamburg, as shown here:

[linked image]

Around the turn-of-the-century, give or take, the British replaced their helmet with the wider Wolseley pattern, while the Germans went with the taller Bortfeldt (for the design from the company in Bremen). In each instance, the brim over the back of the neck was extended and recurved, and made more flexible—in the German case it could be folded up to some extent—to make prone firing easier than with the stiff Foreign Service pattern. Sun helmets were made from a variety of materials, most notably of sola pith or cork, whichever was closer at hand and less costly to the colony. Here is a photo of German colonial troops wearing the later Bortfeldt pattern sun helmet, date thus far unknown:

[linked image]

As far as the British sun helmets, in this out-take from Wee Willie Winkie, Victor is wearing the Foreign Service pattern, while Shirley has on the Wolseley.

[linked image]

Regarding my friend’s second comment, the photo has since been identified as having been taken in German East Afrika, likely somewhere on the coast as he contends. See

With respect to the German use of of the Hotchkiss revolving cannon, okay that is a puzzler. Although designed by a private firm, nonetheless its development came a result of France losing the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71, and one would suppose France would have wished the gun kept out of the hands of the German states. Perhaps like the U.S., some of the German states acquired trial batteries of these rapidly firing guns. Anyway, here is that photo again.

[linked image]

Given the uniforms and the gun, my guess is the 1880s or early 1890s. For what it’s worth, note two different styles of sun helmet (the instructing soldier up on the gun has a cloth covering over his helmet), both with and without the ventilator knob on top. The gun’s emplacement on a headland to defend a potential landing beach would be one of the uses envisioned by Hotchkiss et Cie. For those knowing more about German tropical colonial uniforms or the possible German use of the Hotchkiss revolving cannon, please weigh in.


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