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Details on Belgian Units in Africa Available?


Trey Whitley
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After recently acquiring a Belgian-marked Winchester Model 1894 (referred to by Winchester collectors as a “Belgian Congo carbine”, see this post), I’m looking for some detailed information on Belgian units operating in the African Theatre during World War I. To date I have only been able to get my hands on one reference- The Armies of East Africa 1914 – 1918 (Men-at-Arms)- which is probably fine for general history lessons but sorely lacking as far as true details go.

I’ve also ordered a copy of The Great War in Africa, 1914-1918 but it has not arrived yet; while I expect it to contain more information than Osprey’s booklet, I still doubt that it will go into great detail on particular units and how they were armed (maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised).

An interesting aspect of the so-called Belgian Congo carbines is the variety of markings, which coincides with the invasion of Belgium and subsequent German capture of Leige. Specifically, I’m aware of two Congo carbines that were made circa August 1914; one of these has French proof marks (the St. Etienne proof house) and the other has standard, Winchester factory proofs only. In contrast, the carbines made through circa May 1914 have Belgian proof marks.

I assume this is an indication that at least one of the shipments purchased by the Belgian government was re-routed to France after the invasion of Belgium?

If anyone can provide details on the Belgian forces in Africa in 1914, or has information on which unit(s) these Winchesters were issued to, I would be extremely grateful.

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I'm hopeful that someone here can at least provide direction to additional sources of information. The purchase of these Winchesters must represent a very small portion of the arms manufactured/procured by Belgium during this timeframe; that coupled with their apparent colonial use makes me think the answers will be difficult to come by.

I've also contacted the Royal Military Museum in Brussels (via email) but no doubt they are busy people and may or may not have time to look into this.

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Trey

The best source in English for details of units & Belgian Government attitudes is Ross Anderson's "The Forgotten Front". Tempus Publishing Ltd 2004.

It's not always an easy read but the author broke new ground by exploring Belgian East Arican campaign archives & commenting on them.

Regards

Harry

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Thank you Harry, I'll pick that one up also. Does he also cover the early events in West Africa? I have seen some references to the actions of combined French-Belgian forces circa September 1914 but nothing more than passing comments.

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"Does he also cover the early events in West Africa?"

Trey

Negative.

That interesting campaign is still waiting for a good descriptive writer.

The most economical read is: "The First World War in Africa" by Hew Strachan. Paperback. Oxford. IBSN: 0-19-925728-0.

"The Great War in West Africa" by Gorges (Naval & Military paperback reprint) mentions a Belgian contingent of light artillery & 600 Tirailleurs joining the French on the Sango River in October 1914.

"The History of the Royal West African Frontier Force" by Hayward & Clarke, Gale & Polden 1964, is a good read but focusing on the RWAFF. It is also a decent investment if you can find an economically priced copy.

Probably the most informative read will be another Naval & Military reprint:

"Togoland & The Cameroons. The Official History" by F.J. Moberley.

Good Luck

Harry

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