Imperial German Colonial Medal - SAMOA 1888

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Imperial German Colonial Medal - SAMOA 1888
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The Imperial German Colonial Medal (Kolonialdenkmünze) was established by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 13 June 1912 with revisions on 17 February 1914.  The medal with clasps was awarded retroactively.  This guide will address only the clasp SAMOA 1888.  The clasp was awarded for participation in an international effort (UK, USA, and Germany) to quell the Samoan Civil War in 1888.  There were significant actions on the various islands which resulted in some German casualties.  On 18 December 1888, a force from the SMS Olga and SMS Eber landed at Apia, Upolu, Samoa and fought against Samoa rebels.  Leutnant Singer, Leutnant Spengler, and 15 men were killed while Leutnant Otto Burchard (SMS Olga) and 38 men were wounded.  In early March 1889, the German Navy shelled a rebel Samoan village, destroying some American property.  The American ships sailed to Upolu, Samoa to meet the Germans to resolve the issue one way or the other.  During the morning of 15 March 1889, a Naval Infantry force of 50 were protecting German interest in Apia.  If you are interested in details of this event, some internet sites provide further information but specialized books are the best source.

SAMOA 1888 was awarded to the Imperial German Navy only (including the Naval Infantry).   Sme sources indicate that the number of entitlements was 482 - and not all received it due to the lapse of time (almost 25 years!) prior to the award of the clasp.  From a review of documents, it appears that a maximum of 357 clasps were issued in 1912.  Currently, all known documented recipients (with one exception) were entitled to at least one other medal or clasp.  All officers, casualties, and crews of the SMS Olga and SMS Eber have been documented.  At last report, the final SMS Adler documentation was in-work by a group of German collectors.  

  • SMS Olga - Corvette with a crew of 267 and was the flagship of the Imperial German Squadron in Samoa.  The commander was Korvettenkapitän Baron Freiherr von Erhardt.  It arrived in Samoa during the night of 18/19 December 1888 after serving in German East Africa.  Practically the entire crew was entitled to the additional clasp DEUTSCH-OSTAFRIKA 1888/89, making this a unique medal entitlement.  The SMS Olga collided with the USS Trenton about 3:00pm on 16 March as it was attempting to leave the harbor.  The SMS Olga was later used as an Imperial German Navy training ship.  The German Admiralty has a special file for the award of the 2 Kolonialdenkmünze clasps to this ship.
  • SMS Adler - Gunboat with a crew of 128.  The commander was Frigattenkapitän Frizze (who was the senior Imperial German Naval Officer in Samoa).  
  • SMS Eber - Gunboat with a crew of 87.  The commander was Kapitänleutnant Wallis Currently, there are only 2 known clasp awards for this ship of the 4 men who survived. 

There are some interesting sidelights to this international force intervention into the Samoan Civil War.  In February 1889, an international hoax was perpetrated when news flashes were released stating that the SMS Olga had been engaged with the USS Nipsic in a naval gun battle (some sources said the USS Nipsic was sunk).  This hoax was revealed after a few days of frantic diplomacy.  During 15-16 March 1889, a severe hurricane struck Samoa.  The SMS Adler (the ship wreckage is still there but it's now under the town of Apia), USS Nipsic (QM Richard H. Taylor won the USA Medal of Honor for his lifesaving efforts in this hurricane during the early morning of 16 March), and USS Vandalia were severely damaged and was beached at Apia Harbor, Upolu, Samoa.  The HMS Calliope was in the harbor also but was able to escape to sea but the Americans had the German ships cornered in an over-crowded harbor and wouldn't move.  The SMS Eber was destroyed when it hit the harbor reef and most of the crew was killed.  The ship wreckage is still there, at the base of the reef.  96 Imperial German Navy members (practically the entire crew from the SMS Eber - there were only 4 survivors - and 1 Officer & 19 men from the SMS Adler) and 50 Americans were killed during this hurricane.  Among the Germans killed were Kapitänleutnant Wallis (SMS Eber), Leutnant zur See Ehrhardt (SMS Eber), Leutnant zur See von Ernsthausen (SMS Adler, who was killed in his room aboard ship), and Doctor's Assistant Machenhauer (SMS Eber).  Leutnant zur See Gaedicke, the helmsman (a Quartermaster who was washed ashore during the early morning of 16 March), and 2 sailors were the only survivors from the SMS Eber.  The SMS Olga and USS Trenton both just barely survived the storm but collided at 3:00pm on 16 March while repositioning.  This act of mother nature ended the American-German stand-off  (and the Samoan Civil War) since none of the factions could recover and were basically fighting for survival.  It was reported that the Imperial German Navy paid each Samoan US$3 for each German they saved.   One Samoan who had saved 3 Germans refused payment and became a legend in Germany.  No British and 1 Samoan was killed during the storm.  The USS Philadelphia arrived on 20 March 1889 to assist the US Navy survivors.  It's interesting to note that the USA issued the Navy Expeditionary Medal and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal for service in Samoa in 1888-1889 to the roughly 800 Americans present. 

The Prussian Order of the Red Eagle and the Prussian Order of the Crown are known to have been awarded for operations in Samoa as well as at least 1 unspecified combat award (possibly the Prussian War Merit Medal)  for the landing at Apia on 18 December 1888.  Two Prussian Lifesaving Medals were awarded to crewmembers of the SMS Olga who rescued a surviving sailor from the SMS Eber during the early morning of 16 March 1889 while the hurricane was in progress.  Any veteran of Samoa who was serving on active duty on 22 March 1897 was awarded the Centenary Medal. 

While the medal is somewhat rare, this bronze clasp is very difficult to locate.  Currently, this clasp is only known in one type:  ribbon width, wide & tall lettering, and with prong backs (similar to the Franco-Prussian War Medal clasps that have been documented in another guide).  Examples of this clasp on the market are extremely rare.   

  • In 1999, a single clasp was sold in Germany for €244. 
  • In April 2005, a Colonial Medal with SAMOA 1888 was auctioned in Germany for €200+
  • In April 2007, a single clasp was auctioned on

Copies and forgeries are known.  Most copies (typically cast) were made for collectors or re-enactors who required an example.  Please review my copy medal guide and forgery medal guide for a more detailed explanation.  My best advice is:  Buy only from a reputable dealer who specializes in Imperial German Naval medals and who will offer you a 100% guarantee for this clasp.

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