World War II: French Colonial Troops

French colonial POW World War II
Figure 1.--A German soldier took this photograph of a captured French colonial soldier in France during June 1940. The Germans shot several thousand captured black African colonial troops in 1940.

France at the time of World War II had many colonies in Africa. Besides Algeria and Morocco (a protectorate), French West Africa (modern Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad), several colonies along the African coast (senegal, Guinea, Togo, Camaroon, and Gabon), and Madasgascar in the Indian Ocean. There were also the inland colonies of Burundi and Central African Republic). Before the War, France recruited Africans both to serve in African colonia connstabularies and the French Army. Unlike the situation in France itself, the colonial soldiers were all volunteers. French colonial troops played an important role in World War I and were used by the French as occupation troops. This particularly incensed the Germans. French colonial soldiers were on the Westen Front at the outbreak of World War II. Colonial troops fought with destinction in the Battle for France. There were numerous incidents of the Germans killing captured colonial troops. One such incident occured at Aubigny (May 24-28) where after suffering heavy lossess, the Germans killed woundened Senegalese. (Senegalese was a term often used for black colonial troops in general.) There were several other such incidents. There were several incidents of the Germans separating captured black colonial soldiers from white soldiers and shooting them. Wehrmacht units had no orders to kill black prisoners. These incidents seem to have resulted from a historically based racism. [Scheck] As far as we can determine, most occurred close to the battlefield. Often the shooting was done in the presence of white French sholdiers and the incidents are well documented. Estimates suggest that the Germans murdered several thousand modtly black colonial troops. Goebbels used the black colonial troops in his prpaganda, describing them as beasts and attriutted bestial attrocities to them. Large numbers of colonial troops became POWs after the French capitulation (June 1940). We do not yet have details on how they were treated by the Germans in the POW camps. We note at incidebnt at Clamency where 20 black and North African French POWs were shot (June 18, 1940). Most of the French colonies at first pledged loyalty to Vichy, but were gradually taken over by the Free French. Here thevprocess varied from colony to colony. After the Allied Torch landings (November 1942), French colonial dorces played a role in North Africa (1942-43), Italy (1943-44), and the liberatin of France (1944). Moroccan units served with special destinction.

French African Empire

France at the time of World War II had many colonies in Africa. French began building its African Empire after the Napoleonic Wars with the seizure of Algeria (1830). Morocco came much later. In between France participted in the Scrable for Sub-Saharan Africa. The Fremn Empire came to include a substantial part of the African continent. This included French West Africa (modern Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad), several colonies along the African coast (senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, Camaroon, and Gabon), and Madasgascar and Djiboti (French Somaliland)in the Indian Ocean. There were also the inland colonies of Burundi and Central African Republic).

World War I

French colonial troops played an important role in World War I and were used by the French as occupation troops. This particularly incensed the Germans.

Recruitment

Before the War, France recruited Africans both to serve in African colonial connstabularies and the French Army. Unlike the situation in France itself, the colonial soldiers were all volunteers. We do not have a lot of information about the units formed. We believe that there were separate Moroccan and Algerian units, but the volunteers froim sub-Saharan colonies were formed into mixed units. As a result, the experience of these units has to be discussed on a general French colonial page rather than on a separate colony page.

Types

The French Colonial Forces (Troupes Coloniales) was an overall term for several different types of units. They were the troops used to garrison and the French colonial empire beginning when as a result of the voyages of discovery, France began to build a colonial empire (17th century). French colonial soldiers were on the Westen Front at the outbreak of World War II. The French made a destinction with North Africa which France began to colonize after the Napoleonic Wars (1830s). Algeria in particilar became seen as part of metroplitan France. The North African regiments (Foreign Legion, Zouaves, Spahis, Algerian Tirailleurs--sharpshooters, and Goumiers). They comprised the Army of Africa, part of the French Metropolitan Army. The Troupes Coloniale consisted of 1) French volunteers and settlers and 2) local indigenous volunteers. The French metropolitan volunteers were commonly career soldiers. The settlers (French emigrants) were conscripts doing their required military service. They were used both as soldiers in Metropolitan France as well as garrisonunits throughout the Empire (French West and Central Africa, Madagascar, South Pacific islands, the Caribbean, or Indochina). The French also recruited local indigenous troops, They were all volunteers. And we notice that the French accepted some child volunteers. The indigenous troops served under French officers. They were referred to as Tirailleurs--riflelmen or soldiers. There were Tirailleurs sénégalais, Tirailleurs malgaches, Tirailleurs indochinois, etc. depending on where they had been recruited. There was a general term for all sub-Saharan black soldiers-- Tirailleurs sénégalais. Some of the colonies wre small and it woukd have been complicated having seprate units for each colony. Senegal was the first sub-Saharan African colony and generally seen as the most important. The French primarily used the troupes coloniales as infantry. They were also used as artillery units as well as support services. There were some particularly destinctive units such as cavalry units in Indo-China and camel units in Africa. These units played a substantial part in both World Wars as well as in the First Indochina War.

Battle for France (May-June 1940)

Colonial troops fought with destinction in the Battle for France.

German Attrocities (May-June 1940)

The Germans depised the French colonial troops for largely racial reasons. The French had used colonial troops to occupy the Rhineland (1920s) which the Germans particularly resented. Before and after the French surrender, the Germans behaved barbarically toward the colonial soldiers. There were numerous incidents of the Germans killing captured colonial troops. One such incident occured at Aubigny (May 24-28) where after suffering heavy lossess, the Germans killed woundened Senegalese. (Senegalese was a term often used for black colonial troops in general.) There were several other such incidents. There were several incidents of the Germans separating captured black colonial soldiers from white soldiers and shooting them. Wehrmacht units had no orders to kill black prisoners. These incidents seem to have resulted from a historically based racism. [Scheck] As far as we can determine, most occurred close to the battlefield. Often the shooting was done in the presence of white French sholdiers and the incidents are well documented. Estimates suggest that the Germans murdered several thousand mostly black colonial troops.

German Propaganda

Goebbels used the black colonial troops in his prpaganda, describing them as beasts and attriutted bestial attrocities to them.

POWs

Large numbers of colonial troops became POWs after the French capitulation (June 1940). We do not yet have details on how they were treated by the Germans in the POW camps. We note at incident at the Clamency camp where 20 black and North African French POWs were shot (June 18, 1940).

Vichy

French authorities in most of the French colonies at first pledged loyalty to Vichy, but were gradually taken over by the Free French. Here the process varied from colony to colony. We will discuss this in the separate pages for each colony.

Military Campaigns (1942-45)

After the Allied Torch landings (November 1942), French colonial dorces played a role in North Africa (1942-43), Italy (1943-44), and the liberatin of France (1944). Moroccan units served with special destinction.

Sources

Scheck, Raffael. Hitler’s African Victims: The German Army Massacres of Black French Soldiers in 1940.







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Created: 5:15 AM 10/5/2008
Last updated: 12:18 AM 4/28/2009