Black soldiers fighting in France, 1944

Soldiers from the African colonies of France who hold a position at the Boucle du Doubs, near Besançon, France, in the winter of 1944. These soldiers are part of the Senegalese liberated French troops. They are armed with a British Brain and an American 1903 Springfield.

The helmets are American, emblazoned with the anchor emblem of the French colonial forces. The Free French used a wide range of Allied equipment.

France had several colonies in Africa at the time of World War II. Before the war, France recruited Africans to serve in the African colonies and the French army.

Unlike the situation in France itself, the colonial soldiers were all volunteers. These African soldiers played an important role during World War II. Tirailleurs Senegalais troops were used in even greater numbers, initially by Vichy France and later by the Free French. In 1940, African troops comprised about 9% of the French army.

The French recruited over 200,000 black Africans during the war. About 25,000 died in battle. Many were also interned in German labor camps and thousands of black prisoners of war were murdered by the Wehrmacht.

After the liberation of France, African soldiers were removed from service in Europe and replaced with white soldiers on the orders of Charles de Gaulle, a process known as blanchement.

There were some small advantages to being black during World War II. German intruders wearing American uniforms were obstructing the defense of the Americans.

This leads to paranoia and a lot of ID checking. However, the black units did not have this problem as the Germans had no black soldiers. They could do their job without doubting their identity.

General de Gaulle ordered the formation of the first Free French Division in Palestine ahead of time to participate in Operation Exporter, the Allied invasion of the Vichy-controlled French Levant.

This campaign is often referred to as the tragedy of the French against the French. More precisely, most of the liberated French battalions in the operation were made up of Senegalese soldiers who were reluctant to kill their Senegalese countrymen serving with the Vichy defenders; As a result, the liberated French brigade earned a bad reputation with the British.

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