Senegalese soldiers and the liberation of Paris

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Senegalese soldiers and the liberation of Paris

Post by Marcus » 11 Aug 2004 16:51

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells the tale of two old soldiers from Senegal in West Africa.
They are looking forward to a trip to France later this month to join in the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from German occupation in August 1944. But their fond memories are tinged with bitterness and regret.
Let me tell you about two dignified old gentlemen I've met. Both are in their 80s and still hard at work - and both are World War II veterans, but they're not from Europe or America.
Among the crowds lining the streets for the 60th anniversary of Paris's liberation, you might be able to spot the distinguished-looking figure of Ousseynou Diop, who's 87, or the smiling Issa Cisse. He's 83.
Diop and Cisse are from Senegal in West Africa.
It's one of the former French colonies which sent tens of thousands of soldiers to help fight fascism and free France from the grip of Nazi Germany's occupation.
Now it's important to remember that troops from the French colonies, like Senegal, played a critical role in the liberation of France.
Some claim that as many has half the French troops who landed in southern France in August 1944 came from Africa.
One journalist, who's been researching the period found a photograph in the National Archives in France, taken in Marseilles 60 years ago, which neatly underlines that point.
It shows German captives being herded into a prisoner-of-war camp and a column of French soldiers marching in the opposite direction.
What makes the photograph unusual is that while all the German prisoners are white, all the French soldiers are black.


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David Lehmann
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Post by David Lehmann » 12 Aug 2004 02:21


I have original 1939 and 1940 newspaper and in these ones there are many articles and photos about the troops from the colonies especially Moroccan and Senegalese ones. You can also see a photo of a Moroccan Spahis praying for exemple.

If you read the thread I wrote about the battle of La Horgne in 1940 you will see that these Spahis fought brilliantly. There is a plate dedicated to them in the town now.

Next to Lyon there is also a monument dedicated to the Senegalese (and others) troops.

I am not completely sure that the so-called French colonial infantry included so much natives from the colonies in 1940 but in 1944 yes it is sure. The "infanterie coloniale" (colonial infantry) term covers in 1940 the today so-called "Marine Infantry" (an elite corps also called "Fusiliers Marins" or "Marsouins"). Most of these units had a very high amount of Europeans but could also include natives from the colonies.
• DIC = division d'infanterie coloniale
• RIC = régiment d'infanterie coloniale
• RICMS = régiment d'infanterie coloniale mixte sénégalais (includes one or more Senegalese battalion beside the European ones).

But there were several type of units which had a very high amount of natives :

Infanterie Nord Africaine (North African infantry)
These units include Europeans, grossly all the officiers and many NCOs but they are formed with natives from the North African colonies : Goumiers (Moroccan), Tirailleurs (Senegalese, Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerian) and Zouaves. Goumiers are Moroccan soldiers with also many mule packs able to carry mortars and MGs (they will later allow to pierce the Gustav line in Italy). In 1942, a so-called Goum is the equivalent of a company of Goumiers : about 200 men with mule packs.
• DIA = division d'infanterie Africaine
• DINA = division d'infanterie Nord-Africaine
• DM = division marocaine
• RICM = régiment d'infanterie coloniale du Maroc
• RZ = régiment de Zouaves
• RTA = régiment de tirailleurs algeriens
• RTT = régiment de tirailleurs tunisiens
• RTM = régiment de tirailleurs marocains
• RTS = régiment de tirailleurs sénégalais
• RMM = régiment mixte malgache

The word "cavalerie" stands for cavalry units in the DLC (Division Légère de Cavalerie) or DLM (Division Légère Motorisée). There were various cavalry units :
• "Cuirassiers"
• "Chasseurs à Cheval" (horse mounted)
• "Hussards"
• "Dragons"
• "Chasseurs d'Afrique" (North African cavalry)
• "Spahis" (North African cavalry – usually horse mounted in 1940)

Except for "Chasseurs à Cheval" and "Spahis" (before 1941/43) these terms corresponds also to armored units (Panhard 178, Hotchkiss H35/39, Somua S35). Before WW1/WW2 there were also other French cavalry units like the Lanciers and the Chevau-Légers. Each horse mounted cavalry squad consisted of 13 men the men who fought brillantly in La Horgne in 1940 where from two Spahis brigades (horse mounted).


After these 1940 era points we can have a look on the units of the French 1st Army which took part in the landing in Provence in August 1944. All these men had already proved their valor in Italy between 1943 and 1944.

100,000-120,000 French soldiers fought in Italy in 1943/1944 in the CEFI (Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie) under the command of general Juin. The CEFI allowed to take Monte Cassino by piercing more south in the Monte Majo , a much more mountainous area but general Juin's Goumiers and their mule packs did it and broke the front where the Germans didn't expected them. They also opened the doors of Rome to the allied forces on 4th June 1944 after a series of battles : Garigliano, Pico ... In Italy they lost 7000 KIA, 30,000 WIA and 42,000 MIA.

Here is the Anvil/Dragoon allied OoB :

The Naval Western Task Force (Admiral Hewitt, USN) with 2120 ships including 359 combats and escort ships, 600 large transport ships and smaller vessels.
There were 34 French ships including :
1x battleship "Lorraine"
5x cruisers : "Duguay-Trouin", "Emile Bertin", "Fantasque", "Terrible" and "Malin".
5x torpedo boats

The MAAF (Mediterranean Allied Air Force) (General Ira Eaker, USAF) was composed of 19,000 aircrafts.
The French air force participated with :
6x fighter/bomber groups on P-47
4x bomber groups on B-26
1x reconnaissance group on P-38

The ground forces were composed of 3 US divisions :
36th, 45th and 3rd infantry divisions
Several small rangers and airborne units

and French elements from the French 1st Army (7-8 divisions) :
• 1e Division Française Libre (motorized infantry division)
• 2e division d'infanterie marocaine (infantry division)
• 3e division d'infanterie algérienne (infantry division)
• 4e division marocaine de montagne (mountain infantry division)
• 9e division d'infanterie coloniale (infantry division)
• 1e division blindée (armored division)
• 5e division blindée (armored division)

+ not endivisioned units :
• Bataillon d'Afrique (commandos)
• Bataillon de Choc (commandos)
• Four GTM (groupements de tabors marocains) (infantry)
• Two spahis regiments (recon armored regiments with armored cars and Stuarts)
• 5 artillery regiments
• Four engineer regiments and one bridging battalion

The French ground forces had a strength of 200,000 soldiers from the French 1st Army, including grossly 90,000 French Europeans and 110,000 natives from the French colonies (French department concerning Algeria) in North Africa. The natives formed grossly 25% of the armored divisions, 30% of the artillery units, 40% of the engineer units and 66% of the infantry units. Natives represented 2% of the officers and 20% of the NCOs. In comparison, the 2nd French armored division who landed in Normandy had only one black soldier, this "whitening" was the result of an armored division completely based on the US model where blacks and whites were not mixed.

The French 1st Army liberated both of the large French Mediterranean harbors of Toulon and Marseille and participated in pushing the Germans out of France and back to the Rhine and the Danube. The cities of Toulon and Marseille as it is the case for the Elba and Corsica islands were liberated by only French troops.

Toulon and Marseille fell to the allies on 28 August, long before the US HQ expectations. They were soon handling more supplies than all the Normandy ports combined, and proved a logistical life-saver for the continued allied advance across France. Patch's 7th army linked up with Patton's 3rd army near Dijon on 11 September. The French 1st and US 7th armies were organized into the 6th army group under US general Devers (15 September), and served on the southern flank of the allied armies, advancing through Alsace-Lorraine into Germany and Austria by VE-day.

Concerning the involvment of natives, I would say that it applies also to WW1 and WW2 British (Imperial/Commonwealth) troops with natives ftom West Indies, Africa and the Far East.



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Post by Ogorek » 12 Aug 2004 03:09

Thank you again.....

As usual, your posts are very informative and constructive...

with brotherly greatings....


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David Lehmann
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Post by David Lehmann » 12 Aug 2004 03:36

In late 1944 and 1945 the % of natives from the colonies dropped because of the integration of some 200,000 metropolitan French from the FFI (French forces of the Interior).

The French 2nd armored division, the French SAS and the French commando-marines landed in Normandy and joined the French 1st army in Eastern France.

The French 1st Army who fought in North Africa, Italy, Elba, Corsica and landed in Southern France was organized in 2 corps in France in 1944 :
- 1st corps under the command of general Béthouart
- 2nd corps under the command of general De Goislard de Monsabert

and these corps are composed of :
- 1e Division Française Libre (motorized infantry division)
- 2e division d'infanterie marocaine (infantry division)
- 3e division d'infanterie algérienne (infantry division)
- 4e division marocaine de montagne (mountain infantry division)
- 9e division d'infanterie coloniale (infantry division)
- 1e division blindée (armored division)
- 5e division blindée (armored division)

+ not endivisionned elements :

- Bataillon d'Afrique (commandos)
- Bataillon de Choc (commandos)
- Bataillon de France (commandos)
- Four GTM (groupements de tabors marocains) (infantry)
- 9e Régiment de Zouaves (infantry)
- 1e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens (infantry)
- Two Chasseurs d'Afrique regiments (RCA) (armored regiments)
- Three Spahis regiments (recon armored regiments with armored cars and Stuarts)
- One Régiment Colonial de Chasseurs de Chars (armored regiment with tank destroyers)
- 2e Régiment de Dragons (armored regiment)
- 64e, 65e and 66e RAA (Régiment d'Artillerie d'Afrique = African artillery regiment)
- Régiment d'artillerie coloniale d'Afrique occidentale française
- Régiment d'artillerie coloniale du Levant
- Four engineer regiments and one bridging battalion

----> During late war several other divisions joined this Army :
- 27e division alpine (mountain infantry division) who played a role in the Alps in 1944 (formed on the basis of the former 1e division alpine).
- 3e division blindée (armored division) (created sooner but disbanded in September 1944 an recreated in 1945)
- 1e division d'infanterie
- 10e division d'infanterie
- 14e division d'infanterie
- 19e division d'infanterie
- 23e division d'infanterie
- 25e division d'infanterie
- 36e division d'infanterie
- 1e DCEO (Division Coloniale d'Extrême Orient)
- 2e DCEO (Division Coloniale d'Extrême Orient)

All the late infantry divisions for the most part comprised former FFI (French Forces of the Interior) groups. These division served mostly in security, garrison and occupation roles. Except the alpine division which included many former "chasseurs alpins" and fought in the Alps in 1944/1945, the battle efficiency of the new infantry divisions was rather low, the freshly enlisted men were not trained to the modern combined arms warfare and had to learn.

Here is a Goumier in Italy in 1944 :
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Post by David Lehmann » 12 Aug 2004 04:13

In fact in Italy for example, on the allied side you had people from :
Great Britain
New Zealand
South Africa
Palestine (a so-called "Palestinian Brigade" composed of Jewish soldiers)

And in the French DFL (1e Division Française Libre) there were aslo people from :
New Caledonia

And the so-called Senegalese included of course Senegalese but also people from Chad, Mali, Congo etc.

And sorry if I forgot a nation. In the French Foreign Legion there were also Spanish and Czech people for example.



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