World War II: French Colonial Troops--Types

French colonial troops World War II
Figure 1.--The French Army like the German Army still used horses. These French colonial troops in 1940 were caring for horses.

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.


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