This post analyzes the deployment of about half a million african soldiers in Europe, where most of them battled in the French army. It first outlines the numbers and origins of african soldiers and also the methods they to be deployed in Europe. Climate it explores Africans’ battle experiences, their impact on early american societies, and also European awareness of african troops, suggesting that African military participation on european battlefields was a vital experience both for Africans and Europeans. Nevertheless, the inquiry of whether the deployment of africans in Europe tightened or loosened early american bonds has no basic answer.

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Table of Contents


Introduction↑

As most of the European early american powers that held African areas became affiliated in the first World battle as belligerents, big parts of Africa were affected by the battle in one way or another. Except fighting in Africa and economic exploitation to assistance the early american powers’ battle efforts, voluntary and also forced hike of soldiers and also war employees to Europe was an additional aspect the Africa’s authorized in the war. Altogether about 440,000 aboriginal soldiers, together 140,000 inhabitants of europe descent and also 268,000 native war workers were shipped over from Africa come Europe in between 1914 and also 1918. This post will first outline the numbers and origins of african soldiers fighting in the militaries of various European powers and also the means they were deployed. It climate explores Africans’ battle experience, its influence on early american societies and also European perceptions of afri troops in the europe theatres that war.

African Contingents in the French Army↑

France was the country that most extensively made usage of african soldiers in europe theatres that war. North African soldiers had already served in the Crimean war (1854–1856), in the 1859 Italian War and in the Franco-German war of 1870/71. Several projects in the prompt pre-war duration had increased African early american troops’ profile. After ~ the very first Morocco situation in 1905/6, military general and also radical politician Adolphe Messimy (1869–1935) petitioned because that the expansion of compulsory military organization to Muslim Algerians and a 1912 decree eventually permitted for their compelled recruitment if numbers of volunteer fell quick of requirements. Indigenous 1909 on, early american officer Charles Mangin (1866–1925) campaigned because that a large armée noire (black army) to it is in recruited in West Africa and also trained for deployment in europe wars. He suggested that demographic advancement would create an enhancing gap between France and Germany’s accessible military manpower and also that West africans were specifically suited to it is in shock troops in one industrialised war due to the fact that their allegedly less emerged nervous system made them immune to the noise that battle.<1> as a result, a 1912 decree enabled for required recruitment in French West Africa and also for the usage of this troops exterior the colony.

Between 1914 and also 1918, the French deployed roughly 450,000 native troops indigenous Africa, consisting of West afri (so-called Tirailleurs Sénégalais), Algerians (so-called Turcos and Spahis), Tunisians, Moroccans, Malagasies, and also Somalis, many of whom saw deployment in Europe. Settlers of europe origin detailed another 110,000 soldiers from north Africa (Chasseurs d’Afrique and also Zouaves) and also some of the 5,700 guys in “créole” units from the old Senegalese cities and also ports were likewise of european extraction. ~ above the various other hand, a pointer made by element Minister Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) in 1918 come hire up to 200,000 Ethiopian mercenaries never materialised.<2> instantly after people War ns French afri troops would certainly serve together occupation forces in the German Rhineland (1919 to 1930)<3> as well as in south Eastern Hungary (1919 come 1929)<4> and formed component of the Allied treatment in the Russian civil war (1918 to 1920).<5>

African troops in the French army, who numbers massively enhanced in the second fifty percent of the war, mainly dealt with on the western front and also participated in all major battles there. In addition they were deployed in the 1915 Dardanelles expedition and in the Balkans. After hefty losses in the first battles in 1914, a brand-new doctrine for the deployment of africans was applied. Castle no longer dealt with as elevation units, but were “amalgamated” with European troops. Every regiment the the troupes coloniales (colonial troops) which were written of Europeans, gained a West african battalion. Phibìc African troops were regularly amalgamated into so-called régiments mixtes (mixed regiments) in addition to European inhabitants from north Africa. This doctrine likewise aimed at preventing the defection of Muslim soldiers to the Germans, that were making use of their alliance v the Ottoman empire to pose together friends that Islam and even to recruit Muslim POWs come the main Powers’ cause.<6> from 1917 on, with boosting numbers of african troops existing at the west Front, several of them were even incorporated right into metropolitan units. Their task was most often to offer as shock troops in the an initial wave the attack.

Casualty numbers of French african troops deployed in Europe to be found in official reports, unofficialize accounts and also in the historiography are quite unclear, varying for West afri from 25,000 come 65,000 soldiers killed, because that Algerians from 12,000 to 100,000, for Moroccans indigenous 2,500 to 9,000, and also for Malagasies indigenous 2,400 come 4,000. Figures in most recent scholarly publications typically confirm nobody of the extremes. These vague figures and also their differing interpretation have led scholar to contradictory conclusions about whether afri troops were misused together “cannon fodder.” It would certainly be too simplistic to base any judgment of the cannon fodder thesis on worldwide figures of killed and also wounded alone, for this neglects the temporal measurement of deployment. West african troops provided to be withdrawn from the front and transferred to camps in southern France during the winter months. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of North and West africans only involved Europe in the second half of the war. Thus, accident rates should not be contrasted to overall figures the deployed soldiers, yet to average figures. Joe Harris Lunn, analysing annual casualty prices of West Africans, concludes that the probability the a West african soldier being killed during his time at the front to be two and a half times greater than the of a French infantryman.<7>

For many, events in 1917 lend credence come the idea the the French military used that troops indigenous the swarms as cannon fodder. ~ above 16 April, general Robert Nivelle (1856–1924) released an offensive in Champagne v participation the the 2nd Colonial Corps (including thirty-five West afri battalions) under the command of basic Mangin. The German counteroffensive price the French military dearly: almost fifty percent of all the deployed West afri soldiers died. Therefore Mangin ended up being known together the “butcher” and also at the finish of April he to be relieved the his command. Already before this occurrence French soldiers understood the appearance of afri troops together an unmistakable authorize that an attack was imminent. Henri Barbusse (1873–1935), for instance, in his novel Le Feu, defined Moroccan soldiers as follows: “They room imposing and even frighten a bit. <...> Of food they space heading because that the front line. This is their place, and their arrival method we are about to attack. Castle are created attacking.”<8>

French propaganda also developed similar themes: “From the very very first hour on, african regiments had actually the privilege to accounting the many dangerous posts, which permitted them come enrich their publication of traditions and also past glory.”<9> A an elderly officer responsible because that West Africans’ maintain in the camp the Fréjus wrote in a letter in January 1918 the African soldiers to be “cannon fodder, that should, in order to conserve whites’ lives, be made use of much much more intensively.”<10> and even Clemenceau, in a speech delivered to the French Senate top top 20 February 1918, stated: “We are going to market civilisation come the Blacks. They will have to pay for that <...> i would prefer that ten Blacks are eliminated rather than one Frenchman <...>!”<11> for this reason it is clear the there was at the very least the intention to assign early american troops to particularly dangerous work as shock troops, despite scholarly controversies on the interpretation of Africans’ casualty rates as compared to Europeans’.

Africans in other European Armies↑

Unlike the French, the British to be reluctant come deploy afri troops in Europe. The is true the the British forces in the African and Middle Eastern campaigns included big numbers of afri soldiers, and parts the the Indian Colonial army were supplied in Europe from as early as loss 1914 on. Native 1916 ~ above a campaign for a “million black army” complying with the French instance was donate by numerous officers and also politicians with early american backgrounds, including Winston Churchill (1874–1965). However logistical issues, coupled v racist prejudices and opposition from early american authorities in Africa, brought about a renunciation of utilizing such troops on europe battlefields.<12> Non-white guys were also banned native the “South African overseas Expeditionary Force” the sent about 30,000 soldiers come France. Black and “coloured” males from the Union of south Africa served in Europe in the “South African aboriginal Labour Contingent” (21,000 men), the “Cape Auxiliary horse Transport” (2,800 men) and also the “Cape Coloured labour Corps” (1,200 men), all of them in unarmed ancillary roles.<13> However, a number of blacks resident in the joined Kingdom managed to enlist in urban British forces and some that them were even promoted to officer ranks.

Italy, top top the various other hand, tried to deploy African early american troops in Europe which resulted in disaster. In respectable 1915, part 2,700 soldiers native Libya to be shipped come Sicily. However, they go not get in the frontline due to the fact that many soldiers passed away from pneumonia immediately after their arrival, and so, the Libyans, that were designated because that Alpine warfare, to be shipped residence again after ~ a short while. The Belgian federal government repeatedly discussed shipping in numerous thousand soldiers from the Congo, however these plan would never ever materialise. Nevertheless, a small variety of Congolese soldiers served on the west front in urban Belgian troops. The Portuguese didn’t deploy any kind of colonial devices in Europe either, and also the number of soldiers of afri descent in the urban Corpo Expedicionário Português that offered on the western Front native 1916 on is unknown. The Germans, as the only early american power amongst the central Powers, offered plenty of african soldiers of their Schutztruppen in the afri theatres that war, however they had actually never planned to deploy these troops in Europe and would not have been able to do so during world War i for logistical factors anyway.

African Soldiers’ war Experience and Its influence on afri Societies↑

The enormous recruitment of men in North and West Africa for abroad deployment presented huge problems. Number of volunteer fell short of the French army’s demands by far and military authorities shortly resorted to required recruitment. This practice challenged countless forms of opposition. In West Africa, local elites would certainly usually shot to hand over their servants to the recruiting officers in bespeak to preventive their very own sons. Other creates of resistance had incidental situations of self-mutilation and fleeing right into the bush or to Liberia, Gambia, Portuguese Guinea and also to the gold Coast, and armed rebellions against the early american administration. A revolt in Bélédougou in 1915 indeed stemmed native discontent over recruitment. During the great revolt in West Volta in 1915­–16 and numerous rebellions in the phibìc of Dahomey between 1916 and also 1917 recruitment to be at the really least a significant trigger.<14> In Algeria, opposition developed as well. In the loss of 1914, potential recruits and also their families protested versus conscription in miscellaneous locations. Resistance to recruitment culminated in the winter the 1916–17 in a significant uprising in the southern Constantinois.<15> In Tunisia there to be a few minor revolts in 1915 and 1916.<16>

In September 1917, the Governor-General of French West Africa, Joost van Vollenhoven (1877–1918), ordered a temporary stop to recruitment due to the fact that of his involves over the disruption of economic life. However, despite this, in January 1918 the French federal government again raised the problem of recruiting an ext troops in Africa. Clemenceau demanded that both French West Africa and Algeria send another 50,000 guys to the west front. The government entrusted the organization of the recruitment in West Africa to Blaise Diagne (1872–1934). Shortly before the war, he had come to be the first black African elected to the French parliament and now in an extraordinary move was endowed v powers tantamount to a Governor-General. Diagne supported military service as a way to achieve political and legal legal rights after the war – something the would never ever materialize. Through September 1918, he had recruited 63,000 brand-new soldiers in West Africa, exceeding by far the expectation of the federal government in Paris. The end of the war spared this soldiers from actually having to fight in ~ the front.

Even during civilization War I, and certainly ever before since, observers increased questions about the influence on the early american system that recruitment and the deployment of afri troops in Europe. European fears the Africans would be revolutionised through this experience and use your newly got confidence and military skills to rotate weapons against their early american masters were countered by the main French prophesy that business in the French military would boost Africans’ assimilation and also loyalty to France and returned veterans would become agents that French civilisation in Africa. The war endure arguably had actually a remarkable social and cultural impact on Africans. Plenty of veterans, particularly those that servile origin, would not go back to their villages after the war, yet rather decided to live in the colonial cities where there were much better opportunities to benefit from newly obtained technical skills.<17>

Three crucial sources because that the research of African battle experiences space Mohammed Ben Chérif’s (1879–1921) autobiographical novel Ahmed Ben Mostapha. Goumier,<18> Bakary Diallo’s (1892–1978) memoirs licensed has been granted Force-bonté,<19> and comprehensive oral history study performed by Joe Harris Lunn in the 1980s.<20>Ahmed Ben Mostapha to be the an initial novel by one Algerian author to appear in French in 1920. Ben Chérif had served together a mounties officer and also become a German prisoner of battle in October 1914. The hero that this very first person stare is an Algerian officer fighting in the first World War and also eventually dying in a German prisoners’ camp. In this novel, Ben Chérif stressed the require for modernization of the Muslim neighborhood which was stagnating because of the adoration of its glorious past. His hero admires French culture, yet at the same time is proud of gift of nomadic descent.

Bakary Diallo’s memoirs were released in 1926 together the an initial book in French writer by a black color African. Diallo had obviously strongly adhered come French early american ideologies. He an initial describes himself and also his comrades as being top top the exact same level as French youngsters who then gradually reached the higher stages of French civilisation thanks to army service, till they were totally assimilated and started even to dream in French. Diallo’s war experience, however, differed from that of many of his comrades in number of respects. He had actually volunteered for the French military as beforehand as 1911, so he did not suffer the forced conscription between 1914 and also 1917 that traumatised West afri populations. Diallo’s front endure was no representative either as he was only there for a relatively short time. Currently on 3 November 1914, he was wounded and later on promoted. The earned a distinction for bravery and was also granted French citizenship in 1920. After ~ the war, he would continue to be in France till 1928.<21>

Thanks come Lunn’s oral background study, we are likewise informed about the war endure of a larger team of West Africans. Lunn interviewed eighty-five Senegalese veterans (about fifty percent of the veterans still living at the time) in 1982/83. His publication shows that important cultural changes in Franco-Senegalese relations took ar in the years from 1914 to 1918. Part West Africans would certainly no much longer perceive the French together almighty “devils” as numerous of them had done before. This would certainly promote their self-confidence in the post-war period. The veterans’ expertise of your European experience, however, clearly was not uniform. Few of the veterans interviewed by Lunn thought that the battle did no have any notable affect on their nation while others emphasized claimed causality between their war service and post-war readjust or even Senegal’s self-reliance four years later on.

African ego-documents analysed in existing studies mainly represent possession perspectives. This makes it complicated to rebuild African soldiers’ perceptions of Europe and also the europe at the time. We deserve to only speculate that they followed similar patterns together the Indian soldiers’ (for which research has analysed extensive quantities of letters) whose confrontation v Europe and Europeans display a selection of responses and also coping mechanisms: some were able to assimilate europe mores and also habits through their social background, some rejected their very own customs and also habits and also formed an unconditional admiration for the europe social, economic and also gender order, while an additional group tried to protect their social identity and also meet their religious duties and also traditional duties as men and also warriors.<22> european perceptions of african soldiers, on the other hand, have the right to be reconstructed much more easily.

European Perceptions↑

The existence of numerous thousands of african soldiers top top European soil was likewise a vital event because that Europeans and attracted widespread attention. European photos of african soldiers advanced in various ways top top both sides of the western front. In Germany, representation developed along the present of racialism pre-war imagery, also reaching the extremes that representing early american soldiers as beasts. In summer 1915, the German international Office put right into circulation a pamphlet licensed has been granted Employment, contradictory to worldwide Law, of colored Troops in the europe Theatre of battle by England and France, in which plenty of atrocities were attributed to colonial soldiers such as poking the end the eyes and also cutting off the ears, noses and also heads of wounded and captured German soldiers.<23> In German propaganda, early american troops to be labelled through all kinds of racialism expressions that negated their top quality as regular military forces. Also the free sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) complained the “an army of niggers, Ghurkhas and all the barbarians the the world” were at Germany’s borders.<24>

Another recurrent layout in German propaganda versus the deployment of afri troops in Europe to be its alleged affect on the future that the colonial system and the dominance of the “white race.” If african soldiers to be trained in the handling of contemporary arms, if lock were carried to Europe and also saw the “white” nations fighting against each other, and also if they were even permitted to take part in this battles and also experience the vulnerability the the white man, climate they would lose their respect once and also forever. After the war, castle would revolve their weapons versus their own masters and also destroy colonial rule. However, German propaganda against the usage of afri troops in Europe would climax only after ~ 1918, as soon as the presence of early american soldiers in the French zone of occupation triggered a highly racist campaign against the “Black horror on the Rhine.”

The stories of atrocities circulated through the German propaganda apparently also reached the prior which go nothing to boost the morale of the troops. Explanation in soldiers’ letters like, “you can’t really consider a nigger <...> as a comrade”<25> be affected by each other witness to your contempt for africans as illegitimate opponents. Thus, it was generally believed the africans took no prisoners and also when German units caught a new sector the the front, the concern was often anxiously put regarding whether there were any type of black soldiers among the opponents. A German army report of 1918 declared that a column “quickly abandoned the front heat without a shot having been fired and without the enemy showing up at the cry of ‘The French space attacking, the blacks space coming.’”<26>

Entente propaganda countered German propaganda within the patterns of pre-World war argumentation, albeit through some modifications. In the very first months of the war, depictions of early american troops in the French press did no differ lot from German propaganda images. 2 weeks after ~ the outbreak of the war, the Dépêche Coloniale depicted African soldiers as démons noirs (black demons) that would lug over the Rhine, with their bayonets, the revenge of world against modern-day barbarism.<27> start in 1915/16, public representative propagated a modified picture of infantile and dedicated savages. African soldiers were shown as belong to gyeongju jeunes (young races) and also as certain obedient come the white masters due to the fact that of the latter’s pundit supremacy. Therefore, they to be a danger neither to white supremacy in the colonial world, nor to the French city population.

This propaganda was likewise produced to calm the French population’s reservations around the african troops’ visibility in France. Huge parts that the French populace seem to have shared the picture of afri as bloodthirsty savages. Once the an initial West African units arrived in France, huge crowds invited them shouting, “Bravo les tirailleurs sénégalais! Couper têtes aux allemands!” (“Well done, Senegalese tirailleurs! Chop the Germans’ heads!”)<28> This image also stirred a latent famous opposition to stationing afri soldiers in southern France. The French military management also supported the image of primitive savages. For instance, african soldiers were provided boots indigenous the French arsenals the were much too big for them, as their feet were an alleged to have huge dimensions due to the fact that of long-term barefoot walking. As late as in 1917, there was a proposal the West afri soldiers must fight barefoot because, v French boots, “those agile apes are shedding one that their best infantry qualities, namely your elasticity in marching.”<29>

Civilians’ encounters with African soldiers, both in France throughout the war and in the French zone the occupation in Germany ~ the war, were manifold. French writer and painter Lucie Cousturier (1876–1925), that had acquired to understand a number of injured West african soldiers when she nursed lock during and also after the war, composed in her 1920 book Des Inconnus chez moi around the original mood among the civilian population in southerly France:

In April–May 1916, we credited our future girlfriend with plenty of acts of horror. All the peasants indulged v us. Over there is no crime they were not accused of. ~ the devastation of the forest, the ugliness of your barracks, of their camps and of your hospitals, they were accused that drunkenness, theft, rape, and also of resulting in epidemics. – "What is to come to be of us?" moaned the farmers’ wives <…>. We will certainly not challenge let our young daughters walk the paths among these savages. We will not challenge go the end ourselves to reduced the grass or conference wood. Just imagine! If we got captured by these gorillas.<30>

However, there were additionally numerous familiar encounters in between African soldiers and French civilians and love and also sex throughout the colour line were by no way unheard of.<31> The same is true for the relationship in between German civilians and Africans troops during the Rhineland occupation.<32>

But just how did europe Entente soldiers perceive your African comrades? The letters and also memoirs of French and British soldiers present an ambivalent attitude. Most soldiers to be curious around these “exotic” soldiers and also some also sympathised through them. In ~ the exact same time, evidence also shows that African soldiers were not taken into consideration to be same comrades, but rather auxiliaries for especially dangerous tasks. Luigi Barthas (1879–1952), cooper, trade unionist and socialist, explained an Algerian division he encountered at Narbonne together “magnifique” (magnificent), but likewise felt sorry for them.<33> second lieutenant Roland Leighton (1895–1915) in a letter additionally referred to north African troops: “They all look really Negroid, however are well built men and march well.”<34> in ~ the very same time, ideas around Africans’ alleged brutality lingered on. Thus, in Le Feu Barbusse, who had actually spent eleven month at the front, described the Moroccan soldiers as “devils” that are provided to “poking the bayonet in the enemy’s belly.”<35> Furthermore, some French soldiers were additionally concerned around the alleged usage of african troops versus (mainly female) workers on to win and about the sex-related threat elevated by the proximity of colonial men come French women.

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Conclusion↑

African military participation on europe battlefields in between 1914 and 1918 was a an essential experience both because that Africans and also Europeans. Never before had so plenty of Africans temporarily migrated to Europe in such a short period of time. The suffer of required recruitment, travel to Europe, and also fighting in a war very few could have imagined left deep clues not just on surviving and also returning veterans, but additionally on African cultures in general. However, the visibility of numerous thousands of africans in Europe likewise had important results upon Europeans. Regardless of reinforcing discourses of early american racism, it additionally created social encounters of a different sort. The question of even if it is the deployment of african troops in Europe tightened or loosened early american bonds that would lure historians’ attention for decades to come thus has actually no straightforward answer. Plenty of veterans after the battle would (as the French war propaganda had predicted) be closer come the colonial administration and offer as middlemen in between the colonizers and the colonized. Top top the various other hand, return the great uprising against colonial preeminence that had actually been guess by the German battle propaganda as a result of colonial soldiers’ suffer of battle in Europe would not materialize, wartime recruitment had triggered several regional rebellions and participation in the war initiative had increased Africans’ expectation of political reform as a reward.