Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 7, 2009


BBC - Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a "whites only" victory. . . The BBC's Document program has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers - who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces - were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Allied advance into the French capital. By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead. Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.

The leader of the Free French forces, Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris. . . Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle's division must not contain any black soldiers.

In January 1944 Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, "confidential": "It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel. . .

Given the fact that Britain did not segregate its forces and had a large and valued Indian army, one might have expected London to object to such a racist policy.

Yet this does not appear to have been the case. . .

For France's West African Tirailleurs Senegalais, there was little to celebrate. Despite forming 65% of Free French Forces and dying in large numbers for France, they were to have no heroes' welcome in Paris.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

During World War II France once again used the Tirailleurs Senegalais troops, this time in even greater numbers. In 1940, African troops comprised roughly 9% of the French army. The French recruited more than 200,000 black Africans during the war. Approximately 25,000 were killed in battle. Many were also interned in German labor camps and thousands of black African Prisoners of War (POWs) were murdered by the Wehrmacht in 1940. In contrast to World War I, African troops were integrated into French military units. But when victory was close for the Free French forces de Gaulle ordered a “whitening” of the troops and replaced 20,000 Africans at the front with white Frenchmen.

After French liberation, African servicemen were grouped in French centers to await the journey back home. However, they faced discriminatory treatment, and shortages of food, shelter, and other resources. In December of 1944 a protest at a camp in Thiaroye in Senegal involving the first group of ex-POWS to be sent back to West Africa resulted in 35 Africans killed, hundreds wounded, and many sentenced to jail terms. This protest, sometimes known as the “Thiaroye Massacre,” stemmed from French mistreatment and failure to provide back pay."

April 9, 2009 2:28 PM  

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