Soldiers from the French African colonies holding a position at Boucle du Doubs, near Besancon, France, winter of 1944. These soldiers are from Senegalese Free French troops.
France at the time of World War II had many colonies in Africa. Before the War, France recruited Africans both to serve in African colonia connstabularies and the French Army. Unlike the situation in France itself, the colonial soldiers were all volunteers. During World War II these African troops played an important role. The Tirailleurs Senegalais troops were used in even greater numbers, initially by Vichy France and later by the Free French. 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 prisoners of war were murdered by the Wehrmacht. After the Liberation of France, the African troops were removed from service in Europe and replaced with white soldiers on the order of Charles de Gaulle, a process known as “blanchiment” (whitening).
Nevertheless, units such as these had some advantages. German infiltrators were disrupting the Americans defense by wearing American uniforms. The black units, however, did not have this problem since the Nazis had no black soldiers.