African soldiers, French women, and colonial fears during and after world war II

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2 Scopus citations


Introduction World War II brought the European conflict into the African continent and carried Africans into the battlefields in Europe and Asia. Of all the allied powers France was the one that took full advantage of the manpower its colonies offered. It was also the only European power to deploy African soldiers on metropolitan soil. This had already been done in World War I, but the grim circumstances of France in the second global conflict as well as the timing of the war made the participation of Africans in it especially problematic for France as a colonial power. Two colonial divisions, both consisting of a large number of African troops, stood on the Aisne and the Argonne in May 1940 and were hit by the full force of the Panzer invasion. Two other colonial divisions faced German attacks on the Somme from May 23 onward and were forced to retreat. Africans who fought in the battles of 1940 witnessed France's defeat and German occupation of its soil. Many of them spent considerable time in German prisoner of war (POW) camps. African soldiers fought on two opposite sides in Syria and Lebanon, and later took part in the liberation of France in the ranks of the Free French forces. Around 120,000 colonial soldiers, many from sub-Saharan Africa, participated in the landing in Provence on August 16, 1944. African soldiers experienced discrimination during the war, which culminated in de Gaulle's decision to “whiten” the forces that marched into Paris in August 1944. Their experiences on and off the battlefields reshaped their views of French colonialism. This chapter examines French colonial fears regarding the influence of soldiers' experiences during the war on the stability of colonial rule in French West Africa (FWA). These fears had developed during the war and were shared by both Vichy and Free French administrations. They were further aggravated in the postwar years when French colonial rule faced threats first from Indochina and Madagascar and later in Algeria.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfrica and World War II
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781107282018
ISBN (Print)9781107053205
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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