United States infantry belonging to a segregated African American unit of the American army, marching on a road near Verdun. Note the camouflage netting overhead to protect the soldiers from airplanes and artillery fire. The photo was taken northwest of the Verdun fortress in 1918.
During World War 1, the French and British were able to draw on extensive manpower resources from their vast colonial empire. The British relied heavily on soldiers from their Indian colonial possessions, particularly the Sikhs, who fought for the British in all of the theatres of war, and mainly in the Middle East and on the Eastern front.
The French drew colonial troop levies from its African possessions. Algerian and Senegalese troops fought alongside their colonial overlords in a war which they had no part of and to maintain an imperial system that many despised. Nevertheless it is true that the contribution made by the French colonial soldiers was appreciated by the French.
The poster at the top advertises the Day of the Army of Africa and the Colonial Troops. It depicts a number of soldiers from various parts of the empire, likely from North Africa, fighting under the banner of France.
Below is a photograph of French citizens showing their gratitude to the French colonial troops by offering wine to some Algerian soldiers as their train stops at a railway station on the way to the front.
The Algerians must not have been offended by the offer of wine, nominally against their religion, as they are obviously glad for the offer. Such scenes of goodwill were genuine. The French realized the great debt that they owed their colonial empire and in addition to spontaneous gestures like these, the government also made sure to acknowledge the contribution made. The posters were not so much for the benefit of the colonial troops as for the morale of the French civilians; they were meant to convey the fact that the French were not alone and they had great and vast reserves of soldiers with which to win the war.
The poster below is devoted to extolling the contribution of the African troops, which are portrayed somewhat stereotypically and in a way that would be considered offensive today. However the mere fact that Africans were being portrayed as brave warriors fighting for the motherland of France was a step forward in race relations and understanding.
The hardships faced by the colonial troops were particularly severe, even compared to the generally hellish conditions of world war 1. Far from home, in an alien environment, fighting for an empire which gave them few rights or benefits, they were forced to fight with second rate equipment in a cold climate that was foreign to them. They were often used as expendable troops even in the context of the general callousness with which the allied generals sacrificed their men.
This photo of allied tanks attacking was taken somewhere on the Western Front in August 1918.
A group of allied tanks is advancing up a road, two of which are visible. The tanks are belching clouds of exhaust fumes. Their objective are the German lines in a nearby wood. Meanwhile on the left you can see allied infantry advancing and a line of German prisoners of war being led back into the rear. The location of this photo is unknown.
Above is a photo of a Romanian Maxim machine gun on a horse drawn carriage, during the early part of World War 1. Machine Guns of this type were not much different from the maxim guns that had been first introduced in 1884 and therefore represented military technology that was nearly 30 years old. . Although they could lay down a relatively heavy fire (about 500 rounds per minute), they were large and cumbersome and needed to be dragged by horses. Also their size made it difficult if not impossible to use the terrain to protect the firing crew so that they were mostly used in open fields where they were effective against exposed infantry, but also were very vulnerable to enemy counter fire.
When Hiram Maxim invented his machine gun in the 1800s, its usefulness was immediately recognized by the United States and the European powers, who rushed to add it to their arsenals. However by the start of World War 1, the maxim gun was yesterday’s technology and both sides had invented much better tools for killing.
Nevertheless the maxim gun was still a common sight on the battlefields of Europe.
Both sides including France and Germany had a number of these fairly obsolete machine guns in their arsenals at the start of the war, the major powers quickly equipped their soldiers with lighter and more mobile machine guns, which not only had a higher rate of fire but also a lower silhouette so that the machine gun crew stood a better chance of survival and could move their gun into a new position themselves rather than having to hitch it to a horse.
Despite the eventual obsolescence of the maxim gun, it continued to see service on the fringes of empire, in the colonies, and during the Russian Revolution, as well as in the proxy wars in China and elsewhere, well into the 20th century.
A famous propaganda poster from the Russian Revolution credits Lenin with heroically manning a maxim machine gun mounted on on a horse drawn cart, firing while being pursued by counter revolutionary White Russian forces.