Category Archives: France

French Colonial Troops

French Propaganda Poster

Poster Celebrating the Contribution of French Colonial Troops During the War

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.

Algerian Troops 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.

 

Propaganda Poster Showing French African Colonial TroopsThe 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.

 

French Propaganda Poster 1918

French Propaganda Poster from World War 1aThis French propaganda poster from 1918 shows a massive French tank literally crushing German soldiers under its tracks. The caption reads: “Subscribe and We Shall Have Victory!” The goal of the poster is to get people to subscribe to the National Loan of 1918.

Campaigns such as this were essential to raise money to fight the extremely costly war. Citizens were encouraged to buy war bonds as a patriotic duty, and were promised that is they contributed money, victory would come at last.

I find this poster interesting for the blunt way in which it makes the connection between your contribution of money and the death of German soldiers. There is absolutely nothing subtle about the message, and the fact that it would be socially acceptable to “sell” the bonds in this way, says much about public sentiment about the war and their adversaries after 4 long years of slaughter.

The poster is also noteworthy for its depiction of the latest tank as a symbol of coming victory. During world war 1, the British and the French both fielded large tank formations which succeeded in doing a great deal of damage to the German front lines by breaking through German trenches. The tanks promised to end the stalemate of trench warfare and restore mobility to the battlefield.

The Germans also attempted to develop a tank force of their own but their designs were not as successful and very few machines were produced. For the most part the Germans relied on captured allied tanks that they restored and put back into service.

Anti Aircraft Gun on the Eiffel Tower, WW1

Eifferl Tower - Anti Aircraft Gun, WW1A French anti aircraft gun crew stationed on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower stands ready to fire on any German aircraft approaching Paris. The crew consists of three gunners, and several spotters scanning the sky for signs of enemy aircraft approaching.

search light

A group of spotters in the background is manning a large search light to help pinpoint German fighters or bombers in the dark.

AA Gun on the Eiffel Tower

Machine Gun Crew Searching for Raiding German Aircraft

The weapon being used in an antiaircraft role is the unreliable French made made designed St. Etienne machine gun, which was withdrawn from active front line service after 1917.

French Armoured Car

armoured car

A French crew manning a machine gun turret.

This is a photograph of a French armoured car in the snow on the Western Front during WW1. To call it an armoured car is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. While there are some light armoured platings, particularly in the rear and a gun shield to provide some cover to the machine gun crew, the can of the vehicle is completely exposed and there is no protection from any shrapnel or fire coming from the side.

 

In addition to the obvious deficiencies in its armour, the truck has obviously thin wheels which would make it prone to getting stuck in the snow and the mud of the front.

By the standards of even later in the war, vehicles such as this were completely useless sitting ducks. However they were important first steps in the development of an armoured fighting force, which would eventually lead to the impressive tanks fielded by the British, French and Americans towards the end of the war.

French Machine Gun Crew During World War 1

French Machine Gunners

 

This is a color photograph of a French soldiers crew manning a 1907 St. Etienne machine gun. The St. Etienne machine gun was a light infantry weapon used widely by the French army during world war 1. It was manufactured from 1908 to 1917, and over 36,000 were produced. The gun derives it name from the fact that it was designed at the French national arsenal at Saint Etienne.

It featured a variable rate of fire that could be set at between 8 to 600 rounds per minute. The mechanism was gas actuated and compared to a fine clockwork.

Despite, advanced design and engineering, the St Etienne was not a particularly good machine gun. The mud and dirt of the front lines tended to get into the mechanisms and cause frequent jams. As a result, beginning in 1917 this machine gun was removed from the front lines and replaced with the simpler and more reliable Hotchkiss 1914 machine gun. The surviving St. Etiennes were transferred for use in the French colonies, where any opponents tended to lack much firepower of their own, or sold off to Italy and other allied countries.

 

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