Skip to main content

French Colonial Troops from Indochina (Vietnam)

Most people do not realize that thousands of Vietnamese soldiers fought for France on the Western Front during World War 1.

One of the great advantages that the Allies had over Germany and her allies during World War 1 was their ability to draw on their colonial empires for troops and materials.

Germany, too, had a colonial empire. However its colonies were weak and isolated due to Allied command of the seas. None of the German colonies provided any material assistance to Germany’s fight in Europe.

Vietnamese Troops Heading to the Front Under the Command of a French Officer - Western Front, World War 1
Vietnamese Troops Heading to the Front Under the Command of a French Officer – Western Front, World War 1

On the other hand, the colonial Empires of the Allies, especially those of Britain and France, had the capacity to aid the Empire in its struggle in Europe.

The British Empire had India as well as its self-governing dominions such as Canada and Australia. France also had a far flung empire spanning the entire empire. Its colonies in Senegal, French Indochina (now Vietnam and Laos), as well as Algeria and Morocco, supplied thousands of soldiers who fought bravely for a French Empire, who did not accord them equal rights or privileges. Thanks to Allied command of the seas, the British and French were able to transport troops from their colonial territories over vast distances and deploy them on the Western Front. Colonial troops who had never before seen Europe, and who might not even have left their home village before the Great War, now found themselves thrown into the maelstrom of trench warfare on the Western Front.

Among the French colonial troops that fought on French soil, the Moroccans, Senegalese particularly distinguished themselves for their bravery and martial prowess. Less well known are the contributions made by the colonial troops drawn from French Indochina, in what is now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Lightly armed, usually without metal helmets, these infantry troops were marched to the front under the direction of white French officers to die for an empire in which they were second class citizens. Nevertheless these colonial troops distinguished themselves and fought and died for France in their thousands on the Western Front.

Vietnamese Soldiers in World War 1

Below are rare photographs of Vietnamese and other troops from Indochina fighting on the Western Front.

A Vietnamese Adjutant Serving the French Army
A Vietnamese Adjutant Serving the French Army

Vietnamese Colonial Soldiers Serving on the Western Front
Vietnamese Colonial Soldiers Serving on the Western Front
Vietnamese Troops on the Western Front - At the barber
Vietnamese Troops on the Western Front – At the barber
Composite Photograph of Vietnamese Soldiers in World War 1 - Showing the Troops at Prayer and Eating Meals Together
Composite Photograph of Vietnamese Soldiers in World War 1 – Showing the Troops at Prayer and Eating Meals Together
Vietnamese Soldiers Being Given Helmets by French Officers
Vietnamese Soldiers Being Given Helmets by French Officers
Vietnamese Soldiers in Camp
Vietnamese Soldiers in Camp
Vietnamese Soldiers Being Inspected by French Officers, World War 1
Vietnamese Soldiers Being Inspected by French Officers, World War 1
Vietnamese Soldiers Being Given Capes by French Officers..
Vietnamese Soldiers Being Given Capes by French Officers..

Just 40 years later, Vietnamese rebels would deal France a decisive defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, sounding the death knell of the French colonial empire.