The "colonial infantry" is born from the previously "Infanterie de Marine" (Marine Infantry), also called or "Marsouins" or "Bigors". The marine infantry still exists today as part of the army.Most of these units had a very high amount of Europeans in 1940 but included also Senegalese tirailleurs. In the artillery there were also Malagasy soldiers. Among the officers there were also Africans.There are initially 4 DIC (division d'infanterie coloniale) in the active army plus 3 DIC formed at the mobilization. In April, an 8e DIC began to be created but was transformed in 8e DLIC. A 9e DIC was planned during June 1940 but was never formed. The 2e DIC had 2 mountain infantry regiment and the 3e DIC was initially a completely "white" unit. The colonial divisions were not in fact part of the French Army but officially under the control of the Minister of the Colonies. Among the 3 infantry regiments there could be 3 European regiments / 2 Europeans and 1 African / 1 European and 2 Africans etc. but generally there was 1 European regiment (RIC = régiment d'infanterie coloniale) + 2 African (RTS = régiment de tirailleurs sénégalais) or mixed (RICMS = régiment d'infanterie coloniale mixte sénégalais) regiments.The RICMS included one or more Senegalese battalion beside the European ones.
Yes the 24e RTS did exist and fought in France in 1940. It is part of the 4e DIC (division d'infanterie coloniale) commanded by general De Bazelaire de Ruppière.
The regiment by itself never surrendered but most of its elements yes. The last troops of the regiment fought with other remnants of the 4e DIC until 25th June and the end of the campaign ... and the unit was then simply disbanded.
If you mean by "something unusual" the war crimes against black troops then yes this happened to the 24e RTS, the 16e RTS, the 25e RTS and other units with black or North-Africans.
Other units of the division include :
- 2e RIC (European infantrey regiment)
- 16e RTS (Senegalese infantry regiment)
- 74e GRDI (reconnaissance group)
- 12e RAC (colonial artillery)
- 212e RALC (colonial heavy artillery)
- BDAC (anti-tank battery- attached to 12e RACD)
- 14th CDAC (anti-tank company - attached to 2e RIC)
- 13th engineer company (attached to 2e RIC)
On 27th May 1940 the 721/409e AA battery (25mm AA guns) is added as BDAA (AA battery) to the division
In 1940, the flag of the 24e RTS has several markings for the locations where the unit fought :
- SEBASTOPOL 1854-1855
- TUYEN QUANG 1885
- TANANARIVE 1895
- TIEN TSIN 1900
- MAROC 1908-1913
- LA MARNE 1914
- LA SOMME 1916
- L'AISNE-REIMS 1917-1918
- MAROC 1925-1927
The 24e RTS has manpower of about 2,000 men organized in 3 battalions. There are Africans among the officers and NCOs but the cadre is mainly European. The soldiers are Europeans (RIC) or mainly "Senegalese" in the RTS. In fact the term Senegalese is a bit wrong; there were Blacks from various colonies of the AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française), not only from Senegal. There are enlisted men (for 3 years) and volunteers (for 15 years) among them.
In 1939, the 24e RTS is commanded by colonel Alexandre.
The II/24e RTS is sent to Syria to form the BMICL (bataillon de marche d'infanterie coloniale du Levant) which becomes in October the 24e RMICL.
On 27th August 1939, elements of the 21e RIC are attached to the 24e RTS and become the II/24e RTS.
The 4e DIC is sent in Alsace.
During winter, the black troops of the 24e RTS and 16e RTS are sent to the rear because of the cold and replaced by the professional soldiers of the RICM (Régiment d'Infanterie Coloniale du Maroc) and by the 4e RIC. The 24e RTS is on training in southern France.
On 5th April 1940, the 24e RTS is back in Alsace as part of the 4e DIC and used to improve and build the defenses in and around the Maginot Line.
On 20th May, the 4e DIC is on the Somme River between the 7e DINA and the 5e DIC. From 20th May to 4th June they will block all the German advances. The 24e RTS is deployed between the 16e RTS on the right and the 2e RIC on the left.
On 24th May, starting from Bois l'Abbé, the I/24e RTS takes the town of Aubigny after bloody close combats. The town is abandoned after heavy air bombings and partially conquered again on 28th May.
The German troops turned mad after their heavy losses and killed wounded Senegalese. The I/24e RTS had very high losses on 24th May (50% of the cadre are out of action and 40% of the tirailleurs are KIA or MIA). For the attack of 28th May, one company is taken in each battalion (3rd from the I/24e RTS, 5th from the II/24e RTS and 10th from the III/24e RTS).
On 5th June the Germans launch Fall Rot, the general offensive on the Somme and Aisne Rivers. The 24e RTS is deployed south of the Somme River between Amiens and Bray.
Despite the overwhelming German tanks and the continuous German bombing and shelling, the 24e RTS which is organized in hedgehogs maintains its positions until 8th June 1940, inflicting heavy losses to the enemy.
The lieutenant-colonel Fabre which replaces colonel Alexandre as commander of the 24e RTS orders the retreat on 8th June 1940. The men are not satisfied at all because they have good combat emplacements and are not defeated. But the front collapsed in other somewhere else.
Elements of the 2e RIC are sacrificed to cover the retreat and delay the Germans. Then it is the turn of the 24e RTS to cover the rear guard of the division. The men will fight while retreating from the Somme River to the Oise River. Attacks and counter-attacks, bayonet charges are succeeding in many towns : Castel, Merville aux Bois, Mailly-Raineval, Ravenel, Léglantier, Angivillers, Lieuvillers, Erquinvillers, Cressonsacq etc. Many men are KIA, others are taken POW and several simply shot because they are Blacks.
On 9th June 1940, elements of the 24e RTS, of the 16e RTS and of various other units (10e RTS, 610e RP, 78e RI) are encircled in an area between Angivillers and Erquinvillers (in the Oise). The men are exhausted after 15 days of uninterrupted combats and a 50 kilometres retreat while fighting.
At 21h00, under the command of lieutenant-colonel de Negreval (commander of the 2e RIC - oldest officer in the highest rank present in the pocket) an attack is decided to break through the German troops. The papers are burnt, equipments are scuttled and the men are dispersed in groups of 30 to 60 men with at least 1 European officer and 1 European NCO in each group. At 22h00 the movements begin in that order : 2e RIC, 16e RTS, 24e RTS, various elements. Around midnight the first elements of the 24e RTS (III/24e RTS) leave Angivilliers under enemy fire.
Lieutenant-colonel Fabre (commanding officer of the 24e RTS) remains in Angivillers to organize the defense with 300 men which are not able anymore to follow the attacking troops (WIA etc.). He is captured on 10th June after a short but intense fight.
The elements of I/16e RTS and II/16e RTS will never break the enemy lines. There are heavy fights in the towns of Sains-Morainville, Magnelay, Ravenel, La Neuville au Roy and Lieuvillers during all the night. Only the III/16e RTS will reach the Loire River were it will disappear during the last combats of June 1940.
Lieutenant Méchet from II/16e RTS is shot with 7 tirailleurs in Bailleuil le Soc.
The medic-lieutenant Auffret (16e RTS) during his march to the captivity witnessed German soldiers killing several Senegalese whose only mistake was to be too precipitated to access to the drink water. (SHAT, 34 N 1095).
During 9th to 10th June night, capitaine Bébel from III/24e RTS (a black man from Guadeloupe) and his 60 tirailleurs lead a desperate bayonet charge but they will not go further than Erquinvillers. The fights last from 01h00 to 05h00. Capitaine Bébel is WIA and captured ... he is assassinated by the Germans on 10th June because he is black. The last men in Erquinvillers are out of ammunition and surrender. They are systematically shot down. The Germans occupy Lieuvillers and Erquinvillers and are "cleaning" the towns from the last French soldiers. The houses were men are still resisting are simply burned and the POWs are simply shot. In several cases the men are forced to dig their own graves (according to Mr Durossoy, the Mayor of Lieuvillers from 1945 to 1977).
The inquiry about these war crimes will start thanks to a witness who was soldier in 1940 and a mass grave will be found near Erquivilliers with 64 tirailleurs from the 16e RTS and 24e RTS (departmental archives of the Oise, 33 W 8259).
Adjudant Clanet from 24e RTS and 9 tirailleurs have the same fate in Remecourt.
Other of the little groups which try to pierce the enemy lines will fight in Noroy, Cugnières, Valescourts, St Remy en l'Eau, Lamecourt etc.
Near Cressonsacq, in a location called bois d'Eraines, similar crimes are comitted on 11th June 1940. All the European officers trying to prevent the Germans from killing the Blacks are also shot by a bullet in the head :
- battalion commander Bouquet (II/24e RTS)
- capitaine Speckel and lieutenant Brocart (16e RTS)
- capitaine Ris, lieutenant Roux, lieutenant Erminy, lieutenant Rotelle and lieutenant Planchon (24e RTS)
- numerous NCOs
Only several officers manage to save the lives of black troops like lieutenant-colonel Fabre at Angivillers and medic-lieutenant Hollecker at Léglantiers.
Finally only about 90 isolated men from the 24e RTS manage to pierce the German lines and to cross the Oise River.
From the 4e DIC only remains the manpower of 1 infantry battalion : 200 men from 2e RIC, 300 men from 16e RTS and 90 men from 24e RTS.
The 16th battery from V/212e RAC, the VIth group from 212e RALC and 90% of the 74e GRDI are also safe.
These troops are deployed north of Paris, then Ris-Orangis, Malesherbes, on the Loire River next to Brioude etc. and fought until 25th June 1940.
The remnants of the 24e RTS which finally reach Mautauban at the end are only : 5 officers (commandant Seguin, capitaine Lambert, sous-lieutenant Debois, aspirant Chabrier and aspirant Mercier), 5 Europeans (adjudant-chef Sahonnet, sergent Gheysens et 3 soldiers) and 15 African tirailleurs (according to capitaine Lambert from 3/I/24e RTS).
They are directed to Perpignan on 8th July 1940 where they join again with other few men, about 20 motor vehicles and the flag of the 24e RTS which never felt in enemy hands.
On 25th June 1940, in agreement with the armistice, all the African regiments are disbanded, including the 9e DIC (27e RICMS and 28e RICMS) under formation.
The single colonial troops in Metropolitan France are the 2e RIC in Perpignan and the 21e RIC in Fréjus (European troops). For Vichy too the presence of black troops in the metropolitan army is also excluded. But blacks are still present in the African colonies and in the Levant (Syria and Lebanon).
The traditions of the 24e RTS are at first given to the 24e RMICL in the Levant. One of its battalions joins the Free French as soon as June 1940 to form the BIM (bataillon d'infanterie de marine) which will fight bravely at Bir-Hakeim for example. The flag of the 24e RMICL will return to Perpignan in France after the fratricidal combats in Syria in 1941 (operation Exporter opposing Free French troops among the allied forces against Vichy French troops). This flag joined then the flag of the 24e RTS saved in June 1940.
Similar events against black troops :
1) 44e RICMS and 53e RICMS
Similar events happened in the area of the 5e DIC with its 44e RICMS and 53e RICMS. On 5th and 6th June 1940, next to Picquigny (between Abbeville and Amiens), 30 men from I/44e RICMS manage to break through the German lines. The others are killed or captured.
At Hangest, next to Condée Folie, several tirailleurs from the 44e RICMS are immediately shot after having been captured (testimony of sergent-chef Chaminant). The combats were really hard and even reported in the German press (Pommersche Zeitung) : "the French fought with fury, the Blacks used until the end all possible defense means, each house was defended. Flamethrowers had to be used to break the resistance and the last Senegalese have to be killed one by one".
The 53e RICMS is facing the 7.Panzerdivision and experiences the same tragedy on 5th to 6th June 1940. The fighting tirailleurs as well as POWs are burned and shot. In Airaines on 7th June 1940, after 2 days of bloody fight, capitaine Charles N'Tchoréré (an African officer, originating from Gabon, formerly officer in the 24e RTS) and the survivors of the 5th company of the II/53e RICMS are shot by the men of Rommel.
From 5th to 7th June 1940, the losses are heavy on both sides. Out of ammunition, the 5th company surrenders. Black and white men are separated. The captain N'Tchoréré is a black but also the commander of the company. He is simply shot (Association des anciens du 53e RICMS, letter of colonel Le Bos).
According to the "association des anciens du 53e RICMS" and its "bulletin de liaison n°36 of 1954" the fate of the men present with captain N'Tchoréré remains unclear. These men were perhaps among the soldiers executed just next to Airaines (104 bodies) :
- in the gardens of a castle 21 bodies were found in a mass grave
- 83 other bodies were found in the vicinity, they had been thrown in a natural ditch known as the "Saut du Loup"
The information was provided by civilians who discovered the bodies but there are no eye witnesses of the executions themselves (association des anciens du 53e RICMS - bulletin de liaison n°36 of 1954).
In Clamecy, in a POW camp on 18th June, after an altercation between a black POW and a German officer, the French soldier is executed. In retaliation 20 blacks and North-Africans are also executed. 21 French soldiers are ordered to bury the bodies. As they refuse and try to escape they are also executed. Later, in July, 2 Senegalese are found guilty of having a knife and are also killed. This results in 44 killed French POWs in this camp. (Janette Colas, société scientifique de Clamecy).
3) Around Lyon
Near Lyon there is a memorial monument and cemetery, the "Tata", dedicated to the French colonial troops, especially the Senegalese tirailleurs. It was erected on 8th November 1942. The cemetery contains 188 graves of tirailleurs from the 25e RTS (régiment de tirailleurs sénégalais) who felt during the battle or who were executed after the battle. Most of these men have been executed as they were POWs next to Lyon on 19th and 20th June 1940.
Beside the Senegalese troops other people were executed at this occasion :
- 17 European NCOs from the 25e RTS
- 2 European officers (sous-lieutenant Cevear and sous-lieutenant de Montalivet) from the 25e RTS
- 4 gunners from the 405e RADCA (régiment d'artillerie de défense contre avions) (their execution has been witnessed by nuns – Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre 34 N 5)
- 1 French civilian of the town of Evreux (testimony of Mr Barriot)
On 19th June morning, there are combats in front of Lyon, on the national roads n°6 and n°7, defended by 2 battalions of the 25e RTS. The war crimes begin during the afternoon, around 15h00 and are at first perpetrated by the "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment near the convent of Montluzin. The Germans are hunting the blacks and the WIAs are executed. The 2 French officers who took the defense of their black troops are also executed, as well as the 4 gunners.
2 tirailleurs are later found with a bullet in the head next to Limonest.
2 tirailleurs are at first shot in a street of Champagne-au-Mont-d'Or. 10 other blacks are later executed in this same town.
At Lyon itself, 20 tirailleurs are separated from the white troops of the POW column and shot. The Germans launched grenades on the regrouped dead bodies and burned them. They stopped the other POWs columns so that they contemplate the scene (note of Jean Marchiani – association des anciens des troupes coloniales).
In the night of 19-20th June, 30 Senegalese are shot in the cellars of the prefecture of Lyon (communication of Mr Cohendy, deputy mayor, who was kept prisoner in the prefecture).
On 20th June there are other war crimes committed by the SS-Totenkopf division arriving on the national road n°7. In the town of Evreux, 9 blacks are captured, tortured, mutilated and shot or thrown in a burning farm. The farmer has also been executed after having been accused of hiding black troops (testimony from Mr Barriot and Mr Vialy recorded by the author)
At Fleurieux, blacks are burned in a farm.
At Lentilly, 12 blacks are forced to dig their graves before being executed.
At Chasselay, after a last stand tirailleurs (blacks and whites) are captured and separated according to their skin colour. The blacks are marching about 20 meters in front of the white column. 400-500m after the exit of the village, a German column (AFVs and trucks with troops) stops at the level of the blacks. The whites are ordered to lie on the ground. The German armoured column opens fire at 10m against the Senegalese (with their hands up) under the eyes of the white soldiers. Several men tried to escape and are systematically killed. After about 15 minutes, the white are ordered to move on. Arrived at a German HQ, they are grouped in a truck and sent to Lyon (testimony of corporal Scandariato, also found in "le Tata sénégalais de Chasselay", p.35, by Jean Poncet).
The group of white soldiers in this case were apparently saved by the arrival of a liaison motorcyclist with order to regroup them in a town in the vicinity (testimony of corporal Scandariato).
The testimony of a French NCO of this group indicates that the Germans AFVs crushed the black bodies while trying to stop fleeing POWs. He also indicates that the Waffen-SS have taken photos of the tragedy (testimony of adjudant Requier, SHAT 34 N 5).
More blacks, WIA or too tired to advance in their POW columns are later also executed on the road to Tarare. The executions near Lyon seem to stop on 20th June evening.
All these testimonies and findings were largely compiled thanks to the work of Jean Marchiani. In 1940, he was an important departmental state employee (secrétaire général de l'office départemental des mutilés, anciens combattants et victimes de guerre). Already in August 1940 he worked to regroup the bodies, to identify them and to give them decent graves. (departmental archives of the Rhône, 437 W 173).
In fact very few have been researched about the massacres of the French troops in May/June 1940. The administration of 1940 was knocked down, it could not do anything and probably also did not really wanted to study the question. The France of 1944-1945 after the liberation did not want to speak from the collapse of 1940 and worked only on the war crimes committed under the occupation but not during the combats of 1940. In all France, only 3 departments started more or less important inquiries about war crimes in 1940 against black troops.
The blacks are described by the Germans as "beasts" (SHAT, 34 N 1097, testimony of medic-lieutenant Hollecker), "savages" (SHAT, 34 N 5, testimony of medic-lieutenant Le Floch), "dogs" ("le Tata sénégalais de Chasselay", p.52, by Jean Poncet and testimony of Mr Jeantet, mayor of Lentilly) and "niggers" (SHAT, 34 N 5, lieutenant Pangaud).
Lieutenant Pangaud was interrogated by a German officer who also told him : "these people are not human, they are beasts, they again proved it today" when describing the blacks.
Commandant Carrat (16e RTS) was interrogated by a German officer who told him : "an inferior race does not deserve to fight the civilizing German race" when talking about the French black troops. (SHAT, 34 N 1095).
Several Germans simply could not sustain that "Untermenschen" fought against them and considered them as beasts. The German propaganda also convinced the Germans that the colonial troops were used to eat the German POWs (!!!) and they also kill immediately the black men equipped with a machete, accusing them of mutilating the German soldiers. In fact the Germans really feared the French colonial troops since WW1 and because of their skin colour they simply were not treated like the white French soldiers.
The Germans during WW2 used the same kind of propaganda against the colonial troops then during WW1 when the allies were accused of driving "Mongols" and "niggers" against their white troops. (Annette Becker, "Les oubliés de la Grance Guerre. Humanitaire et cultures de guerre, 1998 and Louis Dimier, "L'appel des intellectuels allemands, p.45, 1914).
The German propaganda accusing the French occupant of massive exactions during the 20's led even the US president Wilson to order an inquiry led by general Allen. He concluded that there were no such exactions as claimed by the Germans.
On 30th May 1940, Goebbels ordered to increase the hate against France by using the propaganda developed during the French occupation of the Rhine land and the Ruhr. The aim is to show that the French nation is in demographic decline and uses yellows, blacks and browns from its colonies. This must be seen as a racial infamy to have these troops next to the Rhine. The French are described as "niggered" sadists. The aim is to increase the hate of the German people against the corrupt France, contaminated by the freemasonry. (Wolfgang Geiger, "L'image de la France dans l'Allemagne nazie - 1933-1945", 1999).
On 21st June, colonel Nehring (staff of general Guderian) orders to be "harsh" against the French colonial troops. (Roger Bruge, "Juin 1940, le mois maudit", 1982).
Jean-Moulin, prefect of Chartres, who will be famous later in the resistance, is kept prisoner and tortured in the name of the fight against black troops (Jean-Moulin, "Premier combat").
The blacks are not seen as ordinary troops and even not as human beings. They have therefore not to be treated according to the rules of war.
Many of their bodies had been deprived of identification papers and taps. Generally it was also forbidden to give them a decent grave. The Kommandantur of Marcelcave (Somme) forbade for example to ornate the graves of the black troops. The bodies had to remain were they were and in the state in which they were, that means often in putrefaction on the ground. (archives of the city of Marcelcave).
Beside these 'racial' war crimes, there were several other reported atrocities in Belgium and in France during the invasion of 1940 :
In Belgium :
- Deinze : the Germans used Belgian civilians as humans shields
- Vinkt on 27th - 28th May : 87 Belgian civilians are executed
In France :
- At Courrières and Oignies (in the Pas de Calais), on 27th May : respectively 54 and 70 French civilians are executed (J.P. Azéma, "1940 l'année terrible", p.169, 1990)
Other crimes in France involve mainly the SS-Totenkopf division :
- Le Paradis : 97 British POWs executed
- Mercatel : 5 British POWs hanged
- Aubigny-en-Artois : During the battle of Arras on 21st May 1940, elements of the SS-Totenkopf (mot) division are facing a British unit defending a bridge on the Scarpe River in the town of Aubigny-en-Artois (15 km west of Arras). In reprisal for this resistance, 98 French civilians from the town are executed by the Germans. The officer in charge, Obersturmbahn Fritz Kuchenlein will be hung on 28th January 1949 for all his war crimes. (This case is cited by colonel Gérard Saint-Martin in "L'arme blindée française – volume 1", p.290, 1998 and in colonel Pierre Rocolle's "La guerre de 1940", p.381, 1990).
- Pont de Gy : 23 French civilians executed, a young woman and a baby burned in their house, the other people were hindered to help them
- Etrun : 5 French civilians killed including
- Hermaville : 4 French civilians mutilated, 1 civilian killed and 22 farms burned down
- Berles-Montchel : 45 French civilians executed
- Mingoval : several civilians executed
Such crimes will be followed by many others during the occupation of France. There were many retaliations against civilians after the actions of the French resistance :
- In the Glières : 573 houses have been burned, about 200 French civilians killed and 40 deported
- Le Mont Mouchet : the towns of Clavières, Auvers, Pinols, Dièges and Paulhac have been destroyed after the battle as a revenge.
… and many other people executed or deported in too many French towns and cities … And of course the well known massacres of Oradour-sur-Glane (642 French civilians killed and burned) and Tulle on 9th June 1944 (98 French civilians hanged).
War crimes were not only committed by the SS but also by the Heer. These war crimes were also not limited to Poland and the Eastern Front.