1312: Piers Gaveston 1734: Marie-Joseph Angélique, for burning Montreal

1940: Tirailleurs Senegalais, for France

June 20th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1940, German forces even then completing their rout of France — the humiliating capitulation was mere hours away — massacred a detachment of African soldiers who mounted a doomed resistance at Lentilly.

Tirailleurs Senegalais were recruited not only from Senegal but from throughout France’s domains in sub-Saharan Africa. (There were also Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan tirailleurs.)

Though these soldiers’ own lands were occupied, they were instrumental to defending the freedom of their occupier on European soil: over half a million African tirailleurs are thought to have served les couleurs in the two World Wars, and died in all the horrible ways those slaughterhouses could devise.

In 1940, black troops represented some 9% of the French army, a fact pilloried in German nationalist proaganda.

It’s hardly a surprise that the black man couldn’t catch a break from skull-measuring Aryan race warriors, but then, France too had its own less than comfortable relationship with these dark-hued citizens summoned from distant villages to bleed in the trenches of Europe. The military’s official guidelines emphasized (French link) the “Senegalese’s” special value as cannon fodder.

If a sacrificial mission is necessary, a defense to the death to provide cover for forces to regroup, appeal to the valor of the black fighter.

On the other hand, French authorities put up a monument to black soldiers in the aftermath of World War I. (The occupying Nazis vengefully dismantled it.) Such are the contradictions of colonialism.

Racial reservations notwithstanding, colonial troops were employed throughout the army if for no other reason than that they constituted nearly the tenth part of that army.

Their service record naturally included (French pdf) the over-before-it-started French defense against the Nazi blitz in 1940.

In this instance, knowing full well that the campaign was lost, French officers flipped open the “sacrificial mission” playbook and ordered their African charges to oppose a German march near Lyon “without thought of retreat.”

Since victory was equally out of the question, that left death. Wehrmacht troops duly prepared by Nazi racial typecasting to see their foes as savages were all too ready to wipe out African troops they greatly outclassed.


A monument to the Tirailleurs in Lentilly, France. Image (c) filoer and used with permission.

The Lentilly cemetery “Tata”, final resting place of 188 Senegalese riflemen who died under German artillery or were massacred after the battle by the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf June 19 and 20. Image (c) filoer and used with permission.

For more on the tirailleurs, there’s an extensive French-language blog.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,Germany,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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8 thoughts on “1940: Tirailleurs Senegalais, for France”

  1. Heribert Schindler says:

    It’s hardly a surprise that the black man couldn’t catch a break from skull-measuring Aryan race warriors, but then, France too had its own less than comfortable relationship with these dark-hued citizens…

    And the US did send Afro-American Soldiers to die in Vietnam, who – when at home in “the states” – weren’t permitted to sit on the same benches, enter the same restaurants or laundrettes, ride on the same busses … because these places were “for whites only”.

    Come on Jason, your blog used to be a phantastic read and an incredibly brilliant source of information … at least until your language turned semi-fascist and “Herrenmenschen-like”.

    Why don’t you give up this new holier-than-thou style of writing and return to (much better) old style. Please.

  2. Headsman says:

    If I’m not mistaken, this is Executed Today’s first “this blog was better in the old days” comment. Every day a new milestone …

  3. Heribert Schindler says:

    Well, I will not claim the laurel wreath for being the first person to have written a commen you dislike… but please feel free to hand over the laurels for (me) being the first (?) person to tell you that xenophobia (or is it simply germanophobia ?) and holier-than-thou style of writing won’t win you any appreciation. Anyway, enjoy your Sunday.

  4. KYGB says:

    One simply must make a couple comments here.

    To compare the racial strife in the US to the slaughter of millions of ethnic and racial minorities by the Third Reich is the most ridiculous comment I’ve ever read.

    Secondly, if the poster is going to keep track of the comments on this blog and comment on ‘em employing the kind of judgment he’s used in this thread, he is going to have a very short list, Herr Schindler.

    I do like the tone of the “hearken back to the good old days of ET” sentiment. Every good blog needs nostalgia.

  5. Heribert Schindler says:

    Ok, then let’s not compare the Third Reich with “the racial strife” of the US … let’s compare it with the slaughter of millions of native Americans (aka “the Indians”) and the slavery … but this again will be a most ridiculous comment, as Mr. KYGB (who seems to be ashamed to publish his comment under his real name) employs poor judgement himself by whitewashing the most criminal past of the US by pointing his fnger at others while ignoring the most obvious own history.

    Anyway, I appreciate the tone of Mr. KYGB as it indicates that this blog too became an outlet of amentia and megalomania, unable to use a decent and appropriate language and no longer worth reading.

    Fortunately I can revert to other (foreign language) blogs as I am not one of the stereotypical uneducated and obnoxious Americans who need to cover up their own shortcomings by slagging others.

  6. KYGB says:

    Yeah, sure, OK.

    US bad, Third Reich good.

    Anything you say, “Mr Schindler”.

  7. Jürgen Wolf says:

    What happened on the 13th June 1940 with the 1st Bataillon, 6th Colonial-Infantry Regiment, near Givry and in the Bois de Monthier, south of the Aisne Channel? After this date there is not any hince of this bataillon, consisting of coloured Soldiers of senegalese origin. Together with other units of the French Army they were in full retreat, followed by the onstorming Panzer and motorised Divisions of “Panzer-Group Guderian”. It is mentioned in the divisional chronic of the german 21st Infantry Division, that its 45th Regiment had “cleaned” this wood without suffering severe loses. On the other site it is not reported that they have taken prisoners in numbers comparable to the manpower of a hole bataillon. What did they have done with all this soldiers, obviously not longer in the mood for fighting feriously like in the days bevor this event? Were they killed despite their willingness to surrender and stop fighting? Then it would have been the severest massacer in the hole “Blitzkrieg” against France. Who is able to provide some informations about the unknown fate of this lost bataillon. Where had been buried and registered all its victims?

  8. Dave McDougall says:

    A very interesting article overall. However, it is one that is clouded by the over-emotive writing and the lack of evidence to back up the author’s assertations at times.

    As an example – “In this instance, knowing full well that the campaign was lost, French officers flipped open the “sacrificial mission” playbook and ordered their African charges to oppose a German march near Lyon “without thought of retreat.”

    Not exactly an impartial comment is it (vis “flipped open the sacrifical mission”)? And where exatcly is the evidence to support the allegation that the French officers in question knew “that the campaign was lost”? (That’ll be the same (white) French regimental officers who fought along side their men…)

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