Military Review

Senegalese arrows: the black soldiers of France

France, which traditionally competed with Great Britain for the colonial territories, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, was no less active than its main rival, but used to protect its interests the colonial forces and units recruited from foreign mercenaries. If in the British army the palm is by fame, of course, belonged to the Gurkha, then in the French army - the legendary Foreign Legion, about which much has been written. But, in addition to the units of the Foreign Legion, the French command actively used military units established in the colonies and staffed by their indigenous people - representatives of Asian and African peoples.

The beginning of the combat path

One of the most famous military units of the French colonial army are the Senegalese arrows. As is known, by the middle of the XIX century, France had gained a strong position on the African continent, having included huge territories in its colonial empire both in the north of the continent (the Maghreb countries) and in its west (Senegal, Mali, Guinea, etc.). ), in the center (Chad, Central Africa, Congo) and even in the east (Djibouti).

Accordingly, considerable military forces were required to maintain order in the conquered territories, fight against the rebels and protect the colonies from possible attacks from rival European powers. Own colonial units were created in North Africa - the famous Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan zouavy and spagi. In West Africa, military formations of the French colonial administration were called "Senegalese arrows." Although, of course, they were staffed not only and not so much by immigrants from the territory of present-day Senegal, but also by natives of numerous other French colonies in Western and Equatorial Africa.

French West Africa was the most extensive possession of France on the African continent. The structure of this colony, formed in 1895, included the territories of the Ivory Coast (now - Côte d'Ivoire), Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Dahomey (Benin), Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger. French Equatorial Africa was neighboring with French West Africa, which included Gabon, Middle Congo (now Congo, with Brazzaville as its capital), Ubangi Shari (now Central African Republic), French Chad (now Republic of Chad).
Far from all over Western and Central Africa, France managed to consolidate its position relatively painlessly. Many territories became the scene of fierce resistance of local residents to colonizers. Realizing that the soldiers recruited in the metropolis may not be enough to maintain order in the colonies, and even the natives of Normandy or Provence find themselves inadequate for the local climate, the French military command began to actively use soldiers from among the local ethnic groups. In a relatively short time, a large black contingent appeared in the French army.

The first division of Senegalese shooters was formed in 1857 year. The author of the idea of ​​its formation can be considered Louis Leon Federba - the then Senegalese governor. This French artillery officer and military official who entered history and as a linguist who specialized in the study of African languages, practically all of his military service was spent in the colonies - Algeria, Guadeloupe, Senegal. In 1854, he received an appointment as governor of Senegal. Since he was responsible for the organization of law enforcement in the territory of this French colony, Federb began to form the first regiment of Senegalese shooters from among the representatives of the local population. This idea met with the approval of the then French emperor Napoleon III and 21 on July 1857, he signed a decree creating Senegalese shooters.

The divisions of the Senegalese shooters, which began in Senegal, were subsequently recruited from natives of all the West African colonies of France. Among the Senegalese shooters there were many immigrants from the territory of modern Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad. The ethnic composition of the Senegalese shooters, as well as the population of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa — the two main colonial possessions where these units were staffed — was quite variegated. The service in the Senegalese arrows was carried out by representatives of the peoples of Bambara, Wolof, Fulbe, Kabie, Mosi, and many others who inhabit the territories of the West African and Central African French possessions. Among the soldiers were both Christians baptized by European preachers and Muslims.

However, it should be noted that, in contrast to the British colonial army, where such large uprisings as the sepoyah uprising took place in British India, there were no similar events in the African divisions of the French army. Of course, soldier riots took place, but they were local in nature and never led to such large-scale consequences, despite the multinational and multi-confessional composition of military personnel serving in parts of Senegalese shooters.

A distinctive sign of Senegalese shooters in uniforms was the red fez, popular as a headdress among the population of West Africa. As for the actual uniforms, over the years the existence of units of Senegalese shooters, it changed the appearance, improving and adapting to changing conditions. So, at the beginning of the combat path, the Senegalese arrows wore a dark blue uniform, similar to the North African Zouaves, later it was replaced with blue tunics and breeches, red belts and fez. Finally, by the time the First World War began, the khaki field uniform was adopted, while the blue uniform of the colonial army remained the main dress.

Senegalese arrows: the black soldiers of France
senegalese shooter

From the first days of the Senegalese shooters, the colonial administration quite acutely faced the issue of staffing units. Initially, it was carried out through the redemption of young and physically developed slaves from West African slave owners, as well as the use of prisoners of war captured in the process of conquering colonial territories.

Subsequently, as the number of units of the Senegalese shooters grew, they began to be recruited by recruiting contract soldiers and even by the military appeal of representatives of the native population. The Senegalese riflemen were allowed to marry, because the French administration saw the marriage as having a positive meaning for deepening the integration of colonial soldiers and increasing their dependence on command. On the other hand, many Africans were purposefully recruited as soldiers, hoping for a considerable salary that would help them in the process of further military service to get a wife (more precisely, her "buy").

Certain difficulties arose with the acquisition of the officer corps, because, for obvious reasons, not every French officer was eager to serve in the midst of the native soldiers. As a result, the number of officers in the units of the Senegalese shooters was significantly less than in other parts of the French army. One officer accounted for every thirty Senegalese shooters, while in the metropolitan forces this proportion was one officer for twenty servicemen.

The French troops stationed on the African continent were divided into the metropolitan forces, arriving for service from the territory of France, and the colonial troops, recruited in the colonies from among the representatives of the local population. At the same time, some immigrants from African tribes who lived on the territory of municipalities considered to be part of France, and not colonial possessions, were called up for military service in the metropolitan troops, regardless of nationality or religion. At the same time, some units of Senegalese shooters were located in North Africa and even in mainland France — obviously, their use seemed particularly convenient for suppressing uprisings and unrest, because Senegalese shooters could not experience compatriot feelings for the North African population and the French, while recruited in North Africa or France, could refuse to execute the most cruel orders.

In the period between the Franco-Prussian 1870 war and the outbreak of the First World War, the Senegalese arrows made up the bulk of the French garrisons in the West African and Central African colonies. Many French politicians spoke in favor of increasing their numbers, in particular, the well-known socialist leader Jean Jaurès, who referred to declining birth rates in continental France and argued with demographic problems the need to recruit armed forces, including those from the colonies. Indeed, it would be foolish to exterminate thousands of French conscripts against the background of the presence of a multi-million population of African and Asian colonies living in the worst socio-economic conditions and, accordingly, possessing significant resource potential in terms of wanting to serve in the colonial units of France.

Colonial Wars and World War I

The battlefield of the Senegalese shooters in the period before the First World War passes through the entire African continent. They participated in the conquest of new colonies for the French state. So, in 1892-1894. the Senegalese riflemen, together with the Foreign Legion and the metropolitan troops, fought with the army of the King of Behengine of Dahomey, which stubbornly resisted the aspirations of France to conquer Dahomey. In the end, Dahomey was conquered, becoming a puppet kingdom under the protectorate of France (from 1904 - colony). In 1895, it was the Senegalese arrows who took an active part in the conquest of Madagascar. By the way, the French administration not only housed the Senegalese shooters in the colonized Madagascar, but also created units from the local population - Malgash arrows (41 000 Malgash arrows, later took part in the First World War).

Also, the Senegalese shooters were noted in the consolidation of French power in Central Africa - Chad and Congo, as well as in the Fashod 1898 incident of the year, when a detachment of 200 shooters under the command of Jean Baptiste Marchand went on an expedition from the French Congo to the northeast and reached Nile, where occupied the city of Fashoda in the territory of present-day South Sudan. The British, who sought to prevent the emergence of French enclaves in the upper reaches of the Nile, which they regarded exclusively as a sphere of influence of the British Empire, sent the Anglo-Egyptian troops in numbers and equipment to meet the French detachment.

As a result, France, not ready for a full-scale confrontation with the British Empire, decided to retreat and withdrew Major Marchand's detachment from Fashoda. However, the political fiasco of France does not detract from the feat of the major himself, his officers, and the Senegalese shooters who were under their command, who had managed to travel a significant path through previously unknown regions of Equatorial Africa and gain a foothold in Fashod. By the way, Marchand subsequently participated in suppressing the rebellion of boxers in China in 1900, in World War I, and retired in the rank of general.
In 1908, two battalions of Senegalese riflemen were deployed to garrison service in French Morocco. Here, the Senegalese riflemen were to become a counterweight to the local Berber and Arab population, which was by no means eager to obey the “unfaithful” French, especially considering the old state traditions of Morocco itself. In the end, the French managed, no, not to suppress - to subdue the reef liberation movement and calm down the militant Moroccans for two decades.

In 1909-1911 units of the Senegalese shooters become the main force of the French colonial army, aimed at conquering the Wadai Sultanate. This state, located at the junction of the borders of modern Chad and Sudan, did not intend to submit to the French authorities, especially since Sultan Wadai was actively inciting against France Sheikh Senussi el-Mundi - the head of the tariqa (Sufi order) Senusiyya powerful in Libya and neighboring territories of Chad. Despite the agitation of the Senusites and the active resistance of the local peoples — mab, masalits, and trucks — the Senegalese riflemen, with better weapons and combat skills, managed to defeat the Sultanate’s army and turn this Sudanese state into a French colony.

By the beginning of World War I, the French army numbered the 21 battalion of Senegalese shooters stationed in African colonies. When the fighting began, 37 battalions were redeployed from Morocco to France, both from the forces of the metropolis and from the North African and Senegalese colonial shooters. The latter in the amount of five battalions were sent to the western front. African soldiers particularly distinguished themselves in the famous battle of Ypres, during the battle of Fort de Duamon, the battles for Flanders and the battle of Reims. During this time, the Senegalese arrows suffered significant casualties - only in the battles for Flanders killed more than 3000 African soldiers.

During the First World War, the French military command, observing the growing need for human resources, increased the recruitment of Senegalese shooters in the colonies, forming the battalion of Senegalese shooters 1915 to 1918 years. For this, it was necessary to increase the call of Africans to the colonial troops, which resulted in a series of uprisings of the local population in the 93-1915. The fact is that by that time the resource potential of those who wanted to serve was exhausted and the French colonial authorities had to be called upon by force, often using the practice of “kidnapping” people as in the era of the slave trade. The uprisings against conscription to the Senegalese shooters were carefully hidden by the French authorities so that this information was not used by the opposing Germany in their own interests.

The victory of the Entente in the First World War not only destroyed the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires, but also contributed to the rejection of part of the German lands. Thus, France occupied the Rhineland of defeated Germany, deploying a contingent of numbers from 25 to 40 there of thousands of soldiers recruited from African colonies. Naturally, this French policy provoked outrage among the German population, dissatisfied with the presence of Africans on their land, in particular - with its consequences such as the appearance of interracial sex, illegitimate children, known as "Rhine bastards."

After Adolf Hitler came to power against the “Rhine bastards” and their mothers who joined up with the Senegalese soldiers of the occupying corps, a powerful propaganda campaign began, which in 1937 was the arrest and forced sterilization of 400 German mulattoes - “Rhine bastards” (noteworthy that in general the problem of the Rhine bastards was greatly inflated, because their total number for the thirties did not exceed 500-800 people per sixty millionth population of Germany, that is, no noticeable role in de they couldn’t play the pictures of the country).

In the period between the two world wars, the Senegalese riflemen actively participate in maintaining the colonial order in the African possessions of France, in particular, they are involved in suppressing the rebellion of the Berber reef tribes in Morocco in the 1920s. The reef wars became another large-scale colonial conflict in which the Senegalese shooters took part and where they again managed to establish themselves as politically loyal and efficient military forces. Since the First World War claimed the lives and health of many young French soldiers of military age, the military command decided to increase the presence of Senegalese shooters outside West and Central Africa. The battalions of the Senegalese shooters were stationed in the French Maghreb - Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as in continental France proper, where they also carried out garrison service.

Senegalese on the fronts of World War II

By 1 April 1940, the 179 000 Senegalese shooters were mobilized into the French army. In the battles for France against the Nazi troops, the 40 000 of the West African soldiers fought. This caused a sharply negative reaction from the German military command, since it was not enough that the Wehrmacht had to fight with representatives of the lower races - the latter also "had the audacity" to demonstrate military valor and training. So, having occupied the city of Reims, where, from 1924, a monument to African soldiers who fell into the First World War was erected, the Nazis immediately demolished it.

However, France was "handed over" to the Nazis by its own generals and politicians. The resistance of most of the French army was short-lived. Hundreds of thousands of French soldiers were captured, including 80 000 colonial shooters. However, after an agreement with the Vichy Collaborative Government, the Nazis released a significant part of the colonial soldiers. However, tens of thousands of Senegalese shooters remained in concentration camps, a significant part of them died from deprivation and illness, primarily from tuberculosis, which they received, being unaccustomed to the harsh European climate.

The future president of Senegal, the famous African poet and theorist of the Negrit here concept (uniqueness and self-sufficiency of African black culture) Leopold Sedar Senghor, who served in the French colonial army as a lieutenant, also visited German captivity. However, Sengora managed to escape from German captivity and join the movement of the Maki partisans, in whose ranks he met a victory over the Nazis. He owns the lines that contain an attempt to convey the sensations of a Senegalese soldier mobilized to distant cold France:
"We are chicks that have fallen out of the nest, lacking hope, weakened by the body,
Animals with torn claws, disarmed soldiers, naked people.
Here we are, stiff, clumsy, like blind without a guide.
The most honest died: they did not manage to push a crust of shame into their throats. And we are in the snares, and we are defenseless against the barbarism of the civilized. They destroy us like rare game. Glory tanks and airplanes! ”

At the same time, in those colonies of France, whose authorities did not recognize the Vichy government, units are formed from the Senegalese shooters to be sent to the western front on the side of the Anglo-American coalition. At the same time, the Senegalese arrows deter the onslaught of the German colonial forces in Africa. In 1944, units of the North African and Senegalese shooters took part in the landing in Provence, taking part in the battles for the liberation of France. So far, the anniversary of the landing in Provence is celebrated in Senegal at the state level. After the completion of the liberation of France, units of the Senegalese shooters are withdrawn from Europe and replaced in the metropolis by military units recruited from French conscripts.

Post-war period: Senegalese arrows go down in history

The end of the Second World War led to a significant reduction in the number of units of Senegalese shooters, but did not mean the cessation of their existence. The French military command, wishing to preserve the French youth proper, actively uses the colonial troops in the post-war period to suppress the intensified actions in the French possessions in Africa and Indochina. The Senegalese shooters continue to fight for French interests in Indochina (from 1945 to 1954, nine years), in Algeria (1954-1962, eight years) and in Madagascar (1947).

In the French army in the postwar period, there were 9 regiments of Senegalese shooters who were stationed in Indochina, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and colonial garrisons throughout West Africa. In Madagascar, the Senegalese riflemen took an active part in suppressing the 1947-1948 uprising, which began with an attack by local residents armed with spears against the barracks of the Senegalese riflemen. The 24 th regiment of the Senegalese riflemen, who had gone through the whole Franco-Vietnamese war, fought in Indochina, up to the 1954 year, when the soldiers and officers of the regiment were evacuated from France to Tonkin.

The final disintegration of the French colonial empire and the declaration of independence by the former colonies of France in Africa actually put an end to the history of the Senegalese shooters. Back in 1958, the 1 th regiment of Senegalese riflemen, founded back in the distant 1857 year, was restructured, lost its “Senegalese identity” and became the 61 th regiment of the French marines. In the period between 1960 and 1964. units of Senegalese shooters cease to exist, most of their soldiers demobilized. Numerous lawsuits between the veterans of the colonial forces and the French government begin: soldiers who shed blood for France demand that they be granted citizenship and pay a salary.

At the same time, many former Senegalese riflemen continued to serve in the French army as contract servicemen, in the armed forces of the already sovereign states of West and Central Africa, some of them made quite a good military and political career. We can recall the same Leopold Sedar Sengora, which was mentioned above, but he only served in the mobilization, and many of the former soldiers of the colonial units purposefully made a military career. These are: the legendary "emperor" of Central Africa, Jean Bedel Bokassa, who served in the colonial forces 23 of the year and, after participating in the liberation of France and the Indochinese war, served as a captain; former chairman of the Military Council of the Upper Volta Revival (now Burkina Faso) and the country's Prime Minister Saie Zerbo, who served in Algeria and Indochina and his predecessor, Sangué Lamizana, who also served in the colonial army since 1936; the former president of Niger, Seini Kunche, is also a veteran of Indochina and Algeria; dictator Togo Gnassingbe Eyadema is a veteran of Vietnam and Algeria and many other political and military leaders.

The traditions of the Senegalese shooters are now inherited by the armies of the countries of West and Central Africa, in particular - the Senegalese proper, which is one of the most combat-ready in the region and often used in peacekeeping operations on the African continent. The day of the Senegalese arrow in Senegal is celebrated as a public holiday. In the capital of Mali, Bamako is a monument to the Senegalese riflemen, many of whom were recruited from the natives of this West African country.

Senegalese Spagi - mounted gendarmerie

Speaking of the West African units in the service of France, one cannot but mention in this article one more unique military formation that is directly related to Senegal and Mali. In addition to the Senegalese shooters, who were numerous infantry units of the colonial army, cavalry squadrons were also formed from among the natives of French West Africa, which were called Senegalese spages by analogy with the more numerous and well-known North African spouses. By the way, it was from the North African spagi that they were descended, since in 1843, a platoon of Algerian spags was sent to Senegal, whose soldiers were gradually replaced by Senegalese recruits.

Soldiers of the private and junior commanding officers of the cavalry squadrons of Senegalese spagals were recruited from among the local African population, while the officer corps was seconded from the North African regiments of spags. Senegalese cavalrymen served in the territory of the Congo, Chad, Mali, Morocco. In contrast to the colonial infantry of the Senegalese riflemen, who carried the garrison service, the spags were more oriented towards the performance of police functions and in the year 1928 were renamed the Senegalese equestrian gendarmerie.

The national gendarmerie of modern Senegal dates back to the traditions of the Senegalese spagi of the colonial era, in particular, it inherited their formal form, which the Red Guard of Senegal uses today. The Red Guard is part of the national gendarmerie, responsible for guarding the country's president and performing ceremonial functions. The Red Guard considers itself the custodian of the traditions of the Senegalese cavalry of spouses and, at the same time, maintains close ties with the French Republican Guard, adopting its service and combat experience.

Red Guard of Senegal

Ceremonial functions are performed by a special squadron of the Red Guard from 120 military personnel, including 35 musicians. They perform on white and bay horses with tails painted red. However, in addition to the functions of the guard of honor, this squadron also has the task of patrolling the streets as a mounted police, first of all - the famous beaches of the Senegalese capital of Dakar. The dress uniform of the Red Guard of Senegal reproduces the traditions of uniforms of the Senegalese spaghetics in the French colonial service - these are red tall fez, red uniforms and red burnuses, dark blue trousers.

Despite the fact that the states of West and Central Africa that were once the French colonies, have long been independent and have their own armed forces, the latter are often used with almost the same purpose as the Senegalese arrows of the colonial era - to maintain order in the region primarily in the interest of France. The former metropolis pays considerable attention to the training and financing of the armed forces and the police of some West-Central African states. That is, it can be said that the Senegalese arrows are “alive in a new guise” of the military units of sovereign African states.

First of all, Senegal is the main military partner of France in the region, which shows political loyalty to the greatest extent and even during the Cold War, unlike many other African countries, did not feel tempted to switch to the “socialist orientation” course. The armed forces of the former French colonies, in particular, take an active part in the war in Mali, where, together with French troops, they fight against the Tuareg Islamist groups, which advocate the disengagement of the northern territories inhabited by Arab-Tuareg tribes from Mali.

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  1. MAG
    MAG 10 July 2014 11: 25
    Long ago I watched a program about Algerians and Senegalese who fought in WW2 and living in France, so more than half did not have benefits and recognition as veterans.
    LEVIAFAN 10 July 2014 12: 01
    judging by the France national football team, this is not the Senegalese arrows, but the departed French. straight one to one. viva la franz
  3. Venier
    Venier 10 July 2014 14: 04
    I liked the word negro, just like the artists of etudes. So I see a kind of artistic sketch of the uniqueness of African black culture.
    1. saygon66
      saygon66 10 July 2014 22: 49
      - "Pride in your race is the first condition of the negrit!" And really, wonderful ...
      - Negro-Renaissance ... damn it!
  4. Walking
    Walking 10 July 2014 16: 10
    A good series of articles. good
  5. padonok.71
    padonok.71 11 July 2014 05: 47
    A Negro will never turn out to be a soldier. A policeman and even a better dancer / singer, yes.
    1. DOMINO100
      DOMINO100 12 July 2014 22: 06
      hello, and the Zulus in your opinion is also not a war? the British drove in Africa like hares.
  6. pinecone
    pinecone 11 July 2014 08: 57
    Quote: padonok.71
    A Negro will never turn out to be a soldier. A policeman or better yet a dancer / singer, yes.

    The combat value of the Negro units of the French army seems dubious. For example, April 22, 1915 in the battle for Ypres, the African gunners from the 87th and 45th divisions of the French army, who were subjected to gas attack, threw down their weapons and fled. We ran to the dressing points and began to rape the French and English nurses. Stress removed. African way.