French black african soldiers were part of the colonial troops (troops in charge of the colonies) and fought in metropolitan France in 1940.
In french the black soldiers are called “tirailleurs sénégalais” (senegalese), but it’s a generic term for all black soldiers (the first tirailleurs were from Senegal) originated from french colonies in Africa with indegenous status.
They would fight in regiment called: RTS (Régiments Tirailleurs Sénégalais, black regiment) or RICMS (Régiments Infanterie Coloniale Tirailleurs Mixte Senegalese a regiment with black and white soldier bataillons).
During and after WW1, there was heavy propaganda on the german side to depict black african troops as savages and animals.
The colonial troops saw heavy but desperate fighting and had the tradition to fight to the last bullet. The black african troops would use their famous knife or “coupe-coupe” in close combat (which they seek and excelled at), to repel german attacks or break encirclements.
Some of the soldiers did keep the habit to cut ear of soldiers they had killed and exhibit them as necklaces.
After tedious fights, the germans would sometimes execute the black french soldiers and sometimes also their white officers.
The white and black soldiers would be separated. The black prisoners would stay in german pow camps (frontstalags) in France (germans didn’t want them on their territory). They would suffer horrible conditions.
The germans would also take the habit to hunt for black soldiers hiding in woods and execute them.
According to the book “Les tirailleurs sénégalais” from Julien Fargettas:
May 24th: germans of the 13th infantery division executed 50 black prisoners of the 16th and 24th RTS in Fouilloy (Somme).
June 5th : heavy fighting near the Somme river end in close combats in surrounding villages of Airaines, Condé and Quesnoy-sur-Airaines. The germans have to take each house in close combats.
A massacre of hundreds of black prisoners starts after the fighting stopped. White officers commanding them are shot too.
Captain T’choréré, a black officer but a french national, is shot because he stayed with other white french prisoners officers and refused to be separated from them.
Black soldiers are shot because they wanted to drink water. Others because they didn’t march fast enough. Others are just shot for the sport.
The french military doctor lieutenant Guérin would recall german soldiers storming into his field hospital with only one sentence on their mouth: “Sind Schwarzen da?” “Are black ones here?”. German officers would refer to the black soldiers as : “beasts”.
June 10th in Eraine (Oise): 64 black soldiers prisoners are executed.
The remaining of the 16th and 24th RTS regiments are taken prisoners. The black soldiers, after being separated from the white soldiers, are executed. Wounded soldiers who can’t stand up are shot in field hospitals. The others are put into the street and mowed by machine guns. At least 40 are shot down. 7 white officers opposing the massacre are shot down too.
June 12th : in Tilloy-Bellay (Marne), the 5th RICMS is suprised by the 8th panzerdivision. At least 10 black soldiers are executed. They will be found hanging from trees, burnt with jerrycans at their feet. A few of them have kitchen utensils in their mouth.
Numerous isolated groups of black soldiers would be taken and killed.
The 18th of June in Clamecy, Nièvres, a black soldier pow jumps on a german soldier. He’s shot. 20 others are shot too. Others prisoners are tasked to bury them. They refused. They were shot too.
from the 9th to 15th of June: 17 black soldiers are killed near Rouen.
June 19th: Near Lyon, the 25th RTS is defending outside the city. The black soldiers are entrenched in a convent. The nuns are present and later testifies.
Once the black soldiers stopped fighting, the germans entered and the massacre starts. Every room is searched and all black soldiers are killed on the spot. Wounded are shot too. The germans also kill the white officers.
The same day, near Arbresle, the rest of the 25th RTS is facing the SS division Totenkopf. Some prisoners are taken by the germans, seven bodies are found later. Others took refuge in a barn which is set on fire by the germans.
In Chasselay, the remaining fighting soldiers of the 25th RTS regroup. After a few hour fights with the germans, they have to surrender.
The germans start to beat the black soldiers. Captain Gouzy is shot in the arm trying to defend his men. Black and white soldiers are separated. Gouzy would later testify how he’d seen the german killing his black soldiers with heavy machine gun. 51 would be killed that way. Panzers would run over them after.
Dozens of others black soldiers, out and inside Lyon are killed the same way.
Three black civilians working in the factories in Lyon are executed too.
After the armistice, the hunt for black soldiers hiding and helped in secret by the local french would continue and the ones found would be executed too by the germans.
The germans soldiers would photograph heavily the black soldiers corpse as “trophies” and take souvenirs on their bodies. Most of the soldiers found couldn’t be identified because germans would have taken their military id papers and dog tags.
In occupied area, the germans would refuse the french to bury the black soldiers with the french white soldiers (with individual tombs for instance), and would ask to keep them in their mass grave.
This would have repercussion on the rest of the war:
four years later, in June 1944, while invading Elba, the french tirailleurs would execute 10 german prisoners. Black soldiers were seen hitting german prisoners with their rifle’s stocks.
In 1944 during the battle of Toulon, Colonel Raoul Salan, former captain in the 44th RICMS which had seen action in Quesnoy-sur-Airaines (Somme) in 1940, would threaten the germans to force the surrender of the Artigues fort: “At 1900, I’ll give my senegalese the order to start a massacre”. The germans surrendered.
Lieutenant de Soyer de Bosmelet, also officer in 1940 with the 53th RICMS (which fought alongside the 44th near the Somme), would testify later: “As a commando at the end of the war, I shot three german soldiers : one for each of my black soldiers they shot in 1940.”.
In 1944, after the invasion of Europe, the free french were asked by the US command to whiten their ranks and to send most of black soldiers to Africa.