The Senegalese Riflemen

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During the two world wars, the Senegalese riflemen played a decisive role in the defense of French territory. Soldiers from the French colonies in Africa were forced into combat.

The Senegalese riflemen were a military corps formed within the French colonial empire from 1857 onwards. In reality, the Senegalese riflemen regiments did not only include soldiers of Senegalese origin. They were infantry fighters from all the French colonies in sub-Saharan and North Africa.

During the First World War, nearly 200,000 “Senegalese” from French West Africa fought under the French flag. More than 135,000 soldiers fought in Europe, notably in the Battle of the Yser, Verdun, on the Somme (1916) and in the Aisne (1917).

Fifteen percent of their troops were killed, i.e. 30,000 soldiers. Many of them came back wounded or disabled. The Senegalese riflemen are one of the best known examples of African soldiers who participated in the fight for freedom, but they are far from being the only ones. During World War II, African American soldiers were numerous throughout Europe. For example, the Wereth 11 were massacred in the winter of 1944 in defiance of wartime conventions.

Kitchen of the Senegalese riflemen in September 1914.
Kitchen of the Senegalese riflemen in September 1914.
Senegalese riflemen in the front line at Souain in October 1916.
Senegalese riflemen in the front line at Souain in October 1916.
Senegalese riflemen on the march to Verdun in July 1916.
Senegalese riflemen on the march to Verdun in July 1916.

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