Tricolor over the Sahara: The Desert Battles of the Free French, 1940-1942

Tricolor over the Sahara: The Desert Battles of the Free French, 1940-1942

Tricolor over the Sahara: The Desert Battles of the Free French, 1940-1942

Tricolor over the Sahara: The Desert Battles of the Free French, 1940-1942

Synopsis

This is the story of the early struggles of an ill-equipped ragtag French force, among the first to pledge its loyalty to General de Gaulle. It fought a lonely, almost secret war against the numerically superior Italian troops deep in the wildest parts of the Sahara, hundreds of miles from the main campaigns along the African coast. These daring Free French raids with their long thirsty treks and small-scale oasis battles have been nearly forgotten, although their path is marked by the graves of many hundreds of French, Italian, and native soldiers. Bimberg details the exotic units that participated in this struggle, including the Tirailleurs Senegalaise du T'chad (African Infantry), the Compagnies Sahariennes (Saharan Camel Companies), and the Groupe Nomade du Tibesti (a tribal militia recruited in the Tibesti Mountain region of the great desert).

Excerpt

When my unit of the U.S. Army arrived in North Africa and was stationed near Tunis in the late spring of 1943, the war was barely over on that continent. The Allies had conquered; the sand and rock of the Sahara (as well as the green hills of northern Tunisia) were behind them, and the victorious soldiers, sailors, and airmen of a half dozen nations were taking a breather in this capital city by the sea.

Tunis had all the color one would expect of a Near East metropolis, with its amalgam of time-honored oriental customs and modern French culture. There was a walled medina, a native quarter with exotic souks and blind alleys that lay hidden away from the “new” town’s palm-lined boulevards and ornate government buildings. And there was an air of mystery about its inhabitants.

The contrasts in this fascinating city were remarkable. Saint Louis’ Cathedral, that citadel of French Catholicism, was right across the square from the bey’s palace, where a gaudily uniformed Beylical Guard stood continually on sentry duty, saluting every Allied officer who passed. Catholic priests and veiled Arab women swathed in white with only their kohl-blackened eyes showing, shared the sidewalks with French businessmen wearing shorts and carrying briefcases. Mysterious Arab men in flowing robes and cherry red chechias, the ubiquitous Tunisian skullcap, rubbed elbows with American Air Force officers in khakis with floppy caps (the grommet that stiffened the crown had been removed, an Air Force tradition) and cowboy boots. On the outskirts of the city, a

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