24 Comments

  1. All collonies , was supæied with discarded firearns from thehomeland. The Germans gave M71 rifles to defend German Eastafrica with
    The brittish Gave away Peaboddy- Martinis
    In this contekst the Lebel is quiet modern

    • Strange, I thought French colonial troops and the Foreign Legion would be armed with 3-shot Berthier Rifles at this time. But then again, many French soldiers preferred the Lebel due to its higher magazine capacity…

    • Many front line French troops were carrying the M1886/93 Lebel during World War I. So yes, quite a modern rifle for a colonial soldier to be equipped with at the time.

  2. Many of the African colonial troops fought superbly in action. For example, the German East African troops, led by their own NCO’s and German officers who had really absorbed the lessons of the terrain and culture of the regions they were operating in, conducted many successful campaigns against superior British forces in East Africa during World War One. They also had the advantage of an outstanding leader and commander in Colonel Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck, who finally only surrendered honorably a full two weeks after the signing of the Armistice.

    By most accounts, the reformist Colonial Governor for German East Africa, Bernhard Dernburg, was mostly responsible for making the colonial administration a model of efficiency and fairness when he was appointed to the post by Chancellor Bulow , which

    • Sorry, I accidentally sent my previous post before I had completed it. To continue :

      ….did much to address the somewhat colorful and sometimes corrupt track records of his predecessors. This appointment came in 1907, and his policies gained a lot of goodwill and tremendous loyalty from the native peoples, which served the German cause very well during the war.

      Von Lettow-Vorbeck was well-known for having great personal courage and a strong sense of honor as well as being a master of guerilla warfare, and fought, sweated and suffered alongside his men. He treated them with real respect and they, in turn, respected him. Most of his enlisted troops were from Tanganyika, with possibly some being recruited from what are now neighbouring Burundi and Rwanda, and all remained fiercely loyal to him and his officers to the very end.

      A lesson in leadership and courage that has been largely forgotten today.

  3. The East and West Africa Rifle divisions also performed superbly with Field Marshall Slim’s 14th Army in Burma. (Slim was held in such affection by his troops that they fought ‘with’ not ‘under’ him.) The Japanese feared them as – naturally – cannibals!
    Good soldiers are made, not born.

    • “The Japanese feared them as – naturally – cannibals!”

      The height of irony given the penchant for cannibalism, both situational and ritualistic of the Japanese military. It keeps showing up in movies (including Japanese movies) from “Fires on the Plain” to “Farewell to the King”.

      • Hi, Chris :

        Speaking of “Farewell To The King”, the movie failed to come even remotely anywhere near the depth, intensity, emotion and power of the original novel by Pierre Schoendoerffer regarding the human condition under the conditions of war and peace, all in a historically-correct wartime setting in Borneo. I would personally recommend reading the book and forgetting about the movie, or at least watching the movie only as an adjunct to the book.

        Still, I’m glad to see that there is someone else here who knows about “Farewell To The King”!

    • This was very possibly propaganda, but there were tales that the Argentine conscripts on the Falklands had been told that if they were captured, the Ghurkas would eat them.

      The story continued that the bright lads chose to run rather than fight.

      • As I understand it, the Japanese were quite afraid of the Gurkhas, given that early on, when everybody else was running FROM the Japanese, they were running AT them with their kukris.

  4. I picked up one of these in Kandahar a few years back.. how on earth it ended up there goodness knows!
    I always think it is such a strikingly modern design for it’s day.. very Art Deco.. very French!
    I believe the Lebel was used by the Legion Etrangere long after it was withdrawn from regular use.

  5. I remember reading that the Bolsheviks sent various weapons to Afghanistan from around 1919-25? They wanted to cause trouble for British interests in central Asia. Perhaps they sent some non standard weapons they aquired or captured during WWI and the civil war.

  6. I’ve heard figures of around 40% for the proportion of empire personnel in the British forces during WW2 in Europe.

    I’m not a supporter of “affirmative action” in any way, shape or form (it’s racism, which ever way you look at it) but;

    The colour of the faces in 1950s and 60s British war movies seems to have much more to do with who had actors union cards at the time than it ever had to do with historical accuracy.

  7. I would agree that we did not see many dark faces in war films of the 40s and 50s although this applies to both sides of the Atlantic!
    Colonial troops in British service tended to serve in regiments raised in the colony, but officered by British (UK) officers. The UK did not go down the line of the French “Foreign Legion” where it deliberately recruited foreigners into specific formations. The Gurkha regiments are something of an anomaly. They were never “colonial” troops as Nepal was never a colony, however they were originally hired as mercenaries by the East India Company to guard their interests in the Punjab and Bengal and came into British service via the Indian Army (which was always separate from the British Army even before Independence..)

    • Ghurka regiments certainly seem to be popular. I can’t remember whether Hong Kong has retained some Ghurkas, separate to the People’s “Liberation” Army. India and Singapore certainly still have Gurkha regiments, and Bhutan also employs Nepalese soldiers.

    • “They were never “colonial” troops as Nepal was never a colony, however they were originally hired as mercenaries by the East India Company to guard their interests in the Punjab and Bengal and came into British service via the Indian Army (which was always separate from the British Army even before Independence..)”

      And which was separately armed, for instance with the Vickers-Berthier rather than the Bren.

      • There wasn’t anything wrong with the Vickers-Berthier, if you consider logistics issues with sending Brens all over the European fronts and a few to China (chambered for 8 x 57 IS). The Vickers-Berthier gave good service during its day, though I assume that the lack of spare parts later retired it from the front line (it’s a reserve weapon in India today).

        • I don’t have my Hogg book on machineguns handy, but didn’t the U.S. adopt (but not manufacture) one of the Vickers-Berthier’s predecessors?

          • “I’m not sure. Was that particular predecessor the local variant of the Hotchkiss Portative?”

            No, that was the Benet-Mercier Machine Rifle. As I recall, there was an ancestor of the Vickers-Berthier which was adopted by the U.S. as a light machinegun, but never put into production since the war ended before all of the bugs could be worked out and production capacity allocated to it.

  8. @ Chris Morton & Andrew Chern :

    As best as I can make out, I think Ian Hogg was referring to a prototype that General Berthier had designed, and which was under examination in the U.S. by the Ordnance Board under the designation of “M1917” in ( what else? ) May 1917. The Army rejected the gun but the Marine Corps liked it enough to seriously consider it for adoption, whereupon the Army changed its mind and decided to approve a purchase for 5000 weapons ( plus 2000 more for the Marines ). According to Hogg, this is where the whole process fell apart at the seams. The manufacturing contract was placed with the U.S. Machine Gun Company, a subsidiary of Hopkins & Allen, but the latter encountered financial problems and was acquired by Marlin Rockwell Corporation. Marlin Rockwell already had their hands full with existing wartime manufacturing contracts, and the Berthier gun ended up at or near the bottom of their priority list. The end result was that the war was over before production could begin, so the Berthier never got a chance to even make it off the ground.

    With the impending end of World War One, and the consequent loss of wartime urgency, the U.S. Army had also decided that the gun wasn’t worth further development anyway, and dropped their ties with Berthier, who then took the design back to Europe and offered it to Vickers after making a few changes based on the American evaluation. Vickers had the foresight to recognize the excellent potential of this MG with a little work, and in 1925 acquired the manufacturing rights to the gun. The rest, as they say, is history.

      • Hi, Chris:

        Good to hear from you. That sounds about right, although I don’t have an immediate means of verification. Perhaps you or someone else could add more to this topic?

        • There is a picture of the M1917 on page 247 of Chinn’s “The Machine Gun”. It does indeed look like a cross between a ZB-26 and a Beardmore-Farquahar, with the grip from a Lebel revolver. It had to be better than the Chauchat. How could it NOT?

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