Vintage Saturday: Far From Home II

Senegalese Free French soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, armed with a British Bren and an American 1903 Springfield.
Congratulations on your status as French colony, Senegal! Now we’re going to take you to a freezing European forest to fight Germans.

Senegalese Free French soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, armed with a British Bren and an American 1903 Springfield. The helmets are American ones, emblazoned with the anchor emblem of the French Colonial forces. The Free French used a wide array of Allied equipment.


  1. I noticed that Free french forces often had this combination of infantry rifle and SAW. It would have been nice if they had had .30-06 in the LMG, as well.

    Can the Bren be converted to ’06? I assume that a barrel change and the Inglis 7.9 bolt (as used by the Kuomintang forces in China) would take care of most of it, but what about receiver clearances and magazines?

    I know the attempt to build a .30-06 MG-42 clone in 1944-45 failed because the differing OAL of the 7.9 x 57 and 7.62 x 63 (.30-06) rounds wasn’t taken into account. The .303in (7.7 x 56R) is even shorter than the 7.9.

    The parent ZB-26 was designed around 7.9, of course. Was there ever a .30-06 ZB, even as a prototype?



    • Yes, there were a small number of .30-06 Bren prototypes built. The 8mm and .303 guns could use the same receiver size, but the .30-06 case is long enough that it required a totally new receiver. When info I know of on them is in The Bren Gun Saga.

    • I seem to remember Taiwan having used a .30-’06 Bren at some point, although lord knows how many they actually made or if it even left prototype stage.

    • I was pondering the Bren gun recently, we used it in 7.62 Nato up untill the mid 80’s apparently. After reading about the 8mm Breda briefly, I thought about a .338 Laupa model, with Mk1 style updated dial sights, rear handle, and a special larger tripod “Breda” sized, but modern. For extended suppressive fire, in a portable package. The LWMMG in .338 Norma mag is belt fed, but an individual Norma round is twice as heavy as 7.62 Nato (45.5 grams compared to 24 grams), as are each belt link (8 grams compared to 4 grams). For each weapon to fire for one minute, a belt of 500 .338NM rounds would weigh 37.6 kg (83 lb), while a belt of 800 7.62 NATO rounds would weigh 34.4 kg (76 lb). So going off the 20rnd Breda principle, a 30rnd Bren mag should be fine “with a similar tripod” without all the weight, which goes against the notion of portability somewhat. Anyway given the Bren had been made in 06, I looked at it’s case dimensions as I knew it was longer than the 7.62 Nato. It’s not as long as .338 cartridges though it turns out, Overall length
      93.50 mm (3.681 in) Norma as oppose 3.34 in (85 mm) for the 06 “I was thinking would it fit in the 06 mags, it’s wider also so no” however I came across the 9.3Ă—62mm which has a similar base and over length size to the 06, now it’s not as powerful as the Norma but it’s more powerful than the 06 thus maybe it would be suitable for a Bren type Breda lark.
      Might be better at busting hard armour plates worn by chaps these days, with appropriate projectiles also. The Bren has a good solid action, I reckon it would handle a bigger round.

      • If you plot out powder capacity against bore volume for various rounds, .338 Lapua (and Norma) plot in roughly the same place as .220 Swift – which is right at the point where you’re using as much powder as that barrel can extract energy from.

        one side effect of putting so much hot gas through the barrel is that barrel heating is extreme and barrel life is short. the .338 mags are sniper rounds for a few well aimed shots, not MG rounds.

        You will get a similar or better trajectory for direct fire using the sub calibre sabot loads for .50 browning, and for longer ranges, use indirect fire. If someone is out of range for that – then an airstrike is a better option.

        The various big 8mm MG rounds were used by armies which had been using 6.5mm as the rifle round – the big cases didn’t really serve much useful purpose, and the same effect was achieved by using c.30 cal rifle ammo for both rifle and light – medium MG. When something bigger was needed, .50, .60 or pom-pom served the purpose.

      • The Bren L4 and L4A1 LMG’s in 7.62mm NATO caliber, which were based on the Bren Mark III with a new barrel, flash hider, bolt and magazine, actually served well into the 1990’s. From what I understand, Indian Ordnance Factories still manufacture a licence-built version as the Mark 1B 7.62mm Machine Gun. The Bren Mark III itself was retained in service by the Army Reserves of the Irish Defence Forces until 2006, when it was finally replaced by the L7A1 ( FN MAG58 ) 7.62mm GPMG, a testament to its enduring qualities of absolutely solid reliability, accuracy and general user-friendliness. During the Confrontation in the 1960’s between Sukarno’s Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the 1982 Falklands War, the Bren was often preferred over the L7A1 GPMG in spite of the fact that it was magazine-fed rather than belt-fed because of it’s compactness and lighter weight. As a compromise between the perceived need for greater firepower and the equally-pressing need to reduce weight on the march, 40 Commando, Royal Marines ended up carrying one of each type per section for fire support.

        • Nice round, has Russia made a lightweight “intermediate” machine gun i.e. Between the Pkm and the Dshk, in a similar calibre Daweo?

  2. One of my great uncles served in a segregated Black unit attached to the French army in WWI. Don’t know what they were issued, whether it was M1903s, M1917s, Lebel 1886s or Mannlicher Berthiers. Doubtless they used Hotchkisses and Chauchats, as did most AEF units.

    • Chris,

      A little late here but you mentioned your uncle in a U.S. unit attached the the French. The 93rd Infantry Division was equipped with French rifles, both made in France and some made in the US firing French ammo. If you were to have a copy of Buffalo Soldiers 1892-1918 by Ron Field you would find on page 45 a picture of the 93rd Infantry. Except for grenade launching rifles (which the used Mle 1886 with VB mounts) American members of the 93rd carried the 1907/15 Berthier.

      I first learned this when interviewing a group of African American families in SC. It turned out each had their grandfather’s Berthier. What happened was this: when the 93rd went home it carried the rifles it had with it. No one wanted the Remington and Cout made Berthiers anymore post war. In muster out they were suppose to turn their rifles back, but many of the Buffalo soldiers simply went home with their rifle. These rifles took on a very special place in many African American communities in the south, as they became a families hunting weapon. They had their stocks hacked, barrels shortened, were re-blued, and were used very hard, as many of the soldiers were not wealthy and had to feed families with them. Remington responded by loading 8mm Clean bore ammo for these weapons, and until the 1940s 8mm Lebel ammo could be found in many southern Kresge’s stores, where a box of ammo could be had for .50 cents. Many of the males in these families learned to hunt with these rifles, although by the time the 1930s and 40s rolled around they were being used single shot since there was no source of clips.

  3. On the subject of French Senegalese troops in Europe. Given that Senegalese prisoners had been murdered by the SS in 1940, I expect that:

    1. Senegalese troops weren’t terribly inclined to surrender.
    2. They didn’t take many German prisoners… or keep them for long.

    • Les Tirailleurs SĂ©nĂ©gelais generally enjoyed a positive and competent review in France’s pre- and post-War colonial and World War endeavors.

      Note that all French African colonial units outside of the Maghreb and Madagascar received the appellation “SĂ©nĂ©galais” regardless of where they were recruited in French West or Equatorial Africa. In other words, they are not necessarily from Senegal.

      It’s easy to see the influence of US gear on France’s post-War uniforms, equipment, and tactics, all of that stemming from their close cooperation with US units. British influence can also be seen in those units that derived their lineage from the Free French SAS units, i.e. primarily the colonial parachute units.

    • Back in 1982, it is alleged that argentine officers on the Falklands told their conscripts that the Ghurkas would eat them. The conscripts did the sensible thing, dropped their rifles and fled.

      I gather that more than half of the forces fielded in Europe during WWii by Britain were commonwealth. Canada and the Anzacs were only a small proportion of empire/commonwealth population so probably around half of British troops had skin that wasn’t white.

      The images shown in subsequent war movies have more to do with what colour skins equity [the british actors union] card holders had than with who actually fought.


      A few weeks back a friend loaned me some DVDs about WWii aircraft. I can’t remember the aircraft, but one of the propaganda films about the pacific theatre made no attempt to hide images of napalm and phosphorus bombing and the murder of surrendering, badly injured soldiers – both war crimes.

  4. Seeing these two Senegalese troops in the snow reminded me of just how COLD Western Europe can get in the winter…I pity those poor troops!

  5. The long and colorful history of Colonial troops in the service of the major European powers of the 19th and 20th centuries is a generally highly-distinguished and valorous one. They served with great courage and fortitude in so many theaters of war, often against better-equipped and well-trained opponents, yet more often than not defeated those very same opponents in battle. The French Senegalese troops mentioned in this article are but one example ; other Colonial soldiers with impeccable battle records were the German Askaris from Tanganyika under the able leadership of Von Lettow-Vorbeck during World War One, the King’s African Rifles of the same era, the French North African ( Algerian, Moroccan and other ) regiments of World War Two, the British Army’s Malay Regiment ( also of World War Two ), the Solomon Scouts and Fijian Scouts ( Pacific War ). These are but a few better-known examples of many, many indigenous units that more than proved themselves over and over again.

    While some, such as Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s German Askaris, have long since been publicised and acknowledged, there are still far too many who are ignored and forgotten. Even the better-known ones, the German Askaris included, are remembered only by hard-core military historians and knowledgeable members of forums like FW.

    We should be really thankful that on occasion, films like “Indigenes” ( “Days Of Glory”, about French Algerian troops in World War Two ) by Rachid Bouchareb and Olivier Lorelle ; and the made-for-television series on the life of Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, 7th Platoon, 1st Battalion, the Malay Regiment, centered on the Battle Of Bukit Chandu on February 14th, 1942 during the Japanese invasion of Singapore, have become available to remind us of this most invaluable part of history that is all too easy to forget. For those who might be interested, the former can be obtained on DVD from, and the latter is accessible ( often in “Parts” or chapters ) on Youtube. FYI, “C” Company / 1st Battalion / The Malay Regiment, under Captain H.R. Rix and Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, fought literally to the last man at the Battle Of Bukit Chandu ( sometimes referred to as the “Battle Of Pasir Panjang Ridge” — although the former was actually a component of the latter — there being only one recorded survivor, Corporal Ya’akob, who witnessed the brutal execution of Adnan Saidi when the enraged Japanese troops of Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi’s 18th Division hung a badly-wounded Saidi by his feet from a tree and used him for bayonet practice. One other facet of history that has been grossly neglected concerning this battle is the fact that “B” Company under Captain Yazid Ahmad, seconded to the Malay Regiment from the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, made a similar sacrifice the day before on February 13th, 1942.

  6. There’s a decent (albeit a bit Hollywood) movie about Algerian colonial troops in the war in Europe, Called Indigènes in French or Days of Glory in English. Wait — I see Earl has mentioned it. And I haven’t seen the story of Saidi, so thanks, Earl.

    I have been meaning to review Days of Glory but have not done. So here’s the New York Times’s review (which I haven’t read yet):

    Today there are a lot of minorities from former French colonies in the French forces, which are small but quite professional. They suffer somewhat from NIH syndrome in small-arms development, something we Yanks have some experience with also :/

    There seems to be a myth in modern historiography that the contributions of segregated and colonial units were never noticed until recently, but I have books from WWI and various Indian frontier wars that celebrate various such units. It was a point of pride for the British that troops from all over the Empire flocked to the colors for WWI.

    • Indigènes ( from indigène, indegenous, native) is much more a political movie wich use History than a good historical movie. The treatment of the subjet is from the early 2000’s point-of-view, aka politically correct white and black world.
      There is a moment in the movie, during te Montecassino battle, when the colonial troops are ordered to frontal attack a german position from highly arrogant white officers who then go back to their jeeps to see it form the rear…this is absolutly ridiculous and I think it was intentionality made that way.
      Anybody with a clue about native troops, especially the ones forme ”ArmĂ©e d’Afrique” knows that the french officers who commanded them where paternalistic die-hards who lead them in the battle form the front…there was no other way to have the respect of those men which still have a great tribal behavior. In the rear they were treated as children, in the battle as warriors, no soldiers.
      This caused enormous problems in the early months of WWI when the original colonial officers were rapidly killed in the battle and the next ones were from the metropolitan army, since then they always have officers who know how to lead them.
      And their religious beliefs, and cultural excentricities were tolerated. Even in WWI there were not segregrated in military hospitals or in the rear, with the french local population, something that deeply disturbed white american servicemen when they came in 1917.

      • Thank you for your interesting inputs, Roberto — they are much appreciated. It is equally interesting to compare the observations you made in the third paragraph of your post concerning the die-hard paternalistic French officers who led their colonial troops from the front. The same thing applied to the British line officers who led units like the Malay Regiment during the Battles for Malaya and Singapore, except that, probably due to cultural and societal differences in those colonies, said officers usually became thoroughly inculcated over time in the ways of the various local ethnic groups — in other words, they often “went native” to a degree that totally blurred racial and cultural distinctions and which was sometimes alarming to their bemused Colonial Service brethren. To be fair, many of the Colonial Service officers and administrators did the same, and they often identified with the “locals” more than they did with their own. The old-style paternalism in such cases would vanish and be replaced with a new collective group identity that did not distinguish on the basis of race, but on the basis of merit. In battle as well as in the rear, such British officers and administrators tended to treat the “native” troops and civilians under their charge as they would regular British troops and civilians, and fellow “native” officers and administrators as equals.

        Before emigrating to the United States, I grew up in the period encompassing the 1950’s to the 1970’s in Malaysia and Singapore, and was thus privileged to witness at first hand the transition period from immediate post-war Colonial Malaya ( Malaysia ) to the time when colonialism was over, but when a strong residual presence of the better aspects of British rule were ( and still are, to this day ) present, such as strong educational and Parliamentary systems, and a respect for the rule of law ( as long as it was fairly administered ). Attached to this was the fact that many British business interests with deep historical roots in the region stayed on to function alongside the influx of American and Continental European ones, in addition to the rise of influential home-grown industries, commerce and the corresponding political arena. Based on my personal experiences, while I know that there were definitely some British ( and other ) expatriates who saw themselves as separate from and above the “locals”, there were far more who were without bias, and who simply integrated themselves into local society as a matter of course. I had neighbours ranging from a Sergeant in the REME and his family to a very senior widowed ex-RN Commodore at one time in Singapore, and they never treated my family with anything less than equal respect. To put things in perspective, my parents were, at the time, a very ordinary working middle-class couple — my father was a Police Inspector, and my mother was an announcer for the old Radio Television Singapore, so there was no possibility of any bias based on social status.

        And guess what — this same precept holds true for almost anyone, regardless of race, creed or nationality in a similar situation anywhere in the world today where cultures meet, mingle and occasionally clash before settling on a balanced medium.

        • Thanks for the reply, wich was very interesting. I’m always fascinated by firt hand experiences such as yours. ”Going native” is very human indeed. I’m sure that Indian army officers of the british raj were similar, I think that very few officers could lead native troops having only contempt for their culture or supposed race qualities, even the paternalistic attitude was more effective that treating them as cannon fodder.
          Personally I have just talked to some veterans from colonial units from Spain and France and they were many similarities in the way they treated the troops, and being the ”father-like” figure seemed always very important.

          Again, thanks.

          • You’re welcome, Roberto — and I’d like to add that it is always a pleasure to read up on inputs from knowledgeable contributors such as yourself, so many heartfelt thanks in return. FW is such a great way to learn and share without the vituperative commentary too often found on other firearms websites, a result of Ian McCollum’s candid yet diplomatic approach as well as the wonderful quality and humanity of it’s readers and writers :).

    • Thanks, Kevin, and it’s good to hear from you again. Excellent and telling observations and commentary, as always!

  7. As for the guys in the picture they are extremely well equiped and armed compared to other Free French units of the late 1944. The new french provisional government used and militarised any formation of partisans, maquis, urban resistants groups, etc… they could, to 1) contol them and avoid small incontroled wars in the liberated area 2)to have an army as big as possible, it was useful to bring back France from the defeated and occuped country status to allied eyes.
    The best Free French units, the ones like the 1st Army, the 2nd Armored Div., were used under allied command in the east, but some of the other, the ”ad hoc” ones were used against the german atlantic pockets ( )with the strangest mix of weapons of the time, from an armor unit formed by recuperated german tanks of the Normandy front to B1 Bis tank taken back from german control and small weapons from half a dozen different countries, and the horizon blue uniforms from some Verdun veteran were again used, or hunters gear…many of those units were used as garnison troops even in the east, just in front of much better equiped german units and this provoked that some of them have to fight the germans during operation Nordwind, the intent of retake Alsace form american and free french units, in the same time of the battle of the bulge. ( ) Personally I think the pic is form these area, the winter was particulary harsh in Alsace in 1944.

  8. Last night I ran across a picture of a group of French Milice all armed with BRENs and Mark IVs. I assume the ‘donation’ of these arms to them wasn’t desired by the English.

    • Yes, indeed. IIRC the germans, in 1943, were absolutly not agree to have the Milice equiped with military weapons, even small arms. So they only have the right to be equiped as a police force and, ironically, their main source of modern automatic weapons were the ones captured form the maquis, resistance and partisans or the ones parachuted, thanks to the SOE, for them… so basicaly british-made weapons. BRENs and Stens were the favorites.
      They needed them for their own protection more than for anything else, they were by far the number one target, especially for the communists groups, and they never have more than 15000 members, including non-combatants even if they always tried to exaggerate their numbers to have more weapons and money. Even the Gestapo was not so hated.
      In mid 1944 they finally have some support weapons (mortars and more automatic guns from the disbanded vichy units) as their were used to attack partisans groups in rural areas.

      • Very true. Also, regarding their armaments, don’t forget the vast amounts of equipment captured by the Germans in May/June, 1940.

        The BEF left most of their small arms behind at Dunkerque, in addition to their heavy weapons, as there just wasn’t room or floatation available on the evacuation boats. Add in the ammunition, etc., dumps that couldn’t be destroyed due to there just not being time enough, and the Germans had more than enough to go around for their puppet police, etc., in Vichy and elsewhere.

        BTW, while the Milice’, etc., did have some Stens, that was mostly in late 1943 to 1944, as you said. The Sten wasn’t in service yet in June ’40, so the Vichy got none from that source.

        Their primary SMG overall was the MAS 38 in 7.65 Long, AFAIK, augmented by Spanish-made Star Model 35s courtesy of Franco. The latter were mostly 9×23 Largo, rather than 9×19, on the grounds of that was what the Spanish army and police used so, the Milice’ had to take “pot luck”. and frankly, the Wehrmacht didn’t want the MAS 38, which they considered underpowered for combat.

        (For policing, especially in urban environments, it actually wasn’t bad, being light, compact, and using a round that didn’t overpenetrate like a hot 9mm. French police used the MAS 38 until the early 1960s for these exact reasons.)

        Also, as with everything else, the Germans initially preferred that their not-entirely-trusted “minions” not be armed with anything using their issue ammunition. By ’44, they didn’t care as much as they had more important things to worry about.



  9. My understanding is that in spring 1940 the most common submachine gun in French ranks was the 9mm Laargo Bergman MP35 and derivatives/copies made in Spain that were obtained from Republican troops from the EjĂ©rcito Popular de la RE who hiked over the Pyrenees to await internment in squalid French camps–frequently built on a wire-enclosed stretch of beach. It is certainly possible that Franco’s Spanish State may have sold some weapons to the Vichy regime.

    The 7.65mm longue MAS 38–the gun that apparently was used to kill Benito Mussolini–was issued to German officials as a sort of “PDW” in occupied Poland.

  10. In both case, MP18/28 copies (naranjero in spanish rep. slang) and the MAS-38 (the first PDW even before the M1 carbine) we are speaking of very few thousands weapons, so it’s difficult to say. Both were used by ”corps francs”, french small ad-hoc commando style unit to made some raids in the german lines ( ) during the phoney war, in the rest of the army they were very rare.
    I don’t think that Franco’s regime have ever sold any type of weapons even to Vichy France, spanish army needed everything from the civil war to equip the post war army as the country was in ruins and the rest of the world at war.
    MAS 38 was slowly produced for Vichy regime during 1940-44 and then again in numbers for the colonial wars, as nothing better vas avaible until the MAT-49 and they have to kept their small arms industry busy and needed anything that fired a bullet. Same reasons to maintain the production of the MAS-36 rifle during many years after WWII.

  11. The spanish MP28’s were turn in by Republican forces when they crossed the French boarder, looking to escape Franco in 1939. German made EMP’ s were an issue weapon for the French Gendarmes before and during WW ii. Some of these were issuded to frebch troops at the front early in the war,but these also could have been spanoish copies acquired in the same way as the MP 28 copies

  12. MuchĂ­simas gracias! Thanks.

    I forgot the term “naranjero” for the MP28 clone… Have you read that some folks argue it was actually a repĂşblica española MP28 that led to the British Lanchester? Brass parts and so on…

    I would have to disagree that the French 7.65mm longue was the “first PDW” before the M1 carbine. It was an open-bolt, magazine-fed submachine gun using the standard pistol cartridge (albeit one initially pioneered for use in the ĂĽber-secret “pistol, automatic, caliber .30 Model 1918” better known as the “Pedersen device” to turn the M1903 Mk.I rifle into, well, um, a really big two-handed .30 caliber handgun with a forty round magazine.

    The M1 carbine, recall, was to replace the service pistol and submachine guns and provide soldiers tasked with driving, operating larger crew-served weapons, or other responsibilities and duties something that could be carried more reasonably than an M1 Garand service rifle.

  13. Well yes, PDW maybe is too a modern concept, although MAS-38 was much more limited as a offensive weapon that the M1 carbine. IIRC the MAS-38 was expected to replace pistols in front line servie (junior officers, NCOs, tankers…he was too costly to replace all rear-service troops an gun’s crew weapons) and to be used as a ”trench cleaner” in very close combat situations.

    Naranjero (from naranja, orange, the fruit not the color), Nobody really knows why the MP28 clones started to be named that way…I have heard that is because they were made in the Valencia region, know in Spain to be a huge orange producer or because actually during some time they pay the licence to produce the thing and they used oranges as payment ! That seem a little over the top.

    Is a nickname that became so widely used that even in post war Franco’s Spain he was used during years by many to refer to any type of SMG. The Coruña modelo 42, a direct copy of the ERMA MP35 (with licence) was also nicknamed naranjero by the troops in the post war era, to put even more confusion.

    I will not be surprised to learn that some International Brigade brit veteran bring back to the pleasant Albion a naranjero (as a souvenir ?). And that in 1940 it served to made the RNs lanchesters, who knows ? Although I never read anything about it.

  14. My wifes great grandfather joined the infanterie de la marine in about 1885. One of his first postings was Tihiti.By the 1890’s he was in africa and I have a small wooden box in front of me addressed to
    The box when I found it in our attic here in france contained several empty gras cartrige cases and a sealed coppered box of 6 cartriges for the 1873 military revolver unfortunitly I never found the revolver.

  15. Hello, these twitter senegalese are not from the free french ( n’aime of the gaullist unit) but from the 9th colonial (marine today) infantry division and certainly belonging to the 21st or 23rd colonial infantry regiment
    The free french were the partisan of général degaulle. The régular army unit from the Armée d Afrique Who stayed in North africa, formed the basis of the regular forces that lande dingue Provence in august 1944.
    These divisions were madeleine of européan french from North africa and indigènes soldier
    Excuse m’y bad english

  16. Hello, i rewrite my post from a PC for a better lisibility for you.
    the free french were the followers of De Gaulle in great britain and created the free french forces with british equipment. The regular army was dismissed in France after the defeat but an important of the regular Army began to prepare itself for revenge in North Africa. The Colonial Infantry Division were recreated after the US landing in north Africa with french from the colony and from indigenes. You have to notice that the officiers were mostly europeans but a large part of the private were european alongside withe the indigenes. The colonial divisions fouhgt hard from Provence to Germany, and during the winter most of the black natives were replaced by french from the liberated areas.

  17. Actually, a lot of the ‘Free French’ units were colonial, as more of them escaped the catastrophe of 1940. Most ‘French’ troops evacuated at Dunkirk chose to be repatriated to occupied, or Vichy, France. The snippets of surviving film of the Paris uprising (you’ve all seen some clips in just about every WWII film) show a wounded FFI fighter being helped to safety…and he’s Black too.

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