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The Free French, Black and White

In response to:

The Truth About the Resistance from the February 25, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

In the fourteenth paragraph of Robert Paxton’s “The Truth About the Resistance” [NYR, February 25], he makes reference to “La Nueve, the ninth battalion of the Second French Armored Division.” La Nueve was in fact the nickname of the 9th Company, 3rd Battalion, Regimente du Marche de Tchad (and so was in fact a much smaller unit than suggested in the article). It was accorded its place of honor in the parade as the first Allied unit that reached Paris to save the Resistance uprising in August 1944—a major political and military event, both in reality and in the modern mythic memory of the French Resistance, which Paxton curiously makes no reference to. Their armored cars were called Ebro, Guadalajara, and Madrid, named for major battles at which the International Brigades fought during the Spanish civil war.

With regard to the reference that “they were there partly because the other battalions of the Second French Armored Division contained a large number of African troops, and someone on Eisenhower’s staff didn’t want the victory parade to look so black,” the answer is that the Second Armored Division was entirely white. The Americans, as far back as 1943, directed the Free French to segregate their army units—something the French offered no resistance to as more manpower became available. At the time of Liberation the Free French army consisted of four all-white divisions and four non-white divisions. The story of blanchiment—or “whitening”—comes from efforts toward the end of the war undertaken by the French command to demobilize non-white units and replace them with white units raised in liberated France.

Nat Pendleton
Portland, Maine

Robert O. Paxton replies:

I plead guilty to having called La Nueve a battalion when it was actually a company. When these anti-Franco Spaniards entered Paris in August 1944, their company was indeed attached to the Régiment de Marche du Tchad (RMT), an element of the Second French Armored Division. The RMT began as a unit of African troops under white French officers that first saw action against Axis forces in 1941 in Libya, from the Gaullist base in Equatorial Africa. As Mr. Pendleton noted correctly, its African troops were assigned elsewhere in 1943 when French units were being equipped by the Americans and trained in Morocco for eventual action in France. While the French forces that landed in Provence in August 1944 were more than half colonial, the Second French Armored Division that fought in Normandy and helped liberate Paris was mostly white, as Mr. Pendleton says. The RMT still exists in the French army, and has recently seen duty in Afghanistan.