I was wondering about the feasibility of France maintaining a total war against the nazis in WWII following its disastrous military defeats in June 1940. Would it be possible for the bulk of the French Home Guard to retreat to Colonial territory, then grow the ranks with colonial troops (like the Tirailleurs, but larger in quantity).

I was envisioning the formation of a Colonial Army in Senegal, recruiting every able bodied native male of fighting age.Then, with the help of the British navy an American lend lease weapons and supplies, they could invade Italy, then destroy their weak armies and begin the struggle to retake their homeland, possibly using captured Italian troops as cannon fodder. The Senegalese fighters would be motivated by promises of French citizenship after the war.

  • $\begingroup$ Quality is more important than quantity. Just ask Russia... they lost more people than any other country or group. But if you are writing the story, you can decide what happens and how it happens. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Feb 11, 2019 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ This is what would have happened if the emergency government hadn't chosen to switch sides. $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Feb 11, 2019 at 12:24

4 Answers 4


Yes, and that was in fact the plan.

The Battle of France was lost due to an improbable amount of disastrous coincidences, from multiple poor political decisions by many Allies to German battle plans falling into Belgian hands driving them to do something very stupid (the Ardennes gambit) to very bad (and in one case, probably treasonous) decisions by some French generals to the British general ordering the BEF to run like panicked chicken towards Dunkerque right when the French counterattack would have crushed the overextended German forces...

But even after all that, France still had plans to continue fighting. The idea was, give up metropolitan France - apart from maybe the Alpes, it could simply not be defended with what little forces were left - and keep fighting with the resources of the Overseas Empire, especially North Africa.

Already in WWI, France had largely drawn from its colonial empire for soldiers to send to the meat-grinder of the Western Front as soon as it became apparent that they needed more men. Unlike British or American forces, the comparatively lower racism level allowed Home and Colonial troops to fight alongside well, and war propaganda even helped build the image of the vaillant colonial forces. To the point that to this day, the Tirailleurs Sénégalais are still remembered in France. This time, given how fast the disaster unfolded, there was basically no time to send colonial forces back, however, but the colonies were already on war footing, and ready to defend themselves - which they later did with success, in fact, though against the British (before switching sides to Free France - yeah, the whole thing was kind of a mess).

150K French soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkerque, and those would have been sent to Algiers to be reorganized and rearmed. Parts of the French Navy were already in North Africa, the remainder could complement them, go to British ports or even be sent to Indochina. There were already colonial troops mobilized, and looking at WWI, many more could be raised as needed - and that's without talking about the volunteers that would have left France for French North Africa and take up arms under a legitimate fighting government.

While industry would have been a problem, reserves would have been enough to go by until US imports started to make the difference, as well as building new factories there to an extent.

The French Navy would have probably been enough to shut down the Axis in the Mediterranean, possibly with ships to spare. This would have freed the British up for the Atlantic, and considerably accelerated the fall of Italy - though a naval landing would still have taken years of preparations. (Historically, most was either stuck in France and later scuttled by its sailors instead of letting it fall in the hands of the Nazis, or murdered by an early British sneak attack while the sailors were, in fact, in the middle of scuttling it themselves, so it was not much of a factor on either side later.)

France had possibly the best mountain troops of the entire war, some very well trained pilots and one of the greatest (and the most underrated) general of both world wars at the new head of the military, once they had, like in early WWI, fired the incompetent generals they had let taking things over because of politics.

At this point, they decided that they needed to give someone emergency dictatorial powers to see the crisis off without being bogged down to politics. After all, if it worked for the Romans, it should work for them. So they picked the Lion of Verdun, a legendary general of the previous war and respected by friends and foes alike. What could go wrong, right?

Well, it didn't always work for the Romans, and the guy they chose was very old, loathed politicians in general, was and too easily influenced by the local fascist strain. Which is why this plan spectacularly backfired, with the new government saying fuck you to the British, let it burn to democracy and more or less switch sides to the Axis and make a mess of things like you would expect from Mussolini copycats.

So yeah, totally believable, except a believable scenario would never have gotten far enough for the Allies to actually loose the Battle of France.

But you know how it is, the studio had said that the bad guys should win, and they were writing by committee against a deadline, and we all know how those scenarios turn out.


No, it's not feasible.

Colonialism and expansionism had waned by this time, and the reality is that most 'colonies' were already starting to see themselves with a new national identity, even if they were friendly with their colonial masters. Australia is a classic example of that insofar as it was a (more or less) independent nation and certainly supported the British in WWII, but also had its own battles to fight in the Pacific Theatre.

Senegal certainly could have been in a position to support the African campaigners against Germany (although its troops would have to cross the Sahara by land to do it), but given the U-boats, the chances of getting that many troops into France from external sources after 1940 weren't that great.

Extending French citizenship as a carrot sounds very much like the French Foreign Legion in whatever form it took in WWII (I don't know their history offhand), so to some degree this was already attempted but I don't know on what scale, or how successful it was. The fact that there wasn't some massive army of hundreds of thousands that changed the tide of the war in France tells me though that it probably wasn't that successful.

On top of that, you have to remember that even with all the French Colonies in Africa and the Pacific, there's a limit to the support they can provide in Europe for exactly the same reasons that larger nations like Australia were limited in their capacity to support Europe; they had their own theatres in which to either fight or avoid the conflict, even if they had numbers they could spare.

It also pre-supposes that Nazi tactics were set and wouldn't have adapted to new circumstances. If Nazi intelligence suggested a groundswell of uprising throughout Africa, their panzer tanks would have been built in even greater numbers and would have controlled more of Africa to prevent that from happening.

In such a case, Senegal and other French colonies would have focused on the threat before them, not on the protection or liberation of France.

Would some colonists have gone over to France to fight? Sure. Australians (for example) were in Europe as well as the Pacific theatre and Papua New Guinea; they were also in Africa where the famous Rats of Tobruk stood against the Nazis. But, Australians were not abroad in numbers that could turn the tide by that single virtue, and that's despite the spending of nearly 45% of the nation's GDP on the war effort in the first couple of years of the war; something that was never going to be sustainable over the long term.

So, as I see it, here are your scenarios;

1) The French take all or most able bodied men of fighting age from their colonies to the European Theatre, effectively bankrupting either themselves or the contributing nations (or both) and leaving those contributing nations open to their own attacks

2) The French take those men that the countries can spare, which increases their numbers but not by amounts that can make a meaningful difference, especially given the attrition rates the troop carriers would have suffered if the Nazis knew what they were up to

3) The French ask the colonies, who say no, and just push for independence a few years earlier than they did.

As a final point; the Nazis under Hitler's leadership had already transformed Germany into a production powerhouse by the start of WWII; this is important because a good part of the reason why they were so successful in Europe was that they had the manpower and industry to prosecute the war, and other countries didn't. Just remember that all those men that you gather from the colonies - they have to be paid, fed, supplied with weapons. These are things that you can only do if you have a strong economy in the first place and France under occupation would not have been able to shift the funds it needed to the colonies to raise such an army even if it wanted to. Without that, all you're left with is patriotism, which Given that Senegal (and many other African Nations) declared their independence less than 2 decades after the end of WWII, I don't think that was in steady supply among the colonies for the motherlands.

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    $\begingroup$ Germany had the mobilized manpower and war industry, they didn't have the funds. It was all built on the bet that plunder would cover the bills. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Feb 11, 2019 at 5:52
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. edited to reflect the production side of the equation rather than the funding side. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Feb 11, 2019 at 5:55
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    $\begingroup$ France massively recruited from the colonies, especially the African colonies, for WWI. And the plan was, in fact, to give up metropolitan France, send the capital to Algiers and keep fighting from there, with the 150 000 French troops that had been evacuated at Dunkerque. Unfortunately, the one guy they chose to lead the emergency government and keep the fight chose to switch sides instead - that's the problem with emergency dictatorial powers. Otherwise, as the British would learn the hard way (before it would switch to Free France), French North Africa was quite capable of fighting. $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Feb 11, 2019 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ "their panzer tanks would have been built in even greater numbers" - You might reconsider that one. Germany was already flat out after 1940, and I have no idea how they could have both increased production and found the troops and transportation to allow invasion of sub-Saharan Africa. $\endgroup$ Feb 11, 2019 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast well, they would probably have diverted troops from their Russian campaign. Egypt and North Africa was the better strategic target after all and if they were forced to prioritise, the massive attrition in Russia may never have happened and the course of the war may have changed for them $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Feb 11, 2019 at 20:46

This possibility has been extensively discussed, explored and simulated in the "Fantasque timeline" : http://1940lafrancecontinue.org/ (the forum is very interesting).

With two books covering the 1940-1942 period (you can read them from the site).

It's only in french, but I think the original forum was in english.

This alternate history doesn't primarily focus on indigenous (senegalese or others) soldiers but more on the will to keep the fight despite the fall of France. In brief, the french colonial empire can fight the axis more efficiently than the Free France from our timeline. Not alone of course - UK and USA will still be the main war contributors - but accelerating significatively the fall of Italy and delaying Barbarossa.


i think the promise of French citizenship is not enough to fight the wehrmacht. simple as that.

actually its a historical fact that germany attacking france and england destroyed their colonial intentions around the world. hitler even mention this on a speech. "we dont have their colonies". you have to consider that almost all countries in ww2 were racist. the U.S was in the middle of the apartheid !! france, england, the USRR were racists too. of course no one mention this...


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