A tirailleur (French: [tiʁajœʁ] ), in the Napoleonic era, was a type of light infantry trained to skirmish ahead of the main columns. Later, the term "tirailleur" was used by the French Army as a designation for indigenous infantry recruited in the French colonial territories during the 19th and 20th centuries, or for metropolitan units serving in a light infantry role.
The French army currently maintains one tirailleur regiment, the 1st Tirailleur Regiment. This regiment was known as the 170th Infantry Regiment between 1964 and 1994. Prior to 1964, it was known as the 7th Algerian Tirailleur Regiment, but changed its name after it moved to France as a result of Algerian independence.
In the wars of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, the designation "tirailleur" was a French military term used at first to refer generically to light infantry skirmishers.The first regiments of Tirailleurs so called were part of the Imperial Guard of Napoleon I. By the fall of the Empire, some 16 regiments had been created. The Guard Tirailleurs were usually grouped as part of the Young Guard, along with their sister Voltigeur regiments.
The Guard Tirailleur regiments were disbanded during the reorganization of the French Army in 1814 by the new royal government. On 28 March 1815, during Napoleon I's short-lived return to power (the Hundred Days), Regiments 1-8 of the Guard Tirailleurs were officially re-raised. Only the 1st and 3rd Regiments actually took the field for the Waterloo campaign. All regiments of Imperial Guard Tirailleurs (along with the rest of the Guard) were disbanded following the Emperor's second abdication.
In addition to the regiments within the Imperial Guard, several foreign battalions of tirailleurs were raised, included the Italian Tirailleurs du Po and Corsican Tirailleurs Corses.
The first tirailleurs employed in French North Africa were a metropolitan light infantry unit — the 1er bataillon de tirailleurs de Vincennes which disembarked in Algiers in early 1840. This unit subsequently became the chasseurs d'Orléans but the title of tirailleurs was allocated the next year to newly raised regiments of indigenous Algerian infantry recruited from the Arab and Berber communities.
The tirailleurs from Algeria subsequently served in the Crimean War, the Second Italian War of Independence, the French intervention in Mexico and the Franco-Prussian War (1870), as well as in French colonial campaigns in Tunisia, Indochina, Morocco, Madagascar and Algeria itself. During the Crimean War the Algerian tirailleurs acquired the nickname of "Turcos" (Turks) by which they were widely known over the next hundred years. The name reportedly arose from comparisons between the Algerian troops and the Turkish allies serving alongside the French and British forces at the siege of Sevastopol.
First raised in 1841 as battalions of tirailleurs indigenes, the locally recruited Algerian infantry were organised into three regiments of Algerian Tirailleurs by a decree dated 10 October 1855.The number of such units fluctuated over the next hundred years until in the early 1960s eight regiments of tirailleurs plus a number of independent battalions remained in French service. Two battalions of Algerian Tirailleurs formed the bulk of the Détachement Français de Palestine et de Syrie that participated in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign from 1917 onwards.
In 1884, the 4th Regiment of Tirailleurs was created in Tunisia. Except for minor distinctions of insignia and uniform (their numbering was based on the figure "4" and its multiples, plus light blue tombeaus or false pockets on their full dress zouave jackets) the Tunisian tirailleurs regiments had the same appearance as their Algerian counterparts.It was only in 1921 that the French government decided to name them officially "Tunisian Tirailleurs Regiments".
In 1914, during World War I, the 1st Regiment of Moroccan Tirailleurs was created. At the end of the period of French rule in 1956 six regiments of Moroccan tirailleurs were still in existence.
The recruitment of Muslim tirailleurs was mainly voluntary with enlistment for three year periods (five for NCOs), although a limited form of conscription by ballot was introduced in Algeria in 1913 and continued until the end of French rule in North Africa.Prior to 1939 up to 90% of the rank and file of each battalion had been indigenous. The proportion of French European (both metropolitan and pied-noir settlers) to Maghrébin (North African) personnel had however increased to about 30% by the end of World War II, as the tirailleur units became increasingly mechanized.
France made extensive use of tirailleurs in its colonial campaigns. The most numerous of these, after the "tirailleurs algériens" noted above, were the "tirailleurs sénégalais" (who were recruited from all of the French possessions in West and Central Africa). Both played an important role in the occupation of Morocco (1908–14) as well as in the Rif War of the 1920s. [ page needed ]
Before and during World War II (1939–45), tirailleurs were recruited from the Maghreb (Algerian, Moroccans, and Tunisians), from French West Africa and Madagascar ( Tirailleurs malgaches ).
Regiments were recruited from the regions of French Indochina: Annam, Tonkin, and Cambodia. The regiments were named after the territory in which they were recruited. Thus "tirailleurs Annamites", "tirailleurs Tonkinois" and "tirailleurs Cambodgiens".
During World War I (1914–18) tirailleurs from North African territories served on the Western Front, Salonika and in the Levant, incurring heavy losses. In spite of its title, the Moroccan Division (France) which fought on the Western Front contained Tirailleur battalions from all North African regions. The Great Mosque of Paris was constructed afterwards in honour of the Muslim tirailleurs who had fought for France.
Tirailleurs from North and Central Africa fought with distinction in Europe during World War II, notably in the Italian campaign. The Indo-Chinese tirailleur regiments were destroyed or disbanded following the Japanese coups against the French colonial administration in March 1945.Algerian, Moroccan and Senegalese tirailleurs served in Indo-China until the fall of Dien Bien Phu and subsequently as part of the French forces during the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62). Even after the French withdrawal from Indochina, a unit of mostly Vietnamese tirailleurs ("le Commando d'Extreme Orient Dam San") continued to serve with the French Army in Algeria until 1960.
Most tirailleur regiments were disbanded as French colonies and protectorates achieved independence between 1956 and 1962. In Morocco, Tunisia and the new African states most serving tirailleurs transferred directly from the French armed forces to the new national armies. In Algeria locally recruited tirailleurs who remained loyal to France were given an option to transfer to units in France, or join a transitional force locale at the end of the Algerian War in 1962. The six remaining Algerian tirailleur regiments (RTA) were disbanded or transformed into metropolitan infantry units between 1962 and 1964.The last Moroccan regiment in the French Army was the 5th RTM (Regiment de Tirailleurs Marocain), stationed at Dijon until it disbanded in 1965.
The modern French Army still has one tirailleur regiment, tirailleurs Senegalais are maintained by the 21eme Regiment d'infanterie de marine stationed in Fréjus, via the 4e Régiment de Tirailleurs Sénégalais of the Second World War.descended from the Algerian tirailleurs. While these troops are now all French, items of the traditional North African uniform are still worn on ceremonial occasions to commemorate the Algerian "Turcos" who served France for over 130 years. The traditions of the
Until 1914 the Algerian and Tunisian tirailleurs wore zouave style uniforms of light blue with yellow braiding (see photographs on this page). White turbans (for parade), red fezzes and sashes were worn with this "tenue orientale".A white field dress of similar loose cut was worn for North African campaigning and in France during the early months of World War I. They adopted a more practical khaki uniform from 1915 onwards, in common with the other units of the (North African) 19th Military District. The West African and Madagascan tirailleurs wore a dark blue parade dress with red sash and fez while the Indochinese regiments wore an indigenous style of blue, white or khaki uniform with a flat "salacco" headdress. Khaki had been widely worn as a hot-weather field dress in Indo-China and Africa during the years before the outbreak of World War I and thereafter became the norm. The North African tirailleurs however resumed their colourful full dress uniforms between 1927 and 1939 to assist recruitment. After World War II they were retained until the present day for wear by the noubas (regimental bands).
In France, citations made during World War I, World War II or colonial conflicts were accompanied with awards of a Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) with attachments on the ribbon depending on the degree of citation: the lowest being represented by a bronze star (for those who had been cited at the regiment or brigade level) while the highest degree is represented by a bronze palm (for those who had been cited at the army level). A unit can be mentioned in Despatches. Its flag is then decorated with the corresponding Croix. After two citations in Army Orders, the men of the unit concerned are all entitled to wear a fourragère.
Regiments of North African Tirailleurs were, together with regiments of Zouaves, amongst the most decorated units in the French Army, ranking after only the Colonial Infantry Regiment of Morocco and the Foreign Legion March Regiment.
As for the Légion d'honneur, this unit award should not be confused with the fourragère in the colors of the Médaille militaire. It is one of the rarest unit awards in the French military.
The Order is the highest decoration in France. In the case of a regiment, its flag is decorated with the insignia of a knight, which is a different award than the fourragère in the colors of the Légion d'honneur. Only 34 French Infantry Regiments were decorated with the Légion d'honneur including seven Regiment of North-African Tirailleurs.
Among the 17 French regiments that won the Fourragère in the colors of the Légion d'honneur (at least six citations in Army Orders), nine of them were from the Army of Africa including four regiments of North African Tirailleurs (2nd, 4th, 7th Tirailleurs and 4th Zouaves and Tirailleurs).
By the end of the war, all the 16 North African Tirailleur regiments existing as of August 1918 (12 Algerian/Tunisian, 2 Moroccan and 2 Zouaves and Tirailleurs), were awarded a Fourragère (at least 2 citations in Army Orders). Only one regiment of Senegalese Tirailleurs were awarded a Fourragère in 1919.
As colonial subjects, tirailleurs were not awarded the same pensions as their French (European) counterparts after World War II. The discrimination led to a mutiny of Senegalese tirailleurs in Dakar at Camp Tiaroye in December 1944. The tirailleurs involved were former prisoners of war who had been repatriated to West Africa and placed in a holding camp awaiting discharge. They demonstrated in protest against the failure of the French authorities to pay salary arrears and discharge allowances. French soldiers guarding the camp opened fire killing between thirty-five and seventy African soldiers.The provisional government of Charles de Gaulle, concerned at the impact of the Tiaroye incident on serving tirailleurs, acted quickly to ensure that claims for back pay and other money owed were settled.
When France's African colonies achieved independence between 1956 and the early 1960s, the military pensions of veterans who became citizens of the new nations were frozen. By contrast their French counterparts, who might have served in the same units and fought in the same battles, received pensions that were adjusted for inflation in France itself.
While the imbalanced situation was widely deplored, successive French governments did not act on the complaints of former French Army soldiers. One rationale for the freezing of the pensions was that increased levels would have created an income gap between the former soldiers and the rest of the populations in African countries where the cost of living was significantly lower than in France.
It was only in 2006 that President Jacques Chirac, reportedly moved by Rachid Bouchareb's movie Indigènes , gave instructions to increase the pensions of former colonial soldiers.However, more than forty years after the colonies had gained independence and sixty years after World War II had ended, many of the veterans had already died.
The Spanish Army of Africa included an indigenous light infantry force under European officers, designated as the Tiradores de Ifni . In existence from 1934 to 1969, this corps was modelled on the North African tirailleurs of the French Army.
The Zouaves were a class of light infantry regiments of the French Army serving between 1830 and 1962 and linked to French North Africa; as well as some units of other countries modelled upon them. The zouaves were among the most decorated units of the French Army.
The Chasseurs d'Afrique were a light cavalry corps of chasseurs in the French Armée d'Afrique. First raised in 1831 from regular French cavalry posted to Algeria, they numbered five regiments by World War II. For most of their history they were recruited from either French volunteers or French settlers in North Africa doing their military service. As such they were the mounted equivalent of the French Zouave infantry. The other major cavalry element in the Armee d'Afrique were the Spahis—recruited from the indigenous peoples of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco with mostly French officers.
Spahis were light-cavalry regiments of the French army recruited primarily from the Arab and Berber populations of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The modern French Army retains one regiment of Spahis as an armoured unit, with personnel now recruited in mainland France. Senegal also maintains a mounted unit with spahi origins as a presidential escort: the Red Guard.
The Troupes coloniales or Armée coloniale, commonly called La Coloniale, were the colonial troops of the French colonial empire from 1900 until 1961. From 1822 to 1900 these troops were designated Troupes de marine, and in 1961 they readopted this name. They were recruited from mainland France or from the French settler and indigenous populations of the empire. This force played a substantial role in the conquest of the empire, in World War I, World War II, the First Indochina War and the Algerian War.
The Moroccan Goumiers were indigenous Moroccan soldiers who served in auxiliary units attached to the French Army of Africa, between 1908 and 1956. While nominally in the service of the Sultan of Morocco, they served under French officers, including a period as part of the Free French Forces.
The Senegalese Tirailleurs were a corps of colonial infantry in the French Army. They were initially recruited from Senegal, French West Africa and subsequently throughout Western, Central and Eastern Africa: the main sub-Saharan regions of the French colonial empire. The noun tirailleur, which translates variously as 'skirmisher', 'rifleman', or 'sharpshooter', was a designation given by the French Army to indigenous infantry recruited in the various colonies and overseas possessions of the French Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Army of Africa was an unofficial but commonly used term for those portions of the French Army stationed in French North Africa from 1830 until the end of the Algerian War in 1962, including units made up of indigenous recruits.
The 19th Army Corps was a corps of the French army. In December 1870, the Tours delegation created the 19th Army Corps which was formed in Alençon. It was recreated by decree of the JO of August 13, 1874, it brought together the various military units of Algeria. It constituted the nucleus of the Army of Africa.
The 3rd Algerian Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Army of Africa which participated in World War II.
The Army of the Levant identifies the armed forces of France and then Vichy France which occupied, and were in part recruited from, the French Mandated territories in the Levant during the interwar period and early World War II. The locally recruited Syrian and Lebanese units of this force were designated as the Special Troops of the Levant.
The Régiment d'infanterie chars de marine RICM in French, is a light cavalry regiment of the French Army, successor to the Régiment d'infanterie coloniale du Maroc RICM.
This is the order of battle for the Syria–Lebanon campaign, a World War II campaign between the Western Allies and Vichy France during June and July, 1941.
The Battalions of Light Infantry of Africa, better known under the acronym Bat' d'Af', were French infantry and construction units, serving in Northern Africa, made up of men with prison records who still had to do their military service, or soldiers with serious disciplinary records.
The Marching Regimentof the Foreign Legion (RMLE) was a French military unit that fought in World War I and World War II. Initially composed of marching regiments from the 1st Foreign Regiment of Sidi Bel Abbes and the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of Saida, Algeria, it re-formed as the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment.
The Moroccan Division or the 1st Moroccan Division of 1914, initially the Marching Division of Morocco was an infantry division of France's Army of Africa which participated in World War I.
The 8th Zouaves Regiment was an infantry unit of the French Army. Created in 1914, the unit was designated as 8th Marching Zouaves Regiment.
The 4th Tunisian Tirailleurs Regiment was an infantry regiment of the Army of Africa, part of the French Army.
The 7th Algerian Tirailleurs Regiment was an infantry unit of the French Army, part of the Army of Africa.
The 3rd Algerian Tirailleurs Regiment was an infantry unit of the Army of Africa in the French Army. Recruited primarily from Algerian Muslims, it was mainly commanded by French officers. The racial boundaries were not absolute, with some French volunteers serving in the ranks and a limited number of Muslims being appointed as officers. After 1913 a selective form of conscription was applied to Algerian Muslims but the majority of Muslim soldiers serving in the 3e R.T.A continued to be voluntarily enlisted.
The tirailleurs malgaches were a corps of French colonial infantry established in Madagascar.