The government of France was knocked out of World War II in 1940, but not all of its fighting men. Charles De Gaulle (along with a few other French generals) led the charge to keep Frenchmen fighting against the Nazi tyranny. By 1943 the French colonial Army of Africa had officially joined forces with De Gaulle ‘s Free French Army and were now ready to help the Allies on the continent of Europe. Their first test would be slogging up the Appenine Mountains of Italy.
The French Expeditionary Force was composed of regular French Army troops. . . and the Goumier. The who? The Goumier were North Africans. . . specifically tough tribal people from Morocco, but Tunisians and Algerians were given this label too. Under the leadership of General Alphonse Juin, this 90,000 strong force swung into battle against the hated Nazis in January of 1944. After weeks of fighting, the Germans learned to fear the knife-wielding “Goums” (as the Brits would call them). One story has it that a French officer said he would love to get a German made wrist watch. His “Goum” soldier was only too happy to oblige. He went out on patrol, and came back later with a beautiful wristwatch wrapped up in a cloth to give to his officer. Of course, unfortunately the watch was still wrapped around a German’s arm and hand!
The Goums proved themselves in battle against some of the best of the Wehrmacht. The Moroccans, Tunisians, and Algerians savagely fought their way up a 3,100 foot peak at Monte Majo near Monte Casino to flank the Germans. The Germans were forced to pull back, leaving the town of Esperia to be liberated by the French.
Sounds great doesn’t it? The French fought very, very well against the Nazis in Italy. But there is a dark side to the liberation. Apparently no one told the Goumier that liberation means we treat the people of Italy as free people. They thought it meant people were free for the taking. And raping. There were hundreds of reported cases of North African soldiers raping Italian women and girls, and even men! Even priests were raped!
The poor Italian people had thrown off one group of monsters for another. Their liberators had become their tormentors.