What would a French officer (Colonel) in charge of a regiment of foreigners (Algerians) would have experience in August in Algeria in 1914 - i.e. at the outbreak of the first World War

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What would a French officer (Colonel) in charge of a regiment of foreigners (Algerians) would have experience in August in Algeria in 1914 - i.e. at the outbreak of the first World War

The Colonels and Generals stationed in Algeria during August 1914 would have been in charge of The French Army of Africa (Armée d’Afrique) which consisted of soldiers from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and, France. These multi-national troops presented language, religious and cultural barriers for French military officers but they were able to find ways to handle such barriers. For instance, over 140,000 Algerians (mostly Muslims) fought with the French Soldiers during the first world war. French Authorities ensured that they traveled with cooks trained to prepare halal food for the Muslim soldiers that fought with French troops. They also allowed Imams to go into trenches with the Algerian troops to lead the call to prayer and say prayers to the dying. In addition, special orders were issued on when and how to pray. The French High Command issued a declaration that “if the war is intense and the Muslim does not have a moment of peace to fulfil his prayer he can just move his head and torso.”

In August 1914, there were three significant military events that marked the onset of World War I for the French. The major downfall of the French Army of Africa was that the African soldiers did not know how to use firearms, which is why so many of them were killed in August 1914. Another reason is that France had a very rigid and slow line-of-command while the German officers had more autonomy which allowed them to act quickly. Men were also dying of frozen limbs and tuberculosis. This massive wave of death would have likely affected the mental and emotional states of military personnel.

Military officers in Algeria would have had to become accustomed to daily life in Algeria which is located off the Mediterranean sea. We couldn't find a source that stated what their diet was like during wartime in 1914, but military officers' diet would most likely have been rich in bread, fish, lamb, olives, olive oil and couscous, given that the Algerian diet was already heavily influenced by the French who conquered Algeria in the early 1800s and took over their farmlands. In addition, up until 1917, French continued to export grains, sheep, tobacco and Wine from Algeria. French military officers in Algeria would also have been in charge of mobilizing troops and arresting prisoners of war. They would have been concerned about being outnumbered by the locals and the politicization of Islam.

Significant Events during August 1914

There were three significant military events during August 1914 that mark the beginning of World War I for the French. On August 3, 1914, "Germany declares war on France. 173,000 Algerians will be mobilized during the conflict. 26,150 Muslims and 12,000 Christians and Jews will be killed," along with 100,000 Algerians. Then, on August 4, 1914, the Germans attack Philippeville from their ocean cruiser, Goeben. Algerian forces fired back from Fort El Kantara. On that same day, the Germans also attacked Bône using cruiser shells and causing minimal damage.

On August 22, 1914, French armies from Algeria to Alsace fought without any coordination. In 15 different battles, the French retreated and lost ground. There was a staggering number of wounded soldiers "because they were not adequately trained in defensive warfare and because their artillery was badly exploited." Often, wounded soldiers were left behind.

According to France24, it is known as "the bloodiest day in French military history." There are many painful lessons to learn about the Battle of the Frontiers, which led to the death of 27,000 French military men in 24 hours. More people died on this day than during the Algerian War (1954-1962). According to historian Jean-Michel Steg, "the deadliest months of the war were the first ones, between August and October 1914." One reason for the high casualty rates was due to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that were mobilized by both the French and Germans. To make matters worse, the French North African soldiers were not trained in using firearms.

These battles markedly decreased the number of troops left for the Generals and Colonels to command. The outcome of the battles would have likely negatively affected the officers' physical, mental and emotional health.

Typical military Life and Activities

The Colonels and Generals in Algeria would have been in charge of The French Army of Africa (Armée d’Afrique) which consisted of soldiers from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and France. The people of Algeria are predominantly Muslim and Arabic. Their native population is referred to as the Berber. French military officers would have little to no prior experience with Islam and likely would not have been familiar with their customs, traditions, or language. Military personnel was in charge of mobilizing Algerians and forcing them to emigrate. The French military officers would often arrest German prisoners of war.

Algeria is located near the Mediterranean and the Sahara. The officers would have likely traveled or fought in the Sahara which makes up 4/5 of Algeria. What French Military officers ate is harder to come by but the French Military relied on Algeria for grains, wine, tobacco and sheeps between 1915 to 1919, so it's likely the french rations were composed of similar food during the war, bar wine that authorities ensured that merchants didn't sell to soldiers. The French controlled most of the arable land in Algeria at the turn of the 19th century and had already heavily influenced the diet of Algerians after conquering Algeria between 1830 and 1847, so the military officers diet in Algeria would probably not be much different from French diet and would have consisted of bread, lamb, fish and olives.

French military officer Traits

The General, Colonel, and soldiers wore the colors of the French flag, white, red and blue.

Jean-Michel Steg describes the French Army officers during the Battle of the Frontiers as "being extremely courageous...willing to sacrifice their lives and those of their men rather than withdraw strategically, as they should have done."

The 1 million French settlers felt outnumbered by the Arabo-Berber population which had reached 7 million. Many Frenchmen doubted the future of French Algeria. "Their fears were exacerbated by ... the politicization of Muslim society. Politicization was initially limited to a tiny minority of middle-class Muslims who wanted to ensure equality with French citizens."

Other Challenges

The French military's line-of-command was very strict and did not allow for decentralized decision-making like the German forces. This led to the French retreating and losing land. The bloody battles were taking a toll on the physical, mental, and emotional health of the military men. French soldiers and officers would often suffer from frozen feet and tuberculosis. Injured and sick soldiers were often left behind because they were ill prepared to treat the casualties of war. In August 1914, the French "General Raffenel had gone mad." He decided to go off into battle by himself and was promptly killed. This would have left his subordinates, including the Colonel, without orders or tactical leadership. Hypothetically, if a French Colonel took charge and saved the lives of soldiers upon the death of a General, he may have been promoted to General thereafter.


French officers were in command of troops from various countries. Most of the African soldiers spoke Arabic and practiced Islam. This presented a set of unique challenges including language and cultural barriers for military commanders. Their top concerns were training African troops, frostbite, and tuberculosis. Their diet would have consisted of locals fruits, vegetables, spices, grains and fish. The French military line-of-command caused many deaths and it is likely that the officers' mental and emotional health would have suffered greatly.

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