French Colonial Marines
The Armée coloniale should not be confused with the famous North African regiments of the French Army such as the Foreign Legion, the Bat' d'Af', Zouaves, Spahis, Algerian Tirailleurs (sharpshooters) and Goumiers, all of which were part of the Army of Africa. The North African units date from 1830 and were brought together as the XIX Army Corps in 1873, forming part of the French Metropolitan Army.
French Foreign Legion
Instead the Troupes Coloniales can be divided into:1. French long service volunteers (or colonial settlers doing their military service) assigned to service in France itself or as garrisons in French West and Central Africa, Madagascar, New Caledonia or Indochina; and
2. Indigenous troops recruited in any of the above, serving under French officers. These were designated as Tirailleurs sénégalais, Tirailleurs malgaches, Tirailleurs indochinois, etc. according to the name of the colony of origin. Tirailleurs sénégalais was the name given to all West and Central African regiments, since Senegal had been the first French colony south of the Sahara.
All colonial troops (la Coloniale or the Colonial) came under a single General Staff. The troupes coloniales were predominantly infantry but included artillery units as well as the usual support services. At various dates they also included locally recruited cavalry units in Indo-China as well as camel troops in sub-Saharan Africa.
French regulars of the Colonial Infantry disembarking in Madagascar 1895. - Mus de l'Armee photograph, 1895. Personal photograph.
The title "colonial troops" was adopted in 1900, when all the Marine Infantry and Marine Artillery troops that had previously come under the Ministry of the Navy were transferred to come under the orders of the War Department.
The European Colonial Infantry regiments were, until 1914, uniformed in a similar style to their metropolitan counterparts (though with yellow fringed epaulettes and medium blue trousers instead of the red epaulettes and red trousers of the line infantry). On colonial service white, dark blue or light khaki uniforms were worn with topees, according to circumstances.
Between 1895 and 1905 a light blue/grey bleu mecanicien uniform was worn for field dress in Africa and Indo China.
French Congo, c. 1905. Colonial Infantry bleu mecanicien field uniform.
Throughout their changing titles and roles the French Troupes de Marine or Troupes coloniales retained a reputation for toughness and professionalism. Whether French or indigenous they were, for the most part, long service regulars and as such comprised a genuine elite.