The Dark Side of GIs in Liberated France.

04-01-2018

Rape during the liberation is documented both during and after the advance of United States forces across France against Nazi Germany in later stages of World War II. The invasion of Normandy in June and a second invasion in the south in August, put over two million front line and support troops of the Western Allies into France in 1944.

The Liberation of Paris followed on 25 August. Except for German forces penned in the south-west (around Bordeaux) or in ports, the majority of German troops were pushed back to the Siegfried Line by the end of 1944. After the war, the repatriation for demobilisation of the troops took time. Even in 1946, months after VE-day there were still about 1.5 million troops in Europe. The housing and management of the thousands of troops awaiting embarkation on a ship for home was a problem.

Life magazine  reported the widespread view among American troops of France as “a tremendous brothel inhabited by 40 million hedonists who spent all their time eating, drinking, making love and in general having a hell of a good time”  By the late summer of 1944, soon after the Invasion of Normandy, women in Normandy began to complain about rapes by American soldiers. Hundreds of cases were reported. In 1945, after the end of the war in Europe, Le Havre was filled with American servicemen awaiting return to the States. A Le Havre citizen wrote to the mayor that the people of Le Havre were “attacked, robbed, run over both on the street and in our houses” and “This is a regime of terror, imposed by bandits in uniform.” A coffeehouse owner from Le Havre testified “We expected friends who would not make us ashamed of our defeat. Instead, there came only incomprehension, arrogance, incredibly bad manners and the swagger of conquerors.” Such behavior also was common in Cherbourg. One resident stated that “With the Germans, the men had to camouflage themselves — but with the Americans, we had to hide the women.”

“GI promiscuity took place in parks, cemeteries, streets and abandoned buildings in cities,” Prof Roberts says in the book. “Sexual relations became unrestricted and public; sexual intercourse was performed in daylight before the eyes of civilians, including children. Le Havre became the “Wild West of France”, according to one resident.

Hundreds of prostitutes flocked there, many braving trips through the advancing front line to join the lucrative trade. Unofficial brothels sprang up but, as they had to remain unmarked, GIs would roam the streets calling up at windows for sex or knocking on doors demanding “service”.

.S. troops committed 208 rapes and about 30 murders in the department of Manche, French men also raped women perceived as collaborators with the Germans. A brothel, Blue and Gray Corral, was set up near the village of St. Renan in September 1944 by Major General Charles Hunter Gerhardt,   commander of the infantry division that landed at Omaha Beach, partly to counter a wave of rape accusations against G.I.’s.

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The Free Frence Forces high command sent a letter of complaint to the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force General Dwight Delano Eisenhower He gave his commanders orders to take action against all allegations of murder, rape, assault, robbery and other crimes. In August 1945, Pierre Voisin, mayor of Le Havre urged Colonel Thomas Weed, U.S. commander in the region, to set up brothels outside Le Havre. However, U.S. commanders refused.

130 of the 153 troops disciplined for rape by the army were African Americans. With the help of the French authorities U.S. officers allegedly scapegoated African American soldiers, proclaiming rape to be black crime. Military courts sentenced African American soldiers to more severe punishment than white American soldiers. U.S. forces executed 29 soldiers as conducting rapes, including 25 African Americans.

During the Second World War American GIs in Europe raped around 14,000 civilian women, in England, France and Germany. and some Allied troops were punished for sexual violence, including the execution of 70 American soldiers.

It is estimated that U.S. servicemen committed around 3.500 rapes in France between June 1944 and the end of the war. 130 of the 153 troops disciplined for rape by the Army were African American. Militairy courts sentenced African American soldiers to more severe punishment than white American soldiers: U.S. forces executed 29 soldiers for rape, 25 of them African American.

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