The Moroccan Goumiers: Origin and History
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Published: Fri, 27 Apr 2018
Linguistically speaking, the term Goum comes from the Arabic word (??) pronounced with a Maghrebi accent which means stand up. This term is going to define a military unit that was formed by the French army to be used first internally for pacification purposes and then externally for fighting the Axis powers. The Goums were predominantly Berbers from the region of the Middle as well as High Atlas, their simple lifestyle and isolation from the lowland in Morocco distinguish them from the other Moroccans mainly the Arabs and Arabized Berbers. Their way of fighting made them fierce warriors that were admired by the French militarily and feared by the Germans and Italians, in addition to the fact that they condoned many barbarous acts that they were doing to their enemies. They regard war as a way of living to the extent that they were assiduous in their missions by perfecting their fighting methods. The Goums made a reputation as redoubtable warriors both in Morocco, North Africa and Europe with the testimony of many military officers. This research papers will analyze the emergence Goums by dividing the papers into three parts. The first one is devoted to the origin of the Goums, the second to the contribution of the Goums within the French Army in World War II and the last to the fate of the Goums after the end of World War II.
The Origin of the Goums and the Pacification of Morocco
The Goums were first recruited from the Berber tribes that were objected to the French army such as Ait Warayn, Ait Seghrouchn, Imermuchn, Ichqirn, Izayyan, Ait Yahya…the Goums are:
…hawk faced Moroccan troops whose specialty is mountain fighting. Their especial value is their uncanny gift for moving silently through trackless mountain country. Their method of working is similar to the action of an incoming tide on a series of sand castles. These waves of Goums could be unloosed on a shapeless mass of mountain country that orthodox troops would find impassable. They would move up silently on any opposition that presented itself, dispose of it and push on regardless of what was happening to those on their right or left. They had a habit of bringing back evidence of the number of victims they had killed, which made them an unpleasant enemy to face.
The origin of the Goums goes back to the area of the pacification of Morocco, they were used against the resisting Berber tribes in the Atlas Mountains until 1934, the end of the pacification. The birth of the Goums is going to be in 1908 when the French General D`Amande recruited six Goums in the regions of Chaouia to fight the resistance against France in tribal area. The first resident general in Morocco was General Louis-Hubert Lyautey who intended to rule Morocco indirectly by using the Moroccan elite that would govern the country for the benefit of France. However, his idea of indirect rule did not prove to be successful as the Makhzen under the sultan was not able to control the regions outside its realm (Blad Siba) such as the Atlas Mountains, where tribal societies were either with the central power or against themselves. Lyautey realized that diplomacy is not working with the tribes in the mountains therefore he resorted to organizing North African French troops such as the Tirailleurs and Spahis to fight insurrections. Under these circumstances the Service Des Affaires Indigenes et Renseignements (AIR) came into being, the service divided auxiliaries recruited from the tribes into three distinct groups: Partisans, Mokhaznis and Goums. The Goums were the elite of the French colonial force and their assigned mission was to police the rebellion areas among their tribal areas and was used as “Groupes Mobiles,” pacification soldiers that performed the task of inspection as they know their areas more than the French. The Atlas Mountains proved to be a difficult mission for Lyautey due to the harshness not only of its mountains but also of its inhabitants, to the extent that the French Morocco was separated from the Atlas Mountains by the River of Oum er Rebia, thus deemed a region off the French Control. When Lyautey started his military campaign against the tribes in the Atlas Mountains staring from the city of Khenifra, he encountered a fierce resistance from the Zaini tribe mainly from Moha ou Hammou, Moha ou Said and Ali Amhaouch. Lyautey relied on Goums as well as Algerian and Senegalese Tirailleurs to get Moha ou Hammou.But the price was high as the French military was subject to many defeats with its pinnacle in the Battle of Lhri.
Regarding the ethnic composition of Goums, when they were first formed in 1908 in the region of Chaoia they were a mix of both Arabs and Berbers. However in the late 1920s, the French are going to confine the recruitment of Goums to be mainly from the Middle as well as the High Atlas. From this perspective the Goums were distinct from other colonial troops such as tirailleurs and saphis by being distinctly Berbers, a reason that made France to use them as police officers against any resistance.
The Berber tribe of Ait Seghrouchn is going to be the most favored by the French to recruit the Goums. The tribe was attacked by the French and many of its inhabitants decided to enlist in the French army due to the death of their family. The Berber name of the tribe “ouchn” means wolf. The way of their fighting is derived from their attribution to this animal. According to Barbara erenchih the origin of war goes back to the area of Mesolithic when in fact game animals were scares and a holocaust of animals occurred, and psychologically the prey animals are revered. In Scandinavia the warriors were leaving their human form and assuming the form of a bear when they go to fight. From which the origin of the word berserk came. Consequently, when the Goums of Ait Seghrouchn went to fight they assume the form of a wolf and leave behind their human form.
The Goums were noticeable for their quality of loyalty to the extent that they remained faithful to their officers during the dissents in Morocco. As it is stated by Edward L. Bimberg “during all these turbulent years the Goums remained steadfast. While the tribes of their origin vacillated loyal to the French one day, fighting them the next the Goumiers remained faithful, not to France, but to their officers, the Frenchmen to whom they owed their fealty.” The tribes proved to be a difficult task for the French, but “Eventually, it was nature that defeated the tribesmen. The French dammed the streams that ran through the Berber positions, cutting off their water supply.” And by 1933, “the last of the dissident tribes, the Aït Abdi, the Aït Sokhlman and, toughest of them all, the Aït Haddidou, came down out of their mountain strongholds and submitted to the French generals. The pacification of Morocco was complete.” After the end of the pacification, the Goums became obsolete and there was the idea of discharging the Goums as they were no longer needed. However, due to their ferocity and trustworthiness the French agreed to keep them as gendarmerie (police officers) in case new dissents aroused and by the start of World War II the Goums were going to have a new mission where they built a reputation of being fine warriors.
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland ushering the start of the Second World War and it is obvious that France will be using its colonial troops such as Tirailleurs, Spahis and Zouaves to fight the Axis powers. The Goums were also on the picture, however they were used as a police rather than military force but eventually they were sent to Tunisia to fight the Italian and German forces in its border with Libya. unlike the French, the Berber when they were fighting the Germans had no natural or historical animosity towards them, on the other hand they just fought for the sake of fighting and the fact of being paid for their service was a motivation for them to fight savagely against the Germans. When the French realized the power of the Goums they organized them in tabors to be used in military missions, the tabor came to be used in hand with the word irregular.
The Goums were deployed in Tunisia two times. First, In 1940 Tunisia was menaced to be attacked by Italians from its East-South border with Libya. Therefore, in May 1940 the Goums were deployed to Tunisia to fight against the Italians. However, when France lost in the phony war, it negotiated an armistice that allowed the Vichy France to head the country of France. It is worth mentioning that in contrast to the Italians who were being wary of the Berbers as a threat the German did not regard the Berber as a menace but rather a band of peasants. Additionally, France pointed to the Germans that they were used as gendarmerie. Thus they were allowed for their continuation in France Vichy; in the meantime the Goums were the resort of France to build its army without any interference from Germany. The fact of being situated in the mountainous region of Morocco made the action of French officers unnoticeable. What made the Berbers to be highly regarded by the French was their loyalty to the extent that they remain loyal even during their defeat by Germany and under Vichy France. As it is stated by Moshe Gershovich “This manifestation of Berber loyalty towards the France`s worst moments in history was celebrated as shining proof of the common bond which had been forged between the two peoples, the ultimate fruit of colonial genius and benevolence.”
Second, in 1942 the Goums were redeployed in Tunisia where they acquired a reputation as brave and fearsome warriors who showed to the allied forces their skill in infantry They helped capture the city of Bizerte and Tunis, to the extent that Horrocks described the Berbers as “The toughest of all…on whom pain and discomfort seem to have no effect whatever.” The Goums fighting performance in Tunisia made them the suitable candidate to fight the Axis powers in Italy.
The Mission in Italy
After their participation in Tunisia which showed to the allied forces the fierceness and warrior quality of the Berbers they were taken to Sicily on what was called operation “Husky” the 4th tabor that went was composed of 58 French officers and 678 Goums. Sicily did not prove to be a hard terrain for the Goums as its rugged and mountainous terrain were similar to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Nevertheless, they did found the Island “hellishly hot, unbelievably dusty and malarial besides.” The 4th tabor was essential at helping the American 1st division that were heavily attacked by Italians. The Sicilian campaign ended after the capture of Messina, which proved to be a crucial battle for the Goums as it is proposed by Edward L. Bimberg
It was their first adventure overseas, the first time in their history they had fought outside Africa…they had overcome what may have been some- thing of an inferiority complex, a sense of being ”country bumpkins” fit to fight only in African wars. One way or another, for the Moroccan irregulars Sicily was an important breakthrough.
The fall of Sicily paved the way for the fall of Sardinia and Corsica. The French were aware of the power of the Goums and their competence in war and after their deployment in Tunisia the French army added a metal unit insignia in which it was written “Who Laughs Last Laughs Best” which served as a reminder for its enemies about the glorious victories of Goums against Germans.
In 1943, due to the success of the Goums in Tunisia and Sicily with four tabors being under the command of the allied forces, a new position was created under the name of the Commandment des Goums Marocains (CGM) with Colonel Augustin-Leon Guillaume as its commander. Its role was to maintain communication between those four tabors. The American relied on CGM which would be a part of the fifth army of Clark to invade Italy under the codename of Avalanche. The Goums did not find the new invasion to be hard for as the allied forces did not like the terrain the Goums find an advantage. As it is stated by Edward L. Bimberg, “as far as mountain fighting was concerned the Goumiers were at no such disadvantage. The Italian peaks and ridges…meant nothing to the Moroccans.” And while the Germans regarded the mountains as a barrier for defense against the allies, the Goums did not find difficulty in their specialty as mountain warriors.
While the Goums did a remarkable job of fighting the Axis powers, a new element of their charater was revelaed by their misconduct that was noticeable by Italians. As it is stated by Edward L. Bimberg:
They were not popular with the Italians. This was the result of the off-duty conduct of some of them in the mountain villages and isolated valley farms…certain elements among the Moroccans had engaged in a wild spree of rape and pillage across the Italian countryside when they were not busy killing Germans.
In the movie La Ciociara which is based on the novel La Ciociara by Alberto Moravia, the group rape of two women by the Goums after the battle of Mosseni was portrayed. These brutal events were engraved in the memory of Italians as an Italian word marocchinare came to describe those events. In 1964 a monument was erected in the city of Roca di San Pietro, named Mammai Cioria to remind Italians of the atrocities committed by the Goums.
The reasons behind the misconduct of the Goums has to do with the fact such things as rape and loot can be explained through the isolation of the Berber tribes in the Atlas Mountains. The reason why the people went to war in the first place was to rape and loot, to the extent that Alexander the Macedonian was portrayed as being gay for not indulging into rape during his conquests. Barbara Ehrenreich stated that “war not only depart from the normal; it inverts all that is moral and right: in war one should kill, should steal, should burn cities and farms, should perhaps even rape matrons and little girls. “ She even pointed out that “rape has been endemic wherever warriors rule and was even legalized in medieval Europe as the feudal lord`s droit de seigneur” Edward L. Bimberg stated that:
Not that they had anything against the Italians…Their origins, however, can-not be forgotten; to the Moroccan tribesman, that was the way war was waged. To the victor belonged the spoils, and the Goumiers were somewhat puzzled by the restraints put upon them by their officers.
This misconduct of the Goums was used as justification by the French authorities for its brutal policies when dealing with tribal people in Morocco.
The Moroccans indulged in rape, theft, pillage and murder, consequently Clark, the head of the Fifth American division under which the Gums were supervised, ordered the execution of law transgressors. Accordingly, 15 Moroccans were executed while 54 were imprisoned to various sentences. The action committed by the Goums came as a surprise to the French officials Alphonse Juin, commander of the French Expeditionary Corps (CFE), and Guillaume. Therefore, the French decided to bring Berber women to Italy through the US Navy LST to prevent future misconducts by the Goums, to the extent that they were the only soldiers in WWII that brought their women with them. Surprisingly the policy did help in quelling rape and pillage but the disgrace did not disappear. Apart from their misconduct in Italy, the Goums were also known for the fact that during the night they would sneak in the American tents and steal their stuff. Additionally, their way of fighting involved also the process of cutting throats and ears which was reminiscent of what the Trojans did to their enemies, the basic aim of these practices was to take souvenirs.
The Goums succeeded in chasing the Germans down and reached the cities of Rome and Siena where they fought their last battles in Italy. After that, the Goums have to go to Naples to be embarked directly in southern France to fight the German in what was called Operation Dragon.
Italy was an opportunity for Berbers to distinguish themselves again after Tunisia as worthy warriors who can survive under any conduction. As it is pointed out by Edward L. Bimberg:
The Italian campaign was the supreme testing ground for the Moroccan Tabors. Could these lightly armed primitive tribesmen survive in modern warfare? Their officers maintained that they could and did, that their performance in the mountains of Italy was proof of their value, even in the most difficult circumstances…Supply alone, with one air drop and 4,000 mules, was in itself an almost magical accomplishment.
When the Goums preparing to be embarked in Southern France, the French`s inspector general`s department published a report about the Goums, which mentioned their strong points as well as weak points. It pointed to the qualities of Berbers in warfare such as “scouting and patrolling” particularly in Mountains, Overflowing or swarming, or what is called by French as “de`bordement” which means being fast to attack with the element of surprise, in addition to Adaptability, endurance and cleverness in making booby traps. The major weak points of the Goums tend to be lack of inventiveness especially in the absence of French chiefs, the fact of taking orders instead of improvising is a constant characteristic of the Goums, In addition to their reluctance to attack a well-equipped target as they prefer “war of movement to a sedentary siege.” Another interesting fact that is mentioned in the report is the Goums` dislike and contempt of the tank, which is normal as any warrior society fears new weapons because not only do they menace their life but also the survival of their groups as fighting elite that is redoubtable and in need of in addition to the fact that a man who fights through a tank is hiding in a machine. For instance, the samurai had the same feelings as they were abhorred by the invention of guns to the extent that they banned it. The report was made with the intent of finding solutions to the weak points as well ameliorating the strong elements of the Goums, for instance by equipping them with anti-tank rifles.
The Mission in France
The participation of the Goums in operation dragon (also known as Anvil) was at doubt not because the French doubted the warfare power of the Goums, but out of fear from their reputation as being prone to rape and plunder like in Italy, to the extent that Pope Pius XII in Vatican had protested against the use of Goums in Europe. However, General Guillaume defended the Goums and asked for their participation in the French soil.  In France, the Goums were going to be under the command of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny who unlike Giraud, Juin and Guillaume was neither African nor having an experience of fighting in North Africa. Another issue that was an obstacle for the deployment of the Goums in southern France is the military nature of Operation Dragon which was gigantic as it included “five battleships, nine escort carriers with 216 aircraft, 122 destroyers and escort vessels and 466 land- ing craft, all from five navies American, British, French, Australian and Greek and an imposing fleet of transports and supply ships as well.”  Finding room for the Goums among this vast military along with their mules and horses was a cumbersome one. Many officers showed their opposition to the inclusion of the Goums in the ships as well as undermining their capacity as warriors based on their looks. For instance, General Alexander Patch of the American force was against their deployment. Nevertheless, the need for Goums attested to be vital for the Allied forces as General De Lattre convinced the officers that opposed the Goums Deployment in the operation, mainly the Americans. He pointed out to their specialty of mountain warfare which would be useful in getting along the mountain ranges surrounding the two cities: Toulon and Marseille, in addition to the Alps and the Vosges in Alsace. To put things differently, regardless of their look or reputation as rapist and plunderers, the Goums were crucial for the success of Operation Dragon. Moreover, regarding the issue of rape and pillage De Gaulle agreed to the deployment of Goums in France as long as they were not used in cities. Eventually, 6000 Goums along with 1200 mules were embarked in the ship heading towards the shores France.
The German forces that were stationed in France to defend the South were the 19th army under the control of General Friedrich Wiese. The major German power was stationed in two major French cities Marseille and Toulon. In the former, it was the 244th Infantry Division as well as naval and Luftwaffe ground units and the latter it was 242nd Infantry Division and the Kriegs-marine. The cities captured by Germany such as Marseille were used as fortresses while the leading roads to the city were fortified by artillery, machine guns, mines and wire. What made the invasion more difficult is due to the fact that the Germans followed Hiller`s rule of fighting to the last man. Regardless of the way the German fought, the Goums had the advantage of identifying war as a reason for their life therefore making the best of it. What was noticeable regarding the Goums in contrast with the allied forces is their Berber character that can be seen from their clothing: djellaba, rezzas and mule-riding. To the extent that De Lattre described their march toward Marseille as “trotting along in single file with their mules, bare footed, their hob-nailed boots hanging about their necks or slung at their belts with their tin helmets. The endless striped djellabas gave the landscape an African appearance.”
The Goums proved to be worthy of their reputation as fierce warriors, they were mostly used in areas that involved inhospitable terrains such as the Mountains of Alps where the Goums were stationed to guard the eastern border of France with Italy, their mission was to prevent any infiltration of Axis powers to France from the Alps to the Col de Larche while the allied forces guarded the less harsh border between Col de Larche and the Mediterranean Sea. The Alps proved to be a strenuous terrain for the Goums, as it is acknowledged by Edward L. Bimberg
The Alpine terrain in that area was particularly difficult, even for the Goumiers. They found the footing around the Col de Larche and the Plateau des Bouchieres extremely unstable. It was all shale, a rock made of densely packed clay that split easily into layers, of a type unique to the territory and strange to the Moroccans They had never before experienced this kind of stone that sheared off underfoot as they marched, making the uphill going doubly difficult and the down- hill even more dangerous.
The fight in Alps was an arduous one that generated many casualties from both sides. However, the Goums remained in the Alps only for a month and then replaced by units of the FFI (). As the German received heavy losses in Southern France mainly by losing Toulon, Lyon, Grenoble and Marseille… Hitler ordered his troops to evacuate Southern France.
The next mission of the Goums in France after the Alps is going to be in the Vosges Mountains. The new terrain was different from the Atlas Mountains as it was “heavily forested, dark and dank,” to put it in other words “Its terrain was perfect for defense, and the Germans had made the most of it.” So, De Lattre expected a long battle in the area which was hindered by the weather as well as the harsh terrain, however the general relied on deceiving the German to think that their aim is at the Vosges instead of Belfort Gap, an aim in which he succeeded at. In order to do that, the Goums were kept busy by fighting the German on the mountains, and eventually the victory paved the way to freeing Alsace and getting the Colmar Pocket.
The Mission in Germany
Obtaining Alzace was not enough for the French, for that reason De Gaulle urged his army to go further, beyond the Alsace in the Rhine to capture the capital of Württemberg and Baden province, Stuttgart. However, there was an obstacle as the other bank of Rhine is settled by “the mountainous, wooded terrain of the Black Forest.” But that was not obstacle for the Goums whose reputation did not stop at Italy and Tunisia but arrived to Germany too as the people were more fearful of the Goums than the regular allied forces. As it is affirmed by Edward L. Bimberg, “The German civilians were, understandably, totally cowed, and the white bed sheets of surrender were displayed everywhere. They were particularly fearful of the Goumiers, whose hooded djellabas and scraggly beards made them seem like some avenging medieval monks.” As the French army occupied such cities as Karlsruhe and Pforzheim, the next step is to invade Stuttgart. However, the American forces under the command of General Devers were engaged in fighting the Germans in the north. De Lattre was recalcitrant to the orders of his superiors and preferred to go to the mission without informing the Americans, his plan was to surround the city by isolating it like a siege and the Goums were used effectively in that matter.
Just like Alsace, getting Stuttgart was not enough for the French but they sought something further which is Ulm, the basic interest of French is based on its pride, it wants to be known in history that France reached as far in Germany as the Danube River. Another city that De Latter was after is Sigmaringen, the headquarters of the French Vichy government in exile, under the command of Marshal Petain. Although the two cities were missions for the American Seventh Army De Latter made it a personal mission to get the honor of France as well as capturing the traitors: Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval. Once the Allied forces captured German cities, there was a task that the Goums were skillful at that it was always performed after the fall of each German city, the task was mopping up or what is called in French ratissage. The final place where the Goums along the allied forces fought the German is in the Voralberg Massif in the Austrian Alps.
After the End of World War II
The Goums fought with the French amry in the world wr two with loulaty and efficiency however Germany was not the last mission where the Goums served but they also went as far as Indo china in 1948 1854.unitl where they severed a heavy defeat in the Tonkin Region in the north, ten tabors were snet to the area, the reason for the deafet is due to the guereilla warafer tactic empoloeyed by the northern vitnamese as weel as the terrain that was unprecendt for the Goums. In the oprocess many leflet were given to the goums incldung other nother African soldiers to join the veitanoimie military by referring to them as comrade.
When the Goums were discharged from the French army due to the end of World War II and the changing time in Morocco as Moroccans ask for Independence under the PI, The Goums preferred to support the Pasha of Marakesh, El Glawi in contrast with the supporters of Mohemmed V. the king went into exile and Mohammed Ben Arafa became the sultan for a short period and by the independence.
The Goums were good at fighting and helped the allied forces in their war against the axis power, they were used under the command of French officers, and they proved their warrior spirit in Tunisia, Italy and Germany. To the extent that only four of the Goums have became prisoners of war during their experiences in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France , Germany and Austria. The Goums are specialized in mountain warfare however during their deployment in Europe they proven to be adaptable to other types of warfare. The Goums are not mercenaries but military unit under the international law and a basic evidence of that is the fact that the Goums were fighting in Europe for the sake of France to the extent that “When one Goumier was offered a monetary reward, he refused it saying, ”It is for France.”” Their reputation seems to be tarnished by the brutal events of Ciociara and the defeat in but still they did a difficult work of helping the allied forces freeing Europe from the Axis powers.
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