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Bimberg, Edward L. The Moroccan Goums: Tribal Warriors in a Modern War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999
ISBN 0-313-30913-2Given the number of nations large and small involved in the Second World War and the variety of warriors victorious and otherwise sent into battle from 1939 through 1945, it's no wonder that legends have long-since grown up around specific nationalities and units regarding remarkable prowess in battle.
Certainly there is no shortage of books extoling the combat efficiency of the German SS. Both the British and the Soviets have their elite Guards units while the Americans can point with pride to their Rangers and the much-decorated Japanese-Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, not to mention the US Marine Corps. And stories abound concerning the fighting abilities of lesser-known formations comprised of "tribal" soldiers such as Gurkhas and Maoris, as well as Sikhs and Punjabis and Fiji Islanders and the Arab Legion and many others.
One of the most fearsome contingents of warriors to participate in World War II came from the Atlas mountains of Morocco where they were recruited from the native Berber tribes. These were the "Goumiers," the men of the The Moroccan Goums, and they are the subject of Edward L. Bimberg's new book.
In the early years of the twentieth century as the French took Morocco under their control and began the slow process of pacifying the warlike inhabitants of the mountains, they also began recruiting from the conquered tribes to create a paramilitary police force. These local forces as a whole were known as the "Goums" and they were eventually organized into a number of company-sized units, each one also called a Goum. Thus the men who served in the units became known as the Goumiers. The Goums served the French faithfully during the series of campaigns and rebellions that marked the inter-war years in Morocco.
Up until the outbreak of the Second World War, however, the Goums were used only for internal police and paramilitary duties in Morocco. In May 1940 the Goums were organized into the "1st Groupe de Suppletifs Marocains", or Moroccan auxiliaries, and transported to Tunisia where they became part of the French force holding the border facing Italian Libya. Upon the surrender of France the Goums returned to Morocco where they were dispersed without seeing action.
With their military forces severely constrained by the limitations of the armistice agreement, Vichy officers in North Africa sought to circumvent those terms by hiding arms and military supplies and secretly maintaining as many troops as possible "off the books" and out of sight of the Axis inspection teams. Part of the charade involved the Goums. While the Germans and Italians were led to believe these were harmless police forces and labor units, the Goums were expanded and reorganized into battalion-sized "Tabors" of three Goums each. These in turn were combined into regiment-sized "Groupes de Suppletifs Marocains" (later renamed "Groupes de Tabors Marocains") of three Tabors each. By April 1942 there were four Groups and seven independent Tabors of Goumiers armed and trained in the Moroccan mountains.
Following their brief resistance to the Anglo-American landings in French North Africa in November 1942, the local Vichy authorities rejoined the Allies and endeavored to contribute their carefully husbanded military strength to the campaign in Tunisia. Along with French regulars, two Groups of Goumiers were deployed to Tunisia by early 1943 where, despite their obsolete weapons and equipment, they fought well and began to make a name for themselves as wild, fearless soldiers especially adept at combat in mountainous terrain impassible to conventional forces. Following the Allied victory in Tunisia, a single Tabor accompanied the invasion forces to Sicily while the 2nd Group took part in the French occupation of Corsica.
The greatest triumph of the Goumiers came in Italy where in the spring of 1944 three Groups of Tabors, organized temporarily into the "Corps de Montagne," spearheaded the French Expeditionary Corps' attack through the Aurunci Mountains during Operation Diadem and quickly broke through the German defensive line after the Allies had suffered months of mud, blood, and stalemate. Here the Goums more than proved their value as light, highly mobile, mountain troops who could penetrate the most vertical terrain in fighting order and with a minimum of logistical requirements. Most military analysts consider the Goumiers' maneuver as the critical victory that finally opened the way to Rome.
Unfortunately for the Goumiers, their military success did not prevent their fearsome reputation from taking its toll as exceptional numbers of Moroccans were executedmany without trialfor allegedly murdering, raping, and pillaging their way across the Italian countryside. The French authorities sought to defuse the problem by importing numbers of Berber women to serve as "camp followers" in rear areas set aside exclusively for the Goumiers.
Bimberg goes on to chronicle the success of the Goums on Elba, in Anvil-Dragoon, in the capture of Toulon and Marseilles, in the Vosges, and in the final thrust into Germany in 1945. (Much of the post-Italy material seems to be taken from Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny's fine History of the French First Army.) The author also offers a chapter about their post-war adventures in French service, notably in Indochina.
This seems to be the only book-length English-language account of the Goumiers. It's a workmanlike effortif somewhat wide-eyed and unpolishedwith a reasonable amount of detail about the origins, organization, and WWII combat history of the Goums. Despite Bimberg's failure to cite his references for some unusual events and unlikely stories, The Moroccan Goums serves as a fairly complete factual source on its subject.
The book's biggest disappointment, especially given the colorful subject matter, is its gray and unspirited prose which stands in stark contrast to the bold, bright sketches of the Goumiers in Cassino: The Hollow Victory by John Ellis. Although the Goums comprise only a small part of Ellis' canvas, and he includes only their actions in Operation Diadem, he draws them with indelible strokes and in some ways tells more, and more vividly, about the Berber mountain warriors in a few pages than Bimberg communicates in his entire book.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Greenwood.
Thanks to Greenwood for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 9 September 1999
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