© Hendrik Meersschaert, 2002 - 2017
THE FRENCH COLONIAL MEDAL BARS
There is a large number of clasps for the Colonial Medal, some of which are official ones, plenty more that are unofficial. Several manufacturers have produced these bars over the years and thus these clasps vary both in quality and in aspect.
Known manufacturers, the first four delivering clasps on behalf of the French government, the others producing privately made ones, are :
Monnaie de Paris
Depending on the manufacturer, maker's and/or silver marks may be found on the clasps and one should also take into account that the same manufacturer, having over the years to renew his dies, can have produced various types of clasps.
A further point of interest is that original - 1st issue - official clasps delivered by the government (manufactured by the first four on the above list) are featuring "clipover" bars for attachment on the ribbon. Later on, this was discontinued and "slipover" bars were - officially - used for the same campaigns.
Also, so-called "Oriental" clasps were manufactured by the Paris Mint after World War II. It is unclear why these were made but I presume recipients of campaign medals featuring this type of bar requested similar clasps for their Colonial Medal.
Finally, a number of more elaborate designed clasps were manufactured to create some "Grand Missions" :
1925 MAROC 1926
1940 CÔTE DES SOMALIS 1941
1942 TUNISIE 1943
AFRIQUE ORIENTALE FRANÇAISE
BIR HAKEIM 1942
CÔTE FRANÇAISE DES SOMALIS
HAUT ME KANG
QUANG TCHEOU WAN 1898-1899
The information below on the official clasps has been sorted historically and, where feasable, geographically. Between brackets is the date of the clasp's decree of institution.
CAMPAIGNS BEFORE 1893
Original clasps are of the "à clapet"-type whereby the reverse attachment bar is a "clipover bar" but genuine slipover bars do exist also. These bars are fairly to very rare as most were instituted retroactively and only surviving veterans could still claim them.
(6 March 1894) : awarded to those that served in the operations from 1 July 1827 till 25 December 1847 that lead to the colonisation of Algeria. Later a decree extended the award of this clasp to service in operations between 1871 and 1906.
(7 June 1895) : for operations on the island between 11 October 1829 and 3 July 1831. Further decrees extended its scope to include operations between 1896 and 1899 and between 1903 and 1906. This clasp is complementary to the two campaign medals for Madagascar (1883-1886 and 1894-1895) that the French government also instituted for these wars against the British-backed natives, the Hovas. See also the post-WW2 era.
(6 March 1894) : this clasp covers operations and service from 1833 onwards. It was replaced, in 1900, by the "Afrique Occidentale Française"-clasp for war operations but was still awarded for service in the area up till 1907.
(6 March 1894) : this is a very rare clasp and was awarded to the few remaining veterans of the maritime operations between 18 September 1842 and 31 December 1843. This group of islands in Polynesia (Pacific Ocean) was important to the French as a victualling and repairs stop for ships rounding Cape Horn and it took up till 1880 to fully occupy the whole archipelago and, more importantly, subdue the local cannibal population.
(6 March 1894) : awarded for service in this Polynesian island group, especially on Tahiti, its main island, between 13 March 1844 and 7 January 1847. No real warlike operations took place as the islands' chiefs applied for the status of French Protectorate themselves in 1841 in a reaction to irritating English missionaries' machinations.
(6 March 1894) : one of a small group of islands north-west of Madagascar, this island was a refuge for the Sakalave people against persecution on their native island of Madagascar. Faced with the prospect of attacks by their opponents, the Hovas, protection by the French was asked for and received. However, on 26 May 1849, a revolt by the Sakalaves broke out against their French protectors and the small garrison had to successfully defend itself in a final battle on 18 June. Pacification of the island took till 5 August 1849 and the clasp was awarded to those that saw service between those dates.
(6 March 1894) : originally called "Côte de l'Or", this clasp was awarded for operations in the Grand Bassam River area between 16 March and November 1849. Later operations, between 25 October 1852 and 24 October 1853 also qualified for this bar. In both cases, these operations were against pillaging and massacring local tribes.
(6 March 1894) : awarded for operations or service towards maintaining the French flag on these islands from 1853 onwards. Campaigns from 1853 till 1858, from May to September 1859, from 1861 to 1864 and in 1868-69 culminated in the Kanak Revolt of 1878 but even after years of peace, further interventions were needed between 3 and 9 November 1916 and from 28 April 1917 till 31 January 1918.
(6 March 1894) : the history of the first operations by France in the South Vietnamese region of today could fill a book on its own and this clasp was awarded for those campaigns between 12 June 1857 and 2 December 1868. These operations were set up to protect French and Spanish missionaries in the area (in the initial stages Spanish forces were fighting alongside the French) who were being martyrised but also with acquiring ports for trade. Troops suffered severely from cholera and dysentry and the bombardments and occupation of Hué (1857) and Saigon (where 700 men held out under a 10 month siege in 1859) brings household names from a later era back to mind.
(24 September 1895) : mainly awarded for operations between 1881 and 1883 resulting in the occupation of large parts of this country. During World War I revolts in the South had to be put down and participation in those operations also qualified for the award of this clasp. A non-official clasp "SUD TUNISIEN" is believed to be related to these events as well.
CAMPAIGNS DURING THE 1893 - 1918 PERIOD
FAR EAST REGION :
(7 June 1895) : awarded to army and navy personnel that took part in operations in Annam or Tonkin from 1 October 1893 till 1898. Further decrees enlarged the scope for the award of this bar to include local peacekeeping actions that took place in 1900, 1910, 1915, 1918, 1922, 1923 and 1928 while actions after 18 March 1936 were recognized by the "INDOCHINE" clasp. Colonial Medals with this clasp are often found in conjunction with the Tonkin (1883-1885) and China (1900-1901) Medals.
(29 November 1895) : this bar recognizes service in the area between 18 December 1880 and 28 August 1895 during which period Laos became part of the French colonial empire. Pacification was not complete, of course, and further operations in 1904 and from 1907 to 1909 also lead to the award of this clasp.
(9 May 1899) : awarded to members of two expeditions on the Mekong river that extended French territory in this area. A first expedition, commanded by Navy Lieutenant Simon, managed to negotiate the Tang Ho rapids and reached Kieng Sen on the Birmese border on 21 October 1895. A later expedition, between 20 May and 20 August 1897, commanded by Navy Lieutenant Mazeran and using canoos reached Xien Hong, thus navigating the river and its rapids and waterfalls along the entire stretch where it forms the border with Laos. An extraordinary feat as this rocky and mountainous terrain was considered impossible to navigate even as late as 1929.
(30 June 1903) : a decree of 12 April 1898 extended the award of the Colonial Medal to include civilians and military that participated in non-military but hazardous operations in which they showed courage. Thus a large number of exploratory, topographical, hydrographical, scientific, archeological etc. expeditions made by medical doctors, scientist, missionaries, public servants etc. and their military escorts fell within the scope of this medal. The ASIE clasp recognizes 26 of these missions between 1882 and the early 1920's.
EAST AFRICA REGION :
(11 February 1899) : the Colonial Medal with this clasp is a sequel to the Commemorative Medal for Dahomey that was instituted on 24 November 1892. This particular clasp was awarded for participation in campaigns and operations in 1894-1895 and 1898-1899. These operations served either to reconnoitre the entire territory or to reduce the last pockets of resistance in the area. No longer awarded after 1900 for acts of war, service in the area was still accepted for eligibility until 1905.
(24 September 1895) : various operations against revolts but also expeditions to further chart the area are commemorated by this clasp that spans a period of 7 years : from 1893 till 1900. From 1901 onwards, the "AFRIQUE OCCIDENTALE FRANCAISE" clasp was in use for operations in this colony.
(4 August 1901) : gradually replacing previous clasps, it was awarded for the numerous civil or military operations in Cameroon, Dahomey, Togo, Guinea, Mauritania and the Soudan from 1900 onwards. During World War II the French Vichy government made use of this clasp for award to the defenders of Dakar (see below).
(25 November 1904) : first awarded for operations between 24 March and 25 April against the Koniaguis, this clasp was also made available to reconnoitering missions for the Konakry to Niger railroad line between 1904 and 1907. From 1909 onwards, the "AFRIQUE OCCIDENTALE FRANCAISE" clasp was in use for operations in this colony.
(3 August 1909) : awarded for either operations or service in the Trarza area in 1908. Prior to 1902, the "SENEGAL ET SOUDAN" clasp was used whereas, with the exception of this one year of 1908, the "AFRIQUE OCCIDENTALE FRANCAISE" clasp was in use from 1902 onwards. See also the next bar : "ADRAR".
(3 August 1909) : as with the "MAURITANIE" clasp, this bar was awarded for operations in the Trarza area in 1909 only. The occupation of this desolate desert area immediately to the southeast of Spanish Morocco proved very hard because of the climate and the obstinate resistance of the local tribes. A campaign of 10 months with a force of just over 1,000 soldiers, was needed to subdue the last of the opposing warriors.
EQUATORIAL AFRICA REGION and GRAND MISSIONS :
(30 September 1900) : originally awarded to survivors of the 1880-81 mission that was massacred by the Touaregs, this clasp served to commemorate a large number of operations in the area up till 1936. It was also, on a few occasions, awarded to air crew that had totalled over 300 hours of flying over the territory.
(27 September 1895) : awarded for various operations in this colony between 1894 and 1901 and for service up till 1908.
(10 April 1903) : first awarded for operations during 1901 and 1902 and later extended to operations in 1908 and 1909, this clasp was replaced in 1910 by the "AFRIQUE EQUATORIALE FRANCAISE" bar.
(31 August 1910) : successor to the previous clasp, it was awarded for various operations in the area between 1910 and 1937 or for years of service in the area. It was exceptionally awarded to air crew with more than 300 hours of flight over the equatorial forest during the 1945-1949 period.
(30 June 1903) : various exploratory missions, be they topographical, scientific, geological or even political, are recognized by this clasp which covers the period from 1875 to 1934 in as far as no other clasp was instituted for these missions. The number of these missions, small or large expeditions, totals well over a 150.
(28 April 1914) : replacing the Morocco Campaign's Commemorative Medal, this clasp was awarded for peacekeeping operations between 1914 and 1925. It was also awarded to members of the societies that cared for the military wounded in the area between 20 July 1912 and 31 December 1913 for two consecutive months.
A special series of clasps was created in commemoration of missions which had been the subject of great popular interest and symbolism at the time, the "Grand Missions". They are recognisable by their entirely different form although privately manufactured rectangular bars of the "usual" type do exist.
(30 June 1903) : three expeditions, all lead by René Savorgnan de Brazza, were mounted over a period of 10 years, between 1875 and 1885. These exploration missions finally resulted in France obtaining an Equatorial Africa colony. The number of people taking part in these missions was always very small and thus this clasp is rarely found, especially as by the time it was finally awarded, in 1906, many of the expeditions' members were no longer around to claim it.
A gold clasp was awarded although a silver gilt one, made by Arthus-Bertrand is thought to be contempory as well. At least two privately made, rectangular, bars are known to exist as well.
(4 July 1899) : the reasons that lead to this "Congo-Nile" mission are complex but suffice to say that the French thought it necessary to have a base at Fachoda, on the Nile river, and mounted an expedition to that effect starting on the other side of Africa, in their Congo colony. Leaving the latter in March 1897, the French expedition arrived at Fachoda on 15 July 1898 after a phenomenal journey across the continent. Having attained their goal, the expedition members suffered a Mahdi revolt attack and ended up being besieged by a British commanded force. In the end, French politicians gave in and the town was vacated and handed over to the British.
Various types and executions of this clasp are known, the original ones (drawing on the left) were in gold and are believed to number only 13 and were awarded to a selected few members of the expedition. A second model, identical to the original but in metal, seems also to exist but is of poor quality. The third model, in gilt or silvered (see left) and was manufactured first by Mercier, later by the Paris Mint. It would appear that from the many different types of this third model, one silver type (with specific maker's and silver markings) was awarded in the early 1900's to those other members of the expedition that were not amongst the original recipients. The other types of this third model must be considered to be restrikes. Two rectangular, privately made, bars are known to be in existence.
(22 February 1901) : on 27 September 1898 an expedition force of 321 men left Biskra in Algeria to march to Lake Tchad and link up with two other expeditions which were leaving from the Soudan and the Congo. The route taken, straight through the Sahara desert, was frought with difficulties, thirst and the permanent hostility of the Touaregs being the principal ones. Nevertheless the expedition reached its goal on 2 February 1900 and all three expeditions were finally united on 21 April 1900 thus making a symbolic link of the French territories of Algeria, Soudan and Congo.
Three models for this clasp are known, the original one having a gold and a silver-gilt version, as well as at least three privately made, rectangular, bars. The gold first model, made by the Paris Mint before 1906, is believed to be the actual one awarded to the mission's participants.
(28 May 1902) : as mentioned with the previous clasp, two other expeditions headed for the rendezvous-point at Lake Tchad. One left from the Congo in 1897 and setting up various garrisons on the way as well as being held up by fighting skirmishes with native forces met up with the second which had left the Soudan on 13 January 1899. After fighting it out with one more local chief, this joint force made it to Lake Tchad on 21 April 1900.
Two models of this clasp are known, the first one having various types, as well as at least three privately made, rectangular, bars. Clasps of the first model, in gold for Europeans, in silver for native soldiers, were awarded to the members of both expedition forces.
OTHER REGIONS :
(6 March 1894) : awarded to participants in operations in the Mapa-territory, a region which was contested by France and Brasil, between 11 and 17 May 1895. The French forces under Lieutenant Lestoup routed those of Brasilian Colonel Cabral near the village of Mapa on 15 May but negotiations took till 6 December 1900 before the matter was settled.
(7 June 1895) : in 1891 revolts against the local ruler of this French Protectorate culminated in the landing of French Marines of the Indian Ocean Fleet and the pacification of the islands. These operations, on the island of Anjouan from 23 April till 16 July 1891 and the Grand Comore island between 16 August and 19 November of the same year, were recognized by the award of this clasp. Further expeditions in 1902 to quell new troubles also entitled participants to this bar.
THE INTERBELLUM CAMPAIGNS
(6 June 1934) : native revolts and rebellions in the area lead to the award of this clasp for participation in operations between 1934 and 1937. Later, during World War II, this clasp was revived by the Vichy French government (see below).
(18 March 1936) : this bar was created to replace the "TONKIN", "COCHINCHINE" and "LAOS ET MEKONG" clasps for operations in those areas. It was soon to be revived by the Vichy Government (see below).
(6 January 1926) : This bar, as well as the following "MAROC 1925-1926" clasp, succeeded the "MAROC" one and were, from 20 May 1927 onwards, again replaced by the same "MAROC" bar. It would have been far better to have had one clasp, with a "Guerre du Rif" (Rif War) inscription. The first clasp was awarded to those engaged in operations between 15 April and 31 December 1925.
(30 December 1926) : Those that also took part in further operations up till 27 May 1926 were entitled to this second bar.
WORLD WAR II CAMPAIGNS
Instituted by the Vichy Government :
(13 September 1941) : awarded for war operations between 6 September 1940 and 28 January 1941, mainly against the Thai who had invaded the northern part of Cambodia and the Japanese who landed at Hanoi and Haiphong. Abolished in a general order by the Free French in 1944 which annulled all Vichy Government decrees, this clasp was restored on 2 February 1949.
(21 November 1940) : awarded for participation in the defence of Dakar (Senegal) between 23 and 26 September 1940. British naval forces and Free French military attacked the city in an attempt to capture the gold stock of the French national bank but were repulsed by the local French forces.
(13 September 1941) : awarded for a minimum of 6 months meritorious service in the area which, at the time (i.e. from 25 June 1940 onwards), was blockaded by the British Royal Navy. The award of this clasp was replaced shortly afterwards by the following one :
(26 December 1941) : replacing the previous bar, this clasp was annulled by the Free French Government on 7 January 1944. A similar clasp is believed to have been destined for award in Madagascar, see "unofficial clasps" below.
Instituted by the Free French Government :
(27 May 1943) : for minimum 2 years war service in French Equatorial Africa from 26 August 1940 onwards.
(6 November 1942) : awarded to the members of the Free French Forces that participated, alongside British forces, in the recapture of Somalia in 1941.
(26 March 1942) : this clasp was awarded to the Free French military that took part in operations, once again alongside the British, against the Italian occupying forces in Erythrea (February to April 1941).
(1 August 1942) : awarded to the Free French military that took part in military operations, once more alongside the British, that lead to the defeat and surrender of the Italian forces in Ethiopia (1941-1942).
(26 March 1942) : this clasp was awarded to all that took part in actions against the Italians and Germans in Lybia (1940 to 1942).
(26 March 1942) : awarded to the members of the Free French operation against the Italian forces that occupied the Koufra oasis area in the Lybian desert. Under the command of French Colonel Leclerc a force of 400 men left Tchad, traversed 500 kilometres of rocks and sand, to attack 1,200 Italians that occupied the Koufra basin with its 6 oasis. Between 9 and 28 February 1941, the small French force besieged the area's strongpoint, the fortress of El Tag, until its surrender.
(1 October 1942) : Also situated in the Libyan desert, the old fortress of Bir Hacheim stood in the way of Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corps attack on Egypt. 3,500 Free French under French General Koenig defended the position between 27 May and 11 June 1942 and withstood continuous attacks by the Italian Ariete Division, bombardments by German dive-bombers and heavy artillery fire. Holding out for more than the 7 days requested by the British, the surviving troops withdrew at night through a 60 metres gap in the enemy lines, suffering heavy casualties, to regain the British lines 15 kms to the south.
(26 March 1942) : this clasp was awarded to all that took part in actions against the Italians and Germans in Lybia (1940 to 1942).
(26 March 1942) : awarded to the small force under General Leclerc that succesfully attacked the Fezzan region, a vast desert area in Lybia about the size of France itself. The some 500 men, after leaving their base some 600 kms to the south, defeated most of the Italian forces occupying the Fezzan territory in February and March 1942.
(23 February 1943) : this clasp commemorates the war operations in the Libyan provinces of Fezzan and Tripolitania between 19 December 1942 and 23 February 1943.
(7 January 1944) : this bar is a variation of the previous one but is nevertheless official as the decree instituting it did no longer make a distinction between the two Lybian provinces.
(7 January 1944) : awarded to the members of the Free French Forces that fought in the area in those years, up till the end of the operations in North Africa on 13 May 1943.
POST-WORLD WAR II CAMPAIGNS
(5 August 1946) : awarded to those that participated in the fighting against the Japanese (who attacked garrisons and barracks of the French forces in Indochina by surprise on 9 March 1945) between 9 March and 18 September 1945 and against "rebels" from 23 September 1945 onwards. These so-called rebels are in fact the Viet-minh of the Ho Chi Minh government which was installed on 20 August. Recipients of this bar were also eligible for the Commemorative Medal for Indochina.
(4 June 1947) : a serious revolt broke out on 29 March 1947 and it would take till well into November before various operations managed to bring about a calm state of affairs again. Those that had participated in these operations received this clasp which had originally been in use in 1895.
SOME OF THE UNOFFICIAL CLASPS
A big "Merci" to J.-P. Cote for the use of his excellent drawings !