Women in the Liberation Army

Women in the Liberation Army

To close

Title: Female Army personnel.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1944

Date shown: August 16, 1944

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo Musée de l'Armésite web

Picture reference: 07-505527

Female Army personnel.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo Army Museum

Publication date: February 2013

Historical context

The "Merlinettes"

As part of the organization of free French troops, Army General Giraud, commander-in-chief of the land and air forces in North Africa, and Colonel Merlin, commander of communications in North Africa, created the Female Corps of transmissions (CFT) on November 22, 1942. Trained in the specialties of radio, telephone operator, teletypist and radio / secretary of analysis, these first women "soldiers" of the army were quickly called the "Merlinettes" by reference. to Colonel Merlin.

In 1944, the number of these combatants reached approximately 2,400 (2,000 for the army, 400 for the air force), the majority of whom participated in the Italian campaign with the French forces of General Juin . After the resumption of Naples, Rome, Monte Cassino and Siena, they were also present during the landing in Taranto on August 9, 1944, a prelude to that carried out in Provence, which began on August 15, 1944. Several “Merlinettes” thus disembarked in Saint-Tropez on August 16, as shown in the photograph "Female Army personnel" taken the same day, and studied here.

Taken by the services of the Allied Army, this photograph serves primarily a documentary mission, and it is not specifically intended for distribution to the civilian public. It nevertheless has a strong symbolic value, likely to mark the conscience and representations.

Image Analysis

Women soldiers

"Female Army personnel" appears to have been taken by and for English-speaking Liberation Army services. Indeed, a legend in English specifies the date and nature of the scene: French WACS [for Wire and Cable Service, ie transmissions] assembling on the beach after landing at St. Tropez ("Women of the communications corps regrouping on the beach after the landing in Saint-Tropez"). A handwritten indication also designates one of these soldiers by name.

The photograph represents about twenty “Merlinettes” grouped together on the beach. If other soldiers appear in the background, the cliché is clearly centered on the combatants, whose rather compact group occupies almost all the space. Dressed in uniforms, helmets, with substantial equipment but without weapons, they seem to be waiting for new orders. The faces are tired, determined and focused at the same time, even if one or two of them take the time to stare at the photographer.


A war with a new face (s)

If the representation proposed here is not strictly speaking new, since other women of the army have already participated in the operations, this document is nonetheless quite modern. To the "novelty" embodied by the advance of the Allied troops on lands previously occupied by the Nazis (new uniforms, new equipment compared to those of the Germans, evolution of the respective positions), the scene obviously adds the image of bodies and faces different from those, male, traditionally associated with fighting.

Despite its relatively new and unusual character, "Female Army Personnel" does show "normal" soldiers, fully participating in the landing. As an element like any other of the deployment (they come together and wait to be set in motion as part of an overall organization), the "Merlinettes" unit does not seem to need to be treated in a specific way here. If the latter do not have weapons, it is not because they are women, but because they belong to the body of signals. And like the other soldiers, they are fixed on their mission and on the continuation of the maneuvers.

Responding to military imperatives, the gathering nonetheless suggests a group, an esprit de corps and solidarity between these women who have chosen to fight alongside men.

  • War of 39-45
  • women
  • army
  • Liberation (war)
  • Free French Forces
  • Resistance
  • beach


Jean-Pierre AZÉMA, New history of contemporary France, volume XIV “From Munich to the Liberation, 1938-1944”, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1979, new. ed. 2002.

· Luc CAPDEVILLA, “The mobilization of women in combatant France (1940-1945)” in Léora AUSLANDER and Michelle ZANCARINI-FOURNEL, The Gender of the Nation, review Clio. History, Women and Societies, no 12, 2000, p. 57-80, available at revues.org.

Antoine CHAMPEAUX and Paul GAUJAC, The Landing of Provence, Paris, Lavauzelle, 2008.

· Élodie JAUNEAU, “Images and representations of the first French soldiers (1938-1962)”, in Heroines, Clio review. History, women, gender, history, no 30, 2009, p. 231-252, available at revues.org.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Women in the Liberation Army"

Video: The Fight For Womens Rights. Flashback. NBC News