U.S. soldiers committed rape against French women during and after the liberation of France in the later stages of World War II. The sociologist J. Robert Lilly of Northern Kentucky University estimates that U.S. servicemen committed around 4,500 rapes in France between June 1944 and the end of the war in May 1945.


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 and the majority of German troops had been pushed back to the Siegfried Line by the end of 1944. After the war, the repatriation for demobilization of the troops took time. Even in 1946, months after VE-day, there were still about 1.5 million troops in Europe.[1]

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".[2][3]

French complaints

Normandy region

By the late summer of 1944, soon after the invasion of Normandy, women in Normandy began to report rapes by American soldiers.[4] Hundreds of cases were reported.[5]

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."[4] 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."[6] 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."[5]

U.S. troops committed 208 rapes and about 30 murders in the department of Manche.[7]

U.S. military response

A brothel, the "Blue and Gray Corral", was set up near the village of St. Renan in September 1944 by Major General Charles H. Gerhardt, commander of the 29th Infantry Division, partly to counter a wave of rape accusations against American soldiers. It was shut down after a mere five hours in order to prevent civilians in the United States from finding out about a military-run brothel.[8]

The Free French Forces high command sent a letter of complaint to the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force General Dwight D. Eisenhower.[9] He gave his commanders orders to take action against all allegations of murder, rape, assault, robbery and other crimes.[9] 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.[5] However, U.S. commanders refused.[5]

White American soldiers were much less likely to be executed for rape. 130 of the 180 troops charged with rape by the Army in France were African American. U.S. forces executed 29 soldiers for rape, 25 of them African American.[10] Some convictions against African Americans were based on circumstantial evidence. For example, Marie Lepottevin identified William Downes only because he was "much larger" than the other soldiers.[11][12]

Historical and criminological studies

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According to Alice Kaplan, an American historian of France and chair of the Department of French at Yale University, the U.S. military tolerated rape of French women less than that of German women. She argued that the number of rapes is well documented and is less than that of some other armies during that era, writing that "Nine hundred and four American soldiers were tried for rape in Europe, and even if the actual numbers were much higher, they do not compare with a terrible legacy of World War II-era rapes" committed, for example, by the Japanese in Nanking, by Germans in the German-occupied areas, by the French-Moroccans in Italy and by the Soviet soldiers across Eastern Europe and Germany.[13] J. Robert Lilly, Regents professor of sociology and criminology at Northern Kentucky University, reported in Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe in World War II his estimate that 14,000 rapes were committed by U.S. soldiers in France, Germany and the United Kingdom between 1942 and 1945.[14][15] More specifically, Lilly estimated that U.S. servicemen committed around 3,500 rapes in France between June 1944 and the end of the war.[10]

See also

Allied forces
Axis forces


  1. ^ Levenstein p90
  2. ^ Harvey Levenstein (15 March 2010). We'll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930. University of Chicago Press. pp. 92–. ISBN 978-0-226-47380-2. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  3. ^ Time Inc (10 December 1945). LIFE. Time Inc. pp. 20–. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b Mathieu von Rohr (May 29, 2013). "'Bandits in Uniform': The Dark Side of GIs in Liberated France". Spiegel. Retrieved 2013-05-31.
  5. ^ a b c d Faur, Fabienne (2013-05-26). "GIs were liberators yes, but also trouble in Normandy". Agence France-Presse. Archived from the original on March 3, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-11.
  6. ^ von Rohr, Mathieu (29 May 2013). "The Dark Side of GIs in Liberated France". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  7. ^ Wieviorka, Olivier (2010). Normandy: From the Landings to the Liberation of Paris. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 329. ISBN 978-0674047471.
  8. ^ "The Dark Side of Liberation". New York Times. May 20, 2013. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "When some liberators were criminals". CBS News. June 2, 2013. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Schofield, Hugh (5 June 2009). "Revisionists challenge D-Day story". BBC. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
  11. ^ Roberts, Mary Louise (2013). What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-226-92311-6.
  12. ^ Seitz, David W. (September 2012). "Plot E, America's Burial Ground of Shame: A Photo Essay". Public Art Dialogue. 2 (2): 158–161. doi:10.1080/21502552.2012.717792. ISSN 2150-2552.
  13. ^ Alice Kaplan (30 August 2005). The Interpreter. Free Press. pp. 154–. ISBN 978-0-7432-7481-4. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  14. ^ Lilly, J. Robert. (2007) Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe in World War II. Palgrave Macmillan.
  15. ^ Wilson, David (27 March 2007). "The secret war: We know that conflict creates conditions in which soldiers commit rape and murder. Why should American GIs in the 1940s be an exception?". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2018.

Further reading