One of the most interesting units of the French armed forces during the Great War are the Tirailleurs Somalis, at least to me. Literally, Tirailleurs Somalis translates to ‘Somalian Sharpshooters’, and is the French term for colonial soldiers— in this case Somalians (in the same style as Tirailleurs Algériens and Tirailleurs Sénégalais).
French Somaliland, or Côte française des Somalis in French, became a colony relatively late in the colonial era, becoming a complete colony in 1887, following a series of treaties with the various sultans of the area. Le Côte française des Somalis consisted of modern-day Djibouti and a very small bit of land across the water in Yemen. At its first recruitment in 1916, the unit was rather small, having only 1,700 members; 1,400 of which were of the various Somalian tribes (especially those native to Djibouti), 200 of which were Yemeni Arabs, 75 from the Comoros Islands, and 25 Abyssinians. From what I have read, the Tirailleurs Somalis was reinforced with three battalions of Malagasy and more Comorians, though I am unsure as to how many more they got. The unit history makes a point to say that all these nationalities— Somalis, Yemeni Arabs, Comorians, and Abyssinians— got along well as they were all Muslims.
Between the 20th of September and 25th of October, 1916, two battalions of Tirailleurs Somalis were involved in the preparation and attack of Fort Douaumont. Starting in November of the same year, intensive training was carried-out to make the Somali unit a frontline combat unit. In April of 1917, following the training, the unit took part in actions around Fismes; in subsequent months (starting in May), the unit found itself in combat in the Chemin des Dames region. The unit appears to not have had been involved in any other large operations except being in the Épernay area in April 1918.
The unit was quite-well decorated: one officer was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, as well as eight chevaliers; 35 médailles militaires were awarded; and over 1,400 other citations were awarded. A few more were awarded to the unit at a company level.
According to the unit history, the Somali Battalion was an indigenous unit of choice, with better physical resistance and health compared to the other colonial units. Furthermore, both the Somalis and Yemeni Arabs in the unit were respectful and cordial to their European comrades, and of course with their Muslim North African brethren. It is noted that the Somalians were the most resistant to bad weather and becoming fatigued by combat compared to the Comorians, Abyssinians, and Yemeni Arabs. Another strong-point of this all-Muslim unit was that they did not drink alcohol, and so did not need to be supervised in that regard. “In conclusion,” the unit history writes, “the Somali battalion was a shock troop of excellent value which gave great satisfaction [to command]”.