Swapping stockings for kisses and teaching girls how to jive, American GIs were meant to be a welcome ray of sunshine in war-torn Europe. But a new book has revealed the dark side of Europe’s liberation after the Second World War.
Professor Mary Louise Roberts, from the University of Wisconsin, said within months of D-Day ordinary French women came to fear their American ‘liberators’.
She tells how, by the summer of 1944, large numbers of women in Normandy filed complaints about rapes by US soldiers.
And their arrival prompted a wave of crime all over France, with American soldiers caught committing robberies and petty thefts.
Professor Roberts said: ‘My book seeks to debunk an old myth about the GI, thought of as a manly creature that always behaved well. The GIs were having sex anywhere and everywhere.
‘In the cities of Le Havre and Cherbourg, bad behaviour was common.
‘Women, including those who were married, were openly solicited for sex. Parks, bombed-out buildings, cemeteries and railway tracks were carnal venues.
‘People could not go out for a walk without seeing somebody having sex.
‘But the sex was not always consensual, with hundreds of cases of rape being reported.’
The locals of Le Havre were shocked by the soldiers’ behaviour and wrote letters of protest to their mayor.
One complaint, from October 1945, said: ‘We are attacked, robbed, run over both on the street and in our houses.
‘This is a regime of terror, imposed by bandits in uniform.’
Le Havre’s mayor, Pierre Voisin, complained to Colonel Thomas Weed – the commander of US troops in the region.
‘Scenes contrary to decency are unfolding in this city day and night,’ Voisin wrote, adding it was ‘not only scandalous but intolerable’ that ‘youthful eyes are exposed to such public spectacles’.
The mayor suggested the Americans set up a brothel outside the city to avoid public outrage and contain the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. However although US officers publicly denounced the behaviour they did little to curtail it.
The book also claims the US army ‘demonstrated a deep and abiding racism’, suggesting they pinned a disproportionate number of rapes on black GIs.
Documents show that of 152 troops disciplined by the army for rape, 130 were black.
Professor Roberts said: ‘American propaganda did not sell the war to soldiers as a struggle for freedom but as a sexual adventure.’
She points out that The Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the US armed forces, taught soldiers German phrases like ‘waffen niederlegen’ meaning ‘throw down your arms’.
However the French phrases it recommended to soldiers included ‘you have charming eyes,’ ‘I am not married’ and ‘are your parents at home?’ US magazine Life even fantasised that France was ‘a tremendous brothel’ inhabited by ‘40,000,000 hedonists, who spend all their time eating, drinking and making love’.
A cafe owner from Le Havre said at the time: ‘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.’