PARIS - The story is one of the most written about events in modern French history. The first large Allied military force to reach Paris on August 24, 1944, was the only French unit in France at the time.
The second armoured division (or Deuxieme Division Blindee) led by General Philippe Leclerc swept aside all opposition - including American objections - to be the first to liberate the capital.
What was not known, until now, is that Leclerc's division was hand-picked for the task five months earlier. It was chosen partly because it was French but, more specifically, because its soldiers were white.
According to a book published in France this month, British and US generals insisted in early 1944 that brown and black French colonial troops should be excluded from the liberation of Paris.
The revelation, drawn from US and British military archives, coincides with the success of the Franco-Algerian film Les Indigenes, which tells the almost forgotten story of the North African troops who fought in Italy and southern and eastern France in 1943-44. The movie has just been nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film of 2006.
A book on D-Day and its aftermath published this month by a distinguished French historian, Olivier Wieviorka, includes much other new material from US and British archives.
It reveals, for instance, the depths of the crisis of morale which threatened to incapacitate the allies in Normandy a month after the landings on June 6, 1944.
At one point, according to US records found by Professor Wieviorka, one in three "wounded" US soldiers suffered from psychological, rather than physical injuries.
British infantry fighting spirit at the time was equally poor.
The stated aim of the book, Histoire du Debarquement en Normandie, is to tear away some of the legends of glory and "willing sacrifice" surrounding the D-Day invasion. These legends have perhaps survived longer in France than in Britain or the US.
The most startling single revelation occupies only two of the book's 416 pages. It throws new light on one of the most mythologised events in French history: the Liberation of Paris.
At the start of 1944, Leclerc's armoured division was stationed in Morocco. It was chosen, from all other units in the French Army to play a headline roll in the liberation of the capital because - in the words of one of the most senior US D-Day generals - it was the "only French division which could be made 100 per cent white".
All other units in the French Army at that time were two-thirds or more African or North African. They fought in Italy and the secondary invasion of France, on the Mediterranean, in August 1944. Their role in Nazism's defeat was little acknowledged during and after the war.
The book reveals that US and British commanders agreed months before D-Day that, for reasons of propaganda and French national morale, a French division should be the first into a newly-liberated Paris.
However, they - and not the French leader, General Charles de Gaulle - insisted that the unit must not include colonial troops.
Professor Wieviorka said the commanders' motives may have been more political than racial.
"It was agreed that a French unit should be present for the liberation of Paris because that event would inevitably attract great publicity in France and internationally," he said. "Once that decision was made, it was perhaps important to the allies, for the same propaganda reasons, that the unit should appear French to the people of France."
Professor Wieviorka says that the episode remains perplexing. American military attitudes might have been influenced by the fact that the US Army refused to allow black conscripts into combat units.
On the other hand, the US military made no objection to fighting alongside French colonial troops in southern France.
Equally, the British view is somewhat puzzling. Comments made by a very senior British officer in the memos found by Professor Wieviorka appear tinged with racial fears about the presence of French colonial troops in Britain.
On the other hand, the British Government made no objection to - and ordinary Britons largely welcomed - the black American troops serving in logistic and menial roles with the D-Day invasion force.
Les Indigenes follows four North African soldiers, all played by well-known French actors of Arab origin: Jamel Debbouze (Amelie), Samy Naceri (Taxi), Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila. Bernard Blancan plays a pied-noir, or white Algerian colonist, sergeant, who is revealed - to his fury - to be half-Arab.
The men shared the male actor's prize at Cannes film festival last May.