1903 Battle of El Moungar

The Battle of El Moungar was an epic conflict in which part of a mule-mounted company from the 2nd Foreign Regiment faced hundreds of Moroccan opponents. It took place in Algeria’s Far South Oran, a region neighboring Morocco, in early September 1903. After more than seven hours of fighting, both officers and the vast majority of the legionnaires involved were either killed or wounded.

Battle of El Moungar - Algeria - 1903 - Foreign Legion



Algeria, 1899. For many decades, the north of the country has been completely pacified and integrated into France, forming three of its departments. But the vast territories in the south, with their inhospitable areas and the Sahara Desert, remain relatively unknown to the French. Despite the fact that the French Empire has successfully finished the colonization of Indochina in Southeast Asia and, more recently, completed the pacification of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

However, the 1898 Fashoda Incident on the White Nile has culminated the rivalry between the British and French Empires and prevented France’s project to extend its possessions in Africa and link the Atlantic to the Red Sea (from Senegal’s Dakar to Djibouti City). Therefore, the French focus on, among other things, consolidating their influence in the relatively independent giant desert areas of southern Algeria. A new wave of the country’s conquest has begun.

From December 1899 onward, military expeditions set out to occupy the south of Algeria. In the eastern part of the country, French troops were heading toward Tamanrasset and the Hoggar Mountains, where they faced the local Tuareg warriors. In the central part of the country, the French headed toward In Salah and the Gourara region, here even with the active participation of men from the Foreign Legion. As for the western part of Algeria, the situation was a little more complicated there, not least because of the still not clearly demarcated border with neighboring Morocco. The so-called borderlands were inhabited by militant groups of Moroccan Berbers, who did not hesitate to terrorize and ambush peaceful local tribes in Algeria and pit them against the French.

This state of affairs was nothing new in these borderlands. Conflicts with Moroccan raiders had existed there even prior to the Indochina campaign. In the early 1880s, for example, two Foreign Legion companies suffered heavy casualties during the 1882 Battle of Chott Tigri. The pacification of this troubled territory was made even more difficult by the fact that the independent Kingdom of Morocco maintained very good relations with both of France’s main geopolitical rivals, Britain and Germany. Thus, the French forces were not allowed to freely pursue the attacking Moroccans into Moroccan territory and successfully eliminate them there. The bandits knew this very well and regularly took advantage of it.

Hence, in the early 20th century, the French command in western Algeria decided to advance more south and southwest to gain access to both the Algerian Sahara and Mauritania (the latter, located south of Morocco, would be pacified by France between 1901 and 1905). The task of the expeditions was to occupy as many oases and water sources as possible in the new territories and then build military garrisons around these strategically important points. That was meant to ensure a permanent French presence in the region and secure supply routes running from north to south. Pacification of the associated regions was to follow.

Naturally, the French Foreign Legion was intended to become an important pillar of this new campaign. Both of its regiments at the time had their headquarters in western Algeria, in the department of Oran. As already mentioned, the Legion had been involved in the pacification of the territories south of its garrisons since the 1880s. In what was known as South Oran (Sud-Oranais), the legionnaires had built and occupied several important advanced posts. They had also participated in the construction of the local railroad, which had greatly facilitated the movement of troops, supplies, and materials. Therefore, it was only logical that the Legion should play an active role in upcoming operations south and southwest of South Oran, in the so-called Far South.

The first such major military expedition in western Algeria set out in late March 1900. Led by Colonel Bertrand from the 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE), it consisted of about 2,000 men (including the 5th Battalion, 1er RE and a company of the 2nd Foreign Regiment) and 2,800 camels carrying supplies. The column was tasked to support operations taking place near In Salah and prevent the local Touat people from getting assistance from the Moroccan Berbers, with whom they shared a religious affiliation. During this expedition along the Zousfana River valley, the French troops occupied the villages of Igli and Taghit. An outpost would be built at Igli.

Map - Algeria - Tamanrasset - In Salah - Far South Oran - Mauritania
From December 1899 onward, the French set up military expeditions to occupy the giant desert areas of southern Algeria, including In Salah and Tamanrasset, important trade centers on the trans-Saharan caravan route. They also pushed along Morocco, toward the so-called Far South Oran. The goal was to have supply routes running to In Salah and to Mauritania (pacified by France from 1901-1905).
Map - Algeria - Far South Oran - Taghit - Igli
The French advance in (Far) South Oran (whose HQ was in Ain Sefra), along the Zousfana River. In 1900, the villages of Taghit and Igli, with their oases, were occupied. This allowed French supply convoys to progress to the Sahara.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Zousfana River valley - 1900s
The Zousfana valley in western Algeria, early 1900s.


July 1900: First Battle of El Moungar

Early on the morning of July 30, 1900, a supply convoy, returning from Igli and moving north along the Zousfana, left the water well of Zafrani. Numbering some 2,000 camels, the returning convoy was protected by Major Bichemin’s 4th Battalion, 2nd Algerian Tirailleur Regiment (2e RTA, indigenous light infantry) and Captain Sérant’s 1st Mounted Company, 2nd Foreign Regiment (2e RE). An hour later, at about 4:30 a.m., an attack occurred near a waterhole called El Moungar. The mule-mounted company, marching as a vanguard roughly a half-mile forward (about 800–1,000 m), was attacked by the Doui Menia, one of the most rebellious Moroccan tribes raiding the borderlands. Facing some 400 horsemen, the captain ordered his men to abandon the mules and chose a favorable position – a nearby elevated ridge – to form an infantry square with bayonets fixed. There the company successfully repulsed successive Moroccan charges.

However, the 4th Platoon under Lieutenant Pauly, tasked with taking the four groups of camels – carrying five days’ worth of supplies for the company – back to the main convoy, were ambushed by the attackers. As a result, eight legionnaires were killed and nine wounded. The conflict would be known as the “Battle of Moungar” (without El).

For the sake of completeness, it is worth remembering that throughout July and August alone, eighteen Moroccan raids and attacks took place along the Zousfana Valley, aimed at outposts, convoys, or railroad worker camps. But the attack near El Moungar was the most serious one.

Map - Algeria - Far South Oran - Taghit - Zafrani - El Moungar
On July 30, 1900, the 1st Mounted Company, 2e RE was attacked near El Moungar. It escorted a supply convoy returning from Igli to the north, through Taghit and the well of Zafrani, along the Zousfana Valley. Note the sand dunes on the right.


1901–1903: Far South Oran, Figuig, Taghit

In 1901, Béni Abbès, an oasis located at the Great Western Sand Sea where the real Algerian Sahara began, was occupied by the French and a military post was set up there. It became the southernmost point of the Boulevard de la Légion, the nickname given to the strategically important supply route running along the Zousfana River valley, where the Legion units were charged with protecting the convoys and building the outposts and caravanserais. Far South Oran’s Béni Abbès was 300 miles (about 500 km) away from Ain Sefra, the HQ of South Oran, and 90 miles (150 km) from Taghit, where the Legion built an outpost the same year.

In early 1902, two captains of the 1st Foreign Regiment – Cressin and Gratien – were assassinated by Moroccans during their Sunday horseback ride in South Oran. This sad news sparked public outrage and calls for harsh retaliation against the attackers.

On March 29, 1903, a battle between the French and Moroccan raiders took place near the outpost of Ksar El Azoudj, located along the Zousfana River, about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of El Moungar. Two small disciplinary (penal) detachments of the Legion, tasked with building caravanserais, participated. Five legionnaires were killed.

Ksar El Azoudj lay not far from Figuig, a Moroccan border town with an oasis, consisting of several fortified communities surrounded by mountainous wilderness. Figuig was believed to have been the main base for bandits raiding the Zousfana Valley since 1900. Again, many French newspapers called for severe punishment for the attackers, even at the cost of invading Morocco.

In late May 1903, Algeria’s Governor-General Charles Jonnart paid a visit to Figuig, to meet with its local leaders and ask them to take action against the bandits. The 18th Mounted Company, 1er RE (under Captain Bonnelet) was to ensure Jonnart’s safety. When Jonnart was leaving Figuig on May 31, his escort was fired upon from the walled village of Zenaga, part of the town. A battle started. The 1st Platoon under Danish Lieutenant Christian Selchauhansen distinguished itself during the action. Later, the company was reinforced by another mounted company of the same regiment, the 19th. After more than three hours of fighting, the battle was over and the attackers fought off. Two NCOs and 15 legionnaires were wounded.

This attack was a signal for the French. Three military columns under General O’Connor, head of the Oran Division, set out against Figuig. Two 2e RE battalions supported the operation. Early on the morning of June 8, the French artillery began to shell the town. The village of Zenaga was soon partly destroyed. Thereafter, Figuig surrendered and its leaders quickly agreed to the French terms.

In response, a Moroccan multi-tribal war party, consisting of about 4,000 warriors, was formed and made ready to invade Algeria’s borderlands. Intelligence sources later reported that the enemy harka was probably going to attack the post of Taghit. Lieutenant Pointurier from the 22nd Mounted Company, 2e RE confirmed this on August 15, when he finished a reconnaissance in the region. He immediately sent local auxiliary cavalrymen to forewarn Captain de Susbielle, commander of both the Zousfana Valley and the Taghit garrison. Then the lieutenant and his 1st Peloton (mounted companies were composed of two pelotons, each comprising two reinforced platoons) rushed out to help the post, on his own initiative.

The defense of the Taghit garrison comprised at the time, in addition to the local pro-French tribes inhabiting the village and its surroundings, an Algerian tirailleur company of the 2e RTA, a company of the famous Bat’ d’Af’ (Battalions of Africa, Les Joyeux; French soldiers with prison records), and 120 local auxiliary cavalrymen, Moghazni. The 95-man Legion peloton managed to join the post on August 17 and, over the course of four days, helped repel repeated attacks by the Moroccan harka. On August 20, the attackers eventually gave up their efforts and retreated. The French suffered nine killed and 21 wounded, while the attackers lost several hundred.

Some of the Moroccans, a group of around 200 to 300 men, moved to the dunes north of Taghit. It was obvious that they would want to repair their tarnished reputation soon.

Map - Algeria - Far South Oran - Taghit - Zafrani - El Moungar

Algeria - South Oran - Beni Abbes - 1900s
Béni Abbès in Algeria’s Far South Oran. In 1901, the village with its oasis was occupied and became the southernmost point of the Foreign Legion’s zone of action in that country. Note the high dunes in the background.
Algeria - Morocco - Figuig - 1900s
The oasis of Figuig was believed to have been the main base for Moroccan bandits raiding the Zousfana Valley. On May 31, 1903, the Foreign Legion escort of Algeria’s Governor-General Jonnart was attacked there, from a walled village of Zenaga.
Algeria - Morocco - Figuig - Zenaga - 1900s
The walled village of Zenaga, part of Figuig. It was significantly damaged by the French artillery in June 1903, in response to the attack on the governor-general.
Algeria - South Oran - Taghit - 1900s
Taghit in (Far) South Oran. The village was besieged by Moroccans and under attack for four days, in late August 1903. Lieutenant Pointurier and his 1st Peloton of the 22nd Mounted Company, 2e RE helped to fight off the attackers.


Prior to the 1903 Battle of El Moungar

On August 28, 1903, a convoy left Djenan Ed Dar, a smaller oasis with a post located nearby Figuig, which was a crossroads for French troops going to the southwest or the south. Comprising over 900 camels loaded with military supplies and another 100–150 camels with commercial goods, the convoy headed south, to reach Béni Abbès. It was commanded by Major Bichemin of the 2e RTA, the same officer who had led the convoy attacked close to El Moungar in July 1900. The escort consisted of his 4th Battalion, 2e RTA; two platoons of the 1st Spahi (indigenous light cavalry); a group of Moghazni auxiliaries; and the 2nd Peloton of the 22nd Mounted Company, 2e RE under Captain Vauchez and his deputy, Lieutenant Selchauhansen (the same Danish officer who had distinguished himself with a sister company in Figuig on May 31; he had joined the 22e Montée a month later).

By August 30, the convoy had covered about 50 miles (80 km) and arrived at El Morra, another French post on the road going along the Zousfana to Béni Abbès. At the time, the post was occupied by the other peloton of the 22nd Mounted Company, the 1st under Lieutenant Pointurier, which had taken a defensive role in the Siege of Taghit two weeks earlier. Meanwhile, two cavalry platoons of the 2nd Spahi arrived at the post from Taghit to reinforce the escort, as well as Captain Bonnelet’s 18th Mounted Company, 1er RE (in which the Danish officer had previously served).

Now the convoy was divided into three detachments that were ordered to set out on their route gradually, at longer intervals (around 24 hours). This measure was taken to give the scarce wells time to fill up again in the still hot summer season, during the most difficult stage of the route, going from El Morra to Taghit.

The first detachment, comprising about 400 camels carrying military supplies, left El Morra on the evening of August 31. Escorted by the 18th Mounted Company and the 2nd Spahi platoons, it would reach Taghit on the early morning of September 2, without any trouble.

The second detachment was escorted by the 22nd Mounted Company’s peloton under Captain Vauchez, along with a 1st Spahi platoon and a few Moghaznis. It only comprised the relatively small number of camels carrying commercial goods. However, these were handled by very undisciplined civilian camel-pullers who repeatedly refused to obey orders. The captain planned to leave El Morra 24 hours after the first detachment, on the evening of September 1, to take advantage of the cold night march. Nevertheless, the camel-pullers categorically refused. Seeing this, the captain thought he might wait and hit the road on the evening of September 2, along with the third (and main) detachment under Major Bichemin, to avoid security risks. The camel-pullers again disagreed and prepared the animals to leave El Morra from midnight of September 1–2 onward. Moreover, they were leaving the post in a disorganized manner, in small groups, which made a safe escort virtually impossible. The frustrated captain and his legionnaires eventually followed them at about 3 o’clock on the morning of September 2. The last element of the detachment was a Spahi rearguard with a group of eleven camels carrying supplies for the escort.

The 113-head mule-mounted peloton marched at a higher speed than camels, despite the common practice that two men were assigned to each mule, and they took turns riding and walking. After several hours, the legionnaires passed the widely scattered caravan, which had a length of almost 2.5 miles (4 km). The Spahi cavalrymen and the Moghaznis did patrols up ahead, on both flanks (at a distance of about 500–600 yards), and at the rear of the convoy. At 6 a.m. came the first 30-minute halt to make coffee, followed by another three hours of marching.

At 9:30 a.m., the captain ordered a new halt, this time for a meal. The convoy had already covered 19 miles (30 km) from El Morra and exactly the same distance remained to reach Taghit. The spot where they halted was a large, semi-rocky desert plain, littered with occasional bushes. On the group’s left, at a distance of some 800 yards, a belt of small sand dunes began and gradually turned into the Great Western Sand Sea, part of the Algerian Sahara. On the right, about 150 yards away, were several gently elevated ridges. One of them, located more to the north, had witnessed the legionnaires fighting in late July 1900. In the distance behind the ridges, one could see the long and highly-elevated El Moungar Heights, with the dry bed of the Zousfana River curled around it. There, about three miles (5 km) northwest of the company’s halt, lay the newly-dug water well of El Moungar with a new caravanserai nearby. The latter was built at the foot of the Heights by disciplinary detachments of the Legion and finished in mid-March 1903 (two weeks later, the same detachments participated in the aforementioned battle near Ksar El Azoudj). However, the well of El Moungar provided very salty water with a high magnesium content, which caused the soldiers considerable intestinal distress and which even thirsty animals refused to drink. This was why the convoy voluntarily passed it by. Another water well, Zafrani, awaited them with good, pure water about seven miles (11 km) more to the south.

The scattered groups of camels gradually stopped on the plain, about 200 yards behind the mounted company, pushed by the Spahi rearguard. The patrols didn’t signal anything suspicious, so the legionnaires dismounted, tied the mules together, stacked the arms in groups (to prevent powder from entering the barrel of the rifle that hadn’t a bipod back in those days) and were served cans of sardines. Then they sat down toward the south, in a line: the 3rd Platoon to the left, the 4th Platoon to the right. Two groups of camels from the caravan were already resting a little further ahead of them. Sergeant Charlier, a hardened veteran and the longest-serving member of the company, was reminding the men of the battle of July 30, 1900 – which had taken place not far from their position – when several rifle shots burst out on their left. The cry of “To arms!” rang out, and everyone rushed to the rifles. The second battle of El Moungar began. It was 9:40 a.m.

Algeria - South Oran - Djenan Ed Dar - 1900s
Djenan Ed Dar, a post located close to Figuig. In late August 1903, a French convoy left it for Béni Abbès. A peloton of the 22nd Mounted Company, 2e RE made part. A few days later, the unit would be attacked near El Moungar.
Algeria - South Oran - Caravan - 1900s
A camel caravan going along the Zousfana River, early 1900s.
2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - South Oran - Mounted Company - 1900s
A mounted company of the 2nd Foreign Regiment in South Oran, early 1900s. Note that at the time, the legionnaires wore colonial helmets. The mounted company escorting the convoy in early September 1903 wore them as well.
Algeria - South Oran - El Moungar - Caravanserai - 1903
The caravanserai of El Moungar, built by disciplinary (penal) detachments of the Foreign Legion between early February and mid-March 1903. Unfortunately, the well that was built near the building earlier in January provided salty water with a high magnesium content, which even thirsty animals refused to drink. This was why the caravanserai was soon abandoned. Its ruins are well seen on satellite maps to this day (i.e. late 2023; top-left corner). The photo is taken from Jacques Gandini’s awesome book El Moungar (Extrem’Sud Editions, 1999).


1903 Battle of El Moungar

At the same time when Sergeant Charlier was recalling the old battle, a Spahi patrol was ambushed on the left flank, near the small sand dunes, by an invisible enemy. Two cavalrymen were killed immediately; another two managed to escape and join the Legion position. However, this position was attacked seconds later, while the men rushed to their stacked rifles (the common practice of stacking the arms, rather than keeping them on the back, was later seen as one of the main reasons for the massacre). The merciless fire now came from across the road, from a nearby thalweg. This was a small dry creek bed, only about 100–150 yards away, and certainly unscreened by the patrol. Dozens of Moroccans had been hidden there. Now they were all up and firing upon the legionnaires gathered in front of them, willing to kill or wound as many as possible.

Within a short while, many corpses were lying on the ground, including almost all of the NCOs; the vast majority were members of the 3rd Platoon, which was most exposed to the enemy. According to one of the surviving Spahi from the attacked patrol, some legionnaires even started hand-to-hand combat with bayonets that cost the lives of several Moroccans. This could suggest that some of the attackers may have been trying to run to the stacked arms and steal them. During this chaotic situation, the 3rd Platoon leader, Lieutenant Selchauhansen, was fatally wounded. He refused rescue from his devoted men and ordered them to “fight and show you are the legionnaires.” After a few moments, the considerably reduced platoon managed to form a defensive position on the spot and return fire.

Meanwhile, the 4th Platoon men under Captain Vauchez regrouped and positioned themselves a little more to the left of their comrades, facing the enemy. Nevertheless, in the northeast, some 800 yards away, another group of Moroccans penetrated into the plain from the sand dunes. They headed to the 4th Platoon’s left flank, hid in the bushes near the convoy’s groups of camels and opened fire. While the 3rd Platoon continued firing at the enemy located across the road, the 4th Platoon had to change its position to face the second group of attackers.

Considering the possibilities, the captain decided that the 4th Platoon should conduct a bayonet charge through intense enemy fire. But this idea soon proved futile and caused further major losses for the company, including Sergeant Major Tissier, Sergeants Dannert and Péré-Dessus, Corporals Cachès and Vercasson, and the captain himself, who was fatally wounded. Legionnaire Petit was hit three times by bullets, Legionnaire Trinquart four times, and others even five times, as was the case for Sergeant Van der Borght (though he survived). The legionnaires lay down again and resumed fire. It was around 10 a.m.

The enemy facing the 4th Platoon split into two groups. While the first remained hidden in the bushes on the plain and continued fire, the second group got to the camels and (according to reports, in partial collaboration with the civilian pullers) pushed them in between them and the legionnaires, to block the view of the latter.

At the same time, the 3rd Platoon – less its leader and NCOs, who had all been killed or wounded – regrouped under their corporals and retreated to Ridge 1 (the official title given in reports to a rocky ridge west of the 4th Platoon, approximately 200 yards away) and Hill 2, a hillock situated 100 yards south of the ridge. Shortly afterward, it was the 4th Platoon’s turn to retreat. Now attacked from both sides (north and east), it was only with great effort that they managed to withdraw. Sadly, because of the fierce enemy fire, some of the seriously wounded had to be left behind, as well as the mules. Sergeant Charlier fell during that period, having been wounded three times (the bullets broke his arm, leg, and shattered his hip).

The 4th Platoon also split. A group under Corporal Zoli (an Italian who had allegedly fought with General Garibaldi in the 1897 Greco-Turkish War) rejoined Ridge 3. This group was the most able-bodied part of the Legion’s escort at the time, counting only a few wounded among them. Their new position, Ridge 3, was located about 300 yards south of Ridge 1 and had already been occupied by a dozen Spahis (under their French leader Damiens, an NCO) and the Moghazni since the beginning of the action. Another group of the 4th Platoon moved behind Ridge 1 and reorganized there under Quartermaster Sergeant Tisserand, himself already wounded.

Algeria - South Oran - El Moungar - Caravanserai - Battlefield - 1903
The battle took place 3 miles (5 km) southeast of the El Moungar caravanserai.

Algeria - South Oran - El Moungar - Battlefield - 1903

Algeria - South Oran - El Moungar - Battlefield - Ridge 1 - Ridge 3 - Hill 2 - 1903


While the 3rd Platoon groups engaged the enemy’s attention, Tisserand and his men managed to make sorties and gather their captain, sergeant major, and other seriously wounded comrades behind the ridge. The captain, wounded three times (in the neck, the back, and shot through the stomach), was still able to write a short letter to his friend Captain de Susbielle in Taghit and ask him for support. The letter would be brought to Taghit by two Spahis. It was 10:30 a.m.

Shortly afterward, the quartermaster sergeant and his group left Ridge 1 and rejoined Hill 2, placing the wounded behind it.

The reports then indicate, without additional details, that part of the 3rd Platoon under Quartermaster Corporal de Montès (occupying Ridge 1) was unable to reorganize. It’s likely that some of the attackers, covered by pushed camels, were able to get onto the ridge from its northern side and progressively advance to the southwest, and shoot upon these legionnaires. Tisserand then reported that his men’s fire northward eventually allowed the 3rd Platoon elements to reorganize. Thereafter, the fire of both 4th Platoon groups (Hill 2 and Ridge 3) was directed at the plain and the sand dunes in front of them, to clear the area of any enemies.

Meanwhile, unable to continue to hold their positions, Quartermaster Corporal de Montès with his group and the majority of the wounded withdrew from Ridge 1 and joined Hill 2. Ridge 1 was soon occupied by the Moroccans.

Seeing this, Tisserand took a group of legionnaires and moved westward, undetected. Then they attacked the enemy occupying the previously abandoned ridge from the rear and successfully fought them off.

Nevertheless, Sergeant Major Tissier, who had replaced the fatally wounded captain and – regardless of his own injuries – was still keeping command, ordered all parties to retreat to Hill 2 and hold the position until rescue arrived. Tisserand only very reluctantly withdrew, considering his recent position to be advantageous. However, he ordered part of the second group of his 4th Platoon not to abandon Ridge 3 and to observe the sector east and southeast. This part, numbering about a dozen legionnaires (both unhurt and wounded), remained there under Corporal Zoli along with the Spahis. The rest of the group, mostly uninjured legionnaires, rejoined Hill 2.

On Hill 2, the able-bodied men at the top of it were observing the ridge to the north (Ridge 1). Wounded men were covered behind the hillock, some of them even positioned and continuing fire.

Around that time, the sergeant major was killed and Quartermaster Sergeant Tisserand took command of the defense. But, after being wounded for the second time at about 2:00 p.m. (14.00), he passed command to Corporal Detz. The latter led the men “with a cool head and discretion” until the rescue detachment under Captain de Susbielle arrived from Taghit, between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. (16.30–17.00). The Moroccans, estimated at 200–300 strong by all the official reports, retreated into the dunes. After more than seven hours, the second battle of El Moungar was over.

2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - South Oran - Mounted Company - El Moungar - 1904
The site of the battle near El Moungar where the 2e RE’s mounted company suffered heavy casualties. In the background, one of the slightly elevated ridges.



The extremely hot weather in that desert part of Algeria (100 °F, or 38 °C on average in late August and early September), along with the burning sun, caused the men to suffer greatly from tremendous thirst. However, the water remained out of reach on the mules on the plain. The wounded suffered the most. Some of them died of thirst, while others were determined to survive by drinking their own urine.

De Susbielle arrived accompanied by a military doctor and his small medical team, who immediately began to treat the wounded. Both officers were still alive and conscious; Captain Vauchez greeted his friend de Susbielle by stating, “…it was Tisserand who saved us.” By the way, Lieutenant Selchauhansen, twice wounded (in the chest and head), had spent all this time on the plain at the scene of the first encounter, surrounded and partially covered by the corpses of the men who had fallen in battle or in the attempt to rescue him.

Meanwhile, the Spahis and the Moghazni cavalrymen from the rescue column were gradually bringing in water from Zafrani.

At midnight, another rescue column arrived from Taghit: a Spahi platoon and a peloton of the 18th Mounted Company, 1er RE (Lieutenant Dubois). This reinforcement calmed everyone present, for about a mile (1.5-2 km) out in the sand dunes, the campfires of the Moroccans could be seen.

In the late morning of the following day, September 3, Major Bichemin and his convoy’s third detachment reached the site of the battle. At the same time, all the wounded were loaded on mules, awaiting transport. Vauchez’s condition, which had stabilized since his first treatment upon the doctor’s arrival from Taghit, suddenly deteriorated. At 11 a.m., the company commander died.

Finally, the huge caravan took to the road at 1:20 p.m. (13.20); it arrived in Taghit in the early morning of the next day. In the evening, Lieutenant Selchauhansen succumbed to his injuries, too.

By September 5, 1903, according to the official report signed by Tisserand, the number of casualties were as follows: out of two officers, seven NCOs, seven corporals, and 97 legionnaires, both officers, two NCOs, two corporals, and 30 legionnaires had died (36 in total). Four NCOs, four corporals, and 39 legionnaires were wounded (47 in total). This means that out of 113 men in the peloton, only 30 remained unharmed. Most of them belonged to the 4th Platoon.

Note that one NCO is mentioned neither among the killed, nor the wounded. Yet we know that “all NCOs were killed or wounded,” and thus, Quartermaster Sergeant Tisserand had to hand over command directly to Corporal Detz. However, this mystery might just be a simple error in the official report. A certain Corporal Dubourg was not mentioned in any of the reports or known official sources, but he was a member of the 3rd Platoon and also present at El Moungar. So, contrary to the reported numbers, there were six NCOs and eight corporals within the peloton at the time of the battle.

The killed legionnaires were buried at the foot of Hill 2 on the morning of September 3. Both officers were first buried in Taghit. Captain Vauchez was later (April 1904) transferred to his hometown in France, while the body of the Danish lieutenant was transported to Algeria’s Sidi Bel Abbès, the HQ of the 1st Foreign Regiment (the unit he served with for ten years), and buried there in December 1904.

Among the 1st Spahi cavalrymen, apart from the two ambushed and killed at the start of the battle, we know that even their leader Damiens was killed. Also lost was a Spahi named Baroni who, according to Tisserand, distinguished himself as a brave message-runner linking the different occupied positions. The rest of the Spahis at Ridge 3 were commanded by a certain Brigadier (corporal in the French cavalry) Nouguès, a Frenchman from Paris.

As for the Legion animals, both of the officers’ horses died, as well as 26 of the company’s mules. Another 34 mules were captured by the enemy, along with the 11 camels carrying supplies (the four-head Spahi rearguard abandoned them and escaped when the first shots rang out). Only four mules were neither killed nor stolen.

Regarding the caravan, 82 camels were captured by the enemy. Two groups of the convoy (out of the original five, meaning some 40–60 camels), found in the vanguard during the first attack, were able to escape and arrived in Taghit.


Killed members of the 22nd Mounted Company

  • Captain VAUCHEZ Joseph – Company commander
  • Lieutenant SELCHAUHANSEN Christian – Platoon leader (from Denmark)
  • Sergeant Major TISSIER
  • Sergeant DANNERT
  • Corporal CACHÈS
  • Corporal VERCASSON
  • 1st Class Legionnaire BUESCHWEILLER
  • 1st Class Legionnaire GIERKÉ
  • 1st Class Legionnaire JOLIVOT
  • 1st Class Legionnaire WIESSLER
  • 1st Class Legionnaire ZIMMER
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire BAUMGART
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire DEBAT
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire ERB
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire FERON
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire FOURNAISE
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire HAAS
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire HAIN
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire HATT
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire KAELIN
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire KAUFMANN
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire KRAFT
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire LAMPE
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire MALGORN
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire MEYNES
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire MULLER
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire NOTTER
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire NUGEL
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire PONTON
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire QUILLÉ
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire RAPPEL
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire REYEN
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire RUWEL
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire RUYSKAMPF
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire SCHMALZL
  • 2nd Class Legionnaire VAUTRAIN


2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Mounted Company - Captain Vauchez - 1904
Captain Joseph Vauchez, commander of the 22nd Mounted Company, 2e RE. Born in November 1865, he joined the Legion as a captain in early 1900. Six months later, the officer deployed to Tonkin (Northern Vietnam now) and stayed there until early 1902. He then served with mounted companies in Algeria. In early September 1903, Captain Vauchez was mortally wounded at El Moungar and died the next day. First buried in Taghit, his remains were transferred to France in April 1904.
2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Mounted Company - Lieutenant Selchauhansen - 1904
Lieutenant Christian Selchauhansen, a platoon leader with the 22nd Mounted Company, 2e RE at El Moungar. Born in Denmark in April 1871, he became an artillery officer in the Danish Army. In 1893, he got a six-month internship in the Foreign Legion, which was prolonged to an entire year. Then his government approved him to serve in the French Army. He rejoined the Legion (1er RE), as a lieutenant. He served in Tonkin from 1895 to 1897, in Tunisia in 1899, and in Madagascar from 1900 to 1901. After studies at the Saumur military academy, he returned to Algeria in late 1902 to serve in the 18th Mounted Company, 1er RE. In late July 1903, he joined the 2e RE’s 22e Montée. Mortally wounded at El Moungar, he died two days later, on September 4, 1903. First buried in Taghit, his remains were transferred to Sidi Bel Abbès, then-HQ of the 1er RE, in December 1904 (a street in the same town was named after him, earlier in 1904). Like his brother, who was killed in Belgian Congo in service of the Belgian king, even Christian remained buried in Africa, at the request of his family.
2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Mounted Company - Captain Vauchez - Lieutenant Selchauhansen - 1904
The grave of Captain Vauchez and Lieutenant Selchauhansen in Taghit, 1904.
2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Taghit - Father Foucauld - wounded - 1903
Taghit, late September 1903. The Catholic priest known as Father de Foucauld with some of the legionnaires wounded at El Moungar. A former lieutenant in the French Army, who served in South Oran in the early 1880s, he became a priest in Béni Abbès. After he had heard about the battle of El Moungar, he moved to Taghit, on his own initiative, to take care of the wounded men. He spent several weeks with them. Assassinated in the Sahara on December 1, 1916, Father de Foucauld was considered a martyr of faith, and declared Venerable in 2001, by Pope John Paul II.



For their exemplary conduct throughout the battle, the following men were promoted: Quartermaster Sergeant Tisserand was promoted first to Sergeant Major, then (in November) to Second Lieutenant. Corporals Detz, Zoli, de Montès, Grossean, and Dubourg were promoted to Sergeant. As for 2nd Class Legionnaire May, he was directly promoted to Corporal. The other thirty-four 2nd Class Legionnaires were promoted to 1st Class.

All the men who participated in the 1903 Battle of El Moungar were mentioned in dispatches at the level of the Army corps (Army of Africa) and awarded the Colonial Medal with the “Sahara” clasp. Sergeant Charlier, for his part, was awarded the prestigious Legion of Honor, the highest French award, rarely seen among non-commissioned officers. For their acts of bravery in battle, other men of the company were awarded the Military Medal, the second highest French award at the time (and meant for enlisted personnel and NCOs).

Some of the mentioned brave men

Quartermaster Sergeant TISSERAND Paul
“After all the officers and NCOs had been put out of action, and despite suffering a wound himself, he commanded the platoon with intelligence and discretion.”

Sergeant CHARLIER Guillaume
– 19 years of service, Military Medal, medals of Tonkin and Annam
“He kept command of his half-platoon despite a serious wound, and received two others in combat.”

Sergeant PÉRÉ-DESSUS Joseph
– 11 years of service
“He continued to fight and command his half-platoon, despite being seriously wounded by a bullet that pierced his chest.”

Sergeant VAN DER BORGHT Joseph
– 8 years of service
“He was five times wounded while commanding his half-platoon.”

Corporal DETZ Pierre
– 10 years of service, medal of Tonkin
“After having been given command of the small troop made up of the survivors and wounded in the El Moungar battle, on September 2, 1903, he was able, through his coolness, energy and decisiveness, to thwart the enemy’s attempts to surround and annihilate the remnants of the peloton.”

Corporal LIAUTARD Firmin
– 10 years of service
“Despite being wounded himself, he carried his mortally wounded captain to safety.”

Quartermaster Corporal DE MONTÈS Jean
– 6 years of service
“Very seriously wounded by a bullet that had pierced his stomach and shattered his pelvis, he had kept command of his half-platoon until he fell unconscious.”

1st Class Legionnaire BRONA Michel
– 14 years of service
“Went to seek his mortally wounded sergeant major under the most violent fire, carried him on his shoulders and took him to safety.”

1st Class Legionnaire WEBER Stéphan
– 4 years of service
“Suffering from three wounds, including one in the chest, he treated his mortally wounded captain.”

2nd Class Legionnaire ORSATTONI Jules
– 15 years of service
“With bayonet blows, he opposed stealing of a wounded man’s rifle by a Moroccan whom he killed.”

2nd Class Legionnaire MAY
– 11 years of service
“Under heavy fire, he went to bring the mules carrying ammunition. Thus he enabled his comrades to prolong the defense, which would have been impossible without his act of devotion.”

2nd Class Legionnaire MELMIESSE
– 11 years of service
“Despite being wounded on both legs, he treated his mortally wounded captain.”

2nd Class Legionnaire PETIT Charles
– 5 years of service
“Was seriously wounded by a bullet that pierced his abdomen.”

2nd Class Legionnaire REICHERT Pierre
– 5 years of service
“Hit by a bullet that shattered his left arm, requiring immediate amputation.”

2nd Class Legionnaire TRINQUART Adolphe
– 4 years of service
“He received three wounds in the battle; the first bullet broke his left arm, the other wounded him seriously in the chest, the third on the right leg.”

2nd Class Legionnaire VANDEWALLE
– 3 years of service
“Despite being seriously wounded, he treated his mortally wounded captain.”

2nd Class Legionnaire ROENISCH Heinrich
– 2 years of service
“Was hit by a bullet resulting in a fracture of the upper and middle part of his skull. The severity of the wound put the soldier’s life in danger.”

2nd Class Legionnaire KOENIGSFELD
– 2 years of service
“Brilliant conduct in combat where, despite wounds on both hands, he continued to use his weapon until the battle was over.”

2nd Class Legionnaire COPPEL
– ?? years of service
“Showed bravery in a bayonet fight against four Moroccans.”


2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Mounted Company - Quartermaster Sergeant Tisserand - 1903
Quartermaster Sergeant Paul Tisserand. Native of Rambervillers, in northeastern France. He commanded the men after the officers and sergeant major had been put out of action. Following the battle, Tisserand was promoted to sergeant major and, in November, to second lieutenant. He was transferred to the 1st Foreign Regiment in December 1903.

2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Mounted Company - Corporal Detz - 1903
Corporal Pierre Detz. Native of Boussange in mostly German-speaking Alsace–Lorraine, northeastern France, occupied by Germany at the time. During the battle of El Moungar, he took over command from Tisserand, wounded for the second time. Detz, with 10 years of service in the Legion, would be promoted to sergeant.
2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - Mounted Company - Dugourd - Detz - Pere-Dessus - Tisserand - 1903
A very rare photo showing some of the awarded survivors of the 1903 Battle of El Moungar. From left to right: Sergeant Dugourd (ex-corporal), Sergeant Detz (ex-corporal), Sergeant Péré-Dessus, and Sergeant Major Tisserand (ex-QM sergeant). The photo was taken in Saida (Algeria), then-HQ of the 2e RE, in late 1903.



The destruction of an entire peloton of the legendary Legion by Moroccan bandits aroused great indignation in France and Algeria. It reinforced the public view that invading Morocco (or at least its eastern part) was necessary and that occupying it would prevent further attacks on the French territory and against French soldiers.

Meanwhile, Governor-General Jonnart dismissed the then-military commander of the Ain Sefra HQ (supervising South Oran and Far South Oran, including the road along the Zousfana River) and replaced him with General Lyautey. The latter, a veteran of the Indochina and Madagascar campaigns and a successful colonial administrator, admired the Legion’s combat capabilities, which he had experienced in his previous posts. He called off the escort duties of the highly-mobile mounted companies and tasked them with more rewarding military missions instead: reconnaissance and pursuit of the enemy, and occupation and pacification of territories.

Under Lyautey’s leadership, several important points were soon occupied (in 1903 and 1904) along Algeria’s western frontier, and even beyond it, in clear disobedience to the French Minister of War. The first of them, the village of Bechar, was occupied within a few weeks after the battle of El Moungar. After Lyautey was appointed the head of the Oran Division in 1907, he eventually invaded Morocco and became, in 1912, its resident-general. Finally, in 1934, the successful pacification of Morocco was achieved and ended the French Saharan adventure that had begun thirty-five years earlier, in 1899.



In late August 1904, a memorial was unveiled at the site of the battle to commemorate the fallen legionnaires. Having the form of a simple four-sided obelisk resting on a large soclet, it was built by the men of the 2e RE at the top of Hill 2. One side of the obelisk bore a replica of the Legion grenade made of stone, with the number 2 inside it. Below the grenade, set in the socle, was a commemorative plaque recounting the battle. One could read there:

“Here fought for eight hours against Moroccan opponents a hundred and thirteen legionnaires of the 22nd Mounted Company of the 2nd Foreign Regiment: 2 officers, Captain Vauchez and Lieutenant Selchauhansen, fatally injured, 34 killed and 47 wounded are the lasting testimony of their exemplary and heroic conduct.”

The exact fate of the memorial is unknown. One might assume that the original construction was damaged in 1907, like other French commemorative memorials in that turbulent territory were, following France’s invasion of Morocco. Of course, it may have been damaged over time as well. Anyway, upon the end of the Algerian War in March 1962, platoons of the 2e REI took turns in building a new memorial at the site of the previous one. It was finished in late May of the same year and no longer bore any commemorative plaque.

Unfortunately, in 1967, the 2e REI had to abandon the Sahara and Algeria, and could no longer take care of the memorial. Nonetheless, it (or its remains) can still be seen on satellite maps to this day (i.e. September 2023).

A smaller replica of the original 1904 memorial was later unveiled within the regiment’s current barracks in Nimes, Southern France.



The 1903 Battle of El Moungar, nicknamed the Camerone of the sands,” was not only an important part of the French conquest of the Sahara (including Far South Oran), but also contributed to the intensification of efforts to solve the problem with the Moroccan raiders, who had been operating in the Algerian borderlands for decades. This eventually led to the invasion and occupation of Morocco by France.

In addition, the battle resonated strongly within the 2nd Foreign Regiment itself. Its date – September 2 – thus became the main holiday of the regiment, which now proudly commemorates the bloody battle and its fallen men every year.


2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - El Moungar - Monument - Memorial - 1904
Memorial of the 1903 Battle of El Moungar. It was built by the 2e RE legionnaires at the top of Hill 2 and unveiled in late August 1904.

2e RE - 2nd Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - El Moungar - Monument - Memorial - 1904
Legionnaire Hoff, seriously wounded in the 1903 Battle of El Moungar, is posing at the grave of his comrades killed in the battle. Behind him, the newly unveiled memorial.
2e REI - 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - El Moungar - Monument - Memorial - Colonel Kopf - 1965
El Moungar, 1965. Colonel Kopf, then-head of the 2e REI is posing with the new memorial built by the regiment in 1962. It replaced the one from 1904, whose exact fate remains unknown.
2e RE - 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Algeria - El Moungar - Monument - Memorial - 1966
The color guard of the 2e REI posing near the new memorial, on 1966 El Moungar Day. It was the last official ceremony of the regiment that took place at the site of the battle, before leaving the Sahara in mid-1967 and, finally, Algeria in early 1968.
2e REI - 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Bonifacio - El Moungar - 1981
El Moungar Day organized by the 2e REI in Bonifacio, then-HQ of the regiment in Corsica, 1981.
2e REI - 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Nimes - El Moungar - 2003
The 100th anniversary of the Battle of El Moungar in Nimes, France, early September 2003.
2e REI - 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Nimes - El Moungar - 2023
2023 El Moungar Day in Nimes. The chief of the Foreign Legion, General Youchtchenko, attended the festivities.



Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
French newspapers (1900-1908)
Jacques Gandini: El Moungar (Extrem’Sud Editions, 1999)
Jacques Hortes: Les Compagnies montées de la Légion étrangère (Editions Gandini, 2001)
Pierre Montagnon: Histoire de la Légion (Pygmalion, 1999)
Collective: Cahiers Carles de Foucauld, Serie 8, Volume 31 (N/A, 1953)
Martin Windrow: The French Foreign Legion 1872-1914 (Osprey Publishing, 2010)
P. Cart-Tanneur, Tibor Szecsko: La Vieille Garde (Editions B.I.P., 1987)
J. Brunon, G.-R. Manue, P. Carles: Le Livre d’Or de la Légion Etrangère (Charles-Lavauzelle, 1976)


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More about the history of the Foreign Legion:
1863 Battle of Camerone
1882 Battle of Chott Tigri
1911 Battle of Alouana
1933 Battle of Bou Gafer
1952 Battle of Na San



The page was updated on: September 23, 2023


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