1932 Turenne Rail Accident

The Turenne rail accident has remained the deadliest accident in the history of the French Foreign Legion. It occurred in Algeria (North Africa) 85 years ago. On September 14, 1932, a train carrying a Legion battalion had derailed and fell into a ravine. Tens of legionnaires were killed, over two hundreds of legionnaires were wounded.

1932 Turenne Rail Accident - Foreign Legion etrangere - Turenne - Algeria - 1932

 

In 1932, the Foreign Legion had been still based in North Africa, with its headquarters placed at Sidi Bel Abbes, the military garrison located in the Oran region of northwestern Algeria and a home to the 1st Foreign Regiment. A year earlier, in 1931, a large, significant celebration took place at this town to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Legion. At the same time, France was finalizing the Pacification of Morocco (1907-34), a country bordered by Algeria to the east. The Legion had three of its regiments stationed there. Other battalions were deploying from Algeria to Morocco as reinforcement by the 1st Foreign Regiment (then 1er REI).

One of these battalions, consisting of Lieutenant Pénicaud and Lieutenant Parisot, 27 non-commissioned officers and 481 legionnaires, 510 men in total, left the train station of Sidi Bel Abbes at 7:30 AM (7h30) on Wednesday morning, September 14, 1932. They were heading for Oujda in eastern Morocco, distant some 80 miles (130 km). All of these men were volunteers asking for the baroud, the fighting.

The troop train with legionnaires had covered more than half of the journey before taking the last planned break at Tlemcen. Around 2:15 PM (14h15), the train left the town and continued to Morocco. Some 30 minutes later, after having passed a railroad tunnel and several hundreds yards (meters), the train derailed and fell into a ravine located close to Oued Zitoune, 3 miles (5 km) distant from approaching Turenne (today’s Sabra).

The reason of the accident? A constant heavy rain had undermined the freshly repaired railroad, causing the release of the rails. Also, during previous construction works, some of ties were removed. The loosened rails weren’t able to carry the moving train and collapsed. The train derailed. It was pushing ties and the mushy soil for some 260 feet (80 m) before reaching a curved railway embankment and falling 66 feet (20 m) into the ravine.

Local authorities were alerted. The following rescue operation took all night, conducted by survived legionnaires from the train and by legionnaires arriving from Sidi Bel Abbes in the evening, to save their comrades. Inside the 14 wrecked cars in the ravine, 5 train crew members and 52 legionnaires were found dead. Within a few days, another 4 legionnaires died from their injuries. The 2 officers and 215 legionnaires were wounded. Tens of them had to be amputated.

On Saturday, September 17, an imposing funeral ceremony took place at Sidi Bel Abbes. The local highest public and military authorities, tens of thousands of people and hundreds of legionnaires attended it. The long procession was composed of tens of cars carrying the killed legionnaires, while their survived comrades were marching alongside.

General Paul Rollet (nicknamed Father of the Legion), the famous officer and then chief of the Foreign Legion, made a speech to render homage to the killed men. During the speech, he said that “…in the previous two years on the battlefields of Morocco, the Legion hasn’t lost so many legionnaires as it suffered in this single accident…”. General Rollet was among the first to arrive at the site of the tragedy and commanded himself the rescue operation.

The 56 legionnaires killed during the 1932 Turenne rail accident were buried at the military cemetery of Sidi Bel Abbes.

In September 1934, a 40-foot (12 m) tall monument was raised near the site of the accident to commemorate the sad tragedy. It was designed by architect Paul Terrade and built by legionnaires from the 1st Foreign Regiment.

With 56 killed legionnaires and 217 men being wounded, the 1932 Turenne rail accident has remained the worst accident in the history of the French Foreign Legion.

 

1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident
The 14 wrecked cars in the ravine, mid-September 1932. Inside them, 57 killed men were found, including 52 legionnaires. Another 4 legionnaires died a few days later.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident - Sidi Bel Abbes - Funeral
The funeral ceremony at Sidi Bel Abbes, the Legion’s main garrison town, September 17, 1932. Tens of thousands of people participated in.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident - Sidi Bel Abbes - Funeral
The funeral ceremony at Sidi Bel Abbes. The cars are carrying the bodies of killed legionnaires. Their survived comrades march alongside.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident - General Rollet
General Paul Rollet, then chief of the Foreign Legion and the famous officer nicknamed as the Father of the Legion, is speaking during the funeral ceremony at Sidi Bel Abbes. As he said, in the Turenne accident the Legion lost more legionnaires than during the operations in Morocco in the previous two years.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident - Monument 1934
The freshly inaugurated monument built by legionnaires in 1934 to commemorate the 1932 Turenne rail accident.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident - Monument 1957
A Legion ceremony in front of the monument in the late 1950s, during the Algerian War.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident - Monument 2010
The abandoned monument in 2010, still proudly reminding the tragedy. On the top, the seven-flame grenade of the Legion.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident
The map shows the northwestern part of Algeria bordering Morocco the train was going through.
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident
The red point marks the site of the accident located 3 miles (5 km) to the east of then Turenne (Sabra now).
1er REI - 1 RE - Algeria - 1932 Turenne Rail Accident
The ravine in the curve of a railway embankment, the place of the tragedy. No other (more or less) detailed map of the place has ever been published in the newspapers, magazines, books or online articles dealing with the accident.

 
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See more photos:
Mekerra – Accident ferroviaire à Turenne (many newspaper articles)
Turenne Monument in 2010 by E. Lahcene (only a few rare images)

 
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Information & images sources:
Mekerra (FR)
Képi blanc magazines
google.com

 

Related articles:
1982 Mont Garbi accident
1976 Djibouti helicopter crash
2016 Avalanche accident in the Alps

 
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The page was updated on: September 14, 2017

 

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