CERA – Foreign Airdrop Company

The Foreign Airdrop Company (CERA) was a short-living airborne mixed unit serving in then French Indochina, consisting of legionnaires in the majority. It was established in northern Vietnam in 1951. The CERA was tasked with airdropping of supplies to French troops on the ground during the First Indochina War (1946-54). The unit was inactivated the same year, after eight months of its existence.

Compagnie Etrangère de Ravitaillement Par Air - CERA - Foreign Airdrop Company - History

 

Airdrop Company

1948:
– October 2, a platoon of HQ Company, 2nd Battalion, 1er RCP (Parachute Chasseur Regiment, the oldest French airborne unit, based in Algeria at that time) arrived in then French Indochina
– placed at the Bach Mai air base
– the base was located near Hanoi, Tonkin (then title for northern Vietnam)
– in mid-October, the platoon was reinforced and redesignated
– it became a company

Airdrop Company, Northern Indochina French Troops
Compagnie de Ravitaillement Par Air des Troupes Françaises d’Indochine Nord (CRA/TFIN)
– October 16, 1948, CRA/TFIN was constituted
– a company assigned to the 1er RCP
– Captain Fraval took command

– CRA/TFIN conducted over 230 airdrop missions
– it took part in operations Ondine and Pegasse

1949:
Airdrop Company, Northern Air Base
CRA de la Base Aéroportée Nord (CRA/BAPN)
– January 1, CRA/TFIN was redesignated
– it became CRA/BAPN
– CRA/BAPN was placed in a former factory located in Hanoi
– it became an administratively independent company
– in February, Lieutenant Camus took command

– that year, over 10,000 tons of material and ammunition were airdropped

1950:
– during that year, several legionnaires joined the unit
– they belonged to the 1er BEP (Foreign Parachute Battalion, future 1er REP)
– soon after, they formed an entire Legion platoon

– in October, Battle of RC4
– a severe two-week battle in the Cao Bang region of then Tonkin
– it occurred along the Colonial Road 4
– the Legion platoon of CRA took part in
– France had thousands of its soldiers killed, wounded or missed
1er BEP became the first French parachute battalion lost in combat

– because of that, many of the remaining 1er BEP legionnaires were transferred to the CRA
– they became a majority within the company
– December 31, 1er BEP was officially inactivated
– its last elements were assigned to the 2e BEP (now 2e REP)

– Airdrop Company will be reorganized and redesignated
– it would become a Legion company
– December 31, CRA/BAPN was officially dissolved

– in November, the company was mentioned in the order of the Army

 

Foreign Airdrop Company

1951:
Foreign Airdrop Company
Compagnie Etrangère de Ravitaillement Par Air (CERA)

CERA was constituted January 1, 1951
– the company consisted of around 250 men
– between them, 140 legionnaires from 1er BEP and 2e BEP
– the rest of the company was composed of French supply train elements (around 40 men) + local Vietnamese auxiliaries (around 70 men)

– CERA was comprised of four platoons:

  • HQ Platoon
  • Parachutes Maintenance & Folding Platoon (SEPPM)
  • Reception & Packaging Platoon (SRE)
  • Dropping Platoon (SL)

– the company was still stationed in Hanoi
– it was designated as a combat unit
Captain Bernard Cazaumayou took command of the company

  • Captain Cazaumayou served with the 2e BEP
  • in 1949, he commanded 2nd Company, 2e BEP
  • his then deputy was Bernard Cabiro, the future well-known figure of the Legion
  • in late 1949, Captain Cazaumayou took command of HQ Company, 2e BEP
  • in 1962-65, as a colonel, he represented France in Argentina
  • Bernard Cazaumayou died in 2011

– CERA was tasked with the airdropping of supplies and equipment within a theatre of operations
– it had to resupply otherwise inaccessible troops and isolated outposts
– it delivered weapons, ammunition, food, water, fuel, mails…
– small crates with attached parachutes were pushed out of the aircraft’s side cargo doors
– they were pushed by a specially trained crew of up to four men
– CERA mainly used German JU 52 Junkers (called Toucan AAC-1 in France) and U.S. Dakota C 47 transport aircrafts

– the company also maintained and stored airdrop materials and equipment
– it also stored supplies designated for delivery

– in March, 1er BEP was reactivated

– in May, CERA supported Thai Battalions (part of the French Army) during a military operation near Thyan Vyen

CERA relocation
– in July, the company left the center of Hanoi
– it moved northeast of the city
– CERA was placed at the military air base of Gia Lam (Air Base North)

– August 1, Captain Francois Vieulès took command of the company

  • an officer with the 1er BEP
  • in late 1950, Captain Vieulès commanded a provisional company formed by remaining elements of the annihilated 1er BEP, assigned to the 2e BEP
  • ex-commander of the 2nd Company, 3e REI
    (1946-48) and the 7th Company, 3e REI (1948)
  • after the dissolution of CERA, Captain Vieulès rejoined 3e REI
  • he became a commander par interim of the 2nd Battalion, 3e REI (Sep-Dec 1951)
  • in April 1954, he became Major and took command par interim of the 1er BEP
  • later in Algeria, he served with the 13e DBLE
  • born in 1918, Major Vieulès was killed in a skirmish in 1958

CERA dissolution
– in late August, the legionnaires left the company
– they were replaced by French regular soldiers
– CERA would be reorganized and redesignated
– August 31, 1951, CERA was officially dissolved

 

3rd Airlift Company

1951:
Airdrop Company, Northern Vietnam Ground Forces
CRA des Forces Terrestres du Nord Vietnam (CRA/FTNV)

– September 1, the company became CRA again
– it was assigned to the FTNV
– Captain Fuchs took command

1951 – 1953:
– CRA continued in supporting French troops (including legionnaires) in Tonkin

3rd Airdrop Company
– in October 1953, CRA was redesignated
– the company became CRA3

1954:
– in 1954, CRA3 participated in the well-known Battle of Dien Bien Phu
– it supplied the French units (including legionnaires) in the remote valley of northern Tonkin

3rd Airlift Company
3e Compagnie de Livraison Par Air (CLA3)
– in July, the company was reorganized and redesignated again
– July 1, 1954, CLA3 was constituted

1955:
– in late September 1955, CLA3 left Indochina for Algeria
– November 30, CLA3 was dissolved

 

CERA - Foreign Airdrop Company - Insignia - Badge - Indochina - 1951
The insignia of CERA, created in 1951. It bears an aircraft airdropping a cargo, Indochina in black + traditional green & red colors of the Foreign Legion. CERA title is designed as a parachute.
CRA - CRA3 - Airdrop Company - Insignia - Badge - Indochina
The insignia of both, CRA and CRA3. The insignia of CLA3 from 1954 has already its title corrected.
CRA - Airdrop Company - Manual - Instruction - Indochina - 1949
French Army manual for airdrop companies from June 1949
CERA - CRA - Foreign Airdrop Company - Airdrop Company - Indochina - Junkers JU 52 - 1950
Junkers – JU 52 (also called Toucan in France) in Indochina in the early 1950s. These German transport aircrafts used by CRA and CERA were supplying French troops during the First Indochina War.
CERA - CRA - Foreign Airdrop Company - Foreign Legion - Indochina - 1950
A CRA member is pushing supplies out of a JU 52 over RC4. (August 1950)
CERA - CRA - Foreign Airdrop Company - Foreign Legion - Indochina - 1950
Legionnaires watch airdropping of supplies during the Battle of RC4, conducted by the CRA. (October 1950)
CERA - CRA - Foreign Airdrop Company - Foreign Legion - Indochina - 1950
At the air base of Gia Lam near Hanoi, a French support service paratrooper from then CRA3 (ex-CERA) with two Vietnamese auxiliaries are preparing supplies for French troops (including thousands of legionnaires) fighting in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (April 1954)

 
 
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More Photos:
See a few rare photos from CERA: Cie Étrangère de Ravitaillement par Air (De)

 
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Information sources:
Unités de Livraison par Air – Un peu d’histoire (Fr)
Symboles et traditions (Fr)
L’Amicale du 1er RTP (Fr)
More-majorum.de (Germans in French Indochina 1946-56)

 
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See also Foreign Legion’s other disbanded airborne units:
1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment
Parachute Company of 3e REI
1st Heavy Mortar Foreign Parachute Company

 

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The page was updated on: October 10, 2017

 

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