DLEC: Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment

The Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment (DLEC) was a small, short-living unit of the French Foreign Legion. Activated in 1973, the detachment was stationed in the Comoro Islands, Indian Ocean. In fact, the unit was a former 2nd Company, 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (3e REI). In 1975, part of the Comoros declared independence. Therefore, the unit had to be redesignated and became the Foreign Legion Mayotte Detachment (DLEM). Learn more about the history of the Foreign Legion in the Comoros in the following article.

Foreign Legion - Comoro Islands - DLEC - Comoros Detachment - History



The Comoro Islands (or the Comoros) is an archipelago of volcanic islands situated in the Indian Ocean, in the northern part of the Mozambique Channel. They lie off the southeastern coast of Africa, between Mozambique and the northern part of Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world. The Comoros consist of four main islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli, and Mayotte. The latter — lying closest to Madagascar — was purchased by France as early as 1841. In the mid-1880s, the whole Comoros archipelago became a French colony. In 1946, the Comoro Islands became an overseas department of France and were granted autonomy in 1961. They were keeping strong ties to Madagascar, a French colony from 1895 to 1960.

The Foreign Legion also has strong ties to the region. In 1895, its legionnaires were the main force in the French expedition that achieved the pacification of Madagascar and its annexation to France. They actively participated in the lesser-known 1947-1951 Madagascar Campaign and later served on the island with the BLEM, from 1956 to 1962. That year, the battalion laid the foundation for the brand-new 3e REI which continued to serve in now-independent Madagascar.

Foreign Legion - Comoro Islands - Comoros - Grande Comore - Mayotte - map


Foreign Legion and the Comoros prior to 1973

The first important contact between the 3e REI legionnaires and the Comoro Islands occurred in May 1965 when two platoons of the 2nd Company accompanied Madagascar President Tsiranana during his week-long visit to the Comoros.

In late March 1966, the whole 2nd Company under Captain Gentile officially deployed to the Comoros. The HQ and the major part of the company were stationed at Camp Vouvouni south of Moroni, the capital of the Comoros. The city lies on Grande Comore, the largest of the four islands. Lieutenant Aubert’s 3rd Platoon was sent to the island of Anjouan to establish Camp Hombo near Mutsamudu, the second-largest city in the Comoros.

The 2nd Company had spent three and a half months on the islands before being replaced by Lieutenant Coustillac’s 1st Company, 3e REI in mid-July. The latter continued to complete the military installations and, in the meantime, the men were building shooting ranges at Hahaya and Mouandzaza in Grande Comore.

The 2nd Company returned to the Comoros in early November, now under Captain Reignier. The return was marked by a sad event: on November 20, Sergeant Hanicke accidentally died in Anjouan. He became the first loss of the Legion in the Comoros.

In February 1967, the legionnaires suppressed small local riots and restored order in Dzaoudzi, a commune in Mayotte. Thereafter, the company returned to Madagascar.

Nevertheless, in early July, the 2nd Platoon, 2nd Company left Madagascar to be stationed at Voidjou, north of Moroni, Grande Comore (the original Camp Vouvouni was no more occupied by the Legion). A few days later, the unit was followed by the 3rd Platoon that moved to Dzaoudzi, where the riots had to be suppressed a few months earlier.

As of November 9, the rest of the 2nd Company, now under Captain Brissart, left Madagascar to be permanently posted in the Comoros. The company, less the 2nd Platoon, was also stationed in Dzaoudzi. The small commune lies on a rocky islet that is connected by a causeway to the small island of Petite-Terre (Small Land) which constitutes, along with the nearby island of Grande-Terre (Large Land) and other smaller islets, the territory of Mayotte. In the 19th century, Dzaoudzi served as the residence of the king of Mayotte. It was also the capital of the Comoro Islands, until 1958. However, since then, the commune had become very poor and lost its previous glory.

On the rocky islet the abandoned buildings of different origins had to be renovated to meet the needs of the 2nd Company. In addition, other installations had to be built as well: a mess hall for the NCOs, a 60-kilowatt power plant with two generators, a gas station with a distribution network, a fuel storage tank, a field bakery, a tropical-style dining hall, a guardhouse, or disciplinary/prison facilities.

The tasks of the 2nd Company, 3e REI in the Comoros were as follows: retaining a French presence in the strategically important Mozambique Channel, maintaining order on the islands, carrying out construction work in support of both local and military infrastructure (e.g. building and repairing roads, bridges, and military installations), sending autonomous detachments to the four islands to do regular patrols there to better familiarize themselves with the territory, make contact with the local population, and show a constant French military presence. Besides, the legionnaires continued their military training, organized regular sports competitions, and participated in combined arms exercises and maneuvers.

Rarely seen within the French Army, the company also managed to operate an LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) for communication with the Grande-Terre, and, among other things, for supplying drinking water to the legionnaires and the local population. Later, a small desalination plant – nicknamed Le Bouilleur (Reboiler) – was established by the company to be able to provide scarce drinking water to Dzaoudzi.

The 2nd Company served in the Comoros until mid-1973. At the time, the 3e REI was ordered to leave Madagascar for French Guiana in South America to guard France’s future space center there. Thus, the high command decided to reinforce the company (now commanded by Captain Mayer) and transform it into an independent, self-governed, regiment-like unit and keep it in the region to control it.


Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - 1965
2nd Company, 3e REI legionnaires sailing around Mayotte, during Madagascar President’s official visit to the Comoros Islands, May 1965.

Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - 1965
2nd Company, 3e REI parade in Mutsamudu, the second-largest city in the Comoros and the capital of the island of Anjouan, May 1965. The rare photo was provided to our website and published with the kind permission of Krzysztof Schramm, historian of Poland’s A.A.A.L.E. de Pologne Foreign Legion veteran association and the author of Zygmunt Jatczak: I regret nothing.

Foreign Legion - Comoro Islands - Comoros - Moroni - Mutsamudu - Dzaoudzi - map

Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Moroni - Camp Vouvouni - 1966
A rare photo showing 2nd Company, 3e REI legionnaires at the site of the future Camp Vouvouni, located south of Moroni, Grande Comore, late March 1966.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - Music Band - Comoro Islands - Camerone Day - Camp Vouvouni - 1966
The 3e REI Music Band personnel at the site of the future Camp Vouvouni, late March 1966. The site was located near an abandoned distillery, seen in the background.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Camerone Day - Camp Vouvouni - 1966
The very first Camerone Day in the Comoros Islands. Camp Vouvouni, April 30, 1966. The most important holiday in the Legion commemorates the famous 1863 Battle of Camerone in Mexico.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 1st Company - Comoro Islands - Camp Vouvouni - Entrance - 1966
The entrance to Camp Vouvouni, 1966. At the time, it was occupied by the 1st Company, 3e REI.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Platoon - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Camp Voidjou - 1967
The 2nd Platoon 2nd Company 3e REI leaving Camp Voidjou, mid-1967. Located north of Moroni, it replaced the already abandoned Camp Vouvouni.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - map
Dzaoudzi lies on a small islet that is connected by a causeway to the small island of Petite-Terre (Small Land). The latter constitutes, along with the nearby island of Grande-Terre (Large Land) and other smaller islets, the territory of Mayotte.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - 1967
The small islet of Dzaoudzi in Mayotte, 1967.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - parade - 1967
The 2nd Company, 3e REI parade in Dzaoudzi to commemorate Armistice Day on November 11, 1967.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - Pierre Messmer - 1972
Minister for the Overseas Territories Pierre Messmer visiting the 2nd Company 3e REI headquarters in Dzaoudzi, early 1972. A former member of the 13e DBLE during WWII, Messmer served earlier as the Minister of the Armed Forces (1960-1969) and later as France’s Prime Minister (July 1972 – May 1974).
Foreign Legion Etrangere - 3e REI - 3 REI - 2nd Company - Comoro Islands - Anjouan - 1972
An exercise for 2nd Company 3e REI men on the island of Anjouan, October 1972.


Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment

August 1, 1973, the Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment (Détachement de Légion Etrangère des Comores, DLEC) was officially activated. It consisted of former elements of the 2nd Company, 3e REI and about a hundred men coming from other 3e REI units or Mainland France. In total, they numbered 8 officers, 30 NCOs and 173 legionnaires. Captain François Grandjean took command. A capable and confident officer, he was well aware of the local conditions and upcoming challenges. In the late 1960s, he led the 3e REI’s Commando Training Center in Madagascar and then a 2nd Company detachment in the Comores.

The DLEC was headquartered in Dzaoudzi, Mayotte. The detachment comprised a HQ platoon, four combat platoons, a French navy element, and a military transit team. The latter was detached to Réunion, a French island located some 420 miles (680 km) east of Madagascar. The 1st Platoon was stationed at Camp Voidjou near Moroni, Grande Comore.

Assigned to the South Indian Ocean French Forces (FFSOI), based in Réunion, the detachment’s missions were very diverse. In addition to those inherited from the 2nd Company, the DLEC had to intervene anywhere in the region in twelve hours, on foot or by vehicle, with an intervention force consisting of 160 men, while continuing to ensure the safety and functioning of the rear base in Dzaoudzi.

Besides the operational tasks, the DLEC supplied drinking water to the local hospital and the gendarmerie, and electricity to the hospital, the high school, and the post office. Moreover, it assisted the French Secretary General, transported heavy equipment and provided small repairs of all kinds. Communication with Grande-Terre was now maintained by four LCM crafts.

Meanwhile, the military base in Dzaoudzi had to be expanded to feed and accommodate the reinforced troops and the families coming from Madagascar, as well as to provide space for more complex administration services. Other installations had to be built: prefabricated houses, modern shower and toilet facilities, warehouses to store materiel, workshops, and even a new movie theater. Soon there were about five hundred people living on the base, including civil servants.

In early February 1974, in the presence of the Foreign Legion’s commander-in-chief, the unit insignia was distributed among DLEC personnel.

Later that year, a cholera epidemic was raging in the Comoros. The Legion sent its medics to help vaccinate the archipelago’s population (6,000 vaccines applied).

In the meantime, in order to increase the operational capability of French troops serving outside France, a new system of rotational companies was established by the French command. A “rotational company” should remain deployed in an assigned territory for several months and, before returning to France, be subsequently relieved by another company.

Thus, in late January 1975, the reorganization of the DLEC took place. The “permanent” personnel (in fact, deployed on two-year individual stays) was now represented only within the HQ unit. The combat platoons, reinforced with forty legionnaires arriving from Corsica, formed a new company: the 7th Company, Foreign Legion Operational Group (GOLE). Led by Captain Buisson, the new unit became the very first rotational company of the DLEC. Composed of 138 officers, NCOs, and legionnaires, the 7th Company GOLE remained in Mayotte for nine months, until late October. Their most important “action” was the vaccination of the island’s population against the cholera epidemic.

Regarding the HQ unit, it could, if necessary, be transformed into two combat platoons and an autonomous motorized element comprising three jeeps armed with light machine guns.

Nevertheless, the political situation deteriorated considerably in the territory, following the December 1974 referendum in which three Comorian islands voted for independence of the country; Mayotte, for its part, voted to remain with France. Despite an earlier agreement reached with France for the Comoros to become independent in 1978, the Comorian parliament passed a resolution declaring unilateral independence on July 6, 1975.

Shortly afterward, Captain Grandjean passed command of the DLEC to Major Yves Racaud, a former member of both the 1er REP and the 2e REP.

In Dzaoudzi, a well with a pump — designed to supply fresh water to ships anchored in the local roadstead — was built by legionnaires, as well as comfortable villas for French authorities, LCM operators and aircraft crews.

In October 1975, the 5th Company, GOLE replaced in Mayotte the 7th Company as a rotational unit.

In early 1976, electric lines, roads and bridges damaged by tropical cyclones had to be repaired in Mayotte. In March, the detachment’s Dodge 6×6 trucks were engaged in the construction of an airstrip in the remote Glorioso Islands, located some 170 miles (270 km) northeast of Mayotte.

Following the Comoros’ independence, the DLEC elements stationed in Grande Comore had to abandon Camp Voidjou and return to Mayotte. Naturally, it was decided to redesignate the unit to reflect the new situation. Therefore, in early April 1976, the DLEC became the Foreign Legion Mayotte Detachment (DLEM).


DLEC - Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - Lcl Billot - Cne Grandjean - fanion - 1973
Dzaoudzi, August 2 (yes, Aug 2nd), 1973. Lt. Col. Billot, then-head of the 3e REI, is handing the fanion of the newly activated DLEC over to Captain Grandjean.

DLEC - Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - Cne Grandjean - parade - 1973
Captain Grandjean leading his newly activated DLEC during their very first parade, August 2, 1973. Note that the men wear the 3e REI’s insignia and fourragère. That’s because they were the 2nd Company until a few minutes ago.
DLEC - Comoros Detachment - Foreign Legion - 7th Company - Mayotte - 1975 - Captain Buisson
The newly activated 7th Company GOLE in Mayotte, January 1975. It is reviewed by its commander, Captain Buisson (in the middle). The unit became the very first rotational company of the DLEC.
DLEC - Comoros Detachment - Foreign Legion - 7th Company - Mayotte - vaccination - 1975
A local boy is vaccinated by DLEC men (7th Company GOLE) on Grande Terre, Mayotte, 1975.
DLEC - Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment - Mayotte - LCM - transportation - 1975
DLEC legionnaires are transported by an LCM craft between Dzaoudzi and Grande Terre, 1975. The LCMs were operated by French marines assigned to the DLEC.
DLEC - Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment - Mayotte - Cne Grandjean - Cdt Racaud - 1975
Change of command ceremony, Dzaoudzi, July 1975. Captain Grandjean (left, saluting the fanion) is being replaced by Major Racaud.
DLEC - Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment - Col Grandjean - fanion - 1995
Foreign Legion Museum in Aubagne, 1995. Colonel Grandjean is returning the old DLEC fanion. In the mid-1980s, he also commanded the 5e RE in Polynesia.
DLEC - Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment - insignia - badge - 1974
The DLEC insignia, designed in 1973 and distributed in early February 1974.



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Fanion Vert et Rouge (Fr)


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More from the history of the Foreign Legion:
BLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion
CDRE/EO: Far East Disciplinary Company
1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company
History of the 1st Foreign Regiment


The page was updated on: August 1, 2023


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