French Foreign Legion History

Foreign Legion Historical Events Day by Day

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Historical Events - Foreign Legion

 

Foreign Legion History: Prior to the establishment

1481:
Swiss Hundred (Cent Suisse)
– Swiss Hundred was established by King Louis XI
– it was a company comprising 100 Swiss elite soldiers
– the main task of this elite unit was to protect the King and his family
– Swiss Hundred existed during the 1471-1792 and 1814-1817 periods

1616:
Swiss Guards (Gardes Suisses)
– Swiss Guards infantry regiment (2,400 men) was established by King Louis XIII
– its main task was to guard French royal palaces
– during military campaigns, the Swiss Guards served in the first line
– at the time of the establishment, there were another 11 Swiss regiments serving the French kingdom
– Swiss Guards were massacred during the French Revolutionary Wars in August 1792 and ceased to exist

1792 – 1793:
Free Foreign Legion (Légion Franche Etrangère)
– a Legion established in August 1792
– eventually composed of Dutch volunteers
– it fought in the French Revolutionary Wars
– as Batavian Legion, dissolved in October 1793

1802 – 1814:
Napoleon’s Army (Armée napoléonienne)
– tens of thousands of foreigners served the French Empire during the Napoleon’s Wars

April-May 1815:
Foreign regiments (Régiments étrangers)
– Napoleon’s decision to establish 8 foreign regiments within his Armée du Nord
– they would fight in Belgium (the campaign well-known for the Battle of Waterloo)
– however, only the 2nd Foreign Regiment (consisting of the Swiss) was combat-ready

September 1815:
Royal Foreign Legion (Légion Royale Étrangère)
– Royal Foreign Legion was established by King Louis XVIII
– it absorbed the Swiss and recruits from the recently disbanded eight foreign regiments
– the Royal Legion has strength of a full regiment
– besides that, six Swiss regiments served within the French Army at that time

Royal Guard (Garde Royale)
– in September 1815, the Royal Guard was established to protect the king
– two of the six Swiss regiments were part of the Royal Guard
– in August 1830, the Royal Guard, including the Swiss regiments, was disbanded

1821:
Hohenlohe Regiment (Régiment de Hohenlohe)
– in 1816, Royal Foreign Legion was renamed the Hohenlohe Legion (Légion de Hohenlohe)
– the unit was commanded by Colonel Louis Aloysius, Prince of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Bartenstein
– in 1821, Hohenlohe Legion (based in Bastia, Corsica) was retitled
– it became the Hohenlohe Regiment

January 1831:
– Hohenlohe Regiment was disbanded

 

First Foreign Legion 1831-1835

March 10, 1831:
Foreign Legion (Légion Étrangère, LE)
King Louis Philippe signed an ordinance
– the ordinance authorized an establishment of a new unit composed of foreigners
– the unit was named as the Foreign Legion
– the ordinance allowed foreigners to serve under a declared identity
– this condition of service is valid to this day

– the first French Foreign Legion was organized into a single regiment
– it would consist of seven battalions, devided into eight companies
– each company would consist of around 110 men
– each battalion would consist of men of specific nationality

1831 – 1833:
– Foreign Legion battalions:

  • 1st Battalion – consisting of Swiss and German veterans from the Swiss regiments and Hohenlohe Regiment
  • 2nd + 3rd Battalions consisting of the Swiss and German-speaking volunteers
  • 4th Battalion consisting of Spanish-speaking volunteers
  • 5th Battalion consisting of Italian-speaking volunteers
  • 6th Battalion consisting of French, Belgian and Dutch volunteers
  • 7th Battalion consisting of Polish volunteers

1834:
– 4th Battalion of Spaniards was disbanded
– its men were sent back to Spain, to join the Spanish Civil War (or First Carlist War)

1835 – 1838:
First Carlist War
– in June 1835, King Louis Philippe decided to send the whole Foreign Legion to Spain
– its around 4,100 legionnaires had to help Maria Christina, Regent of Spain
– in August 1835, the Foreign Legion left Algeria and joined the Spanish Army
– in August 1836, one another battalion was sent to Spain to reinforce the legionnaires
– in 1839, only around 220 men of the original Legion returned to France

– see also: French Foreign Legion: The Lineage

 

New French Foreign Legion 1835-1855

1835 – 1840:
new Foreign Legion establishment
– on 16 December 1835, King Louis Philippe decided to create the new Foreign Legion
– in 1836, a battalion was formed
– however, it was disbanded and its men moved also to Spain
– in November 1836, a new battalion was formed
– in September 1837, the second battalion of the new Foreign Legion was formed
– until December 1840, three other battalions were established
– the battalions served in Algeria

October 1837:
Siege of Constantine
– a Foreign Legion task force participated in

May 1839:
Djidjelli campaign
– 1st Battalion participated in fierce fights

April 1841:
Foreign Legion Regiments
– on 30 December 1840, a decision to create two Foreign Legion regiments was made
– on 1 April 1841, the two foreign regiments were established

1st Foreign Legion Regiment (1er Régiment de la Légion Étrangère, 1er RLE) was organized in Algiers, the capital of Algeria
– Colonel Ch.J. de Mollenbeck took the leadership
– Colonel de Mollenbeck was a German officer
– he was a former member of the Hohenlohe Regiment

2nd Foreign Legion Regiment (2e Régiment de la Légion Étrangère, 2e RLE) was organized in Bône, Algeria
– Colonel J. F. Caries de Senilhes took the leadership

1841 – 1854:
Pacification of Algeria
– Siege of Kolea in 1841
– Conquest of Zibans in 1844
– Siege of Zaatcha in 1849
– Siege of Moulouya in 1852

1843:
– Foreign Legion moved to Sidi Bel Abbes
– in 1843, the first Legion elements moved to Sidi Bel Abbes
– Sidi Bel Abbes was the garrison made up by legionnaires
– Foreign Legion headquarters had been based in Sidi Bel Abbes up to 1962

 

French Foreign Legion: Crimean War 1854-1855

1854 – 1855:
Crimean War
– in 1854, the Legion was attached to the Orient Army of France
– both regiments deployed to Turkey to be based at Gallipoli
– Battle of Alma in September 1854
– Siege of Sevastopol in September 1855

– during the Crimean War, the Foreign Legion lost 1,625 men

1855 – 1856:
First Foreign Legion + Second Foreign Legion
– on 17 January 1855, a decree to create two Foreign Legions was issued
– the original Legion became the First Foreign Legion (1re LE)
– it consisted of the two original regiments fighting in Crimea

Second Foreign Legion (2e Légion Étrangère, 2e LE)
– Second Foreign Legion (2e LE) was established in 1855
– it was commanded by General Ochsenbein
– the new Legion was nicknamed Swiss Legion (Légion Suisse)
– it was composed of Swiss volunteers in the vast majority
– 2e LE would also fight in the Crimean War
– its first regiment was formed in 1855
– the second Swiss regiment existed only on paper
– finally, 2e LE didn’t join the war in Crimea

 

French Foreign Legion Reorganisation 1856

1856:
Foreign Legion reorganisation
– on April 16, a decree to reorganize Foreign Legions was issued
– the decree ordered to form two Foreign Regiments

1st Foreign Regiment (1er Régiment Etrangèr, 1er RE)
– in June 1856, the Swiss Legion (2e LE) was disbanded
– Swiss legionnaires formed a new Foreign Regiment
– 1st Foreign Regiment was established

2nd Foreign Regiment (2e Régiment Etrangèr, 2e RE)
– in July 1856, the original Legion’s regiments landed in Algeria
– in August 1856, they were disbanded and its legionnaires formed a new unit
– 2nd Foreign Regiment was established

 

Foreign Legion: Italian campaign 1859

April-July 1859:
Second Italian War of Independence
– in April 1859, both Foreign Regiments deployed to Italy
– Battle of Magenta on 4 June 1859
– during the battle was killed Colonel de Chabrières, the 2e RE commander
– Battle of Solferino on 24 June 1859

August 1859:
Military parade in Paris
– on 14 August 1859, the 2e RE legionnaires paraded in Paris
– for legionnaires, it was the first military parade in Paris

 

French Foreign Legion: North Africa 1859-1863

1859 – 1860:
1st Foreign Regiment in Corsica
– during the war in Italy, 1er RE suffered heavy casualties
– the regiment left the war to be based in Corsica in June 1859
– 1er RE left Corsica for Algeria in February 1860

September 1859:
operations in Morocco
– legionnaires participated in operations against Beni Snassen rebels

January 1862:
Foreign Regiment (Régiment Etrangèr, RE)
– in January 1862, the 2e RE was redesignated
– it became simply the Foreign Regiment (RE)
– in February 1862, 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE) was disbanded
– its legionnaires consolidated with the RE

 

Foreign Legion: Mexican Campaign 1863-1867

March 1863:
French intervention in Mexico
– legionnaires landed in Mexico
– they took part in the French intervention (1861-1867)

April 30, 1863:
Battle of Camerone in Mexico
– 3rd Company led by Captain Danjou was involved in
– 3 officers + 62 legionnaires
– they fought against 2,000 Mexican soldiers, rebels and cavalrymen
– when the battle finished, only 3 legionnaires were combat-ready
– 40 of them were killed during the battle, including 2 officers
– today, the Legion commemorates this battle on Camerone Day
– Camerone Day became the most important day for the legionnaires

1864 – 1865:
– in June 1864, 2nd Battalion was involved in fights near Puchingo
– in December 1864, fights near Coutela
– in February 1865, legionnaires siezed the town of Oajacca

1866:
Battle of Santa Isabel
– on March 1, a battle at a hacienda located near Parras, northern Mexico
– two Legion companies (180 men) led by Major De Brian
– they were annihilated by 1,900 Mexicans, attacking the hacienda
– it is seen as the “second Camerone”

– also in March, 44 legionnaires resisted near Parras against 500 Mexicans for 3 days
– in July, 125 legionnaires defended the Hacienda De La Encarnacion against 600 Mexicans
– in December, 50 cavalry legionnaires fought off around 500 Mexicans in Parral

– in November 1866, the Mexican Campaign ended for the French

February 1867:
– Foreign Regiment left Mexico for Africa

– Foreign Regiment lost over 1,500 men in Mexico

 

French Foreign Legion 1867-1883

1867:
– in March 1867, Foreign Regiment landed in Algeria

1868:
– in February, operations in the Figuig region, Algeria

1870 – 1871:
Franco-Prussian War
– three foreign battalions (1st + 2nd + 5th) participated in
– they were mainly involved in fights in Orleans, France

1871:
Paris Commune
– in May, legionnaires fought against radical socialists occupying Paris
– legionnaires reseized Paris together with the regular French Army
– in June, the battalions left France for Africa

– in August 1871, the regiment received a provisional flag

1875:
Foreign Legion
– on 13 March 1875, Foreign Regiment changed its designation
– it became the Foreign Legion again

1881:
– operations in the South Oran region of Algeria

– first Mounted Companies (Compagnie Montée) were established
– they will become the elite units of the Legion

 

Foreign Legion: Tonkin Campaign 1883-1886

– in December 1883, General François de Négrier:

“You, Legionnaires, you are soldiers in order to die, and I’m sending you to where one dies!”

– these famous words were addressed to legionnaires leaving Algeria for Asia

1883 – 1887:
Tonkin Campaign
– the Legion will meet the Indochina (a peninsula in Southeast Asia)
– in November 1883, first legionnaires landed in Indochina
– operations in Tonkin, the northernmost part of today’s Vietnam
– the operations in Tonkin were often part of Sino-French War

– in Tonkin, legionnaires were involved in several campaigns and battles:
Son Tay Campaign (December 1883)
Bac Ninh Campaign (March 1884)
Siege of Tuyen Quang (December 1884 – February 1885)
Lang Son Campaign (February 1885)

December 1884:
Foreign Legion reorganization
– Foreign Legion was devided into two regiments again
– 1er RE and 2e RE were re-established

1887:
French Indochina
– that year, French Indochina was constituted
– it would be composed of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
– French Indochina ceased to exist in 1954

 

French Foreign Legion 1887-1914

1892 – 1893:
Campaign of French Sudan
– Sudan is a former title for today’s Mali (West Africa)
– a Legion company took part in

1892 – 1894:
Second Franco-Dahomean War
– the expedition was part of the Second Franco-Dahomean War
– it took place near the Gulf of Guinea, in today’s Benin (West Africa)
– a Legion battalion was involved in (August-November)

1894 – 1895:
Second Campaign of French Sudan
– in February 1894, a 2e RE company left Algeria
– with a 1er RE company, they moved to French Sudan
– 2e RE company was sent to French Guinea
– in January 1895, the companies returned to Algeria

Battle of Bosse
– on July 1, a fierce battle in French Sudan
– it took place in the village of Bosse
– it was aimed at Alikari, the local king of Bosse
– a platoon of 1er RE took part in

1895:
Second Madagascar Expedition
– legionnaires took part in the French military intervention
– the Legion returned back to Madagascar in 1896
– legionnaires left the island in 1905

1903:
– on September 2, Battle of El-Moungar
– the battle took place in the South Oran region, Algeria
– 113 legionnaires of the 22nd Mounted Company/2e RE were attacked by 3,000 Berbers
– legionnaires fought off the Berbers for more than 8 hours
– with coming French reinforcements, the Berbers retreated
– 2e RE company suffered 34 dead and almost 50 severely wounded
– 2e REI commemorates the battle on El Moungar Day

1907 – 1934:
Pacification of Morocco
– since 1907, the Legion took part in the Pacification of Morocco
– in 1912, the French Protectorate in Morocco was established
– the Legion had 3 of its 4 infantry regiments of Africa based there in 1920-1940
– in 1934, the Pacification successfully ended

 

Foreign Legion: First World War 1914-1918

July 1914:
World War I (First World War) started on July 28, 1914

September-November 1914:
four regimental combat teams were established
– these teams were provisional units

  • 2nd Regimental Combat Team of 1er RE (2e Régiment de Marche du 1er Regiment Étranger, 2e RM/1er RE)
  • 3e RM/1er RE
  • 4e RM/1er RE (consisted of Italian volunteers; called as the Légion Garibaldienne)
  • 2e RM/2e RE (2e RM du 2e Regiment Étranger)

– their purpose had been to fight on the Western Front of Europe

December 1914 – January 1915:
– the regimental combat teams fought on the Western Front
– they participated in battles near Argonne, Somme, Craonne

1915:
– in March, 4e RM/1er RE (Legion Garibaldienne) was disbanded
– in May-June, the teams took part in the Battle of Artois on the Western Front
– in July, 3e RM/1er RE was disbanded
– in September, the Battle of Champagne on the Western Front

March 1915:
Foreign Legion Battalion (Bataillon de Légion Étrangère, BLE) was formed
– the battalion was formed in Algeria
– it helped to complete the African Regimental Combat Team (RMA)
– RMA was composed of 3 battalions
– the Legion one + 2 Zouave battalions (a force mainly composed of conscripts from the French settlers in Algeria and Tunisia)
– a few weeks later, the RMA was re-designated as the 1er RMA
– later, the Legion Battalion became the 3rd Battalion of 1er RMA
– in 1915-1917, the 3rd Battalion/1er RMA fought in the Balkans Campaign
– in 1915, it was involved in the Gallipoli Campaign (or Dardanelles Campaign)
– in April 1917, it took part in the Battle of Monastir (in today’s Macedonia)

November 11, 1915:
Foreign Legion Regimental Combat Team (Régiment de Marche de la Légion Étrangère, RMLE) was established
– RMLE was formed by consolidating the remaining regimental combat teams (2e RM/1er RE, 2e RM/2e RE)
– RMLE participated in many fights and several fierce battles
– in July 1916, RMLE was involved in the Somme Campaign
– in August 1917, RMLE took part in the Battle of Verdun
– RMLE in 1916, as the first Legion unit, received a fourragère

October 1917:
3rd Battalion/1er RMA dissolution
– the Legion battalion of 1er RMA was disbanded
– part of legionnaires joined the RMLE
– in September 1917, the battalion was awarded the fourragère
– it was only the second Legion unit being awarded the fourragère
– the remaining legionnaires formed the Legion Company
– Legion Company served with 1er RMA until December 1918
– it was dissolved back in Africa in April 1919

1918:
– RMLE fought in several battles:
– near Hangard
– near Soissons
Second Battle of the Marne
Battle of St. Quentin Canal (Hindenburg Line)

November 11, 1918:
– World War I ended

– RMLE became one of the two most awarded unit of the French Army
– the regiment received 9 unit citations, mentioned in the name of the Army
– because of that, its legionnaires have been allowed to wear a double fourragère
– in 1919, RMLE left Europe for Africa

October 1918:
– in Russia, Foreign Legion Battalion of Northern Russia (Bataillon de la Légion Etrangère de Russie du Nord) was established
– the unit was administratively assigned to the Foreign Legion
– the battalion was composed of local volunteers, non-legionnaires
– its purpose had been to fight in Russia
– the battalion was disbanded a year later

 

French Foreign Legion 1918-1939

November 1920:
– RMLE became the 3rd Foreign Regiment (3e Régiment étranger, 3e RE)
4th Foreign Regiment was establisheded
– they were stationed in Morocco to participate in operations there

June 1922:
1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er Régiment étranger de cavalerie, 1e REC) was established

– 1e RE, 2e RE, 3e RE and 4e RE were designated as the infantry regiments

  • 1er RE became the 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment (1er Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie, 1e REI)
  • 2e RE became the 2e REI
  • 3e RE became the 3e REI
  • 4e RE became the 4e REI

1925 – 1926:
Rif War (or Second Moroccan War)
– 2e REI, 3e REI were involved in

Great Syrian Revolt in today’s Syria and Lebanon
– 1er REC, 4e REI participated in the conflict

September 17, 1925:
Battle of al-Musayfirah (Messifré in French) in Syria
– a 10-hour-long battle in the early stage of the Great Syrian Revolt
– 5th Battalion of 4e REI + 4th Squadron of 1er REC fought against 3,000 Druze rebels
– legionnaires fought off the attackers

March 1928:
Foum Zabel Tunnel
– the road tunnel in Morocco was finished
– it took six months to dig the tunnel through the solid rock
– the tunnel has become the famous example of Legion pioneer’s skills

September 1930:
5th Foreign Infantry Regiment (5e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie, 5e REI) was created
– it was organized in Indochina, in the Tonkin region
– 5e REI was nicknamed as the Tonkin regiment

April 30, 1931:
– the first public celebration of Camerone Day
– the first parade of the bearded Legion sappers at the head of a military parade

September 14, 1932:
1932 Turenne rail accident
– the worst accident in the Legion’s history
– tens of legionnaires killed

February 1933:
Battle of Bou Gafer
– the battle was part of operations in the Djebel Sagho valley, Morocco
– 1er REI, 2e REI, 3e REI participated in
– many legionnaires were killed

1934:
– Pacification of Morocco ended

July 1939:
2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment (2e Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie, 2e REC) was established
– it was based in Morocco

 

Foreign Legion: Second World War 1939-1945

September 1939:
World War II (Second World War) started

1st Foreign Volunteers Provisional Regiment (1er Régiment de Marche des Volontaires Étrangers, 1er RMVE) was established
– 1er RMVE consisted of foreigners, non-legionnaires
– it was administratively attached to the Legion
– in October, 2e RMVE was established in France

October 1939:
6th Foreign Infantry Regiment (6e REI) was established
– the regiment was stationed in Syria

November 1939:
11e REI was established in France
– 11e REI, 1er RMVE, 2e RMVE were formed to defend continental France

February 1940:
97th Infantry Division Reconnaissance Group (97e Groupe de Reconnaissance de Division d’Infanterie, 97e GRDI) was formed
– it was composed of elements from the 1er REC and 2e REC
– the group was involved in the Battle of France
– in September 1940, the 97e GRDI was disbanded

12e REI was established in France
– 97e GRDI and 12e REI were also formed to defend continental France

– 1er RMVE and 2e RMVE became the 21e RMVE and 22e RMVE

March 1940:
13th Foreign Legion Provisional Demi-Brigade (13e Demi-brigade de Marche de la Légion Étrangère, 13e DBMLE) was established
– it was organized in Algeria as a mountain warfare unit
– its purpose had been to fight in Scandinavia

April-June 1940:
Norwegian Campaign
– 13e DMBLE participated in, to fight against German forces
– two well-known battles were part of the campaign:
Battle of Bjervik
Battles of Narvik

May 1940:
– 23e RMVE was established in France

May-June 1940:
Battle of France

June 22, 1940:
Armistice was signed between France and Germany
– it ended the Battle of France

June-July 1940:
– 13e DBMLE, 11e REI, 12e REI, 21e RMVE, 22e RMVE, 23e RMVE were disbanded

– in England, Free French Forces of General de Gaulle were established
14e DBMLE became its first unit
– 14e DBMLE was formed by a half of legionnaires from the original 13e DBMLE

September 1940:
Battle of Dakar
– 14e DBMLE was involved in

October 1940 – May 1941:
Franco-Thai War
– in Indochina, 5e REI fought in the regional war

November 1940:
– 4e REI and 2e REC were disbanded

Battle of Gabon
– 14e DBMLE was involved in

January 1941:
– 14e DBLE became the 13e DBLE

February-April 1941:
Battle of Keren
– the battle took place in the Italian colony of Eritrea
– 13e DBLE took part in

June-July 1941:
Syria-Lebanon Campaign
– 6e REI of Vichy France faced the 13e DBLE of Free French Forces
– legionnaires did not fight each other in reality

August 1941:
– in Morocco, 4th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion (4e Demi-brigade de Légion Étrangère, 4e DBLE) was created
– 4e DBLE was sent to Senegal

December 1941:
– 6e REI was disbanded

May-June 1942:
Battle of Bir Hakeim in Libya
– 13e DBLE participated in

October-November 1942:
Second Battle of El Alamein in Egypt
– the first major offensive of the Allies against the German and Italian forces since 1939
– 13e DBLE participated in

November 1942:
British-American invasion of French North Africa (Operation Torch)
– landings in Morocco and Algeria on November 8, 1942
– all French forces in North Africa received an order to cease resistance
– on November 10, the French in North Africa joined the Allies

December 1942:
3rd Foreign Infantry Regimental Combat Team (3e REI de Marche, 3e REIM) was activated
– its task had been to fight against the Africa Corps of Marshal Rommel
– 3e REIM deployed to Tunisia

January-May 1943:
Tunisia Campaign
– 1er REIM (ex-4e DBLE), 3e REIM, 1er REC, 13e DBLE took part in
– in Tunisia, legionnaires were involved in several fierce battles:
Capture of Foum Es Gouafel (January)
Battle of Djebel Mansour (January)
Battle of Djebel Zaghouan (May)

June 1943:
– 1er REI, 3e REI, 1er REIM, 3e REIM were disbanded

– 2e REI was officially disbanded earlier, in March

July 1943:
Foreign Legion Regimental Combat Team (RMLE) was established again
– RMLE consisted of legionnaires from the disbanded units
– its main purpose had been to fight in France next year

April-June 1944:
Italian Campaign
– 13e DBLE participated in

June 1944:
Mounted and Motorized Company Group (Groupement des Compagnies Montées et Portées, GCMP) was activated in Morocco
– it consisted of the mounted and motorized companies of 3e REI
– these units were active and still attached administratively to the 3e REI

August-September 1944:
Operation Dragoon
– the invasion of Provence, France
– 13e DBLE, RMLE and 1er REC participated in

October 1944 – May 1945:
Liberation of France and fights on the Western Front
– in France and on the Western Front, legionnaires were involved in several battles:
Battle of the Vosges in France (October-November)
Colmar Pocket in France (January-February)
– in January 1945, RMLE fought at Strasbourg, France (together with 13e DBLE)
– in February-May 1945, fights in Germany and Austria

May 8, 1945:
– in Europe, World War II ended

May-June 1945:
– 5e REI fought against the Japonese in Indochina
– in July, 5e REI was disbanded because of large losses
– the remaining legionnaires formed the Provisional Battalion of 5e REI (BM5)
– BM5 was disbanded in November 1946
– its legionnaires returned to Algeria

– RMLE was redesignated as 3e REI again

Far East RMLE (RMLE d’Extrême Orient, RMLE/EO) was established
– the unit was organized in Africa to be deployed to Indochina

 

Foreign Legion: First Indochina War 1946-1954

1945 – 1946:
First Indochina War started
– in Indochina, a conflict started between the French and Ho Chi Minh
– Ho Chi Minh led the Viet-Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam)
– Viet-Minh was a nationalist and (later) pro-Soviet Union movement
– on 2 September 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France for Vietnam

January-April 1946:
2e REI (ex-RMLE/EO), 13e DBLE, 3e REI landed in Indochina

March 1946:
Saharan companies were established
1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company (1re Compagnie Saharienne Portée de Légion, 1re CSPL)
2nd Legion Saharan Motorized Company (2e CSPL)
– both CSPLs were stationed in Algeria

May-June 1946:
– 4e DBLE (4e REI in 1948) and 2e REC were re-established in Morocco

September 1946:
– GCMP became the Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Companies Group (GCPLEM)
– in 1947, it will become Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Group (GPLEM)

January 1947:
– 1er REC landed in Indochina

July 1947 – January 1952:
– Foreign Legion units were placed in Madagascar
– legionnaires from 4e DBLE, 2e REC and a sapper company
– they calmed down a local rebellion and maintained order

October-November 1947:
Operation Lea
– 3e REI was involved in

April 1, 1948:
Parachute Company of 3e REI (Compagnie Parachutiste du 3e REI, CP/3REI) was created
– it was the first airborne unit established within the Foreign Legion
– the unit conducted operations in Indochina

July 1948:
1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes, 1er BEP) was established
– it was organized in Algeria
– in November 1948, the 1er BEP landed in Indochina

July 25, 1948:
Battle of Phu Tong Hoa
Phu Tong Hoa was an outpost occupied by a company of 3e REI
– the company consisted of 103 men
– the outpost was attacked by three Viet Minh battalions
– legionnaires defended the outpost

October 1948:
2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion (2e BEP) was established
– it was organized in Algeria
– in February 1949, the 2e BEP landed in Indochina

February 1949:
3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company (3e CSPL) was established
– the company was organized in Algeria
– its main purpose had been to serve in Libya
– it was the only Legion unit stationed in this country

April 1949:
6e REI was re-created to serve in Tunisia

June 1949:
– Parachute Company of 3e REI consolidated with 1er BEP

June-July 1949:
2nd Foreign Legion Transportation Company
3rd Foreign Legion Transportation Company
– Foreign Legion transportation companies were established
– formed to serve in the First Indochina War
– logistics support units
– they supplied French troops and legionnaires in Indochina
– the companies were dissolved in 1953

November 1949:
3rd Foreign Parachute Battalion (3e BEP) was established
– it was an airborne training and reserve battalion
– 3e BEP was stationed in Algeria

5e REI was re-created in Indochina

October 1950:
Battle of Route Coloniale 4 (RC4)
– the French units based along RC4 were attacked by six Viet-Minh regiments
– 3rd Battalion/3e REI and 1er BEP participated in
– they were devastated and ceased to exist
– the French lost about 5,000 men in the battle
– 1er BEP became the first French parachute battalion lost in combat
– only 29 men of 1er BEP survived the battle

February 1951:
1st Transportation & Headquarters Company
2nd Transportation & Headquarters Company
– 1re CTQG + 2e CTQG were established
– logistics support mixed units
– consisting of legionnaires, French regulars and local auxiliaries
– they supplied French troops and legionnaires in Indochina
– the companies were dissolved in 1954

March 1951:
– 1er BEP was re-created

November 1951 – February 1952:
Battle of Hoa Binh
– 1er BEP, 2e BEP and 13e DBLE participated in

March 1952:
– operations in Tunisia against regional rebels
– 6e REI, 3e BEP were involved in

April 1952:
Operation Mercure
– 1er BEP, 13e DBLE, 1er REC took part in

November 1952:
Operation Lorraine
– 1er BEP, 2e BEP and 2e REI participated in

November-December 1952:
Battle of Na San
– Na San stronghold was attacked by three Viet-Minh divisions (9 regiments)
– after two weeks of heavy fighting, Viet-Minh lost around 3,000 soldiers
– the French win the battle, Viet-Minh was defeated
– 3rd Battalion/3e REI, 1er BEP, 2e BEP and 5e REI were involved in

June 1953:
2nd Foreign Legion Mortar Mixed Company (2e Compagnie Mixte de Mortiers de la Légion Etrangère, 2e CMMLE) is created
– the unit will conduct operations in Indochina

August-October 1953:
Operation Brochet
– 1er BEP and 2e BEP participated in

September 1953:
1st Heavy Mortar Foreign Parachute Company (1re Compagnie Étrangère Parachutiste de Mortiers Lourds, 1re CEPML) was established
– it will participate in operations in Indochina

1st Foreign Legion Mortar Mixed Company (1re Compagnie Mixte de Mortiers de la Légion Étrangère, 1re CMMLE) was also established in Indochina

November 1953:
Operation Castor
– the largest airborne operation of the First Indochina War
– 1er BEP + 1re CEPML participated in
– they jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– the units helped to establish the main French stronghold there

April-May 1954:
Battle of Dien Bien Phu
– 1er BEP + 1re CEPML, 2e BEP, I/2e REI, III/3e REI, I + III/13e DBLE, 1re CMMLE and 2e CMMLE + volunteers of other Foreign Legion regiments and units were involved in
– the units were completly destroyed

May-June 1954:
– 1er BEP + 2e BEP were reactivated

August 1954:
– First Indochina War ended

– Foreign Legion lost more than 10,000 men in the First Indochina War

 

French Foreign Legion: Algerian War 1954-1962

1954 – 1955:
Algerian War started
– in North Africa, the local rebels started its military operations
– these operations took part in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria since the late 1940s
– they were aimed at French forces presented in these regions
– the main rebel force fighting the French was the National Liberation Front (FLN)
– in 1955, those operations escalated to the Algerian War

1954 – 1956:
Foreign Legion left Indochina
– since December 1954 until March 1956, the units landed in Africa
– they were stationed in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco
– their main purpose had been to maintain order there

August-October 1954:
Operation Kepi Blanc (August)
– 4e REI participated in this operation conducted in Fez, Morocco
– 6e REI participated in operations in Tunisia

June 30, 1955:
– 6e REI was disbanded
– its men consolidated with 2e REI

August-November 1955:
– operations in Morocco against local rebels
– 4e REI was involved in

August-September 1955:
– 1er BEP became the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1er REP) back in Algeria
– 3e BEP became the 3e REP
– 3e REP will become the shortest-lived regiment of the Legion

December 1955
2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (2e REP)
– a new airborne regiment of the Legion
– organized in Algeria
– formed with men of two freshly dissolved units
– 2e BEP + 3e REP

– a large operation in the Tebessa region, Algeria
– 1er REP + 21e CPLE participated in
– more than 200 rebels were killed

January 1956:
4th Legion Saharan Motorized Company (4e CSPL) was established
– it was based in Ain Sefra, Algeria

February 1956:
Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group (GPLEA) was created
– it grouped together 21e CPLE, 22e CPLE and 23e CPLE
– these were autonomous motorized companies serving in Algeria since late 1954
– in October 1956, GPLEA was disbanded
– 21e CPLE, 22e CPLE, 23e CPLE consolidated with 2e REI

March 1956:
Morocco and Tunisia gained its independence
– in March 1956, the French protectorates became independent
– in Tunisia, the last Legion unit (1er REC) left this country in December 1956
– in Morocco, the last Legion unit (4e REI) left this country in March 1957
– all units joined the Algerian war

November 1956:
– GPLEM was disbanded
– its units consolidated with 4e REI
– 3e CSPL left Libya for Algeria

November-December 1956:
Suez Crisis in Egypt
– an operation to regain Western control of the Suez Canal
– 1er REP + 2e REC tank squadron participated in the operation
– in December, the units returned to Algeria
– the tank squadron of 2e REC consolidated with 1er REP

January-October 1957:
Battle of Algiers
– 1er REP participated in the famous operation in the capital of Algeria
– it ended by the apprehension of Saadi Yacef in September
– he was one of the leaders of Algeria’s FLN front
– the second most wanted rebel leader, Ali La Pointe, was also eliminated by 1er REP
– the house in which he was hiding was bombed on October 8

May 1957:
Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion (BLEM) was created
– BLEM was stationed in Diego Suarez, Madagascar

June-July 1957:
– operations in the Messade and Zaccar regions, Algeria
– 1er REC, 1re CSPL, 2e CSPL, 3e CSPL and 2e REC took part in

October 1957 – March 1958:
Operation Ouragan
– the operation was part of the Ifni War in Mauritania and Spanish Sahara
– 2e GCP (ex-GPLEM) of 4e REI, along with the Spanish Legion participated in
– the operation was aimed against regional Saharan rebels

November-December 1957:
Battle of Timimoun
– a large operation launched near Timimoun, Algeria
– it took place at the 150,000 km2 (58,000 square miles) of a desert area
– 4e CSPL + 3e RPC (French paratrooper regular unit) participated in
– its main purpose had been to find and eliminate about 60 Méhariste deserters
– these deserters killed their French cadres and, later, also 6 members from 4e CSPL
– Méhariste units were a camel cavalry recruited by the French from local tribes
– at the end of the operation, more than 40 deserters were killed
– the rest fled to Morocco

1957 – 1962:
– most of Legion units guarded the Algerian border with Tunisia

May 1958:
Operation Taureau 3
– 1er REP participated in
– on May 29, the 1er REP’s famous commander Lt-col Jeanpierre was killed
– he died during the operation in a helicopter hit by rebels

– military operations in the Ksar El Hirane region
– 2e CSPL, 3e CSPL took part in

July 1958:
rescue of Bambi
– a lonely starving small donkey was rescued by Harka of 13e DBLE
– a photo of a 13e DBLE member carrying the small donkey on his back became world-wide known
– the small donkey was given a name, Bambi
– it became the mascot of 13e DBLE

1959:
– legionnaires took part in several important operations:
Operation Etincelle (July)
Operation Edredon (August-September)
Operation Jumelles (September)
Operation Emeraude (November)
Operation Turquoise (November)

1960:
– restoring order in Algiers (January-March)
– 1e REP, 2e REP, 13e DBLE took part in

Boulevard du Bechar (April-December)
– road construction in the Colomb Bechar region
– 4e CSPL built up a 45km (30 miles) long strategic road through the local mountains

– operation in the Bou Kahil and Bou Saada regions (September-November)
Operation Trident (October 1960 – April 1961)

Djebel Beni Smir (December 3)
– several units of 2e REI took part in operations in the valley
– Sergeant Sanchez-Iglésias + five legionnaires were attacked by a large group of rebels
– legionnaires didn’t surrender and resisted for more than 12 hours
– rebels were fought off with new reinforcement

1961:
– heavy fights in the Bou Kahil region (February)
– 2e CSPL and 2e REC were involved in

Operation Dordogne (February-March)

– in March, 2nd Company of BLEM landed in French Somaliland (today’s Djibouti)
– 2nd Company of BLEM became the first Legion unit ever stationed in this country
– the mission of 2nd Company had been to maintain order in the region

1961 Generals’ Putsch of Algiers (April 1961)
– the putsch was aimed at French President Charles de Gaulle
– de Gaulle was seen by putschists as a betrayal of France
– 1er REP + other Legion units actively participated in
– however, the putsch failed
– 1er REP was disbanded on April 30

1962:
– heavy fights in the Bou Kahil region (January)
– 1er ESPL, 2e CSPL and 3e CSPL participated in

– in March, Algerian War officially ended
– Évian Accords treaty, signed on 18 March 1962, ended the Algerian War
– however, military operations were conducted until September 1962

 

French Foreign Legion: Reorganisation 1962-1968

May 1962:
– reorganization of BLEM
– in Madagascar, the battalion was retitled as the Provisional Battalion of 3e REI
– in August, reinforced with 3e REI companies, it became the new 3e REI
– 3e REI was based in Madagascar until 1973

July 1962:
– 2e REC was disbanded in July
– its legionnaires consolidated with 1er REC

August 1962:
last French soldiers killed during the Algerian War
– on August 9, members of 1er ESPL (ex-1re CSPL) were attacked by local rebels
– Lieutenant Gélas + 3 legionnaires (Pepelko, Roncin, Locca) were killed

3rd Foreign Legion Task Force (3e BMLE) was established
– it consisted of 3 companies of the original 3e REI
– 3e BMLE was sent to France and Corsica to carry out construction tasks
– the task force was disbanded in 1964

September-October 1962:
Foreign Legion left Sidi Bel Abbes
– 1er RE (ex-1er REI), Legion’s HQ, left Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria
– Foreign Legion spent almost 120 years in Sidi Bel Abbes
– 1er RE was stationed at Quartier Viénot in Aubagne, France

13e DBLE was fully stationed in French Somaliland (today’s Djibouti)

March 1963:
Saharan Companies dissolution
– 1er ESPL, 2e CSPL, 3e CSPL and 4e CSPL were deactivated
– 1er ESPL + 4e CSPL consolidated with 2e REI
– 2e CSPL + 3e CSPL consolidated with 4e REI

May-October 1963:
– 5e REI legionnaires left Africa for Tahiti, French Polynesia (Pacific Ocean)
5th Mixed Pacific Regiment (5e Régiment Mixte du Pacifique, 5e RMP) was created
– 5e RMP consisted of legionnaires, marines, military engineers
– in November, the original 5e REI was deactivated

1964:
– 2e REP companies started to specialize themselves
– in February, 2e REP’s Parachute Training Center was established near Calvi, Corsica

– in April, 4e REI was disbanded

1967:
– in June, 2e REP left Algeria and was stationed near Calvi, Corsica
– in October, 1er REC left Algeria and was stationed in Orange, France

January 1968:
– 2e REI, as the last Legion regiment, left Algeria for France
– 2e REI was disbanded after its arrival in France

 

French Foreign Legion: 1968 – present

1969 – 1970:
Operation Limousin
– an operation in Chad to calm down local rebellion
– 2e REP + Foreign Legion Motorized Company (CMLE) participated in

January 1971:
61st Engineer-Legion Mixed Battalion (61e BMGL) was established
– it was composed of Legion sappers and French regular sappers
– the main task of 61e BMGL was to build the largest military camp in Western Europe
– the camp became Camp de Canjuers
– the battalion left Canjeurs in 1978
– 61e BMGL was disbanded in 1982

September 1972:
– 2e RE (2e REI in 1980) was re-created
– it was based in Bonifacio, Corsica

August 1973:
Foreign Legion Detachment in Comoros (DLEC) was activated
– it was formed by retitling the 2nd Company of 3e REI
– DLEC was stationed on the Comoros, the islands located near Madagascar

– 3e REI left Madagascar for Guiana

September 1973:
– 3e REI was stationed in Kourou, French Guiana (South America)

1976:
– in January, 5e RMP is regrouped at Mururoa
– the regiment will protect a French nuclear test site

– on February 4, 1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission
– 2e REP and 13e DBLE participated in a counter-terrorist hostage rescue mission
– the mission took place in Loyada (Djibouti-Somalia border town)
– legionnaires rescued French children hijacked by Somalian rebels

– in early 1976, DLEC moved to Mayotte (part of the Comoros under the French rule)
– on April 1, DLEC changed its title
– it became the Foreign Legion Detachment in Mayotte (DLEM)

Djibouti helicopter crash
– on May 24, six legionnaires of GOLE (part of 2e REI) died in Djibouti

– in October, GILE (Legion’s training group) left Corsica
– in November, GILE was based in Castelnaudary, France
– in 1977, GILE was retitled as RILE (training regiment)
– in 1980, RILE became the 4th Foreign Regiment (4e RE)

1978 – 1980:
Battle of Kolwezi
– in May 1978, 2e REP participated in the operation conducted in Zaire

Opération Tacaud in Chad
– 1er REC + 2e REP were involved in

1982 – 1983:
Multinational Force in Lebanon
– an international peacekeeping operation in Lebanon
– 2e REP, 2e REI, 1er REC, 1er RE took part in

1982:
Mont Garbi accident
– on February 3, an aviation accident in Djibouti
– 27 men from 2e REP + 3 members of 13e DBLE were killed

1982 – 1983:
Operation Manta in Chad
– 1er REC + 2e REP participated in

1983:
– 2e REI left Corsica in November
– it was stationed in Nîmes, France

1984:
– in July, the first engineer regiment was established
6st Foreign Engineer Regiment (6e Régiment Étranger de Génie, 6e REG) was created
– it was stationed in Laudun-l’Ardoise, France

– in July, 5e RMP became 5e RE in Polynesia

1986 – 1987:
– operations in Chad

1990 – 1991:
Gulf War
– 6e REG, 1er REC, 2e REI, 2e REP (commandos) were involved in

– operations in Rwanda

– in 1991, operations in Gabon and Zaire

1992:
– Rwanda, Cambodia and Somalia

1993:
– Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (ex-Yugoslavia)

1994:
– operations in Yemen and Rwanda

1995:
– Rwanda and Sarajevo

Operation Azalée
– in October, DLEM participated in the operation on the Comoros

1996:
– Central African Republic

1997:
– Congo-Brazzaville

– in French Polynesia, the French nuclear tests are terminated

1999 – 2010s:
– Kosovo and Macedonia (ex-Yugoslavia)

1999:
– in July, reorganization of engineer units
– 6e REG became the 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment (1er REG)
2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment (2e REG) was created
– 2e REG was stationed in Saint-Christol, France

2000:
– in July, 5e RE in French Polynesia was disbanded

2000 – 2001:
– Chad

2002 – 2012:
War in Afghanistan

2002 – 2003:
Operation Licorne in Ivory Coast

2004:
Operation Carbet in Haiti
– 3e REI participated in

2005:
– Ivory Coast and Indonesia

2006:
– Ivory Coast and Central African Republic

2008:
– Chad

2011:
– in June, 13e DBLE left Djibouti
– in September, 13e DBLE was stationed near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

2012:
– Chad and Central African Republic

2013 – 2014:
Operation Epervier in Mali
– the operation started in 1986
– in 2014, it was replaced by Operation Barkhane

2013 – 2016:
Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic

2014 – present:
Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region of Africa
– that means operations in Mauretania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina-Faso

 

 

French Foreign Legion History in Images

See the French Foreign Legion history 1831-2013 in more than 150 images (note that the video was created in 2013 and that some information could be not so precise):

 

 

The page was updated on: November 02, 2018

 

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