French Foreign Legion History

French Foreign Legion history page. Well-ordered data mapping the whole history of the Foreign Legion, from its predecessors to nowadays. All important units, battles and campaigns included.

To see the Foreign Legion’s most complete database of historical events presented as On This Day, click the link or the image below: French Foreign Legion – Historical Events

Historical Events - Foreign Legion



Foreign Legion History: Prior to the establishment

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

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

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

– 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

– 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

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

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

– in March 1867, Foreign Regiment landed in Algeria

– in February, operations in the Figuig region, Algeria

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

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

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

– 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 – 1886:
Tonkin Campaign
– in November 1883, first legionnaires landed in Indochina
– a peninsula in Southeast Asia
– to take part in military operations in Tonkin
– the northernmost part of today’s Vietnam
– as a reaction to Chinese attacks

– 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)

1884 – 1885:
Sino-French War
– a conflict with China in Tonkin and Formosa
– the then title for today’s Taiwan
– the conflict was part of the Tonkin Campaign

January 1885:
1st + 2nd Foreign Regiments
– January 1, a new reorganization took place
– Foreign Legion was devided into two regiments again
– 1er RE and 2e RE were re-established

1886 – 1896:
Pacification of Tonkin
– military operations against rebels in Tonkin
– several Legion battalions participated

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, 1894, 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

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

– 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

– in early February, Forthassa Disaster
– a tragedy taking place in then western Algeria
– a severe snowstorm surprised a Foreign Legion company
– near Forthassa Gharbia, in the Ain Sefra region
– 38 legionnaires were found frozen to death


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

– 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

– 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

– 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

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

– 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

– 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

– 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

– 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

– 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)

– 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

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

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

– 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

– Rwanda, Cambodia and Somalia

– Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (ex-Yugoslavia)

– operations in Yemen and Rwanda

– Rwanda and Sarajevo

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

– Central African Republic

– Congo-Brazzaville

– in French Polynesia, the French nuclear tests are terminated

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

– 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

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

2000 – 2001:
– Chad

2002 – 2012:
War in Afghanistan

2002 – 2003:
Operation Licorne in Ivory Coast

Operation Carbet in Haiti
– 3e REI participated in

– Ivory Coast and Indonesia

– Ivory Coast and Central African Republic

– Chad

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

– 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: February 16, 2019


↑ Back to Top