History of the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment

Learn about the history of the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er REC), from its beginnings in Algeria and Tunisia in the early 1920s until the modern period of the early 2020s. Initially fighting on horseback, the cavalrymen of the 1er REC adopted, in 1929, armored vehicles and have used them ever since. During its century-long existence, the regiment has distinguished itself all over the world: in the Middle-East, Africa, Europe or in Asia. Read more about these actions in the following text…

1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment - 1 REC - History from 1920 to 2022 - Foreign Legion


La version française de cet article:
1er Régiment Etranger de Cavalerie 1920-2022



It is customary to consider the cavalry units of the Legion as heirs to the foreign regiments of the Ancien Régime. Indeed, as early as the 15th century, foreign cavalrymen were included in the French order of battle. Under Louis XII, they were the Greek “stradios” and Spanish “genetaires”; under Francis I and Henry II, the Italian “argoulets” and “carabins”. Louis XIII recruited German reitres and Hungarian cavalrymen. In 1635, the French cavalry was organized into regiments. Among the first was the Regiment of Roye which became, in 1659, the Royal Foreign Cavalry (Royal étranger de cavalerie, the uncontested ancestor of the 1er REC.

However, it is important not to overlook the first mounted units serving within the Foreign Legion. From 1836 to 1838, in Spain, the Legion used a regiment of Polish lancers (which also included some Belgian and Spanish cavalrymen). Then, in Mexico in September 1866, the precursors of Legion cavalry appeared: two squadrons of cavalrymen, attached to the then Foreign Regiment.

After their return to North Africa, where the situation did not require new cavalry units, the Legion turned to the creation of mounted companies, composed of infantrymen equipped with mules.

The important development occurred only after the end of the First World War. The Legion, considerably reduced by the fighting on all fronts, was confronted with a large number of foreign candidates for military service. In 1920, it was therefore decided to increase the potential of the Legion and to create in its ranks an artillery regiment, an engineering battalion and a cavalry regiment, in addition to two new infantry regiments.


1er REC: Algeria and Tunisia 1920 – 1925

The first four squadrons of the future cavalry regiment were successively formed in Saida, Algeria, between December 1920 and July 1921. They were first supervised by the 2nd Foreign Regiment (2e REI now), which was replaced in Saida in the spring of 1921 by the training units of the 1st Foreign Regiment. The squadrons were then transferred, one by one, to Tunisia, a French protectorate in North Africa. Political tensions had been strong there since 1919, and it was therefore necessary to reinforce the French presence with troops capable of intervening quickly.

At the time of their creation, the strength of the squadrons was ensured by the very high proportion of anti-Bolshevik refugees from Russia, especially the cavalrymen of General Wrangel. The cadres all came from French cavalry regiments; only one second lieutenant and one non-commissioned officer had experience in the Legion.

The headquarters of the Foreign Legion cavalry detachment in Tunisia was set up in Sousse, a coastal town in the east of the country. Colonel Pierre Perret took command of it in early March 1921.

Finally, on June 20, 1922, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er REC) was officially constituted with this title by decree of the President of the Republic. The new regiment – nicknamed Royal Etranger, in homage to its ancestor – comprised some 700 men. Placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Sala, their most important task was to maintain order in Tunisia.

Composition of the 1er REC in early 1923:

  • Commander (Lieutenant Colonel Sala) and his HQ in Sousse
  • 1st Squadron (Captain Emonet) in Sousse
  • 2nd Squadron (Captain Rapp) in Sousse
  • 3rd Squadron (Captain Airaud) in Gafsa
  • 4th Squadron (Captain Landriau) in Zarzis
  • Depot & Training Squadron (Captain ??? N/A) in Sidi El Hani


Royal Etranger - 1659 - 1791 - standard
Standard of the Royal Etranger (Foreign Royal, 1659 to 1791), the ancestor of the 1er REC. It bears symbols of then-French King Louis XIV, nicknamed the “Sun King”: the sun and the Latin motto NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR (Like no other).
Régiment de cavalerie - Foreign Legion - Algeria - Saida - 2nd Squadron - letter
A rare letter sent from Saida in March 1921, by a legionnaire-cavalryman with the 2nd Squadron, at formation. As the letter confirms, at the time, the temporary title of the future regiment was the Régiment de cavalerie of the Foreign Legion.
Régiment de cavalerie - Légion étrangère - Tunisia - Colonel Perret - 1921 or 1922
Colonel Pierre Perret, head of the Régiment de cavalerie de la Légion étrangère in Tunisia from March 8, 1921. Today, the 1er REC celebrates that date as the regiment’s birthday.
Régiment de cavalerie - 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment - Sousse - 1922 - fanfare
The fanfare band of the 1er REC in Sousse, around 1922. While a music band is common in infantry, a fanfare band is typical for cavalry.


1er REC: Morocco and Syria 1925 – 1927

In 1924, the French cavalry units were considerably reduced, including the 1er REC. Only two of its squadrons remained operational: the 3rd and the 4th. However, by 1925, the political situation had changed and the regiment was given new missions.

At the beginning of May, Captain Bourgeois‘ 3rd Squadron arrived as a reinforcement in Morocco, where France had led the pacification of the country. The regiment received its baptism of fire when, on July 3, 1925, its squadron took part in a battle near Tissouffet, in the Guercif sector. Faced with a dissident tribe group, the legionnaires killed 25 warriors, including their sheikh, and wounded nearly 50. During this battle, Brigadier Lubovitzscy (brigadier being a corporal rank in the French cavalry) became the very first man of the 1er REC to be killed in action.

For two years, the 3rd Squadron took part in all operations: columns, escorts, reconnaissance and cover missions. The obscure and painful duty in Morocco was not without the panache of the cavalryman, however. In the purest tradition, one of the platoons learned the bewitching flavor of a saber charge.

From August 1925, the situation became just as worrying in the Levant (Syria and Lebanon), a former possession of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) which was then under French mandate. The Druze – local religion community – entered into dissidence and revolted. Thus, on August 16, 1925, Captain Landriau‘s 4th Squadron left Tunisia for the Levant.

On September 17, the squadron distinguished itself at Al-Musayfirah (Messifré in French sources), a small village in southern Syria, where they were attacked by more than two thousand Druze. The fight lasted several hours. Finally, faced with the fierce resistance of the 1er REC and their comrades of the 4e REI, the enemy lost their confidence and withdrew, leaving five hundred of their dead on the ground. The squadron lost sixteen men. Among them was Second Lieutenant Dupetit, the first officer of the 1er REC to be killed in action.

Another even harder battle for the 4th Squadron took place at the end of November, in the south of Lebanon. The citadel of Rachaya, an old Frankish fortress occupied by the cavalrymen of the 1er REC, was attacked. Fierce fighting went on for four days. On the 23rd, the squadron have to carry out three bayonet charges to stop the enemy assaults. The next day, the attackers finally withdrew. Out of the three thousand Druze who attacked Rachaya, four hundred were killed. The 4th Squadron had twelve legionnaires killed; thirty-four men were wounded, including Lieutenant Gardy.

For their great feats of arms in 1925, the 4th Squadron was twice mentioned in dispatches on the army level (the highest mention in France), while their fanion received the TOE (Foreign Theater Operations) War Cross with two palms, the fourragère in the TOE War Cross colors and the Lebanese Order of Merit medal.

Admired for its courageous actions in Morocco and the Levant, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment obtained its Standard – or cavalry regimental banner – on December 2, 1925 in Sousse.

In 1926, the 4th Squadron was replaced in the Levant by the 1st Squadron under Captain Flipo. But the situation was almost calm and the oldest squadron of the Legion did not see any combat. It returned to North Africa in June 1927 to be deployed directly to Morocco.


1er REC - Levant - 4th Squadron - Captain Landriau - 1925
Captain Landriau, who commanded the 4th Squadron 1er REC during the successful campaign in the Levant, in 1925-1926.
Rachaya - Lebanon - Levant - citadel - 1925
The village of Rachaya (which lies in Lebanon, despite the text). Left, on the hill, the citadel defended by the 4th Squadron in November 1925.
1er REC - Levant - 4th Squadron - fanion - 1926
The very first fanion of the 4th Squadron 1er REC, used in the Levant in 1925-1926. It was awarded the TOE War Cross with two palms, as well as the fourragère in the colors of that war cross, thanks to the two mentions in dispatches gained at Al-Musayfirah and Rachaya. The fanion also bears the Lebanese Order of Merit medal.
1er REC - Morocco - 3rd Squadron - 1926
The 3rd Squadron (platoon under Lieutenant de Solomirsky) in Morocco, in 1926.


1er REC: Morocco 1927 – 1939

From 1927 to 1934, the 1er REC concentrated its efforts on Morocco, destroying the rebel groups there during the last phases of the pacification of the country. Until 1929, it was the 1st and 2nd Squadrons that operated on horseback.

In 1929, the 1er REC became a combined unit. In Tunisia, it kept the HQ Squadron, the Depot Squadron, and the 1st Mounted Squadron Group (1st and 2nd Squadrons, returning from Morocco). The regiment’s headquarters also remained in Tunisia, in Sousse. In Morocco served the 2nd Mounted Squadron Group (3rd and 4th Squadrons) and the Motorized Squadron Group of the Algerian-Moroccan borders (5th and 6th Squadrons, created the same year). In fact, these groups were the cavalry equivalent of an infantry battalion.

A groupement (grouping) of the 1er REC squadrons in Morocco, comprising the two groups under the command of a lieutenant-colonel, had its HQ in Bou Denib; the grouping benefited from extraordinary autonomy, and was considered to be a regiment-like entity.

The 5th and 6th Squadrons, the very first motorized units of the Legion, were equipped with Panhard, Berliet VUDB, and White Laffly armored cars.

In 1932, the 1er REC squadrons in Morocco were involved in the pacification of the Tadighoust and the High Atlas. In 1933, the 6th Squadron took part in important operations at Djebel Sagho, alongside the mounted companies of the Legion.

In 1934, it was the Anti-Atlas campaign in the extreme south of the country, the first fully motorized operation of the French army. Led by Colonel Trinquet, the operation saw four motorized units of the Legion participate, including the 5th and 6th Squadrons of the 1er REC. In March 1934, this remarkable campaign would successfully conclude the twenty-seven-year pacification of Morocco, to which the Legion had contributed since the very beginning.

Following the 1934 campaign, the 6th Squadron – which in fact enjoyed special autonomy – was disbanded. In a country that was now calm, the main activities of the three remaining squadrons were security operations and police patrols, as well as training. The Moroccan grouping continued to live a very independent life, until its anticipated transformation into a new unit, in July 1939: the 2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment (2e REC), with its HQ in Midelt.


1er REC - 4th Squadron - fanion - Morocco - around 1930
The captain, cadres and the new fanion of the 4th Squadron during the pacification of Morocco, around 1930.

1er REC - 3rd Squadron - Morocco - Foreign Legion - 1930s
Men of the 3rd Squadron 1er REC in Morocco, in the 1930s.
1er REC - 5th Squadron - Morocco - Panhard 179 - 1930s
The Panhard 179 armored car of the 5th Squadron in Ouarzazate, its garrison town in Morocco, in the 1930s. No more than 30 vehicles were produced in France, most of them were sent to the Legion. The rare photo was published with the kind permission of Krzysztof Schramm, historian of the A.A.A.L.E. de Pologne veteran association and the author of Zygmunt Jatczak: I regret nothing.
1er REC - 5th Squadron - Morocco - 1937
A German brigadier (corporal) of the 5th Squadron in Ouarzazate, with more than five years of service. He wears the walking out uniform, with a tie. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1er REC - Foreign Legion - Tunisia - Sousse - legionnaire - 1936
A 1er REC legionnaire in Sousse, Tunisia, in 1936. He wears the uniform for military exercises, with the Adrian helmet.
1er REC - Foreign Legion - Tunisia - Sousse - Lt Colonel Berger - 1938
Lieutenant Colonel Berger (right), then the head of the 1er REC. He decorates an adjudant and a maréchal des logis (MDL, French cavalry equivalent to sergeant) during a ceremony in Sousse, 1938.
1er REC - Tunisia - Honorable discharge certificate - 1938
Certificat de bonne conduite (Honorable discharge certificate) for a 1er REC legionnaire, issued by Lt. Col. Berger in Sousse, in 1938. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1er REC - Foreign Legion - insignia - badge - 1936
The insignia of the 1er REC, created in 1936 by Lt. Col. Berger, based on the design of MDL Alnikine. It bears the Legion colors (green and red) and that of French cavalry (blue). The sun and the Latin motto NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR refer to the Royal Etranger whose heritage the 1er REC claims. The dates 1635 and 1921 evoke the year of creation of these units. Within the Legion, it is the longest existing insignia, used without any modification since 1936.


1er REC: Tunisia and France 1939 – 1940

Until 1938, the 1er REC itself was a very particular and autonomous unit. Recruits for the Legion cavalry were sent from France directly to Tunisia. But in January 1939, the 1er REC Training Squadron, until then located at Sidi El Hani, was transferred to Algeria and assigned to the Joint Depot (DCRE) in Sidi Bel Abbès. For the very first time, the 1er REC was connected with the Legion’s Mother House.

In September 1939, the sad events in Europe interrupted the period of peace. The declaration of war found the two cavalry regiments in full reorganization. Despite their difficulties, the government decided to create a wartime unit in Tunisia, with the cavalrymen of the Legion: an infantry division reconnaissance group (GRDI).

Created in November 1939, the GRDI included a squadron of the 1er REC, a squadron of the 2e REC, and 360 cavalrymen from the DCRE in Algeria who formed two other squadrons. Named GRDI 97 in February 1940, it was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Lacombe de la Tour. The unit consisted of 650 legionnaires and was attached to General Barré‘s 7e DINA (North African Division).

Through May–June 1940, the GRDI took part in the Battle of France. From the Somme to the Dordogne, the group sacrificed itself to stop the invasion of the enemy and, later, to ensure the withdrawal of the 7e DINA. Two-thirds of the group were left killed, wounded or missing. Among those killed was Lieutenant Colonel Lacombe de la Tour. A mention in dispatches on the army level recognizes the heroism of his legionnaires.

On June 22, 1940, the Armistice was signed between France and Germany. The few survivors of the violent assaults left the country and returned to Africa. In Tunisia, in late September 1940, the GRDI 97 was disbanded.


1er REC - GRDI 97 - GRD 97 - Tunisia - 1940
Officers with the GRDI 97 back in Sousse, after the tough campaign in France.


1er REC: Morocco and Tunisia 1940 – 1943

The enforced reduction of the French army following the Armistice led to a reorganization of both foreign cavalry regiments. On October 15, 1940, the 1er REC – composed at that time of two mounted squadrons based in Sousse and two motorized squadrons in Bir Bou Rekba – had to leave Tunisia for Morocco. As for the 2e REC, it was disbanded a month later.

In Morocco, the 1er REC was once again reorganized, incorporating former members of the 2e REC. The regiment’s headquarters moved to Fez, as did the HQ Squadron and the mounted group. The motorized group was in Oujda, while the combined group (armored/motorized) was stationed in Guercif. As always, each group comprised two squadrons of three pelotons each.

During the years 1941 and 1942, the regiment split its time between training, reorganizing its units, improving its barracks, and maintaining both order and a French presence in Morocco.

In November 1942, after the Allied landing in North Africa, the French army resumed the fight against Germany, first in Tunisia. An autonomous group (GA) of the 1er REC was therefore created in Morocco, led by Major Royer. It was composed of a small HQ, a truck-mounted squadron and a squadron of outdated White Laffly armored cars.

In the Tunisian campaign, the 1er GA/1er REC had to slow down the offensive of the Axis troops (Germans and Italians). In January 1943, the unit, along with their comrades of the 3rd Foreign Regiment, was involved in the severe fighting at Foum El Gouafel and in the Mausoleum plain. The legionnaires of the two regiments lost two-thirds of their strength, but the German armored tanks were prevented from advancing. Regrouped in the region of Siliana, the autonomous group was later repatriated to Morocco to be disbanded there on March 31, 1943. For its great performance, the unit gained a mention in dispatches on the army level.


1er REC - Morocco - Fez - ceremony - 1941
A ceremony of the 1er REC in Fez, their new HQ in Morocco, in 1941.

1er REC - Morocco - ceremony - 1942
A beautiful photo showing a captain and his men of the 1er REC, during a ceremony in Morocco, 1942. The rare photo was published with the kind permission of Andrew J. Mitchell, author of several books dedicated to the Legion, including their insignia.
1er REC - Morocco - Honorable discharge certificate - 1942
A very rare Honorable discharge certificate, for a 1er REC brigadier. It was issued by Lt. Col. Le Vavasseur in Fez, in early November 1942, only a few days before the Allied landing in North Africa. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1er REC - Morocco - groupe autonome - GA - depart - 1942
The 1st Autonomous Group (1er GA) of the 1er REC depart for the Tunisian Campaign, mid-December 1942.


1er REC: France, Germany and Austria 1944–1945

During the following months, the 1er REC, which still retained two horse-mounted squadrons, was re-outfitted with modern American equipment. It was to be transformed into a reconnaissance regiment of the 5th Armored Division, in order to participate in the liberation of Europe. The new 1er REC consisted of four squadrons of M8 armored cars, an armored squadron of M5 Stuart tanks and M8 howitzers, and a reconnaissance squadron comprising the chasseurs d’Afrique (French cavalrymen). Based in Algeria since December 1943, the new regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Miquel.

In September 1944, the 1er REC embarked for France where the liberation campaign had already begun. The squadrons first operated between Montbéliard and Switzerland, then moved to Haute-Alsace in northeastern France. During the months of December and January, they operated in the Vosges, in extremely harsh weather conditions and against an enemy who was constantly counter-attacking. In early February 1945, the entire regiment took part in the reduction of the “Colmar pocket.” In all these fights, the unit lost more than a third of its strength, including nine officers. For the first time, the 1er REC as a whole was mentioned in dispatches on the army level.

But the war continued. At the beginning of April, after a few weeks of well-deserved rest, the regiment crossed the Rhine River and advanced on Karlsruhe in Germany. Next, it was Gross-Glattbach, where for three days the legionnaires resisted enemy counter-attacks launched with a rare violence.

On April 15, the 1er REC moved south through the Black Forest. Tübingen was taken on the 19th, Reutlingen the next day. On the 24th, the squadrons entered the Lauchert valley. Sigmaringen was reached, and a link with the 1st Armored Division was established. Meanwhile, the 3rd and 4th Squadrons, detached, partook in the capture of Stuttgart alongside the Legion’s RMLE. On the 29th, twelve hundred enemy soldiers surrendered to a platoon of the 2nd Squadron in Friedrichshafen.

On April 30, the 1er REC entered Austria. Camerone Day, the Legion’s holiday commemorating the famous battle in Mexico in 1863, was thus well celebrated.

On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe was over. Two weeks later, the cavalry legionnaires returned to Africa.

By fighting 56 battles, capturing nearly 3,000 prisoners and liberating some 318 towns and villages in Germany and Austria, the regiment gained a new mention in dispatches, which granted the men the right to wear the fourragère in the colors of the 1914-18 War Cross, with the 1939-45 War Cross olive.


1er REC - France - Colmar - General De Lattre de Tassigny - Standard - 1945
On 2 February 1945, in freshly liberated Colmar, eastern France, General De Lattre de Tassigny salutes the 1er REC’s Standard, held by Colonel Miquel.

1er REC - Germany - Friedrichshafen - German colonel - 1945
In Germany’s Friedrichshafen on 29 April 1945, 1er REC men captured a German colonel, garrison commander. Thereafter, 1,200 enemy soldiers surrendered.
1er REC - Algeria - Algiers - M5 tanks - 1945
1er REC M5 tanks parade in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, after the regiment’s return to Africa in late May 1945.
1er REC - Morocco - Oujda - Colonel Miquel - Standard - 1945
Colonel Miquel and the Standard of the 1er REC in Oujda, their new HQ in Morocco, in 1945.


1er REC: Indochina 1946–1956

Following the end of the Second World War, anti-French sentiments worsened the situation in Indochina. A conflict with Hô Chi Minh‘s Viet Minh movement was looming. Several Legion regiments were therefore called up to the Far East. Among them was the 1er REC, based at the time in Oujda, Morocco.

Its six squadrons, without any cavalry equipment, arrived in Indochina in early January 1947. Hostilities were already in full swing. The regiment’s HQ was established at Tourane in Central-Annam (Annam was then the title for Central Vietnam). Divided into two groups and freshly equipped with British and American vehicles, the squadrons operated in Annam and Cochinchina (Southern Vietnam). They carried out classic cavalry missions where the platoons ensured the safety of routes, escorts, road openings and supplies, and at the same time intervened in military operations for the benefit of infantry units, providing them with reconnaissance, cover and support.

In Cochinchina, the 1st Squadron Group (GE) benefited from the M29 Weasel amphibious tracked vehicle, nicknamed “crab,” and the LVT 4 amphibious landing craft nicknamed “alligator,” especially for operations in the Plaine des Joncs wetlands. The 2nd Squadron Group in Annam used British Coventry armored cars and Bren Carriers, as well as American Scout Cars, half-tracks, jeeps, M8 armored cars, and even M8 howitzers.

Since 1948, commandos had been formed within the regiment. These were native partisans led by Legion officers or NCOs who carried out effective counter-guerrilla actions against the Viet Minh. They became Commando Le Lai and Commando Gruebler.

An important reorganization took place in 1951. New “autonomous groups” (GA) replaced the old GE. Each of their squadrons now operated as a combined “amphibious sub-group” (SGA), composed of crab and alligator platoons. Two new squadrons were created, the 7th and 8th; the 8th Squadron would serve in Tonkin (Northern Vietnam). Also, new equipment was introduced: M5 Stuart tanks (known in the 1er REC from WWII) and armored patrol boats – vedettes blindées – that would ensure security on rivers and in deltas. Due to a decision by the high command, the squadrons became mixed in 1951, in majority made up of native auxiliaries.

In 1952, the 1er REC took over the responsibility of the Armored Train 1 which operated between Tourane and Hue.

The following year, the regiment underwent another extensive reorganization. The two former autonomous groups were renamed “amphibious groups.” Each of their combined “sub-groups” (which were, in fact, squadrons) now split up and formed two separate squadrons, one equipped with crabs, the other with alligators. These two squadrons were subsequently reunited, for operational purposes, into an “Amphibious Squadron Group” (GEA). Besides this, a new squadron, the 9th, was formed in Laos, another country that was part of French Indochina.

Composition of the 1er REC in October 1953:

  • Central-Annam:
    • HQ Squadron in Tourane
    • 4th Squadron in Quang Tri
    • 5th Squadron in Dong Hoi
    • 6th Squadron in Hue
  • Central-Annam:
    • 1st Amphibious Group (1er GA)
      • 2nd Squadron and 12th Squadron (2e GEA) in Tourane
      • 3rd Squadron and 13th Squadron (3e GEA) in Tourane
      • 7th Squadron and 17th Squadron (7e GEA) in Hue
  • Tonkin:
    • 2nd Amphibious Group (2e GA)
      • 1st Squadron and 11th Squadron (1er GEA) in Haiphong
      • 8th Squadron and 18th Squadron (4e GEA *) in Haiphong
  • Laos:
    • 9th Squadron

* yes, the Fourth GEA, instead of the Eighth

In 1954, the 1er GA operated in the Qui Nhon region in Central-Annam, while the 2e GA, based in Nam Dinh, operated in the Tonkinese delta. An important moment came in early May, with the creation of the 14th Squadron in Tonkin. The 1er REC had now reached the largest strength in its history: sixteen squadrons, including the HQ Squadron. But with the fall of Dien Bien Phu that same month, the situation began to change rapidly for the French.

In August 1954, the war was over; Indochina was lost. The vast majority of native cavalrymen would leave the squadrons to join the South Vietnamese military. Little by little, the regiment was reduced. In January 1955, the 1er GA was dissolved and its legionnaires were repatriated to Africa. In May, the 2e GA left Tonkin for Saigon in Cochinchina. That was where the rest of the Royal Etranger established its new HQ and where, throughout 1955, various dissolutions, reorganizations and squadron name changes took place.

Finally, on January 13, 1956, the HQ and two squadrons were the last units of the regiment to leave the Far East for North Africa. During its nine years in Indochina, the 1er REC suffered losses of nearly 400 dead and missing, including 25 officers, and about 500 wounded. They had earned three new mentions in dispatches on the army level, and the fourragère in the colors of the TOE War Cross had been attached to the Standard.

By the way, we cannot close the history of the 1er REC in Indochina without recalling the 2e REC, which was recreated in Morocco in 1946 and which, throughout the whole campaign, formed and trained the cadres and legionnaires destined to serve in the Far East.


1er REC - Foreign Legion - Indochina - Annam - Tourane - Standard - 1952
A Scout Car carrying the Standard guard of the 1er REC in Tourane, 1952.

1er REC - Indochina - Crabs
1er REC crabs during an amphibious operation in Indochina.
1er REC - Indochina - Alligator - Tonkin - 1954
An alligator of the 1er REC in Tonkin, 1950s.
1er REC - Indochina - Vedette blindee - 1951
Vedette blindée (armored patrol boat) of the 1er REC in Annam, in the early 1950s.
1er REC - Indochina - 2e groupement amphibie - Nam Dinh - 1954
A ceremony of the 2e GA 1er REC at Nam Dinh, Tonkin, in 1954. Note the unit’s local auxiliaries wearing a white beret instead of a white kepi.
1er REC - Foreign Legion - Indochina - groupement amphibie - insignia - badge - 1951
Insignia of the 1er REC’s amphibious groups, created in 1952. Both color combinations were used by each group.


1er REC : Tunisia 1955 – 1956

In October 1955, the 2nd Autonomous Group was the first element of the regiment to land in Africa, but it was immediately incorporated into the 2e REC in Morocco.

It was followed by an autonomous squadron group (GEA) consisting of the 5th and 7th Squadrons, which arrived in Tunisia in December; they would later change their numbers to 1st and 2nd. Based in Sousse, the original garrison town of the cavalry legionnaires, the GEA comprised the nucleus of the future regiment. In early February 1956, the HQ Squadron and the two other squadrons – the 3rd and 4th – finally landed in Tunisia.

Nevertheless, the situation had evolved considerably even in this part of the French empire. The year 1954 marked not only the end of the war in Indochina, but also the beginning of hostilities across North Africa. As soon as they returned to Tunisia in late 1955, the legionnaires of the 1er REC were engaged in operations to restore and maintain order in the capital and in the south of the country, where they would encounter sometimes violent clashes. They operated in two groups, each comprising an HQ staff and two reconnaissance squadrons composed of an armored platoon (equipped with three M8 cars, three M3 Scout Cars and an M8 howitzer) and a motorized light infantry platoon, equipped with four Dodge WC trucks (two motorized platoons since July 1956).

But as early as March 1956, Morocco and Tunisia became independent. Thus, at the end of November, the 1er REC had to leave its native country for Algeria, where hostilities had already developed into a full-scale war.


1er REC: Algeria 1956 – 1962

Stationed in Algeria from early December 1956, the regiment was immediately involved in a series of joint operations alongside the 3rd Foreign Regiment (3e REI). In 1957, based in Bou Saada, it saw the dissolution of the 4th Squadron and underwent a reorganization of its operational structure. The U.S. M8 cars were replaced by France’s EBRs, armored vehicles with a 75 mm gun. The three combat squadrons were then made up of a HQ staff, two EBR armored platoons, and a motorized light infantry platoon equipped with Dodge 6×6 trucks.

In March 1958, the 1er REC moved to Tébessa to guard the border with Tunisia, where the rebels had established their camps and depots. For eight months, the EBRs patrolled the fenced, barbed-wired, electrified, mined defensive line, looking for rebels trying to cross it. In December, the regiment moved to Khenchela, in the Constantine region.

A new series of intensive operations occurred in the regional mountains (mainly in the Aurès and the Nementchas) between 1959 and 1960, including operations Etincelles, Cigale, Courroie, Trident, Flammèches and Ariège. Meanwhile, the 4th Squadron was recreated in April 1960. On October 17, it participated in the annihilation of an enemy group; 54 rebels were killed that day.

In April 1961, the 1er REC took part in the generals’ putsch in Algiers. As a result, the unit lost its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel De La Chapelle, who was imprisoned.

In June, the regiment left Khenchela. First, it was sent to the Sahara, in the region of Colomb-Béchar. Then, in August, it returned to Saida where the first Legion cavalry units had been formed more than 40 years earlier. For operational duties, the squadrons were placed at the disposal of the Oran region’s military command. They now guarded the western defensive line, also electrified, on the nearby Moroccan border.

It was therefore in Saida that the ceasefire of 19 March 1962 found the legionnaires of the Royal Etranger. Another war was over. In five years of fighting on Algerian soil, the regiment had seen 45 men killed and 150 men wounded.


1er REC: Algeria 1962 – 1967

By the time Algeria declared independence on July 3, 1962, the regiment had already been stationed in Ain El Hadjar, Mechéria and Kreider, still in the Oran region. The same month, the remnants of the freshly disbanded 2e REC were incorporated and formed two new squadrons. However, they did not survive more than one year and were dissolved in turn, in July 1963.

In 1964, the regiment moved to the coast to be based at the Bou Sfer air base in Mers El Kébir, alongside their comrades of the 2e REP. Here, the 1er REC was reorganized into a HQ squadron, to which were attached two squadrons with freshly received AMX 13 tanks, an EBR squadron, and a group of two ENTAC anti-tank jeep platoons. Thereafter, the years 1964, 1965 and 1966 were devoted to an intensive training.

The year 1967 signalled the withdrawal from Algeria by the last regiments of the Legion and their transfer to Metropolitan France. This also applied to the cavalrymen, and so, on October 18, the 1er REC bid farewell to African soil and their AMX tanks, and left Algeria. An era came to an end.


1er REC - Tunisia - Sousse - Quartier Montauzon - 1956
The Quartier de Montauzon barracks of the 1er REC in Sousse in Tunisia, 1956.

1er REC - Tunisia - M8 cars - patrol - 1956
M8 cars of an armored patrol of the 1er REC in southern Tunisia, in 1956.
1er REC - Algeria - Colonel Spitzer - operation - light khaki beret - 1957
Colonel Spitzer, the then head of the 1er REC, during an operation in Algeria, 1957. Note his light khaki canvas beret (with the regimental badge), already worn by 1er REC legionnaires in Indochina. The light khaki beret was abandoned in late 1959 and replaced by the green one.
1er REC - Algeria - EBR - operation - 1959
An EBR of the 1er REC in Algeria, 1959. The legionnaires wear the light khaki beret.
1er REC - Algeria - Khenchela - HQ - Standard - 1960
Surrounded by two EBRs, the 1er REC Standard guard in Khenchela, 1960.
1er REC - Algeria - Charles de La Chapelle
Lieutenant Colonel Charles de La Chapelle, the commanding officer of the 1er REC arrested after the 1961 Generals’ putsch. He already served in the regiment in Morocco in 1941, as a young lieutenant.
1er REC - Algeria - Saida - departure - 1962
Departure of the 1er REC and the Legion from Saida in June 1962. In 1920 and 1921, the first cavalrymen of the regiment were trained in these barracks. The Legion abandoned them after 95 years.
1er REC - Algeria - Le Kreider - 1962
The old military post of Kreider in 1962, occupied by 1er REC legionnaires. It used to be one of the instruction centers of the Legion in the 20th century, as well as an important Legion post during the South Oran campaign in the late 19th century.
1er REC - Algeria - Mecheria - parade - EBR - 1963
The EBRs parade on the airfield of Méchéria, the new HQ of the regiment, late 1963.
1er REC - Algeria - Bou Sfer - Camerone - 2e REP - 1964
The first Camerone Day at Bou Sfer, 30 April 1964. This day would be celebrated jointly by the two Legion regiments based there, the 1er REC and 2e REP, until 1967. In the Dodge, Lt. Col. Froissard de Broissia (REC) and Lt. Col. Caillaud (REP).
1er REC - Algeria - jeep ENTAC - 1965
The ENTAC anti-tank jeep (four wire-guided anti-tank missiles) of the 1er REC, 1965.
1er REC - Algeria - AMX 13 tank - 1966
The AMX 13 tank of the regiment, 1966. These tanks were already used by the 2e REC in Morocco and Egypt, in the 1950s.
1er REC - Algeria - Bou Sfer - entrance - 1966
The impressive entrance gate of the 1er REC camp at Bou Sfer, built in 1966.


1er REC : France 1967 – 1990

Now stationed in Orange in southern France, the 1er REC fulfilled its role as a territorial forces unit. The training continued and, at the same time, the legionnaires participated in several exercises and maneuvers. In the meantime, others had already left for TFAI/Djibouti and Madagascar, to help form new squadrons within the 13e DBLE and the 3e REI. In 1971, the EBRs were replaced by Panhard AML armored cars.

In December 1970, the 4th Squadron returned to Bou Sfer, tasked with ensuring the security of the military base which was being handed over to the Algerian authorities back then. In fact, it was the very last Legion unit to serve in the former French North Africa. This squadron would also remain the only intervention unit of the regiment, and was attached to the Foreign Legion Operational Group (GOLE) between 1972 and 1977. Together, they deployed to TFAI/Djibouti following the Loyada rescue mission of February 1976 and stayed there for four months. In 1977, still part of the GOLE, the squadron spent six months in Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

The year 1978 witnessed the first rotational company of the 13e DBLE in Djibouti to be manned by the regiment (3rd Squadron), as well as the intervention of the 1er REC in Chad, under Operation Tacaud. A sixth mention in dispatches on the army level would be gained there. The very last horse-mounted unit of the Legion – the Mounted Platoon – also appeared during the operation.

In the years 1980, 1981 and 1982, the regiment carried out missions in the Central African Republic, Mayotte and French Polynesia. At the same time, they adopted new equipment: the FAMAS rifle, AMX 10 RC armored vehicles and VAB carriers.

In 1983, the 1er REC returned to Lebanon, where its 4th Squadron had already distinguished itself in 1925. It would support the 2e REI as part of a multinational force, the first mission of this kind for the Legion. The cavalrymen also deployed once again in Chad, within the framework of Operation Manta.

Assigned to the 6th Light Armored Division (DLB) in 1984, the Royal Etranger was considered a rapid action force, ensuring a French presence in Mayotte, Djibouti, and Chad.

Unfortunately, the regiment was soon hit by a bereavement when, in late January 1985, they lost their godmother, the Countess Leila du Luart, who had been an honorary member of the corps since the Second World War.


1er REC - France - Provence - Standard - 1968
The Standard of the 1er REC in Provence, southern France, 1968.

1er REC - France - Honorable discharge certificate - 1969
Honorable discharge certificate for a 1er REC brigadier, issued by Lt. Col. Bart in Orange, in 1969. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1er REC - TFAI/Djibouti - - 13e DBLE - Escadron de de reconnaissance - Oueah - 1971
Oueah, TFAI/Djibouti, 1971. Camp of the Reconnaissance Squadron (ER), 13e DBLE. Created in 1968 with men from the 1er REC, the squadron was keeping a strong relationship with this regiment which provided most of its elements, until its dissolution in 2011. By the way, the ER Squadron’s entrance gate was a copy of the one at Bou Sfer, albeit smaller.
1er REC - Chad - Operation Tacaud - jeep - 1978
A 1er REC officer during Operation Tacaud in Chad, 1978.
1er REC - Tchad - Operation Tacaud - Mounted Platoon - 1979
Chad, 1979. The very last horse-mounted unit of the Legion, the Mounted Platoon. The short-lived unit was created within the 2nd Squadron.
1er REC - Mayotte - 4th Squadron - 1981
The warriors of the 4th Squadron in Mayotte, 1981.
1er REC - Lebanon - AML - FAMAS - 1983
Lebanon, 1983. 1er REC legionnaires with their Panhard AML cars and FAMAS rifle. The AML cars would leave the regiment in the early 1990s.
1er REC - Central African Republic - CAR - AMX 10 RC - 1985
The 1er REC’s new AMX 10 RC armored vehicle in the Central African Republic, 1985.
1er REC - countess du Luart - funeral - Paris - 1985
Funeral of Countess Leila du Luart, godmother of the 1er REC, in front of the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides church in Paris, on January 29, 1985. Born in 1898 in St. Petersburg (Russia) to a princely family from the Caucasus, Leila Hagondokoff was a volunteer nurse who participated in several campaigns during the Second World War, including the Tunisian campaign. In November 1943, Countess Leila du Luart accepted to become the godmother of the 1er REC. For more than 40 years, she participated in numerous events organized by the regiment in Africa and in France. Commander of the Legion of Honor, she died on January 21, 1985.


1er REC : 1990 – 2022

In 1990, the entire 1er REC arrived in the Saudi Arabian desert, where they would engage in Operation Daguet (the Gulf War) from 15 September onward. On February 23, 1991, after an intensive operational preparation phase, the legionnaires crossed the Iraqi border. Thirty-six hours later they reached and seized their objective, the Al Salman air base. A new mention in dispatches rewarded this successful action.

From December 1992 to June 1993, the Legion cavalrymen returned to the Far East as part of the United Nations mission in Cambodia (UNTAC). This mission, a new one for the regiment and the Foreign Legion, was carried out with brio, as tradition dictates.

Between 1993 and 1996, the regiment found itself in Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia, first within the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and then within the BATINF administration. Meanwhile, part of its forces deployed again to Chad in 1995, to carry out Operation Épervier. During this operation, in June 1997, they intervened in Congo-Brazzaville and actively participated in the evacuation of French nationals.

The 5th Squadron was re-created in July 1993, and received its baptism of fire in the Central African Republic during Operation Almandin II in 1996.

Apart from external operations, the squadrons carried out recurrent four-month missions in Mayotte, Djibouti and French Guiana.

In 1999, it was Kosovo and Macedonia. During the 2000s, the regiment was engaged on several occasions in Afghanistan or in the Ivory Coast (Operation Licorne) ; it also returned to Chad and the former Yugoslavia (Kosovo, Bosnia).

The 2010s mainly brought missions to protect the national territory (Vigipirate, Sentinelle) and interventions in Africa. The first was in Mali in January 2013 (Operation Serval), where the Legion cavalrymen participated from the very beginning. The same situation was repeated in the Central African Republic in December 2013 (Operation Sangaris). Finally, in 2014 came Operation Barkhane in the Sahel and Sahara, which continues today.

During the same period, in the 2010s, one could meet its legionnaires even in Senegal, Gabon, Lebanon, New Caledonia, or in the Dominican Republic.

In 2014, the 1er REC left Orange after 47 years of peaceful coexistence and moved to Camp Carpiagne near Marseille.

Today, in 2022, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment comprises six squadrons in battle order, including the HQ Squadron, and one reserve squadron. With its 100 years of experience and modern equipment, the Royal Etranger is always ready to accomplish any mission that may be assigned to it.


1er REC - Iraq - Al Salman - AMX 10 RC
The 1er REC AMX 10 RCs are attacking the base of Al Salman in Iraq, February 1991.

1er REC - Cambodia - UNTAC - 3rd Squadron - 1993
3rd Squadron legionnaires in Cambodia, 1993. As part of the UNTAC mission, they must wear the blue beret.
1er REC - Bosnia - Sarajevo - Paying homage - mdl Ralf Gunther
Sarajevo, Bosnia, mid-March 1995. Paying homage to MDL Ralf Gunther from the 5th Squadron 1er REC who became the second legionnaire killed in Sarajevo since 1993. Colonel Franceschi, the then commanding officer, delivers the eulogy for his NCO. At that time, four squadrons of the 1er REC participated simultaneously in the UNPROFOR mission in Bosnia, former Yugoslavia.
1er REC - France - Orange - Saint George - 1998
The Quartier Labouche barracks in Orange, 23 April 1998. The 1er REC celebrate the day of Saint George, the patron of the French cavalry. April 23 is therefore their regimental day. Note the crab of the Indochina War era.
1er REC - France - Orange - Roman Theatre
Roman Theatre in Orange was an integral part of the social life of the regiment. Many ceremonies and public concerts were held there.
1er REC - Afghanistan - AMX 10 RC - 2009
An AMX 10 RC of the 1er REC in Afghanistan, 2009.
1er REC - Mali - Operation Serval - AMX 10 RC - 2013
The 1er REC armored vehicles in Mali, 2013.
1er REC - Central African Republic - CAR - Operation Sangaris - ERC 90 Sagaie - 2015
An ERC 90 Sagaie of the 1er REC in the Central African Republic in 2015 (Operation Sangaris). This six-wheeled light armored vehicle, with a 90 mm gun, arrived at the regiment in 1995 and served there until 2018.
1er REC - Lebanon - UNIFIL - Operation Daman - VBL - 2018
A Panhard VBL (light armored vehicle) of the 1er REC in Lebanon in 2018, during Operation Daman, as part of the UNIFIL force. VBLs arrived at the regiment in early 1993. They have been used as reconnaissance vehicles.
1er REC - Ivory Coast - VBL - 2018
A VBL of the 1er REC in the Ivory Coast, 2018.
1er REC - Operation Barkhane - Mali - 2020
AMX 10 RCR (upgraded) of the 1er REC in Mali, during Operation Barkhane, in 2020. That year, two legionnaires of the 1er REC were killed there.
1er REC - France - Operation Sentinelle - 2021
A legionnaire of the III/1er REC patrols during Operation Sentinelle in France, 2021. He is equipped with the new HK 416 F rifle.
1er REC - Equipment - EBRC Jaguar -  armored reconnaissance vehicle - 2022
In 2022, the 1er REC received its new modern equipment: EBRC Jaguar. This armored reconnaissance vehicle is expected to replace the old ERC 90 Sagaie, which was abandoned by the regiment in 2018.
1er REC - 1 REC France - Marseille - Camp Carpiagne - Foreign Legion - 2022
Camp Carpiagne. A vast military area east of Marseille, near the Mediterranean Sea. Home to the 1er REC since 2014.
1er REC - France - Column - War Memorial - Levant Syria  - 1925
This granite column is the oldest war memorial of the 1er REC. It comes from the 1925 Levant campaign and contains the names of the officers and non-commissioned officers of the regiment who were killed there. In 1940, the column was taken to Morocco, where it was guarded by the 2e REC during the war in Indochina. Later it was taken to Algeria and finally, in 1967, to France.



Special thanks to:
Joe van Raamt, a former member of the 1er REC between 1959 and 1964



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Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Légion Etrangère magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins (1950s, 1960s)
by Collective: Premier Régiment Etranger de Cavalerie (FASQUELLE Editeurs, 1947)
Jean-Charles Jauffret: L’Idée d’une division de Légion étrangère et le Premier Régiment Etranger de Cavalerie 1836-1940 (Université Paul Valéry, 1978)
Hubert Ivanoff: 1er Régiment Etranger de Cavalerie en Indochine 1947-1956 (Université Paul Valéry, 1982)
by Collective: NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR (Képi blanc, 1983)
Tibor Szecsko: Une légende en marche: 1er REC (Editions Atlas, 1990)
Tibor Szecsko: Tempête du désert, 1er REC (Editions Atlas, 1991)
Alain Gandy: La Légion en Algérie (Presses de la Cité, 1992)
Die Fremdenlegion in Indochina (De)
Fanion Vert et Rouge (Fr)


More about the history of the Foreign Legion:
2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment
Foreign Legion Mounted Companies
Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Group
History of the 1st Foreign Regiment


The page was updated on: June 28, 2022


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