History of the DLEM – Foreign Legion Detachment in Mayotte

Since 1966, the Foreign Legion men have been stationed in the Comoros Islands (also Comoros), an archipelago comprising four main volcanic islands located in the Indian Ocean, between East Africa’s Mozambique and the northern part of Madagascar. A French colony from 1895 to 1960, then a French overseas department with a granted autonomy, the Comoros declared unilateral independence of the country in mid-1975, following a 1974 referendum. Only one of them, Mayotte, purchased by France as early as 1841, voted to remain part of France. Therefore, the legionnaires had to leave the now independent islands and regroup in Mayotte. Naturally, these political changes also affected their original unit: the Foreign Legion Comoros Detachment (DLEC).

Foreign Legion - Mayotte - DLEM - Mayotte Detachment - History


DLEM’s activation and missions

April 1, 1976, the Foreign Legion Mayotte Detachment (Détachement de Légion Etrangère de Mayotte, DLEM) was officially formed, as a result of the DLEC’s redesignation. The detachment remained under Lieutenant Colonel Racaud, a paratrooper officer who had previously served with both the 1er REP and the 2e REP. His unit numbered around 200 men, divided into a HQ element (ECS), a rotational infantry company, and a small transit team detached to Réunion, a French island located some 900 miles (1,440 km) southeast of Mayotte. The DLEM was assigned to the South Indian Ocean French Forces (FFSOI), also headquartered in Réunion.

The DLEM was stationed in Dzaoudzi, Mayotte. In fact, Dzaoudzi was a former residence of the king of Mayotte and, until the late 1950s, the former capital of the Comoro Islands. The small commune is located on a rocky islet connected by a causeway to the small island of Petite-Terre (Small Land) which constitutes, along with the nearby island of Grande-Terre (Large Land) and other smaller islets, the territory of Mayotte. As a matter of interest, Mayotte is often referred to as “the perfume island”, due to the intense cultivation of fragrant flowers in the past, notably ylang-ylang. The island’s symbol, it has a strong floral fragrance and is extensively used in the perfume industry.

An independent, self-governed, regiment-like overseas unit, the DLEM used the same principle for service as it had maintained since 1973 (and even earlier). It comprised rotating men with a far better monthly salary who came in by their own request from different Legion regiments and rotated on a regular basis under a two-year individual stay assignment. Nevertheless, these men served within the HQ element only. The rotational company was formed with regular units provided by the 2e REI in the early years, later also by the 1er REC. These companies or squadrons deployed to Mayotte for about six months.

The detachment’s tasks were very diverse. First, its commanding officer served as the military commander of Mayotte and thus, all military branches in the territory were subordinated to him: that means navy marines, air forces, engineers, medical personnel, fuel distribution and storage personnel, logistics personnel.

The DLEM was retaining a French presence in the strategically important Mozambique Channel (used during the closure of the Suez Canal) and keeping order on the islands and in the region by carrying out regular patrols. At the same time, the legionnaires were familiarizing with the territory and maintaining contact with the local population.

As for the operational tasks, the DLEM had to intervene anywhere in the region within an alert ranging from 12 to 48 hours, on foot or by vehicle, with its rotational company transformed into an intervention force. The HQ element, for its part, could form two combat platoons, while still ensuring the safety and functioning of the rear base in Dzaoudzi.

Moreover, the unit had to improve and maintain local and military infrastructure. The legionnaires were building and repairing roads, bridges, they expanded harbors and even built a school. They were also significantly upgrading their military base with new installations and facilities. In the first years, because of the extremely poor and undeveloped environment, the detachment also continued to provide bread, drinking water and electricity to both the local inhabitants and state institutions, including the gendarmerie, the hospital, the high school, and the post office.

Lastly, when needed, the DLEM had to substitute health care (e.g. by providing vaccination support or medical check-ups in remote villages) and intervene in natural disasters, especially in the aftermath of tropical cyclones (coming between January and April).

Besides all these tasks, the legionnaires still carried out military training, combined arms exercises and maneuvers within the FFSOI’s area of responsibility. That means not only Mayotte or Réunion, but also remote islands like the Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, and Europa. On top of that, they organized regular sports competitions and participated in official ceremonies and parades.

Foreign Legion - Mayotte - map

Foreign Legion Etrangere - Comoro Islands - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - map
Dzaoudzi lies on a small islet that is connected by a causeway to the small island of Petite-Terre (Small Land). The latter constitutes, along with the nearby island of Grande-Terre (Large Land) and other smaller islets, the territory of Mayotte.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - Indian ocean - Islands - Réunion - Mayotte - Glorieuses - Juan de Nova - Europe - map
The operational area of the DLEM (and even the DLEC) was extensive. Apart from Réunion, the HQ of the FFSOI, the legionnaires also visited other French-controlled remote islands during their annual exercises and maneuvers: the Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, and Europa.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - Mayotte - DLEM - Lieutenant Colonel Yves Racaud - 1977
Lieutenant Colonel Yves Racaud, the very first commander of the DLEM (1976-1977). Earlier, he also commanded the DLEC (1975-1976).
DLEM - Foreign Legion Mayotte Detachment - insignia - badge - 1976
The DLEM insignia, distributed in 1976.


Foreign Legion in Mayotte: From 1976 to 1995

In 1977, Camp Kwale was set up by 1er REC legionnaires on Grande Terre to accommodate a platoon of the rotational company for several weeks, to train in the tropical forest and patrol the region. The company platoons rotated there, one by one. The camp also eased the already cramped conditions on the base in Dzaoudzi. In 1982, Camp Kwale was renovated; new fixed buildings replaced previous field tents and straw-made huts.

Around 1980, the FFSOI changed its title to the South Indian Ocean Zone Armed Forces (FAZSOI).

In April 1983, the DLEM’s rotational company was for the very first time formed with a non-Legion unit, a company of the 9th Parachute Chasseur Regiment (9e RCP). The reason for this probably could be the extensive operational tasks the 2e REI and the 1er REC faced at the time (deployments to Central Africa and Lebanon). The 2e REI returned to Mayotte a year later. In the meantime, the period of a rotation settled down to four months.

In mid-July 1984, a deployment to the Glorieuses (also known as the Glorioso Islands) was granted to the DLEM. The two islands, located some 170 miles (270 km) northeast of Mayotte, had been previously garrisoned by French airborne troops. The bigger Grande Glorieuses, with a military airstrip and a small weather station, only measures about 1.6 miles (2.6 km) across and is full of coconut trees. A DLEM platoon spent five weeks there.

Two weeks later, in late July 1984, the regimental-like Mayotte Detachment was authorized to be a custodian of the old standard of the 2e REC, a cavalry unit disbanded upon the end of the Algerian War, in 1962. The DLEM also adopted the 2e REC’s Pericula Ludus (Danger is my pleasure) as their new motto.

Both of these 1984 important changes were proposed by General Lardry, chief of the FAZSOI at the time, who used to be a long-serving officer of the Foreign Legion and its commander from 1980 to 1982.

In mid-1985, the 1er REC cavalrymen returned to Mayotte. In fact, only the 4th Squadron had represented them since 1977, as the then regiment’s single intervention force. This changed in 1986 when the 1st Squadron visited the islands for the very first time.

In late 1988, 2e REI legionnaires returned to Mayotte after a four-year hiatus.

In early 1989, the 6e REG men (3rd Coy) appeared for the very first time in Mayotte.

Soon after that, a military working dog team was constituted within the DLEM’s HQ, equipped with four dogs.

In April 1990, the 4th Squadron 1er REC left Mayotte. This was for the last time in many years when legionnaires from Mainland France regiments formed the rotational company.

In late November of the same year, the Legion returned to Madagascar (left in 1973); one of the two ECS mortar groups trained there. Since then, the DLEM detachments has been participating in such exercises there on regular basis.

In mid-November 1992, on the 25th anniversary of the Legion’s permanent installation in Mayotte, the DLEM’s military base was renamed “Quartier Cabaribère”, after Major Cabaribère from the 3e REI who was killed in Indochina in 1954.

In 1993, the HQ Element was officially redesignated as the HQ Squadron (still abbreviated as ECS) and, the next year, it got its new fanion (guidon).

In late 1994, the Legion returned to the Comoros, after almost a twenty-year hiatus. Just like before in Madagascar, the DLEM was represented by a mortar group.


DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Camp Kwale - 1979
Camp Kwale on Grande-Terre, Mayotte, 1979. Built in 1977, it was modernized with fixed buildings in 1982. The rotational company’s platoons used it for training in the jungle and patrolling the region. In the early years, each platoon stayed there from four to six weeks.

DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - 2e REI - patrol - 1980
6th Company 2e REI legionnaires during a patrol on foot on Grande Terre, 1980.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - headquarters - 1980
Inside the DLEM’s headquarters in Dzaoudzi, 1980.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - fanion - Armistice Day - 1980
The DLEM’s fanion guard in front of the parade on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1980.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - 2e REI - Dodges 6x6 - 1981
2e REI legionnaires during a motorized patrol on Grande Terre, 1981. They are equipped with Dodge 6×6 trucks, used already by the DLEC.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - 2e REI - zodiac - 1982
An amphibious exercise with zodiac for 2e REI men, 1982.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - headquarters - 1985
The DLEM’s HQ in Dzaoudzi damaged by a cyclone, 1985. Note the jeep and the GMC truck. Jeeps served with the unit even in the early 1990s.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Camp Kwale - entrance - 1986
Camp Kwale in 1986, already with fixed buildings.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Badamiers shooting range - 1986
A particular Badamiers shooting range for the DLEM, located northwest of Dzaoudzi, 1986. It could only be used at low tide.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Camerone Day - standard - 1988
The DLEM’s color guard (bearing the 2e REC’s standard) on 1988 Camerone Day, April 30. The most important holiday in the Legion commemorates the famous 1863 Battle of Camerone in Mexico.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Glorieuses - Glorioso Islands - 1er REC - 1989
Glorioso Islands. The bigger one, with a military airstrip and a small weather station, only measures about 1.6 miles (2.6 km) across and is full of coconut trees. Here, 1st Squadron 1er REC legionnaires on the island in 1989. In 1996, the Glorieuses were granted to the DLEM as the only unit to control it. Small detachments (14 men) lasting from four to six weeks have been deployed there on regular basis.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - headquarters - Quartier Cabaribère - 1992
In early November 1992, to commemorate 25 years since the Legion’s official installation in Dzaoudzi, the DLEM’s HQ was renamed to Quartier Cabaribère. Major Cabaribère, a 3e REI officer, was killed in Indochina in 1954.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - ECL - Comoros - 1994
In late 1994, the Legion returned to the Comoros, after almost a twenty-year hiatus. Here, ECS DLEM legionnaires shooting with weapons of Soviet origins (AK-47 rifle, RPD machine gun).
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - ECL - war dog - 1994
An ECS DLEM legionnaire-dog handler in Mayotte, 1994. There were four dogs serving with DLEM legionnaires in the 1990s.


Foreign Legion in Mayotte: From 1995 to 2023

Operation Azalée. In early October 1995, the DLEM distinguished itself in what remained the most important and media-covered action for the detachment until nowadays (2023). Back then, the already mentioned Comoros experienced a coup d’état (another in a row since the 1975 independence), organized by Bob Denard, a French soldier of fortune and mercenary leader. The French government denounced him and his mercenaries. A military operation to arrest Denard was launched, with the participation of the DLEM legionnaires. He was eventually arrested without a fight and flown to a Parisian jail.

In late April 1996, on Camerone Day, the brand-new Hall of Honor of the DLEM was open in a dedication ceremony.

In mid-June of the same year, the Glorioso Islands were permanently granted to the DLEM. The unit was tasked with deploying of 14 men to the islands for four to six weeks on a regular basis. A gendarme and weather station personnel accompanied them there.

In 1998, after many years, a Legion unit again arrived in Mayotte to serve as the rotational company: the 1st Squadron, 1er REC.

In 2001, the DLEM was composed of about 110 personnel in the HQ Squadron and about 140 men in the rotational Combat Company, that means 250 in total.

During the 2000s, only few Legion deployments to Mayotte are known: the 3rd Squadron 1er REC in 2001, and the 1er REG combat engineers (ex-6e REG) in 2003 and 2007. This was mostly due to the ongoing War in Afghanistan and the Vigipirate counter-terrorist missions in France, as well as many deployments to Africa for operational units of the Foreign Legion.

Meanwhile, increasing importance was attached to the possibility of evacuating residents in a crisis. Thus, the DLEM was tasked with organizing and operating evacuation centers (CRER) within 48 hours; the DLEM men train for it annually.

In the late 2000s, the Maritime Familiarization & Training Center (CIAN) was established and run by the DLEM in Dzaoudzi. The CIAN replaced the previous Maritime Center. The center was located at the former site of the small desalination plant, nicknamed Le Bouilleur (Reboiler), built by 3e REI legionnaires in the late 1960s.

At the same time, the war dog team no longer consisted of legionnaires.

In the early 2010s, operational or technical training detachments (DIO or DIT) were organized for the first time by the DLEM in support of the armed forces in the adjoining regions of the Indian Ocean (Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, later even Botswana in Africa).

In 2011, Mayotte became an overseas department of France (integral part of the country) and part of the Eauropean Union in 2014.

In 2012, the ECS Squadron was renamed and became the HQ & Logistics Company (CCL).

Since 2015, the DLEM has been involved in the fight against illegal immigration, in support of the Gendarmerie, and its men have reinforced the local airport’s guard as part of the counter-terrorist Sentinelle Mission (ex-Vigipirate).

Again, the decade of the 2010s witnessed minor deployments of the Legion units to the DLEM. This changed a little bit in the late 2010s, when the reconstituted 13e DBLE began to deploy more frequently to Mayotte. Unfortunately, their first deployment was marked by tragedy: a 13e DBLE sergeant died during it. Nevertheless, until 2020, also companies from the 2e REI, the 1er REG and even the 2e REP served in Mayotte.

During the years, the DLEM became a very privileged unit within the Legion. Its permanent personnel — apart from officers, NCOs, and non-Legion personnel — usually comprises legionnaires with the rank of Senior Corporal and mostly with 10+ years of service and at least with two military qualifications. The unit has been closed for fresh legionnaires who finished their basic training, unlike the 3e REI in Franch Guiana.

For current information about the unit see Foreign Legion Mayotte Detachment.


DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - headquarters - Quartier Cabaribère - 1995
Dzaoudzi, the DLEM’s military base on a rocky islet, 1995.

DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Comoros - Operation Azalee - 1995
1995 Operation Azalée. Probably the most famous action for this smallest independent unit of the Legion in its history. During the operation a coup d’état was suppressed in the Comoros and mercenary leader Bob Denard arrested.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - New Year greeting card - 1999
1999 New Year greeting card issued by DLEM Senior Corporals. The rare card was provided to our website and published with the kind permission of Krzysztof Schramm, historian of Poland’s A.A.A.L.E. de Pologne Foreign Legion veteran association and the author of Zygmunt Jatczak: I regret nothing.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - ECS - Madagascar - 2000
ECS DLEM men in Madagascar, 2000.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - ECS - Madagascar - 2000
Legionnaires from the 3rd Company 1er REG train in Mayotte, early 2008.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - ECS - Seychelles - 2011
ECS DLEM legionnaire (green beret) trains local soldiers in Seychelles, 2011. The instruction is carried out within the DIO operational training detachment, organized by the DLEM since the early 2010s.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - CIAN course - badge - 2013
Part of the two-week maritime course in Mayotte, 2013. The commando-like course is organized by the Maritime Familiarization & Training Center (CIAN), DLEM. Successful participants are awarded with the CIAN badge.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - CCL - Reunion - Snipers - course - 2013
Sniper course for HQ Company DLEM legionnaires in Réunion, 2013.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - 2e REI - Camp Kwale - 2018
2e REI legionnaires at Camp Kwale, 2018.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - CCL - Bastille Day - 2021
Bastille Day (14 July) in Dzaoudzi for CCL DLEM legionnaires, 2021.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - headquarters - Quartier Cabaribère - 2015
Dzaoudzi, the DLEM’s HQ seen from the parade ground.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Detachment - Mayotte - Dzaoudzi - headquarters - Quartier Cabaribère - entrance - 2017
Dzaoudzi, entrance to the DLEM’s HQ.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Greeting Card
A rare greeting card of another DLEM that served in the same region, in the 1950s: Foreign Legion Detachment in Madagascar from 1957 (future BLEM).



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Fanion Vert et Rouge (Fr)


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More from the history of the Foreign Legion:
BLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion
CDRE/EO: Far East Disciplinary Company
History of the 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade
History of the 1st Foreign Regiment


The page was updated on: August 1, 2023


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