1st Foreign Parachute Battalion

The 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er BEP) was an airborne unit of the French Foreign Legion. Activated in Algeria in mid-1948, the battalion participated in the First Indochina War (1946-54) where it was two times completely annihilated. In early 1955, the 1er BEP returned to North Africa to suppress the growing rebel activities. Later that year, it was transformed into a regiment which inherited the battalion’s number, history, and traditions.

1st Foreign Parachute Battalion - History - 1 BEP - 1st BEP - 1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes


1948: First Legion Paratroopers in Algeria

In 1948, the main headquarters of the Foreign Legion was still based in Algeria, North Africa. The legionnaires had been stationed there since mid-1831 and adopted Algeria as their homeland. In 1848, the country became an integral part of France.

A century later, in 1948, a decision to form an airborne unit within the Foreign Legion was made. A decree of March 27 ordered such formation in Algeria. Thus, the Legion’s HQ made a call to all volunteers among Foreign Legion units stationed in this country to join the new airborne unit; tens of legionnaires applied.

By the way, first legionnaires-paratroopers had already appeared in North Africa during WWII. But that was another story.

On May 13, a field camp was set up at Khamisis to gather future paratroopers. This was a military shooting range located south of Sidi Bel Abbes, then the main garrison town and HQ of the Legion.

Camp Khamisis soon became the Parachute Training Group (GIP), under Lieutenant Lepage, who was replaced by Lieutenant Colin in June.

The same month, the 1st Company was constituted under Captain Pierre Darmuzai. Lieutenant Lepage took command of its 1st Platoon.


1948: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Algeria

The 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes, 1er BEP) was established in Algeria on July 1, 1948. Officially based at Camp Khamisis, it was the first airborne unit of the Legion ever formed in North Africa. Captain Pierre Segrétain, who had served with the Legion since 1936, took command.

1er BEP’s composition in Algeria in July 1948

  • Commander : Captain Segrétain
  • HQ Company : Captain Lucas
  • 1st Company : Captain Darmuzai
  • 2nd Company : Lieutenant de Saint-Etienne
  • 3rd Company : Lieutenant Hochart


In July, around 350 officers and legionnaires of the 1er BEP underwent a three-week parachute training in Philippeville (now called Skikda), a town in northeastern Algeria. At the time, the town served as France’s main paratrooper center in Algeria. On July 27, the men got their parachutist badge.

In August, Captain Darmuzai left the battalion to be transferred to a Foreign Legion recruitment center in Paris. Lieutenant de Carvalho replaced him at the lead of the 1st Company, 1er BEP.

Also in August, Captain Pierre Jeanpierre joined the 1er BEP and became the deputy commander. In the Legion since 1937, he was a close friend of Captain Segrétain. They both took part in the 1941 Syria-Lebanon Campaign with the 6e REI.

In October, the fully constituted 1er BEP was ready to deploy to French Indochina to join the ongoing First Indochina War there.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Algeria
Algeria. Homeland to the Legion since the 1830s and an integral part of France since 1848.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Algeria - Philippeville
In 1948, the 1er BEP was based at Camp Khamisis. It was located a few miles south of Sidi Bel Abbes, what was then the main garrison town of the Foreign Legion, with its HQ and depot based there. The 1er BEP legionnaires were sent to Philippeville (now Skikda) to a French airbase to pass their parachute training there.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Algeria - Notebook
A parachute jump individual notebook of Second Lieutenant Charton from mid-July 1948, two weeks after the creation of the 1er BEP. The rare document 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.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Pierre Segrétain
Pierre Segrétain. The very first commander of the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Insignia - Badge
The 1er BEP’s insignia, designed by Captain Segrétain in 1948.


1948: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

French Indochina. The title refers to French colonial territories in Southeast Asia: today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. These countries were under the French rule since the 1880s, with the important help of legionnaires. This rule was temporarily interrupted in March 1945, when French Indochina faced the Japanese occupation.

In late 1945, with the defeat of the Japanese Empire, the first French troops were installed back in Indochina, now partially occupied by the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), a nationalist movement led by Ho Chi Minh. The latter declared independence from France for Vietnam in September 1945. A formal agreement between the French government and the movement ended in December 1946, when the Viet Minh launched a general attack aimed at French garrisons. The First Indochina War started. Ho Chi Minh was forced to leave Hanoi – a city in Northern Vietnam and the then capital of French Indochina – and moved with his men to remote forested and mountainous areas of Tonkin (the then French name for Northern Vietnam).

At that time, in late 1946, the Foreign Legion had three infantry regiments stationed there, as well as a small number of autonomous logistics companies. In early 1947, these units were reinforced by the 1er REC cavalrymen.

On October 24, 1948, even the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion left Algeria for French Indochina. It consisted of 27 officers, and 770 NCOs and legionnaires. Three weeks later, on November 12, they landed in Hai Phong, the main port town in Tonkin.

The battalion would be garrisoned in Hanoi. During the movement by train toward the capital, on November 15, a passenger car carrying the 2nd Company was hit by a Viet Minh improvised explosive device. Three legionnaires were killed and became the very first casualties for the 1er BEP.

The same day, the battalion was stationed in Gia Lam, a city district located northeast of Hanoi’s center, with an important French air base nearby.

1er BEP’s composition in Indochina in November 1948

  • Commander : Captain Segrétain
  • HQ Company : Captain Lucas
  • 1st Company : Lieutenant de Carvalho
  • 2nd Company : Captain Bouyssou
  • 3rd Company : Captain de Saint-Etienne


In late November, the 2nd Company moved to Lang Son, a town located northeast of Hanoi, close to the border with China. The Viet Minh forces, commanded by General Giap, conducted a guerrilla warfare there. It was mainly characterized by assaults on French convoys and small military posts, or ambushes on patrols. The 1er BEP men were tasked with protecting military convoys on the important Colonial Road 4 (RC4) and patrol the Lang Son region, alongside 3e REI legionnaires.

In Lang Son, the 2nd Company replaced the Cie Para that finished a considerably exhausting six-month deployment to northeastern Tonkin. In fact, the so-called Cie Para was the very first operational airborne unit of the Foreign Legion. It was constituted within the 3e REI in Tonkin in April 1948, with volunteers coming from all Legion infantry regiments based in Indochina. In early December, Cie Para ceased to be part of the 3e REI and was assigned to the 1er BEP, for administrative purposes. However, it was still considered an autonomous unit.

In the meantime, the rest of the 1er BEP was sent to Xuan Mai, a village located west of Hanoi, to guard Colonial Road 6 (RC6). There, in an attack close to Yen Trinh during Operation Pegase on December 8, first 1er BEP men were killed in action: Second Lieutenant de Chabot and German legionnaire Neuhauser.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Indochina
French Indochina. French colonial territories in Southeast Asia since the 1880s.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - French Indochina
French Indochina: Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. At the time, Vietnam was divided into three parts: Tonkin (North), Annam (Central), Cochinchina (South). In Tonkin (Northern Vietnam) was located the capital of French Indochina, Hanoi.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Vietnam - Tonkin
Tonkin. The 1er BEP landed in Hai Phong in mid-November 1948 to be stationed in Hanoi. Two weeks later, the 2nd Company deployed to Lang Son. It would guard convoys going along RC4 (Colonial Road) between Lang Son and Cao Bang.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1948 - Vietnam - Gia Lam - Xuan Mai
Hanoi. The 1er BEP was stationed at Gia Lam, an airfield located in the capital, and established its rear base there. In late November 1948, the battalion moved to Xuan Mai to guard RC6. In early December, close to Yen Trinh, first men of the 1er BEP were killed in action: Second Lieutenant de Chabot and legionnaire Neuhauser.


1949: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

On January 16, a skirmish took place on RC4 in the Cao Bang region, near Dong Khe. Two 1er BEP legionnaires, who protected a French convoy, were killed.

In February, the battalion returned to Gia Lam, except for the 1st Company which was stationed in Hanoi’s citadel. The same month, the Gia Lam air base was redesignated as Airbase Nord (BAPN). It became one of the two major French air bases in Tonkin.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Laborde took command of the HQ Company.

In March, a successful operation to support resisting 3e REI outposts occurred near That Khe, along RC4. Simultaneously, the 2nd Company left Lang Son and moved to That Khe.

On April 16, the unit saw its very first combat jump. West of Hanoi, in the Phu Tho region, the 1st Platoon, 3rd Company under Lieutenant Gilbert Roy carried out an airborne operation and jumped over Cha Vai, an outpost previously attacked by the Viet Minh.

Attack of Loung Phai. On April 25, a supply convoy moving on RC4 was attacked by the Viet Minh near Loung Phai, north of That Khe. The French had 11 men killed, and 31 wounded or missed; the majority of the casualties were 3e REI legionnaires. However, 2nd Company, 1er BEP men were also among the wounded. Thereafter, the company returned to Lang Son.

April 29 marked another combat jump, this time carried out by the whole battalion, as part of Operation Pomone I. The 1er BEP’s three companies jumped over Colonial Road 2 (RC2) near Phu Loc, northwest of Hanoi. The legionnaires would clear the sector of any enemy, until May 3. About 50 Viet Minh rebels were captured.

In early May, the 2nd Company returned to Hanoi, after five months spent in the Lang Son region. The same month, the 1st and 3rd Companies, 1er BEP participated in Operation Pomone II, to seize Tuyen Quang and clear the sector. During two weeks, over 170 Viet Minh rebels were killed; 1er BEP legionnaires also captured almost 40 mortars.

On May 31, the semi-autonomous Parachute Company of 3e REI (Cie Para) was disbanded and its men incorporated into the 1er BEP.

In early July, Captain Segrétain was promoted to Major.

On July 2, a fierce battle occurred at Dinh Bang, close to Gia Lam; the 1er BEP had 6 men killed and 14 wounded.

Between July 13 and August 8, Operation Bastille took place in the Bac Ninh region, northeast of Hanoi. Two men of the battalion were killed, including Sergeant Heinz Hammermeister. He commanded the Cie Para’s next-to-last elements to join the 1er BEP. Sergeant Hammermeister was a former Fallschirmjäger (German paratrooper) who participated in well-known 1941 Operation Mercury on the Greek island of Crete, the very first mainly airborne invasion in military history.

In August and September, the battalion participated in Operation Canigou, alongside their comrades from the 13e DBLE and 6e REI. The unit suffered 5 dead.

October 14, the 1er BEP conducted once again a combat jump, at the beginning of Operation Therese. About 300 of its men jumped over Lung Vai in the Lang Son region. When landing, 14 men were wounded, including Lieutenant Stien and Lieutenant Vion.

In November, the 1st Company left the citadel of Hanoi and rejoined the rest of the battalion at Gia Lam; Captain Garrigues took command.

In late November, the 2nd Company deployed west of Hanoi, to participate alongside 5e REI men in an operation near Hoa Binh. The Viet Minh launched an offensive there. The company returned to Hanoi in December.

In late December, 1st Company men were involved in Operation Diabolo in the Hai Phong region.

Also in 1949, a guerrilla warfare commando was created within the battalion. First, under Sergeant Kopatoff, and – after his death in February 1950 – under Corporal Constant, his deputy. Operating beyond enemy lines, it was composed of a small platoon of former Viet Minh members. The Commando Constant existed until late 1950.

3 REI - 3e REI - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1949 - Parachute Company - Insignia - Badge
The insignia of the Parachute Company, 3e REI (nicknamed Cie Para). The very first airborne unit of the Legion, it was activated in Indochina in April 1948. In 1949, the company merged with the 1er BEP.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1949 - Vietnam - Cha Vai - Phu Loc
The very first combat jump for 1er BEP men was carried out by a platoon of Lieutenant Roy; they jumped over Cha Vai, in mid-April 1949. Two weeks later, the 1er BEP’s first battalion-scale combat jump took place near Phu Loc.


1950: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

In January, Operation Diabolo was repeated. The same month, the 3rd Company moved to the northernmost part of Tonkin to escort General Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Nationalists retreating from China, following their defeat by the Chinese Communists.

Between February 8 and 25, Operation Tonneau took place south of Hanoi, to seize the town of Thai Binh.

The same month, Lieutenant de Borde took command of the HQ Company.

In March, the battalion participated in the disarmament of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalists.

In late April, week-long Operation David occurred south of Hanoi, in the Quang Nguyen region. On April 21, 139 Viet Minh rebels were killed during a fierce battle, while another 29 rebels were imprisoned.

Also in April, first reinforcements came from Algeria, under Lieutenant Roger Faulques. These were mainly young legionnaires having finished their basic training. Lieutenant Faulques would take command of PEG, a platoon to train and form future NCOs of the battalion.

Between mid-May and mid-June, the 1er BEP participated in Operation Foudre in the Phu Ly and Nam Dinh regions, south of Hanoi, alongside the 3rd Battalion, 3e REI. As a result, more than 100 Viet Minh rebels were killed and over 160 imprisoned. The parachute battalion suffered 4 legionnaires killed, 18 men were wounded.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Jacques Morin left the battalion. He had previously commanded the Parachute Company, 3e REI.

In July, after having left Gia Lam, the 1er BEP was stationed at Bach Mai Airfield, Hanoi, France’s second major air base in Tonkin (Northern Vietnam).

1er BEP’s composition in Indochina in July 1950

  • Commander : Major Segrétain
  • HQ Company : Lieutenant Pelleterat de Borde
  • 1st Company : Captain Garrigues
  • 2nd Company : Captain Bouyssou
  • 3rd Company : Captain de Saint-Etienne


Battle of Route Coloniale 4. In mid-September, a Viet Minh offensive started in the north of Tonkin, close to the border with China. Known as the Battle of Dong Khe, the first phase of the offensive was aimed at 3e REI outposts located along Colonial Road 4 (RC4). The French and legionnaires faced up to six Viet Minh regiments and would suffer heavy casualties.

On September 17-18, the 1er BEP was sent to the affected sector to help the 3e REI legionnaires and the rest of the French troops to retreat. The battalion was assembled at That Khe, south of Dong Khe. The latter would be partially occupied by the 1er BEP on October 2, after heavy clashes with the Viet Minh.

On the 3rd, regrouped at Cao Bang, the French units were ordered to withdraw to the southeast, to Dong Khe. In the meantime, severe clashes occurred with the Viet Minh at Dong Khe; around 300 rebels were killed by the 1er BEP that day.

From October 4 to 6, 1er BEP men had formed a column and marched to the northwest to meet and reinforce the 3e REI’s retreating column which comprised thousands of elements, including local auxiliaries and their families. On October 7, the battalion faced a fierce battle with the Viet Minh and suffered heavy losses; only 130 combat-ready men left. However, the two French columns eventually met that day.

During their subsequent retreat to That Khe along RC4, they were besieged and attacked. In the following heavy battles of October 8 and 9, the French lost over 3,000 men. Among the French losses of their first major defeat in the Indochina War was the 1er BEP (21 officers, and 466 NCOs and legionnaires), including badly wounded Major Segrétain; he died a week later in the Viet Minh captivity.

Thus, the 1er BEP became the first French airborne battalion lost in combat. Only 28 men survived (3 officers, 3 NCOs, and 22 legionnaires). The group was led by Captain Jeanpierre, who managed to escape the enemy and after a few days lead his men through the jungle to safety.

Two rarely mentioned paradox occurred during the Battle of RC4. First, deployments to Indochina usually took two years. The 1er BEP landed in Indochina in November 1948 and therefore, the majority of its men were finishing their mission and had to leave Indochina in November 1950. The September-October operations along RC4 were to be their last actions conducted in Indochina before returning to North Africa. Unfortunately, this had become a sad true.

Second, the 1er BEP was annihilated in the sector located between Cao Bang and Lang Son, during their very last operation. Paradoxically, it was also the site of their very first operation in Indochina in late 1948.


Company Loth

A freshly arriving detachment from Algeria, tasked with reinforcing the 1er BEP and replacing the elements returning to North Africa, was alerted at Bach Mai Airfield on October 6. Under Lieutenant Daniel Loth, the 130 men formed Reinforcement Provisional Company (Compagnie de Marche de renfort) and were assigned to the 3e GCCP (Parachute Colonial Commando Group), a French two-company battalion-size airborne unit (ex-3e BCCP).

Two days later, while the 1er BEP faced their destruction, the unit nicknamed Company Loth jumped over That Khe, along with the 3e GCCP. Both units had to cover the withdrawal of French troops from that town, including Captain Labaume’s 2nd Battalion, 3e REI. In the morning of October 11, Company Loth and the 3e GCCP were ordered to move to Na Cham, some 15 miles (25 km) southeast of That Khe. Not far from the town, at Deo Cat, they were attacked by the Viet Minh and suffered heavy casualties; Lieutenant Loth was wounded and imprisoned.

Within two days, the 1er BEP company lost 50% of its men. Serious clashes with the enemy continued until October 14, when the whole 3e GCCP group was annihilated. From three original companies, about 260 commandos and 130 legionnaires were lost. Pursued by three Viet Minh regiments in the jungle, only 13 men of the 3e GCCP eventually reached French positions.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1950 - Hanoi - Gia Lam - Bach Mai
In June 1950, the 1er BEP left Gia Lam to be stationed at Bach Mai Airfield.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1950 - Hanoi - Bach Mai
Bach Mai. A former university campus in Hanoi served as the rear base of the 1er BEP from 1950 until the end of the First Indochina War.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1950 - Hanoi - Bach Mai
HQ Company, 1er BEP elements under Lieutenant Pelleterat de Borde (right), mid-1950. Between him and the company fanion bearer is Lieutenant Faulques who was in charge of the PEG platoon to train and form future NCOs of the battalion. Extreme left, Lieutenant Stien, intelligence officer. With the 1er BEP from July 1948, he was captured during the battle on RC4 and spent four years in POW camps. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1950 - Tonkin - Cao Bang - Dong Khe - That Khe - Battle of Route Colonial 4
Colonial Road 4. In early October 1950, French troops stationed in Cao Bang (including 3rd Battalion, 3e REI) were ordered to withdraw to That Khe. At the same time, Dong Khe was occupied by the Viet Minh. Thus, the French had to follow a disused old road, overgrown with jungle, leading through the pass west of Dong Khe. The 1er BEP partially recaptured Dong Khe, but was then ordered to go look for the French and accompany them on their way to That Khe. Both columns met together northwest of Dong Khe, but were annihilated by the Viet Minh in two days. Only 23 men from the original 1er BEP survived, led by Captain Jeanpierre, and reached That Khe. There, the French were again ordered to witdraw. First to Na Cham, then to Dong Dang, and finally to Lang Son. A parachute group (including Company Loth, freshly arriving to Indochina to reinforce the 1er BEP), supporting the French withdrawal from That Khe, was also annihilated.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1950 - Tonkin - Dong Khe - Battle of Route Colonial 4
Dong Khe. The citadel of Dong Khe lies in ruins after the Battle of Dong Khe (Sep 15-18, 1950) and the Battle of RC4. The original 1er BEP fought fiercely to recapture it in early October 1950. The battalion would be annihilated a few days later, west of Dong Khe. From left to right (from Cao Bang to That Khe), Colonial Road 4.


1er BEP’s Rear Base in late 1950

After the disaster on RC4, there were attempts to save the original battalion. On October 16, Captain Rémy Raffalli took command of what was left of the original 1er BEP at Bach Mai Airfield, the battalion’s rear base. The companies were re-established with rear base officers and replenished with new arrivals from Africa. Captain Vieulès’ 2nd Company (4 officers, 11 NCOs and 120 legionnaires) was combat-ready and even participated in a military operation as early as October 30.

1er BEP’s composition in Indochina in early November 1950

  • Commander : Captain Raffalli
  • HQ Company : Lieutenant Louis-Calixte
  • 1st Company : Second Lieutenant Belgodère
  • 2nd Company : Captain Vieulès
  • 3rd Company : Captain Coat


However, in mid-November, a service notice announced the decision to inactivate the 1er BEP. Thus, a few days later, Captain Raffalli and Captain Coat were transferred to the 2e BEP, a sister unit constituted in Algeria in late 1948 and sent to Indochina in early 1949. Raffalli would take command of the 2e BEP. Captain Francois Vieulès, in turn, took temporary command of the 1er BEP.

On November 23, two platoons of the 2nd Company once again went into action and partook in Operation Flore, southeast of Hanoi, alongside the 2e BEP.

In early December, the 1er BEP was mentioned in dispatches at the Army level, the highest possible level for mentions in France, and its fanion (guidon) got a war cross with a palm. Officially, the unit was awarded for its actions carried out between 1948 and 1950. Two weeks later, a new notice corrected the battalion’s dissolution date to December 31. That day, the 1er BEP was officially inactivated.


1951: Provisional Company, 1er BEP

On January 1, 1951, following the inactivation of the battalion, a new company was established to keep the 1er BEP’s fanion, history and traditions: Provisional Company, 1er BEP. Under Captain Vieulès, it comprised 5 officers, 18 NCOs, and 185 legionnaires. The fully combat-ready Compagnie de marche was administratively assigned to the 2e BEP. Three weeks later, the 1er BEP fanion got another palm for a new mention in dispatches at the Army level, this time for its sacrifice in the Battle of RC4. Now, the unit was allowed to earn a fourragère.


Foreign Airdrop Company

Also in early January, another unit was constituted in Hanoi with 5 officers, 25 NCOs, and 182 men (legionnaires and local auxiliaries) from the inactivated 1er BEP: Foreign Airdrop Company (CERA). The unit was tasked with airdropping of supplies to support otherwise inaccessible French troops and isolated outposts within a theater of operations.


1951: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

On March 1, the Provisional Company, 1er BEP was reinforced by about 80 men coming from the 2e BEP and became Parachute Battalion A. The unit would participate in an operation in the Hai Duong region.

In mid-March, the 3e BEP landed in Tonkin – almost 500 men under Captain Darmuzai, one of the very first officers within the original 1er BEP in mid-1948. A training and depot unit of the Legion paratroopers formed in Algeria in late 1949, the 3e BEP incorporated the Parachute Battalion A and became the new 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion. Still under Captain Darmuzai, it consisted of an HQ and four companies.

One of the companies was the Foreign Legion Indochinese Parachute Company (CIPLE), a unit composed of local auxiliaries. As non-legionnaires, the auxiliaries wore white berets during parades, instead of white kepis. Recruitment of local auxiliaries was a result of the new “yellowing” French policy; local anti-communists loyal to France were to help replenish the understrength French units, including the Legion ones. Thus, the other three 1er BEP companies became mixed, comprising legionnaires and local soldiers.

Based at Quy Khue, north of Hai Phong, the battalion conducted operations between that port city and Hai Duong. In May, its men partook in Operation Méduse and Operation Reptile in the Tonkinese Red River Delta.

On May 11, a new fanion was introduced to the 1er BEP. Meanwhile, the unit was once again stationed at Bach Mai Airfield in Hanoi.

In late May, two-week Operation Caméléon started in the Ngoc Lam sector, northeast of the capital.

Apart from clashes west of Hanoi on August 11, the period between May and November was relatively calm.

On July 14 (Bastille Day), the 1er BEP fanion earned the Fourragère in the colors of the Foreign Theater Operations War Cross (blue/red), thanks to the two mentions in dispatches at the Army level. Thus, the whole battalion was allowed to wear the new award.

From November 1951 until early 1952, the battalion took part in the large-scale Battle of Hoa Binh, west of Hanoi. Several Legion battalions also participated, including the 2e BEP. On November 10, Operation Bastille took place as the first phase of the battle; 1er BEP men jumped over the town of Cho Ben to occupy this strategical point which was very important for the following operations. Two weeks later, 5 legionnaires of the battalion were killed and another 10 wounded during a skirmish near that town.

In December, both BEPs took part in operations of the Battle of Hoa Binh.

CERA - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Foreign Airdrop Company - Insignia - Badge - Indochina - 1951
The insignia of the CERA, created in 1951. In majority, the company comprised legionnaires from the inactivated 1er BEP.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1951 - Fanion - Pierre Darmuzai - General de Lattre de Tassigny
Hanoi, July 14, 1951. General de Lattre de Tassigny decorates the 1er BEP’s fanion with the blue-red fourragère, earned thanks to the unit’s two mentions in dispatches. The fanion is held by Captain Darmuzai, then-battalion commander.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1951 - Hoa Binh - Cho Ben
In early November 1951, the 1er BEP jumped over Cho Ben to seize the town and conduct operations to clear all enemy in the sector. Then, in December, the battalion moved close to Hoa Binh to conduct operations in support of the Battle of Hoa Binh. The 1er BEP left the region in late January 1952.


1952: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

Operations forming part of the Battle of Hoa Binh continued (Operation Néuphar, Operation Violette, Operation Speculum) until late January 1952. Then, the 1er BEP returned to Hanoi.

In late February, Operation Bastia took place in the Bac Ninh region, northeast of the capital.

Between March 1 and 7, two Viet Minh regiments were annihilated during Operation Ouragan in the Red River Delta. The 1er BEP participated; five men were killed. Followed two-week Operation Amphibie in the Phu Ly, Nam Dinh and Thai Binh regions, south of Hanoi. Fifteen French battalions took part, including the 1er BEP. During the operation, 52 Viet Minh troops were killed by the battalion at Noi Thon, north of Nam Dinh, on March 15.

Between May and September, the battalion carried out operations in sectors southeast of the capital.

In June, Captain Darmuzai left the 1er BEP and was replaced by Major Albert Brothier.

In late October, large two-week Operation Lorraine started in the Phu Doan and Yen Bai regions, Tonkin. Up to 30,000 French troops participated, including both BEPs. During the operation, the Viet Minh suffered important losses.

In late November, the 1er BEP deployed to the Son La region, west of Hanoi, to take part in the following Battle of Na San. The week-long battle, in which eleven French battalions faced nine Viet Minh regiments, resulted into an important French victory.


1953: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

In mid-January, the 1er BEP left Na San and returned to the capital. At that time, the battalion was composed of some 760 men.

Between late January and mid-March, the 1er BEP conducted operations in Central Vietnam (Annam).

In April, during an operation southwest of Hanoi, Major Brothier was wounded and had to leave the battalion and Indochina. Captain Maurice Guiraud replaced him.

On September 1, the 1st Heavy Mortar Foreign Parachute Company (1re CEPML) was created, equipped with 120 mm heavy mortars. Based nearby Bach Mai Airfield, the new company was administratively assigned to the 1er BEP.

On September 22, three-week Operation Brochet began along the Red River in the Hung Yen region, Tonkin. At least 10,000 French troops were involved, including legionnaires from the 1er BEP. The unit suffered 23 men killed, and 73 officers and legionnaires wounded.

To repeat the success of Na San, where the French troops defended the valley and defeated the enemy, a similar entrenched camp was to be established in the valley of Dien Bien Phu, in the western part of Tonkin, close to Laos. Thus, between November 20 and 22, important airborne Operation Castor was carried out to occupy the valley and attract the enemy. Over 4,000 French troops jumped over Dien Bien Phu, including the 1er BEP and the 1re CEPML. In what was then the largest airborne operation since World War II, the valley was successfully seized.

Operation Pollux. On December 11, severe clashes took place during an operation inside the Dien Bien Phu valley. That day, the 1er BEP lost 52 men (killed, wounded or missed).


1954: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

In January, clashes with the Viet Minh continued in the Dien Bien Phu valley. On the 12th, the 1er BEP had 5 men killed and another 33 wounded.

On February 29, the 1er BEP fanion was awarded with the Fourragère in the colors of the Military Medal, thanks to another two mentions in dispatches at the Army level earned in the previous three years. The men of the battalion would wear the yellow-green fourragère from then onward.

In early March, Captain Cabiro (4th Company) was seriously wounded during a skirmish and had to leave the valley and, later, Indochina.

1er BEP’s composition in Indochina in March 1954

  • Commander : Major Guiraud
  • HQ Company : Lieutenant No Mura
  • 1st Company : Lieutenant Luciani
  • 2nd Company : Lieutenant Brandon
  • 3rd Company : Lieutenant Martin
  • 4th Company (CIPLE) : Lieutenant Domingo


Battle of Dien Bien Phu. In the evening of March 13, French positions in the valley were attacked; the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu began. During the following two months, the valley would be overrun by the Viet Minh. The defenders were destroyed and their units annihilated. Between them were the two BEPs and the 1re CEPML. The captured survivors, including Major Guiraud, were sent to Viet Minh POW camps. Many of them would not survive their imprisonment.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1952 - Hoa Binh
Battle of Hoa Binh. 1er BEP legionnaires during the battle, January 1952.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1952 - Operation Lorraine
Operation Lorraine. A large operation in the Nam Dinh and Phu Ly regions in late 1952. Up to 30,000 French troops participated, including 1er BEP legionnaires.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1952 - Na San
Battle of Na San. A French camp was established in a valley with an important airfield, in late 1952. Thereafter, it was attacked by the Viet Minh.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1952 - Na San - Legionnaires
1er BEP legionnaires at Na San, late 1952.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1952 - Na San - Officers - Morin - Collin - Lecocq
1er BEP officers at Na San, late 1952. Left, wearing sunglasses, Captain Jacques Morin. He formed and commanded the Parachute Company, 3e REI in 1948, which merged with the 1er BEP in 1949. Having left Indochina in 1950, he returned back to Asia in March 1951 to reconstitute the 1er BEP. He eventually left Indochina in 1953 to serve with the unit once again in Algeria from 1956 to 1959. Right, with the beret, Captain Colin, one of the first 1er BEP members. He commanded Camp Khamisis in Algeria in June 1948 prior to the creation of the battalion. Extreme right, Lieutenant André Lecocq. At Na San, he served with the HQ Company. Sixteen months later, he was killed at the lead of the 2nd Company.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Citation - Mention - Therling
A mention in dispatches certificate for Legionnaire Therling from the 1er BEP, issued in 1953. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm (for any interested collectors, the rare document is currently offered for sale by the owner).
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Operation Brochet
Operation Brochet, a three-week operation in September-October 1953. Both parachute battalions of the Foreign Legion participated.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Dien Bien Phu
Dien Bien Phu. In late 1953, the French command launched an operation in northwestern Tonkin, to repeat the success of the Battle of Na San from late 1952. Another camp located in the valley with an airstrip and composed of many fortified defensive positions would be established there to attract the Viet Minh.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Operation Castor - Dien Bien Phu
Operation Castor. In late November 1953, French paratroopers, including both the 1er BEP and the 1re CEPML, jumped over the valley of Dien Bien Phu to establish a French camp there.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Dien Bien Phu - Guiraud
1er BEP officers at Dien Bien Phu. Left, bottom, Lieutenant Domingo, a commander of the 4th Company, 1er BEP since late March 1954. In the center, Major Guiraud, then-commander of the 1er BEP. Next to him, right, Captain Vieulès, then-deputy commander; in late 1950, he commanded the 1er BEP’s rear base following the disaster on RC4, and the Provisional Company, 1er BEP in early 1951.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Operation Pollux - 1953 - Legionnaires
Operation Pollux. 1er BEP legionnaires patrol around the Dien Bien Phu valley, December 1953.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Dien Bien Phu - Fourragere - Rene Pleven
Fourragère in Military Medal colors for 1er BEP. At Dien Bien Phu, French Defence Minister René Pleven awards the 1er BEP fanion with the Fourragère, February 1954.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Dien Bien Phu - Chaffee tank
Dien Bien Phu. 1er BEP legionnaires launch an attack aimed at the Viet Minh. They are supported by on of the ten M24 Chaffee tanks stationed in the valley.
1er CEPML - 1 CEPML - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Insignia - Badge
The insignia of the 1re CEPML, ordered and created in 1954. The company was established in September 1953 and assigned to the 1er BEP. Both units were annihilated at Dien Bien Phu.


1954-1955: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Indochina

The 1er BEP’s third activation. On May 19, the 1er BEP was officially activated again, reconstituted with the rear bases of both parachute battalions stationed at Bach Mai. Captain Francois Chalony, who had been in charge of the 1er BEP’s original rear base, took temporary command of the battalion.

In the following weeks, the battalion was being reconstituted step by step with the help of those returning from hospitals, reinforcements arriving from Algeria as well as volunteers coming from all the Legion regiments stationed in Indochina, including the 1er REC.

In mid-June, the unit left Hanoi for Hai Phong, still in Tonkin.

On July 1, Captain Hélie de Saint Marc took temporary command of the 1er BEP. His “battalion” still had only 7 officers, 18 NCOs, and 65 legionnaires at the time. Three weeks later, he was succeeded in command by Captain Jacques Germain.

In August, the First Indochina War was over. As a result, France lost its influence over Indochina. Moreover, Vietnam was divided. Tonkin, along with half of Annam (Central Vietnam) became a communist state: Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam. The French troops stationed there were ordered to leave it. Thus, on the 26th, the 1er BEP moved to Hue in what was now State of Vietnam (South Vietnam since 1955).

In September, veterans of Dien Bien Phu were freed from POW camps. Major Guiraud visited the new 1er BEP and, during a short ceremony, officially handed over command to Captain Germain.

A few days later, the battalion was stationed near Tourane, in what was formerly the southern part of Central Vietnam (South Annam). At the time, local auxiliaries no longer made part of the battalion, they had to leave the unit due to the result of the war.

On November 1, Major Pierre Jeanpierre took command of the 1er BEP. One of the few survivors of the 1950 Battle of RC4, he was warmly received by his subordinates.

In late January 1955, the battalion left Tourane to be stationed in Saigon, the capital of State of Vietnam. Finally, on February 8, the 1er BEP left Indochina for North Africa. During its more than six years spent in Southeast Asia, the battalion was two times annihilated and suffered heavy losses: 52 officers (including a commanding officer), 110 non-commissioned officers and 877 legionnaires were killed.


1955: 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion in Algeria

In the meantime, the situation had devolved considerably in French North Africa. The year 1954 brought not only the end of the war in Indochina, but also the beginning of hostilities in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.

The 1er BEP, now consisting of some 580 men, landed in Algeria on February 25 and moved to Zeralda, a small town located some 12 miles (20 km) west of Algiers, the capital. The men occupied and rebuilt a former British military camp from WWII, and established their main base there.

In mid-April, the 1er BEP earned its fifth Mention in dispatches at the Army level, to recompense the actions at Dien Bien Phu.

Since early May, the operational life had resumed. The battalion was sent to the Aures-Nementchas Mountains, a harsh and deprived region in northeastern Algeria that had been heavily affected by the insurgency. Initially, the Legion paratroopers were patrolling the sector between Bou Hamama and Khenchela. Then, in June, they moved east to Tebessa, a sector situated close to the border with Tunisia. Here, the battalion began a direct action against the rebels, who were mostly represented by the National Liberation Front (FLN) and its armed branch, the ALN.

Meanwhile, the Army high command decided to reorganize the 1er BEP and expand it into a regiment: the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1er REP).


1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Officers - Guiraud - Vieules
1er BEP officers freed from POW camps while visiting the battalion at Tourane, September 1954. From left to right: Lieutenant Nomura, Captain Brandon, Major Vieulès, Major Guiraud, Captain Martin, Captain Luciani, Lieutenant Domingo.

1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1953 - Fanion - Guiraud - Germain
Captain Germain (left) officially received the 1er BEP fanion from Major Guiraud, freed from a POW camp. The ceremony took place at Tourane in September 1954.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Jeanpierre - Masselot
1er BEP & 2e BEP. A very rare photo shows the commanding officers and fanions of both Foreign Legion parachute battalions in Indochina, during a joint dinner in February 1955. Left, next to the fanion of his 1er BEP, Major Jeanpierre. As captain, he served as a deputy commander of the original battalion and led the group of those who survived the Battle of RC4 through the hostile jungle, in late 1950. Right, Major Georges Masselot, then-commander of the newly reactivated 2e BEP (ex-3e BEP).
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Mers El Kebir - Algeria
1er BEP landed in Algeria. The 1er BEP’s fanion guard in Mers El Kebir, an important port town in Algeria, on February 25, 1955. The battalion returned to North Africa after more than six years.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Tebessa - Zeralda - Algeria
1er BEP in Algeria. The battalion was stationed in Zeralda, east of Algiers, the capital. In June 1955, the unit deployed to Tebessa, close to the Tunisian border.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Lambaesis - Algeria
Lambaesis, 1955. Combat Support Company, 1er BEP men parade at Lambaesis, Algeria, an ancient military camp founded by their predecessors, Roman legionnaires from the Legio III Augusta, in the 2nd century. Note the very rare case of modern airborne legionnaires wearing a boonie hat during a parade.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Tebessa - Algeria
1er BEP in the Tebessa region. The battalion was stationed in Tebessa from June 1955. Its legionnaires conducted patrols in the region and along the border with Tunisia. Around 70 rebels would be killed by them in Algeria in 1955.
1er BEP - 1 BEP - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1956 - Algeria - Stamp
Stamp of the 1er BEP, in use even in early February 1956. Here, on a letter sent by Lieutenant Glasser (Combat Support Company, 1er REP).



Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins
More Majorum (German legionnaires in Indochina)
Fanion Vert et Rouge (Fr)
Jean Luc Mesager and collective: Légionnaires parachutistes (L’Esprit du Livre, 2008)
Pierre Montagnon: Les parachutistes de la Légion (Pygmalion, 2005)
Pierre Sergent: Je ne regrette rien (Librairie Fayard, 1972)
Alain Gandy: La Légion en Indochine (Presses de la Cité, 1988)
Henri Le Mire: L’épopée moderne de la Légion (SPL, 1977)
Pierre Montagnon: Histoire de la Légion (Pygmalion, 1999)


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More about the history of Foreign Legion paratroopers:
2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion
History: 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment
3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment
Parachute Company of 3e REI
1st Heavy Mortar Foreign Parachute Company


The page was updated on: June 29, 2023


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