1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company

The 1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company (1re CSPL) was a motorized infantry unit of the French Foreign Legion serving in the Algerian Sahara between the 1940s and 1960s. The little-known company originated in Morocco in the 1920s and became the first of the Foreign Legion Saharan motorized units (four in total since the mid-1950s), keeping the traditional Saharan uniform. The unit was disbanded in 1963.

1 CSPL - 1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company - History - 1re Compagnie Saharienne Portée de Légion - Histoir - 1er ESPL - 1 ESPL

 

1e REI Motorized Company (Compagnie Automobile)

1907-1934:
Pacification of Morocco
– the Foreign Legion was fully involved in
– in 1907, France intervened in Morocco and occupied it
– many local tribes started rebellions against the French
– in 1912, French protectorate in Morocco was created
– in 1934, the Pacification of Morocco successfully ended

1923:
2nd Mounted Company (2e Compagnie Montée, 2e CM)
– 2nd Mounted Company was established within the 2e REI
– 2e CM was equipped by mules and based in Oujda, Morocco
– the company took part in the Pacification

1930:
– in March, 2e CM/2e REI received its first vehicles
– it would become the third motorized unit of the Legion
– 5th + 6th Squadron of 1er REC were already motorized
– nevertheless, 2e CM/2e REI still kept its mules too

Battle of Tadighoust
– a fierce battle at Tadighoust near Ksar Es Souk, Morocco
– it occurred on August 31
– the heavily outnumbered company had 21 men killed + 12 wounded
– for this action, the company was mentioned in the order of the Army

1931:
– on July 1, 2e CM was attached to the 1e REI
– it was renamed 2nd Motorized Mounted Company (2e Compagnie Montée Motorisée, 2e CMM)
– 2e CMM/1er REI stayed in Morocco
– it was based at Bou Denib

1932:
– in February, military operations in the Mécissi region, Morocco

– later that year, construction of the Ait Saadane outpost, Morocco

1933:
1e REI Motorized Company (Compagnie Automobile, CA)
– on February 13, 2e CMM became the 1e REI Motorized Company (CA)
– CA was equipped with French armored cars
AMD Panhard 165/175 and light armored trucks Panhard 179
– there were no more mules within the company

Battle of Bou Gafer (Djebel Sagho)
– between February 24-28, Battle of Bou Gafer for CA/1er REI
– operations at Djebel Sagho in the Atlas mountains
– CA/1er REI participated in
– Mounted Companies (CM) from 2e REI + 3e REI also took part in
– a number of legionnaires were killed
– between them, Lieutenant Brencklé from CA/1er REI

1934:
– military operations in the Anti-Atlas, Goulimine and Tindouf region
– 1er REI’s CA made part of the local mixed Mobile Group of Colonel Trinquet

Pacification of Morocco ended
– military operations ended for the unit

– CA was placed at Tabelbala, southwestern Algeria
– it had to build a new outpost there

1934 – 1936:
– CA, commanded by Captain Robitaille, built a modern outpost at Tabelbala
– the outpost was called Bordj Brencklé
– it was named after Lieutenant Emile Brencklé
– he was the company’s officer killed at Djebel Sagho in 1933

1934 – 1940:
– the main tasks of the Motorized Company were:

  • to discover and keep connection between regional settlements and military posts
  • to mark the roads out in the Sahara
  • to police the region
1er REI - Motorized Company insignia - Compagnie Automobile insigne
Insignia of 1er REI Motorized Company (CA), created around 1936. The horseshoe refers to the 2e REI’s mounted company, in which CA came from.
1er REI - Motorized Company insignia - Compagnie Automobile insigne
The outpost of 1er REI Motorized Company at Bou Denib, Morocco, in early 1930s…
1er REI Motorized Company - Compagnie Automobile 1934
1er REI Motorized Company and its AMD Panhard 165/175 (left) during the operation in Anti-Atlas, Morocco (1934)
1er REI - Motorized Company - Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile - Legion - CSPL - Bordj Brencklé
Bordj Brencklé, Tabelbala. Although far isolated in the desert of southern Algeria, built in Oriental style by legionnaires of Captain Robitaille from the 1er REI Motorized Company during 1934-36, the outpost had become one of the most modern French military posts at the time.
1er REI Motorized Company - Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile 1936
The legionnaires from 1er REI Motorized Company (wearing colonial helmets) and their trucks inside the outpost Lieutenant Brencklé at Tabelbala (April 1936); © Photo credit: Dominique Petit
See other rare images of the 1er REI’s Motorized Company in 1936

 

Foreign Legion Saharan Motorized Company 1940 – 1946

1939 – 1940:
World War II (Second World War) started on September 1
– France, including the Foreign Legion, participated in
– Battle of France (May 10 – June 22, 1940)
– France was defeated
– Armistice signed by Nazi Germany and France on June 22
– for France, WWII temporarily ended

1940:
Foreign Legion Saharan Motorized Company (Compagnie Saharienne Portée de Légion Étrangère, CSPLE)
– on November 1, 1er REI’s CA became CSPLE
– it was an autonomous and training Saharan unit of the Legion
– CSPLE was still based at Tabelbala

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

– in December, CSPLE took part in operations against German troops
– fighting in the Biskra and Négrine regions

1943:
– CSPLE was based at Laghouat for several months

1944:
– on March 1, CSPLE moved to Ain-Sefra, northwestern Algeria

World War II ended
– on September 2, Japan finally signed the surrender documents
– it officially ended the war
– Germany surrendered earlier that year, on May 8

 

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company 1946 – 1954

1945 – 1946:
First Indochina War started
– French Indochina reffers to French colonial territories in Southeast Asia
– in Indochina, a conflict started between the French and Ho Chi Minh
– Ho Chi Minh led the Viet-Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam)
– Viet Minh was a nationalist and (later) pro-Soviet Union movement
– in September 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France for Vietnam
– clashes between French forces and the Viet Minh started
– in 1946, first Foreign Legion units landed in Indochina

1946:
1re CSPL + 2e CSPL
– CSPLE was reorganized and divided into two units
– two new Saharan companies were officially formed on April 1, 1946

  • 1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company (1re Compagnie Saharienne Portée de Légion, 1re CSPL)
  • 2nd Legion Saharan Motorized Company (2e Compagnie Saharienne Portée de Légion, 2e CSPL)

– in his book about the Legion’s insignias, Tibor Szeczko notes March 15 as the date of the establishment of the new Saharan companies
– nevertheless, several Legion publications from the 1950s note the 1st April

1946 – 1954:
– 1re CSPL remained as an autonomous unit
– it maintained order in the region
– it also trained young legionnaires
– once trained, they joined the First Indochina War
– as the other Legion units operating in Africa, 1re CSPL also aerved as an opportunity to rest and recharge
– it was a transit unit for those legionnaires who returned from their necessary two-years-long stay in Indochina

– Major Ardassenoff became the first commander of 1re CSPL
– he was a former officer of the Russian Empire Army
– earlier, Ardassenoff also commanded the Legion Saharan Motorized Battery (BSPL, 1939-43)
– as the head of 1re CSPL, he was killed by local rebels five months later, in August 1946

– the second commander of 1re CSPL was Captain Schalck
– he died during his leave in France

– the third commander of 1re CSPL was Captain Robert Kalck
– he died later in the First Indochina War
– he had a parachute failure during an operation on August 10, 1951
– Kalck then served with 2e BEP
– he was a deputy to the legendary commander Major Rémy Raffalli

1947:
General Leclerc’s plane crash
– on November 28, legendary French General Philippe Leclerc died in an air crash
– he + other French high-ranking military personels crashed in the Sahara desert of Algeria
– he commanded the Free French Forces in North Africa during WWII
– 1re CSPL was immediately sent to discover and secure the crash site
– they also picked up the bodies and took them to the nearest military hospital of Colomb Bechar

1953:
Machine Gun Platoon
– a new platoon was formed
– it was equipped with AMM8 (M8 Greyhound) armored cars

1954:
First Indochina War ended
– the war in Indochina ended on August 1
– France had to leave northern Vietnam
– in 1956, French troops had to leave the entire Indochina pensisula

 

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company 1954 – 1961

1954 – 1955:
Algerian War started
– in North Africa, local rebels intensified military actions
– these actions took part in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria
– they were aimed at French forces presented in these regions
– the main rebel force fighting the French was the FLN
– FLN stands for National Liberation Front
– later in 1955, that operations escalated to the Algerian War

1954:
– in October, 1re CSPL left Ain-Sefra for Zeribet-el-Oued
– in December, 1re CSPL was based at Fort-Flatters
– it is an old French outpost located in the Algerian Sahara

1955:
– 1re CSPL moved back to Zeribet-el-Oued
– it had to maintain order in the region

1956:
– 1re CSPL deployed to the Djelfa region

– a 1re CSPL’s detachement was based at Edjelé
– it was a far isolated oil production field on the Algerian-Libyan border

– in June, fighting with rebels in the Djelfa region

– in September, 1re CSPL rejoined Fort-Flatters

1957:
– one of 1re CSPL’s pelotons (platoons) was placed at Hassi-Messaoud
– it protected local French oil and gas fields

– in June-August, new military operations in the Djelfa region

– in September, 1re CSPL was deployed to the Djanet region
– it was based at Tin-Alkoum, on the Algerian-Libyan border

– in October, 1re CSPL participated in military operations against rebels, near El Barka

1958:
– 1re CSPL platoons were placed in the Edjelé region
– their task was to protect the oil field

  • one platoon served in the Djanet region
  • one platoon was based at Fort Polignac
  • company depot stayed at Fort-Flatters

1959:
Operation Edredon (August-September)

– in December, 1re CSPL moved to Ksar El Hiran, Algeria

 

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Squadron 1961 – 1963

1961:
1st Legion Saharan Motorized Squadron (1er Escadron Saharien Porté de Légion)
– on March 10, 1re CSPL became a motorized squadron, 1er ESPL
– 1er ESPL was based at Ksar El Hiran

– in July, 1er ESPL participated in defending of Fort Thiriet, attacked by rebels

1962:
– 1er ESPL’s peloton was stationed at TilremptBou Kahil region
– 1er ESPL + 2e CSPL + 3e CSPL took part in

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

– in July-August, 1er ESPL left Ksar-el-Hirane
– it was placed at Reggane, central Algeria
– its mission was to guard the Saharan Military Experiments Center (CSEM) of Reggane
– CSEM was a testing site for France’s first nuclear bombs

– 3rd Platoon was based at Aoulef

last French soldiers killed in Algeria
– on August 9, four members of 1er ESPL were attacked and killed
– the attack took place in the Laghouat region
– Lieutenant Gélas + 3 legionnaires (Pepelko, Roncin, Locca)
– they became officially the last French soldiers killed in Algeria

1963:
1er ESPL dissolution
– on March 31, 1er ESPL was administratively disbanded
– its platoons were assigned to the 2e REI
– they formed its 5th Motorized Company (5e Compagnie Portée, 5e CP)

 

CSPLE insigne insignia - 1re CSPL - 1 CSPL
Insignia of 1re CSPL. It adopted the original insignia of CSPLE 1940-46 (created in 1940), with a small modification of the flame. Both insignias originated in that one of CA 1933-40.
1er ESPL insigne insignia
Insignia of 1er ESPL, created in 1961. Notice the Agadez Cross of Tuaregs, used by French troops in the Sahara.
1re CSPL - Dodges WC - Sahara - 1953
Dodges WC of 1re CSPL during a mission in the Sahara (September 1953)
1re CSPL parading in Ouargla 1956
1re CSPL equipped by AM-M8s parading in Ouargla, southern Algeria (September 18, 1956)
1re CSPL - Hassi-Messaoud - 1957
Inside the outpost of 1re CSPL at Hassi-Messaoud, the big oil and gas fields location (1957)
1re CSPL - old Legionnaire at Fort Flatters - 1950s
An old legionnaire from 1re CSPL at Fort Flatters. Notice the Djellaba (or Cachabia) wearing by Saharan units during cold weather (around 1957)
© Photo credit: Ecpad.fr
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - drinking legionnaire
A legionnaire of 1re CSPL drinking water during a patrol in the Sahara
1re CSPL parading in Djanet 1957
1re CSPL parading in Djanet, southeast Algeria (October 1957)
Notice the V bandoliers, model Sahara 1935.
1re CSPL - legionnaires - rest time - November 1957
Legionnaires of 1re CSPL taking a rest (November 1957)
1re CSPL - legionnaire - sleeping - Sahara
Sleeping in the Sahara. A legionnaire of 1re CSPL during an operation
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - legionnaires - Djanet - Christmas - Noel 1957
Legionnaires and cadres of 1re CSPL watching a Christmas sketch performing by company’s younger legionnaires in the Djanet region, Algeria (December 1957) © Photo credit: Ecpad.fr
1re CSPL - Dodges WC - Sahara - 1958
Dodges WC 6×6 of 1re CSPL in the Sahara (1958)
1re CSPL - Fort Flatters - Sahara - 1959
Fort Flatters. Headquarters of 1re CSPL in the Sahara of the late 1950s (1959)
1re CSPL - Fort Flatters - Sahara - 1959
Inside the Fort Flatters (1959)
1re CSPL - Fort Flatters - Kepi blanc magazine cover - 1959
The Képi blanc magazine cover shows NCOs with the flag of 1re CSPL in front of Fort Flatters (1959)
Notice the Seroual trousers (whites for 1re CSPL), including 32 creases, and Bournous cloak, parts of the traditional uniform of Saharan units before WWII, thereafter worn just as the parade uniform. Sandals were worn by Saharan units in all cases till the late 1950s: for military operations, work and for parading
1er ESPL - Ksar El Hirane - entrance - 1961
Ksar El Hirane. Headquarters of 1re CSPL/1er ESPL in northern Algeria (1961)
1er ESPL - Ksar El Hirane - 1961
Inside the 1er ESPL’s outpost of Ksar El Hirane (1961)
1er ESPL - mascot - Bambi
An officer with Bambi (a gazelle), the mascot of 1er ESPL (1961)
1er ESPL - Bou Kahil - 1962
1er ESPL during an operation in the Bou Kahil region (January 1962)
1er ESPL - funeral - Ltn Gelas - 1962
Laghouat. The funeral of Lieutenant Gélas and three legionnaires from the 1er ESPL, the last French soldiers killed during the Algerian War (August 1962)
1er ESPL - Reggane - 1962
Legionnaires working on the fortress Bordj Lieutenant Gélas, the last headquarters of 1er ESPL located in Reggane, central Algeria
(October 1962)
1re CSPL - Ain Sefra - Camerone - 1949
1re CSPL parading inside the camp at Ain-Sefra (April 1949); © Photo credit: Wilhelm Goetz
See other rare images of the 1re CSPL parading at Ain-Sefra in 1949
1re CSPL - Ain Sefra
Legionnaires of 1re CSPL at Ain-Sefra with typical V bandoliers (1940s)
© Photo credit: Wilhelm Goetz
See other rare images of the 1re CSPL at Ain-Sefra in the 1940s
1re CSPL - Fort Flatters
Legionnaires of 1re CSPL at Fort Flatters, wearing Saharan Gandourah coat (1960)
© Photo credit: Winfried Riedl
See other rare images of the 1re CSPL & 1er ESPL in the 1960s
1er ESPL - Reggane - Bordj Lieutenant Gelas
1er ESPL leaving Bordj Lieutenant Gelas because of its dissolution (1963)
See other rare color images of the 1er ESPL

 

Images & information source:
Képi blanc magazines
Insignes Legion
3ème Groupe de Transport
Legion cavalerie
Saharas

 
Foreign Legion’s other disbanded motorized units:
2nd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
4th Legion Saharan Motorized Company
Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Group
Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group

 
Foreign Legion disbanded regiments:
1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment
2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment
4th Foreign Infantry Regiment
5th Foreign Regiment
6th Foreign Infantry Regiment

 

 

The page was updated on: May 25, 2016

 

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