1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company

The 1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company (1re CSPL) was the very first of the French Foreign Legion’s four Saharan motorized companies. The 1re CSPL originated in France’s Morocco in the 1920s. The company’s mission was to maintain French presence in the region. In the 1930s, the unit moved to Algeria where it served during WWII. After the war, the company split in two. Between 1954 and 1962, the 1re CSPL participated in the Algerian War. Redesignated to squadron in 1961, the unit was disbanded in 1963.

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

 

2nd Mounted Company: 1923-33

In 1907, France started military operations in Morocco, North Africa. In 1912, Morocco became the French Protectorate. However, the pacification of the country continued until 1934. Because of that, three Foreign Legion regiments had been based there since the early 1920s, the majority of the then Legion. At the time, mounted companies equipped with mules served with each Foreign Legion regiment as highly mobile elite units.

1923:
2nd Mounted Company, 2e REI
2e Compagnie Montée (2e CM)

2e CM was established on October 1, 1923
– the second mounted company of 2e REI
– the unit was organized and stationed at Oujda, Morocco
– equipped with mules, it took part in the Pacification of Morocco

1930:
2e CM’s motorization
– 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
– August 31, a fierce battle at Tadighoust
– located near Ksar Es Souk, Morocco
– the heavily outnumbered company suffered heavy casualties
– 21 men were killed + 12 men were wounded
– for this action, the company was mentioned in dispatches
– the order of the Army, the highest French mention

1931:
Transfer to 1er REI
– July 1, 2e CM left 2e REI
– it was transferred to 1er REI (now 1e RE)
– the unit was redesignated
– it became 2nd Motorized Mounted Company (2e CMM)
– 2e CMM/1er REI stayed in Morocco
– it was stationed at Bou Denib

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

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

2nd Mounted Company - 2e Compagnie Montee - 2e Compagnie Montee Motorisee - Maroc - Morocco - 1923-33
In 1923, 2e CM, 2e REI was organized in Oujda, Morocco. In late August 1930, it fought at Tadighoust. In 1931, the unit was assigned to the 1er REI and stationed in Bou Denib.
1er REI - Motorized Company - Compagnie Motorisee - Bou Denib - Morocco
Bou Denib. Then the outpost of 2nd Motorized Mounted Company (2e CMM) at Bou Denib, Morocco, in the early 1930s.

 

Automobile Company, 1er REI: 1933-40

Automobile Company (Compagnie Automobile, CA)
– 2e CMM changed its designation on February 13, 1933
– it became Automobile 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
– still assigned to the 1er REI

1933:
Battle of Bou Gafer (Djebel Sagho)
– February 24-28, Battle of Bou Gafer for CA/1er REI
– operations at Djebel Sagho in the Atlas mountains
– CA/1er REI participated
– Mounted Companies (CM) from 2e REI + 3e REI also took part
– a number of legionnaires were killed
– between them, Lieutenant Emile Brencklé from CA/1er REI

1934:
– military operations in the Anti-Atlas, Goulimine and Tindouf region
– 1er REI’s CA participated
– as part of a French combined Mobile Group of Colonel Trinquet

Pacification of Morocco ended
– in 1934, the pacification was over
– military operations ended for the company

Movement to Algeria
– CA moved to Algeria
– because of the end of the pacification in Morocco
– CA was stationed at Tabelbala
– in the Sahara Desert of southwestern Algeria
– the men had to build a new post there
– a detachment would be placed at Zegdou
– some 75 miles (120 km) west of Tabelbala

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

  • to discover and keep connection between regional settlements and military posts
  • to mark the roads out in the Sahara
  • to maintain order in the region
  • to maintain French military presence in the region

 
– on paper, Automobile Company was composed of 278 men
– 4 officers + 27 NCOs + 247 legionnaires

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

1938:
Captain Pesché took command

1939-40:
– intensive maneuvers and training

– November 1939, road construction works
– between Mahjez and Zegdou
– also establishing an airfield at Mahjez
– some 40 miles (60 km) southeast of Zegdou

1940:
Automobile Company’s dissolution
– CA was disbanded on October 31, 1940

 

1er REI - Automobile Company insignia - Compagnie Automobile insigne - Foreign Legion Etrangere
The insignia of Automobile Company, 1er REI (CA/1REI), created around 1936. The horseshoe refers to the 2e REI’s mounted company, the predecessor to the CA.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Automobile Company - Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile - Algerie - Algeria - 1933-40
In 1933, still stationed in Bou Denib, the company fought in the Battle of Bou Gafer at Djebel Sagho. In 1934, the CA/1 moved to Algeria, to be based in Tabelbala and at Zegdou.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Automobile Company - Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile - CSPL - Bordj Brencklé
Bordj Brencklé, Tabelbala. The famous post was projected in Oriental style by Captain Petrovsky (a Foreign Legion officer and a former officer of the Russian Imperial Guard) and built by legionnaires of Captain Robitaille from the Automobile Company, 1er REI during 1934-36. Although far isolated in the Sahara desert of southwestern Algeria, it had become one of the most modern French military posts at the time.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Automobile Company - Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile - Bordj Brencklé - 1936
The legionnaires from Automobile Company, 1er REI (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 Automobile Company, 1er REI in 1936
Automobile Company - Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile - Bordj Brencklé - 1938 - 1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Piggery - Garden
A piggery and a garden of Bordj Brencklé, Tabelbala, late 1930s. To be self-sufficient (and to variegate basic military rations), the legionnaires of CA/1REI bred their own pigs and grew vegetables. The modern post provided also its own barber shop, bathrooms with shower, cold storage room for meat and beer, a swimming pool etc.
Tabelbala - Compagnie Automobile - Legion - CSPL - Bordj Brencklé - 1938 - 1er REI - Automobile Company
A swimming pool of Bordj Brencklé, Tabelbala, late 1930s.

 

Legion Saharan Motorized Company 1940-46

In late 1939, the Second World War started. France faced Germany and in June 1940, the Battle of France ended by a signed Armistice and an occupation of part of France by German troops. In Algeria in late 1940, a large reorganization of the French Army of Africa took place, including the French Foreign Legion. Because of that, the company of the 1er REI would be redesignated.
 

CSPL during WWII: 1940-42

1940:
Legion Saharan Motorized Company
Compagnie Saharienne Portée type Légion (CSPL)

CSPL was established on November 1, 1940
– (sometimes, October 22 is also stated as the date of creation)
– in fact, CSPL was ex-CA of 1er REI
– CSPL became an autonomous Saharan unit of the Legion
– still stationed at Tabelbala

Captain Pesché kept command

 
1941:
CSPL left Tabelbala
– that year, CSPL had to leave their famous outpost
– the company moved some 300 miles (500 km) south-west
– to be stationed at Tindouf, western Algeria
– near the Moroccan border

– January, Captain Comiti took command

 
1942:
– in late 1942, a detachment moved to Agadir, Morocco
– most likely to reinforce French troops awaiting a British-American invasion

British-American invasion of French North Africa
– also known as Operation Torch
– November 8, landings in Morocco and Algeria
– all French forces in North Africa were put on alert
– also CSPL
– the company moved to Tiznit, Morocco
– a town south of Agadir
– to face Allied troops in the Agadir sector
– November 13, French units received an order to cease resistance
– the French in North Africa joined the Allies

– CSPL returned back to Tindouf in Algeria

– in December, CSPL joined the war
– in late December, the company moved to the Laghouat region in central Algeria
– some 750 miles (1,200 km) north-east of Tindouf
 

CSPL during WWII: 1943

January-February:
– January, patrols around Laghouat, Ghardaia and Ouargla
– January 6, CSPL was based at Ouargla

– February 6, CSPL moved to Touggourt
– north of Ouargla

February-April:
– late February-March, military operations to face German troops
– in the Negrine region of northeastern Algeria
– at Mides, Metlaoui in Tunisia
– four other Foreign Legion units participated in the operation
– 1re BSPL + 2e BSPL (Saharan Motorized Batteries)
– a Motorized Mixed Company, 1er REI

– at the time, CSPL was composed of 218 men
– 4 officers + 32 NCOs + 182 legionnaires

– between officers, Lieutenant Pierson or Lieutenant Guegot

First killed men of CSPL
– March 16, a CSPL car was damaged by a road bomb
– near Metlaoui, Tunisia
– Lieutenant Jouanne + 3 legionnaires were killed

– March 30, a skirmish with Italians (Germany’s allies)
– at Djebel Rouana, Tunisia

– mid-April, CSPL returned to Algeria
– to the Biskra region

– CSPL returned their old vehicles
– Renault, Panhard, Lafly, Chevrolet cars
– the company received new vehicles
– Jeeps + GMC trucks

– in late April, CSPL returned to Ouargla
– a detachment was stationed at Fort Polignac (now Illizi)
– then a French fortress near the border with Libya
– some 400 miles (600 km) south of Ouargla

August-December:
– in early August, CSPL was stationed in Laghouat
– a detachment was stationed at Ouargla
– a detachment was stationed at Fort Polignac
– in November, Fort Polignac was left for Ouargla

– in mid-December, Captain Ardassenoff took command
– a former officer of the Russian Empire Army
– a former commander of BSPL (Saharan Battery)
 

CSPL during WWII: 1944

– on March 1, CSPL was stationed in Ain Sefra
– a garrison town in western Algeria

– at the time, the company consisted of 242 men
– 6 officers + 48 NCOs + 188 legionnaires

– CSPL received several Dodges 4×4 + Dodges 6×6

– June-November, movement across Algeria
Biskra, Guemar, Laghouat, Djelfa, Blida, Setif, Constantine
– in late November, CSPL returned to Ain-Sefra

Ain Beida rail accident
– September 8, a rail accident in northeastern Algeria
– it occurred near Ain Beida
– between Constantine and Tebessa
– a train carrying CSPL legionnaires and their vehicles derailed
– 3 legionnaires were killed
– 12 legionnaires were wounded
 

CSPL during WWII: 1945

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

– CSPL maintained order in the region
– also maneuvers and training

 

CSPL - Saharan Company insignia - Compagnie Saharienne insigne
The insignia of Saharan Motorized Company (CSPL) in the 1940s. The company adopted and slightly modified the badge of the CA/1REI from the late 1930s.
CSPL - Saharan Company - Compagnie Saharienne - Algerie - Algeria - 1940-45 - WWII
During WWII, the CSPL company changed many locations. In 1941, the unit left Tabelbala for Tindouf. In late 1942, it operated around Agadir, Morocco. In 1943, it moved to Ouargla, and later participated in operations in Tunisia, at Metlaoui. In mid-1943, the company’s platoons were stationed at Laghouat, Ouargla and Fort Polignac (now Illizi). In 1944, the CSPL moved finally to Ain Sefra to be stationed there until 1954.

 

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company: 1946-54

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company
1re Compagnie Saharienne Portée de la Légion (1re CSPL)

1re CSPL was established on April 1, 1946
– formed with a part of the ex-CSPL
– the company split in two new Saharan companies
– 1re CSPL + 2e CSPL
– 1re CSPL remained stationed in Ain Sefra

Captain Ardassenoff kept command
– however, he was killed by two rebels on August 27, 1946
– barracks in Ain Sefra would be named after him
Quartier Ardassenoff

– in 1946, Captain Schalck took command

– 2e CSPL consisted of 2 officers + 15 NCOs + 160 legionnaires
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1947

– January-February,a mission to French West Africa
– a four-week mission to present-day Mauritania
– a 1re CSPL detachment led by Lieutenant Fuhr
– through Tabelbala, Bou Bernous, Chegga, Tindouf, Colomb-Bechar

General Leclerc’s plane crash
– November 28, an aircraft crashed in the Sahara desert of Algeria
– on board, high-ranking French officials
– led by well-known General Philippe Leclerc
– commanding the Free French Forces in North Africa during WWII
– all men on board died during the crash
– 1re CSPL was immediately sent the crash site
– to discover and secure the site and to pick up the bodies
– to take them to the nearest military hospital of Colomb Bechar
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1948

– in early 1948, Captain Schalck died
– during his leave in France

– April, Captain Robert Kalck took command
– he would died later during the First Indochina War (1946-54)
– as a member of the 2e BEP
– he was a deputy to the legendary commander Major Rémy Raffalli
– Captain Kalck had a parachute failure during an operation on August 10, 1951
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1949

– at the time, 1re CSPL was equipped with different vehicles
– Jeeps
– Dodges 6×6 (favorite by legionnaires)
– Latil M7T1 4×4 trucks (with a cannon)
– GMC trucks
– Dodge tank truck

 
1re CSPL’s composition in early 1949:

  • HQ Platoon
  • 1st Platoon
  • 2nd Platoon
  • 3rd Platoon
  • Reconnaissance Platoon
  • Cannon Platoon

 
– February, part of men helped to form 3e CSPL
– also that month, sports challenges in Ain Sefra
– 1re CSPL faced 2e CSPL

– March, maneuvers in the Sahara
– south-west of Ain Sefra
– alongside 2e CSPL
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1950

– May, maneuvers in the Sahara
– in the Taghit sector
– south-west of Ain Sefra

– August, Captain Raymond Cabaribere took command
– as Major, he would be killed in Indochina in 1954
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1951

– June, a mission to eastern Tunisia
– from Ain Sefra as far as Tamerza
– carried out by a 1re CSPL detachment
– the mission took two weeks

– September, a week exercise at the Algeria-Tunisia border
– Legionnaire Novotny was killed
– by a 75 mm machine gun fallen from a truck
– another legionnaire was seriously wounded

– October, deployment to Tindouf
– that month, a mission in Tindouf started
– a small town in western Algeria
– a 1re CSPL platoon deployed there
– 3rd Platoon led by Lieutenant Bourgeois
– to reinforce French troops there
– the platoon would return seven months later, in April 1952
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1952

– April, another platoon moved to Tindouf
– 2nd Platoon led by Lieutenant Peyramale
– they returned in late 1952
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1953

– January-March, road construction works
– at Mahjez, south-west of Ain Sefra
– a detachment of some 40 legionnaires
– led by Adjudant Nicolas

Machine Gun Platoon
– a new platoon was fromed in Blida in January
– a town in northern Algeria
– in February, the platoon joined the company
– composed of AMM8 (M8 Greyhound) armored cars
– led by Lieutenant Leblanc

– September, another platoon deployed to Tindouf
– led by Second Lieutenant Deneau
– they would return six months later

– October, Captain Antoine Mattei took command

– in late November, a week mission
– between Beni Ounif and Brezina
– 2e CSPL elements also participated
 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1954

– military exercises and road construction works

Algerian War started
– in late 1954, the rebellions affected Algeria
– in November, first armed attacks aimed at French soldiers
– later in 1955, these actions escalated into a regular war

– 1re CSPL became an operational unit
– because of the beginning Algerian War
– they moved to the Biskra region
– to patrol there and to maintain order
– based at Zeribet El Oued and Chott Melrihr

– in mid-December, 1re CSPL was replaced
– by 21st Motorized Company (later a part of GPLEA)

Fort Flatters
– in late December, 1re CSPL changed their placement
– the unit was stationed at Fort Flatters
– an old French fortress in the Sahara of eastern Algeria

 

1 CSPL - Saharan Company - Compagnie Saharienne - Algerie - Algeria - 1945-54
Until 1954, the 1re CSPL company was stationed in Ain Sefra. Between 1951-54, platoons carried out rotating six-month deployments to Tindouf. In 1953, a detachment moved to Mahjez for road construction works (the company established an airfield there in late 1939). In 1954, the 1re CSPL left Ain Sefra to be based at Fort Flatters.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Sahara - Algeria - Legionnaires - 1947-49
1re CSPL legionnaires with gazells in the Sahara of Algeria, around 1948.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Sahara - Algeria - Legionnaire + Camel - 1953-54
A legionnaire of the 1re CSPL meeting with a camel, Algeria, around 1953-54. Contrary to many romantic cartoons showing legionnaires riding camels, they didn’t used them.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Sahara - Algeria - Antoine Mattei - 1953-54
Captain Antoine Mattei (1953-54). He led the 1re CSPL in 1953-55, after having served with 3e REI in Indochina in 1946-49 and 1950-52. In 1962-64, Lt Colonel Mattei commanded the 3e REI in Madagascar.

 

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company: 1955-60

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1955

– January, reconnaissance missions in the sector

– February-April, road marking missions
– to Amguid (south-west of the fortress)
– to Djanet (some 300 miles/500 km south-east)

1re CSPL’s tasks at the time were:
– to restore the fortress
– to support an airfield nearby
– to conduct reconnaissance missions
– to mark (out) roads
– to patrol the region
– to maintain French presence there

– June-October, deployment to the Biskra region
– to be stationed at Zeribet El Oued again
– garding convoys, conducting patrols and operations

– August, Captain Pierre Gatti took command

– early November, 1re CSPL returned to Fort Flatters

– 2nd Platoon deployed to Djanet
– to patrol along the Algeria-Libya border
– to conduct reconnaissance missions

– 3rd Platoon deployed to Fort Polignac (now Illizi)
– also to Fort d’Issendjel
– a fortress some 30 miles (50 km) north-east of Fort Polignac
– the men carried out construction works in the sector

 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1956

1re CSPL’s composition and location in January 1956:

  • HQ + 1st Platoon: Fort Flatters
  • 2nd Platoon: Djanet
  • 3rd Platoon: Fort d’Issendjel
  • Machine Gun Platoon: Médea (for a training course)

 
– April, a rescue mission
– to search and rescue civil engineers lost in the Sahara
– some 50 miles (80 km) of Fort Flatters

– May-September, 1re CSPL deployed to Djelfa
– a town situated in central Algeria
– over 500 miles (800 km) north-west of Fort Flatters
– to conduct patrols and operations in the region

– June 4, Battle of Djebel Tafara
– a battle with local rebels
– south-east of Djelfa
– 22 rebels were killed
– Lieutwnant Philippe Bizien + a legionnaire were also killed

– September, a platoon deployed to Edjeleh
– an isolated village at the Algeria-Libya border
– east of Fort Flatters
– the site of a significant oil field
– 1re CSPL platoons would rotate there until early 1959
– to guard oil fields and oil engineers

– in mid-November, 1re CSPL deployed to Tan Kena
– an old post at the Algeria-Libya border
– east of Fort Polignac
– to be restored for men of the 3e CSPL
– leaving Libya for Algeria at the time
– 1re CSPL left Tan Kena in late December

 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1957

– in early 1956, 1re CSPL deployed to the Ouargla region
– a desert region with oil fields in eastern Algeria
– to guard French oil engineers and freshly producing oil fields
– located between Hassi Messaoud and Ouargla
– the oil fields and engineering works were threatened by rebels

– May-September, 1re CSPL deployed to Djelfa
– to conduct patrols and operations there
– July 29, a skirmish with rebels in the Djelfa region
– 3 legionnaires were killed

– June, Captain Daniel Prod’homme took command

– late September, 1re CSPL deployed to Djanet
– to guard and patrol the sector along the border with Libya
– crossed by rebel groups and supplies

 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1958

– January-September, 1re CSPL platoons operated in three sectors
– at Fort Flatters, Djanet and Edjeleh
– they conducted patrols and operations + guarded oil fields

– August-September, 1st Platoon deployed to Fort d’Issendjel

– late November, 2nd Platoon moved to Tarat
– a village south of Edjeleh, at the border with Libya

 

1 CSPL - Saharan Company - Compagnie Saharienne - Algerie - Algeria - 1955-58
In 1955, the 1re CSPL company was stationed at Zeribet El Oued, in the Biskra region, as it was in 1954. Later that year, the unit’s platoons moved to Djanet, Fort Polignac and Fort d’Issendjel located nearby. In 1956, the company moved to Djelfa, a platoon deployed to Edjeleh. In 1957, the 1re CSPL men guarded oild fields in the Ouargla region. In 1958, the platoons operated around Fort Flatters, Djanet, Edjeleh and Fort d’Issendjel.

 

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1959

– January-February, 3rd Platoon + Machine Gun Platoon left Edjeleh
– they returned to Fort Flatters

– March-July, a deployment to Hassi Messaoud
– rotating platoons guarded oil fields

– June, Captain Antonin Gilbert took command

– September-December, 3rd Platoon moved to Djanet
– to carry out road construction tasks

1re CSPL in Algeria: 1960

– late January, 1re CSPL deployed to the Laghouat region
– to be based at Tadjemout
– to conduct patrols and operations in the region

– February 17, an operation at Djebel Oum Deloua
– west of Laghouat
– 1re CSPL alongside 2e CSPL + 3e CSPL
– 8 rebels were killed

1re CSPL to Ksar El Hirane
– March 20, 1re CSPL was stationed at Ksar El Hirane
– a village occupied by 3e CSPL between 1958-60
– situated east of Laghouat
– the company’s rear base stayed at Fort Flatters

– April, operations in the sector
– Operation Messaline
– several rebels hideouts discovered and destroyed

1re CSPL left Fort Flatters
– in mid-May, 1re CSPL’s rear base left Fort Flatters
– it moved to Laghouat to be based there

1re CSPL’s missions in late 1960:

  • to conduct patrols and operations
  • to guard oil fields
  • to control and register nomad population
  • to guard the Algeria-Libya border

 
– in late November, an operation near Ghardaia

– in late December, 2nd Platoon deployed to Tarat
– to guard the Algeria-Libya border

1re CSPL’s dissolution
– December 31, a reorganization took place
– 1re CSPL was administratively disbanded
– the next day, its men formed a new unit

 

1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Saharan Company insignia - Compagnie Saharienne insigne
The two insignias of 1re CSPL worn in the 1950s. In 1958, then company commander Captain Prod’homme sent a lettre to the editors of Kepi Blanc (the official magazine of the Legion), asking what type of these two badges is correct. At the time, both versions were used and each type was seen as correct by part of the company. The problem originated when manufacturers made both types of the insignia after two different paper designs they had obtained. Captain Prod’homme pointed out that as a young Legion officer, he was taught that “the burning flames are always above the grass”. Moreover, the company fanion descending from the Automobile Company, 1er REI had the grenade’s bomb in the green field and flames in the red. On the other side, the insignias of CA/1 and CSPL had the bomb in the red field.
1 CSPL - Saharan Company - Compagnie Saharienne - Algerie - Algeria - 1959-60
In 1959, the 1re CSPL company moved to Hassi Messaoud. A platoon operated at Djanet. In 1960, the company moved to the Laghouat region, to be based eventually at Ksar El Hirane. In May 1960, the 1re CSPL’s rear base left Fort Flatters.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Fort Flatters - Algeria
Fort Flatters in the 1950s. The French isolated post was ocuppied by a BSPL (Legion’s Saharan Motorized Battery) during WWII. In late December 1954, the 1re CSPL men found the post deserted and being buried in sand. They had to use shovels for several hours to clear the entrance. It took six weeks for the company to remove the sand out of the post. Then, the legionnaires had to restore it, which took several months.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Ouargla - AM M8 - Fanion - 1956
Ouargla, September 1956. In the photo, the 1re CSPL’s fanion guard and Machine Gun Platoon armored cars (AMM8 – M8 Grehound) during a parade in Ouargla, Algeria.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Pierre Gatti - Mattei - 1955
Captain Pierre Gatti + Captain Mattei during a change of command ceremony at Zeribet El Oued, August 1955. Captain Gatti commanded the 1re CSPL between 1955 and 1957. He would be killed during an air accident in Algeria in April 1961.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Operation - Algeria - 1956
1re CSPL men during a military operation in Algeria, 1956. Note the hooded djellaba (also known as Cachabia), a Berber traditional wool robe worn by legionnaires in the Sahara in the 1950s, during cold times.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Djanet - Algeria - 1956
1re CSPL men with their white Saharan uniform parade in Djanet, 1956.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Fort Flatters - Algeria - 1958
Fort Flatters. Lined up near the post, 1re CSPL men are visited by French officers, 1958. Extreme right, Captain Prod’homme (white pants), then the company commander.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Dodge - Edjeleh - Algeria - 1958
A Dodge WC 6×6 of 1re CSPL in the Sahara close to Edjeleh, 1958. In the sand dunes, according to 1re CSPL documents, Dodges 6×6 could consume up to 6 litres of fuel per kilometer. On average, they took about 50 litres per 100 km. Used in the Sahara in the 1940s, GMC trucks consumed 100+ litres of fuel per 100 km on avarage.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Berets - Algeria - 1960
1re CSPL legionnaires in the Sahara in 1960, wearing green berets. In late 1959, the berets were prescribed as official headgear for legionnaires on military operations.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Clairon - 1960
1re CSPL’s clairon, 1960.
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Fanion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Ca marche bessif
The Fanion of the 1re CSPL. Note the motto Ca marche bessif (That works quickly).
1re CSPL - 1 CSPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Fanion Guard - Kepi Blanc - 1959
1re CSPL’s fanion guard at the entrance to Fort Flatters, on a 1959 Kepi Blanc magazine cover. Note the guard using cavalry sabres instead of rifles. Also note the company’s traditional Saharan parade uniform. It consisted of white short-sleeve shirt, white seroual trousers and V-shaped red leather bandoliers Model Sahara 1935. A beige/blue burnous cloak and sandals complement the uniform.

 

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Squadron: 1961-63

1er ESPL in Algeria: 1961

1st Legion Saharan Motorized Squadron
1er Escadron Saharien Porté de Légion (1er ESPL)

1er ESPL was established on January 1, 1961
– ex-1re CSPL
– 1er ESPL became a Saharan cavalry unit of the Legion
– still stationed at Ksar El Hirane

Captain Gilbert kept command

1er ESPL’s composition and location in January 1961:

  • HQ + 1st Platoon: Ksar El Hirane
  • 2nd Platoon: Tarat
  • 3rd Platoon: Tilrempt (also Hassi R’Mel, between Laghouat and Ghardaia)
  • Machine Gun Platoon: Ksar El Hirane

 
French referendum on Algerian self-determination
– January 8, a referendum was held
– ordered by French President de Gaulle
– in Algeria, 70% of voters voted for Yes
– the referendum was seen as a provocation
– many Legion officers didn’t agree with it
– however, 1er ESPL had to participate
– the legionnaires guarded Ksar El Hirane during the referendum

– in late January, 3rd Platoon moved to Tarat
– to replace the 2nd Platoon returning to Ksar El Hirane

– March, Captain Jacques Gaud took command
– a former commander of the 2nd Squadron, 1er REC
– back then in Tunisia in the mid-1950s

– the squadron continued in carrying out their tasks
– conducting patrols and operations
– guarding oil fields

Generals’ Putsch in Algiers
– April 22-25, Generals’ putsch in Algiers (the capital)
– led by four French Army generals
– aimed at then French President Charles de Gaulle
– seen by putschists as a betrayal of France, French settlers in Algeria
– also as a betrayal of the fallen French soldiers in the Algerian War (1954-62)
– because of de Gaulle’s acceptance of a future Algerian independence
– the putschists called for French Algeria
– they believed that the Algerian rebels could be defeated
– 1er ESPL took part in the Putsch
– the unit would move to In Salah in the Sahara
– to guard arrested officials there
– other Legion units would join the Putsch too
– nevertheless, the action would be over three days later
– April 25, Generals’ Putsch in Algiers failed

– after the Putsch, Captain Gaud was immediately removed from command

– June, Captain Guy Vonderheyden took command

– July-August, 1er ESPL deployed to Fort Thiriet
– to support a remote, isolated French outpost deep in the Sahara
– then attacked by rebels
– the post was located at the border with Libya
– close to Libya’s Gadamis

– at the time, 1er ESPL’s operational strength was 180 men
– 7 officers + 17 NCOs + 156 legionnaires
– excluding the rear base

– September 16, a skirmish at Djebel Bou Kahil
– north-east of Ksar El Hirane, close to Amoura
– 3 rebels were killed
– 3 legionnaires were also killed

– October 6, a skirmish in Metlili
– a village south of Ghardaia
– a rebel was killed + 10 rebels imprisoned
– 4 legionnaires were wounded

– October-December, guarding of oil & gas fields
– mainly in the Hassi R’Mel sector
– between Laghouat and Ghardaia
– Hassi R’Mel Gas Field is the largest gas field in Algeria
– also one of the largest gas fields in the world

 

1er ESPL in Algeria: 1962

– 1er ESPL continued in guarding oil & gas fields
– also conducting patrols and operations

Algerian War ended
– March 19, an official ceasefire came into force
– a result of the Évian Accords treaty (signed on March 18)
– however, military operations in Algeria would be conducted until September
– the end of the war would result in Algerian independence
– also in France’s withdrawal from North Africa
– the Foreign Legion’s HQ had to leave its homeland, Algeria
– it would move to France, after 130 years spent there

– June, Captain Roman Sukic took command
– a long-serving legionnaire born in Yugoslavia
– he joined the Legion in the 1930s

Independence of Algeria
– July 5, Algeria gained its independence

1er ESPL stationed at Reggane
– in mid-July, 1er ESPL moved to Reggane
– then France’s main atmospheric nuclear testing site
– Saharan Military Experiments Center (CSEM)
– situated in the Sahara Desert of central Algeria

– 3rd Platoon was based at Aoulef
– a village north-east of Reggane

Last men of the Legion killed in Algeria
– Agust 9, an unarmed 1er ESPL group was massacred
– an officer + 3 legionnaires
– unarmed due to the March 1962 peace accords
– attacked and killed by local rebels (FLN National Front members)
– between Laghouat and El Assafia, central Algeria
– one month after Algeria gained its independence
– almost six months after the Algerian War officially ended
– Lieutenant Pascal Gélas + legionnaires Pepelko, Roncin, Locca
– the last men of the Legion killed by rebels in Algeria

 

1er ESPL in Algeria: 1963

1er ESPL’s dissolution
– March 31, 1er ESPL was administratively disbanded
– the men were assigned to the 2e REI
– they formed Squadron, 2e REI
– later renamed to 5th Motorized Company (5e CP), 2e REI

 

1er ESPL insigne insignia
Insignia of 1er ESPL, created in 1961. Note the Agadez Cross of Tuaregs, used by French troops in the Sahara. The insigne also bears the green & red colors of the Legion + blue color of the French armored cavalry.
1 ESPL - Saharan Squadron - Escadron Saharien - Algerie - Algeria - 1961-63
In 1961, the 1er ESPL platoons were stationed at Ksar El Hirane, Hassi R’Mel (known also as Tilrempt previously), a large gas field, and at Tarat, at the Algeria-Libya border. In mid-1961, the squadron deployed to Fort Thiriet to defend the fortress. In 1962, after the war was over, the unit was stationed at Reggane and Aoulef, in the Sahara.
1er ESPL - 1 ESPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Ksar El Hirane - 1961
1er ESPL AMM8 armored cars in front of the squadron’s HQ at Ksar El Hirane, 1961.
1er ESPL - 1 ESPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Ksar El Hirane - 1961
Ksar El Hirane, 1962. A former school transformed into the 1re CSPL’s (and later the squadron’s) HQ. Note the gate with insignias of both the squadron and the company.
1er ESPL - 1 ESPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Ksar El Hirane - 1961
Camerone Day, April 30, 1962. An AMM8 armored car of the 1er ESPL at Ksar El Hirane, during the important holiday to commemorate the famous 1863 Battle of Camerone.
1er ESPL - 1 ESPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Lieutenant Gelas - Funeral - 1962
Laghouat, late August 1962. The funeral of Lieutenant Golas and 3 legionnaires, the last men of the Legion killed by rebels in Algeria. They were killed unarmed (the result of France-Algeria agreements) close to Laghouat, a provisional garrison of the 1er ESPL in mid-1962.
1er ESPL - 1 ESPL - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Hassi R'Mel - 1961
Hassi R’Mel Gas Field, 1962. The largest gas field in Algeria and one of the largest gas fields in the world was guarded by 1er ESPL at the time. Note the rare combination of a kepi (worn instead of the prescribed beret) + a new camouflage combat jacket + shorts.
1er ESPL - 1 ESPL - Fanion - Foreign Legion Etrangere
The Fanion of the 1er ESPL used between 1961-63.

 

1re CSPL + 1er ESPL: Additional Images

See additional images of the famous Saharan unit of the Legion.
 

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-shaped 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 (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 the unit’s dissolution (1963). See other rare color images of the 1er ESPL

 

Images & information main sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion bulletins
Jean Paul Mahuault: Legionnaires Sahariens (L’esprit du Livre, 2011)
Insignes Legion
Vert et Rouge
3ème Groupe de Transport
Legion cavalerie
Saharas

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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: April 7, 2019

 

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