21st Foreign Legion Motorized Company

On November 12, 1954, under Lieutenant Benard and Second Lieutenant de Concqueray, the first elements that would form a new company of the future 6th Battalion, 1er REI were grouped at Nouvion, in the Mascara Region of Algeria. These elements were subsequently directed to Ain Sefra, a traditional Legion garrison in South Oran, a desert region firmly associated with the legionnaires. It is located in the northwest of Algeria, near the border with Morocco. There the Nouvion detachment replaced the 1re CSPL, a Saharan unit of the Legion. The latter moved to the East, where the Algerian War had started two weeks earlier.

Thus, in Ain Sefra on November 16, 1954, the 21st Motorized Company (21e CP) of the VI/1er REI was created. The company was composed of three platoons under Captain André Hedan, and equipped with half-tracks and Dodge 6×6 trucks. Considered a “fictional” unit, since the 6th Battalion’s HQ staff did not yet exist, it was administratively assigned to the DCLE (Joint Depot) in Sidi Bel Abbès, the Legion’s headquarters at the time.

At the beginning of December 1954, the Motorized Company was sent east, to the Biskra region. There, the unit once again relieved the 1re CSPL. The 21e CP was stationed at Zeribet El Oued; its mission was to control the caravans and pursue the fellagas (rebels).

In late December, the 21e CP left Biskra for Laghouat, a town in the center of the country, which had been the garrison of the 2e CSPL since 1948. Later on, a freshly activated sister unit – the 22nd Motorized Company – arrived there as well. Then, on January 25, 1955, a ceremony took place. Both motorized companies received their new fanions from Lieutenant Colonel Arnault, head of the DCLE and a provisional commander of the 6th Battalion, 1er REI, which was still formed only on paper.

On January 28, the 21e CP left Laghouat to return to the East, towards the Algeria-Tunisia border. The company was stationed at Negrine, with one platoon detached at Ferkane and the other at Soukies. The legionnaires liaised with Tunisia, controlled the caravans and Nomad camps and searched for rebels.

In March, the company vacated their camp to the 2e CSPL and left Negrine for Bir El Ater. In this sector, the legionnaires carried out operations against the rebels, often alongside their comrades from the 1er BEP (renamed the 1er REP since August 1955).

 

Redoubt - Ain Sefra - 1954 - 21e CPLE
The redoubt of Ain Sefra in late 1954, then the base of the 21st Motorized Company and the 1re CSPL (note its insignia on the parade ground). Formerly the important garrison of South Oran and the HQ of General Lyautey, the old barracks were built with the help of the legionnaires in the early 1900s.

Laghouat - 21e CPLE - 22e CPLE - fanions - Lt-Colonel Arnault - Captain Hedan - 1955
Laghouat, 25 January 1955. Handing over company fanions by Lieutenant Colonel Arnault (center), then-head of the DCLE and a provisional commander of the 6th Battalion, 1er REI. Right, Captain Hedan received the fanion of his 21e CP.
Gorges El Kantara - region of Biskra - 21e CPLE - Algeria - 1955
The 21e CP in the gorge of El Kantara, on the way to Negrine, late January 1955.

 
 

On July 1, 1955, the Legion’s headquarters was reorganized. The DCLE and the 1er REI were abolished; a new 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE) was formed in their place. The three motorized companies of the 6th Battalion (which was never really recreated) became fully autonomous. The 21e CP was thus renamed the 21st Foreign Legion Motorized Company (21e Compagnie Portée de Légion Etrangère, 21e CPLE). An armored platoon of U.S. M8 Light armored cars (called AM-M8 in France) soon completed the three motorized platoons of the company, which comprised about 160 men in total.

The missions remained the same. Operations in the Bir El Ater sector alternated with patrols, population control, searches of nomadic tents, guarding convoys between the South and the town of Tebessa, repairing the telephone lines, and finally, with regular relief rotations at the Soukies post.

At the end of September 1955, the company was involved in Operation Timgad, a major joint operation at the border with Tunisia, not far from Djebel El Djorf. The men operated alongside their comrades from the 22e CPLE and 23e CPLE, the 1re CSPL and 2e CSPL, and the 1er REP and 2e REI. An important gathering of rebel leaders from the Aurès and the Nementchas mountains was destroyed. This operation saw the CPLEs and the CSPLs united into a Foreign Legion Motorized Company Group under Lieutenant Colonel Brisbarre, an officer of the Colonial Army.

On October 18, the 21e CPLE returned to Negrine to replace the 2e CSPL there, while one of its platoons still occupied Ferkane.

Four days later, on the 22nd, the company and elements of the 1er REP took part in a fierce battle to the northeast, at Djebel Onk. That day, 25 rebels were killed. The company lost a sergeant and a legionnaire; three other legionnaires were wounded.

On December 30 came Operation Oscar Hotel with the 1er REP and the 23e CPLE, near Rhirane Bou Doukrane, northwest of Negrine. For the first time, the 21st Motorized Company was transported by helicopters. During the operation, Lieutenant Fouquet-Lapar and Lieutenant Bedrich-Bedrich were wounded; Senior Corporal Letourneur was killed. Lieutenant Philippe Fouquet-Lapar would be mentioned in dispatches at the Army level (the highest possible mention).

On January 17 and 19, 1956, the Ferkane post was attacked by a strong rebel group with a 60-mm mortar, but they were repulsed.

Throughout the year, the company continued its missions: patrols on the Tunisian border, participation in operations, escorting convoys, road closures, etc…

On February 1, 1956, the Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group (GPLEA) was created. The new group was to include the three companies of the former 1er REI, which were dispersed across eastern Algeria. They were to lose their autonomy. However, in reality, the integration process did not occur until June.

In April, the company operated on the border with Tunisia, as part of a group called Border Task Force. Two platoons were to be found at Ferkane at the time.

In July, the 21st Motorized Company, GPLEA received a new commander, Captain Gérard Mozat. He succeeded Captain Hedan, who rejoined the 1er RE.

In October 1956, the GPLEA – a little-known and short-lived unit – was dissolved. Its elements were integrated into the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, which had been recently reorganized. Still based at Negrine, the 21st Motorized Company, GPLEA was renamed and became the 4th Motorized Company, 2e REI.

A few months later, in March 1957, the 4e CP left eastern Algeria and joined the regiment at its headquarters in Ain Sefra, which had been the birthplace of the company in late 1954.

 

Insignia - Badge - 21e CPLE - 21 CPLE - 1955
The 21e CPLE badge, created in 1955. The dorcas gazelle refers to the (pre-)Saharan regions, the company’s area of operations.

Captain Hedan - 21e CPLE - 21 CPLE
Captain André Hedan, commander of the 21e CPLE from 1954-1956. In the early 1950s, he was the third editor of the Legion’s Képi Blanc magazine.
Bir El Ater - 21e CPLE - 21 CPLE - 1er REP - 1 REP - Lcl Jeanpierre - 1955
Bir El Ater, late 1955. The officers of the 21e CPLE welcomed the officers of the prestigious 1er REP (camouflage uniform). Top right, at the head table, Captain Hedan; to his right, Lt. Colonel Jeanpierre. Follow Captains Martin and Hélie de Saint-Marc. Both units operated in the same region for many months, often side by side.
21e CPLE - Cie Portee - 21 CPLE -  Negrine region - vehicles - 1955
Dodge trucks of the 21e CPLE in the sand dunes of Eastern Algeria, 1955.
Negrine - Camerone - Col Senges - Captain Hedan - 21e CPLE - 21 CPLE - 1956
1956 Camerone Day (30 April) in Negrine, the rear base of the company at the time. Captain Hedan (left) is accompanying Colonel Senges, the then member of the Constantine Division HQ Staff and a former officer with the Foreign Legion. Note the 2e CSPL insignia on the wall; the unit occupied the post between March and October 1955. As we can see, contrary to the statement of Raymond Guyader in his awesome book The French Foreign Legion in Algeria 1954-1962, the 21e CPLE didn’t wear a Saharan uniform as did the CSPL units. This mistake came from a 1re CSPL photo confused with the 21e CPLE. The men of the company wore the Saharan uniform only once – during their very first ceremony in Ain Sefra in late 1954.
21 CPLE - 21e CPLE - Adjudant Joseph Mix
Adjudant Joseph Mix, a warrant officer and a platoon leader with the 21e CPLE. In 1945, as a German P.O.W., he chose the Legion and spent over six years in the First Indochina War. Mentioned six times in dispatches and several times wounded, he joined the 21e CPLE and served with the company until 1957. A year later, already promoted to Adjudant-chef, he was killed during a skirmish in the Tlemcen region, as a member of the 5e REI. ADC Mix gave the name to a class of the French Non-Commissioned Officers School (ENSOA).

 
 


La version française de cet article:
21eme CPLE : 21e Compagnie Portée de Légion Etrangère

 
 
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Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins (1950s)
Tibor Szecsko: Le grand livre des insignes de la Légion étrangère (S.I.H.L.E., 1991)
Fanion Vert et Rouge
Google.com
Wikipedia.org

 
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Related articles:
Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Group
1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company
2nd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
4th Legion Saharan Motorized Company

 

 

The page was updated on: December 04, 2021

 

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