3e BMLE: 3rd Foreign Legion Task Force

The 3rd Foreign Legion Task Force (3e BMLE) was the only Legion engineer battalion organized in Africa. It was formed in August 1962 by half of the 3e REI. The 3e BMLE’s task was to prepare the facilities for the installation of the Legion in France and Corsica, after the end of the Algerian War. The battalion was actively involved in the construction of the new Foreign Legion headquarters in Aubagne. A little-known unit, the 3e BMLE was disbanded two years later, in November 1964.

La version française de cet article: 3e Bataillon de Marche de la Légion Etrangère

 
3rd Foreign Legion Task Force - History - 3e BMLE

 

3e BMLE: Before the creation

In March 1962, the Évian Accords treaty was signed between France and the rebels from the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic. The Algerian War (1954-62) was over. At the beginning of July, after a referendum on self-determination, Algeria’s independence was proclaimed. French troops have to leave this North-African country, that had been an integral part of France for over a century. Even the Legion has to leave its sacred homeland, where thousands of legionnaires have died for. Because of these reasons, a new unit is to be created to prepare the transfer of the Legion’s HQ to France. A part of the 3e REI is chosen.

At that time, the 3e REI was stationed in the Medea region, southwest of Algiers, the capital. The regiment was organized into two independent formations, EMT 1 + EMT 2 (Etat-Major Tactique, Tactical Staff, equivalent to an operational battalion). By an official decision, EMT 2 will be sent to Madagascar to strengthen the BLEM and to constitute a brand-new 3e REI there.

On the other hand, EMT 1, under the command of Major Hautecœur, was designated to form the new engineer unit of builders destined for France. This EMT consisted of the 3e REI’s HQ Company (CCAS) and three combat companies (1st, 2nd, 4th) of the regiment.

3e REI - 3 REI - Foreign Legion - Algeria - 1962 - EMT 1 - Major Hautecœur
Major Hautecœur reviews his EMT 1, 3e REI in Algeria, 1962.

 

3e BMLE: Creation and duties 1962 – 1964

On August 1, 1962 in Algeria, the EMT 1 of the 3e REI changes the title and becomes the 3rd Foreign Legion Task Force (3e BMLE), a task-organized provisional battalion (bataillon de marche).

The new battalion is still led by Major Jean Hautecœur. The unit is stationed at Camp des Chênes (El Hamdania today), a village in the region of Medea.

The 3e BMLE is composed of a military staff and four companies. It has 777 men including 18 officers, 99 non-commissioned officers and 660 legionnaires.
 

Composition of the 3e BMLE in August 1962

  • Commander : Major Jean Hautecœur
  • Deputy Commander : Captain Jean Cristofari
  • HQ Company : Captain Antoine Chollet
  • 1st Company : Captain Jean Lagier
  • 2nd Company : Captain Cros
  • 3rd Company : Captain Pierre Le Peillet

 
The first three weeks of the battalion were devoted to organizing its companies and preparing for the departure from Algeria. At the same time, the legionnaires are occupied by sports activities and patrols in the mountains of the sector. To complete the battalion, a number of cadres are transferred from the 13e DBLE. This regiment is also ready to leave Algeria, however for Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

On August 28, the 3e BMLE embarks for France, where the unit arrives the next day. On August 30, the battalion is stationed at the Camp de la Demande in Aubagne, a town in Provence, situated east of Marseille. It is the first unit of the Legion to be based there in 1962. The 1st Company is located about 25 miles (40 km) north from there, at Puits-d’Auzon, near Puyloubier. At Puyloubier, a retirement home for legionnaires has been operating since 1955.

The Camp de la Demande in Aubagne was an old military camp. By coincidence, the camp already housed the legionnaires of the 3e REI. In early 1946, they spent a few months there with organizing and training before their deployment to Indochina. In 1962, the camp is reserved as a new location for the 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE). The latter has to leave Sidi Bel Abbès in Algeria, a garrison town of the Legion occupied since the 1850s. The departure of the 1er RE is scheduled for late October 1962.

The main mission of the 3e BMLE is to carry out the construction works for the temporary installations of the 1er RE and the Battalion, at the Camp de la Demande. Within a few weeks, thanks to the strength of legionnaires, the first FILLOD prefabricated houses began to emerge from the ground, despite frequent rains, which turned the construction sites into huge mud holes.

The works in the camp take most of the time. In addition to the temporary installations, it is necessary to build a large Place d’Armes (a parade ground) and develop its surroundings. It is also necessary to realize a sports stadium and to build a new entrance to the camp. But the sports activities are not forgotten either by the men of the 3e BMLE. The matches in soccer/football, volleyball and handball between the platoons and companies maintain a healthy rivalry.

The legionnaires of the 3e BMLE also participate in manoeuvres organized by the HQ of the 9th Military Region, to which the battalion is assigned. First of all, it’s “Exercise Caroubier” which took place north-west of Aubagne, in the region of Draguignan, in October 1962. The 2nd and 3rd Companies of the 3e BMLE participated. At the same time, the 1st Company leaves Puits-d’Auzon to be stationed in Puyloubier. The legionnaires of the company are tasked with several construction works there.

By the end of October, the 1er RE arrives in Aubagne. It is placed at the Camp de la Demande, in the already built FILLOD prefabricated houses. The 1er RE Intervention Company (the only combat unit of the regiment) replaced the 1st Company at Puits-d’Auzon.

On November 11, 1962 marks the very first public ceremony in France for the men of the battalion. A platoon of the 3e BMLE parades next to the 1er RE Intervention Company in Aix-en-Provence, a town north of Aubagne. In 1940, after the Battle of France, the town hosted survivors of the 11e REI, 12e REI and the Foreign Legion’s Sathonay Depot.

The end of the year is marked by a harsh winter. Christmas is the first Christmas in Europe for the legionnaires of the 3e BMLE and 1er RE. On Christmas Eve, a thick layer of snow covered the Marseille region. So it is the 2nd Company that has to get rid of the snow from tracks and switches at the Marseille-Saint-Charles Station (the main railway station of Marseille).

 

3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - Insignia - Badge - 1962
The insignia of the 3e BMLE. Designed in late 1962 by Captain Cristofari, a deputy commander. The badge is inspired by that one of the 3e REI, the regiment the 3e BMLE comes from. Also the number reminds the unit’s origins. However, it should be noted that even in Algeria in 1955, there existed two BMLEs that were assigned to the 3e REI some time later and became its 3rd + 4th Battalions.

3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Legion Etrangere - Jean Hautecœur - 1963
Major Jean Hautecœur, the first commander of the 3e BMLE.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1962 - Camp de la Demande
The Camp de la Demande and its original entrance. A new, impressive entry will be built in 1963 and the camp will be renamed. Note the tent. The tents were used by the 3e BMLE in the early months for living at the camp.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1962 - 1st Company - Puits-d'Auzon
General Lefort, then head of the Legion, reviews a detachment of the 1st Company, 3e BMLE at Puits-d’Auzon, 4 September 1962.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1962 - Exercice Caroubier
Exercice Caroubier and legionnaires of the 3e BMLE, October 1962.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1962 - Aix-en-Provence - Parade
The Legion (Intervention Company + a 3e BMLE platoon) parades in Aix-en-Provence, 11 November 1962.

 

In January 1963, the legionnaires of the 3e BMLE move to Briançon in the Hautes-Alpes for a ski course, while the significant part of the Legion is still serving in the Sahara of Algeria.

In February, the 1st Company left Puyloubier. On February 12, the unit is shipped to Corsica to carry out the works in support of the GILE (Training Group, the future 4e RE), a training school of the Legion having arrived in Corsica from Algeria a few months ago, in June 1962. The 3e BMLE legionnaires are to build a Legion military camp at Borgo (to house 400 men), two “Ball-Plast” shooting ranges (for Rubber bullets used for short range shooting) at Corte and Bonifacio, and an obstacle course.

On April 10, 1963, Major Guy Halftermeyer replaced Major Hautecœur and assumed command of the 3e BMLE.

April 30 marks the 100th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Camerone. It is the first Camerone officially celebrated in France by the Motherhouse of the Legion. The festivities take place at the new Place d’Armes of the camp, now renamed as the Caserne Viénot, with the famous War Memorial being transferred from Sidi Bel Abbès to Aubagne. The battalion is actively involved in the festivities.

In May, the men of the 1st and 2nd Companies participate in the Fair Game maneuvers in Corsica, opposing the U.S. Marines who train landing operations.

On 14 July 1963, the French national day (Bastille Day), the 3e BMLE is among Legion units which parade down the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Back in Aubagne, the legionnaires retake the shovel and the pickaxe and continued their work as builders.

On February 4, 1964, the foundation stone of the future Quartier Viénot is laid by the authorities. This foundation stone is that one of the Poste de sécurité (guardhouse) which will be located near the new entrance of the Quartier Viénot. The construction of this guard post is assigned to the 3e BMLE.

In Corsica in April 1964, after a long stay in Borgo, the 1st Company of the 3e BMLE moved to the Camp of Fiume Secco near Calvi. There, the unit joins the vanguard of the 2e REP, having been installed at the camp for four months already. The 1st Company has to build a “Ball-Plast” shooting range for the regiment, and arrange the buildings within the camp (today called the Camp Raffalli), as well as forts in Calvi, to be ready to house the 2e REP (the parachute regiment moved to the camp in Corsica in mid-1967).

In May, some 60 officers and legionnaires of the 3e BMLE are detached to Montpellier, a city some 80 miles (130 km) west of Marseille. They are assigned to the Military Infantry School (EMI, the largest French infantry school until 2010) to build an important sports complex on the grounds of St-Barthélémy. Works on an obstacle course, an athletic stadium and two tennis courts began on May 11 and will be completed six months later, on November 15.

On November 25, 1964, in Aubagne, the 3e BMLE is disbanded. The only Foreign Legion engineer battalion formed in Africa survived just two years. Formed initially by the elements of the 3e REI, it saw the officers and legionnaires from most Legion regiments alternating within its ranks in 1963 and 1964. These men carried out important works to implant comfortably the Legion in France and, in addition, at a very modern headquarters.

Even today (November 2019), all legionnaires, candidates, civilians or media have to pass first through the guard post of the 1er RE’s Quartier Viénot, the very first building of the new Motherhouse of the Legion in France. This building was finished 55 years ago by the almost forgotten 3e BMLE, a unit so much important for the installation of the current Foreign Legion on the old continent.

 

3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Briancon
Legionnaires of the 3e BMLE at Briançon, January 1963. At the time, an important part of the Legion was still serving in the Sahara of Algeria.

3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - General Lefort - 1st Company - Puyloubier
General Lefort and a detachment of the 1st Company in Puyloubier, late January 1963.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Major Hautecœur - 1st Company - Marseille
Major Hautecœur reviews the 1st Company in Marseille, before their deployment to Corsica, February 12, 1963.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Aubagne - Major Hautecœur - Major Halftermeyer - Colonel Vadot
Major Halftermeyer, Major Hautecœur and Colonel Vadot (the then head of the 1st Foreign Regiment) after the Change of Command ceremony in Aubagne, April 10, 1963.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Guy Halftermeyer
Guy Halftermeyer. He took over the 3e BMLE on 10 April 1963. A former officer of the 13e DBLE and the 4e REI, a big sportsman, he finished his Legion career in 1967, as the second-in-command of the 13e DBLE. Colonel Halftermeyer, Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur, three times wounded and six times mentioned in dispatches, passed away in September 1994.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - Corsica - 1963 - 1st Company - Borgo
The 1st Company, 3e BMLE at Borgo in Corsica, 1963. Note the FILLOD prefabricated houses of a future instruction camp.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1962-63 - Aubagne - Camp de la Demande - Place d'Armes
The construction works on the future Place d’Armes du Camp de la Demande in Aubagne in 1962-63.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Aubagne - Caserne Vienot - Place d'Armes - Camerone
The very first Camerone in Aubagne, celebrated at the new Place d’Armes of the camp (called the Caserne Viénot temporarily in 1963), on 30 April 1963. It was also the 100th anniversary of the famous battle.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Aubagne - Caserne Vienot - Entry
A bulldozer of the 3e BMLE during the construction of the new entrance to the camp (called the Caserne Viénot at the time), 1963.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Aubagne - Caserne Vienot - Entrance
The works on the new entrance to the camp, 1963.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Aubagne - Quartier Vienot - Poste de securite - Guardhouse
The future Poste de sécurité (guardhouse) next to the new entrance of the Quartier Viénot (ex-Camp de la Demande, ex-Caserne Viénot), 1964. The construction of this guardhouse is assigned to the 3e BMLE.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Aubagne - Quartier Vienot - Guardhouse
The future guardhouse of the Quartier Viénot, realized by the 3e BMLE.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 2015 - Aubagne - Quartier Vienot - Guardhouse
The guardhouse of the Quartier Viénot nowadays.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - Corsica - 1964 - 1st Company - Camp de Fiume Secco - Calvi
Camp de Fiume Secco, 1964. The 1st Company, 3e BMLE march within a future base of the 2e REP, retitled to Camp Raffalli in 1968. Except for the 2e REP, this company remains the only Foreign Legion unit that has ever been placed at this camp.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - Corsica - 1964 - 1st Company - Camp de Fiume Secco - Calvi
Between the works, a singing course for the 1st Company, 3e BMLE at the Camp de Fiume Secco near Calvi, 1964.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Marseille - Bastille Day - Halftermeyer
Major Halftermeyer is heading the 3e BMLE in Marseille, during the 1964 Bastille Day (14 July) parade.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Montpellier - EMI
The works on the future sports complex of the Military Infantry School (EMI) in Montpellier, 1964. A detachment of some sixty men of the 3e BMLE spent six months there.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Montpellier - EMI
An NCO and a legionnaire of the 3e BMLE install a commemorative plaque of the battalion at an obstacle of the EMI sports complex in Montpellier, 1964.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Aubagne - Dissolution - Halftermeyer - Vadot
The dissolution of the 3e BMLE in Aubagne, 25 November 1964. Major Halftermeyer (left) reviews his battalion for the last time, with Colonel Vadot of the 1er RE.
3e BMLE - 3 BMLE - Foreign Legion - France - 1964 - Aubagne - Fanion - Halftermeyer
Major Halftermeyer and the fanion of the 3e BMLE.

 
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Main information & images sources:
Pierre Dufour: Génie-Légion (Lavauzelle, 2000)
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins
Google Maps
Wikipedia.org

 

 

See other Foreign Legion’s disbanded units:
1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment
3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment
4th Foreign Infantry Regiment
5th Foreign Regiment
6th Foreign Infantry Regiment

 

 

The page was updated on: December 03, 2019

 

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