3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company

The 3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company (3e CSPL) was a Saharan motorized infantry unit of the French Foreign Legion, serving in the Libyan and Algerian Sahara during 1949 – 1963. The company was the only Legion unit ever based in Libya. This hardly known self-governing, autonomous company was established in 1949 to guard the Fezzan region of Libya, being under the French administration since 1943. In the 1950s, 3e CSPL joined the Algerian War and became a Saharan rapid reaction force. The company was disbanded in 1963.

3e Compagnie Saharienne Portée de Légion - 3 CSPL - 3e CSPL - 3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company's History

 

3e CSPL: Libya 1949 – 1956

1943:
– during WWII, General Leclerc and his Free French Forces entered Libya
– Libya was then Italian colony
– the Free French seized a town of Sebha in the Fezzan region, Libya
– an Italian fort was based at Sebha
– later, the fort of Sebha was named after General Leclerc, Fort Leclerc
– General Leclerc died in an air crash in Algeria in 1947
– Fezzan region with the capital of Sebha became a French territory in 1943

1948:
– in December, first elements of the future saharan company grouped
– they were grouped within the 1er REI, Sidi Bel Abbés, Algeria

1949:
3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
3e Compagnie Saharienne Portée de la Légion (3e CSPL)

3e CSPL was established on February 1, 1949
– the establishment took place at Sidi Bel Abbés (then HQ of the Legion)
– the unit was sent to Sebha, the capital of Fezzan region, Libya

– 3e CSPL was based at Fort Leclerc, the old fortress of Sebha
Captain Van Heems became the first commander of 3e CSPL
– he served (1946-48) with the 13e DBLE in the First Indochina War

– 3e CSPL’s main tasks in Libya during 1949-1956:

  • to research and keep the connection between regional settlements, tribes, military outposts in the Sahara
  • to help to civilian/military persons lost/being crashed in the desert
  • to distribute water, bread, ice…
  • to guard the region
  • to train the young legionnaires before their placement in Indochina
  • to be an opportunity to rest and recharge for those legionnaires who returned from their necessary two-years-long stay in Indochina during the First Indochina War (1946-54)

– in Sebha, 3e CSPL also built a hospital and a water tower

Lieutenant Georges Hamacek
– among first cadres of 3e CSPL was Georges Hamacek
– he joined the 3e CSPL as a Lieutenant in April 1949
– in 1946-48, he served with 3e REI in Indochina
– he was killed in May 1953, during his second placement in Indochina
– as Captain, he commanded the 4th Company of 2e BEP

Attack on Fort Leclerc
– in June 1949, Fort Leclerc, 3e CSPL’s headquarters, was attacked
– it was attacked by an armed crowd of local rebels
– a legionnaire doing guard service at the Fort’s gate was killed
– a French Army radio operator was also killed
– another 4 radio operators (non-legionnaires) were wounded
– legionnaires gathered below the fortress (at company’s garages and auto-service grounds) opened fire
– 22 attackers were killed, 2 attackers were imprisoned
– it was one of the first attacks in North Africa after WWII

1951:
– Captain Perrotte took command
– in 1953, he became the Sebha base commander

1953:
– Captain Laporte took command

– cadres of 3e CSPL were maximally reduced
– they were sent to Asia, to participate in the First Indochina War

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

– in June, Captain Desjeux took command
– he served in the Foreign Legion during 1946-65
– 1963, Major Desjeux became the last commander of the reduced 5e REI

1956:
– in May, Route Coloniale No 5 road marking
– a 3e CSPL’s group set up the road markers alongside the major road
– the road went through the southern Libya and northern Chad

– on May 21, Captain Desjeux was seriously wounded
– he was wounded during Operation Cashbah in Algiers, the capital of Algeria
– he was sent there as a French officer for a short period

– in November, 3e CSPL left Libya for Algeria

 

3e CSPL: Algeria 1957 – 1963

1956:
– in December, 3e CSPL deployed to the El Goléa region, Algeria

1957:
– during the Algerian War, 3e CSPL became a Saharan rapid reaction force

– in March, 3e CSPL moved to the Camp Sergent Leiva, located near Messad, northern Algeria
– the camp was built by legionnaires of 2e CSPL
– it was named after the 2e CSPL’s NCO killed during operations of November 1956

– in July-August, hard fighting in the Zaccar region
2e REC participated also in

1958:
– in May-July, military operations in the Ksar El Hirane region
– 3e CSPL + 2e CSPL took part in

1959:
– in January, 3e CSPL moved its depot to Quartier Marguerite, Laghouat, headquarters of 2e CSPL

– 3e CSPL’s forward operating base was placed at Mekrareg (also spelled as Mekhareg), south-east of Laghouat
– two platoons of 3e CSPL were based at Ksar El Hirane

– in November, fighting with rebels nearby Kef El Fedj

– in December, 3e CSPL left Ksar El Hirane to 1re CSPL to be stationed there

1960:
– in September-October, operations in the In Salah and In Ecker region

1961:
– 3e CSPL served in the El Bayadh region

1962:
– 3e CSPL protected the oil and gas fields at Hassi Messaoud and Hassi Touareg, in the Saharan desert of eastern Algeria

– in January, new military operations
– they took place in the Bou Kahil region
– 3e CSPL + 1er ESPL (ex-1re CSPL) + 2e CSPL were involved 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 October, 3e CSPL moved its headquarters from Mekrareg/Mekhareg to the Caserne Bessiére, Laghouat

1963:
– in January, mission in the El Goléa region

3e CSPL dissolution
– on March 31, 3e CSPL was disbanded
– its platoons were assigned to the 4e REI
– they formed its 7th Motorized Company (7e Compagnie Portée, 5e CP)

– on June 1, 7e CP was renamed as the 3rd Motorized Company (3e CP) of 4e REI

1964:
– on January 14, 3e CP of 4e REI was disbanded

 

3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - insigne - insignia
Insignia of 3e CSPL, created in 1949. Notice the gold Agadez Cross of Tuaregs, used by French troops in the Sahara, with the dark Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of Free France during the World War II. The insignia’s Cross of Lorraine refers to Free French forces (including legionnaires from 13e DBLE), participating in the victorious battles taking place in Libya during WWII.
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Fort Leclerc - Sebha - Fezzan
Fort Leclerc, Sebha. Headquarters of 3e CSPL till November 1956. The fortress was (re-)built by Italians in the 1920s, during the Italian colonization of Libya.
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Water sports - Sebha
Legionnaires of 3e CSPL during the water obstacle course race in Sebha, organized by the company (August 1955)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - flag - fanion - ceremony - Sebha
3e CSPL and its flag during a ceremony in Sebha (October 1955)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - AMM8 - M8 Greyhound - Sebha - Fort Leclerc
3e CSPL and its Armored Platoon (Peloton Blindé) being composed of AMM8 (M8 Greyhound) armored cars, during a ceremony in Sebha. Fort Leclerc in the background (October 1955)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Tobrouk - Tobruk - 1955
Tobruk. Legionnaires of 3e CSPL (one NCO and two corporals) during a ceremony by the Siege of Tobruk memorial, northern Libya (November 01, 1955)
Notice the 3e CSPL’s traditional Saharan uniform wearing during its Libyan period: long-sleeved white shirt with V-shaped red leather bandoliers model Sahara 1935 across the midriff and chest, black seroual trousers including 32 creases, sandals and a light burnous cloak. Legionnaires wore also green-and-red epaulettes and a blue sash.
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Bir Hakeim - 1955
Bir Hakeim, Libya. Legionnaires of 3e CSPL (left) participating in the international ceremony by the Battle of Bir Hakeim memorial, Libya (November 02, 1955); Image source: Memoire DFL
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - legionnaire
An old legionnaire of 3e CSPL participating in the Bir Hakeim’s ceremony of 1955. He himself fought in the Battle of Bir Hakeim in 1942 (November 02, 1955)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - road marker - Chad
Legionnaires of 3e CSPL setting up a road marker in northern Chad (May 1956)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - officer
The April 1957 Képi blanc magazine cover showing an officer of 3e CSPL
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Camp Sergent Leiva - Messad - Messaad
Camp Sergent Leiva. 3e CSPL‘s new headquarters, built by 2e CSPL and located near Messad, Algeria (1957)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Zaccar - 1957
Legionnaires of 3e CSPL during operations in the Zaccar region, Algeria (July 1957)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - El Guerrara
3e CSPL‘s Dodges WC at El Guerrara, Algeria (April 1958)
Notice the playing card spades (♠) symbol used to signify the peloton. Within the Legion, these symbols signifying company platoons remained in use (probably) only among the Saharan units at that time.
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Messad - Messaad
3e CSPL‘s legionnaires wearing Djellaba (also called Cachabia) – a Berber traditional long, loose-fitting unisex outer robe – providing water to the locals of the Messad region, Algeria (April 1958)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Messad - Messaad
Legionnaires of 3e CSPL during a review at Messad, its garrison (April 1958)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Camerone 1958 - Messad - Messaad
3e CSPL aligned during the Camerone Day ceremony at Messad (April 30, 1958)
Notice the white seroual trousers, worn by 3e CSPL since the company’s arrival to Algeria in 1957
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Camerone 1958 - Messad
3e CSPL parading during Camerone Day at Messad
(April 30, 1958)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Capitaine Louis Peyramale - Camerone 1958 - Messad
Captain Louis Peyramale reading about the Legion’s bravery during Camerone Day (April 30, 1958)
The commander of 3e CSPL at that time and a former platoon’s commander within the 1re CSPL. As the other CSPL units’ commanders at that time, he wears a beard.. Till 2012, he was an active chairman of a French veterans organisation, while still proudly wearing his Legion’s green beret
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Mekrareg - Mekhareg
Mekrareg (or Mekhareg). A rare image of 3e CSPL‘s provisional military base near Laghouat, Algeria (1959)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - M Zab
Dodges 4×4 of 3e CSPL during a military operation in the M’zab region, Algeria (February 1959)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - AM8 - Camerone 1960 - Laghouat
Armored Peloton of 3e CSPL during Camerone Day in Laghouat (April 1960)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Berliet GBC - Bou Kahil
Berliet GBC truck used to refueling a Dodge of 3e CSPL during operations in the Sahara (1961)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - beer - tenue leopard - Sahara
Legionnaires of 3e CSPL taking a break in the Sahara (1961)
Notice the camouflage combat uniform Tenue Léopard, providing to the French elite units. In use by Legion’s Saharan companies since the early 1960s.
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Berliet GBC - Bou Kahil
Berliet GBC truck (Gazelle) of 3e CSPL during operations in the Bou Kahil region (January 1962)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL
Legionnaires of 3e CSPL by a water pump (1962)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Berliet GBC - Bou Kahil
Fresh legionnaires doing their basic instruction within the 3e CSPL (1962)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Capitaine Bureau - Mekrareg / Mekhareg
Change of Command ceremony, Mekrareg. Captain Bureau became the last commander of 3e CSPL
(July 9, 1962)
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Caserne Bessiére - Laghouat
Caserne Bessiére, Laghouat. 3e CSPL‘s final headquarters before the company’s dissolution
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Laghouat
3e CSPL with its flag during a parade at the Laghouat airport (December 1962)
Legionnaires wear the standard French winter uniform, accompanied by the burnous cloak
3e CSPL - 3 CSPL - Parade 1962 - Laghouat
When motorized company marches… 3e CSPL with its flag during a parade at the Laghouat airport (December 1962)

 

Images & information source:
Képi blanc magazines
Insignes Legion
Souvenirs du Fezzan 1950 – 1952

 
Foreign Legion’s other disbanded motorized units:
1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company
2nd 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: December 15, 2016

 

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