6th Foreign Infantry Regiment

The 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment (6e REI) was the only Foreign Legion regiment established in the Middle East. The unit was organized in the Levant (current Syria and Lebanon) in late 1939. Two years later, the 6e REI legionnaires would defend the territory tenaciously against a British invasion. Nevertheless, after that sad campaign, they had to leave the Levant where the Foreign Legion served honorably for twenty years. The regiment was deactivated back in North Africa in December 1941.

The 6e REI was reactivated in Tunisia (North Africa) in 1949 to train and provide men for other Legion infantry regiments fighting in French Indochina in 1946-54. The unit also took part in operations aimed at local rebels in Tunisia. In 1955, having been reduced to a single battalion for a long time, the 6e REI was eventually disbanded.

La version française de cet article: 6e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment - 6 REI - 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment's History

 
 

France’s Syria and Lebanon before 1921

The French have had connections to the Levant (a historical geographical term for Syria and Lebanon) since the Christian crusades of the 11th century. In those days, they were supporting local Catholic Christians (Maronites), living there for 600 years. Several crusader states were established along the Syrian and Lebanese coasts. They existed until the 1290s, before being taken over first by the Egyptian Mamluks and thereafter by the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) in the early 16th century.

In 1799, a French failed campaign took place in Syria. The French openly intervened in Lebanon with their troops in 1860, after the massacres of Maronite Christians by the local Druze tribe. They would force the Ottomans to form a Lebanese autonomous Christian region governed by a Catholic.

During WWI, both empires faced each other once again. Until its capitulation in October 1918, the Ottoman Empire fought alongside Germans and Austrians while opposing France and the United Kingdom. In 1916, these two European powers signed a secret treaty (1916 Sykes–Picot Agreement), which defined their future spheres of influence in the Ottoman Levant and Palestine (now Israel).

In early October 1918, during the last days of the First World War, first French troops arrived in the Levant. They entered Beirut (the future capital of Lebanon) on 8 October and formed The Army of the Levant later that month, under the command of General Hamelin. The same month, a joint French and British military administration was established over Syria, Lebanon and Palestine (the latter was occupied by the British only).

Pro-French Lebanon with its high Christian representation would be a relatively calm country. On the contrary, after the withdrawal of British soldiers from Syria in late 1919, the Franco-Syrian War occurred between France and the self-proclaimed Arab Kingdom of Syria in March-July 1920. As a result, the French troops would occupy Damascus (the capital of Syria) and broaden their sphere of influence throughout the territory. Meanwhile, in April 1920, the joint military administration over Syria, Lebanon and Palestine was inactivated. Two League of Nations (U.N.) mandates replaced them officially:

  • French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon
  • British Mandate for Palestine

 
The French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon formalized the French control of the Levant. However, it took another three years to France to gain full control over Syria. The French Mandate would be ratified in 1923. It formally existed until 1946.

 Levant - Lebanon - Syria - Map

 
 

Foreign Legion in Syria and Lebanon 1921 – 1939

 

Foreign Legion in Syria and Lebanon 1921 – 1924

In March 1921, the very first Foreign Legion unit arrived in the Levant: 4th Battalion of the 4e RE (called 4e REI since 1922), a regiment freshly established in Morocco, North Africa. The men were reinforced by the 5th Battalion, 4e RE later in September.

Both battalions took part in France’s military operations to gain full control over Syria. Commanded by Major Salvat at first, the 4th Battalion (around 800 men) operated on the Syrian coast, around Latakia and Baniyas. In 1923, they moved to the eastern part of the country, in the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor regions. The legionnaires maintained order in the pacified sectors and (well-known as soldiers and workers in one) were building roads, bridges and military installations at the same time. In November 1924, the 4th Battalion left the Levant and moved back to North Africa. The unit was stationed in Algeria and became the 7th Battalion, 1er REI (now 1er RE).

The 5th Battalion, organized in Algeria’s Saida and initially led by Major Goepfert, operated along the Afrin River (1921) north-west of Aleppo, in the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor regions (1922) and in the Maskanah and Hasakah regions (1923-24). The legionnaires of the battalion helped build an important road between Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo. Since mid-November 1924, they remained as the only Legion elements to serve in the Middle East.

In 1924, when Syria was pacified, two new states were established within the Levant: State of Syria + Greater Lebanon. Both states would be kept under the French control.
 

4e RE - 4 RE - Foreign Legion - 1921 - Oran - Algeria
A very rare image shows the 4th Battalion, 4e RE in early March 1921, while boarding a ship in Oran (Algeria) for the Levant. The battalion was organized in Sidi Bel Abbes (Legion’s HQ) with the men of 1er RE. Note that the legionnaires wear calot (a side cap) instead of a kepi.

4e REI - 4 REI - Foreign Legion - 1921-1925 - Levant - Lebanon - Syria
Places in Syria where the 4e REI battalions operated in 1921-24.

 

Great Syrian Revolt 1925 – 1927

In July 1925, the Great Syrian Revolt (or Great Druze Revolt) started. The general uprising across Syria and Lebanon was launched by the Druze (an ethno-religious group) from the small Djebel Druze state formed within Syria.

That month, the French arrested three Druze sheikhs viewed as the main agitators of anti-French activities. A few days later, the Druze downed a French military plane and arrested two airmen. They planned to change them for the three sheikhs. On July 22, a French column of around 160 men of Captain Normand (Tunisians + local auxiliaries) was sent to rescue the two French. Nevertheless, the heavily outnumbered column was attacked by the Druze and massacred. Another French column (of Gen Michaud) would be massacred a few days later.

In response to those massacres, France sent thousands of its troops to Syria and Lebanon in August. Among them, two Foreign Legion units: 4th Squadron of the 1er REC + 29th Provisional Company, 1er REI. The two units joined the war immediately. The 29th Company (2 officers + 160 men) was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 4e REI.

In September 1925, the Battle of Messifré (now Al-Musayfirah) occurred in southern Syria. The ten-hour battle was the first French victory during the revolt. Two Legion units were involved: 5th Battalion, 4e REI of Major Kratzert and the 4th Squadron, 1er REC of Captain Landriau. The legionnaires were attacked by some 3,000 Druze rebels. Hundreds of rebels were killed or wounded. The Legion also suffered heavy losses – 47 men were killed, and 83 officers and legionnaires were wounded. Both units were mentioned in dispatches in the order of the Army (the highest mention). This French victory resulted in the important Capture of Suwayda (also Sweida, the capital of the Druze) a week later. The 5th Battalion participated.

In November 1925, another heroic battle occurred: Battle of Rachaya. The fierce five-day battle took place in today’s Lebanon, where the 4th Squadron defended the famous ancient citadel of Rachaya, attacked by thousands of Druze rebels. The legionnaires refused to surrender and fought to the last bullet. Finally, with a reinforcement, the Druze rebels were fought off. Around 1,400 rebels were killed or wounded. However, 12 legionnaires were also killed, and 34 officers and legionnaires were wounded. The 4th Squadron, 1er REC gained a new mention in dispatches and would receive the War Cross and a fourragère. Then its deployment as a rotating unit was over and the squadron left the Levant in February 1926.

In November 1926, another Foreign Legion rotating unit reinforced French troops in the Levant: 1st Squadron, 1er REC of Captain Flipo (an officer practically unmentioned in official Legion sources and historical works; even his unit is hardly mentioned to be in Syria). However, the situation was almost calm back then and the squadron didn’t saw any fighting. After maintaining order in the Raqqa region, the cavalrymen of the longest-serving Legion squadron returned to North Africa in June 1927 to be deployed directly to Morocco not long afterward.

The same month, the Great Syrian Revolt was over. At least 6,000 rebels were killed.

As a matter of interest, even if the 4e REI battalions were involved in two important and successful campaigns in the Levant (1921-24 and 1925-26), the 4th Foreign Regiment wasn’t appreciated officially. Thus, its regimental color isn’t emblazoned with battle honors commemorating their famous faits d’armes in Syria and Lebanon.
 

Foreign Legion - Messifre - Syria - 1925 - Rachaya - Lebanon - Map
In late 1925, two important battles took place in the Levant. At Messifré (Syria) and Rachaya (Lebanon). Both Foreign Legion units were involved. After the Battle of Messifré, the 4e REI’s 5th Battalion would successfully occupy Suwayda, the capital of the revolted Druze.

4e REI - 4 REI - Foreign Legion - 1925 - Messifre - Syria - Levant
Legionnaires of the 5th Battalion, 4e REI at Messifré (now Al-Musayfirah). The photo was taken after the heroic battle in mid-September 1925, seen as the very first French victory in Syria during the 1925-26 war.
1er REC - 1 REC - Foreign Legion - 1925 - Rachaya - Lebanon - Levant
A field camp of the 4th Squadron, 1er REC in the Levant in late 1925.
The ancient citadel of Rachaya, Lebanon, 2019. The Foreign Legion cavalrymen of the 4th Squadron defended it for several days in late November 1925... (you can zoom in/out the image + rotate it in 360°)

 

Foreign Legion in Syria and Lebanon 1926 – 1936

In July 1926, for administrative reasons, the 5th Battalion, 4e REI of Major Kratzert was redesignated and became the 8th Battalion, 1er REI. Its legionnaires also bore a fourragère, thanks to two mentions in dispatches gained during the Great Syrian Revolt. The 29th Provisional Company merged with the battalion. The 8th Battalion, stationed in Suwayda and Deir ez-Zor at the time, would maintain order in the assigned sectors and carry out construction works. In the late 1920s, the unit would move to Lebanon to be based at Baalbek and Rayak.

In late 1926, the Lebanese Republic was established under the control of France.

In 1930, the Republic of Syria was established. Even this new state remained under the French control.

In 1931, the 8th Battalion, 1er REI of Major Bountry changed its title once again and became the 4th Battalion, 1er REI. The battalion, now commanded by Major Guyot, was designated as an overseas force and also as an independent, self-governed regiment-like unit (called Formant Corps in France’s military) with periodically rotating men. The 4th Battalion was placed in Homs, Syria.

In early 1936, the 1st Battalion, 1er REI (ex-6th Battalion) arrived in Lebanon. The battalion was commanded by Major Brisset. His legionnaires also wore a fourragère, thanks to two mentions gained in Morocco. Even this battalion would be redesignated as an autonomous unit (Formant Corps). The battalion would be stationed at Baalbek, Lebanon. Two of its four companies deployed to Homs in Syria.
 

4e REI - 4 REI - Foreign Legion - 1926 - Deir ez-Zor - Syria - Levant
Deir ez Zor. A rare photo of the camp of the 5th Battalion, 4e REI, taken in early 1926. The camp was built by 4e REI legionnaires in 1922-26.

1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1929 - Rayak - Lebanon - Levant
The 29th Mounted Company, 8th Battalion, 1er REI in Lebanon, 1929. A former 17th Mounted Company, 5th Battalion, 4e REI. It was the only Foreign Legion mounted company in the Levant. This ultra rare and little-known unit equipped with mules existed yet in the early 1930s, while being detached to Palmyra. On the white horse, their captain.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1929 - Homs - Syria - Levant
Legionnaires of the 8th Battalion, 1er REI pay homage to their German comrade near Homs, Syria, around 1930. They bear French colonial helmets (model 1886) and the fourragère gained in 1925-26. Left, their commander.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1929 - Homs - Syria - Levant
Legionnaires of the 8th Battalion, 1er REI taking a break for launch near Homs, Syria, around 1930. At that time, the Levant was a calm region.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1926-1936 - Levant - Lebanon - Syria
The places in the Levant where 1er REI units served between 1926-36.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1933 - 4th Battalion - Card - Levant
An invitation card of the 4th Battalion, 1er REI to commemorate the Battle of Messifré in Homs, Syria in 1933.
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1937 - 4th Battalion - 4 BFC - Insignia - Badge - Levant
The insignia of the 4th Battalion, 1er REI in the Levant. It was produced in 1937. The design reminds the Roman legionnaires serving in the Levant 1,500 years earlier.

 

Foreign Legion Group 1936 – 1939

In May 1936, the two battalions based in the Levant were grouped and formed a new formation: Foreign Legion Group (Groupement de Légion Etrangère, GLE), stationed in Homs. Lieutenant Colonel Fernand Barre took command.

The GLE battalions were maintaining order in Syria and Lebanon, participating in military exercises and carrying out construction work tasks.

In 1939, with an anticipated world war, the GLE would be reinforced by another two battalions. In April, by the 2nd Battalion, 2e REI of Major Taguet, followed in August by the 6th Battalion, 1er REI of Major Boitel. Both battalions were stationed in Syria.
 

Foreign Legion - 1930s - Road built by legionnaires - Levant
A road built by legionnaires in Syria in the 1930s.

GLE - Foreign Legion - 1938 - Legionnaires - Levant
Legionnaires of the GLE in Syria in the late 1930s.
2e REI - 2 REI - Foreign Legion - 2nd Battalion - 1939 - Insignia - Badge - Levant
The insignia of the 2nd Battalion, 2e REI in Syria, designed by Lieutenant Point and distributed in 1939. Nicknamed as the Damascus Battalion, the unit would keep the insignia even after 1939.

 
 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: 1939 – 1941

In September 1939, after the German invasion of Poland, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. France mobilized and reinforced its troops to prepare them for the Second World War. A new Foreign Legion regiment should be constituted in the Levant. With the help of the Legion group, which had been stationed there since 1936. In late September 1939, the overseas group with rotating men would be reorganized.
 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment in 1939

In the Levant on October 1, 1939, a new unit was established: 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment (6e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie, 6e REI).

The 6e REI was under the command of Colonel Albert Imhaus, a former military attaché in Prague (Czechoslovakia) and a Foreign Legion officer having freshly arrived from Indochina, where he commanded the 5e REI. Nicknamed as Regiment of the Levant, the 6e REI was composed of the HQ + four battalions. The HQ of the new regiment remained based in Homs, Syria.

In late December, a change of command took place. Colonel Imhaus was sent to Beirut to lead the 192nd Division. Thus, the regiment was handed over to Lieutenant Colonel Fernand Barre, the commander of GLE in 1936-39.
 

6e REI’s composition in the Levant in late December 1939
  • Command – Lieutenant Colonel Fernand Barre
  • 1st Battalion – Major Édart
  • 2nd Battalion – Major Brisset
  • 3rd Battalion – Major Taguet
  • 4th Battalion – Major Boitel

 

1st Battalion (ex-4/1er REI, ex-8/1er REI, ex-5/4e REI)
– based in Suwayda (Syria)

2nd Battalion (ex-1/1er REI)
– based in Baalbek (Lebanon) and Deir ez-Zor (Syria)

3rd Battalion (ex-2/2e REI)
– based in Damascus and (located nearby) Dumeir (Syria)

4th Battalion (ex-6/1er REI)
– based in Homs and Palmyra (Syria)

The 6e REI consisted of 85 officers, 334 NCOs and 2,876 legionnaires.
That means 3,295 men together.

 

Albert Imhaus - Foreign Legion - 1939 - Tonkin
Colonel Albert Imhaus. He was the first commanding officer of the 6e REI in 1939. Nevertheless, he had to leave the regiment in late December 1939. Here, as captured in Northern Vietnam in 1939, before leaving it for Syria. The photo was provided to the Foreign Legion Info website by Andrew J. Mitchell, the author of Tigers of Tonkin, and published with his kindly permission.

Fernard Barre - Foreign Legion - 1940 - 6th Foreign Regiment - Syria - Levant
Colonel Fernand Barre. A popular French officer, he was commanding the Legion units in the Levant for long five years.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Military bases - 1939 - Syria - Lebanon - Map
The placements of the 6e REI’s units in the Levant in 1939.

 

6e REI: Regimental Insignia

In 1938 or 1939, Lieutenant Bonchard and Lieutenant Favreau of the 1st Battalion, 1er REI designed a hexagonal insignia inspired by the ruins of the Roman Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek, where their battalion was stationed at the time. The insignia also bears a head of legionnaire + the Legion seven-flame grenade. It was distributed to the men in 1939. When the battalion became the 2nd Battalion, 6e REI, the regiment’s HQ appreciated the insignia and adopted it for the whole 6e REI. Hence the number 6 would be added into the bomb.

Nevertheless, in late 1939 or early 1940, a decision to simplify the design took place. The new design would bear the grenade only, without the head. The design was sent to France to the Drago manufacturer. Nevertheless, due to the war conditions in France, the fabrication was postponed. Meanwhile, a set of new badges were produced locally in the Levant and distributed among the legionnaires at the latest on 1940 Camerone Day (April 30). There are photos captured during the event showing the scene decorated with the new insignia.

The locally made badge was worn until late 1941. At that time, the French well-respected badge manufacturer Drago finally delivered the almost two-year old order.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1939 - Insignia - Badge - Levant
The very first insignia of the 6e REI, destined initially for the 2nd Battalion.
Foreign Legion - 1935 - Temple of Jupiter - Baalbek - Lebanon
The Roman Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek, Lebanon in the mid-1930s. The 2nd Battalion, 6e REI (ex-I/1REI) was stationed there and the ruins (and maybe even this photo from a popular French magazine) inspired the designers of the insignia.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1939-41 - Insignia - Badge - Levant
Left, the second regimental insignia of the 6e REI, utilizing the simplified original design and distributed in 1940. Right, a rare, little-known modernized version from 1941, also produced in Syria. Its sketch appeared in an official Legion journal in late 1941 (center). Apart from the Baalbek temple’s columns, the insignias bear the Legion’s seven-flame grenade + green & red colors, and a latin motto AD UNUM. This means “all as one”, “unanimously” or, as explained within the 6e REI, “to the last man” (Jusqu’au dernier).
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1940 - Insignia - Badge - Camerone - Homs
The new 6e REI insignia decorates the scene during 1940 Camerone Day.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1939-41 - Insignia - Badge - Levant
The official insignia fabricated in France by Drago (a well-known manufacturer producing insignias for the French Army). The 6e REI didn’t receive them until late 1941.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment in 1940

In January-March 1940, a reorganization of the regiment occurred. Administratively, the 6e REI battalions were divided into two separate parts:

  • 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment
  • Foreign Legion Levant Group (GLEL)

 
The 6e REI, a mountain unit based in Homs, remained in the hands of Colonel Barre. It comprised the HQ + 1st + 2nd Battalion, 6e REI.

The new GLEL was designated as an overseas motorized unit. It was based in Damascus and commanded by Lt Colonel Albert Vias (a French officer, he joined the Legion in 1936; in 1942, he became the head of 1er REI). The GLEL comprised HQ + 3rd + 4th Battalion, 6e REI + Disciplinary Platoon.

Both parts numbered 85 officers, 378 NCOs and 3,255 legionnaires (3,718 men).

In mid-April 1940, the 6e REI was reinforced by a battalion, which became two weeks later the 11th Foreign Volunteer Battalion (11e BVE). The battalion was organized in France the previous month, as an auxiliary unit assigned to the Foreign Legion. Commanded by Major Knocker and made up of about 800 war-period foreign volunteers (Spaniards in the majority), the battalion was stationed at Baalbek, Lebanon.

In May-June 1940, the Battle of France took place, with German troops invading France. The French fought fiercely to stop the enemy invasion. Between them, thousands of legionnaires and foreign volunteers. Many of them died. However, in late June, the French were overcome and France and Germany signed an armistice. The battle was over.

Following these sad events in France, the 11th BVE was dissolved in mid-October 1940. The next day, its men formed a foreign worker group occupied with infrastructure construction works in the Levant (building roads, rails, bridges, etc.). Nevertheless, a number of Spaniards would be allowed to join the 6e REI as regular legionnaires.

In December 1940, the 6e REI received its regimental flag officially. The ceremony occurred in Homs. Also that month, the GLEL ceased to exist as its battalions rejoined administratively the regiment.
 

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1940 - Camerone - Homs - Syria - Levant
Camerone Day at Homs, Syria in late April 1940 to commemorate the 1863 Battle of Camerone. The 6e REI fanion bearers are photographed next to a locally constructed War Memorial, a copy of the much larger monument placed in Sidi Bel Abbes at the time (now in Aubagne).

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1940 - Camerone - Homs - Syria - Levant
1st Battalion, 6e REI during a 1940 Camerone Day ceremony at Homs.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1940 - Camerone - Homs - Syria - Levant
1st Battalion, 6e REI parading on 1940 Camerone Day at Homs.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1940 - Regimental Flag - Homs - Syria - Levant
The 6e REI officially received its regimental flag in Homs in December 1940.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment in 1941

In early January, the Legion Levant Artillery Group (GALL) was organized in the Levant, with the men of the 6e REI. The unit was composed of three batteries and stationed at Baalbek. However, for military operations, the GALL was assigned to the 2e RAML (Artillery Regiment).
 

6e REI’s composition in the Levant in mid-1941
  • Command – Colonel Fernand Barre
  • Deputy – Lieutenant Colonel Albert Vias
  • HQ Staff – Captain Jacquot
  • HQ Company – Captain Andolenko
  • 1st Battalion – Captain Berthoux
  • 2nd Battalion – Major Brisset
  • 3rd Battalion – Major Robitaille
  • 4th Battalion – Captain Hourtané
  • Artillery Group – Major Ribérolles

 

Syria–Lebanon campaign: June-July 1941

On June 8, 1941, the Syria–Lebanon campaign started. The British invasion of the French Levant was part of WWII. The main British argument for this invasion (called Operation Exporter) should be to prevent Nazi Germany from using the French Syria and Lebanon airfields for attacks on Egypt during the British-led Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) against German and Italian forces in North Africa. However, the sad campaign in the Levant was still censored in Britain at the time because of a negative effect on public opinion.

On the British side, there were mainly Australian and Indian troops involved. Alongside them, also a small number of the Free French of General de Gaulle fighting within the British Army against the then French Empire (called Vichy France). Between them, men of the future 13e DBLE, led by Lt Colonel Amilakvari.

The sad campaign lasted five weeks, until mid-July. The British troops advanced into Lebanon from British Palestine (now Israel), along the coast, towards Beirut, the capital, and through the Mount Lebanon range, to Syria’s Damascus. They were supported by Britain’s warships, bombarding day and night the French defenders positioned along the coast, including legionnaires. Another wave of British troops came from Iraq, and advanced through Deir ez-Zor to Palmyra and Aleppo.

Although badly equipped for modern warfare, the 6e REI legionnaires took part in all important battles. They were well determined and fought bravely. The HQ Company and 1st Battalion distinguished themselves at Jezzine and Damour, while blocking the British advance from Palestine, and lost 170 men. The 2nd Battalion fought fiercely at Jadra on June 19 or in the Battle of Damour on July 6, against the 7th Australian Division, where the unit lost several platoons. The 3rd Battalion men proved their Legion tradition of fighting to the finish during the Battle of Merdjayoun on June 19. Tens of Australian prisoners were captured that day. Finally, the 4th Battalion distinguished themselves in Palmyra, where the 15th Company was being able to fight off continuous British attacks for almost two weeks, despite the numerical superiority of the enemy.

Nevertheless, the 6e REI legionnaires were eventually overrun and suffered heavy casualties. On July 14, the Armistice of Saint Jean d’Acre (Convention of Acre) was signed between France and Britain. The campaign was over and the defeated French had to withdraw from the Levant.

During the campaign, almost 250 legionnaires of the 6e REI were killed. Another 600 legionnaires were badly wounded.

Among the officers who had participated with the 6e REI in the Syria-Lebanon campaign and who would return to France (after having refused to join the Free French of De Gaulle), there were Captain Segrétain (future head of 1er BEP, killed in Indochina in 1950), Lieutenant Jeanpierre (his deputy in the 1er BEP and future commander of the 1er REP, killed in Algeria in 1958), Captain Jacquot (who led the 3e REI in 1950-1951 and the 2e REI in 1953-1956), Captain Laimay (head of the 3e REI in Indochina in 1951-1953), Captain Andolenko (commander of the 5e REI in 1956-1958), Lieutenant Favreau (head of the 5e REI in 1958-1960), Lieutenant Bloch (head of the 2e BEP in Indochina in 1952-1953) or Lieutenant Liesenfelt (commander of the 2e BEP in Indochina in 1953-1954; he jumped with his unit over Dien Bien Phu).
 

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1941 - GALL - Artillery Group - Levant
The 6e REI’s GALL artillery group squad in the Levant in 1941. The unit was equipped with the French 75 mm field gun (Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897), also called as French 75. Despite their age, the guns still fired well.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1941 - Poste Weygand - Palmyra - Levant
Poste Weygand in Palmyra in August 1941, occupied by British troops. In mid-1941, the 6e REI barracks housed the 15th Company, 4th Battalion. Being heavily outnumbered, the company defended the city and their post for two weeks, under continuous attacks conducted by hundreds of British infantry troops, supported by British artillery and aircraft. The post was named after General Maxime Weygand, a well-known French officer who had to replace disastrous General Gamelin in late May 1940, as the head of the French military. In the 1920s and in 1939-40, he was commander-in-chef of the French forces in the Levant. His son Jacques served with the Foreign Legion’s 1er REC in Morocco during the 1920s and 1930s.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1941 - Antoura - Collège Saint Joseph - Lebanon - Colonel Barre
The 6e REI’s ceremony to pay homage to their killed comrades, August 1941. The mass took place inside the Collège Saint Joseph in Antoura, Lebanon, the oldest French school in the Middle East (est. 1834). The regiment was stationed there after the campaign. Right, Colonel Barre.

 

6e REI: After the campaign

In late July, the 6e REI was regrouped at Antoura in Lebanon. The 4th Battalion was dissolved. In mid-August, the officers and men of the regiment were allowed to leave the Legion and the French Army, and join the British. Only a small number of legionnaires agreed.

Shortly after, August 16, the 6e REI boarded a ship and left the Levant, where the Foreign Legion had served with honor and fidelity for twenty years. The legionnaires didn’t return back until 1982.

In late August, the 6e REI landed in France to be stationed at Camp d’Idron, close to Pau. The 3rd Battalion and the GALL were dissolved.

In late October, little-known Lieutenant Colonel Emile Delor took command of the regiment. Colonel Barre moved to Algeria to the Legion’s HQ.

In December, the reduced 6e REI left France for Algeria. The legionnaires arrived in Sidi Bel Abbes, the then HQ of the Foreign Legion. In the mother-house, the Regiment of the Levant was deactivated on December 31, after two years of its existence.

Since the beginning of January, the two battalions would re-form the old 1er REI, once again under Colonel Barre. The 1st Battalion, 1er REI (ex-I/6REI) would prove its ability of a brave fighting force a year later, in the 1943 Tunisia Campaign.
 

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1941 - Depart - Levant
The 6e REI is leaving the Levant, mid-August 1941. The Foreign Legion spent 20 years there. The 6e REI legionnaires show a French flag with the description “The only France – Pétain”, after having refused to desert the Legion and join the Free French within the British Army.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1941 - France - Pétain
The 6e REI is welcomed in France by Marshal Pétain, late August 1941. A well-respected WWI national hero who won the war with Germans in 1918. He was asked in May 1940 in his 84 to return to the office to save moral in collapsing France. Four weeks later, after the armistice was signed, he became the head of the half-occupied country and led it until mid-1944.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1941 - France - Pétain
The 6e REI legionnaires from HQ Company parade in Pau, France, August 1941. They are led by their Captain Serge Andolenko (without the beard).
1er REI - 1 REI - Foreign Legion - 1943 - 2nd Company - Fanion - Sidi Bel Abbes - Gabriel Favreau
The fanion of the 2nd Company, 1er REI in 1943. As we can see, it was in fact the ex-2nd Company, 6e REI, with an emblazoned battle honor for their actions against British troops in 1941. In February 1943, during the Tunisian Campaign, the company fought against German troops at Djebel Mansour and was annihilated. Right, wounded 2nd Company commander Captain Gabriel Favreau, the designer of the very first 6e REI insignia, is awarded in Sidi Bel Abbes in 1943. He lost his eye in the battle.

 
 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Tunisia 1949 – 1955

Tunisia, a small country in North Africa, located between Algeria and Libya, was a French protectorate from 1881. Unlike other French-controlled North African states like Morocco or Algeria, Tunisia was calm and had never seen hard fighting with the French. That’s why the Foreign Legion wasn’t stationed there until 1921, with the organization of the 1er REC. However, the latter moved to Morocco in late 1940 and Tunisia remained once again without any Foreign Legion elements.

After the Second World War (1939-45), the calls for an independence were growing up throughout French North Africa, including Tunisia. Because of that, the Foreign Legion was asked to send an autonomous battalion (BFC) to maintain order there: 1st Battalion, 1er REI. The unit arrived in Tunisia in mid-1946. In early 1949, it should be reinforced by a second battalion. Eventually, both units would have become a new regiment, the 6e REI.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Second activation – 1949

The 6e REI was reactivated in Tunisia on April 1, 1949. In fact, the regiment was born by a redesignation of the 1er REI. The reactivated 6e REI was led by Lieutenant Colonel René Babonneau, a former commander of the 13th Company, 6e REI in Syria in 1939-41. The new unit was composed of HQ + two battalions (1st + 2nd, led by Major Thomas + Major Orsini). The HQ of the 6e REI was based in Le Kef.

In early May, the regiment obtained its old flag.

The missions of the freshly established 6e REI were to keep the French presence in Tunisia, maintain order in the territory and train young legionnaires for a two-year deployment in French Indochina of Southeast Asia. In Indochina, they were to fight in the ongoing First Indochina War (1946-54) against the Viet Minh movement.

Tunisia - Map

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Indochina in 1949

Shortly after its reactivation, an exceptional mission was prescribed to the regiment. One of the 6e REI battalions would be sent as a whole to Indochina to reinforce other Foreign Legion units fighting there. The 1st Battalion was selected and renamed to 3rd Battalion. In early June, the battalion left Tunisia.

3rd Battalion, 6e REI in June 1949
  • Command – Major Thomas
  • HQ Company – Captain Maurer
  • 9th Company – Lieutenant Jollain
  • 10th Company – Captain Minard
  • 11th Company – Lieutenant Gerriert
  • 12th Company – Lieutenant Girves

 
Led by Major Jean Thomas (future commander of 1er REI, 1er RE and 3e REI), the 3rd Battalion consisted of 23 officers + 68 NCOs + 749 legionnaires (840 men). Over 270 of them were fresh legionnaires, having less than one year of service.

July 2, the battalion landed in Indochina and moved to Tonkin (then the title of Northern Vietnam) to be based in Hanoi, the capital of Indochina. The men conducted military operations to maintain order in the sectors around the city and to detect local Viet Minh groups. Six weeks later, the 3rd Battalion, 6e REI moved north-west of Hanoi, in the sectors of Phuc Yen and Vinh Yen.

The men would participate in Operation Canigou, a three-week operation aimed at the Viet Minh groups in the sector. The 6e REI legionnaires fought alongside other Legion units: 1er BEP (Parachute Battalion, future 1er REP) and 13e DBLE, the unit that the 6e REI faced eight years earlier during the 1941 Syria-Lebanon campaign. The operation passed well. The men saw just a few of sporadic firefights. Only the 10th Company was fiercely attacked during the night of August 19-20. A legionnaire was killed, others were wounded.

Captain Robert Minard, the head of the 10th Company, was killed during a skirmish on October 17.

The battalion served in Tonkin until late October. During four months, 10 men of the 6e REI were killed, 12 men were wounded. On October 31, the 3rd Battalion, 6e REI in Indochina was administratively dissolved.

The next day, November 1, 1949, its men formed the 1st Battalion, 5e REI, as the first elements of a brand-new regiment designated for service in Indochina.
 

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1949 - Thomas - Dares - Tunisia
Major Thomas (center) reviews his 6e REI battalion in Tunisia in 1949. He is followed by Captain Denis Dares, his deputy. Captain Dares, a French officer of Senegalese origin, would be killed in Indochina in July 1950.

French Indochina - Tonkin - Map

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1949 - Tonkin - Operation Canigou - Map

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1949 - Denis Dares - 3rd Battalion - Hanoi - Indochina
In a very rare photo, Captain Dares is heading the 3rd Battalion, 6e REI in Hanoi, during the 1949 Bastille Day (14 July), two weeks after their arrival in Indochina. The photo was provided to our page by Frans, the admin of Nederlanders in het Franse Vreemdelingenlegioen, a great website (not only) dedicated to Dutch legionnaires, and published with his kindly permission.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Tunisia in 1949

Meanwhile in Tunisia, a considerably reduced regiment was remaining there. The 2nd Battalion wasn’t in full strength yet and continued to receive new drafts coming from Algeria. The original 1st Battalion was represented in Tunisia by a single company only. Led by Captain Paul Pfirrmann and being composed of personnel not allowed to deploy to Indochina, the company handled the rear base of the regiment in Le Kef. Nevertheless, even this battalion would be reformed as quickly as possible.

In mid-August, the reorganization of the 6e REI in Tunisia was officially achieved. The regiment consisted of a HQ + two battalions.

6e REI’s composition in August 1949
  • Command – Lieutenant Colonel René Babonneau
  • 1st Battalion – Captain Pfirrmann
    – based in Le Kef, at Camp Chaperon + Camp Venard
  • 2nd Battalion – Major Orsini
    – based at Tabarka
  • 3rd Battalion – Major Thomas
    – based in Hanoi, Tonkin (Northern Vietnam)

 
Major Orsini of the 2nd Battalion was a former commander of the 3rd Company, 6e REI in 1941. He was wounded during the sad campaign in Syria and Lebanon, and mentioned in dispatches.

In 1949, the majority of the regiment were Germans. Half of them were veterans from Indochina with 3+ years of service. They were usually relaxing a few months in North Africa before being deployed once again to support their comrades in Asia. The second half of the men were fresh legionnaires coming from Sidi Bel Abbes in Algeria. Having completed around 5-8 weeks of basic training there, they continued their instruction in Foreign Legion semi-operational regiments like the 6e REI before being deployed to Indochina.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1949 - Insignia - Badge - Tunisia
The 6e REI adopted its old regimental insignia to be worn in Tunisia in 1949-55.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1949-1950 - Color Guard - Tunisia
In May 1949, the 6e REI obtained their old regimental color and battalion fanions. The photo was provided by Andrew J. Mitchell, and published with his kindly permission.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Tunisia in 1950 – 1951

The early 1950s were marked with important downsizing of strength in all Foreign Legion units stationed in North Africa at that time, due to the situation in Indochina getting much worse. All capable men were being sent as reinforcements directly to Asia.

In early January 1950, Major Sourlier replaced Major Pfirrmann and took command of the 1st Battalion, 6e REI in Le Kef. In 1941, then Captain Sourlier was seriously wounded and mentioned in dispatches while leading the 1st Company, 6e REI. Both officers had also served with the 1st Battalion, 3e REI in Indochina before joining Tunisia and the new 6e REI. Major Pfirrmann would leave North Africa to be shipped back to Indochina to command the 1st Battalion, 2e REI.

In late March 1951, because of the war’s course in Indochina, the 6e REI was considerably reduced. The 1st Battalion was disbanded, and its remaining men merged with the 2nd Battalion. Major Sourlier left the regiment.

The 2nd Battalion as the only unit was constituting the regiment for the next three months, until late June 1951. In early July, the unit was renamed and became the new 1st Battalion. Unfortunately, the situation with the reduced strength didn’t change. The unit was redesignated as Bataillon Formant Corps (BFC), an autonomous, self-governed formation to represent the whole 6e REI. The battalion’s HQ was now based at Camp Amyot d’Inville in Le Kef. The 6e REI legionnaires were also still placed at Tabarka.

A recreation center was open nearby the sea at Hammamet, a small town on the eastern coast. Before WWII, even the 1er REC was operating such a center at the same town. In early 1956, having returned from Indochina back to Tunisia, the Legion cavalrymen would reinstall their recreation center of Hammamet. However, we don’t know exactly if both centers were in the same barracks (an old fortress nearby the sea).

1st BFC, 6e REI’s composition in July 1951
  • HQ Company
  • 1st Company
  • 2nd Company
  • 3rd Company
  • Combat Support Company (CA)
  • Recreation Center – based at Hammamet

 
The missions of the only Foreign Legion unit to serve in Tunisia continued unchanged. The 6e REI was keeping the French presence and maintaining order in the region, along with providing a basic & advanced instruction for young volunteers and fresh legionnaires. The independent battalion also served as a recharge unit for veterans from Indochina, before their next deployment.
 

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1949 - Tunisia - Military bases - Map

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1950 - Le Kef - Kasbah - Tunisia
Le Kef in the 1950s. Note the famous Kasbah (a fortress/citadel from the Ottoman period) above the city. The 6e REI’s HQ was placed there.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1950s - Tunisia - Defile
The 6e REI parade in Tunisia in the early 1950s. The photo was provided by Frans from Nederlanders in het Franse Vreemdelingenlegioen and published with his kindly permission.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1950s - Tunisia - Dogs
The legionnaires of the 6e REI with dogs, in the Kasserine region of Tunisia, in the early 1950s. The dogs were used, for example, to guard the regiment’s installations inside the Kasbah in Le Kef.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1950 - Le Kef - Camp Amyot d'Inville
The entrance to the Camp Amyot d’Inville at Kasbah of Le Kef, in the 1950s. The camp served as the 6e REI’s HQ in Tunisia until mid-1954.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Tunisia in 1952 – 1953

In the year of 1952, insurgent activities erupted in Tunisia, much earlier than in other French-controlled countries of North Africa. The local left-wing rebels led by Habib Bourguiba utilized the complicated situation of the French in Indochina and formed small armed groups in remote areas; shortly after, the rebels (called fellaghas) began to conduct their first attacks.

The French units, including the 6e REI, were alerted. Anti-insurgent Operation Mars was launched in late January 1952, with the support of French reserve troops from Algeria. The 6e REI legionnaires operated alongside their comrades from the Algeria-based 3e BEP (Parachute Battalion, future 3e REP). The operation successfully ended in early July.

In mid-September 1952, Lieutenant Colonel Jean Rossi took command of the regiment (in fact, the regiment-like battalion) to replace leaving Lt Col Babonneau. Having returned from Indochina, Jean Rossi had served extraordinary long five years with the 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE back there.

In 1953, the 6e REI men maintained order in the territory and patrolled mainly southwestern Tunisia along the border with Algeria.
 

Foreign Legion - 1954 - Lieutenant Colonel Jean Rossi
Lieutenant Colonel Jean Rossi. The head of the 6e REI in 1952-54. During his ten years in the Legion, he spent eight years with the 13e DBLE, mainly in Indochina. Before leaving the Legion, he led GPLEA in Algeria for one month.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1952 - Tunis - Tunisia
The 6e REI parade in the capital of Tunisia, November 1952.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Tunisia in 1954

In early 1954, the independent, regiment-like governed 1st Battalion, 6e REI was stationed in Le Kef, with units based also at Tabarka, Ain Draham (south of Tabarka) and Souk El Arba. The latter is called Jendouba today, situated halfway between Tabarka and Le Kef. Two 6e REI companies (most likely 1st + 2nd) were occupied by the instruction of volunteers, while HQ + CA + 3rd Company participated in military operations, like at Djebel Selloum in March or at Djebel Majoura in late May.

The rebel activities, successfully suppressed in 1952, were growing up again. The relatively calm military life in Tunisia was definitively over. In May-June, the 6e REI men were involved in operations to maintain order in Le Kef, Kasserine, Maktar, Le Sers (halfway between Le Kef and Maktar) or Sakiet, a village on the Algeria-Tunisia border, west of Le Kef.

In early June 1954, Major Etienne Georgeon took command of the battalion. He was a former platoon leader with the 2nd Company, 6e REI in Syria in 1941, being wounded during a battle with British troops. Major Georgeon replaced Lt Colonel Rossi, who left the 6e REI two months earlier for another tour in Indochina, where he would be appointed as the 13e DBLE’s commanding officer.

Nevertheless, in early August 1954, the First Indochina War was over. The 6e REI ceased to provide basic instruction for young volunteers and became a regular operational unit. The next war for the French was coming, this time in North Africa.

At the same time, the HQ of 6e REI left Le Kef and moved to northeastern Tunisia to be stationed at Camp Servière on August 5. The then large French military camp, established in 1899, was situated at Fondouk Djedid, between Tunis (the capital) and Hammamet (the town with the regiment’s Recreation Center). By the way, the camp at Fondouk Djedid was still in use even in the 2010s, now as a Tunisian military academy.

Unlike the HQ, patrolling 6e REI companies stayed in the assigned sectors and continued their missions. They would move to Camp Servière later that year. Rebel activities intensified. More and more clashes occurred. Two Foreign Legion units, coming from Algeria in mid-1954, would operate alongside their 6e REI comrades to calm down the insurrection: 2e CSPL (Saharan Company) and a battalion-size Task Force 3, 1er RE (ex-1er REI).

 
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1954 - Tunisia - Operations - Map

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - 1954 - Major Etienne Georgeon - Colonel Laimay
Major Etienne Georgeon (right). A former platoon leader with the 2nd Company, 6e REI, wounded in a battle with British troops in 1941. Here, when speaking with Colonel Edmond Laimay, the then second-in-command of the Legion’s HQ (GALE) and a former commander of the 14th Company, 6e REI in Syria in 1941. Colonel Laimay started his Legion career as a sergeant in 1920, with the 4e RE. Lt Colonel Georgeon finished his Legion career in 1961 with the same regiment, however as its commander.

 

6e REI’s operations in Tunisia in late 1954

August:
Operations in the Kasserine region
– also motorized patrols at Cap Bon
– a peninsula in northeastern Tunisia
– HQ + 3rd Company participated

September:
Operations at Sidi Bou Zid and Grombalia
Grombalia was only 3 miles (5 km) south-east of Camp Serviere
– operations to maintain order
– HQ + 1st + 3rd Company participated

October:
Operations at Cap Bon
– operations to maintain order
– carried out by HQ Company

Operations along the Algeria-Tunisia border
– large joint operations in October-November 1954
– 3rd Company + Combat Support Company (CA) participated
– led by Captain Morin + Captain Fraysse
– alongside 2e CSPL + Task Force 3 (BM3) from 1er RE

Clashes with rebels at Djebel Gadoum
– they occurred on October 8
– between Kasserine and Sfax
– north-east of Sidi Bou Zid
– 16 rebels were killed + a rebel was imprisoned
– 2 legionnaires were wounded

Clashes with rebels at Djebel Gouleb
– they occurred on October 19, north of El Maknassi
– between Gafsa and Sfax
– 3rd Company, 6e REI participated
– 10 rebels were killed
– a legionnaire was wounded

November:
Operation Castor III
– an operation between November 13-15
– close to Siliana, northern Tunisia
– Combat Support Company (CA) took part
– many rebel firearms were discovered

Clashes with rebels at Djebel Sidi Aich
– they occurred on November 21, north of Gafsa
– the last important skirmish for the 6e REI
 

In late November 1954, the rebel activities in Tunisia were broken. However, the Tunisian fellagas shifted to Algeria, where they helped start the Algerian War (1954-62). Another irregular conflict with a sad end for the French colonial empire. The Algeria-Tunisia border became a frequently passed line by rebels. Thus, the border would be more patrolled by French troops, including legionnaires.

In December, the 3rd Company and Combat Support Company (CA) left their sectors and moved to Camp Servière.

In late December, 3rd Foreign Legion Repair Platoon (PRLE 3) was dissolved. One of the four almost unknown Legion maintenance units to serve in Africa, the PRLE 3 was stationed at Gabès and administratively assigned to the 6e REI. The platoon provided maintenance services for French units (Legion or non-Legion) in Tunisia in the first half of the 1950s.

 
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - late 1954 - Tunisia - Operations - Map

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - Camp Servière - Tunisia
Camp Servière. The 6e REI’s HQ was stationed there in early August 1954. The rest of the battalion would follow successively.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Tunisia
6e REI men during a military operation in Tunisia, late 1954.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Djebel Gouleb - M2 Mortar - Tunisia
The 6e REI’s platoon leader with his men during the operation at Djebel Gouleb in Tunisia in mid-October 1954. The legionnaires operate the 60 mm U.S. M2 Mortar.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Le Kef - Tunisia
The 6e REI is visited by Colonel Laimay in Le Kef, late 1954. With the walking cane/stick, Major Georgeon, the commander of 6e REI.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1954 - Le Kef - Tunisia
The 6e REI post in Tabarka visited by Colonel Laimay in late 1954. Between him (left) and an unidentified officer, Major Georgeon.

 

6e REI’s mission in 1954-55: Protecting TAT

In 1954, the 6e REI started to carry out a particular and interesting mission, well enjoyed by legionnaires. Its men were assigned to protect supply convoys of the Tunisian Car Transportation (TAT) logistics company going between Tunisia and Libya.

The mission began in Tunis (the capital) and was heading up to Fort Leclerc, an old fortress in Sebha, the administrative center of Libya’s Fezzan region and the HQ of the Foreign Legion’s 3e CSPL between 1949-55. Libya’s Fezzan was a predominantly desert area in the southwestern part of the country, occupied by the French in 1943-55.

The security mission was about 1,500 miles long (2,400 km, there and back) and lasted three weeks (10 days per one way). Every convoy was protected by a 6e REI escort consisting of a Lieutenant and a “reinforced group” of legionnaires (a small platoon). From time to time, Libyan rebels were trying to attack the convoys in remote, large desert areas of the country. However, the legionnaires saw it as a pleasant adventure in the sand dunes of Africa, far away from their superiors and the monotonous military life in Tunisia.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Tunisia in 1955

In late 1954 and early 1955, the Foreign Legion units which had participated in the war in Indochina were on their way back to North Africa. Two of them would be dispatched directly to Tunisia: 2e REI and 1er REC.

In early February 1955, a 6e REI detachment led by Major Vieules rendered honor and welcomed the 2e REI arriving in Bizerte, Tunisia after nine years spent in Indochina. Major Vieules most likely served then as the deputy commander of the 1st Battalion, 6e REI. In 1951, he led CERA and in 1954, he was an interim head of 1er BEP (future 1er REP). Major Vieules would be killed in Algeria in 1958 while commanding the 2nd Battalion, 13e DBLE.

In late February, the 6e REI’s Football (Soccer) team became military champions of Tunisia.

In 1955, 6e REI legionnaires were mainly patrolling the mountains and valleys of the Gafsa region in central Tunisia. Nevertheless, France’s reorganization of infantry units would affect the Foreign Legion, combined with rumors of a future independence given to Tunisia. Instead of expanding into a full regiment, the reduced 6e REI would be eventually dissolved.
 

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1954-1955 - TAT protection mission - Tunisia - Libya - Sebha
In 1954-55, the 6e REI was providing a security escort to convoys of the TAT logistics company going between the capital of Tunisia and Libya’s Sebha in the desert Fezzan region. Legionnaires well enjoyed the mission.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Tunisia - Lieutenant Basset - Lieutenant Schmidt - Major Georgeon
Lieutenant Basset (left), the head of the 6e REI escort group protecting the TAT convoys, and Lieutenant Roger Schmidt, who will be among 18 men of his company killed during the January 1956 Attack of Tainaste in Morocco, are awarded with the Legion of Honor (the highest French order of merit) by Major Georgeon at Camp Servière, in February 1955.

 

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment: Dissolution

On June 30, 1955 in Tunisia, the 6e REI was disbanded. The battalion changed its designation and the next day, the men became the 3rd Battalion, 2e REI. Major Escaron took command. The companies were renamed to HQ + 9th + 10th + 11th + CA. However, the ex-6e REI legionnaires continued their patrols and maintaining order.

On November 11, the regimental flag of the 6e REI was deposited in the Hall of Honor in Sidi Bel Abbes, the Legion’s HQ.

In early January 1956, the battalion left Camp Servière and Tunisia for Morocco, a French-controlled country west of Algeria, as the last unit of the 2e REI. Whereas the military life in Tunisia was relatively calm, Morocco became hostile for the ex-6e REI men a short time after their arrival. On January 28, the 11th Company (ex-3rd Company, 6e REI) of Captain Ungerman was heavily attacked at Tainaste in northern Morocco. The platoon of Lieutenant Schmidt suffered heavy casualties. The officer + 17 of his men were killed. For the Legion, the already forgotten sad event remains the bloodiest attack suffered in Morocco since 1934, when the country’s pacification was over, as well as the second bloodiest attack aimed at the Foreign Legion in North Africa after WWII.

In June 1956, the HQ Company shortly returned to Tunisia, but then was sent directly to Algeria, with the rest of the battalion. Three months later, on September 30, the ex-1st Battalion, 6e REI was definitively dissolved.

In 1984, the 6th Foreign Engineer Regiment (6e REG) took over the number, history and traditions of the old 6e REI. In 1999, the regiment was redesignated and became the 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment (1er REG).
 

2e REI - 2 REI - Foreign Legion - 1956 - Morocco - Attack of Tainaste
The 18 killed men of the 3rd Battalion, 2e REI (ex-1st Battalion, 6e REI). They were victims of a rebel attack at Tainaste, Morocco, in early 1956.

6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1955 - Sidi Bel Abbes - Regimental flag
Major Georgeon (center) pays tribute to the 6e REI’s regimental flag during the ceremony in Sidi Bel Abbes on November 11, 1955, before depositing it in the Legion’s Hall of Honor. Shortly after the ceremony, he took over the Foreign Legion Training Group (GILE, now 4e RE); in 1959, Lt Col Georgeon became the head of the 4e REI.
6e REI - 6 REI - Foreign Legion - Regimental flag
The 6e REI regimental flag. Apart from the obligatory Camerone 1863, it bears another two battle honors: Musseifré 1925 (a traditional spelling of Messifré / al-Musayfirah by the Legion in the Levant) and Syrie 1925-26. As expected, the 1941 campaign wasn’t appreciated officially after WWII.
6e REI - 6e REG - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1989 - 6th Foreign Regiment - Laudun - Colors
The two regimental colors of the 6th Foreign Regiment (6e REI + 6e REG), during the 50th anniversary of its creation, Laudun, late October 1989.
Fernard Barre - Foreign Legion - Legion Etrangere - 1989 - 6th Foreign Regiment - Laudun
General Fernand Barre sees the regimental flag of his former regiment again, after 48 years, in October 1989. He was 99 years old. In the French Army between 1908-1946, six times mentioned in dispatches during WWI 1914-1918, the admirably vital officer passed away in December 1993.

 

———
 

Foreign Legion Info Shop - 6 REI - Design - T-shirt - Hoodie

Did you enjoy the article? If yes, you can support us through our store. Thank you.
EU-based readers should visit our EU-based shop.

 


 

Main information & images sources:
P. Cart-Tanneur + Tibor Szecsko: Le 4eme Etranger (Editions B.I.P., 1987)
P. Cart-Tanneur + Tibor Szecsko: La vieille garde (Editions B.I.P., 1987)
Pierre-Noël DURONSOY: Le 6e REI et ses insignes (Blurb, 2015)
Pierre Andolenko: Les canons étaient sous le bureau (Librinova, 2016)
Samir Kassir: Beirut (University of California Press, 2010)
1939 War diary of 6e REI
French troops in the Levant military archive
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins
More Majorum (German legionnaires in Indochina)
Ecpad – French Army media agency
Fanion Vert et Rouge (Fr)
Google Maps
Wikipedia.org

 

 

Foreign Legion’s other regiments disbanded after 1945:
1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment
3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment
4th Foreign Infantry Regiment
5th Foreign Regiment

 

 

The page was updated on: November 19, 2019

 

↑ Back to Top