BLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion

The Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion (BLEM) is one of those little known units of the French Foreign Legion, even in France. The BLEM was officially established in May 1957 and became the only Foreign Legion combat unit being not involved in the Algerian War (1954-1962). The main tasks of this autonomous battalion were: to maintain order in Madagascar, to build a local infrastructure, to conduct an amphibious training center and to serve as an intervention unit for the nearest area of the Indian Ocean, administrated by the French government (Reunion, the Comoro Islands). Following the end of the conlict in Algeria, BLEM helped to form the new 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment in Madagascar in May 1962.

Bataillon de Légion étrangère de Madagascar - BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - History

 

DLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment 1956-57

1947 – 1951:
– Foreign Legion units maintained order in Madagascar

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
– later in 1955, that operations escalated to the Algerian War

1956:
– in July, Madagascar obtained greater autonomy
– Madagascar is a large island in the Indian Ocean
– it was a part of the French colonial empire
– to prevent local rebellions, French presence had to be reinforced

Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment (Détachement de Légion étrangère á Madagascar, DLEM)
– on November 26, first legionnaires landed in Madagascar
– they formed the DLEM
– DLEM was commanded by Major Jouandon

– on December 26, another Foreign Legion detachment landed in Madagascar
– they were under the command of Captain Maestrali
– these elements reinforced the DLEM

May 1957:
– DLEM was reinforced once again
– by a company under the command of Captain Hedan

– the French and English Wikipedia + French Army’s and Foreign Legion’s official websites mention that the first element landed in Madagascar in 1956 was a battalion of 3e REI (usually identified as the 3rd Battalion)
– however, it is a mistake
– 3rd Battalion of 3e REI still served in Algeria at that time
– it was’t disbanded until October 1957
– 1957 Kepi Blanc magazines didn’t mention 3e REI legionnaires to be the elements arriving in Madagascar
– according to the 1958 Foreign Legion bulletin, those elements arriving in Madagascar in 1956-57 originated in all units of the Legion
– some of them were most likely former members of the units reorganized/disbanded in Morocco and Algeria in October-November 1956: 2e REI, 4e REI, GPLEM, GPLEA

 

BLEM - DLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
DLEM commemorating Camerone Day in Diego Suarez, Madagascar (April 30, 1957)
BLEM - DLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
Legionnaires on the road to Madagascar, to reinforce the DLEM (April 1957)

 

BLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion 1957 – 1962

1957:
Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion (Bataillon de Légion étrangère de Madagascar, BLEM)
– on May 16, DLEM became the BLEM
– Major Jouandon took the leadership of BLEM

– BLEM was proposed as a unit with non-permanent personnel
– legionnaires served within BLEM for a prescribed period (usually 24-30 months)
– after that period, they returned to Algeria to rejoin the Algerian War

– BLEM was composed of:

  • HQ & Service Company (CCAS) – based in Diego-Suarez at Camp Pardes
    – it was commanded by Captain Kaleta
  • 1st Company – based in Ankorika and commanded by Captain Maestrali
  • 2nd Company – based in Joffreville and commanded by Captain Bovier Lapierre
  • CIOA – based at Cap Diego and commanded by Lieutenant Poujade

– BLEM missions consisted of:

    – to maintain order in Madagascar
    – to build a local infrastructure
    – to serve as an intervention unit for the nearest area of the Indian Ocean
    – to manage an Amphibious Operations Training Center

Amphibious Operations Training Center (Centre d’Instruction des Opérations Amphibies, CIOA)
– it was managed by the 2nd Company of BLEM
– the center was based at Cap Diego, in Diego-Suarez Bay
– the Bay is a large natural bay along the northeast coast of Madagascar
– CIOA Cap Diego was established in 1952, to conduct a three-week-long amphibious warfare course
– the course consisted of the amphibious landing operations with landing crafts or zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats), close combat training, swimming course, amphibious assault training and amphibious obstacle course

 

1958:
– in October, Malagasy Republic was constituted
– Madagascar became an autonomous republic within the French Community, an association of states ruled by France

1959:
– in July, Captain Olivier Desjeux left Algeria to take the command of BLEM
– he and around 130 NCOs and legionnaires left Sidi Bel Abbes (Foreign Legion HQ in Algeria)
– they shipped to Madagascar to join the BLEM, where Captain Desjeux will be promoted to Major

    – Major Desjeux served as a French officer within the Legion for 23 years (1946-1969)
    – apart from BLEM, he also commanded the 22e CPLE, the 3e CSPL (one of the famous Saharan companies; he was seriously wounded while commanding it) or the 5e REI

– Captain Maestrali and around 120 NCOs and legionnaires left BLEM
– they rejoined the Algerian War

1961:
Landing Training Center (Centre d’Instruction au Débarquement, CID)
– CIOA Cap Diego was redesignated as CID
– a new jungle trail (Piste de la jungle) was built within the center
– CID became the amphibious and jungle training center
– it was the predecessor to today’s CEFE jungle training center based in French Guiana

– in March, 2nd Company of BLEM landed in French Somaliland
– French Somaliland (Côte française des Somalis) is then title for today’s Djibouti
– Djibouti is a country located in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia
– the company became the first Foreign Legion unit ever stationed in this country
– it was based in Oueah, some 20 miles (36 km) west from the capital
– the mission of 2nd Company had been to maintain order in the region

1962:
– in January, Major Fournier took the command of BLEM

Algerian War officially ended
– on March 18, Évian Accords treaty was signed
– it ended the Algerian War

BLEM reorganization
– in May, BLEM was reorganized and redesignated
– the battalion formed the base for the new 3e REI
– it became the Provisional Battalion of 3e REI (Bataillon de Marche du 3e REI, BM/3e REI)
– BLEM’s HQ Company (CCAS) became the new HQ Company of BM/3e REI
– Major Fournier continued as the commander of BM/3e REI
– 2nd Company in Djibouti was assigned to 13e DBLE
– it became the 1st Company of 13e DBLE
– between May-November, 4 companies of the original 3e REI landed in Madagascar
– these companies consolidated with BM/3e REI

3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment
– in August, BM/3e REI became the new 3e REI

 

BLEM - Legion Madagascar - Insignia - insigne
The badge of BLEM, designed by Captain Carles and created in 1957
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1960
Diego Suarez. The entrance to the headquarters of BLEM at Camp Pardes
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
Ankorika. The entrance to the 1st Company of BLEM
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
Joffreville. The entrance to Camp d’Ambre of the 2nd Company of BLEM
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1959
Cap Diego. The CIOA amphibious training center of BLEM
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
1st Company of BLEM during a patrol (1957)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
The cave of Cap Diego became a traditional and mystical place of BLEM. In the cave, the unit celebrated several events during the year. The 3e REI continued in that tradition.
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
Legionnaires of BLEM visiting old buildings used by legionnaires in the 1895-1905 period (1957)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1957
Legionnaires of BLEM during a road construction (1957)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1958
BLEM during a patrol in Madagascar (1958)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1958
Camp Pardes, Diego Suarez. BLEM officially during its first Camerone Day. Legionnaires are reviewed by General Missionier (April 30, 1958)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1958
M3 Scout Car of BLEM parading in Diego Suarez on Camerone Day (April 30, 1958)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1958
BLEM during a parade in Tananarive, the capital of Madagascar (August 1958)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1958
BLEM during a parade in Tananarive (August 1958)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1959
BLEM legionnaires during an CIOA exercise with zodiacs (1959)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1960
BLEM legionnaires during another exercise with zodiacs (1960)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1960
BLEM legionnaires taking a rest (1960)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1961
BLEM legionnaires patrolling in Madagascar (1961)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1961
CID, Cap Diego. The former CIOA training center, while still providing amphibious training, started to conduct jungle warfare training courses in 1961. The 3e REI continued to operate the center until 1973 and re-established it later in French Guiana.
BLEM - Legion Djibouti - 1961
2nd Company of BLEM during a parade in Djibouti, the capital of French Somaliland (April 1961)
BLEM - Legion Djibouti - 1961
BLEM legionnaires from the 2nd Company in the Oueah outpost in French Somaliland, today’s Djibouti (April 1961). A year later, the company will become the 1st Company of 13e DBLE.
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1961
Major Desjeux (right) reviewing the fresh reinforcement of BLEM (September 1961)
BLEM - Legion Madagascar - 1962
Camp Pardes. The last Camerone Day of BLEM (April 30, 1962). Major Fournier is awarding Senior Sergeant Sanchez-Iglésias, the hero of the Djebel Beni Smir. In December 1960, the then Sergeant Sanchez-Iglésias and his group of four legionnaires from 2e REI were attacked by a large group of rebels at Djebel Beni Smir, Algeria. Sergeant Sanchez ordered not to surrender and fight till the finish; the group had resisted for more than 12 hours, when another troops came to help the legionnaires.

 
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Images source:
Képi blanc magazines
ForeignLegion.Info archive


 

Information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Insignes Legion (FFL insignia & badges)

 
Foreign Legion’s disbanded regiments after 1945:
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: March 13, 2016

 

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