BLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion

The Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion (BLEM) was an overseas unit of the Foreign Legion serving in Madagascar between 1957 and 1962. Almost forgotten nowadays, the BLEM was an exceptional and interesting unit which gave birth to two brend-new regiments, the 3e REI in Madagascar and the 13e DBLE in Djibouti. At the time, the battalion was the only Foreign Legion operational unit to not participate in the Algerian War (1954-1962).

The main task of the BLEM were to keep French presence in the region. For legionnaires, Madagascar represented a peaceful paradise long way from the war in Algeria, with a bonus pay. Because of that, only some 350 volunteers out of the then approximately 12,000 men of the whole Foreign Legion were allowed to serve there. The men of the BLEM had to achieve at least five years of service and were rotating every 30 months.

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

 

France and Madagascar 1882-1956

Madagascar is an island in the Indian Ocean, about 250 miles (400 km) off Africa. The French made it their Malagasy Protectorate in 1882. However, Malagasy sovereigns tried to regain an independence.

As a result, a French expeditionary force landed in Madagascar in 1895, including a Foreign Legion battalion. The campaign successfully ended the next year and in 1897, France declared Madagascar a French colony. The legionnaires would stay on the island until mid-1905.

In 1947, during an ongoing war in French Indochina (1946-54), a local rebellion affected Madagascar. The legionnaires once again landed there and within a year, they successfully restored order on the island. The last legionnaire left Madagascar in the winter of 1951-52.

In July 1956, the then French government promised greater autonomy in Madagascar. To maintain order in the region and to replace a Senegalese Battalion, a new Foreign Legion unit should have been established on the island.

 

DLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment 1956-57

In Algeria on November 1, 1956, a detachment of Captain Francois Maestrali and about 150 legionnaires left the Foreign Legion’s HQ in Sidi Bel Abbes and moved to Algiers, the capital. There, they received military vehicles and boarded a ship, La Bourdonnais. On November 3, the detachment left Algeria for Madagascar.

Because of the Suez Crisis, the legionnaires sailed around West and South Africa. They landed in Diego Suarez (now Antsiranana), a city in the far north of Madagascar, on November 26, 1956 and became officially the Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment (DLEM).

The detachment moved to Ankorika, to be placed at an abandoned military camp situated some 6 miles (10 km) north-east of Diego Suarez, close to the beach. The legionnaires started to restore the installations, (re-)build the roads, sewerage system etc. This activities occupied them for the next few months.

To acclimatize themselves with the nature and climate of the country, the detachment carried out a march in mid-December. They climbed Mountain of the French (Montagne des Français), a forested massif with an old Foreign Legion post from around 1900.

Meanwhile, other Legion reinforcements were arriving in Madagascar. Like that one of Lieutenant Jacques Poujade with 120 legionnaires in mid-February 1957, or a detachment of 169 legionnaires led by Captain André Hedan three months later, on May 7. A new Foreign Legion unit would be constituted.

 
DLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1956 - Madagascar - Deployment - Map

DLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1956 - Algeria - Algiers
Legionnaires of Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment (DLEM) with their vehicles at the port of Algiers, the capital of Algeria, before embarkation for Madagascar, November 3, 1956.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1956 - Durban - South Africa
A DLEM legionnaire is watching Durban of South Africa, during the voyage to Madagascar, late November 1956.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1956 - Diego Suarez - Madagascar - Parade
Captain Maestrali and his DLEM legionnaires parade in Diego Suarez of Madagascar, November 26, 1956.
DLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Detachment - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1956 - Diego Suarez - Madagascar - Montagne des Français
DLEM legionnaires at the site of an old Foreign Legion post and fortifications from the 1895-1905 period, situated on the Mountain of the French (Montagne des Français), not far from Diego Suarez, mid-December 1956.

 
 

BLEM: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion 1957-62

In Madagascar on May 16, 1957, a new unit was established: Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion (Bataillon de Légion Etrangère de Madagascar, BLEM).

The battalion under the command of Major Philippe Jouandon and his deputy, Captain Hedan, was composed of around 350 officers, NCOs and legionnaires. They were devided into HQ Company, two combat companies and an amphibious training center (CIOA).

The BLEM had the status of an overseas unit (unité outre-mer), like the 5e REI in Indochina in 1930-45 or the current 3e REI in French Guiana. That means, its strength comprised the men having originated in all Foreign Legion units and were rotating every two to three years. As volunteers for an overseas deployment, these men served on the so-called Long Duration Mission (MDL).

To be allowed to leave hostile North Africa for calm Madagascar during the ongoing Algerian War (1954-62), these volunteers, in the vast majority, had accomplished at least five years of service. They had to prolong their contracts for another three years to be allowed to join the battalion, which was seen as meritorious leave for these lucky men, who spent many years during military operations in Indochina and Africa. Moreover, an overseas pay benefit waited for them.

 

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Diego Suarez - Madagascar - Philippe Jouandon
Major Philippe Jouandon, the very first commander of BLEM in Madagascar. A lesser-known officer of the Legion, he was a veteran of the legendary Battle of Narvik in Norway in 1940, with the 1st Battalion, 13e DBMLE (future 13e DBLE). Colonel Jouandon died in 1980, in his 67.

 

BLEM: Composition of the Battalion

HQ Company

Led by Captain Jean Kaleta, the CCAS (Command, Administration & Services Company) was based at Camp Pardes of Diego Suarez. The company was in charge of all sorts of BLEM’s administration (payments, supplies…), intelligence servises, vehicle fleet, unit workshops, unit infirmary etc.

 

1st Company

Led by Captain Francois Maestrali (who served with 13e DBLE in Indochina in the late 1940s), the company was based at Camp of Ankorika, close to the beach. The company consisted of a HQ platoon and three combat platoons, being in charge of maintaining order in the northern part of Madagascar.

 

2nd Company

Led by Captain Francois Bovier Lapierre, the company was based at Camp d’Ambre, a former military sanatorium from the late 1890s with a nearby French village of Joffreville, established around the camp. Located about 15 miles (24 km) south-west of Diego Suarez, this forested place with a cool climate was favourable for many flowers and growing vegetables inside the camp. The 2nd Company had the same composition and tasks as the 1st Coy.

 

Amphibious Operations Training Center

The CIOA (Centre d’Instruction des Opérations Amphibies), led by Lieutenant Jacques Poujade and Lieutenant Gérard Pons (his deputy), was placed at Cap Diego, a cape opossite Diego Suarez, about 1 mile (1,5 km) across the natural bay… or 25 miles (40 km) by road.

The training center was established in 1952, to conduct amphibious warfare courses for French units stationed in the region. The three-week courses for approximately 30 men were composed of close-combat training, a swimming course (50 m in combat uniform), amphibious landing exercises with landing crafts or zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats), amphibious assault training, a survival course (12 men had to leave an LCVP landing craft and jump into the sea, then to swim in group) and, finally, an obstacle course in the jungle.

Besides, CIOA instructors (moniteurs, some 10-15 men) participated annually in a sea mission on board of a French navy ship. For 40 days, they sailed the region of the Indian Ocean to keep French presence there. During this mission, they usually visited the Comoro Islands or Réunion (French overseas departments north-east and east of Madagascar) and often even Seychelles (then a British crown colony).

 
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Composition - Map

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Diego Suarez - Madagascar - Camp Pardes - HQ - CCAS
Camp Pardes. The HQ of BLEM in Madagascar.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Camp Ankorika - 1CIE - 1st Company
Camp Ankorika. A home to the 1st Company, BLEM.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Joffreville - Camp d'Ambre - 2CIE - 2nd Company
Camp d’Ambre. A very rare image of the entrance to the camp of 2nd Company, BLEM. Long ago, the camp served as a military sanatorium.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Cap Diego - CIOA
Cap Diego. The camp of CIOA training center, BLEM.

 

BLEM: Equipment of the Battalion

The legionnaires were equipped with their common weapons (MAT-49 submachine guns, MAS-36 + MAS-49 rifles and grenades). As for vehicles, they used M3 Scout Cars with “12,7” (.50 cal M2 Browning), GMC trucks and Jeeps. A number of these Jeeps were equipped with 75 SR cannons (U.S. M20 recoilless rifles) or 120 mm mortars.

Unlike in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria), the BLEM legionnaires were not equipped with Dodge cars (4×4 or 6×6) and AMM8 (M8 Greyhound) armored cars.

The legionnaires wore a green standard combat uniform (Model 1947). As a headgear, they used a French helmet or a bush hat (both of them during maneuvres) and, more frequently, a classic khaki-covered kepi (on operations and maneuvres). The BLEM was the only combat unit of the Foreign Legion to not replace the white kepi with a green beret on operations, as did the other Legion units in North Africa between late 1959 and early 1960. On Madagascar, the white kepi was used on operations yet in late 1961.

For communication, BLEM legionnaires were equipped with Motorola SCR-300, a battery operated portable radio transceiver. Every company received 120 kg of batteries for a year.

During amphibious exercises and maneuvres, several landing crafts were used – LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized), LCT (Landing Craft, Tank). An LCVP was also used for the amphibious courses of CIOA.

 

BLEM: Missions and activities of the Battalion

For operational purposes, the Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion was assigned to Brigade North (Subdivison Nord) of Colonel Monguilan.

Like all Foreign Legion units at the times of the French Empire (and their predecessors from the Roman Empire), even the Madagascar Battalion legionnaires were tasked with two main missions: maintaining order in the region and carrying out construction works in support of both local and military infrastructure (mainly tracing and building of roads, bridges, military installations and even laying of telephone cables).

BLEM legionnaires also guarded important military and government buildings in Diego Suarez.

The companies lived as semi-autonomous units. To keep unit cohesion, the BLEM organized for its companies regular sports competitions, for example in volleyball, table tennis (ping-pong) or in shooting.
 

Bush Tours

In early May 1957, still as the DLEM back then, about 100 men of Captain Maestrali conducted their very first Bush Tour (Tournée de brousse). A military patrol in the countryside of northern Madagascar. The tour took roughly 10-20 days and was about 180-220 miles long (300-350 km). For these tours, the men were devided into (usually) four autonomous detachments, to cover as much territory as possible.

Bush Tours were organized between April and November, during “winter time” (in southern hemisphere), when a rainy season was over. Their aim was to show the constant French presence, to control roads, bridges and to search suitable places for drop zones. The legionnaires also familiarized themselves with the country and made contact with the local population.
 

Exercises and maneuvres

Every year, several joint military exercises and maneuvres occurred in northern Madagascar, organized by the brigade. French legionnaires participated, alongside French marines, paratroopers, artillerymen and infantrymen. Each of these exercises and maneuvres lasted from 5 to 20 days.

 

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Bush Tour
BLEM legionnaires with a khaki-covered kepi during a bush tour in Madagascar, 1958.

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Maneuver
BLEM legionnaires with a helmet during a maneuver in Madagascar, 1958.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Maneuver
Motorola SCR-300 portable radios used by BLEM legionnaires during an amphibious exercise in Madagascar, 1959.

 
 

BLEM: Foreign Legion in Madagascar in 1957

In early May, the very first bush tour took place, carried out by 100 men of the then DLEM, transformed into BLEM during the tour. A three-week march through the island went from Ankorika through Anivorano and finished in Mangoaka. The legionnaires covered about 220 miles (350 km). Zebus (known as indicine cattle or humped cattle) were used as supply carriers.

On May 19, a small detachment of 31 men arrived from Algeria, as the last reinforcement of the BLEM this year.

In June, Lieutenant Pons and a group of CIOA instructors did a climb on Maromokotra, the higest mountain of Madagascar (2,876 m) situated in the Tsaratanana Massive, in the northern part of the island.

On Bastille Day (July 14), the BLEM paraded in Diego Suarez for the first time. The same day, the unit received its battalion fanion and fanions for its companies.

By the end of the year, the battalion possessed its own fanion, marching song and, on Christmas Eve of 1957, the legionnaires received the battalion distinctive insignia. As a matter of interest, a lot of men wore another insignia (a smaller one) on their left shoulder board, to mark their original regiment they came from.

 

BLEM: Foreign Legion in Madagascar in 1958

In 1958, like any other overseas units, the BLEM organized first courses for its future Corporals nad Sergeants, as they couldn’t be trained in Algeria due to the long distance. On Camerone Day, 14 new Corporals (out of 29 initial candidates) and 11 new Sergeants (out of 18) obtained their promotion.

In early June, the battalion was reinforced once again.

In late August, Madagascar was visited by General Charles de Gaulle. Earlier this year, a military coup d’etat occurred – May 1958 Putsch in Algiers. The coup was organized by French Army generals in the capital of Algeria, in support of de Gaulle. The general was to be installed as a new French leader, with the aim of saving the French Empire and to prevent the abandonment of Algeria.

The BLEM was transported to Tananarive (also Tana), the capital of Madagascar (called Antananarivo today), to take part in a large military parade to celebrate the visit of the then popular leader.

A month later, on September 28, a constitutional referendum announced by de Gaulle took place, to let the people of then Algeria and French overseas departments and territories to vote for a new constitution. During the referendum, BLEM legionnaires protected sensitive places in Duego Suarez.

Like the previous year, the men of the battalion participated in several joint military exercises and maneuvers of their brigade even in 1958.

 

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Insigne - Insignia - Badge
BLEM’s insignia. The insignia was designed by Captain Carles in 1957, and distributed on Christmas Eve. Besides the acronym and the seven-flame Legion grenade, the insignia bears the dates of 1900 (implantation of Foreign Legion Diego Suarez Battalion) and 1957 (creation of its successor at the same location). In the center, a traveller’s palm – Ravenala.

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Fanion
BLEM’s fanion, obtained on Bastille Day (July 14) of 1957.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Legionnaire - Treatment - Woman
A BLEM legionnaire treats a Malagasy woman during a bush tour. For the Legion, it was common to provide treatment to the local population, regardless of being in North Africa, Indochina or Madagascar.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1957 - Madagascar - Cap Diego - Cave - Grotte
BLEM legionnaires of CIOA in the cave of Cap Diego. It became a tradition for BLEM to organize several annual events in this mystical place. Since 1962, this tradition would have been adopted by 3e REI.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - M8 Scout Car - Camerone - Diego Suarez
An M8 Scout Car of BLEM during 1958 Camerone Day in Diego Suarez.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Tananarive
The BLEM parade in Tananarive, the capital of Madagascar, August 22, 1958.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Tananarive
A BLEM company parade in Tananarive, after a two-week military maneuver, September 1958.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Tananarive - Charles de Gaulle
General de Gaulle is saluting a BLEM honor guard in Tananarive, August 22, 1958.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1958 - Madagascar - Tropical eden
BLEM legionnaires during their freetime in a tropical eden, far away from the war in Algeria, 1958.

 

BLEM: Foreign Legion in Madagascar in 1959

The year of 1959 marked the rotation of the men. Original elements of the then DLEM and the later BLEM finished their prescribed stay and had to return back to Algeria affected by war, after 30 months spent on the peaceful island.

The first rotation occurred in June, when Captain Maestrali and 120 NCOs and legionnaires left Madagascar. They represented the very first detachment from November 1956. A fresh reinforcement replaced them the same month. Back in Algeria, Captain Maestrali would be assigned to 5e REI. He moved with his regiment to French Polynesia in 1963.

Also in June, Captain André Hedan, up to now the deputy commander, replaced temporarily Major Jouandon as the new head of the BLEM.

On July 21, Captain Olivier Desjeux and about 130 NCOs and legionnaires left Sidi Bel Abbes in Algeria. Captain Desjeux had served with the Legion as a French officer since 1946. He commanded, for example, a platoon and a company of 3e REI in Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, a company of GPLEM in Morocco, 22e CPLE (later part of GPLEA) in Algeria or 3e CSPL in Libya.

In mid-September, a group of 12 NCOs and 87 legionnaires left Madagascar. They were replaced by new drafts arriving on the island in October.

Freshly promoted Major Olivier Desjeux took command of the BLEM in November. Captain Bertrand de La Bigne de Villeneuve became his deputy.

The same month, the last original elements of the battalion left Madagascar. Freshly promoted Major Hedan and 5 officers, 25 NCOs and 101 legionnaires would return back to Algeria in early December. The rotation of the whole BLEM was achieved.

Captain Hedan would join the 5e REI. He later became a deputy commander of 5e RMP (ex-5e REI) in Tahiti. Colonel Hedan died in 2008.

 

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1959 - Sidi Bel Abbes - Algeria - Colonel Brothier - Captain Maestrali
Captain Francois Maestrali (right, with mustache) and his detachment, having arrived from Madagascar after 30 months spent there, are invited by Colonel Albert Brothier (left), the then head of 1er RE in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria. Captain Maestrali, a Corsican, fought as an NCO with 7e RTA (Algerian Skirmishers) in France in 1944-45. After WWII, he joined the Legion. Colonel Maestrali died in 1997.

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1959 - Camp Pardes - Madagascar - Olivier Desjeux
Major Olivier Desjeux (right) is taking command of BLEM, November 1959.

 

BLEM: Foreign Legion in Madagascar in 1960

Following the September 1958 Referendum, the Malagasy Republic was officially established and became independent in late June 1960, as an autonomous republic within the newly created French Community. The republic existed until the proclamation of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar in 1975.

The same year, Brigade North became Brigade No. 3 (Subdivision Nº 3), led by Colonel Morel.

Like every year, BLEM legionnaires were involved in joint military exercises and maneuvers of their brigade.

 

BLEM: Foreign Legion in Madagascar in 1961

The year of 1961 was marked by three important events for the BLEM: deployment to today’s Djibouti, transformation of CIOA into CID and by the second and last rotation of the men.

In early March, Captain Serge Dotte and his 2nd Company, BLEM left Madagascar and moved to French Somaliland, a colony in the Horn of Africa, bordered with Somalia and Ethiopia. It is known today as Djibouti.

A French colony since 1896, this strategically important region and the gate to the Red Sea changed its status to an overseas territory of France in 1946. In 1977, the country gained independence and was renamed to Djibouti, having kept close ties with the French since then.

The 2nd Company of BLEM remains the very first unit of the Foreign Legion ever been stationed in this country.

The company of Captain Dotte landed in Djibouti City, the capital of then French Somaliland, on March 18, 1961. They were placed at Oueah (also Wea), a small town situated some 22 miles (36 km) west of the capital. The legionnaires would carry out the same tasks as in Madagascar. They would maintain order and keep French presence in the region, under the designation of an overseas unit consisting of rotating personnel.

Also in 1961, the CIOA of Cap Diego was reorganized. It became Landing Training Center (Centre d’Instruction au Débarquement, CID). Apart from ongoing amphibious courses, a new jungle trail (Piste de la jungle) was built within the center. The CID would become a predecessor to the current CEFE jungle training center based in French Guiana.

By the end of the year, new renforts came to Madagascar to replace those legionnaires having already been stationed on the island for two and a half years, since 1959.

 

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1960 - Camerone - Madagascar - De La Bigne de Villeneuve
Captain Bertrand de La Bigne de Villeneuve, a deputy commander of BLEM in 1959-61, is heading the battalion parade on Camerone Day, April 1960. Major de La Bigne, a WWII veteran and one of those little-known Foreign Legion officers, left the Legion in 1961. He died in 2013.

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1960 - Madagascar - CIOA - Zodiac
An exercise with Zodiacs close to the CIOA of Cap Diego, 1960. An interesting image for currently serving legionnaires, for sure. Today, the kepi is seen as a “sacred article”, worn with the parade uniform only.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1961 - Djibouti - Camerone - 2 CIE - 2nd Company
Djibouti, April 30, 1961. The fanion guard of 2nd Company, BLEM during the 1961 Camerone Day parade in Djibouti, the capital of then French Somaliland. It was a very exceptional event by two reasons. First, it was the very first Camerone commemorated in this country. Second, all 1961 Camerone Day public parades were forbidden, because of the Legion’s active role during the failed 1961 Generals’ Putsch of Algiers.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1961 - Madagascar - Cap Diego - Piste de la Jungle
A new Jungle Trail at the CID training center of Cap Diego. It was a predecessor to the current CEFE jungle training center of French Guiana. For the very first time, a green beret was seen on Madagascar (most likely brought there by fresh drafts).
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1961 - Madagascar - Desjeux - Drafts
Captain Desjeux is reviewing new drafts for the BLEM, September 1961.
BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1961 - Madagascar - Artillery - Maneuver - GACM
BLEM legionnaires help Malagasy artillerymen from 1st Battery, GACM (Madagascar Colonial Artillery) during a joint exercise in late 1961. While the whole Legion had already used green berets outside their camps for almost two years, on Madagascar, the khaki-covered kepi was still preserved.

 

BLEM: Foreign Legion in Madagascar in 1962

On January 16, Major Louis Fournier took command of the BLEM. The then composition of the battalion:

  • Commanding Officer: Major Louis Fournier
  • Deputy Commander: Major Victor Chapey (??)
  • HQ Company: Captain James Quinclet
  • 1st Company: Captain Henri Pourcin
  • 2nd Company: Captain Louis Corbel

 

The battalion was assigned to Group No. 2 (Groupement Nº 2, ex-Brigade No. 3), led by Colonel Gouzes.

Meanwhile, in Algeria in mid-March 1962, the Évian Accords treaty was signed. The Algerian War was over. This fact led to a large reorganization of the French Army in North Africa, including the Foreign Legion. The Legion’s strength in Algeria would be considerably reduced.

On the other side, following those changes, the Legion engagements in Madagascar and Djibouti were to be reinforced. Six weeks after the Algerian War was over, these plans came into force.

As a reward for the two most “significant” units, the legendary 3e REI and 13e DBLE in Algeria were dissolved (3e REI of Algeria was transformed into 3e BMLE and sent to France). The two units would reborn as completely new overseas units in Madagascar and French Somaliland respectively.

 

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1962 - Madagascar - Louis Fournier - Charles Edward La Haye
Major Louis Fournier (left), the very last commander of BLEM in Madagascar (January-April 1962). He is accompanied by Admiral La Haye, the then chief-in-command of the strategical military base of Diego Suarez and the French Navy in the Indian Ocean.

BLEM - Foreign Legion Madagascar Battalion - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1962 - Madagascar - Louis Fournier - Sanchez-Iglésias
Camp Pardes, 1962 Camerone Day. The very last day of existence of the five-year BLEM (April 30, 1962). Major Fournier is awarding Staff Sergeant Sanchez-Iglésias, a Spanish legionnaire and a hero of Djebel Beni Smir. In December 1960, 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, western Algeria. Sergeant Sanchez ordered to fight till the finish. His group would resist for more than 12 hours. Then, a reinforcement arrived and helped the legionnaires to fight off the enemy.

 

BLEM: Transformation into 3e REI and 13e DBLE

On May 1, 1962, the currently almost forgotten BLEM was devided into two parts and gave birth to the brand-new 3e REI and 13e DBLE.

In Madagascar, the HQ + 1st Company of BLEM were redesignated as Provisional Battalion of 3e REI. They became HQ + 1st Company of the new 3e REI, led by Captain Jean Grangeon (since May 5) and Captain Henri Pourcin.

In French Somaliland (now Djibouti), the 2nd Company of BLEM laid the foundations for Provisional Battalion of 13e DBLE. The very first Foreign Legion unit stationed in this country became 1st Company of the new 13e DBLE, led by Captain Louis Corbel. Until mid-May, the unit itself would represent the whole freshly-created provisional battalion.

In following months, both Provisional Battalions were being reinforced and eventually redesignated to the new 3e REI and 13e DBLE in late 1962. Each of them comprised four combat companies being composed of volunteers to rotate every two to three years.

Major Louis Fournier continued as the head of the Provisional Battalion of 3e REI. In August 1962, he became a deputy commander of the new 3e REI, led by Lt Colonel Mattei, and stayed in Madagascar until May 1964.

The CID training center would be operated by the 3e REI until the regiment’s withdrawal from Madagascar in 1973, to be re-established in French Guiana in 1976.

Currently (2019), the DLEM stationed in Mayotte (islands east of Madagascar, part of the Comoros), keeps the Legion presence in the region, since 1973.

 
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Main information & images sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion bulletins
Wikipedia.org

 

 

Foreign Legion’s other disbanded units after 1945:
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: May 19, 2019

 

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