Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group

The Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group (GPLEA) was a short-lived motorized infantry unit serving during the Algerian war. The group comprised three motorized companies that maintained order in the East of the country. The GPLEA was disbanded in October 1956; its companies were incorporated into the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment.

La version française de cet article:
GPLEA : Groupement Porté de Légion Etrangère d’Algérie

GPLEA - 21e CPLE - 22e CPLE - 23e CPLE - Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group  - History


6th Battalion, 1er REI in 1954-1955

In August 1954, the war in Indochina was over. However, in North Africa – Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria – another war against France began. To respond immediately to the rebel activities there, new Foreign Legion units were formed by the government in the following months. Among others, they planned to activate the very first fully motorized infantry battalion within the 1er REI: the 6th Battalion, heir to a prestigious history.

The new battalion would have been composed of three light motorized infantry companies (compagnies portées, or CPs), having its troop transported by light vehicles. It was the evolution of the Mounted Companies. It should be noted that some English-writing authors translate the term porté as mobile, which is incorrect. In fact, the mounted companies equipped with mules were also considered highly mobile. In French, the literal meaning of monté and porté is the same – carried. So, the main difference in the French military designation is that mounted troops (montées) are carried by animals, while motorized light infantry troops (portées) are carried by vehicles.

The three companies were constituted between November 1954 and January 1955 in northwestern Algeria. The command of the battalion would have been assigned to Major Reppelin, a former commander of the III/5e REI in Indochina from 1952-53. However, for lack of Legion officers and NCOs in North Africa (at that time, most of the Legion manpower still remained in Indochina), it was not possible to form a sufficient HQ staff for this new battalion. Thus, for administrative reasons, the three existing companies would be considered “fictional” and assigned directly to the Legion’s HQ.

As a matter of interest, the men serving in these three companies had the right to wear the fourragère in the colors of the Foreign Theater Operations’ War Cross ribbon (Croix de Guerre des Théâtres d’Opérations Extérieurs) of the old 6th Battalion, 1er REI, which won this distinction in Morocco during the Rif War (1925-1926). But this privilege lasted only a few weeks. By the way, in 2019, the current 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE) inherited the same fourragère that belonged to its former 6th Battalion. This is a good example of how rules can be bent. Usually, a superior unit cannot inherit the merits of its subordinate unit; this applies only in reverse.

In late June 1955, the motherhouse of the Legion was completely reorganized. The 6th Battalion, which had never been fully established, was eventually disbanded. Its three existing motorized companies – the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd * – were redesignated and became independent:

* Within the French Army, each battalion had its unique (three to four) companies. To get their exact number designations, you only take the number of the battalion and multiply it by four (to get the last possible company number) and subtract 3, to get the exact number of the battalion's first company; e.g. 3rd Battalion: 12th Coy to 9th Coy, 6th Battalion: 24th Coy to 21st Coy. The fourth companies were not seen that often, due to a usual lack of manpower.


Cba Reppelin - fourragere du VI/1er REI - 23eme CPLE
Ain Sefra, March 1955. Major Reppelin, the then commander of the 6th Battalion, 1er REI, hands the fourragère des T.O.E. over to legionnaires of the 23rd Motorized Company. In 2019, the current 1st Foreign Regiment inherited the same fourragère that belonged to its former 6th Battalion.



CPLEs and the GPLEA in Algeria in 1955-1956

Initially, the companies were equipped with U.S. M2 half-tracks and M3 Scout Cars. But the half-tracks – impractical in desert areas – were abandoned, as were the vast majority of scout cars. Each motorized company now consisted of a command platoon and three motorized platoons, equipped with five Dodge 6×6 trucks each. These were later reinforced by an armored platoon comprising five U.S. M8 Light armored cars (called AM-M8 in France). A Dodge WC-56 (command car) or Jeeps served the captain and platoon leaders; several GMC trucks and a few half-tracks usually completed the company’s vehicle fleet. The unit numbered about 150 men.

The companies took part in operations in eastern Algeria, in the Aurès and the Nementchas mountains, and at the Tunisian border where rebel activities were numerous and most serious. From time to time, they were attached to some provisional combined task forces. But it was not until the beginning of 1956 that a decision was taken to incorporate these three companies into a single, autonomous Legion battalion.

Therefore, on February 1, 1956, the Foreign Legion Algerian Motorized Group (Groupement Porté de Légion Etrangère d’Algérie, GPLEA) was formally constituted. The objective of this new groupement (then a French term for a motorized infantry battalion) was to reunite the three companies spread across eastern Algeria, which until then had been operating independently.

In fact, this was partially a reincarnation of the old idea of the 6th Battalion, and at the same time, an effort to constitute a sister unit in Algeria to the already existing Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Group (GPLEM). Nevertheless, the GPLEA faced the same administrative problems as its predecessor, the 6th Battalion, 1er REI.

Under the command of Major Marcel Calvin, the provisional GPLEA headquarters would be established in Djelfa, which had been the rear base of the 22e CPLE since the previous September. The town is located in the center of the country, at the foot of the Saharan Atlas.

On May 1, 1956, the command of the GPLEA was given to Lieutenant Colonel Jean Rossi, who had been the head of the 13e DBLE until late April. The same month, Captain Magnas of the 23e CPLE left his company to be assigned to the staff of the new Group as well.

Simultaneously, the previously independent companies lost their autonomy and became, by administrative decision, the 21st, 22nd and 23rd Motorized Companies of the GPLEA.

However, a few months later – faced with the March 1956 independence of Morocco and Tunisia, the return of all its units from the Far East and the worsening of the situation in Algeria – the Foreign Legion was once again reorganized. The two motorized groups and their companies in Algeria and Morocco had to be integrated into either the 2e REI (GPLEA) or the 4e REI (GPLEM), the very first “motorized regiments” of the Legion.

So, in October 1956, after its brief existence, the GPLEA was disbanded and its elements merged with the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment. The 21st, 22nd and 23rd Companies of the GPLEA thus became the 4th, 5th and 6th Companies, respectively, of the new 2e REI. They constituted the 2nd Motorized Company Group (GCP 2), one of two groups that made up the freshly reorganized regiment.

In March 1957, with their sand-colored vehicles and their Saharan djellabas (local hooded coats), the three motorized companies of the ex-GPLEA – nicknamed “yellow devils” – ceded their camps to the 4e REI units. They then crossed Algeria from East to West to join the 2e REI, which at the time was based in Ain Sefra, the same town where these companies were initially constituted.

Finally, to complete the subject, we must not forget another autonomous motorized company, the 24e CPLE. This one was activated in August 1955, to operate in the desert of western Algeria, at the border with Morocco. But in January 1956, living far away from its sister units, it was renamed and became the 4e CSPL, the last-born of the Legion‘s Saharan companies. This unit would keep its autonomy for much longer than its sisters, until 1963.


GPLEA - 1956 - Groupement porte - Algeria - creation - information - Kepi blanc
A short mention about the creation of the GPLEA published in the March 1956 Képi blanc, official magazine of the Legion. As we can see, the group was officially created on February 1, 1956.

Foreign Legion - 1954 - Lieutenant Colonel Jean Rossi
Lieutenant Colonel Jean Rossi, head of the GPLEA between May and October 1956. During his ten years in the Legion, he spent eight years with the 13e DBLE and two years with the 6e REI in Tunisia.
GPLEA - 21 CPLE - 22 CPLE - 23 CPLE - 21e CPLE - 22e CPLE - 23e CPLE - badge - insignia - Motorized Company - Foreign Legion
Badges of the 21e CPLE, 22e CPLE, and 23e CPLE. The GPLEA itself didn’t possess any insignia.


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Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins (1950s)
Tibor Szecsko: Le grand livre des insignes de la Légion étrangère (S.I.H.L.E., 1991)
J. Brunon, G.-R. Manue, P. Carles: Le Livre d’Or de la Légion Etrangère (Charles-Lavauzelle, 1976)
Fanion Vert et Rouge


Related articles:
Foreign Legion Moroccan Motorized Group
1st Legion Saharan Motorized Company
2nd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
3rd Legion Saharan Motorized Company
4th Legion Saharan Motorized Company



The page was updated on: December 04, 2021


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