Foreign Legion Repair Platoons in Africa

The four little-known Foreign Legion Repair Platoons were created in North Africa in the late 1940s and the early 1950s to carry out the missions of the Material Service for the benefit of Legion units as well as French regular units serving in this territory. Nevertheless, one of the platoons was stationed in French West Africa (AOF).

These units were composed of legionnaires mechanics-specialists who were able to repair military vehicles, civil vehicles, machines or engines. They played an active and important role both in their workshops and in mobile teams outside their garrisons. The last Repair Platoons were disbanded in late December 1954. They were replaced by ordinary mechanics from French regular Material Service units.

La version française de cet article: Pelotons de Réparation de Légion Etrangère

 
Foreign Legion Repair Platoons in Africa - History - PRLE

 

1st Foreign Legion Repair Platoon

The 1st Foreign Legion Repair Platoon (Peloton de Réparation de Légion Etrangère N° 1, PRLE 1) is created in Ouargla of Algeria, in late 1948. The 1st Repair Platoon is assigned administratively to the 2e CSPL, a Saharan Company stationed in Laghouat, some 220 miles (350 km) north-west of Ouargla. The 1st Repair Platoon carries out missions for the benefit of the units having served in eastern Algeria, in the Sahara Desert. The PRLE 1 is disbanded on December 31, 1954.

It’s more than sure that the PRLE 1 is the successor of the 1re CLERA (Automobile Repair Company), one of those mysterious units of the Legion being erased from history. This repair company was briefly active in 1948 (until November) and also officially stationed in Ouargla, under the command of Captain Bernard. However, that officer was in fact the then commander of the 2e CSPL (between 1946-50), and his Saharan company had been based in Ouargla since 1946 until March 1948.

This seemingly curious situation was not unusual at all in the Legion. A commanding officer could be charged by his superiors to form an embryo of another unit within his current one, with his own men, to ease the initial administration works and to speed up the unit’s expansion and autonomy. An example: in 1947, the embryo of the Mounted Squadron, 2e REC (the very last mounted squadron of the Legion) was formed and led by the then commander of the regiment’s HQ Squadron.

Nevertheless, in a relatively calm and deserted part of North Africa at the time (1948), during the ongoing war in Indochina and military operations in Madagascar, maintaining a whole repair company could be evaluated as a useless luxury and thus dismissed by French officials. Instead, a repair platoon was established.

 

PRLE - Repairing - Dodge 6x6 - Algeria - Foreign Legion
A Dodge 6×6 being repaired in the Sahara by PRLE legionnaires.

 

2nd Foreign Legion Repair Platoon

The 2nd Foreign Legion Repair Platoon (PRLE 2) is created in Colomb-Bechar of Algeria in the late 1940s. The platoon is administratively assigned to the 1re CSPL, a Saharan Company based 125 miles (200 km) north-east of Bechar, in Ain Sefra (an old Legion garrison town). It carries out missions for the benefit of the units having served in a deserted western Algeria, at the border with Morocco. The PRLE 2 is disbanded on December 31, 1954.

PRLE 2 - Repairing - Dodge 6x6 - Algeria - Foreign Legion
Legionnaires of the PRLE 2 work on an AMM8 in the Ouargla region, Algeria.

 

3rd Foreign Legion Repair Platoon

The 3rd Foreign Legion Repair Platoon (PRLE 3) is created in Gabes of Tunisia, most likely in the late 1940s. The platoon is administratively assigned to the 6e REI, based in Le Kef at the time, some 190 miles (300 km) north-west of Gabes. It provides support to the units having served in Tunisia. The PRLE 3 is also disbanded on December 31, 1954.

PRLE 3 - Gabes - Colonel Laimay - Tunisia - Foreign Legion
A honor guard of the PRLE 3 in Gabes of Tunisia, to receive Colonel Laimay from the Legion’s HQ, 1954.
PRLE 3 - Gabes - Tunisia - Foreign Legion
Legionnaires and French mechanics of the PRLE 3 in Gabes, 1954.

 

4th Foreign Legion Repair Platoon

The 4th Foreign Legion Repair Platoon (PRLE 4) is best known among the four repair platoons. It remains the only Foreign Legion unit ever permanently stationed in French West Africa, and moreover, during the First Indochina War (1946-54). The platoon is formed in Sidi Bel Abbes (the then Motherhouse of the Legion) in Algeria on July 1, 1950, with legionnaires specialists returning from Indochina.

The PRLE 4, commanded by Captain Busière, is assigned to the DCLE (Legion Joint Depot, now 1er RE), also stationed in Sidi Bel Abbes. The same month, the 4th Repair Platoon leaves the motherhouse for Upper Volta (today’s Burkina Faso, a country south of Mali) in then French West Africa. The journey went through Dakar in Senegal, where the men arrive on 29 July. A few days later, the PRLE 4 is installed in Bobo-Dioulasso, the then capital of Upper Volta.

In official sources, there isn’t any detailed mention of the platoon’s mission in Upper Volta. There wasn’t any war or military operation in West Africa at the time. However, after some research, we can see that France modernized the road network in the territory back then and strengthened the resources of the services responsible for maintaining the roads. Besides, a regional branch of the French Company for the Development of Textile Fibers (CFDT), a significant colonial company whose mission was to organize cotton cultivation, was located in Bobo-Dioulasso too. So there were probably a lot of cars, trucks and engines in the area to repair on daily basis.

What’s interesting, it’s the fact that the PRLE 4 was most likely the only European (i.e. consisting of white men) French unit stationed in Upper Volta at the time.

In October 1950, a second group of the 4th Repair Platoon arrived from Sidi Bel Abbes to AOF to be placed at Kati, a small town close to Bamako (in then Soudan, today’s Mali), some 310 miles (500 km) north-west of Bobo-Dioulasso. There also was a large road construction in the region back then (an important colonial road between Bamako and Bougouni, another town in current Mali).

As we can read in an old Kepi Blanc magazine about the platoon:

“The climate of the A.O.F. is hard, the heat is heavy. Nevertheless, the legionnaires give the maximum, and the works are always well executed.”

Since December 1951, the legionnaires having their Legion contract to be finished are returning individually from Upper Volta to Sidi Bel Abbes. Only 22 men remain eventually. The latter and their captain left Bobo-Dioulasso on July 23, 1952, two years after their arrival (a standard time period of the French long-duration mission, MLD). In Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, where the men stopped for a few days, the PRLE 4 is officially disbanded on July 29, 1952.

On August 5, the platoon arrived in Dakar, where the Kati detachment was already awaiting it. After a trip aboard a boat and two days of a rest in Casablanca in Morocco, the legionnaires of Captain Busière arrive by train in Sidi Bel Abbes on August 13, 1952. [1]

1. For those using the awesome book of Tibor Szecsko about Legion badges and seeing slight differences in the info and dates: this article tracks original sources and thus the info and dates are a bit more accurate. Thank you for comprehension.
 

PRLE 4 - Repair Platoon - Insignia - Badge - Upper Volta - Foreign Legion
The insignia of PRLE 4, created by Captain Busière in 1950.

PRLE 4 - Repair Platoon - Fanion - Upper Volta - Foreign Legion
The fanion of PRLE 4 used in Upper Volta in 1950-52.
PRLE 4 - Legionnaire in workshop - Bobo Dioulasso - Upper Volta - Foreign Legion
A legionnaire of the PRLE 4 in his workshop in Bobo-Dioulasso, 1951.
PRLE 4 - Captain Bousiere - Bobo Dioulasso - Upper Volta - Foreign Legion
Captain Busière leads his PRLE 4 in Bobo-Dioulasso of Upper Volta, 1951. A very rare image of legionnaires in this part of Africa for a very long time. However, in the late 2010s, the legionnaires returned to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as part of Operation Barkhane.

 
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Main information & images sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Foreign Legion 1955 bulletin
Google Maps
Wikipedia.org

 

 

See other Foreign Legion’s repair units:
1st Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company
2nd Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company
3rd Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company
4th Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company
5th Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company
2nd Foreign Legion Armored Vehicles Repair Company

 

 

The page was updated on: December 30, 2019

 

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