History of the 1st Foreign Regiment

By signing his royal decree of June 29, 1835, Louis Philippe I, the King of the French, ceded to the Queen of Spain the original Foreign Legion formed in March 1831. However, faced with the growing need for troops in Algeria, the French government would soon order the formation of a new Foreign Legion. The first battalion was formed in 1836, closely followed by the four others, all created by 1840.

Having reached its regulatory strength, the new Foreign Legion in Algeria was split by order into two regiments on December 30, 1840. This decision would be implemented three months later.

La version française de cet article: Historique du 1er Régiment Etranger

 
1st Foreign Regiment - History - 1er RE - 1 RE - 1st RE

 
 

1st Foreign Legion Regiment: 1841-1856

On April 1, 1841, the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment (1er RLE) was created, composed of the first three battalions of the Legion. This new regiment comprised about 3,000 men, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Jacques de Mollenbec, a former German officer. The 1er RLE was to operate against the Algerian rebel tribes in the provinces of Algiers and Oran, in the west of the country. In 1932, the unit obtained the flag of the original Legion.

Until 1847, the regiment conducted operations against the tribes of a certain Emir Abdelkader, as well as marches against Sharif Boumaza and his supporters. Then, taking advantage of a peaceful time, the men of the regiment focused their efforts on the construction of military posts and roads. In 1852, these occupations were interrupted by operations against the Beni Snassen, a rebellious Berber tribe.

At the end of the same year, the Second Empire of Emperor Napoleon III was established in France. Napoleon would then participate in the war against Russia, and in 1854, would send the French army, including the two regiments of the Legion, to Crimea. The legionnaires of the 1st Regiment were among the winners of the Battle of the Alma and took part in the siege of Sevastopol. Colonel Raphaël Vienot, their commanding officer, died gloriously at the head of his regiment in 1855.

In the meantime, the Emperor organized in France a second Foreign Legion, solely composed of Swiss citizens. Its short-lived existence would lead, at the end of the Crimean War, in 1856, to the transformation of these two Legions into new regiments. Thus, upon their return to Algeria, the two original Foreign Legion regiments merged to constitute a new 2nd Foreign Regiment (2e RE) in August 1856.

 

1st Foreign Legion Regiment - Foreign Legion - Lieutenant Colonel de Mollenbec
Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Jacques de Mollenbec. In April 1841, he became the very first commander of the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment (1er RLE).

1st Foreign Legion Regiment - Foreign Legion - Legionnaire - Algeria - 1842
Legionnaire in Algeria, 1842. Painting by Pierre Benigni.
1st Foreign Legion Regiment - Foreign Legion - Colonel Vienot
Colonel Raphaël Vienot. In Crimea on May 2, 1855, he was killed at the head of the 1er RLE. He remains the only commanding officer of the regiment to be killed in action.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1856-1862

The two Legions were disbanded by the decree of April 16, 1856, to create two new foreign regiments. Thus, on June 26, 1856, the 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE) was established in France with the men of the former 2nd Legion (Swiss Legion). Colonel Bonaventure Meyer took command of the new unit.

The new 1st Foreign Regiment, with a total strength of only 1,021 men, was sent to Algeria. The regiment took part in operations against the rebels in Kabylia, in the northeastern part of the country. By early 1859, most of the Swiss legionnaires’ unit — still nicknamed the “Swiss Legion” by the men of the 2e RE — had already been discharged, with only 500 men left.

Meanwhile, in Europe, a new war was arising in Italy, between France and Austria. In May 1859, the 1st Foreign Regiment landed in Italy and in early June, its 480 men fought bravely in Magenta alongside their comrades from the 2nd Regiment. In August, the 1er RE moved to Corsica where it remained until February 1860, to reorganize. The unit, composed of 2,600 men back then, was finally disbanded in Algeria two years later, in February 1862. At the same time, the original Legion, 2e RE, was redesignated the Foreign Regiment, Régiment Etranger.

As part of this new regiment, a number of men from the former 1st Foreign Regiment partook in the Second Franco-Mexican War, in 1863-1867. There, the legionnaires distinguished themselves by their heroism during the famous Battle of Camerone, on April 30, 1863.

 

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1856 - Flag - Color
Regimental color of the 1st Foreign Regiment (ex-Swiss Legion), obtained in December 1856.

Foreign Legion - 1st Foreign Regiment - 1856-1859 - Algeria - Swiss legionnaires
Swiss members of the 1st Foreign Regiment in Algeria, around 1857. They distinguished by their green uniforms. A study of the time of Major Brecht, 1er RE and ex-Swiss Legion.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Certificat - 1859
An old and rare document, issued by the 1st Foreign Regiment in 1859 to confirm that the mentioned French enlisted volunteer joined the unit and would be discharged two(!) years later. The document was published with the kind permission of Krzysztof Schramm, historian of the A.A.A.L.E. en Pologne veteran association and the author of Niczego nie żałuję.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1885-1895

After the Mexican campaign, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, the end of the Second Empire and the revolt in North-Algerian Kabylia, the Foreign Regiment regained the name Foreign Legion in 1875. In the early 1880s, the legionnaires faced the partisans of Cheikh Bouamama before the first units of the Legion were sent to the Far East.

On January 1, 1885, following a new split, two regiments were reborn. The 1st, 2nd and 5th Battalions merged to form the 1st Foreign Regiment, under the command of Colonel Paul Grisot. With HQ in Sidi Bel Abbès, two of its battalions were engaged in Tonkin (the northern part of present-day Vietnam), Indochina, against China. They notably took part in the sieges of Tuyeng Quang and Langson. In June 1885, a peace treaty put an end to the war. Two years later, French Indochina was created. Regularly relieved, the legionnaires of the 1st Foreign Regiment would remain there until 1930.

A depot company of the regiment, comprised of more than 1,000 men, was responsible for the administration, recruitment and training of enlisted volunteers in Algeria. The music band was also attached to the 1er RE, which obtained its new regimental flag in July 1885.

The new 3rd and 4th Battalions, formed in Algeria by dividing the former 5th, were to be actively distinguished in the desert of South Oran (then a partially unpacified region located along the Moroccan border, southwest of Sidi Bel Abbès) and during the occupation of the Saharan oases in the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900s. At the same time, the first light infantry units equipped with mules were formed – mounted companies. A new 5th Battalion was constituted in 1891.

While the regiment continued to pacify Algeria, it also participated in different operations in French West Africa, including the campaigns of Dahomey (now Benin) against King Behanzin from 1892 to 1894, where Major Faurax was killed at the head of his legionnaires. Meanwhile, the men of the 1er RE were also involved in French West Africa, in the campaign in French Sudan (now Mali) against Sultan Samory and his troops.

 

1st Foreign Legion Regiment - Foreign Legion - Colonel Grisot
Colonel Paul Grisot. In early 1885, he took command of the reconstituted 1st Foreign Regiment.

1st Foreign Legion Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1893 - Flag - Color - Lieutenant Cornetto
Lieutenant Cornetto and his color guard of the 1st Foreign Regiment, in Sidi Bel Abbès in 1893.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Legionnaires - French Indochina - 1890s
Legionnaires in Tonkin, French Indochina, in the 1890s.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1895-1914

From 1895, the men of the regiment were involved in the conquest of Madagascar, in the ranks of a battalion of the Legion. Over 200 legionnaires would perish there due to the climate and fatigue. Nevertheless, in 1896, the kingdom was successfully abolished and Madagascar became a French colony. Thereafter, the pacification of the island began for the men of both foreign regiments. Once again builders, they would leave behind important and original installations. The pacification continued until 1905, when the last legionnaires stationed on the island returned to Algeria.

In 1899, following the 1898 Fashoda Incident, 1er RE men arrived in Tunisia, which had been occupied by France since 1881, to face the anticipated forces coming from Malta.

In 1906, the government awarded the 1st Foreign Regiment with the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit. Three years later, the Italian city of Milan awarded the regiment’s color with its gold medal, in memory of the 1859 campaign.

Facing attacks against its nationals and confrontations in the Algerian-Moroccan borderlands, France decided to intervene in Morocco. Therefore, in August 1907, the legionnaires of the 1st Foreign Regiment led the assault troops with the 6th Battalion, formed in 1899. Their commander, Major Provost, became the first Foreign Legion officer to be killed in Morocco.

In early February 1908, a company of the regiment was decimated by a furious snowstorm near Forthassa in South Oran, at the Moroccan border. The same year in this same region, the 1er RE’s 24th Mounted Company resisted numerous enemy attacks in Bou Denib.

In 1912, the French protectorate treaty over Morocco was signed, thus launching the country’s pacification. The Legion, including the units of the 1st Foreign Regiment, played an important part in the pacification by forming in Morocco a three-battalion regiment combat team (Régiment de marche, RM), supported by two 1er RE mounted companies.

 

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Legionnaires - Madagascar - 1896
Officers and legionnaires of the 1st Foreign Regiment ready to deploy to Madagascar, 1896.

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Legionnaires - Document - 1896
A document issued by the 1st Foreign Regiment in early 1896 to confirm an end-of-service furlough (an extended leave) for a discharged French legionnaire, a veteran of the campaign in Madagascar in 1895. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Mounted Company - South Oran - 1900s
A Mounted Company of the 1st Foreign Regiment in South Oran, early 1900s.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Caserne Vienot - Sidi Bel Abbès - 1900s
Caserne Vienot of the 1st Foreign Regiment in Sidi Bel Abbès, 1900s. The headquarters were named after the killed commanding officer.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - General Herson - Sidi Bel Abbès - Flag - Legion of Honor - 1906
General Herson, the then Oran Division commander, decorates the colors of the 1st Foreign Regiment with the Legion of Honor, April 27, 1906.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - 6th Battalion - 1908
A ceremony organized in Sidi Bel Abbès in August 1908, to decorate legionnaires of the 6th Battalion, 1er RE. The latter spent a year in Morocco and his commander, Major Provot (sometimes spelled incorrectly as Provost), was killed there, as the first Foreign Legion officer.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1914-1919

Soon, Europe started to prepare for an anticipated war. In addition to the 10,000 pre-war legionnaires, more than 10,000 foreigners volunteered for the duration of the war. With them, the 1st Foreign Regiment would establish in France three regiment combat teams to fight on the Western Front — the 2nd in August 1914, the 3rd in September, and the 4th in November. Neuville-St-Vaast, in April 1915, and Souchez-Carency, in May of the same year, marked the action of the short-lived 2e RM, while the 4th, the “Garibaldi Legion,” did wonders at Bollants Wood in mid-January 1915. Cruelly tested, these units were deactivated and merged into one, giving birth to the prestigious RMLE, the Foreign Legion Regiment Combat Team. Holder of nine mentions in dispatches and the double fourragère, its flag became the most decorated in France in 1918.

The war was also raging in the Dardanelles, Serbia, and Macedonia. Two companies of the regiment took part there within the Foreign Legion Eastern Battalion that successively opposed the Turks and the Bulgarians.

Spread across all the fronts of the Great War, the 1st Foreign Regiment had to maintain a French presence in Morocco, Tonkin, and South Oran as well, despite significant difficulties.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1920-1939

At the end of the war in Europe, the Legion was reorganized. The 1st Foreign Regiment, whose troops were tremendously reduced by all the fights, was completely reformed in 1921. Its three old battalions staying in Morocco formed a new unit, the 4th Foreign Regiment, in late 1920. At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Rollet‘s RMLE, also stationed in Morocco, became the 3rd Foreign Regiment. In 1925 in Sidi Bel Abbès, the famous officer took command of the then 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment (1er REI, renamed since 1922), which he commanded until 1931, the important year of the Legion’s “Centenary” and the unveiling of the remarkable War Memorial.

This period was the golden age of the Legion. Then, the 1er REI became a marvelous combat instrument, but also a gigantic enterprise responsible for the administration and training of the Legion’s entire staff and legionnaires. Combining the strength of some 10,000 men, it left its mark in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Tonkin, and recently, in the Levant (Syria and Lebanon), participating in the pacification of the region.

Besides, four of its battalions (1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th), alongside two sapper-pioneer companies and an artillery platoon (equipped with 80 mm guns), distinguished themselves in the ongoing operations in Morocco, mainly in the north of the country – in the Rif War of 1925-1926. The Automobile Company – a former mounted company, newly motorized – partook in the hard fighting at Djebel Sagho in 1933 and in the Anti-Atlas campaign in 1934, which successfully achieved Morocco’s pacification.

That year, the 1er REI’s Sapper-Pioneer Company (CSP, created in 1922) and Algerian Mounted Company (CMA) deployed to eastern Algeria to help suppress the riots which affected the region between July and August. The 3rd Battalion reinforced them in 1935.

In the meantime, four battalions of the regiment stationed in Tonkin gave birth to a new unit, the 5e REI, constituted in 1930. In Syria and Lebanon in 1939, three other battalions of the 1er REI formed the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment. In July of the same year, 1er REI legionnaires paraded in Paris, for the very first time with their white kepis.

At that time, on the eve of the Second World War, the regiment comprised seven operational battalions (each consisting of a HQ, three combat companies and a support company), a training battalion, a transit battalion and a depot in France to receive foreign volunteers enlisting for the war period. By the way, the 5th Battalion (re-created in Algeria in 1936) was to be organized as a motorized unit; however, it is unclear if the objective was eventually achieved.

In addition, there were several smaller, special, autonomous units serving in North Africa, also assigned to the 1er REI. In Algeria, there was a sapper-pioneer company, an automobile company, a motorized company (in fact, the former CMA, motorized in the mid-1930s), a disciplinary company stationed in South Oran, and a motorized Saharan battery formed in 1938 (yes, already in 1938 and not in 1939, as official historical works tell us). In Tunisia, two obscure, rather mysterious units of the 1st Foreign Regiment were posted there: the 19th Autonomous Company and the 66th Southern Company. Nowadays, we don’t know anything about their mission.

In late 1939, the five years of peace for the Legion, marked by training, construction works, maneuvers, patrol tours and unit modernization, were over. Once again, Europe was set ablaze by an upcoming struggle.

 

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - France - Garibaldi Legion - 1914
Members of the “Garibaldi Legion” (4th Regiment Combat Team, 1er RE) in France in late 1914. This unit comprised Italians in the vast majority.

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Flag - Color - 1918
The old 1885 flag of the 1st Foreign Regiment in late 1918. Two years later, the flag would be replaced by a new one. Napoleon‘s Valor and Discipline motto would be replaced by Honor and Fidelity.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Paul Painlevé - 6th Battalion - Morocco - 1925
Then France’s War Minister Paul Painlevé decorates members of the 6th Battalion, 1er REI in Morocco, late 1925.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Honorable discharge certificate - Certificat de bonne conduite - 1927
Certificat de bonne conduite (Honorable discharge certificate) for a 1er REI legionnaire, issued in 1927 by Colonel Rollet, the then commanding officer and the future “Father of the Legion.” Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 7th Battalion - Indochina - 1929
Legionnaires of the 7th Battalion, 1er REI in Tonkin, French Indochina, 1929.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 4th Battalion - Syria - 1930s
Legionnaires of the 4th Battalion, 1er REI in Syria, in the 1930s. Note their fourragère, gained in the Druze War in 1925-1926. The photo was published with the kind permission of Andrew J. Mitchell, the author of Tigers of Tonkin.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbes - Algeria - War Memorial - 1930s
View from the new War Memorial, unveiled in late April 1931, towards the entrance of the 1er REI’s Caserne Vienot in Sidi Bel Abbès, 1930s.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 3rd Battalion - Algeria - Tebessa - 1935
A legionnaire guarding the entrance of the fortress in East-Algerian Tebessa, the then HQ of the 3rd Battalion, 1er REI. The unit deployed there in early 1935, following the 1934 riots, to maintain order in the region.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Music Band - France - Paris - 1939
Music Band and a detachment of the 1st Foreign Regiment march down the Champs-Élysées in Paris, on July 14, 1939 (Bastille Day). It was the very first time when legionnaires officially paraded in the capital with their white kepis.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1939-1943

In early September 1939, the Legion was 23,000 men strong. Thereafter, some 20,000 foreigners once again volunteered for the duration of the war to defend their adopted country. To operate in Europe, mainly on France’s Western Front, the provisional regiments and a half-brigade with numbers 11, 12, 13, 21, 22, and 23 were organized, with the participation of officers, non-commissioned officers, and legionnaires coming from the 1er REI. Following the painful armistice, the survivors were regrouped during the summer of 1940 in the Aubagne region (a curious predestination) and returned to Algeria, where the 1st Foreign Regiment continued its work and prepared for the resumption of fighting.

At the end of 1940, the Automobile Company became fully autonomous and was redesignated as a Saharan company (future 1re CSPL).

In mid-1941, a half-brigade was constituted with two battalions of the regiment to be deployed to Senegal, French West Africa, where it became the 4e DBLE. A few months later, the 1er REI was reinforced by two battalions of the 6e REI that had to leave the Levant. In April 1942, the Foreign Regiments Joint Depot (DCRE), which had been in charge of the Legion’s personnel administration and military training since 1933, was completely separated from the 1er REI and became an independent, regiment-like unit.

At the beginning of 1943, when the French Army of Africa resumed fighting against Germany, a battalion and a motorized company of the 1st Foreign Regiment were engaged in Tunisia, where the legionnaires were slowing down a heavily armed enemy. In April, the arrival on the Tunisian front of the two 4e DBLE battalions from Senegal permitted the creation of the 1er REI de Marche (1er REIM, regiment combat team) before being integrated into a new RMLE. The latter, between 1943 and 1945, maintained the reputation of its glorious elder brother during fights in France, Germany, and Austria. Thus, due to a lack of manpower, the 1er REI was deactivated in Sidi Bel Abbès in late June 1943.

 

Foreign Legion - Depot - France - Toul - 1939
One of the Foreign Legion depots in France to receive foreign volunteers for the upcoming war.

1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbes - Algeria - 1940 - Volunteers
Sidi Bel Abbès, early March 1940. Volunteers, including those from the 1er REI, are ready to move to France to form the 13th Half-Brigade.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Medal certificate - Levant - 1942
Wartime Service Medal certificate for a 1er REI legionnaire for his service in the Levant in mid-1941, when the 6e REI faced British troops. The certificate was issued by Colonel Vias in 1942. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Tunisia - 1943 - 1st Battalion - 2nd Company
Several cadres of the 2nd Company, 1st Battalion, 1er REI in Tunisia in early 1943. The unit would be annihilated by Germans a few weeks later, in early February.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1946-1962

Re-created in May 1946 to serve in Tunisia as a single autonomous battalion, the 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment changed its name again and became a new 6e REI on April 1, 1949. But the same day in Sidi Bel Abbès, the independent DCRE ceased to exist and transformed into the new 1er REI.

Considered the “reservoir” of men and the school that trained their cadres and specialists, the 1st Foreign Regiment was a formidable “soldier factory” for the First Indochina War (1946-1954), where a battalion of the regiment would even operate in 1950. Four transit companies welcomed both young recruits and officers destined to join the units serving in French Indochina. In the meantime, three instruction centers provided accelerated training adapted to the extraordinary needs of the ongoing war against Ho Chi Minh‘s Viet Minh.

Besides, a little-known engineering unit was created in late 1949 within the 1er REI. Its purpose was to reinforce the legionnaires during a new campaign in Madagascar. It remained on the island until the end of 1951, to build roads and bridges there.

Following the end of the war in the Far East, the Legion units returned to North Africa, where the 1er REI pursued its mission. In 1954, the insurgencies in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria forced the regiment to become once again an operational unit and set up task forces to restore order in the affected regions. Meanwhile, a new 6th Battalion composed of three motorized companies of the future GPLEA was to be established.

In 1955, the 1er REI became the 1st Foreign Regiment again and continued its dual mission of administrator and instructor. Its Training Group (GILE) trained young recruits as well as future paratroopers and cavalrymen.

During the Algerian war of 1954-1962, the regiment also participated in operations to defend the country it had helped build. These operations cost the rebels 613 dead and 548 prisoners, while 63 legionnaires of the 1er RE were killed in action, and 136 were wounded throughout these nine tragic years. In addition, nearly a thousand weapons were seized by the 1er RE men. Nevertheless, despite all these efforts, the political situation deteriorated, and Algeria was lost. In October 1962, the “Motherhouse” of the Legion had to leave its old garrison town and its homeland, and relocated to France.

 

1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1st Battalion - Tunisia - 1948
A company of the autonomous 1st Battalion, 1er REI in Tunisia in late 1948, reviewed by their battalion commander, Major Thomas, and his deputy, Captain Dares. Six months later, it would become a new 6e REI. Between May 1946 and April 1949, this single battalion represented the whole 1er REI, and thus, it was keeping the regimental colors. The photo was published with the kind permission of Frans, the admin of Nederlanders in het Franse Vreemdelingenlegioen, a well-respected website dedicated (not only) to Dutch legionnaires.

1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1st Battalion - Algeria - 1949
A lieutenant and his fresh legionnaires of a new 1st Battalion, 1er REI in Saida, Algeria, in late 1949. The battalion, re-created in Algeria in April of the same year, served as a basic instruction unit.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1st Battalion - Algeria - 1954
A field exercise for fresh legionnaires from the 1st Battalion, 1er REI in Algeria, 1954. This year marked the end of the war in Indochina… and the start of a war in North Africa – in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Badge - 1er RE - 1 RE - 1955
The badge of 1er RE, adopted by the fully reorganized regiment in 1955. It was designed in 1937, by Captain Marsol, for his 3rd Company, 4e REI, a direct heir to the 3rd Company that fought at Camerone in Mexico. The badge, which retains the shape of the 4e REI insignia, took over the design of the then French medal for the campaign in Mexico. It was adopted in 1950 by the GALE (a HQ unit to supervise the Legion, 1950-1955) and, after that, by the 1er RE.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Algeria - 1956 - Camerone
1956 Camerone Day in Sidi Bel Abbès. Note the new entrance built in the 1930s. Behind the War Memorial’s globe, the colonel office’s window.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Hall of Honor - 1961
Sidi Bel Abbès, 1961. The freshly renovated Foreign Legion’s Hall of Honor, managed by the 1st Foreign Regiment.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Algeria - 1961 - fighting
1er RE legionnaires during street fighting in Sidi Bel Abbès on August 11, 1961. That day, Legionnaire Zimmermann would become the last member of the regiment killed in action in the Algerian War.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1962-1984

On September 29, 1962, the remains of General Rollet, Prince Aage of Denmark, and Legionnaire Zimmermann – the last legionnaire of the 1er RE killed in Algeria – were transferred to Provence, where they now rest.

In the meantime, the legionnaires had taken possession of an abandoned camp in Aubagne, in the Marseille region, to build new headquarters worthy of the Legion, while the GILE training companies moved to Corsica.

Dismantled in September 1962, the famous War Memorial would be re-erected in Aubagne, on the new parade ground of the Quartier Vienot, and unveiled on April 30, 1963, the Centenary of the Battle of Camerone.

As the guardian of the Legion’s traditions and glories, the 1er Etranger would continue to proudly preserve the old relics and would build a museum, completed in 1966.

As was always the case, the regiment once again provided an operational unit, after the deactivation of the little-known Intervention Company in August 1963. Thus, in early 1968, it formed the last Foreign Legion unit stationed in Algeria, the Company Team (Cie de marche), based in Bou Sfer until July. The following year, it formed the Motorized Company, set to operate in Chad until 1970 alongside the legionnaires of the 2e REP. Finally, in 1971, the 1er RE established an operational task force (GOLE) stationed in Corsica.

However, the regiment was still in charge of construction tasks. That’s why it created, in early 1968, a company of pioneers to participate in the construction of the largest military shooting range in Western Europe, Canjuers Camp. Two years later, this company would be incorporated into the 61e BMGL.

Ten years after its arrival in Aubagne and Corsica, in 1972, the regiment split up and attributed to the freshly reconstituted 2nd Foreign Regiment in Corsica the missions of training recruits and legionnaires and maintaining the role of an intervention unit available to serve anywhere and anytime.

 

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Algeria - 1962 - General Rollet - Prince Aage of Denmark - Legionnaire Zimmermann
On September 29, 1962, the remains of General Rollet, Prince Aage of Denmark, and Legionnaire Zimmermann left Sidi Bel Abbès to be transferred to Puyloubier in Provence, where they now rest. The important relics of the Legion, including the wooden hand of Captain Danjou – the commander of the legionnaires at Camerone – left the old HQ of the 1er RE that day as well.

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - France - 1963 - Aubagne - Caserne Vienot - Place d'Armes - Camerone
The very first Camerone Day in Aubagne, celebrated at the new camp on 30 April 1963. That day also marked the 100th anniversary of the famous battle. The new camp was temporarily called Caserne Vienot in 1962-1963, keeping the tradition from Sidi Bel Abbès, before becoming Quartier Vienot the next year.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1964 - GILE - Corte - Corsica
The citadel in Corte, Corsica, the new HQ of the 1er RE’s GILE (Training Group). Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1967 - Corte - Corsica
The citadel in Bonifacio, Corsica, in the late 1960s. It was also occupied by the 1er RE’s GILE.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Pioneers - Museum - 1968
Pioneers of the 1st Foreign Regiment in front of the new Foreign Legion Museum, completed in 1966.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Pioneer Company - Canjuers Camp - France - 1968
A legionnaire of the Pioneer Company (CPLE) with his bulldozer at Canjuers Camp, 1968. The camp turned into the largest military shooting range in Western Europe.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Honorable discharge certificate - Certificat de bonne conduite - 1970
Honorable discharge certificate for a 1er RE legionnaire, issued by Colonel Fuhr, the then commanding officer, in 1970. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Color guard - 1977
1st Foreign Regiment’s color guard at the modern, rebuilt camp of the Legion’s Motherhouse in Aubagne, April 1977.

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment: 1984-2021

In 1984, a reform affected the French Army. To strengthen the Legion in mainland France, the men of the 1er RE’s reinforced road construction company (CRTRLE, 1978-1984) formed the core of a new engineering regiment, the future 1er REG. That same year in Aubagne, in the regimental headquarters, the organization of the Legion’s structure was formalized with the creation of the Foreign Legion Command, COMLE.

From then on, the 1st Foreign Regiment has been responsible for carrying out the Legion’s common services. In other words, it manages all the personnel of the Legion and supports administratively the COMLE which the regiment is subordinated to. The 1er RE is also in charge of the conservation of the Legion’s traditions and historical heritage. Besides, it operates the different cells in charge of the assignment, reenlistment, regularization, naturalization, or reconversion of all personnel serving as foreigners. At the same time, the regiment takes care of its handicapped veterans by allowing them to live with dignity at the Veteran Institution (IILE), in Puyloubier, not far from Aubagne.

The 1st Foreign Regiment represents the Foreign Legion, for example, through its Band, Pioneer Platoon, or Kepi Blanc Magazine. The Legion Museum and the Documentation Center (in charge of the historical archives) are assigned to the regiment as well.

Each legionnaire starts his career at the 1st Foreign Regiment, returns to it when he leaves basic instruction, and comes back each time he changes assignment, as well as at the end of his active service for the discharging formalities.

The regiment was also responsible for recruiting (until 2007), selecting, and incorporating volunteers (until January 2020) before sending them to basic training in Castelnaudary. These tasks are now carried out by the Recruiting Group (GRLE).

To support operations abroad, the 1er RE specialists often reinforce other units of the Legion. In 1983, a detachment of the regiment participated in the missions of the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. In 1990-1991, some 150 men of the regiment were deployed to Operation Daguet, as part of the Gulf War. These days its legionnaires are involved in missions in France as well, in particular the anti-terrorist Operation Sentinelle.

Awarded the War Cross of the Foreign Theaters of Operations with the blue-red Fourragère in April 2019, the long and prestigious history of the 1st Foreign Regiment, the Legion’s Motherhouse and its oldest unit, continues today…

 
 

1st Foreign Regiment in images: 1841-2021

 

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Royal Order of Cambodia - 1887
Royal Order of Cambodia certificate for a sergent-major of the 1st Foreign Regiment, issued by pro-French Norodom, King of Cambodia, in 1887. The legionnaire served in Cambodia as part of the Tonkin Campaign in the mid-1880s. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.

1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Royal Order of Cambodia - 1887 - detail
Royal Order of Cambodia certificate in detail. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - President - commemorative card - 1903
A commemorative card issued by the 1st Foreign Regiment in memory of the then French president who visited its battalion in Kreider, Algeria, on April 21, 1903. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Caserne Vienot - Entrance - 1905
A rare, very interesting photo of a ceremonial gate of the 1st Foreign Regiment’s entrance in Sidi Bel Abbès, 1905, with officers passing it on horseback. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Caserne Vienot - Sidi Bel Abbès - Officers - Colonel Boutegourd - Lieutenant Rollet - 1905-1906
Officers of the 1st Foreign Regiment in Sidi Bel Abbès, around 1906. Bottom, in the center, Colonel Boutegourd, the then commanding officer (1904-1907). Top, on the extreme left, bearded, certain Lieutenant Rollet, having returned from Madagascar. In 1931, he would become Father of the Legion.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Regimental color - 1906 - postcard
A commemorative postcard issued in memory of the decoration of the 1er RE regimental color with the Legion of Honor in April 1906. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Mounted Company - South Oran - Forthassa Gharbia - 1908
3rd Mounted Company, 1er RE (with Lieutenant Rollet) in Forthassa Gharbia, 1908.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Milan Medal - 1909
In 1909, the Italian city of Milan awarded the 1er RE’s color with its gold medal, in memory of the 1859 Italian campaign. The 2e RE was awarded as well.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Legionnaires - Regimental color - 1910
Legionnaires of the 1st Foreign Regiment and their regimental color in Sidi Bel Abbès, July 1910. Note the bearded Pioneers in the lead of the formation.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Legionnaires - 22nd Company - Morocco - 1914
Men of the 22nd Company, 6th Battalion, 1st Foreign Regiment in Morocco, 1914.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Legionnaires - Camp Zeitenlik - Greece - 1915
Legionnaires of the Foreign Legion Eastern Battalion at Camp Zeitenlik nearby Salonika, Greece, in October 1915.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Indochina - Tonkin - Honorable discharge certificate - Certificat de bonne conduite - 4th Battalion - Major Nicolas - 1916
A truly rare document – a spectacular Honorable discharge certificate issued in May 1916 by Major Nicolas, the then commander of the autonomous 4th Battalion, 1er RE in Tonkin, French Indochina. A few weeks later, the battalion was disbanded, except for a single company designated to keep a French (and Legion) presence in the region throughout the rest of WWI. Colonel Nicolas would command the 1er REI in 1931-1934. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbes - Algeria - 1930s - Music Band
Music Band of the 1er REI marching along the Caserne Vienot, early 1930s.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Hall of Honor - 1931
1st Foreign Regiment’s Hall of Honor in Sidi Bel Abbès, early 1930s.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Caserne Vienot - Camerone - 1931
Centenary of the Legion, unveiling of the War Memorial, and Camerone Day, all in one at Caserne Vienot on April 30, 1931.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Wartime Service Medal certificate - 1933
Wartime Service Medal certificate for a former 1er REI legionnaire for his service in the Balkans during WWI. The certificate was issued by Colonel Nicolas in 1933. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1er REI - Automobile Company - 1st Foreign Regiment - Compagnie Automobile - badge - Foreign Legion
The badge of Automobile Company, 1er REI, designed around 1936. The horseshoe refers to a 2e REI mounted company, a predecessor to the CA. In late 1940, the unit became Saharan Motorized Company.
1er REI - 1 REI - 1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1937 - 4th Battalion - 4 BFC - Insignia - Badge - Levant
The badge of the 4th Battalion, 1er REI in the Levant. It was produced in 1937. The design of this autonomous unit (formant corps) which had served in Syria and Lebanon since 1921, yet as a 4e REI battalion, reminds the Roman legionnaires serving in the Levant 1,500 years earlier.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Pioneers - France - Paris - 1939
Pioneers of the 1st Foreign Regiment in Paris, on July 14, 1939.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - Prince Napoleon
Louis, Prince Napoléon, the head of the Bonaparte dynasty at the time, alias Legionnaire Blanchard, member of the 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment in Algeria. Because of his “defective” origin, he wasn’t allowed to join the French Army to defend France. Enlisted volunteer for the war period, he was discharged in 1941. By the way, the Legion was often a refuge for French aristocrats not allowed to serve in the French Army.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Algeria - Honorable discharge certificate - Certificat de bonne conduite - 1941
Honorable discharge certificate issued for a 1er REI legionnaire, by Colonel Bouty, in 1941. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Badge - 10th Mixed Company - 10e CM - 1941
The badge of the 10th Mixed Company (10e CM, Mixte ), 1er REI, designed in 1941. One of the very few badges created within the 1er REI before 1945. An ordinary unit, part of the 3rd Battalion, the company was stationed in Colomb-Béchar in South Oran. The term “mixed” was used by the French Army of Armistice (1940-1943) for all infantry companies. It meant an combined infantry unit that comprised infantry elements, machine guns and 75 mm guns. The company was disbanded along with the regiment, in 1943.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Badge - Task Force - Bataillon de marche - Indochina - 1950
The badge of the 1st Task Force (Bataillon de marche), 1er REI sent to Indochina in late 1950. In March 1951, it became a new 3rd Battalion, 3e REI.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - Caserne Vienot - 1940s
Caserne Vienot in Sidi Bel Abbès, after WWII.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Camerone Day - Card - 1954 - 1er REI badge
1954 Camerone Day invitation card, including the then badge of the 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment, used in 1951-1955.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1st Battalion - Fanion - 1949-1955
Fanion of the 1st Battalion, 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment, used in 1949-1955.
1st Foreign Infantry Regiment - Foreign Legion - 1st Battalion - Saida - Fanion - 1954
Fanion of the 1st Battalion, 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment and its guard in Saida, 1954. A former HQ of the 2nd Foreign Regiment (1867-1920), the town served for many years as the main instruction center of the Legion.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbès - General de Gaulle
General de Gaulle (right), the Free French leader in WWII, when visiting the regiment in Sidi Bel Abbès in June 1958, shortly after a military putsch that came him back to power. Three years later, he would punish the same putschist elements that helped him in 1958, as well as the Legion, after the 1961 Putsch in Algiers.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - EALE - Amphibious Squadron - Arzew - 1959
Amphibious Squadron (EALE), 1st Foreign Regiment in Arzew, Algeria, 1959. A particular operational unit of the regiment, equipped with Alligators (Landing Vehicle Tracked, LVT). Here, an armored version, dubbed Amtank, fitted with a turret from the 75 mm Howitzer M8 vehicle. The squadron abandoned its vehicles and was transferred to the 2e REC in November of the same year.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Honorable discharge certificate - Certificat de bonne conduite - 1959
Honorable discharge certificate for a 1er RE legionnaire, issued by Colonel Brothier in 1959. Collection of Krzysztof Schramm.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Regimental color - Marseille - October 1962
Regimental color guard having arrived in Marseille, France, October 26, 1962. The transfer of the 1er RE was finished.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Motorized Company - Chad - 1970
Motorized Company (CMLE), 1st Foreign Regiment in Chad, 1970. An operational unit, it fought in Central Africa in 1969-1970, alongside comrades from the 2e REP. The predecessor to 1st Company, 2e REI. Note the unit insignia behind the men.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Reinforced Road Construction Company - CRTRLE - 1980
Reinforced Road Construction Company (CRTRLE), 1er RE visited by Colonel Ameline, the then regiment commander, in mid-1980. Activated in 1978, one of the largest French Army companies at the time (around 300 engines and vehicles), it transformed in 1984 into a new engineering regiment, 6e REG (1er REG since 1999).
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Section Protection - Lebanon - 1983
Protection Platoon, 1st Foreign Regiment in Lebanon, 1983. Part of the Multinational Force in Lebanon, the unit was designated to protect the HQ of France’s 31st Brigade based in Beirut.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Operation Daguet - Gulf War - Detachment - Aubagne - 1991
A detachment of the 1er RE (2 officers + 150 NCOs and legionnaires) having returned from the Middle-East where they participated in the Gulf War against Iraq. Here, a decoration ceremony in Aubagne, October 27, 1991.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - CAPLE - Foreign Legion Personnel Administrative Company
A building in Aubagne that belongs to the Foreign Legion Personnel Administrative Company (CAPLE). Each legionnaire starts his career here when he leaves basic instruction, comes back each time he changes assignment, and returns here at the end of his active service for being discharged.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - CCPLEM - Malmousque
Foreign Legion Convalescent Leave & Recreation Malmousque Center (CCPLEM), known simply as Malmousque, is based in Marseille and managed by the 1er RE. Every legionnaire can spent his free weekend or his leave there, for a decent amount of money. The reconstructed center was open in March 1974.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Quartier Vienot - Camerone Day - 2009
The 1er RE’s HQ and Motherhouse of the Foreign Legion in the 21st century.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Sappers - Pioneers - Camerone Day - 2018
Sappers-Pioneers of the 1st Foreign Regiment, inseparable part of every important ceremony, when parading at the Motherhouse, 2018.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Regimental color - Aubagne - Fourragere - 2019
Regimental color of the 1st Foreign Regiment is awarded the War Cross of the Foreign Theaters of Operations with the blue-red Fourragère, April 30, 2019.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Paris - Bastille Day - 2019
As 80 years earlier, the 1st Foreign Regiment once again march down the Champs-Élysées in Paris, on July 14, 2019. For the very first time, its men wear a fourragère.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Paris - Operation Sentinelle - 2020
Mainly an administrative unit, the 1er RE still carries out operational tasks. Here, members of the Music Band patrol the streets of Paris, as part of the anti-terrorist Operation Sentinelle, 2020.
1st Foreign Regiment - Foreign Legion - Regimental color - Aubagne - Camerone - 2020
Color guard of the 1st Foreign Regiment, 2020. The long and prestigious history of this unit continues today…

 
 

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My special thanks belong to Krzysztof Schramm, for sharing his rare photos and documents with all of us.

 
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Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines
Légion Etrangère magazines
Foreign Legion annual bulletins (1950s, 1960s)
P. Cart-Tanneur + Tibor Szecsko: La Vieille Garde (Editions B.I.P., 1987)
Pierre Soulié: Paul-Frédéric Rollet : Père de la Légion étrangère (Editions Italiques, 2007)
J. Brunon, G.-R. Manue, P. Carles: Le Livre d’Or de la Légion Etrangère (Charles-Lavauzelle, 1976)
Alain Gandy: La Légion en Algérie (Presses de la Cité, 1992)
Jean Hallo: Monsieur Légionnaire (Lavauzelle, 1994)
Tibor Szecsko: La Légion étrangère en Indochine 1914-1941 (Edi-cats, 1989)
by Collective: Historique des unités de la Légion étrangère pendant la guerre 1914-1918 (Maroc et Orient) (D. Heintz & Fils, 1922)
Pierre Dufour: Génie-Légion (Lavauzelle, 2000)
Memorial Gen Web (Fr)
Fanion Vert et Rouge (Fr)
Wikipedia.org

 
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Learn about other Foreign Legion’s regiments:
1st Foreign Parachute Regiment
2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment
3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment
4th Foreign Infantry Regiment
5th Foreign Regiment
6th Foreign Infantry Regiment
Foreign Regiments Joint Depot
12th Foreign Infantry Regiment

 

 

The page was updated on: April 28, 2021

 

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