History of French Foreign Legion

By : http://www.2eyeswatching.wordpress.com


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and others.

The French Foreign Legion (FrenchLégion étrangère) is a unique military unit of the French Army established in 1831. The Foreign Legion was specifically created for foreign nationals wishing to serve in the French Armed Forces. Commanded by French officers, it is also open to French citizens, who amounted to 24% of the recruits as of 2007.

The Foreign Legion is today known as an elite military unit whose training focuses not only on traditional military skills but also on its strong esprit de corps. As its men come from different countries with different cultures, this is a widely accepted solution to strengthen them enough to work as a team. Consequently, training is often described as not only physically challenging, but also extremely stressful psychologically.

French Foreign Legion
Flag of legion.svg
The Foreign Legion emblem and colours.
Active 10 March 1831—present
Country France
Branch French Army
Role Military force
Size c. 7,700 men in eleven regiments and one sub-unit
Garrison/HQ Aubagne (Headquarters)
Metropolitan France (5 regiments)
French Guiana (3rd Infantry Regiment)
Djibouti (13th Demi-Brigade)
Mayotte (Detachment)
Motto “Legio Irus Actica” (The Legion is our Strength)
“Legio Patria Nostra” (The Legion is our Fatherland)
“Honneur et Fidélité” (Honour and Fidelity)
“Marche ou crève” (March or die, unofficial)
March Le Boudin
Anniversaries Camerone Day (30 April)
Brigade General Alain Bouquin

The grenade with 7 flames, emblem of the Foreign Legion
A Legion honour guard of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment stands at attention as they await the arrival of Lt. Gen. Khalid Bin Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, commander of Joint Forces in Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Shield. The Legionnaire in front is holding a 5.56mm FAMAS rifle, equipped with a bayonet.


The French Foreign Legion was created by a royal ordinance issued by King Louis Philippe,

Louis Philippe I
King of the French
Reign 9 August 1830 – 24 February 1848
(17 years, 199 days)
Predecessor Charles X
as King of France and of Navarre
Successor Monarchy abolished
Second Republic
Jacques-Charles Dupont de l’Eure as Chairman of the Provisional Government;
Louis Philippe II as the de juresuccessor and heir.
Next reigning monarch was
Napoleon III, starting in 1852.
Spouse Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies


Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans
Louise, Queen of the Belgians
Marie, Duchess of Württemberg
Louis, Duke of Nemours
Clémentine, Princess of Kohary
François, Prince of Joinville
Charles, Duke of Penthièvre
Henri, Duke of Aumale
Antoine, Duke of Montpensier
Full name
Louis Philippe d’Orléans
House House of Orléans
House of Bourbon
Father Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans
Mother Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon
Born 6 October 1773
Palais-Royal, Paris, France
Died 26 August 1850 (aged 76)
Claremont, Surrey, England
Religion Roman Catholicism

at the suggestion of Minister of WarNicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult,

Marshal General, Duke of Dalmatia
Jean-de-Dieu Soult
12th Prime Minister of France
In office
11 October 1832 – 18 July 1834
Preceded by Casimir Pierre Perier
Succeeded by Comte Gérard
19th Prime Minister of France
In office
12 May 1839 – 1 March 1840
Preceded by Louis-Mathieu Molé
Succeeded by Adolphe Thiers
21st Prime Minister of France
In office
29 October 1840 – 19 September 1847
Preceded by Adolphe Thiers
Succeeded by François Guizot
Personal details
Born 29 March 1769
Died 26 November 1851 (aged 82)
Political party None

on March 9, 1831. Nine days later on March 18, 1831, an additional order was issued specifically restricting membership in the newly formed Legion to foreigners. These directives were reflective of the initial purpose for the Foreign Legion’s inception as a mechanism to assuage the potential unrest posed to the provisional French government and the newly enthroned House of Orléans by the large influx of foreigners in the wake of the collapse of the Bourbon Restoration the previous year in the July Revolution. Some of these foreigners in France were the remnants of regiments formed during the campaigns ofNapoleon I of Germans, Swedes, Poles, Hungarians, and others. These foreign veterans had been left with little means and professional military training which proved to be of concern the French Government. Many of these foreigners of concern to the French government had flocked to France following the July Revolution came to France following failures of revolutionary or independence movements throughout Europe; in addition to an influx of idealistic revolutionaries and nationalist, France also became home to large numbers of immigrants who had removed from their countries of origin for economic or personal reasons. This influx of foreigners had become a significant burden for the newly established French government’s administrative capabilities; for example during March 1831 a depot established in Langres, France to accommodate these recent immigrants had been inundated to point of overstretch. Furthermore the French military operations in Algeria, which had commenced under the order of Charles X, had proven unpopular with portions of the French populace as the campaign despite its initial success had become bogged down in the occupation of that country. The formation of the Foreign Legion would help address a potential domestic threat of dissents fomenting political instability while allowing the French Government to pursue its colonial interests in Algeria.

Images http://3.bp.blogspot.com

As part of the Provisional Government’s policy of removing potential dissidents from France, upon enlistment recruits guaranteed anonymity as a condition of their service and information provided to the legion was accepted on face value. This was the beginning of the Legion’s tradition of enlisting recruits under a nom de guerre. While enlistment by French nationals in the legion was forbidden, many French criminals enlisted in the Legion during this time claiming that they were French-speaking Swiss or Waloons. Such enlistments were not within the proposed scope of the Foreign Legion, however the Provisional Government was not distressed by the voluntary removal of members of a troublesome social element a time when its control of the nation was less than concrete.


The officer corps was established with Napoleonic-era officers, foreign officers, and younger, more recently commissioned French officers. The Napoleonic-era officers came to be in the French Army after their reinstatement from the semi-retired status. In 1815 many of these officers, themselves veterans of the Grande Armée and other French armies during Napoleon I‘s reign, had been forced into semi-retirement on half-pay by the Bourbon Dynasty which had little faith in their continued loyalty. However during the interim many of these officers martial skills had deteriorated for lack use. Officers of foreign extract came from units such as theHohenlohe Regiment, a former military unit of similar nature to the Foreign Legion composed of foreigners. Many of the younger French officers in the Foreign Legion proved to be less than competent, since it was widely understood that the Foreign Legion was raised for service outside Metropolitan France, its potential postings were not viewed with much enthusiasm by many officers and it was very common to try to avoid a posting in the Legion. Additionally the prospect of leading an émigré unit into combat was not appealing to many capable officers. Thus the initial officer cadre of the French Foreign Legion was not of the high caliber exemplified by their current counterpart.

Images http://www.historikorders.com/Frenchforeignlegion


At its inception the Foreign Legion was organized into a single regiment consisting of seven battalions. Each battalion followed the form of a battalion of a regular French line infantry battalion; each battalion had eight companies of 112 men each. Each battalion was formed of men of specific nationalities or linguistic groups; the 1st Battalion was composed of veterans of the Swiss Guards and the Hohenlohe Regiment, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were composed of Swiss and German volunteers, the 5th Battalion was consisted of those of Spanish extract, the 6th Battalion consisted mostly of a mixture of Sardinians and Italians, the 6th Battalion was formed of Belgians and Dutch, and the 7th Battalion consisted of volunteers of Polish origin.

The formation of the Foreign Legion was fraught with difficulties from the outset.

Because Algeria was proving to be a very unpopular posting with regular regiments in the French Army, the Legion was welcomed.

Images http://nimg.sulekha.com/others/

First operations in Algeria

The Foreign Legion was first deployed to Algeria with the various battalions of the legion arriving in batches between 1831 and 1832. In late 1831, the first legionnaires, members of the 1st Battalion, landed in Algeria. This battalion set about building a barracks and other facilities for the regiment’s garrison in addition to draining a nearby marsh and constructing a road in the area.Upon arriving in Algeria most of the Legion was stationed around Algiers, however the 4th Battalion was dispatched west of Algiers to help secure Oran while the 6th Battalion was dispatched east to assist in the occupation of Bône. On April 1, 1832, the Legion’s new commander, Colonel Michel Combe, who was himself an ardent advocate of the role of light infantry in the French Army having previously established the Chausseurs à Pied. Colonel Combe arrived in Algeria carrying the Legion’s regimental colors which had been presented to the Legion by order of King Louis Philippe. Upon taking command, Colonel Combe did much to improve the regiment’s reputation among the higher echelons of command by increasingly volunteering his regiment for engineering duties at a time they were seen as largely unfit for combat duty owing to the chronic discipline and organization problems it suffered. This allowed Colonel Combe and, perhaps more importantly, his cadre of NCOs to bring the regiment into rank and file discipline while still being of use to the occupation effort.

Images http://www.cartoonstock.com/

The Legion first entered combat when elements of the 3rd Battalions entered combat at the Battle of Maison Carée approximately ten kilometers outside of Algiers, near the present day area of El Harach. The French army of occupation was attempting secure the small strip of coast under French control with the construction of a series of blockhouses and other fortifications along its perimeter. The 3rd Battalion was deployed in the forward-most areas of French control, subjecting it to the dangers of raids by Algerians nomads, in particular the El Ouiffa tribe which was operating out of that area. The El Ouiffa tribe was responsible for numerous killings and other acts of lawlessness in the area and their presence had begun to demoralize the 3rd Battalion. Low morale and the constant stress of operating exposed to local attack had led to the beginning of desertions from the 3rd Battalion. The of elements of the 1st and 3rd battalions involved in the action seized the buildings in the area occupied by the El Ouiffa tribe.

Images http://www.cartoonstock.com

In Bône, the 6th Battalion composed of Italians and Sardinians, performed admirably despite an outbreak of cholera throughout the battalion with all of companies still engaging in combat as part of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of Africa.

With the Spanish Civil War looming in 1834, Spain requested that the French government disband the 4th Battalion of the Legion which consisted primarily of Spaniards, so that they might return to their homeland in the service of the standing government. The 7th Battalion composed of Polish volunteers was thereafter re-designated as the 4th Battalion.

Images http://evilvince.com/wp-images/French_Foreign_Legion_Algeria_.jpg

The elements of the Legion stationed across Algeria had been redeployed to Palma in the Balearic Islands by the beginning of August 1835. On September 16, 1835, after assembling as a whole unit for the first time the Foreign Legion departed for Spain.

The French Foreign Legion in Spain

First Carlist War
Part of Carlist Wars
En Mendigorría.jpg
The Battle of Mendigorría.
Date 1833-1839
Location Spain
Result Liberal victory
Flag of New Spain.svgCarlists supporting
Infante Carlos of Spain
Flag Portugal (1707).svg Portuguese loyal toMiguel of Portugal
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svgLiberals (Isabelinos or Cristinos)supporting
Isabella II of Spain and her regent mother Maria Christina
United KingdomUnited Kingdom
Portugal Portuguese loyal to Maria II
Commanders and leaders
Tomás de Zumalacárregui
Ramón Cabrera
Rafael Maroto
Vicente González Moreno
Miguel Gómez Damas
Sebestian Gabriel de Borbón
Vicente Genaro de Quesada
José Ramón Rodil y Campillo
Francisco Espoz y Mina
Luis Fernández de Córdova
Baldomero Espartero
Isidro de Alaix Fábregas
Jerónimo Valdés
Marcelino de Oraá Lecumberri
Manuel O’Doyle
Casualties and losses
Carlists: 15,000-60,000 Spain: 15,000-65,000
France: 7,700
United Kingdom: 2,500
Portuguese: 50
In order to support Isabella‘s claim to the Spanish throne against her uncle, the French government decided to send the Legion to Spain and so, on June 28, 1835, the Legion was handed over to the Spanish government. This had the added benefit that in the event that France decided to remove itself from the conflict in Spain, the government would not have to deal with the issue of extricating Frenchmen from conflict. The Legion disembarked at the port of Tarragona in Catalonia on 17 August with around 4,100 men. The locals in Tarragona greeted the Legion, calling them Los Argelinos (the Algerians) due to their previous posting. Upon his arrivalColonel Bernelle was granted the rank Marshall of the Royal Armies of Her Majestsy Isabelle II.
File:Légion Étrangère 1852.png
The Foreign Legion’s commander immediately dissolved the national battalions to improve the esprit de corps. Later, he also created three squadrons of lancers and an artillery battery from the existing force to increase independence and flexibility. The Foreign Legion was dissolved on 8 December 1838, when it had dropped to only 500 men. The survivors returned to France, many reenlisting in the new Foreign Legion along with many of their former Carlist enemies.

First Carlist War spanish.apolyton.net

The family of Charles IV

The family of Carlos IV, painted by Francisco de Goya: Carlos Mar�a (first on the left) and Fernando VII (next to him) were his sons.

The Foreign Legion’s reorganization and arrival in Spain

One of Col. Bernelle’s first actions as commander of the Legion was to the reorganize the Foreign Legion, abolishing the previous system of battalions organized around the nationality of the enlisted men. The extant battalions of the Foreign Legion at the time were replaced with five newly consolidated battalions composed of members from every battalion throughout the legion regardless of nationality. Each of these five battalions would have two companies considered elite in comparison to regular line infantry companies; one of these companies was composed of grenadiers and the other was composed of voltigeurs.

The Voltigeurs were French military skirmish units created in 1804 by Emperor Napoleon I.

Voltigeurs (lit. Vaulters) hold their name from their originally conceived role of cavalry-transported skirmishers: the voltigeurs were intended to jump onto the croup of cavalry horses in order to advance more quickly on the battlefield. This proved unworkable and they were trained to be elite skirmishers while retaining their original name. They formed an integral part of la Grande Armée‘s basic building blocks, the Line and Light infantry battalions.

Line and Light Infantry Voltigeurs

In 1804, each French Line (Ligne) andLight (Légère) infantry battalion was ordered to create one company of ninety of the best shots who would serve as elite skirmishers.

This company would frequently be detached from the battalion to perform specialised light infantry tasks – operating in loose formation, forming the skirmish line and screening the battalion from the enemy. The voltigeurs were skilled at sharpshooting and received specific training in marksmanship, using cover and taking the initiative.

Although the original concept of skirmishers using cavalry to transport them during battle quickly proved unworkable in any large scale, voltigeurs did on occasion ride with French dragoons to battle, as recalled by a British officer on the harrowing retreat of John Moore‘s army prior to the Battle of Corunna.

“The French had much the advantage of us in these petty warfares, for I have frequently seen their light troops mounted behind their dragoons, so that when they came to a favourable place to make an attack, these fellows dismounted quite fresh, and our light troops who had been always marching, had to oppose them; still we managed to beat them off.

With the reorganization of 1807 the voltigeur company was enlarged to 120 men. When the battalion was formed up in line formation, the voltigeurs took their place on the left of the line, the second most prestigious position. The top position, the right, was occupied by the battalion’s grenadier company.


The uniform was made of a blue coat with yellow collar and cuffs piped red, red and green epaulettes with a yellow crescent, and yellow bugle horns on the turnbacks. From 1804, they wore shakos, but some had bicorne hats with green pompoms and a yellow brush. By 1807, all Voltigeurs had a shako which could be plain black, and have a yellow top or bottom band, or have yellow chevrons, green cords, and an all-green plume or a green plume with a yellow tip. Line voltigeurs had white trousers and lapels, while light voltigeurs had blue trousers and lapels.

After the huge losses incurred during the 1812 Russian Campaign the quality of the French voltigeurs declined as the new units lacked the experience and training to set them apart from their ‘non elite’ compatriots in the regular light infantry chasseurcompanies. The hastily reformed regiments of 1813, numbering up to 19, were not up to the same standard as the elite units of the Voltigeurs before the Russian campaign. Despite this, the Voltigeurs of the Guard performed admirably in the 1813-14 campaigns.

Surprisingly the newly heterogeneous nature of the origins of soldiers within the battalions fostered a competitive environment among the ranks with soldiers striving to outdo soldiers of origins alien to their own. Col. Bernelle upon the Legion’s arrival in Spain issued an order instituting corporal punishment; Bernelle reasoned that though the practice of caning was forbidden in the French Army, it was permissible in the Spanish Army of which he was now a part. By September 1836, Bernelle ordered the Legion to move out from their port of arrival to Catalonia, where in the mountainous terrain of that region he was forced to disperse his troops in company-sized detachments throughout the region so that they could effectively engage Carlist forces utilizing guerrilla tactics. By January 1836 the Legion was ordered to redeploy to Vittoria where it would find itself under the command of General Espartito.

Col. Bernelle, doubtful of the competence of the Spanish military and their willingness to support the Legion composed of foreigners when their own country was in such disarray, decided to raise additional battalions to supplement his existing forces. This distrust on Bernelle’s part was due in part to his previous experiences in the Peninsular War, along with his assessment of the Spanish government’s attitude towards the newly arrived Foreign Legion. Throughout his command Colonel Bernelle raised three squadrons of lancers, a mobile artillery battery, an engineering company, and a medical company to increase the Legion’s autonomy and allowing greater flexibility in their operations.

Despite these successes the Legion was chronically undersupplied, a problem which was compounded by the fact that since having arrived in Spain the delivery of the Legion’s payroll had become sporadic. This precipitated a decline in the morale of the legion over 1836 which would eventually result in desertions from the Legion. Col. Bernelle incensed at the lack of support for his men, from either Spain or France, was dismissed after drawing the ire of French ministers. Colonel Bernelle, relieved of command, was replaced by Col. Jean-Louis Lebeau by Minister Maison. Col. Lebeau, though a competent officer and veteran of Waterloo, proved not to be up to the task of commanding the Legion. By the time assumed command of the Legion, its state had degraded beyond his abilities to reverse. Colonel Lebeau was replaced in turn by Col. Joseph Conrad in November 1836. Conrad had previously served in the Legion as a Lieutenant-colonel; he resigned in February 1836, following a dispute between himself and Colonel Bernelle over the influence of Bernelle’s wife in military affairs which had become an issue of contention among the Legion’s officer cadre during Bernelle’s tenure. Though Conrad was a competent officer, well liked by his subordinates, he had inherited command of a Legion that was a shadow of its former self. By January 1837, the Legion had been reduced to two battalions and an understrength squadron of cavalry.

Final year in Spain

Active military operations resumed by March when the Legion had moved into Aragon. On May 24 the Foreign Legion in engaged in the Battle of Huesca when around 5 pm, the Carlist forces which a Spanish Army, to which the Legion was attached, had been shadowing decided to make camp for the night in the hills before the town of Huesca. The Legion’s attack caught the Carlists unprepared and was initially successful with Legion pushing the Carlist forces almost back to the very gates of Huesca. However the attack was not supported by its accompanying forces under General Iribarren and the Carlist forces had very strong defensive position. The Legion soon came under the defensive fire of the Carlists who had taken up positions behind walls on either flank of the Legion. Despite General Iribarren ordering a battalion to come to the Legion’s support, Colonel Conrad determined that the attack had little chance of success of an ordered a retreat. During the retreat the Legion was able to take with them about one third of their wounded. However the Battle of Huesca proved to have had a substantial toll on the Legion’s strength: 350 legionaries and 28 officers died in the battle. The timing of the Battle of Huesca proved unfortunate as shortly thereafter the enlistments of approximately 1,000 men ran out and they departed marching towards, Pampomla. This departure of so many men combined with the casualties from Huesca led to the reduction of the Legion’s strength to that of a single battalion  On June 2, 1837, the Legion again engaged in combat at the Battle of Barbastro. The Legion was positioned on the right flank of the Spanish army’s line of battle and in a coincidence, the Legion fought a force of foreign volunteers and mercenaries in Carlist employ. The Spanish forces to the Legion’s left broke rank and retreated under the Carlist onslaught, leaving the Legion encircled as it fought on. Colonel Conrad, attempting to rally his men to attack, proceeded out in front of his skirmish line inciting his men to march forward, however he was struck and killed by a bullet, becoming the first commander of the Foreign Legion to die in battle.Without a leader and demoralized, the Legion withdrew from the field.

Following the death of Colonel Conrad, command of the Foreign Legion was assumed by Lieutenant-colonel Andrè Camille Ferray.

The Legion finally returned to France in January 1839 with only 63 officers and 159 enlisted men remaining of the original 4,000 men who were deployed to Spain.

Second Deployment to Algeria

In 1836 the French government decided that instead of deploying the reinforcements which had been raised for Foreign Legion in Spain, this had become a politically volatile issue, the intended reinforcements would instead be formed into a second Foreign Legion and deployed to Algeria. By December 15, 1836, the first elements of the Foreign Legions had reached Algeria led by Major Bedeau. This initial force was a battalion numbering around 1,600 men.

In 1839, a great many of the Carlist forces defeated made way to France seeking refuge from the retribution of the Spanish government for their participation in the insurrection.The French government turned to a familiar method of unburdening itself of these unwanted refugees and offered them enlistments in the Foreign Legion. On October 1, 1839, the 4th Battalion of the Foreign Legion was officially established at its depot at Paufrom many of these refugees. By March 1840, three of the 4th Battalion’s companies arrived in Algiers with another five companies being organized in Algeria. On August 5, 1840, a 5th Battalion of the Foreign Legion was formed at Perpignan. By December 30, 1840, there were five battalions in Algeria, leading the French government to split the Legion’s forces into two separate regiments with the 1st Regiment of the Foreign Legion stationed in Algiers and the 2nd Regiment of the Foreign Legion stationed in Constantine. The two regiments of the Legion operated largely independent of one another. When General Bugeaud assumed command of the Army of Africa and shifted the emphasis of operations in the theater to fast, mobile columns used to pursue the native insurgents through the Algerian countryside, the Foreign Legion responded positively to this new strategy and its overall quality began to improve. This improvement in quality was in part an effect of these mobile columns allowing the various battalions and companies of the Foreign Legion to be united under a single command as opposed to being dispersed throughout a multitude of defensive blockhouses and garrisons. This emphasis on mobility also required the Legion’s officers to cover the same distances as their men, in effect causing them to lead by example, which served to raise the enlisted ranks’ opinions of these officers. On March 15, 1844, the duc d’Aumale led a charge of men from the best companies of the 2nd Regiment at the village ofM’chouneche in the Aures Mountains. The duc d’Aumale was sufficiently impressed by the performance of the Legionaries under his command that he requested that King Louis Philippe grant the regiment its own standard.

The Revolutions of 1848 had little impact on the most of the Legion, however the 2nd Regiment lost 618 men of Italian origin following a request of the Piedmontese ambassador to release nationals of his nation during the political turmoil.

Crimean War

Crimean War
Detail of Franz Roubaud‘s panoramic painting The Siege of Sevastopol (1904).
Date October 1853 – February 1856
Location Crimean PeninsulaCaucasusBalkans,Black SeaBaltic SeaWhite SeaFar East
Result Allied victory, Treaty of Paris
 French Empire
 Ottoman Empire
 British Empire
 Kingdom of Sardinia
 Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Napoléon III
Flag of France.svg Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud
Flag of France.svg François Certain Canrobert
Flag of France.svg Aimable Pélissier
Flag of France.svg François Achille Bazaine
Flag of France.svg Patrice de Mac-Mahon
Ottoman Empire Abdülmecid I
Ottoman Empire Omar Pasha
Ottoman Empire Antoni Aleksander Iliński
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Earl of Aberdeen
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Sir James Graham, 2nd Baronet
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Lord Raglan
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Sir James Simpson
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Sir William Codrington
Kingdom of Sardinia Conte di Cavour
Kingdom of Sardinia Alfonso La Marmora
Russian EmpireNicholas I
Russian EmpireAleksandr II
Russian Empire Prince Menshikov
Russian Empire Pavel Nakhimov 
Russian Empire Vasily Zavoyko
Russian Empire Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky
Russian Empire Yevfimy Putyatin
Russian Empire Vladimir Istomin 
Russian Empire Count Tolstoy
total: 1,000,000
400,000 French
300,000 Ottoman
250,000 British
15,000 Sardinians
4,250 German legion
2,200 Swiss legion
2,000 Italian legion
1,500 Polish legion
total: 720,000
7,000 Bulgarian legion
6,000 Montenegrin legion
6,000 Serbian legion
2,000 Greek legion
Casualties and losses
total: from 300,000 to 375,000 dead
Ottoman: total dead est. 175,300
French: 100,000 of which 10,240 killed in action; 20,000 died of wounds; ca 70,000 died of disease
British: 2,755 killed in action; 2,019 died of wounds; 16,323 died of disease
Sardinians: 2,050 died from all causes
total dead est. 50,000
total: 143,000 dead:
25,000 killed in action
16,000 died of wounds
89,000 died of disease

File:Fall of Sevastopol.jpg

French zouaves and Russian soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat atMalakhov Kurgan

The Foreign Legion received orders to prepare five battalions —three from the 1st Regiment and two from the 2nd Regiment — for service in the Crimean campaign. Two battalions would be drawn from each regiment to form an infantry brigade, while the third remaining battalion would be used as to establish and garrison depot for receiving supplies and reinforcements. The depot was established on the Gallipoli peninsula. Shortly after arriving at Gallipoli, a cholera epidemic broke out and killed over 200 legionnaires. For a while the Legion’s brigade was held on station at the Gallipoli depot until eight companies were organized into a battalion de marche and assigned to General François Certain Canrobert‘s division which had also been afflicted by cholera.

Cornet Henry Wilkin, 11th Hussars, British Army. Photo by Roger Fenton

On September 14, 1854, the battalion de marche arrived at Calamita Bay. On September 20, the Legion’s battalion de marcheparticipated in the Battle of Alma. The battalion de marche acting as skirmishers engaged Russian forces for three hours before the Russians retired from the field. The battalion de marche was later disbanded and the reincorporated into their respective parent units in October as the rest of the Legion’s forces arrived from Gallipoli. The reunited brigade was under the command ofBrigadier Achille Bazaine. The brigade encamped in the heights near Strelitska Bay, which the French forces were using to land provision for the French forces in the region. The Legionnaires there used to expand the allied entrenchments towards the Russian defensive lines. The Legion spent much of the ensuing months repelling harassing Russian raids against their positions. On May 1, 1855, Legion forces conducted a daring nighttime assault on a crucial heavy mortar battery in Russian lines.


Map of Crimean War

Following this and a few subsequent actions, the Foreign Legion largely spent its time engaged in engineering duties such as the construction of entrenchments and other defensive works. Once the Russians evacuated their forces from Sevastopol, the Legion was given the task of occupying the city’s port.

Russo-French skirmish during Crimean War

On March 3, 1856, a the sound of a single cannon’s solitary fire signaled an end to the war. By July the elements of the Legion which had deployed to the conflict in Crimea had returned to the headquarters of the Foreign Legion in Sidi-bel-Abbés.

File:Russo-British skirmish during Crimean War.png

Russo-British skirmish during Crimean War

File:Vernet - Taking of the Malakoff.jpg

The final assault of the French brought about the capture of Sevastopol after one of the most memorable sieges of the 19th century

Reorganization and return to Algeria

The Second Foreign Legion

In January 1855, Napoleon III decided to reorganize the structure of the foreign regiments in the service of France by raising an additional foreign legion (2me Legion etrangére) of the foreign emigres. This second Foreign Legion was to consist entirely of volunteers of Swiss origin. The regiment was consist of a total of five battalions with two regiments of infantry, each consisting of two battalions, and a battalion of riflemen (tirailleurs). However enthusiasm for enlistment was not as high as Napoleon III had hoped and it soon became clear that there would not be enough volunteers to fill the ranks of this Swiss legion as Napoleon had envisaged. This lack of recruits stemmed from the fact that both France and Britain, in need of recruits, were competing for the Swiss volunteers. However French enlistment bonus offered to Swiss volunteers was twenty francs which paled in comparison to the British government’s 150 franc bonus. Ultimately France was able to recruit 1,600 men for the 2nd Foreign Legion, about of a fifth of the number of men that would have been needed for Napoleon III’s plan. This led the French government to decide to disband the 1st Regiment of the Foreign Legion after the conclusion of the Crimean War, folding its battalions into the 2nd Foreign Regiment(2eme Régiment etrangère); the Swiss volunteers were then organized into a new 1st Foreign Regiment. As originally organized the 1st Foreign Regiment consisted of two infantry battalions and two companies of tirailleurs.

File:Napoleon Guard Tirailleur and Voltigeur by Bellange.jpg

Tirailleur and Voltigeur from the Imperial Guard of the Grande Armée. From book of P.-M. Laurent de L`Ardeche «Histoire de Napoleon», 1843

Tirailleur literally means a shooting skirmisher in French from tir—shot. The term dates back to the Napoleonic period where it was used to designate light infantry trained to skirmish ahead of the main columns. Subsequently “tirailleurs” was used by the French Army as a designation for infantry recruited in the various French colonial territories during the 19th and 20th centuries; or for metropolitan units serving in a light infantry role.

File:Vietnamese Tirrailleurs of Nguyen.jpg

Vietnamese “Tirailleur” soldiers ofNguyễn Phúc Ánh, circa 1800.

File:Tirailleurs Sénégalais 1905 Congo.jpg

French Congo. A Senegalese tirailleur of the French colonial army. c. 1905. The uniform is the hot-weather light khaki with yellow braiding.

File:Tonkin Turcos.jpg

Photograph of Algerian riflemen (tirailleurs algériens) at the French post of Phu Doan, Tonkin, 1884

File:Linh Tap.jpg

Photograph of Tonkinese riflemen (tirailleurs tonkinois, linh tap) in Tonkin, 1884

Return to Algeria

Following the Crimean War, the Foreign Legion returned to Algeria.

Second Italian War of Independence

Second Italian War of Independence
Part of the wars of Italian Unification
Napoléon III à la bataille de Solférino..jpg
Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Oil on canvas, 1863.
Date April 29, 1859 – July 11, 1859
Location Lombardy and Venetia
Result Franco-Sardinian victory
Armistice of Villafranca (July 12, 1859)
Lombardy was transferred to Sardinia.
Sardinia subsequently annexed the central Italian states.
France gains Savoy and Nice
France Second French Empire
 Kingdom of Sardinia
 Austrian Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Emperor Napoleon III
Kingdom of Sardinia King Victor Emmanuel II
Austrian Empire Count Ferencz Gyulai
Austrian Empire Emperor Franz Josef I
130,000 men
2,000 cavalry
312 Guns
70,000 men
4,000 cavalry
90 Guns
220,000 men
22,000 cavalry
824 Guns

The two Foreign Legion regiments took part in the war in Italy against the Austrians as a part of MacMahon‘s II Corps. They took part in the Battle of Magenta

Battle of Magenta
Part of the Second Italian War of Independence
Bataille de Magenta.jpg
The Battle of Magenta by Adolphe Yvon
Date 4 June 1859 [1]
Location Magenta, present-day Italy
Result Franco-Sardinian victory
France Second French Empire
 Austrian Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Emperor Napoleon III
Victor Emmanuel II
France Marechal Mac-Mahon
Austrian Empire Feldmarschall Ferencz Gyulaj
59,100 infantry
91 guns
125,000 infantry[2]
Casualties and losses
657 dead
3,858 wounded
1,368 dead
4,538 wounded
4,500 captured

where the II Corps played an important part in the French victory and the Foreign Legion performed well.

File:Medaille Italie 2ieme type.jpg

French Médaille commémorative de la campagne d’Italie 1859.

After the battle the under-strength 1st Foreign Regiment remained in Milan to recruit. Meanwhile the 2nd Foreign Regiment took part in the French Army’s two week pursuit of the Austrians which culminated in a bloody French victory at Solferino.

Battle of Solferino
Part of the Second Italian War of Independence
Napoléon III à la bataille de Solférino..jpg
Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Oil on canvas, 1863.
Date 24 June 1859
Location Solferino, present-day Italy
Result Franco-Sardinian victory
Armistice of Villafranca (July 12, 1859)
France French Empire
Kingdom of Sardinia Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia
 Austrian Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Emperor Napoleon III
Kingdom of Sardinia King Victor Emmanuel II
Austrian Empire Emperor Franz Joseph
160,000 about 160,000
Casualties and losses
17,000 killed, wounded and missing 20,000 killed, wounded and missing


Main article: Battle of Camarón

Battle of Camarón

Battle of Camarón
Part of the French intervention in Mexico
Battle of Camarón
Date 30 April 1863
Location Hacienda Camarón, near Palo Verde,Mexico
Result Mexican republican victory, successful French delaying action
Mexico Mexicanrepublicans France France
Commanders and leaders
Francisco de Paula Milan Jean Danjou  
800 cavalry
1200 infantry
3 officers
62 soldiers
Casualties and losses
90 killed, 300+ casualties (wounded) 43 killed, 19 captured of whom 17 wounded. Some died of wounds

It was in Mexico on 30 April 1863 that the Legion earned its legendary status. A small infantry patrol led by Capitaine Danjou, numbering 62 soldiers and 3 officers, was attacked and besieged by over a thousand Mexicans , organized in three battalionsof infantry and cavalry, and was forced to make a defense in Hacienda Camarón. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, they fought nearly to the last man, with just three survivors and no ammunition and only the option to surrender, they fixed bayonetts and attacked. The Mexican General was so impressed he assigned an honorguard to escort the body of Capitaine Danjou back to his battalion.

File:Camerone 2006.jpg

Each year, the French Foreign Legioncommemorates the battle of Camarón in its headquarters in Aubagne.

Franco-Prussian War

Main article: Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
Part of the wars of German unification
Pierre-Georges Jeanniot‘s La ligne de feu (1886), depicting theBattle of Mars-La-Tour
Date 19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871
Location France and Prussia
Result Decisive German victory
Treaty of Frankfurt

France Second French Empire (until September 4, 1870) German Empire North German Confederation:

  •  Prussia (leading member of the North German Confederation)

Flagge Großherzogtum Baden (1871-1891).svg Baden
Flagge Königreich Württemberg.svg Württemberg

France French Third Republic (starting on September 4, 1870)  German Empire(starting on January 18, 1871)
Commanders and leaders
France Napoleon III (POW)
France François Achille Bazaine  (POW)
France Louis Jules Trochu
France Patrice de Mac-Mahon, duc de Magenta
France Léon Gambetta
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Giuseppe Garibaldi
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Wilhelm I
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Otto von Bismarck
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Helmuth von Moltke
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Karl Friedrich von Steinmetz
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Prince Friedrich Karl
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Crown Prince Friedrich
War Ensign of Prussia (1816).svg Albrecht von Roon
492,585 active
417,366 Garde Mobile
300,000 regular
900,000 reserves andLandwehr
Casualties and losses
138,871 dead
143,000 wounded
474,414 captured
756,285 total casualties
44,781 dead
89,732 wounded
134,000 total casualties

According to French law the Legion was not to be used within Metropolitan France, and thus, it was not a part of Napoleon III’s Imperial Army that capitulated at Sedan. With the defeat of the Imperial Army, the Second French Empire fell and the Third Republic was created.

The problem was that the new Third Republic was desperately short of trained soldiers, so the Legion was ordered to provide a contingent. On October 11, two provisional battalions disembarked at Toulon, the first time the Legion had been deployed in France itself. They attempted to lift the Siege of Paris by breaking through the German lines. They succeeded in re-taking Orléans, but failed to break the siege.

File:Detaille - A French Cavalry Officer Guarding Captured Bavarian Soldiers.jpg

French Lancers and Cuirassiers guarding captured Bavarian soldiers

File:French soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71.jpg

French Soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71


Aimé Morot‘s La bataille de Reichshoffen, 1887

Colonial Warfare

During the Third Republic, the Legion played a major role in French colonial expansion. They fought in North Africa (where they established their headquarters at Sidi-Bel-Abbès in Algeria), Madagascar, and Indochina, where they participated in the celebratedSiege of Tuyen Quang in 1885.

Franco-Chinese War

Indochinese Union
Union Indochinoise
Colonial protectorate federation

Green: French Indochina
Dark gray: Other French possessions
Darkest grayFrench Republic
Note: Thin white lines designate the subdivisions of French Indochina that now constitute modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia

Capital Saigon (1887–1901)
Hanoi (1902–1954)
Language(s) French, Vietnamese,KhmerLao
Religion BuddhismTaoism,Confuscianism,Catholicism
Political structure Colonial protectorate federation
Governor-General List of Governors-General
Historical era New Imperialism
 – Established October 17, 1887
 – Addition of Laos October 3, 1893
 – Independence of (North) Vietnam (proclaimed) September 2, 1945
 – Independence of (South) Vietnam June 14, 1949
 – Independence of Laos July 19, 1949
 – Independence of Cambodia November 9, 1954
 – 1935 750,000 km2(289,577 sq mi)
 – 1935 est. 21,599,582
     Density 28.8 /km2  (74.6 /sq mi)
Currency French Indochinese piastre

French Indochina (FrenchIndochine françaiseVietnameseĐông Dương thuộc Pháppronounced [ɗoŋm zɰəŋ tʰuə̀k fǎp], frequently abbreviated to Đông Pháp) was part of the French colonial empire in southeast Asia. A federation of the three Vietnamese regions, Tonkin (North), Annam (Central), andCochinchina (South), as well as Cambodia, was formed in 1887.

Laos was added in 1893 and Kouang-Tchéou-Wan in 1900. The capital was moved from Saigon (in Cochinchina) to Hanoi (Tonkin) in 1902. During World War II, the colony was administered by Vichy France and was under Japanese occupation. Beginning in May 1941, the Viet Minh, a communist army led by Ho Chi Minh, began a revolt against French rule known as the First Indochina War.

In Saigon, the anti-Communist State of Vietnam, led by former Emperor Bảo Đại, was granted independence in 1949. Following the Geneva Accord of 1954, the Viet Minh became the government of North Vietnam, although the Bảo Đại government continued to rule in South Vietnam.

File:Prince Canh MEP.jpg

Portrait of crown prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh in France, 1787.

Indochina in 1891 (from Le Monde Illustré).
1. Panorama of Lac-Kaï, French outpost in China.
2. Yun-nan, in the quay of Hanoi.
3. Flooded street of Hanoi.
4. Landing stage of Hanoi


French marine infantrymen in Tonkin, 1884

File:French Indochina expansion.jpg

Expansion of French Indochina (in blue).

File:Siamese Army in Laos 1893.jpg



Occupation of Trat by French troops in 1904.

File:Indochine française (1913).jpg

French Indochina in 1913.

Units of the Legion were deployed in French Indochina and fought in the Franco-Chinese War, and one battalion was the key component in the celebrated defense of the fortress of Tuyen Quang when it was assaulted by Chinese troops many times its number.

Sino-French War
Guerre franco-chinoise
Chiến tranh Pháp-Thanh
Part of the Tonkin campaign
Operations of the Sino-French war (1884–1885)
Date August 1884–April 1885
Location Southeast Mainland China, Taiwan, Northern Vietnam
Result Controversial[1];[2];;[3];;[4]Treaty of Tientsin
French protectorate over Tonkin andAnnam.
France France Qing Dynasty Qing Dynasty China
Black Flag Army Flag.jpg Black Flag Army
Early Nguyen Dynasty Flag.svg Vietnam
Commanders and leaders
FranceAmédée Courbet
FranceSébastien Lespès
France Louis Brière de l’Isle
FranceFrançois de Négrier
France Laurent Giovanninelli
FranceJacques Duchesne
Qing Dynasty Zhang Peilun
Qing Dynasty Pan Dingxin
Qing Dynasty Wang Debang
Qing Dynasty Feng Zicai
Qing Dynasty Tang Ching-sung
Qing Dynasty Liu Mingchuan
Qing Dynasty Sun Kaihua
Black Flag Army Flag.jpg Liu Yongfu
Early Nguyen Dynasty Flag.svg Hoang Ke Viem
15,000 to 20,000 soldiers 25,000 to 35,000 soldiers (from the provinces of GuangdongGuangxi,FujianZhejiang and Yunnan)
Casualties and losses
2,100 killed or wounded 10,000 killed or wounded


French writer and naval officer Henri Rivière (1827-1881)

File:Riviere pushing the cannon forward at Sontay.jpg

Rivière attempts to rescue a bogged French cannon during the Battle of Paper Bridge. (19 May 1883)

File:Admiral Courbet drawing.jpg

Admiral Anatole-Amédée-Prosper Courbet. (1827–85)

The capture of Son Tay, 16 December 1883.

File:Qing army Sino-French war.jpg

Chinese regular soldiers photographed during the Sino-French war.

File:Bac Le Ambush.jpeg

The Bac Le Ambush: French marine infantry deploy beneath the Nui Dong Nai cliffs, late afternoon, 23 June 1884

General Louis Brière de l’Isle. (1827–96)

File:Chinese Prisoners.jpg

Photograph of Chinese prisoners captured by the French during the siege of Tuyen Quang (November 1884-March 1885)

File:Zhen Nan Guan-Qing-deployment.jpg

Chinese fortifications at Bang Bo.


Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Gustave Herbinger. (1839–86)

Chinese report on the Sino-French War, printed in Shanghai1883-1885.

File:French Soldiers in Pescadores.jpg

French soldiers and local townsfolk pose for the camera in front of a temple in Makung in the Pescadores Islands.

File:SinoFrench war Japanese depiction.jpg

A spirited depiction of the French at theBattle of Fuzhou, by the Japanese printmaker Utagawa Kunisada III.

File:IJN Amagi.jpg

The Japanese captain Tōgō Heihachirō, the future commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, visited the French troops in the Keelung Campaign aboard the Japanese corvette Amagi.

File:Tonkin Medal.jpg

The French Tonkin commemorative medalcommemorates several battles of the Sino-French War.

File:French soldiers in the Tonkin circa 1890.jpg

French soldiers in Tonkin, c.1890

First World War

In World War I the Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles of the war, including the Battle of Verdun. The Foreign Legion was highly decorated for its efforts in the war. Many young Americans like Fred Zinn volunteered for the Legion when the war broke out in 1914.

The Battle of Verdun (FrenchBataille de VerdunIPA: [bataj də vɛʁdœ̃],GermanSchlacht um VerdunIPA: [ʃlaxt ˀʊm vɛɐdœŋ]) was one of the majorbattles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February-18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-easternFrance. As again pointed out by French Verdun scholar and historian Alain Denizot in “Verdun, 1914-1918″ (1996) the Battle of Verdun ended as a French tactical victory. However, it can also be considered a costly strategic stalemate. The German High Command had failed to achieve its two objectives: 1) to capture the city of Verdun and 2) to inflict a much higher casualty count on its French adversary. By the end of the battle (December 1916) the French Second Army had rolled back the German forces around Verdun, but not quite to their initial positions of February 1916.

Verdun resulted in 306,000 battlefield deaths (163,000 French and 143,000 German combatants) plus at least half a million wounded, an average of 30,000 deaths for each of the ten months of the battle. It was the longest and one of the most devastating battles in the First World War and the history of warfare. Verdun was primarily an artillery battle: a total of about40 million artillery shells were exchanged, leaving behind millions of overlapping shell craters that are still partly visible. In both France and Germany, Verdun has come to represent the horrors of war, like the Battle of the Somme in the British consciousness. The renowned British military historian Major General Julian Thompson has referred to Verdun as “France’s Stalingrad“.

File:French 87th Regiment Cote 34 Verdun 1916.jpg

French 87th regiment in trench at Hill 34 outside Verdun

The Battle of Verdun popularized General Robert Nivelle‘s: “They shall not pass, a simplification of the actual French text: “Vous ne les laisserez pas passer, mes camarades” (“you shall not let them pass, my comrades”), on record in Nivelle’s Order of the day of 23 June 1916. About two months earlier, in April 1916, General Philippe Pétain had also issued a stirring Order of the day, but it was optimistic: “Courage! On les aura” (“Courage! We shall get them”). Conversely, Nivelle’s admonition betrayed his concern for the mounting morale problems on the Verdun battlefield. The French military archives document that Nivelle’s promotion to lead the Second Army at Verdun, in June 1916, had been followed by manifestations of indiscipline in five of his front line regiments.This unprecedented disquiet would eventually reappear, but in greatly amplified and widespread form, with the French army mutiniesthat followed the unsuccessful Nivelle offensive of April 1917.

Battle of Verdun
Part of the Western Front of the First World War
French trench battle.jpg
A French trench in northeastern France
Date 21 February–18 December 1916
Location Verdun-sur-Meuse, France
Result French victory
France France  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
France Philippe Pétain
France Robert Nivelle
German Empire Erich von Falkenhayn
German Empire Crown Prince Wilhelm
75 divisions total 50 divisions total
Casualties and losses
542,000-400,000; of whom 163,000 died 434,000-355,000; of whom 143,000 died

File:Verdun and Vincinity - Map.jpg

Map of the battle

File:Vivat-bander - 1914-09-10 - Verdun by Hirzel.jpg

Vivat ribboncommemorating role of German Crown Prince William in the early stages of the Battle of Verdun (10 September 1914).

File:Fort Douaumont Anfang 1916.jpg

Douaumont fortress before the battle (German aerial photograph)

File:Fort Douaumont Ende 1916.jpg

Douaumont fortress after the battle
File:Verdun 15 03 1914 Toter Mann 296.jpg

German infantry attacking. 15th March 1916. Note the use of handgrenades and flamethrower

File:Médaille de Verdun du colonel Brébant (recto).jpg

On Ne Passe Pas! on a French medal commemorating the battle of Verdun

File:Tranchee des baionnettes01.jpg

Memorial at the Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baïonnettes), where according to legend, a unit of French troops was buried alive by shell bursts, leaving only their rifles protruding above the ground, with bayonets fixed.

File:Memorial de Verdun.jpg

Verdun Memorial

File:Battelfield Verdun.JPG

The battlefield today

Outbreak of the War

At the outbreak of World War I, the French Foreign Legion consisted of the 1st Foreign Regiment and the 2nd Foreign Regimentwhich were headquartered in Algeria at Sidi-bel-Abbès and Saida respectively. Each regiment consisted of six battalions of a 1000 men each; each regiment also had one or two Mounted Companies which, though attached to a regiment, effectively operated independently. Two companies from these regiments were garrisoned in French Indochina at the time. Also at the beginning of the war much of the Foreign Legion’s strength was in Morocco as part of the French military activities there.
The French military establishment did not predict the great numbers of volunteers for French military service which began arriving at French ports following the commencement of hostilities; this presented problem for the French army on both a legal and military level. At the time French law proscribed the enlistment of aliens in any part of the French armed forces other than as a standard five year enlistment in the Foreign Legion, however that restriction was lifted on August 3, 1914, the Ministry of War issued a decree allowing foreign volunteers to enlist in the French Army for the duration of the war. Despite the French government’s swift action to accommodate the influx of expatriate volunteers from a legal viewpoint, there still remained the matter of furnishing military training to the new recruits and organizing ; Minister of War Adolphe Messimy determined that these men would be formed into provisional units dubbed marching regiments (régiments de march) to trained and led with a seasoned officer and NCO cadre drawn from the regiments in North Africa. It was decreed that the induction of foreign volunteers was to be delayed until twenty days after France had begun to mobilize its forces to avoid impeding the deployment of combat-ready units. Following the outbreak of the war, the French Foreign Legion found itself in a difficult predicament as approximately two-thirds of the Foreign Legion’s strength consisted of German and Austrian volunteers. The French high command, being uncertain of these Legionnaire’s loyalty, ordered them to remain garrisoned in Algeria and Morocco.

Gallipoli Campaign

In February 1915, a battalion of 600 Legionnaires designated, consisting mostly of veterans of North Africa, was organized to participate in the Gallipoli campaign as part of the 1st Marching Regiment of Africa (1st Régiment de march d’Afrique or 1st RMA) which was in turn assigned to the 1st Infantry Division of the Eastern Expeditionary Corps. The newly organized battalion of Legionnaires was designated as the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marching Regiment of Africa and consisted of four companies drawn from the 1st Foreign Regiment and the 2nd Foreign Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. Nigier. On April 25, 1915 this battalion participated in the French landings at Kum Kale on the Asiatic shore of the Dardanelles as a diversionary attack to support the Allied Landing at Cape Helles. Shortly after fighting to establish the French beachhead for the diversionary force, the 3rd Battalion was cut off in a valley facing the sea from the rest of the French forces until the Legionnaires could be relieved. The French forces at Kum Kale shortly thereafter withdrew from the Asiatic Shore and were redeployed in support of the British forces at Cape Helles.
The French Forces were redeployed to the right flank of the Allied lines on the Gallipoli peninsula on April 27, 1915.

The Gallipoli Campaign, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Gallipoli, took place at the peninsula of Gallipoliin the Ottoman Empire (in modern day Turkey) between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, during the First World War. A joint British and Frenchoperation was mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinopleand secure a sea route to Russia. The attempt failed, with heavy casualties on both sides.

Gallipoli Campaign
Part of the Middle Eastern Theatre (First World War)
The Battle of Gallipoli, February–April 1915
Gallipoli Campaign, April 1915.
Date 25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916
Location Gallipoli peninsula, Ottoman Empire
Result Decisive Ottoman victory
 British Empire

France France

 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Sir Ian Hamilton
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Lord Kitchener
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland John de Robeck
Ottoman Empire Esat Pasha
German Empire Otto Liman von Sanders
Ottoman Empire Vehip Pasha
Ottoman Empire Cevat Pasha
Ottoman Empire Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal
divisions (initial)
16 divisions (final)
6 divisions (initial)
15 divisions (final)
Casualties and losses
220,000, 59% casualty rate 253,000 60% Casualty rate

The Gallipoli campaign resonated profoundly among all nations involved. In Turkey, the battle is perceived as a defining moment in the history of the Turkish people—a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the aging Ottoman Empire was crumbling. The struggle laid the grounds for theTurkish War of Independence and the foundation of the Republic of Turkeyeight years later under Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), himself a commander at Gallipoli.

Panoramic view of the Dardanelles fleet

The campaign was the first major battle undertaken by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both of these countries. Anzac Day, 25 April, remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing Armistice Day/Remembrance Day.

File:Map of Turkish forces at Gallipoli April 1915.png

Disposition of the Ottoman Fifth Army

This area had been designated as S Beach and since the initial landing combat in the vicinity had been extremely light. On April 28, the French forces participated in the First Battle of Krithia, acting as the Allied anchor on their right flank. In the Second Battle of Krithia the French advanced on the Turkish positions reaching their lines at Kereves Dere.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R36225, Türkei, Dardanellen, Schweres Geschütz.jpg

Heavy artillery from the German armoured cruiser Roon, 1915

By the end of June, the 3rd Battalion had been reduced to approximately 100 men under the command of the Adjutant-Chef Léon, a non-commissioned officer. By August 1915 a detachment of reinforcements from French Indochina arrived on the peninsula, numbering around 700 strong. At the beginning of October the 1st Marching Regiment of Africa was reassigned to the 2nd Infantry Division of the Eastern Expeditionary Corps, which would shortly thereafter be renamed as the 156th Infantry Division.


Mehmed Esad Pasha (Bülkat) and Ottoman battery at Gallipoli

Landing of French troops on Lemnos island, 1915.

File:French 75 gun at Cape Helles 1915.jpg

French Colonial 75 mm artillery gun in action near Sedd el Bahr at Cape Helles, Gallipoli during the Third Battle of Krithia, 4 June 1915.

File:Lone Pine (AWM A02025).jpg

A trench at Lone Pine after the battle, showing Australian and Ottoman dead on the parapet

File:W Beach Helles Gallipoli.jpg

W Beach, Helles, on 7 January 1916 just prior to the final evacuation

Balkan Campaign

The 156th Infantry Division was withdrawn from the Gallipoli peninsula, so that it could be redeployed in support of Allied operations in Serbia in October 1915. The 156th Infantry Division shipped out to Salonika and subsequently marched north to reinforce the Serbian forces engaged with Bulgarians forces. The 3rd Battalion engaged in delaying actions at MonastirDent de Scie, andTrana Stena. By the end of 1915, only 200 effectives remained in 3rd Battalion, leading the French command to withdraw the battalion to Greece where it was later disbanded and its survivors were folded into the strength of the Marching Regiment of the Foreign Legion.

Second World War

Influx of recruits

The Foreign Legion was heavily involved in World War II, playing a large role in the Middle East and the North African campaign. The 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment was established by consolidating battalions stationed in Syria into a single battalion on October 15, 1939. Around the beginning of the war the primary training camp of the Legion was located at Saïda, however by October 1939, another training camp was established at Bacarès near the Spanish border. The facility at Bacarès was re-purposed as training facility from an internment camp for Spanish refugees from the Spanish Civil War.

Spanish Civil War
Spanish 11 interbrigada in the battle of Belchev. 1937.jpg
Republican International Brigadiers at the Battle of Belchite
Date 17 July 1936  – 1 April 1939
Location Continental SpainSpanish Morocco,Spanish SaharaCanary IslandsBalearic IslandsSpanish GuineaMediterranean,North Sea
Result Nationalist (rebel) victory

Second Spanish Republic Second Spanish Republic

Supported by:

 National faction

Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
Second Spanish Republic Manuel Azaña
Second Spanish Republic Julián Besteiro
Second Spanish Republic Francisco Largo Caballero
Second Spanish Republic Juan Negrín
Second Spanish Republic Indalecio Prieto
Second Spanish Republic Vicente Rojo Lluch
Second Spanish Republic José Miaja
Second Spanish Republic Juan Modesto
Second Spanish Republic Juan Hernández Saravia
Second Spanish Republic Buenaventura Durruti 
 Lluís Companys
Basque Country (autonomous community) José Antonio Aguirre
Francoist Spain Emilio Mola 
Francoist Spain José Sanjurjo 
Francoist Spain Francisco Franco
Francoist Spain Miguel Cabanellas 
Francoist Spain Manuel Goded Llopis 
Francoist Spain Gonzalo Queipo de Llano
Francoist Spain Juan Yagüe
Francoist Spain Manuel Hedilla
Francoist Spain Manuel Fal Conde
Francoist Spain José María Gil-Robles y Quiñones
450,000 infantry
350 aircraft
200 batteries
600,000 infantry
600 aircraft
290 batteries
Casualties and losses
~500,000 killed

450,000 fled

Foreign Legion Forces being trained at these locations were provided inadequate arms and equipment – mostly surplus World War I-era equipment – which demonstrates the degree of low regard which the Foreign Legion by French military authorities. The 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade was raised in February 1940 for the purpose of deploying to Finland. By February 1940, over 84,000 foreigners had volunteered to serve France which led to great organizational difficulties for the French Foreign Legion. During this time a large number of recruits in the Foreign Legion were Spanish Republicans and East European Jews, many of whom held their personal ideologies very close to their hearts causing difficulty in their assimilation into the Foreign Legion. Not only did political refugees from Spain and East Europe prove difficult to assimilate into the Legion, but so did many of the reservist, former Legionnaires who returned to the Legion when called up as they were no longer young men and had families to look after. Most of Foreign Legion remained in training until the Germans launched their offensive against France on May 10, 1940.

Battle of France

Battle of France
Part of the Western Front of the Second World War
German soldiers marching past the Arc de Triomphe, 14 June 1940
German soldiers marching past the Arc de Triomphe after the surrender of Paris, 14 June 1940
Date 10 May-25 June 1940
Location France, Low Countries
Result Decisive Axis victory and French surrender

 United Kingdom
Poland Poland
Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Italy Italy (from June 10)
Commanders and leaders
France Maurice Gamelin(until May 17)
France Maxime Weygand(from May 17)
United Kingdom Lord Gort
Belgium Leopold III
Netherlands Henri Winkelman
Poland Władysław Sikorski
Czechoslovakia Sergej Ingr
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi Germany Fedor von Bock
Nazi Germany Wilhelm von Leeb
Italy H.R.H. Umberto di Savoia
Allies: 144 divisions
13,974 guns
3,383 tanks
2,935 aircraft
3,300,000 troops
Alps on 20 June
~150,000 French
Germany: 141 divisions
7,378 guns
2,445 tanks
5,638 aircraft
3,350,000 troops
Alps on 20 June
300,000 Italians
Casualties and losses
360,000 dead or wounded,
1,900,000 captured
2,233 aircraftTotal: 2,260,000 casualties
Germany:157,621 casualties
1,236-1,345 aircraft destroyed
323-488 aircraft damaged
795 tanks destroyed
Total: 163,650 casualties

Six units of the French Foreign Legion participated in the Battle of France: the 11th Foreign Infantry Regiment, the 12th Foreign Infantry Regiment, the Reconnaissance Group of the 97th Infantry Division, the 21st Marching Regiment of Foreign Volunteers (21st RMVE), the 22nd Marching Regiment of Foreign Volunteers,and the 23rd Marching Regiment of Foreign Volunteers. The 11th REI defended the northern Inor Wood near Verdun from the German offensive early on in the battle until June 11, 1940 when the regiment began a fighting retreat to the south. By June 18, the 11th REI had lost three-fourths of its strength and the regiment withdrew to the south near Toul. The 12th REI was redeployed from its training center in Valbonne on May 11 to defend the Soissons where it arrived on May 24 and eventually began to fortify their positions. The 12 REI first experienced a form of combat for which they were unprepared when on June 5, the town of Soissons was the subject of German strafing from Stukas. By June 8, the 12th REI, in danger of being encircled, received orders to retreat to the south, however the orders did not come soon enough and parts of the 12th REI were surrounded at Soissons; the rest of the 12th REI made their way to Limoges by the signing of Second Armistice at Compiègne on June 25, 1940. By the surrender of France the 12th REI had lost 2,500 of its number. The 21st Marching Regiment of Foreign Volunteers was deployed to the Maginot Line when the German offensive began, but was shifted to the north of Verdun by the end of May. The 21st RMVE took heavy losses during an engagement with the Germans on June 8 and 9; the 21st RMVE joined the rest of the French Army in that sector in retreat when the order to retreat was given. At the time of the armistice the 21st RMVE was at Nancy where it was disarmed by German forces. The 22nd Marching Regiment of the Foreign Volunteers left its training depot at Bacarès on May 6 when it was deployed around Alsace. The German offensive forced the 22nd RMVE to be quickly redeployed on the Somme near the village of Marchélepot where it fought a defensive action from May 22 to May 26.On June 5, the 22nd RMVE was preparing to counterattack the Germans at Villers-Carbonnel alongside the 112th Infantry Division when it came under a heavy preemptive attack launched by German forces in the area. The French Forces were able to initially repulse the attack, but later succumbed to the German onslaught; the force of the Foreign Legion acquitted themselves admirably in that engagement.

The Narvik Expedition

In January 1940, French high command made the decision to deploy a brigade to assist Finland in its defense against the forces of the Soviet Union in the Winter War. The a new force, drawn from the ranks of the Foreign Legion’s North African regiments, began the process of formation in February 1940 and was complete by March 27 when it took the its new name as the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion. Despite the efficient establishment of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion, the planned deployment of the unit was set back by the capitulation of Finland on March 12; absent the option to deploy to Finland, the Allies elected to deploy the expeditionary force they were forming for Finland to Norway. The 13th Demi-Brigade trained in Larzac until it shipped out to Scotland where it would deploy with a force assembled by the rest of the Allies. The expeditionary force deployed to northern Norway where it planned to engage the German forces holding Narvik.
On May 13, 1940, the 13th Demi-Brigade participated in an amphibious assault on the shores of the Herjangs Fjord near Narvik.The amphibious assault was conducted on torpedo boats under strafing by German fighters. Once on the shore, Foreign Legion forces moved to secure the high ground around the landing zone. The 13th Demi-Brigade was deployed in the Battle of Bir Hakeim. Interestingly, part of the Legion was loyal to the Free French movement, yet another part was loyal to the Vichy government. A battle in Syria saw two opposing sides fight against each other in a short engagement, and later on the Vichy Legion joined its Free French brethren.

First Indochina War

Uniforms of the Foreign Legion paratroopers during the Indochinese war

Units of the Legion were involved in the defense of Dien Bien Phu during the First Indochina War and lost a large number of men in the battle. Towards the desperate end of the battle, Legionnaires formed the bulk of the volunteer relief force which were delivered by parachute to the base.

Gulf War

In September 1990 the 2e REI , 6e REG and 1e REC were sent to the Persian Gulf as a part of Opération Daguet. They were a part of the French 6th Light Armoured Division whose mission was to protect the coalition’s left flank.

The 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment (French2e Régiment étranger de génie, 2e REG) is one of two Combat engineering regiment in the French Foreign Legion. The regiment is the combat engineering component of 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade.

The regiment was created on 1 July 1999, which make it the youngest regiment in the Foreign Legion. The regiment is the heir to the 5th Foreign Infantry Regiment (5e REI), the Tonkin Regiment. It has been stationed, since its creation, in St Christol at the former site of the French strategic nuclear missiles.

Commanding officers

  • Colonel Nebois (1999–2001)
  • Colonel Autran (2001–2003)
  • Colonel Fradin (2003–2005)
  • Colonel Boucher (2005–2007)
  • Colonel Chavanat (2007–2009)
  • Lt.-Colonel (LCL) Kirscher (2009- )
2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment
Regimental badge of 2e REG
Active 1999–
Country France
Allegiance Flag of legion.svg French Foreign Legion
Branch French Army
Type Combat Engineers
Size 400 men
Garrison/HQ Saint ChristolFrance
Motto Nothing Prevents (Rien n’empêche)
Colors Green and red
March Rien n’empêche
Anniversaries Camerone Day (30 April)
Saint Barbara (4 December)
Engagements Opération Baliste
Battle honours Camerone 1863
Lieutenant-Colonel Philippe Kirshcer
2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment (Present)
Parent unit

Opération Daguet (French pronunciation: [ɔpeʁasjɔ̃ daɡɛ]Operation Brocket Deer) was the codename for French operations during the 1991 Gulf War (also called the Persian Gulf War or Operation Desert Storm). The conflict was between Iraq and a coalition force of approximately 30 nations led by the United States and mandated by the United Nations in order to liberate Kuwait.

The lead up to the war began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, following unproven Iraqi contentions that Kuwait was illegally “slant-drilling“ oil across Iraq’s border. The invasion was met with immediate economic sanctions by the United Nations against Iraq. After a period of diplomacy and coalition forces deploying to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, hostilities commenced with air operations on January 17, 1991, resulting in a decisive victory for the coalition forces, which drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait with minimal coalition deaths. The main battles were aerial and ground combat within Iraq, Kuwait, and bordering areas of Saudi Arabia. The war did not expand outside the immediate Iraqi–Kuwaiti–Saudi border region, although Iraq firedmissiles on Israeli cities.

The main coalition nations were:

After a four week air campaign the coalition forces began the ground campaign. It quickly penetrated deep into Iraq, the Legion taking the Al Salman airport with little resistance. The war ended after a hundred hours ground fighting and very light casualties for the Legion.

Afghanistan War

Elements of the Foreign Legion have been deployed to Afghanistan in support of theNATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Foreign Legion units have participated in ISAF operations in the Kapisa Provinceand Subrobi Province.

Photograph of two members of the French Foreign Legion dressed in their traditional uniforms.
Légionnaires in dress uniform. Note the red epaulettes and the distinctive white kepi. They carry the standard assault rifle, the FAMAS.
 French Foreign Legion soldiers clearing minesscience.howstuffworks.com

AMX-10 RC, Operation Desert Shield.


41 Responses to “History of French Foreign Legion”

  1. Howdy our kids participant! I have to say that this particular blog post rocks !, good authored and are available having virtually all critical infos. I’d like to appear further threads in this way .

  2. After looking at a handful of the articles on your website, I truly appreciate your technique of writing a blog.
    I saved it to my bookmark website list and will be
    checking back soon. Take a look at my web site as well
    and tell me what you think.

  3. Interesting blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my
    blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your theme.

  4. I really love your article. It’s apparent
    that you have a lot of knowledge on this topic. Your points are well
    made as well as relatable. Thanks for writing
    engaging and interesting material.

  5. When I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a
    comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment.
    There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service?
    Appreciate it!

  6. Hi, Neat post. There’s an issue with your website
    in web explorer, could test this? IE still is the marketplace chief and a huge component to other folks will pass over your fantastic writing due
    to this problem.

  7. Quality articles is the important to invite the users to visit the web site, that’s what this
    web page is providing.

  8. It’s truly a nice and helpful piece of info. I am happy that
    you simply shared this useful information with us.

    Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I do not kwow either how, but I published a lot of Articles from Yahoo News, maybe that’s make my Blog listed there.

  10. Thanks for your comment.

  11. I absolutely love your site.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you build this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as
    I’m hoping to create my own personal site and want to find
    out where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called.

  12. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am going
    through issues with your RSS. I don’t know why I can’t
    subscribe to it. Is there anybody having the same RSS issues?
    Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond?

  13. Wow! In the end I got a weblog from where I be able to
    truly obtain useful information concerning my study and knowledge.

  14. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this
    blog and I am impressed! Very helpful information specifically the last part
    🙂 I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this
    certain info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  15. I am actually thankful to the holder of this web page who has shared this
    enormous post at here.

  16. Howdy! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new
    iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the superb work!

  17. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was entirely right.

    This post actujally made my day. You can not imagine simply how much tiime I haad spent
    for this information! Thanks!

  18. I’ve been surfing on-line greater than 3 hours these days, yet I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours.

    It is lovely value sufficient for me. In my view, if
    all site owners and bloggers made just right content
    as you probably did, the web will likely be much more helpful than ever before.

  19. Can I just say what a relief to uncover somebody who genuinely understands what
    they’re discussing on the internet. You definitely realize
    how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people ought to look at
    this and understand this side of the story. I was surprised that you’re not more popular because you definitely possess the gift.

  20. Great site you have here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours these days.
    I seriously appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  21. My brother suggested I might like this website.
    He was totally right. This post truly made my day. You can not imagine simply how
    much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  22. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as
    long as I provide credit and sources back to your site?
    My website is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users
    would really benefit from a lot of the information you present here.
    Please let me know if this alright with you.
    Thanks a lot!

  23. Excellent way of explaining, and pleasant paragraph to obtain facts regarding my
    presentation subject matter, which i am going
    to convey in institution of higher education.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: