Historik Orders, Ltd.

British Campaign Medals and Orders Singles and Groups, Russian Badges and Medal Gallery

FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION PARATROOPER

"Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking."
Ferdinand Foch at the Battle of the Marne
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March 1960: Camp Zeralda, Algeria. (not the same man whose medals are listed above)

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The Legion (1er REP: Para Unit) in Algeria.

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Birth Of The Foreign Legion

Formed by
King Louis Philippe
March 10, 1831
It was not very new, since France had always
foreign troops five centuries before France had
foreign troops, under the reign of King Philippe le Bel, [pietons],
then Charles VII, Scottish Guards,
Francois Ier Swiss Guards etc...
In the beginning, the Legion was organized around 7 battalions:

1st Battalion - Swiss
2nd and 3rd Battalions - Swiss and German
4th Battalion - Spanish
5th Battalion - Italian
6th Battalion - Belgian and Dutch
7th Battalion - Polish


During the Spain's campaign in 1835,
Col. Bernelle changed the battalions to
strengthen the unity of the Legion.
The battalions were made of all the nationalities



Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam

Dien Bien Phu was a crossroads which connected Laos with upper Tonkin, later North
Vietnam, and still later, the Soviet Republic of Vietnam. French General Henri Navarre decided
to create an air base and support center there at the road junction. He believed the Viet Minh
were too weak to overwhelm the fire base, supported by air and supplied by both air and
ground. Dien Bien Phu was a valley thirteen miles long, seven miles wide, and was bisected by
the Nam Yum River. The French Army made a series of serious blunders. The selection of the
valley at the extreme range of their air support, the perimeter posts, Bйatrice, Gabrielle,
Anne-Marie, set up on a number of low hills with the concentration of forces around the air
strip, and the inability of French guns to adequately support all defensive positions.

The Viet Minh held the jungle surrounding the French garrison, but the French Army had
no real idea where the Viet Minh were, what their numbers were, or how to strike them
effectively. The French did not camouflage their bunkers, and left their command posts
vulnerable to artillery that they did not know the Viet Minh possessed. General Vo Nguyen Giap
knew what he planned to do, he had the means to do it, and the French intelligence effort was
totally inadequate.

At the end of the third day, the Viet Minh held the hills surrounding the body of the French
Army and could fire directly on the positions. The French Army's position was grim, but Giap had
problems of his own. He was running low on ammunition, and the suicide charges cost some of
his best formations. The battle had become a siege.

French morale improved when, on the fourth day, the 1e BEP destroyed two companies of
Viet Minh on the highway between the airport and the French position named Isabelle. Even
though the French won the skirmish, they lost 151 dead and 72 wounded in that action alone.

A number of Indochinese troops deserted as did some legionnaires and a hand full of
regulars. They were referred to as the "Rats of Nam Yum" because they pilfered supplies
dropped at night by parachute and denied them to the garrison. The French dropped about 120
tons of supplies to the besieged defenders of Dien Bien Phu between March 13 and May 7, of
which about 100 tons were recovered by the army. The balance was retrieved by the Rats of
Nam Yum and the Viet Minh.

Giap ordered suicide attacks repeatedly which yielded mixed results. The French used up
ammunition, Giap's army was thinned considerably, and the garrison held. Giap faced the
combined French army of Algerians, Indochinese, legionnaires and regulars with about 50,000
Viet Minh troops of mixed training and experience. The suicide attacks decimated the French,
but ultimately Giap gave them up for traditional trench warfare. The Viet Minh surrounded Dien
Bien Phu and moved them closer and closer to French lines, until they were able to move
almost directly from the protection of the trenches to the French entrenchments.

In order to support the effort to maintain adequate strength at Dien Bien Phu, the decision
was made to parachute troops into the perimeter. The 1st battalion, 3e йtrangиre, and 5e
йtrangиre both called for and received volunteers. The 13e DBLE prevented men from
volunteering for Dien Bien Phu in order to keep the formation up to strength. With out a doubt,
there have never been braver men than those who volunteered to parachute in the dark of night
into the besieged strip of jungle which was under continuous artillery fire from Viet Minh guns.

But guts and bravery can not prevail against a vastly superior army operating in their own
country, properly supplied and motivated. In early May, the Viet Minh rolled up the remnants of
the French Army. On May 1, the legionnaires holding the firebase Huguette collapsed when the
elite Viet Minh 308th Division (the Iron Division) hit them hard. On May 7, firebase Elaine fell.
Later that night, the Viet Minh over-ran Isabelle and with its fall, the battle of Dien Bien Phu
ended

The death march to prison camps killed far more French troops than the battle had. About
sixty percent of the regular troops and legionnaires died in captivity. Ninty percent of the
Vietnamese troops who fought with the French failed to emerge from the hell of Viet Minh prison
camps. The Vietnamese have never been known for gracious behavior toward prisoners. The
treatment of the legionnaires and other prisoners captured at the conclusion of the battle of Dien
Bien Phu was a particular example of cruelty and unnecessarily harsh treatment of a defeated
foe. In general, it made the Baatan Death March seem tame by comparison.

In the aftermath of the battles to keep Indochina as part of the greater French colonial
interests, the place of the Legion must be considered. One of the reasons the Legion was so
successful was the morale it was able to maintain. The other was the quality of the leadership of
the excellent French officers who lead it. The core of the defence at Dien Bien Phu was the
legionnaires. Certainly the rйgiment йtranger parachutist at the battle provided the backbone of
the dogged defense which was doomed from the outset, but continued to resist to the end.



February 1961: Mountain Ambush

The circle of French troops is growing ever tighter around this valley (at times, operations involve as many as 30,000 French troops attempting to encircle and capture their Arab enemies). Meanwhile, several small sections of men are hiding in the hills, waiting to ambush the fellagha as they attempt to escape from this trap. The nights are cold and damp, and the ambushers have been hiding and waiting for 4 days.

One man waits near the intersection of two mountain paths (pistes), which climb the steep, brushy slopes. His job is to let the enemy get past him, then to shoot them from behind.

On the fifth night, the listener hears movement, and readies his submachinegun. He cannot see the enemy. Then the chef du guard arrives (armed with only a pistol). They wait until (by sound) they think the Arabs are 10 yards away, then attack with grenades. The chief has taken the SMG, and coming out from behind the rock, opens fire on the fleeing enemy. He then charges up the trail after them.

Confused fighting breaks out, with the French unit (a section? a company? source doesn't say) pursuing the Arabs up the hill. Three Arabs are eventually found dead. Nobody knows how many got away.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 121-124.

January 1962: Encounter in the Mist

A company of legionnaires has been trucked to the bottom of a gorge (using a road built by the Legion in years gone past), and now the soldiers following a zigzag path toward the summit.

At the top of the ridge, a unit of Arab fellagha are sheltering in a mechta (Arab farm house). It is raining, and clouds form bands of mist on the hilltops.

The Arab sentry is dozing, and their camp is caught by surprise when the legionnaires arrive. The legionnaires are likewise surprised. After a hasty firefight, the fellagha retreat into the mist, and the French are unable to maintain contact. The mechta is burned.

Source: Legionnaire, pg. 176.

COMPANY-LEVEL

November 1960: Searching for the Enemy

in the night, parachutists of the Foreign Legion board trucks for a three-hour drive, arriving at daybreak at the foot of the hills. For the next three hours they climb, at a pace just short of a run, to a ridgeline at 3500 feet.

As the parachutists rest, spread out in a long line at the crest, artillery and two dive bombers attack the "enormous wooded valley" below. At the same time, helicopters deposit a company of parachutists on the opposite side of the valley.

Eventually, the original parachutists (perhaps in company strength, though the original source does not say) receive the order to descend into the valley and "drive" the enemy toward the other parachute unit (which remains in its positions). As for the Muslims, their goal is to escape the trap or, if they cannot, to make a stand and take as many legionnaires with them as they can.

Source: Legionnaire, pg.87-89.

December 1960: Mountain Patrol

During the afternoon, two companies (2nd and 3rd) of Legion parachutists scale neighboring hills. The right-hand company comes under fire (20 men out of action in the first barrage), and the left company is ordered to quickly reach its peak and pour fire (rifles, LMG, mortar) down upon the Arabs on the first hilltop. The fellagha are in well-dug-in and camouflaged trenches, which are nearly impossible to see from the other hilltop. Mortar fire appears to have little effect on the Arabs in their positions.

An attempt is made to bring in another parachutist company (1st) by helicopter for a landing on the summit of the Arab-held hill, but the helicopters are driven off by machinegun fire. (One parachutist finds himself left behind on the hill, but manages to survive.)

Fighting continues throughout the afternoon. Intensive machinegun fire from fast-moving Alouette helicopters seems to wear down Arab resistance.

Around 4 p.m., the 1st and 4th companies (reinforcements) advance from the base of the hill and in one line attack. 2nd Company has been pulled out. 3rd Company continues to pour in supporting fire (and to receive counter-fire). Reaching the top of the hill, the attackers move from bunker to bunker, firing submachinegun bursts and throwing grenades.

No prisoners are taken. The dead include 53 Arabs, armed with 20 SMG's, 6 LMG's (Brens and German '42s), and "several" rifles.

Helicopters sight movement in the steep-sided gorge beyond the hill, and the 3rd Company is ordered to investigate. The 13th Demi-Brigade moves a company into position to block the end of the far valley. The valley is a mile and a half long, with tall fir trees and thick undergrowth on the floor. Visibility restricted to "a few yards."

The 3rd company advances with one section in front, and two sections to either side. A cave entrance is found, straw indicates that it has been inhabited, and the helicopters confirm this is where the movement was seen. A volunteer is sent in, but the search is interrupted when the helicopter spotted reports movement 100 yards further down the valley.

In the resulting firefight, 3 young Arabs are killed, equipped with two Enfield rifles and a Sten gun.

After the battle, a patrol of 3 legionnaires is sent out to recover the Arab bodies, cut off the heads, and return with the heads for inspection by an officer of the Deuxi\eme Bureau. (Four days ago, "loyal" Arab soldiers rebelled and killed their French officers, and the authorities want to know if those killed in the operation were these men.) The patrol fortunately does not encounter any Arabs "passed over" earlier.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 96-102.

March 1961: The Gorge

This fight takes place in the "country of the dead" -- barren red-brown mountains, topped with snow, dusty and covered with wispy scrub, lots of boulders and rocks.

Trucks transport the parachutists of the Legion to the top of the Gorge of Rhoufi, which runs through the plains like a knife gash. The sides are sheer and rounded, leading down to a river which follows a crescent path. The legionnaires descend along a 3'-wide path to the river, where Arabs dwell in caves and square-shaped dwellings. Then the soldiers begin to climb the far side of the gorge.

At 4:30 p.m., 2nd Company comes under fire from fellagha who are entrenched in hills at the summit of one of the many hills. 3rd and 4th Companies advance on the flanks, pouring in fire by mortar and LMG, which allows 2nd Company to make the assault. The legionnaires companies are short-handed, due to stragglers during the long march.

Five Arabs surrender, and 15 are found dead. They were armed with two Thompsons, Brens, and machine pistols. Seven legionnaires are "lost."

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 126-128.

April 1961: Easter Sunday Firefight

A company of French regular paratroopers (b/eret rouges) have been ambushed in a gorge, and Foreign Legion reinforcements are being rushed in by helicopter in the early afternoon.

The far side of the gorge is a vertical rock face marked with caves and fault lines. The fellagha are in the caves. At the bottom of the gorge are the beret rouges. The Legion 2nd Company (reinforcements) has taken positions on the opposite side of the gorge, and are engaging the Arabs in a fierce firefight. 3rd and 4th Companies are in reserve beyond the gorge, but are then moved to positions along the crest of a hill (but still in line of sight of the Arabs). 4th Company is caught moving over the top of a hill, and seven men are lost to Arab machinegun fire. The legionnaires entrench.

The firefight continues all afternoon and into the night. Two dive bombers provide support, firing napalm and rockets into the gorge, while helicopter gunships also pour fire on the fellagha positions (one chopper crashes in the gorge). Plane-dropped flares provide illumination as night falls. Meanwhile, the gorge has been completely surrounded by French troops, and helicopters resupply their men with ammunition.

By 3 a.m., Arab fire drops off. In the morning, they find 7 Arab dead, and 4 rifles. It appears the Arabs escaped during the night, along a narrow corniche invisible from the opposite side. The Legion has 17 dead, 46 wounded.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 130-133.

REGIMENT-LEVEL

November 1961: The Tunisian Frontier

A Foreign Legion parachutist regiment is spread out along fifty miles of the frontier, each company operating independently. The frontier is mined and lined with barbed wire, with "no man's land" inbetween the wire (1 1/2 miles across). A line of hills runs along no man's land, preventing the opposing forces from seeing each other. The French regularly shell no man's land, patrol the wire during the day, and set ambushes in no man's land at night.

On the Tunisian side is Ben Bella and "a substantial armed force," waiting to lead the Algerian forces (in exile in Tunisia) to Algiers when independence is declared. The Arabs also attempt to break across the frontier (blasting the wire with explosives), to sneak forces back within Algeria.

The Arabs are known to have moved into no man's land, establishing a base on one of the hills (making it easier for them to smuggle men across the frontier). The French know their artillery cannot drive out entrenched men. Therefore, the legionnaires are sent in to drive the Arabs back.

The French begin with a day-long bombardment of the hill. During the night, an entire regiment of the Foreign Legion takes position at the base of the hill. At dawn, nine B26's drop their load on the hill crest, followed by two hours of artillery shelling.

At last, the legionnaires move forward. Immediately, the Arabs fire their mortars against the men in the open. The legionnaires are hard hit, but the fellagha mortars have revealed their positions, and are taken out by artillery fire. The Legion takes the hill, and pursues the Arabs beyond the frontier into Tunisia.
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Corsica was from 1963-1983 the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion.

LEGIONS' CODE OF HONOUR: Legionnaire:
You are a volunteer serving France
faithfully and with honour

Every Legionnaire is your brother at arm,
irrespective of his nationality, race or creed.
You will demonstrate this by an unwavering
and straight forward solidarity which must
always bind together members of the same family

Respectful of the Legions traditions,
honoring your superiors,
discipline and camaraderie are your strength,
courage and loyalty your virtuous

Proud of your status as that of a Legionnaire,
you will display this pride, by your turnout,
always impeccable, your behavior, ever worthy,
though modest, your living-quarters, always tidy

An elite soldier, you will train vigorously,
you will maintain your weapon as if it were your
most precious possession, you will keep your
body in the peak of condition, always fit

A mission once given to you becomes sacred
to you, you will accomplish it to the end of all cost

In combat, you will act without relish of your task,
or hatred, you will respect the vanquished enemy
and will never abandon neither your wounded nor your dead,
nor will you under any circumstances surrender your arms