Attached below is a collection of film stills and screen captures of Fort Zinderneuf as depicted in the 1939 version of Beau Geste. This is probably one of the most definitive icons of the classic French Foreign Legion: The lonely desert outpost far away from civilization and two days ride to the nearest French relief force. Garrisoned by the intrepid Foreign Legion whose brains have been eaten away by Le Cafard and who now think of murder and mutiny.
As far as “forts” go the one depicted in this movie is really just an over sized blockhouse. One of probably hundreds that were posted along the Algerian and Moroccan border. Not just in the desert either. Even in the Atlas mountains the legion had constructed a series of camps, blockhouses and forts to protect their supply routes and lines of communication into and out of Morocco. The last time watching the movie I counted the number of legionnaires who comprised the garrison of Fort Zinderneuf and I came up with only 34 (including Markoff, the dead Lieutenant Martin and the two deserters) that comprised the garrison. This number of men is about platoon strength in the Foreign Legion (two squads of 15, add a sergeant and an officer, and maybe a cook and bugler?) About 26 soldiers short of a 60 man section. This force would not be big enough to keep a garrison and also mount effective patrols or interdiction maneuvers. They were not mounted (although that was where Digby Geste was at for training). It also seemed that it’s billeting capacity was maxed out. As such Zinderneuf would only have been useful as for observation and reconnaissance purposes only or as a rest-overnight (RON)/resupply point for mounted patrols. Or it may have been there to guard the oasis. To be effective in it’s observation role the fort would have been linked to another fort/blockhouse by Line of Sight (LOS) heliographs (signal lamps). It seems that Zinderneuf was located way out in the far Saharan desert in almost complete isolation and at least if not more than two days away from relief from Fort Tokotu. But that’s P.C. Wren for you–don’t let facts stand in the way of a good story. But enough of my military nit-picking…the fort.