Legion Pulp: Lady of the Legion (Part 2 & 3)

OK.  This is now fixed.  The links below will take you to parts 2 and 3 of this story. 

Lady of the Legion Part 2

Lady of the Legion Part 3

Lady of the Legion is a fine story that takes place in a small isolated desert post (Poste Moziba) manned by 30 legionnaires and Lieutenant Torval.  The fort and the men inside become caught between a vengeful Arab agha and his amassed warriors who seeks to redeem his honor be recapturing his runaway bride-to-be and their higher HQ who order the Torval to return the mysterious Louise Souvain to her tribe.  Louise sought shelter with the French after escaping her arranged marriage but the Legionnaires vow to fight to the death in order to protect her because to give her over to the Arab chieftain means certain death at the hands of her spurned groom.  It is the only way to regain his lost honor.  However, is Louise telling the truth that she was captured as a small girl from a French merchant family and raised in the tribe as one of their own?  Or is she really a part Maltese-Berber maiden who does not want to be sold off into a marriage she doesn’t want and is pretending to be French.  Eventually the besieging tribesman attack the fort but are beaten back time and time again. Can the Legionnaires hold out and why should they even risk their lives over a girl who may not be who she says she is?

NOTE: This scan is not in color like the first part which was done by another, very good, scanner (SAS).  I scan in color but convert the final into black and white so I can print it out for reading and to then save in my collection.

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French Blockhouses – Part 2: Indochina 1946-1954

NOTE:  This is the second part of my take on French blockhouses.  It utilizes two primary sources: Rand Memorandum 5271-PR A Translation From the French: Lessons of the War in Indochina VOL 2 (page 116 “Fortifications”) and an online version of a book called La Guerre D’Indochine by Maurice de Poitevin (Chapter VII, The War of the Posts). 

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, when the French moved swiftly to regain control of their far-flung colonial possessions, we see an almost immediate resurgence of guerilla warfare in Indochina.  By 1948 the level of Viet Minh insurgent activity is rapidly escalating and for the first time the tactic of watch towers and blockhouses becomes central to the French strategy in controlling their so called “pacified” areas.  Promoted by General De La Tour, this tactic was started in the south (Cochinchina) and later utilized in Annam (the center of modern Vietnam) by 1950.

“The watch towers were field works manned by several men (five to six auxiliaries) established along the length of a road (generally within sight of one another, and at an interval of approximately 1 km) in order to:

  • Prevent the cutting of the road, protect local facilities, observe movements, and insure free access
  • Assist vehicles and contribute to their protection in case of attack

Certain towers, called “mother towers,” were provided with larger forces and increased fire power,  in the case of an ambush on a convoy, personnel from these positions sounded the alarm and halted all traffic while mobile elements from specified military posts quickly moved into the area.  This procedure yielded excellent results at the beginning, but it quickly became ineffective.  

From 1950 on the Viet Minh in Central Vietnam began using shaped-charge projectiles fired from weapons delivered to them by China.  Masonry was unable to stand up under such fire, and the small garrisons of these field works would often avoid sounding the alarm, preferring to abandon their position rather than to expose themselves to certain destruction.

Another limiting factor of the “poste kilométrique” tactic is that it did not work in the stronghold areas of the Viet Minh which were the heavily forested northern and western highlands that run along the border of Laos and Cambodia and China to the north.  Here the French had limited visibility along their lines of communication so watch towers were ineffective.  The French had to establish much larger bases and launch mobile operations against their elusive enemy.

Starting late 1950 the French began a serious effort in the north to protect the Red River Delta region from encroaching Communist efforts.  A fortification line extending south from Tien Yen in the extreme north and that curved west to encircle Hanoi and then back east to the coast was built.  This was nicknamed The De Lattre Line, after General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, and consisted of a line of concrete fortifications (towers, pillboxes, bunkers) obstacles, and weapons installations constructed to guard the essential lines of communication between the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong and to provide security for the densely populated and economically important Delta area against attacks by both the Viet Minh and any potential invasion from Communist China.  The De Lattre fortifications more often resembled the reinforced concrete pillboxes and bunkers used by the German along their defensive lines on the Western Front in WWII.

The De Lattre Line was to comprise 1200 separate concrete blockhouses able to withstand 155mm artillery.  They were grouped in 250 clusters of 3-6 blockhouses for mutual fire support over a span of 235 miles (378 km).  Each blockhouse was to hold a minimum of 10 men.  In addition a defensive redoubt was to be constructed around a 22 miles (35 km) radius from the port of Haiphong ensuring its safety from artillery attack.  All these new defensive lines were to be connected by roads capable of bearing 30-ton tanks.  Construction commenced in late 1950 and was mostly complete (913 fortifications) by the end of 1953.  The picture below shows one of the types of bases that would have several towers in the immediate sector that it would be responsible for manning and for relief if attacked.

Ultimately the fate of French Indochina would be determined by the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the towers and blockhouses that dotted the entire region had little to no effect on this final act of a 67 year drama.

Here are the pictures I’ve collected on this topic.  These were literally collected from a multitude of various places on the internet over the course of several years and it would be impossible to go back and provide attribution and I apologize for not annotating them properly or giving credit to any original content.  I hope that this post makes up for my lack of courtesy regarding the images.  The images were cropped in two MS Powerpoint presentations (one in landscape and the other portrait).  They were joined in Adobe PDF.  

French Blockhouses Indochina-Part Two

 

Posted in Photographs, Tonkin, Wargame Terrain | 7 Comments

Legion Pulp: Lady of the Legion (Part 1)

This month’s pulp comes from the March 1940 issue of Blue Book Magazine.  This publication was the Rolls Royce among pulps and featured, by far, the best story illustrations found in any magazine to include most of the slicks.  This is Part I of a two-part serial and I have the second installment ready for next month.  This story included a forward by Georges Surdez that lends context and background to this story so I’ve decided to include it below in lieu of my own introduction.  Surdez had many contacts in the Foreign Legion and the Hamilton he refers to below is Captain Edgar Hamilton, an American who commanded a company of the 4REI in Morocco.

About “Lady of the Legion*

     THERE is nothing at all fantastic in a Saharan war being fought over a girl.  While it may seem farfetched to have a young officer jeopardize his career and his life, risk the death of his men, anyone familiar with conditions out there knows similar cases.  The French lost Tafilelt for fifteen years because a captain had an affair with the daughter of a Caid.  From first to last, that situation must have cost several thousand lives.  As to the episodes of the siege, they are based on actual attacks, some in the Sahara, others in the Atlas, in the Riff.  As for Torval’s determination to blow up the dump, if that is not credible, Lieutenant Lapeyre and a half-dozen others were kidding when they did that exact thing.
     The aviation stuff is based on what pilots in North Africa told me, both in the Sahara and in Morocco. Even against villages, daylight raids were not profitable, as the natives would go out into the open and watch the show with some enjoyment.  Night raids are exceptional, I’ll grant. But there have been one or two, in emergencies.  The information about marriage, etc., is accurate—any curious reader can pick up the manuals and codes and check up to his satisfaction.
     Torval could have been an American, without going into the realm of romance. Captain Hamilton, the only American officer in the Legion, commanded Bou-Bernous, about the loneliest blockhouse in the Sahara, when he was a lieutenant.  I know Hamilton, of course, and like him, but I believe that he considers me like something that creeps under moist stones, because I write, about the Legion.  He has a phobia against Legion writers, which even established accuracy (I am a Member of Honor of Legion veterans, New York, Oran, etc., and honorary sergeant Saharan Company of the Draa, etc.) doesn’t melt.

—GEORGES SURDEZ

Lady of the Legion

NOTE:  This magnificent scan is from SAS-JVH.  I’m also still working on the second installment about French blockhouses in Indochina and that should be out very shortly as well as some of my long overdue book reviews.   

 

 

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French Blockhouses – Part 1: Indochina 1880-1945

Note: This post and two others that follow will attempt to give some insight into the French use of blockhouses.  Since I’m not an expert on the topic I won’t go too far into the weeds of the technical aspects of French defensive tactics (for fear of drowning) and also because this is a blog and not a book or scholarly article.  The main purpose of this post is to provide some reference graphics to those who might be interested in the topic and/or for use in making war game terrain.  There will be three .pdf downloads that will consolidate the many and various pictures I have on this subject.   I’ll follow this post up with another that focuses on the blockhouses used in the First Indochina War 1945-1954 and another on the more familiar blockhouses found in North Africa.

INTRODUCTION:  I’ve always been intrigued by the French Army’s employment of blockhouses in their various colonial adventures.   They seem to have placed an inordinate trust in this tactic and the ability of these isolated small scale outposts (usually located within line of sight to each other) to provide security to the logistical road networks and populated areas and provide early warning and information of enemy movements and activities.  A trust that lasted longer than those of other armies.  Looking back in history, I’m not sure it worked quite as well as they thought it did, yet this tactic (first used in large numbers in colonial North America) became a trademark of French occupation tactics and colonial warfare.  Blockhouses were built by Napoleon’s armies in Germany, Russia and Spain and would appear throughout Algeria starting with the French invasion of Algiers in 1830.  Fortlets and blockhouses were built along major road networks during the Mexican debacle and then again in Madagascar, Dahomey and especially Indochina.   These structures would proliferate throughout western Algeria along the indeterminate border with Morocco and later within Morocco itself.  In the 1920’s, several dozen blockhouses were hastily built along the French defensive lines north of Fez during the Rif War.  Many of these fell to Rif assaults and their garrisons were wiped out to a man.

After WWII the French in Indochina continued to rely on the vast existing network of these blockhouses and mini-forts in fighting against the Viet Minh and began to build more and more of these (of various construction) to better control pacified areas.  Towards the latter years of that conflict the French doubled down on a major static defense plan for the north and created what was to be an interlocking belt of over 1,200 (900 were actually built) of these forts informally named the De Lattre Line.  Many of the De Lattre fortifications were constructed to withstand heavy enemy fire and resembled concrete pillboxes.

SpainOther countries used blockhouses too.  Britain was successful using them to secure road and rail networks, bridges, garrisons and camps, and to cordon off large areas from Boer guerillas in South Africa.  The Spanish had blockhouses throughout Cuba and the Philippines during their prolonged struggle against insurgents in both countries.  These were somewhat effective as strong points against the Americans in 1898 outside of Santiago and Manila.  The Spanish would also erect blockhouses along their defensive lines in northern Morocco at Cueta and Melilla.

My problem with blockhouses and other static defensive strong points is that they cede too much territory and maneuver space to the enemy and their garrisons become complacent and/or ineffective in their patrolling and offensive operations.  They were often manned with ill trained local militia / security troops.  Blockhouses may work well during the day in securing supply networks but at night individual forts quickly become targets of opportunity for an aggressive and agile enemy (that more often finds and exploits gaps between them vs. attacking them directly).  In the Indochina War French blockhouses quite often became merely range markers for recoilless rifle and mortar teams and secondary targets attacked by the Viet Minh only to lure relief forces into ambushes.  Blockhouses built by the French during that conflict would increasingly be made out of concrete and tied to other stronger supporting defenses.  The De Lattre Line would group several of these towers and strong points into a cluster where all could be supported by a main base providing artillery support and quick reaction forces backed by armor.  Nevertheless, many of these were simply low-hanging fruit for the communists.

Indochina 1880-1945

There were many types of defensive structures used during the French occupation of Indochina.  Major indigenous structures most often consisted of very large earthen mounds that formed a high wall around key towns, garrisons and royal palaces.  Among these were the citadels at Hanoi (Thăng Long), Hue, Saigon, Lang Son, and Son Tay.  Smaller populated areas and even villages had smaller versions of an earthen mound, sometimes topped by a bamboo wall, to protect it from the depredations of Chinese bandits (pirates known as the Black Flags).  These perimeters would be surrounded by a palisade of bamboo poles and immense piles of cleared bush.  Diagrams made by the French show that the infamous “punji-stick” traps were a common tactic well before the Americans showed up.  The fortified towns would have one main entrance that would be closed and closely guarded at night.  The road leading to this gate was often flanked by rice paddies for several hundred feet which severely limited the frontage of an attacking enemy.

Terrain also played a key roll in determining location of French bases.  Commanding positions along major rivers were established and there are several pictures depicting garrisons perched on precipitous spurs and outcroppings.  Blockhouses would often dominate the key terrain around French bases and were necessary for maintaining line of sight communications in the era before wireless.

The French, during the conquest of Tonkin, began to consolidate their gains by taking over existing fortresses and towns and then reinforcing them in a typical European fashion.  Fields of fire were cleared, parapets reinforced, and artillery placements were surveyed and laid.  Construction of numerous western style barracks, stores, stables and magazines were completed as well as building the inevitable blockhouses.  These were built to provide the main defensive lines with a final fall back position–a fort within a fort.  Outside the main bases blockhouses were also erected on hilltops for maximum observation as well as on defensible terrain that tied into securing the extended area.  During the Siege of Tuyên Quang (Nov 1894-Mar 1895) the blockhouse established on the west side of the perimeter, until it was evacuated, served to foil several Chinese attempts on the outpost.

The early blockhouses erected in Indochina were larger and more commanding than those structures the French built there after WWII.  Blockhouses were three or four stories high and rectangular in shape with an open air top floor covered by a thatch or tile roof.  As mentioned their construction were often tied into an existing defensive perimeter and often functioned as a gate house at the main (and only) entrance into the garrison town.  Eventually these blockhouses would be established along key lines of communication at 1 kilometer intervals and would be known as poste kilométrique.

French Blockhouses_Part 1

NOTE: The first picture in this post is an amazing recreation of a French watchtower used for the 2002 film The Quiet American.  (I found it at this page).  It is well weathered with falling plaster so I thought it would be a good representation of one of the older blockhouses built before WWII.  The Quiet American is a novel written by Graham Green in 1955.  The story has a scene where the two protagonists get trapped in the tower by the Viet Minh.  The book also mentions the Foreign Legion several times so I’ve added this to my read pile.  The Quiet American was first made into a movie in 1958 but I have not been able to see if they had a similar watch tower made.  

Posted in Legion Forts, Tonkin, Wargame Terrain | 4 Comments

Legion Pulp: To Hell for the Devil

This month’s pulp is written by Richard E. Wormser who was an American pulp writer who wrote fiction in just about all genres from the early 1930’s until his death in 1977.  When the pulps died out in the 1940’s Wormser kept writing and to his credit has over 200 pulp stories including seventeen early Nick Carter stories and several award winning western novels and novelizations of movies and television shows.  This story appeared in the 01 December, 1934, issue of Argosy and was also included in the first issue (1940) of the short run pulp title Foreign Legion Stories

The story is an oft-repeated one that has the long arm of American law enforcement, in this case Detective Cafferty of New York, reaching into the Legion to solve a cold case mystery.

To Hell for the Devil

(Not my scan but thanks to the original scanner to put this out on the web whose name I do not know.)

 

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Wargames Illustrated Foreign Legion Articles

I’ve been a big fan of Wargames Illustrated since it started appearing in my Barnes and Noble bookstore several years ago.  Hard copy is pretty pricey so I only bought the magazine when it had interesting articles on terrain building or colonial adventures.  However, several months ago I became a Wargames Illustrated “Prime” member which allowed me to access “the Vault” which contains digital versions of 350+ back issues of the magazine.  This was really a great bargain just to be able to access these old issues.  I’ve kept my monthly subscription current as it seems the magazine keeps growing and getting better over time.  If you do go the digital route for your Wargames Illustrated, to make your search easier, there are several articles about the Foreign Legion.

#023 Carche ou Crève! What was it really like to March of Die under the blazing Saharan sun? By Greg Foster.

#144 Death in the Sand. Simple rules for wargaming the French Foreign Legion in North Africa by Peter Helm.

#293 Legionnaires in the Dark Continent. The French Foreign Legion south of the Sahara by Chris Peers

#300 “The Legion May Die, But Never Surreners”. The last stand of the Foreign Legion in exotic Mexico–the Battle of Camerone, 1863 by Paul Davies.  Includes instructions for building the hacienda.

#329 Project Showcase: March or Die!  Creating a force for Death in the Dark Continent by Tim Harris.

#334 Theme: Trading Their Kepis for Jump Helmets. Legion Paras in Indochina by Matt Moran.

#350 The Battle of Messifre 1925.  Post WWI colonial action in Syria by Robert Giglio.

Posted in War Games & Rules | 2 Comments

The Foreign Legion and the Fourth Liberty Loan – Pictures!

Here are some more wonderful pictures of that small detachment of about 122 French Foreign Legionnaires (including 12 officers) who traveled to the U.S. in the fall of 1918 to participate in rallies for the Fourth Liberty Loan.   These men, most of whom had also been wounded, were all highly decorated veterans of the trenches.  60 some members of the Legion would travel on the following Liberty Loan Tour itinerary.  Another detachment of around 50 Legionnaires were divided into smaller teams and attached to war-exhibit trains that displayed captured German military equipment throughout the country.

Washington, D. C., September 23
Cleveland. Ohio, September 24
Chicago, Illinois, September 25
St. Louis, Missouri, September 26
Kansas City, Missouri, September 27
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, September 28
Dallas, Texas, September 29 and 30
Houston, Texas., October 01
New Orleans, Louisiana, October 02
Birmingham, Alabama, October 03
Memphis, Tennessee, October 04
Louisville, Kentucky, October 05 and 06
Indianapolis, Indiana, October 07
Cincinnati, Ohio, October 08
Columbus, Ohio, October 09
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 10
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 11
New York City, New York, October 12 and 13
Boston, Massachusetts, October 14 and 15
Hartford, Connecticut, October 16
Newark, New Jersey, October 17
Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, October 18
Baltimore, Maryland, October 19

I’ve made several posts about this event over the years and always suspected that there must have been hundreds and hundreds of photographs taken of the Legion detachment simply because of the large number of events held in so many different locations.  All of these were undoubtedly well covered by the press.  Until now, I only found several high resolution pictures at the Library of Congress and nothing much else other than some grainy and faded photos found in newspaper scans.  These new pictures were found using the search page for the National Archives website.  (More specifically they are part of the National Archives at College Park.)   These particular photographs mainly come from events in Louisiana, D. C. and Harrisburg, PA associated with the Liberty Loan Tour.  One picture shows some captured German equipment that was likely from one of the trains.

I had to reformat these in order to blow up the picture while also retaining the press data typed on the form.  These are big files but you can download all 22 pictures at this link.  (I also found a Youtube video of the D.C. Event.)

 

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Merry Christmas – Joyeux Noël – Fröhliche Weihnachten

Wishing all readers and followers of this blog a very wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Please remember to keep in our prayers those brave men from all over the world who are away from their families and loved ones during this season while serving France in the Foreign Legion.  Lets also not forget those soldiers from the United States and Russia serving in Iraq and Syria as well as those who fight alongside troops from Italy, Germany, Turkey, Georgia, Romania, the UK and 32 other nations in Afghanistan.  These men are what stands between us and the Dark Ages.

One of the many traditions of the Foreign Legion during the Christmas holiday is the unit “creche”, competition.  Units (usually at the company level) compete to build the most meaningful Bethlehem manger dioramas.  Regardless of religion or beliefs each legionnaire gives their best effort in creating something special and unique.  The manger scenes must represent Christmas and the Legion and although there is no real prize involved this does not dampen their efforts to outdo the other units.  The winners are chosen by the commanders, local clergy and prominent citizens.  One will see the Christ child, the adoring Mary, Joseph and the three Wise Men depicted in very strange locations such as Mali, Djibouti, the jungles of French Guyana and even the trenches of WWI To connect the scene to the Legion are white kepis, camouflage netting, military vehicle models, Legion insignia, sand bags, and other props.  

Thank you all for your well wishes during my recent surgery.  I’m on the mend and looking forward to 2018.

Posted in Admin / Blogging / Stuff, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Legion Pulp: Once an Officer

This month’s pulp story comes from Adventure magazine (15 Sep 1932) and once again the author is Georges Surdez.  This is a garrison tale featuring an American Legionnaire sergeant stationed in a forward depot who has to negotiate a volatile situation involving his old friend who is on a self destructive binge, a woman, jealous officers, false charges and the looming specter of prison.

Once an Officer

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Radio Check

I had my appendix taken out last Sunday.  They performed a laparoscopic appendectomy which means this type of surgery was supposed to be minimally invasive and allow for a speedier recovery.  All I have to say is that my experience was neither of those things and  something that I would not wish on anyone, even a Democrat.  CAT scan indicated an easy procedure lasting maybe an hour but once they got inside the doctor found something quite different and it turned into a three hour ordeal by tiny “roto-rooter” tools, pumped in carbon dioxide gas and other torture devices.  I won’t bore you with the details but thank God I was under general anesthesia.  I was discharged on Monday and placed in the tender care of my wife.  Off work for the next 8 days (until my follow-up) I was looking forward to at least getting lots of stuff done on the computer, lots of reading and of course some Christmas related decorating and wrapping of presents.  Not a chance. I was really out of it the first two days and then, when I started to get more mobile, I just couldn’t bring myself to do more than check emails and vegetate, slack-jawed, to some YouTube videos.   Today I’m felling very much better in all areas so I’m grateful for that and look forward to a full recovery soon.

Prior to my unexpected surgery I was working on some draft posts about the French use of defensive blockhouses in their colonial adventures.  I hope to get back on those projects soon.  Since I am getting much more reading done on the Foreign Legion while convalescing there might be some quick book reviews coming next.

Pic above is related….it’s my doctor and surgical team working on my appendix.  (to be fair I’m sure he did a great job–I just have no experience to compare it to).

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