The Legion Marches

The Legion MarchesHere is a gripping article that appeared in the September, 1946 issue of the U.K. magazine The Wide World (The Magazine for Men).  The Wide World was an odd combination of pulp and slick.  It was printed on much better paper than the pulps and contained mainly true to life adventure articles and stories (travel, hunting, exploration, war, law enforcement, sports, etc.).  It was slightly smaller than pulps in size–both height, width and overall thickness yet had wonderful eye-catching covers that would look good on any adventure fiction pulp.  The magazine ran from 1898 to the end 1965.

This article was written by Leslie J. Smith who was one of three Englishmen serving with the 5th Regiment of the Foreign Legion in Indochina.  Smith provides a first hand account of the fighting between the Japanese occupation forces and the isolated French garrisons in early 1945.  He served in the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Regiment during that unit’s epic rear guard action and forced march on the tails of the French evacuation of personnel into China.   As Smith points out, this was a little known battlefield of WWII yet it involved incredible sacrifice and epic resistance to overwhelming odds.

The Legion Marches

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Hodgepodge for May 2016

A day late on this post but here are some of the random items I’ve found related to the French Foreign Legion.

  1.  Podcast: What We Learned About the French Foreign Legion.  This is an interesting, almost hour long, podcast by the guys at We Are The Mighty (a weekly show featuring awesome military stories, weird history, and entertaining guest appearances).  They discuss Camerone, the formation of the Legion, the Legion’s relationship with the Nazi’s during WWII, famous Legionnaires, and other interesting (and totally random) tidbits of the Legion.  The narrators wander a bit but seem to have done enough research to pull it off pretty well without ever coming across as complete uninformed-know-it-alls you often find on other podcast shows.  They are also former military members who bring a certain degree of expert insight to their military themed podcasts.

  2.  Former Chinese Legionnaire Seeks Wife Online.  Fu Chen, from Tianjin, joined the Foreign Legion after the death of his girlfriend.  He got out of the Legion as a corporal and now runs a security company.  This small page indicates that Mr. Chen is seeking, via the internet, a woman to marry.  I wish him luck but to use caution when meeting chicks on the web–as the comments below the article hint, the ChiComs might want to watch him more closely or gather more information on him.

Chen  3.  News from Mayotte.  It’s not often you hear about the Foreign Legion detachment in Mayott (Détachement de Légion étrangère de Mayotte, or DLEM).  This article sheds some light on the situation in the Indian Ocean.

DLEM  4.  Soldier of Fortune Magazine:  The Road to the French Foreign Legion.  Here is a twofer; an official Foreign Legion recruiting video and what appears to be an ancient article from the archives of Soldier of Fortune magazine describing one Brit’s journey into the Legion.  I subscribed to this magazine for many, many years when I was in the Army.  I loved it then and even nowadays I occasionally pick up a hard copy at the local PX.  SOF published many articles on the Foreign Legion over the years.  I have a near complete run of this magazine (issue #4 to the end of 2009) sitting in storage. I might see about reprinting some of the Legion articles if SOF is feeling generous. 

  5.  “Never Be Afraid” by Danilo Pagliaro.  Here is an interview with the (still serving) Italian Legionnaire who recently published a memoir entitled “Never Be Afraid” or Mai Avere Paura in Italian.  Danilo Pagliaro has served over 23 years in the Legion and will soon be retired.  From reading this short article he sounds like a really solid NCO and hopefully someday his book gets translated into English.

copertina-libro6.  An American Foreign Legion.  The Washington Post had this article that dominated the news feed for “Foreign Legion” this past month.  Here is the better written rebuttal found at Red State.  I just want to note that there are far more “foreigners” in the U.S. military (about 65,000) than there are in the entire French Foreign Legion.  This idea of an American Foreign Legion, as noted by the Red State article, often crops up in various forums and websites.  It makes no sense to me why some would actually think its a good idea.  A better idea (not too much better) might be to create penal units to empty out our prisons and make the prisoners pay back their debts to society.  Start with the street gang losers–make them earn their paroles via deployments to Afghanistan.

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I Was a Legionnaire

TaliesHere is an article from the October 9, 1953, issue of The Outspan–a South African weekly publication that ran from 1927 to 1957.  It was sent to me a couple of years ago by a generous reader of this blog who painstakingly taped several photo copies together to make one large complete spread (thanks again Oliver).  I tried to scan it and reassemble it in some readable format but the results did not look too good so I grabbed the text and recreated the article in MS Word.   The .pdf is below.

I found the article an interesting take on the Foreign Legion and the conflict in Indo-China.  It repeats many of the common Legion legends of horror and brutality and tall tales of combat one usually finds in the American men’s adventure magazines.  This may be because the magazine, The Outspan, was a mostly fiction based magazine that included many adventure and war stories over it’s long run.

I Was a Legionnaire_Basil Talies

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Photo Album of Fremdenlegionär Leutener Part 2

Here are some random comments on these great pictures.  I’ve downloaded each photograph from these two albums and here is the breakdown.

Album 1 (Fremdenlegion in Algerien 1930er Übersicht und Postkarten).  This album has 82 images and provides and overview of the album by pages and individual scans of several postcards.

(3) Front and back covers with leather pouch.
(54) Album pages (containing 382 photographs)
(25) Postcards

Album 2 (Fremdenlegion in Algerien 1930er).  This album has 382 images.  Each is a high resolution scan of the individual photographs found on the 54 interior pages of the album.  I roughly organized the photographs into the following main categories.

(18) Aerial Views
(53) Aviation
(53) Casernes, Bases & Forts
(28) Locals
(33) Scenery
(157) Soldiers (Legion, Aviation, Meharistes, and others)
(22) Vehicles
(17) German Army & Afrikakorps

Some Observations:  It will take a long time and some serious detective skills to add more context to these pictures.  Questions that I’m working on include what unit was Leutener assigned to during his time in the Foreign Legion, what are the names of the forts, nomenclature of the vehicles and airplanes and what bases are depicted in the aerial photographs.

     1. German Army Service.  If you viewed all the pictures in the album you will notice a sudden transition from the uniform of the French Foreign Legion to the uniform of the early WWII era German Army.  There are 17 pictures depicting soldiers in what appears to be mountain troop smocks and the uniform of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK).  I suspect that Leutener left the Foreign Legion in late 1934 after his five years were up but was later drafted into the Wehrmacht for service in North Africa in 1940.  Perhaps he was selected for service in the 361st Reinforced Infantry Regiment which purposely selected former German legionnaires for their knowledge of the desert terrain of North Africa.  This regiment was part of the 90th Light Infantry Division which did have several specialized units trained for commando and mountain type operations.

   2. Unknown Insignia.  I noticed several pictures of men wearing a pocket insignia shaped in an upside down triangle.  I checked my references on Foreign Legion badges but could not find a match.  I suspect it might be a transportation company badge.

InsigZoom

3. 1932 Train Crash.  There were two photographs related to the tragic train accident that occurred in 14 September 1932.  A train carrying 500 members of the 1st Regiment rolled down a hillside and killed 62 legionnaires.  The cause of the accident was heavy rains that weakened the track.

4.  Complete Mysteries.  There are some photographs that really need more explanation but unfortunately Legionnaire Leutener did not write much in the margins of the albums or on the photographs themselves.  The picture below stumps me completely.  It appears to be an assembly of prisoners of war but there are very few guards.  The uniform (greatcoat and garrison caps) does not look French but I think these men could be some of the survivors of the train crash noted above.  Also, 1934 is a bit early for the large Spanish influx of Legion recruits that occurred in 1939 so I don’t think these men are from that civil war.

UIGroupMarching

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Legion Pulp: Night Brings Wisdom

NightBringsWisdomWith his lieutenant caught in the net of a vicious money-lender, it was up to gruff Legionnaire Porchot to find–or smash–a way out…

Here is this month’s pulp story from the imagination and typewriter of Georges Surdez.  This early work by Surdez appeared in the 7 November 1931 issue of Argosy.  The story is about justice served in the dark alleyways of the native quarter.

Night Brings Wisdom

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Photo Album of Fremdenlegionär Leutener

GroupCBGateThis amazing collection of vintage photographs recently appeared on Flickr in an album format posted by Hans-Michael Tappen of Munich.  It is a remarkable set of 382 original photographs affixed to several pages of a photo album that belonged to a German member of the Foreign Legionnaire.  These were scanned into high resolution digital images by Herr Tappen and uploaded to Flicker over several days.   The album itself was kept secure in a red leather pouch that you can see here and which looks like it is a souvenir from North Africa.

The pictures were taken in the early half of the 1930’s and depict various scenes of Legionnaire Leutener’s postings in North Africa to include Algeria, Morocco and the Saharan Desert.  I suspect that he was a specialized or expert mechanic of some sort because there are many pictures of various vehicles, tool rooms, equipment and many airplanes.  Some of the Algerian locations I recognize as the aviation base at Colomb Béchar, the Foreign Legion barracks at Ain Sefra, and at lease one or two desert posts such as Bordj Estienne (actually a commercial venue), Casbah Servieres and Poste Reggan near Adrar.  There even seems to be a rare picture of the inside of a barracks room at Sidi Bel Abbes and several of the barracks exteriors at Aïn Séfra.  Below are some of the pictures to be found in the album…just to give you a taste of what an incredible find this is. Much more to follow on these photographs as I put on my thinking cap and delve deeper on some of the details I might provide.  

Thank you Herr Tappen for sharing these on Flickr.  It’s a real nice treat to view these.

 

Posted in Armée d'Afrique, Photographs | 4 Comments

Joyeux Camerone!

Camerone Day!

img072Camerone Day is the sacred day of the French Foreign Legion.  It is celebrated by legionnaires wherever they may be in the world.  It commemorates the 1863 battle in Mexico when 63 men of the 3rd Company of the 1st Regiment fought over 2,000 Mexican infantry, cavalry and irregulars.  My favorite quote appears on the 1892 memorial erected on the site of the battle which reads: “Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its numbers crushed them. Life rather than courage abandoned these French soldiers on April 30, 1863.  In their memory, the motherland has erected this monument”

Here are some Camerone Day related bits that I thought would be appropriate for today…

affiche-camerone-20161. Camerone 2016 Official Web Site.  This website shows how the Foreign Legion headquarters at Aubagne is celebrating Camerone Day.  Clicking on the Programs link you can see the agendas for the other Legion Regiments and major commands.  The theme for this year’s celebration is 40 Years of Overseas Operations.  Next year, if you plan on attending any of these events which are usually open to the public, make sure you plan ahead, arrive early and follow instructions carefully.

vlcsnap-2016-04-30-12h25m11s22. Camerone Day 1944 (Sidi Bel Abbes).  Here is a fantastic video of the 1944 observance of Camerone held in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria–the home of the Legion from 1843 until 1962. Here is a rough Google translation: “This is a short story of the film department of the French Army dedicated to the Foreign Legion on the occasion of the commemoration of Camarón that celebrated the heroism of the legionaries who, on April 30, 1863, bravely withstood Mexican soldiers during the Mexican War (1862 -1867) and mark each year the festival of Legionnaires military tradition.

This film from April 30, 1944, shows the anniversary of this feat of arms in Sidi-bel-Abbes, the cradle of the Foreign Legion, which is decked out for the occasion and receives André Diethelm, Commissar of War, General de Lattre de Tassigny, General Bethouart and other civilian and French and allied military.  The ceremony begins with a tribute to the dead in front of the memorial of the Legion (representing a globe surrounded by four statues of legionnaires at different times).  Then, during the call to arms, the Battle of Camarón is told in voiceover.  Finally, preceded by music, Legion troops on foot and vehicles parade through the streets of Sidi-bel-Abbes, before a large crowd while the commentary highlights the recovered union Legionnaires since 1940 and their contribution to the next Allied victory.”

3.  3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment Camerone Menu.  Here is an oddity I found recently.  A copy of the menu for the 3rd B.E.P.  (3e Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes), one of the first Foreign Legion airborne units .  It was formed in November of 1949 and used mainly to train replacements for the 1st and 2nd Battalions who were serving in Indochina.  It was stationed in Tunisia and also helped maintain order in that country.  The 3rd B.E.P. was itself sent overseas (to Haiphong) in 1954 before returning to Tunisia in 1955.  In September of that year it become the 3rd Parachute Regiment (3REP) for all of three months before being merged into the 2nd Parachute Regiment (2REP).  This breakfast menu is from 01 May 1955.

4.  Pegaso Camerone Diorama.  This short article is from issue #21 (Mar-Apr 1998) of the French language hobby magazine Figurines discusses the 54mm Camerone figure set / vignette from Pegaso.  Here is another look at these figures at Algu’s World of Miniatures.

MiniatureDio

Figurinesn21 (Camerone Dio)

5.  Kepi Blanc Camerone Poster Contests.  Kepi Blanc Magazine, the official publication of the Foreign Legion, has been running a Camerone poster contest since 2007.  At their website you can view the selected entries for the years 2007, 2008. 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.  Not sure what happened to 2014, 2015 and 2016.  Perhaps they no longer run the competition.  Here are a couple of entries from 2013–the 150th Anniversary of Camerone.

6.  The Battle of Camerone.  I want to give credit to whomever wrote this background paper on The Battle of Camerone but have no recollection of where I downloaded it.  It is a well done historical summary with several illustrations about this famous event.  Worth reading and saving.  Much better than some accounts even with the dreaded “comic” font used in the .pdf.

The Battle of Camerone

7.  Recit Historique de la bataille de “Camerone”.  Here is another document that has many interesting items relating to Camerone.  Text is in French but you can still see the list of the 63 Legionnaires who fought at the battle.  It’s interesting to note that 17 of the 61 were still alive when the smoke cleared.  Their names are on pages 13-15.

CAMERONE-2013-V05

8.  Camerone Day Blog.  I link to this incredible gaming page each year.  One cannot get enough of this table top layout of Camerone.

CameroneDayBlog

9.  First Video.  Here is the first video I found of the event held today at Augbagne.  More are sure to follow but I’ll close out this post for now and perhaps update it tomorrow.

And this video below is from Calvi, the home of the 2nd Parachute Regiment (2REP).

 

 

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French Forlorn Legion

CrackedMadAdjudant…I was saving that bacon……….er, saving this comic strip from a vintage Cracked Magazine (issue #4, September 1958).  But since it’s so near to Camerone Day I figured now is the time….     Cracked Magazine was a very strong competitor to the more popular Mad Magazine which was first published in the fall of 1952.  Both were screwball black and white comic books featuring some really outstanding artwork by a host of wonderful artists such as John Severin who did such an amazing job on this three page piece and Bill Ward who took some time off drawing his usual big boobed risque comics to provide regular panels for Cracked.  This piece has no plot of course and is a slapstick play on the Foreign Legion genre.  …but what incredible art work…just look at the faces on the first page–I see Elvis, Gary Cooper, Erroll Flynn, General MacArthur, and Laurel and Hardy.  If you look closely you will find written on the wall..Faut pas s’en faire.  Which means, in a simple form “Why Worry?”  or maybe… in the words of Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine “What, Me Worry?”. 

Forlorn Legion

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1980’s Kepi Blanc Magazines

Engaged in a never ceasing effort to organize and back-up my digital files I discovered that I had some collections of Kepi Blanc magazine.  So I decided to combine the images into pdf’s and share them.  These are not my scans and also not the highest quality but you can read most of the text.  The issues below include the December 1980 (#397), March 1983 (#422), and June 1983 (#425).

In looking through these magazines I found that the older issues seem to include slightly more articles and pictures on the Foreign Legion’s history, badges, and famous personalities than the larger more slick issues published today.  The modern magazine whose current issue is April 2016 (#780) is still very enjoyable to look through but lacks articles like you find in the older magazines.  For example in issue #397 you had two features on Legion insignias (and another on stamp collecting), two historical pieces on former Foreign Legion officers who passed away in 1980 (“Le Batallion Cazaban” and “La Pere Nais”), a short story for Christmas, a poem, a reprint of an article from Kepi Blanc issue #60 (L’Indo Chine: Partout ou le Devoir Fait Signe), and an article on the Foreign Legion museum.  Issues #422 and #425 also had good historical pieces and the insignia feature.

Kepi Blanc n397

Kepi Blanc n422

Kepi Blanc n425

NOTE:  April 30th is Camerone Day! I hope to make several posts around that day so please check back here regularly. 

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Legion Pulp: The Blue Squadron

TheBlueSquadronThis month’s pulp story is from the 10 April 1940 issue of Short Stories–just over 76 years ago if you think about it.  It is written by a mysterious gent called Juan Cabrera de Moya who wrote a handful of exotic stories mainly for Short Stories and Blue Book.  Not sure if he is for real or a creation of one of the regular writers on the staff.  In addition to the story below is an additional two page feature about de Moya and the Foreign Legion of the late 1930’s.

The Blue Squadron features men of the Compagnies Méharistes (Camel mounted auxiliaries led by French officers), some Senegalese Tirailleurs and several hard cases from the Foreign Legion.  The story takes place in the northern fringes of the Sahara Desert and features rebellious Tuaregs as the featured villains, many any of whom eagerly die for Allah and for the reward of 72 little virgin boys/girls/white raisins.  There are a lot of characters to keep straight but it is a good story.  

The Blue Squadron

Juan Cabrera de Moya

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