Harrison Forman’s Pictures of the First Indochina War

The University of Milwaukee Libraries Digital Collections page has posted over 300 photos taken by Harrison Forman during a 1950 visit to French Indochina.  Forman (1904-1978) was an American explorer, aviator, photographer, journalist and author.  The collection at UWM comprises 62 diaries kept by Forman as well as over 50,000 photographs and other ephemera.  His observations include accounts of the Sino-Japanese conflict, the Chinese government under Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai in 1937, and the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.   During World War II he reported from China.

The photographs posted below were found under the category “indochinese war, 1946-1954”.  There were several themes to his photographs–he liked to take pictures of average soldiers from the various French forces.  These include Senegalese, Algerian and Moroccan as well as soldiers from the French Foreign Legion.  Other categories include air-drop staging, blockhouse building, and various other logistics being performed.  The details on these pictures are very sketchy as far has identifying the French units. Perhaps this was OPSEC.  I’ve not read the diary that Forman wrote during his visit but a quick scan of it does not seem to help identify any French units by name.  I believe there are pictures here of the early Foreign Legion airborne forces of the 1BEP (1st Foreign Parachute Battalion) and the 3REI (3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment) where many of the airborne volunteers were drawn from.  There may be French airborne troops from other units in these pictures but the metadata does not help identify them so sorting through these pictures I selected the best ones that depict what I believe are Legionnaires.

NOTE: I disabled the gallery function because it was not working right so I recommend using the old “right-click, open-in-new-window” function. I also cleaned up the duplicate pictures that somehow slipped by.


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Legion Pulp: They March From Yesterday (Part 1)

1Here is this month’s pulp story–another great tale from Georges Surdez.  Well, actually only half a story; the first of a two-part serial which appeared in the March, 1930 edition of Adventure.  I have the second part of this story in hard copy so stay tuned–I promise you won’t have to wait as long as the folks back in 1930 had to wait for the next issue.

The story concerns an French-American who gets involved in some gangster-related activity in New York and has to beat a quick escape to his father’s hometown in France.  Unfortunately for him the authorities there keep good records of who is due for mandatory service in the military.  So naturally, following his sense of adventure, he signs up for the Foreign Legion.


Thanks to the original scanner “SAS” for making this beautiful pulp available.


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Hodgepodge for November 2016

It’s amazing how quickly the days are passing as this cruel and amazing year draws to an end.  The Christmas Season has suddenly exploded; all over the stores, the TV, radio and internet.  My small town’s streets and shop windows are well decorated and the neighbor’s houses are aglow with thousands of twinkling lights and inflatable Santa Clauses.  Daylight has become scarce (despite the charade of Daylight Savings Time) and yet we still have leftovers from Thanksgiving in the fridge, not a single present has been bought and not a flake of snow has lasted more than a minute.  …and I’m a day late on this post.  Here are some of the random things related to the Foreign Legion that I found last month.

conactart1. The Legion was my Homeland.  This article appeared as one of several articles on the Foreign Legion found on Special-Ops.org.  It was written by Sean Burton and originally appeared in the Australian military magazine Contact (Issue 1, March 2004).  It relates a brief description of service in the Legion as experienced by an Australian named Shane.  Here is a .pdf.

2. French Involvement in Vietnam & Dien Bien Phu.  I saw this recently on YouTube.  This is a 26 minute documentary narrated by Walter Cronkite that neatly summarizes what is called the First Indochina War from December 1946 to August 1954.  There are several scenes that show the Foreign Legion in action.

3.  Another Inspirational Video Clip.  I really can’t keep up with the number of cool Foreign Legion videos that appear on YouTube.  I don’t think I posted this one yet–it’s really well done.

4. Flickr Photographs.  Here are some recent pictures that came up on Flickr.  The first ones are additions to this album posted by Hans-Michael Tappen.  The Son Tay monument appeared in a photostream by manhhai who has also shared hundreds of other vintage pictures of Vietnam.

5.  Facebook.  This is a useless app.  I really hate it.  Nonetheless, I’m increasingly getting pulled into this madness because so many of my family and friends are active there.  In fact, this blog, Monlegionnaire has a Facebook doppelganger.  For now it simply mirrors what I post here on the wordpress blog.  I did notice that there are many Foreign Legion related Facebook pages out there that need to be recognized.  So here are some of my favorites….  (more on this topic later as there seems to be a Facebook page for every Foreign Legion unit down to the company level as well as every recent Legionnaire who served or are still serving.)

French Foreign Legion: a Descriptive Bibliography

Foreign Legion Info

Légion Etrangère / French Foreign Legion

Collecting French Foreign Legion Badges

Posted in Hodgepodge, Photographs, Video | 6 Comments

French Saharan Adventures (Le Petit Journal 6)

Here are some more color covers; this time from Le Petit Journal illustré which was the weekly illustrated supplement to the daily newspaper Le Petit Journal.  These depict various scenes from the French colonial experience in the Sahara.  Some of these, such as those featuring the Tuaregs, appear to be over-painted photographs.  These came (mostly) from GalicaI just brightened them up a bit using GIMP.


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French Colonial Adventures (La Petit Parisian 3)

Here are some more pictures from the journal La Petit Parisian that depict various scenes from the French colonial outposts in Africa and Indochina.  Most of these are from 1889 to 1912 and were found on Galica.  I played around with the brightness and contrast on the colored illustrations to make them a bit more vivid.  There are also some more covers from the Petite Journal–a magazine very similar with full illustrations on the front and pack covers and I’ll try to post those next.

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Legion Pulp: Clay in Khaki

clay-in-khakiHere is another Foreign Legion pulp story written by the master of the genre, Georges Surdez.  This tale appeared in The Big Magazine which is one of the more rarer pulp titles out there considering there was only one issue ever published.  That would have been Volume 01, Number 01 that hit the streets in March 1935.  This came about when Popular Publications purchased the Adventure title from The Butterick Publishing Company and decided to publish this one-time magazine to clear out a pile of stories they just acquired.

This story is set in a classic Legion desert fort manned by 60 hard-cases who begin to test the patience of the new commanding Lieutenant.  Of course all conflicts are eventually settled on the field of battle.


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Hodgepodge for October 2016

Well, Happy Halloween everyone, that would have been yesterday the 31st for those who might be unfamiliar with this holiday.  I searched my archives and the web for hours last week but I couldn’t find a supernatural or scary story featuring the Foreign Legion so this post is just the usual monthly wrap up of odds and ends relating to new books.

 With the weather getting colder it is time to bulk up your reading list as well as your Christmas gift list.  Here are several new books that crossed my radar recently.

1.  Osprey’s French Foreign Legion 1831–71 (Men-at-Arms).  This new book from Osprey, written by Martin Windrow, will be released on 15 Dec 2016.  You can pre-order a copy on Amazon.  (Note: There appears to be two covers floating around–one for Kindle and another for the hard copy.)

From the promo…“Concluding his bestselling series on the French Foreign Legion, Martin Windrow explores the formation and development of the Legion during its ‘first generation’.  Raised in 1831, the Legion’s formative years would see it fight continuous and savage campaigns in Algeria, aid the Spanish government in the Carlist War, join the British in the Crimean campaign and fight alongside the Swiss in the bloody battles of Magenta and Solferino. With the ever-changing combat environments they found themselves in, the Legion had to constantly adapt in order to survive.
Taking advantage of the latest research, this lavishly illustrated study explores the evolution of the uniforms and kit of the French Foreign Legion, from their early campaigns in Algeria through to their iconic Battle of Camerone in Mexico and their role in the Franco-Prussian war.”  Contents:

Introduction – France and Algeria in 1831
Chronology of organization
The first campaigns, Algeria 1832-35
Spain, 1835-38
Algeria, 1836-57
The Crimean War, 1854-56
Italy, 1859
The Mexican Adventure, 1863-67
The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71; the Paris Commune, 1871
Plate commentaries – uniform history

790282982.  By Blood Spilt – Steele’s Death March. This book is the third installment of this series written by former 2REP legionnaire Ricky Balona. This one is set in Indochina during the last years of WWII.  “Sergeant Steele and the 5 Regiment Etrangere d’Infanterie are caught up in the treacherous Japanese coup d’état in French Indochina. Steele and the Legionnaires must fight their way to safety over more than one thousand miles of mountainous terrain and thick jungle relentlessly pursued by the Japanese and the brotherhood led by Steele’s sworn enemy, Jean.”  This eBook is free for now but you can also get the whole Steele Trilogy for #5.00 from Amazon (for Kindle) here.

81m1waspsdl3.  At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion by Jean-Vincent Blanchard.  Another book that has not been released yet (you have to wait until April 2017).  From the Amazon description…

“An aura of mystery, romance, and danger surrounds the French Foreign Legion, the all-volunteer corps of the French Army, founded in 1831.  Famous for its physically grueling training in harsh climates, the legion fought in French wars from Mexico to Madagascar, Southeast Asia to North Africa.  To this day, despite its reputation for being assigned the riskiest missions in the roughest terrain, the mystique of the legion continues to attract men from every corner of the world.

In At the Edge of the World, historian Jean-Vincent Blanchard follows the legion’s rise to fame during the nineteenth century–focusing on its campaigns in Indochina and especially in Africa–when the corps played a central role in expanding and protecting the French Empire.  As France struggled to be a power capable of rivaling the British, the figure of the legionnaire–deadly, self-sacrificing, uncompromisingly efficient–came to represent the might and morale that would secure a greater, stronger nation.

Drawing from rare, archival memoirs and testimonies of legionnaires from the period and tracing the fascinating career of Hubert Lyautey, France’s first resident-general in Morocco and a hero to many a legionnaire, At the Edge of the World chronicles the Foreign Legion at the height of its renown, when the corps and its archetypically handsome, moody, and marginalized recruits became both the symbols of a triumphant colonialism and the stuff of legend.”

4.  Siege at Dien Bien Phu Series.  This six-book series chronicles the paths of Bix, an American farm boy, and Chau, a Vietnamese immigrant whose paths cross night in the deep south where Chau is saved from a bunch of rednecks by the timely arrival of Bix.  Chau suggests Bix join the French Foreign Legion and fight for adventure and something more meaningful than his current state of affairs.  HOWEVER, these same six books are also available as one volume called simply Siege at Dien Bien Phu.  I’ve just started the first book and it is so-far pretty good.  The author, Richard Baker, is a Vietnam veteran who has written other books on the Vietnam War to include Cao Bang.

5. Sauvage.  I found these awesome illustrations at this website that featured an article on the French graphic novel called Sauvage: Les Damnés d’Oaxaca.  The story is set in 1863 in Mexico and features the adventures of Foreign Legion lieutenant Félix Sauvage and these are some of the images used in the book.  There are apparently other volumes in the Sauvage series, also drawn and written by Felix Maynet and Yann, with the titles being “Le spectre de Chapultepec” and “Dans les Griffes de Salm-Salm“.

the-centurions6.  The Centurians.  This book is finally out in an affordable edition.  The original paperbacks and hard copies are insanely expensive to purchase because of their rarity.  (I’ve had both The Centurions and the sequel entitled The Praetorians in paperback but have not read them yet.  One was found at a yard sale and the other was picked up at a book show for $5.00.)

“When The Centurions was first published in 1960, readers were riveted by the thrilling account of soldiers fighting for survival in hostile environments. They were equally transfixed by the chilling moral question the novel posed: how to fight when the “age of heroics is over.” As relevant today as it was half a century ago, The Centurions is a gripping military adventure, an extended symposium on waging war in a new global order, and an essential investigation of the ethics of counterinsurgency. Featuring a foreword by renowned military expert Robert D. Kaplan, this important wartime novel will again spark debate about controversial tactics in hot spots around the world.


7. Rendezvous with Death: The Americans Who Joined the Foreign Legion in 1914 to Fight for France and for Civilization.  This 332 page book is available on Kindle as well as hard copy.  I’m looking forward to reading this one because there were several books to come out on this subject during the Great War and shortly after that captured my interest.

“Before America joined World War I, a small group of Americans volunteered for the French Foreign Legion to help defeat the Central Powers. Historian David Hanna profiles seven of these volunteers: a poet, an artist, a boxer, a stunt pilot, a college student, a veteran of the Spanish American War, and an advertising executive. All seven men were united in courage; and some, like poet Alan Seeger, paid the ultimate sacrifice.”



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Foreign Legion Recruitment Booklet

picture-000aA short post today to pass on an interesting little Foreign Legion recruitment booklet/pamphlet (in English).  Not sure of the date but it was published most likely between 1979 to 1982 (a clue is on the above illustration).  Back in the 1970’s you could probably walk into any one of the Legion’s recruitment offices and find this item in several languages.  It is a simple, well written work (minus certain typos) that entices potential recruits with phrases like:

• a name which cracks like gunshot
• a name which comes up so often in the press or in litterature
• a name which conceals a lot of mystery and makes one

the Legion represents a life of adventure…..

…they refuse to be middle of the road people.

The legionnaire is first and foremost a man of action, brave in combat, eager for change and effort; what he fears most is idleness and routine.


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Legion Pulp: Red-Headed Dancing Girl

redheadeddancgrl_2Sorry, I completely forgot to post this story last night.  Red-Headed Dancing Girl is another classic tall tale from the feverish imagination of Theodore Roscoe’s narrator Legionnaire Thibaut Corday.  It appeared in the 10 April, 1937 issue of Argosy.  With a well crafted phrase on the first page that reads “…a hippy dancing girl wearing little more than a smile, in the pose of a pirouette.” Roscoe guarantees the reader will be hooked and proceed to the rest of the story.   This story takes place in Senegal and features a common character of Foreign Legion fiction–the beautiful but tragic dancer/singer who finds herself in a seedy cafe/bar in Africa where she becomes the center of the intriguing plot and the love interest/femme fatale of various Legionnaires.  NOTE: Not my scan so thanks to the original scanner.  Also you can get all of the stories (in four volumes; eBook and/or hard copy) of Thibaut Corday from the publishers at Altus Press.


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The White Kepi by Walter Kanitz

img400The White Kepi: A Casual History of the French Foreign Legion by Walter Kanitz.  1956.  364 pages.

The White Kepi is an odd book.  It is not a fiction book yet it falls far short of any type of decent or accurate history of the French Foreign Legion.  It took me several tries to finish it but I finally pushed through to the the end of what is 350 pages of overblown sensational tripe.  In fact, about the only thing The White Kepi might have been good for is as a reference work for authors who wrote those lurid stories about the Foreign Legion found in post-war Men’s Adventure tabloids or the wilder pulp magazines.  While this might be excusable and you can easily ignore some the exaggerations, The White Kepi also comes across as a very anti-Legion screed with sweeping condemnations about all  Legionnaires being mentally deficient, alcoholics, and suicidal.

The first part of the book (Chapters 1-3) is devoted to telling the history of the Foreign Legion which the author feels is essential to understanding the rest of the book which I guess is the “casual’ part of the history.  His historical review boils down to “the Legion is composed of suicidal men and because of this they fight like devils.”  Chapters 4-10 are devoted to titillating subjects such as the the notorious punishing marches in the desert, atrocities and torture, desertion, Le Cafard, relations with women, homosexuality, and an armchair psychological assessment of the mind of the typical Legionnaire.   He frequently cites several negative books about the Legion to include Erwin Rosen’s  In the Foreign Legion, Ernst Lowehndorff’s Hell in the Foreign Legion, Memoirs of the Foreign Legion by Maurice Magnus and Les Mystères de la Légion Etrangère by Georges D’Esparbes.

Kanitz makes several errors in this book.  The one which really made me shake my head was his including a very inaccurate account by Erwin Rosen of the Battle of Camerone which says the arm of Captain Danjou was embalmed, after being found severed on that battlefield and that all 63 men were killed (even though Rosen’s book made note of wounded survivors).  Any Legionnaire should have known the true story of that battle and would not have used something so inaccurate.  He also paints the death rates of first term Legion recruits as over 70%.  His chapters about how “The Legion Relaxes” are not even to be bothered with because he prone to taking small incidents and applies them to the entire corps.  According to Kanitz, every legionnaire is a poor, lonely alcoholic with homosexual tendencies due to cafard and desert isolation.

The White Kepi would have been a better book if Kanitz included more of his own experiences.  I’m sure he had some personal adventures in Algeria while he was in the Legion.  Instead he pieced together some of the more salacious bits from dozens of other books and accounts in order to paint a very negative and inaccurate account of the Legion.

Walter Kanitz was born in 1910 in Vienna, Austria. He was a writer at a young age with two children’s books published by the time he was 21 years old and would later train as a dentist.  In 1938 Kanitz fled to Switzerland just before Germany annexed Austria.  His anti-Nazi sentiments and family ties would have made him a target for the concentration camps.  He enlisted in the Foreign Legion at the beginning of the war and saw a couple years of service in North Africa before the Nazi’s found about about him and requested that he be extradited to the continent and or handed over to the local Gestapo authorities.  In 1942 he was able to escape from the Legion and flee to Spain where he was reunited with his wife and children.  In 1944 Kanitz and his family (including his mom) emigrated to Canada (Toronto) where he would have a successful career in radio, create a small toy making business–and, no surprise here, write for various men’s magazines.  He passed away February 7, 1986 in Toronto, Canada.

Here anther review of this book written by Geoffrey Bocca (who also wrote a history of the Foreign Legion called La Légion! in 1964) and appeared in the 02 June 1956 issue of The Saturday Review.


In addition to The White Kepi Walter Kanitz also wrote a hard to find book called Tales of the Foreign Legion.   (A review of this book is here).


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