FRANCE 24: The Foreign Legion, another French Exception

Here is a clip that just popped up in my YouTube feed.  It is an English language video about the Foreign Legion produced by France 24 that appeared there on 27 April.  It is really well done thematically and filmed in beautiful high quality video.  The reporter follows a section of the 13th DBLE (now located in France) during their deployment to southern Mali as part of Operation Barkhane.  There is no combat during the six days the reporter spent embedded with the Legion but what comes across in the individual interviews and background is extremely enlightening.  This is very well worth the time to watch.

UPDATE:  Here is a more recent supplement to the above video.  Shorter but provides more insight and commentary of the same Legionnaires–mainly about their motivations for joining.

 

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Some Benigni

I found these color uniform prints recently at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.  The artist is Pierre Benigni whose work on the Foreign Legion usually appears as black and white illustrations.  Many of his drawings appeared on the covers of La Légion Etrangère which was the predecessor to the Kepi Blanc magazine known as (see below).  These four illustrations are some of the uniform prints that appeared in the first edition of the Foreign Legion’s Livre D’Or that was published for the Centennial of the Legion in 1931.

Pierre Benigni, (1878 – 1956), was a 20th century French military painter who specialized in Napoleonic armies.  A pupil of Édouard Detaille, he became, after Maurice Mahut (another prominent illustrator of the Foreign Legion), the appointed military painter of the Legion and immortalized the Legion regiments on foot, mounted companies and cavalry units.  He was named an honorary Legionnaire 1st Class in 1933 for his illustrations and given the matricule number 12,002.

 

Posted in Art & Illustration, Uniforms | 6 Comments

The Foreign Legion on Holiday (Ft. LeClerc)

Here is a quick post that gives a glimpse into what the Legion was up to back in 1952 during Camerone Day.  This article came from the 11 October UK illustrated magazine”The Sphere”.  This has a couple of pictures of Fort LeClerc which (according to Wikipedia) was originally built by the Italians.  It came under control of the French Foreign Legion during WWII when General Leclerc and Free French Forces invaded Italian Libya in 1943.  it is located near the town of Sebha, Libya.  The picture above is interesting given the date of the article and that the two buglers are recently returned from Indochina and are wearing their bush hats which you don’t normally see worn with the the Saharan “gandoura”.

Foreign Legion on Holiday_The Sphere_19521011_027

 

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Foreign Legion Recruitment Posters

Here are some images depicting about 21 Foreign Legion posters.  Not all of them are official recruitment posters but most of the known ones used by the Legion are included.  I found out that each poster had a print run of about 2,000 and that there were actually only 15 unique posters ever designed with the first created circa 1947.  Five posters were designed with photographs and ten were drawings.  The drawings were for the most part the work of legionaries and among the more notable artists were Andreas Rosenberg (Legionnaire and then Army painter in the 1950s) and Rudolf Burda (1960s-1980).  This makes original posters highly collectable and might fetch up to 500 euros for one in good condition.

Recruitment posters were displayed for years in transit centers where there would likely be a parade of foreigners who just might make the jump into the Legion; these would be the rail stations, ports, airports and cleverly enough–the police stations (gendarmeries).  (I remember seeing a Legion poster in the Police Station in Calais when I was pulled off the train for a random search and questioning in 1982.)  Nowadays the internet seems to be one of the more effective recruitment techniques.   Unlike the other French military services the Legion kept their posters very simple and usually made no reference to exotic locations as an enticement to enlist.  The originals were printed by civilian printers in Paris and Marseilles but are now produced by the folks at Kepi Blanc Magazine.  They were made in two sizes with the large 1.5m X 1.5m appearing in the transit centers and the smaller ones .9m X .7m or .5m in other locations.  If you can’t find an original Foreign Legion recruitment poster you might have better luck finding a poster created for the annual Camerone celebrations in the various regimental centers.

NOTE: This information came mostly from issue #03 of Soldats de la Légion étrangère by Hachette.  The images were from multiple locations on the internet especially Pintrest.

 

 

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The Demon Caravan by Georges Surdez

The official Camerone 2018 ceremonies are now over in most of the Legion’s garrisons and regimental posts but I’m sure the celebrations (and libations) will last well into the early hours of Tuesday.  I will have my bottle of Kronenburg tonight after work and some red wine during dinner and here on this blog I usually make several posts to commemorate Camerone Day and this week will no different.

I will start off by sharing one of the three Georges Surdez fiction stories to appear in book form (the others being the 1928 Swords of the Soudan, L. Harper Allen Co. and the 1931 They March From Yesterday by W. Collins, Sons & Co).  The Demon Caravan was published in 1927 by Lincoln MacVeagh/The Dial Press, reprinted in 1929 by A.L. Burt (a serial re-printer), published in the U.K. in 1931 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., and then in 1951 by Dell as a map-back paperback (see below).   I’m not sure why more of Surdez’s work did not make the jump to book form or at least to paperback.  Many of his serials could have easily reached the 120-200 page length of what was an average paperback of the time so could have easily filled up hardback.  (Note that the hardback copy has 245 pages of story and the Dell paperback has 222.)  Swords of the Soudan originally appeared as a four part serial in Argosy All-Story Weekly (1923 Jan 27, Feb 03, Feb 10, Feb 17).  It also appeared serialized in certain newspapers in 1940.

The Demon Caravan is not 100% Foreign Legion as the protagonist, Paul Lartal, is an officer in charge of a company of the Saharan Camel Corps.  One of his NCO’s is a former legionnaire and the Legion is mentioned several times.  The Demon Caravan was made into a movie in 1953 called The Desert Legion and the switch was made by casting Alan Ladd as Paul Lartal of the Foreign Legion.

The copy that I added to the Monlegionnaire Library came from the Digital Library of India via the Internet Archive and is the 1931 UK edition.  The version I downloaded from there was pretty poorly scanned so I spent some time fixing it up, adding covers, and inserting an illustration of an Algerian girl that I thought appropriate.  So here is a nice readable copy of The Demon Caravan.

The Demon Caravan

 

Posted in Books, Pulp Fiction Stories | 2 Comments

Joyeux Camerone 2018!

It’s that time of year again.  Tomorrow is 30 April–the most revered day in the history of the French Foreign Legion that commemorates that famous last-stand battle in 1863 that pitted 65 legionnaires against 3,000 Mexican cavalry and infantry.  The theme for this year’s 155th anniversary of the battle is Tu n’abandonnes jamais…ni tes morts, ni tes blesses… (you never abandon your dead nor your wounded).  This comes from the last part of the Foreign Legion’s Code of Honor where it mentions “In combat, you act without passion and without hate, you respect defeated enemies, and you never abandon your dead, your wounded, or your arms.”

For the ceremony on 30 April in Aubagne, the designated carrier of the “hand of Captain Danjou”, the “le porteur de la main du capitaine Danjou” will be Chief Medical Officer Jean-Louis Rondy.  In this way the Legion will honor the French Army Health Service and the way in which it cares for wounded soldiers and legionnaires. 

At 17, in 1943, Jean-Louis Rondy participated in the liberation of Paris and served in the ranks of the Leclerc Division (French 2nd Armored Division) in the campaign of France and Germany.  After the war, he resumed his studies and was admitted into the French Naval School of Medicine (the Santé Navale a civil-military medical school).  Appointed doctor-lieutenant in 1952, assigned to 1BEP (1st Foreign Parachute Battalion) of the Foreign Legion, he joined the fight in Tonkin. He participated in operations in the Delta and made the fateful jump onto Dien Bien Phu on November 21/22 1953.  He is wounded and captured on May 8, 1954 and held prisoner for four months until he was repatriated and then hospitalized for almost a year. He served again in the Foreign Legion, as medical officer at 3REI (1965 – 1967) in Madagascar, during the events in the Comoros.

–There will be a press booklet released soon for the 2018 Camerone Day but as of now I cannot find a copy online.  Here is the annual information booklet on the Foreign Legion.  Legion Etrangere 2018

–This year you can watch the ceremony live on the official Foreign Legion Facebook page.  …and be sure to check out the page for Miss Kepi Blanc 2018 (2REG).  (Note that there are several Miss Kepi Blanc events–one of each regiment it seems.)

–Another veteran who will be present at the ceremony will be 91 year old Frencis Ruiz.  A former member of the Foreign Legion who joined when he was 16 years old in 1944.  In 1950 he was sent to Indochina to serve as a Sergeant-Chef in the 1BEP.  He fought in the battle for RC4 (Colonial Route 4) in October 1950 and was captured by the Viet Minh and held prisoner until 1952.

Note:  More to follow this week.

 

 

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Legion Pulp: Outguessed

Here is a pretty short story from the pulp Thrilling Adventures dated July, 1936.  This one appeared last week on the wonderful page called PulpGen.  It was written by Ralph Milne Farley which was a pen name for Roger Sherman Hoar who was a prolific Science Fiction writer for the pulps as well as a State Senator in Massachusetts.  Not much say about this story other than it pays to plan your desertion from the Foreign Legion in extensive detail.

Outguessed

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Hodgepodge – Spring 2018

I used to post a monthly wrap up of new Foreign Legion related articles and items (a hodgepodge) found on the “inter-webs”.  I stopped these posts last year because it seemed like I was reaching too hard for relevant material each month.  But, since it has been a while since the last “Hodgepodge” there are many interesting things you may have missed.  So here is a Springtime Hodgepodge…

1. Warriors in Exile by H. Bedford-Jones.  This is a new book from Altus Press which contains seventeen pulp stories about the French Foreign Legion.  “Collected for the first time is author H. Bedford-Jones’ 17-part saga of the French Foreign Legion… the fascinating series based on the records of the most famous and picturesque fighting force of modern times. Featuring stories of the Foreign Legions in Crimea, Italy, Formosa, Tonkin, Siam, Dahomey, Sudan, Madagascar, the Sahara, with Maximilian of Austria in Mexico, war-torn Spain in 1835, and the Franco-Prussian War.”  The soft cover is $24.95 which is a bargain at any price since the only alternative is to find and purchase 17 issues of the old and crumbly yet expensive actual Blue Book Magazine to read each of the stories.  This volume measures in at 384 pages which would make this one of the finest collection of Foreign Legion pulp fiction ever published between two covers.   Here is the list of stories included in this collection.

I. “We, About to Die”, The Blue Book Magazine Jun 1937
II. A Touch of Sun, The Blue Book Magazine Jul 1937
III. The Legion in Spain, The Blue Book Magazine Aug 1937
IV. The Grandson of Pompey, The Blue Book Magazine Sep 1937
V. Leather-Bellies in the Crimea, The Blue Book Magazine Oct 1937
VI. “Life, Not Courage, Left Them”, The Blue Book Magazine Nov 1937
VII. The First American to Fight in the Legion, The Blue Book Magazine Dec 1937
VIII. One Night in Magenta, The Blue Book Magazine Jan 1938
IX. Dust of Dead Souls, The Blue Book Magazine Feb 1938
X. A Crown Is Earned, The Blue Book Magazine Mar 1938
XI. The Crime of the Legion, The Blue Book Magazine Apr 1938
XII. Fighting Through, The Blue Book Magazine May 1938
XIII. Gentleman Royal, The Blue Book Magazine Jun 1938
XIV. The King’s Pipe, The Blue Book Magazine Jul 1938
XV. The Little Black God, The Blue Book Magazine Aug 1938
XVI. Reilly of the Legion, The Blue Book Magazine Sep 1938
XVII. A Devil in the Heart, The Blue Book Magazine Oct 1938

2.  Foreign Legion Wargame at Hamburger Tactica.  This popular wargame convention featured a Foreign Legion game billed as “Sons of the Desert”.  It used the Triumph & Tragedy game rules to resolve a large skirmish between France’s legionnaires and massed forces of marauding Arab tribesmen.  The table was top-notch and featured a Hudson & Allen Fort Zinderneuf desert fort as the center piece of terrain.  Pictures and a recap of the game are here and a description of how the game table was assembled is here.  I see other photographs of this game on various AAR’s from the Tactica event–too numerous to post here but just look for AAR’s from the convention and you will find them.  Also note that there were several desert themed boards (Dune, Battle of Hattin, Afghanistan, Benghazi, etc.) there and the Turkish Fort I spotted would double for a good French one.  A video of the convention is here (with the Legion board making a cameo at 13:57) and another one here (at 14:03).

3.  Thomas Gast–The Foreign Legion – First Hand Tips.  If you have not been to this webpage before you are in for a real treat.  Mr. Gast, a Legion veteran (of 17 years!) provides his passionate insights into how to join and survive in this famous unit.  In numerous videos he also discusses some history of the Legion and talks about his experiences from 1985-2002 where he served in the 2nd Parachute Regiment (2REP).  The links may be a bit confusing but you can access all of his videos on YouTube here.

4.  Fremdenlegion in Indochina.  Here is another set of vintage photographs of the Legion in Indochina that appeared on the Flickr page of Hans-Michael Tappen.  They are clearly not all taken in Indochina as several are definitely from North Africa (and include some odd, unrelated portraiture as well).  Additional random pictures of the Foreign Legion were added to this album as well as to this album.  The picture above seemed to have slipped into yet another album of Mr. Tappen’s that had no other Legion photographs.  It seems to show some Legionnaires from the 1st BN, 5th Regiment playing around by the kitchen doors.  It appears that second man on the right might have just been promoted to “caporal” and is being ribbed by the guy on the far left.

5.  Americans in the Foreign Legion.  Here is an article from Stars and Stripes that addresses this subject directly.  There are several pictures to this one as well and the comments are enjoyable too (including my own).

6.  Random Photographs.  I’m always “hoovering” the internet of photographs related to the Foreign Legion.  Here some of the more interesting items I’ve found these last several months…

  • Rif War Aerial Photographs.  These pictures appeared recently on Gallica and show a bird’s eye view of several French bases and outposts used during their fighting against the Rif in the mid 1920’s.  The small blockhouses perched on the high ground are very interesting to look at if you zoom in.  You can see how hastily they were constructed with rock walls, ammo boxes filled with earth, wire obstacles, and outer trench-works.
  • North Africa.  These pictures came from this French website where you can search by location for pictures in their database.  It is a poor interface but I found that some key words were able to bring up many military related photographs.  Most of these photographs were taken circa 1915-1916 in Morocco where the Legion was engaged in operations against various rebel and bandit groups while the Great War was being fought in Europe.  Events include awards ceremonies, campaign maneuvers, groups shots, etc.

 

7. Drinking to Forget.  This article is a somewhat humorous take on what has often been called the curse of the French Foreign Legion–Drink.  The author treads lightly on what could realistically be a seriously long, scholarly article but does a nice job of covering Legion history and the drink preferences of the Legionnaire.  There are also some nice quotations including this gem: “The legionnaires drink to forget – but they seldom forget to drink.”  

This article also allows me to post one of my favorite postcards of the classic Foreign Legion in their garrison town of Sidi Bel Abbes.  The scene above depicts two legionnaires under armed escort leaving the Arab quarter of the city (the village negre).  The caption says: Arrestation de Legionnaires en goguette – Arrest of Legionnaires on the run (deserters).  However, I would point out the two men did not get very far from town and seem to be in a very happy mood. Perhaps the caption should say “Arrest of Drunken Legionnaires” as they most likely became deserters by staying out way too long after curfew and were recovered by the armed patrol in a no-go area sometime in the bright morning hours.  If this was the case, the offenders might only get two weeks in the post brig and/or a month on restriction because while desertion is frowned upon and punished severely being drunk and stupid is just not the same thing.

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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