Legion Pulp: A Bit of Red Ribbon

This novelette is from the 15 June 1931 issue of Adventure.  J. D. Newsom is the author and he again presents a fish-out-of-water story. …an outsider who finds himself in the Foreign Legion and must cope with his unfortunate situation.  This usually means his immediate goal is to get out of the Legion and somehow return to his previous position in life.  However, in many cases the Legion becomes something bigger in their lives and their initial hatred of their new home gives way to camaraderie, esprit de’corps, and sense of solemn duty.

In this case it is Mr. John Forbes-Smith who is somewhat shanghaied off the streets of Paris into the Foreign Legion in a case of misbegotten identity.  The first several pages are very well done and somewhat foreshadows what will happen to the out of shape, sickly, browbeaten and subjugated, sad sack of a protagonist.  I thought I saw where this story was going but the author added a twist and sent “Legionnaire J. Smith” into the fray where, in a suicidal act of bravery he earns the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor and more importantly gains an amazing amount of self confidence.

Thanks to the original scanner -“sas”.

A Bit of Red Ribbon 

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Hodgepodge for Summer 2018

Cuffy–you need to keep your blog updated. Do you hear me?

Well, summer is about over for me–at least for all the home landscape and garden projects, travel and vacations, the visiting relatives and general busy work that needed to be done in the good weather.  It’s time for some relaxation and some attention paid to this blog that I’ve neglected for too long.  So here is a compilation of randomness that I came across so far this summer.

1. Americans in the French Foreign Legion 1914-1918.  This page has a pretty good list of the American volunteers who showed up to fight for France in WWI.  Being from a different country the majority of these men were placed in the Foreign Legion along with other foreign volunteers from England, Italy, Spain and dozens of other countries.  There are about 175 names here and some have been further identified as having went from the Legion to the Air Service (including the Lafayette Espadrille) or the Ambulance Service (where foreign units were allowed to be formed and operate on the front lines).  I would like to one day compare this list to the names mentioned in this book by Paul Rockwell.

2. Beau Geste: Algerian Tuareg Revolt – BATTLE SET.  It seems that there is a new product by Italeri (one of the better model makers of 1:72 scale miniatures).   This item features a laser cut desert fort packaged with 150 figures (50 Legion and 100 Arab), and several terrain items (3x tents and a well).  The fort seems to be comprised of six thin sheets of laser cut board (not sure if it is wood or cardboard) that comes together into eight separate parts of the fort.  These eight pieces are then connected to form the full structure.  Nice to see something new in this scale again from one of my favorite model makers.

3. Lead Adventure Forum:  This is one of my favorite boards on miniatures and this thread has been active lately discussing miniatures and related information for both a Dahomey and Madagascar campaign.  You will see several prototype miniature sculpts from Gringo40s for a line of “opposing forces” that might square off against the Foreign Legion.  There is a similar informative thread that covers the French Tonkin campaign with sculpts of various Black Flag pirates of the late 1800’s.  Early French Indochina in general as well as Dahomey and Madagascar are not well represented in the wargame world so these contributions are very welcome.

4.  Some Legion YouTube Videos.  Here are a couple of recent videos to be found on YouTube.  The first one, “Les coulisses du 14 juillet 2018“, is from the recent Bastille Day march down the Champs-Élysées and shows the Legion contingent preparing for their march.  Here is a link to the entire parade (the Legion appears around 1:35:13).  The second video is the first part of four videos showing the “Cérémonie de remise des képis blancs” where new recruits are officially inducted into the ranks of the French Foreign Legion.  Parts 2, 3, 4, are also available.

5. The French Foreign Legion by George D’Esparbes.  This book was originally published in 1901 and was meant to provide the readers with insights into the mysteries of this famed corps.  The author, then a Lieutenant, spent a month with the Foreign Legion in Sidi Bel Abbes and apparently learned enough to fill a book.  Until recently this book was only available in French but there is now a translated-into-English version available via Amazon in both Kindle (.99 cents) and paperback.  Be warned however that D’Esparbes is prone to sensationalize quite a bit of his observances.  In any case thanks to Matthew Lynch for translating this book and making it so affordable.

6.  John Robb.  John Robb (1917-1993) was a British WWII veteran and later journalist and author who wrote several fiction books in the mid-1950’s that featured the adventure, drama and heroics of the contemporary Foreign Legion.  They were not pulp fiction but most certainly could have been marketed as such a couple of decades earlier.  I noticed that some of his books are now available on Amazon for Kindle or paperback.  The books on Amazon that feature the Foreign Legion are Storm Evil (1954), Mission of Mercy (1954), Zone Zero (1954), I Shall Avenge (1954).  Other titles he wrote include We – the Condemned, Legionnaire (1953), The Last Deserter, Patrol to Zaruse and Red Radford and the Black Legion (1960). 

Posted in Books, Hodgepodge, Miniatures, Video, World War One | 1 Comment

Legion Pulp: Too Old

This pulp story comes from the June 1931 issue of The Popular Magazine.  It was written by former soldier turned journalist and fiction writer Captain Leighton H. Blood.  In early 1928, Blood was reporting on the still tense situation in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and spent time with men of the 4th Regiment of the Foreign Legion (4REI).  He clearly used this experience in his pulp fiction writing and this story is set in Morocco just north of Taza when the Rif were surging across the border and the desperate French forces depended heavily on the several Foreign Legion battalions to stem their advance.

In true pulp fashion, Blood crafted an epic “last stand” tale where the hero, aging Captain Tricot, somehow loses two battalions of the Bat D’Af, a battalion of the Chasseurs d’Afrique, a Zouave battalion, 500 Senegalese infantry and three depleted companies of  the Legion.  Severely wounded, Captain Tricot is found by the relief force manning a machine gun alongside the one remaining Senegalese and a lone “zephyr“.  Three men apparently remaining from a Brigade sized task force of what would have been over 3,500 troops.  Wow, thank goodness this is fiction!  It is a good story nonetheless with lots of praise given to the “Legion’s Way” of doing things.  C’est la Légion!

Too Old

NOTE: Thanks to the original scanner, Richard, who shared this magazine. 

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French Blockhouses – Part 3: Africa

This post gave me a serious bout of writer’s block and I’m just going to post it now to get it out of the way and move on to other things.  The subject matter was far greater than I thought it would be and I went through dozens of revisions until my written narrative grew to several pages.  Luckily I stopped this pointless battle of “the perfect vs. the good enough” after reminding myself that I post to a blog and not any academic journal or magazine.  So here is the much shortened version.  The value of this post is really in the .pdf file posted below. 

The French first built minor fortifications in Africa when they established trading posts along the continent’s west coast in the 1600’s but it was only when they landed in Algeria in 1831 did they start building a serious, long-lasting colonial infrastructure.  In these early days blockhouses were utilized extensively along lines of communication in Algeria and were often long-standing structures built from local rock, improvised adobe bricks or in some cases on existing native structures.   As the French spilled out from the coastal cities they were still vulnerable to attacks from mountain tribesmen so they fortified many cities and garrisoned French and loyal native troops behind walled sections or redoubts.  Sidi Bel Abbes, the former headquarters of the Foreign Legion, is a perfect example of a city that grew up at first within the garrison walls of a French Army camp and then rapidly expanded around the military portions.  Other garrison cities include Batna, Biskra, Ain Sefra, Colomb-Bechar, and several others including Saïda, the home of the 2nd Foreign Legion Regiment.

The desert terrain that exists just south of the northern coastal area (the bled) has always lacked enough water, forage, agriculture, roads, population and combustible fuel to support large numbers of troops.  Very extended distances existed between those populated areas that could support military garrisons.  Because of this inhospitable terrain the larger French structures had to be situated near water sources and some base of native population from which they could obtain needed supplies, labor and pack animals.  Supply columns would launch out from the larger bases such as Colomb Bechar, Beni Abbes, Figuig (Beni Ounif), Ain Sefra and later Bou Denib, Tindouf and Fort Tinquet.  These columns would push forward much needed water, food, ammunition and other supplies to the forward elements of the French military that were slowly encroaching across the ill-defined Moroccan – Algerian border.

French fortifications in North Africa can be categorized into many different types based on their function, type of garrison, geographic location, and time period built.  The smaller French military structures built in North Africa included but was not limited to the following:

Signal Post (Poste Optique).  The smaller blockhouses such as the one depicted below  would were built as Line-0f-Sight signal towers (called Poste Optique) and were equipped with modern optical signaling devices.  These structures had to be built defensively only to last a short-lived attack as they were usually within close proximity of a relief force from a larger fort.  Nevertheless, some are very well built and have withstood both attack and time.  Many of the larger French forts in North Africa were built with a couple of towers that were essentially blockhouses and signal towers and provided fall back points of defense in case the rest of the position was overrun.

Bordj.  A Bordj was most often a native structure that was built along old Saharan Caravan routes and functioned much like the caravanserai did along the Silk Road.  These were often militarized and occupied by French troops and provided a small measure of security, water and safe rest to French supply convoys and patrolling columns.  These were often no more than four walls with a gate and a holding area for the camels.  Bordjs in the southern areas of Algeria, Morocco and French West Africa (Mauritania) were often constructed along travel routes which parallel watersheds such as the Oued Zouzfana and the Oued Guir.

Fortified Train Station. (Gare Fortife).  As the French slowly pushed their railroad (Algerian Western Railway) further southwest to the Moroccan border they became worried that stations along the route were vulnerable to attack.  Therefore many of the new stations were constructed with sturdy brick walls, watch towers, firing ports, and crenelations.

Area Security. It was not uncommon for larger forts/bases to have several smaller positions (blockhouses and signal towers) posted on surrounding key terrain.  The larger posts were responsible for manning and provisioning.  These fortifications provided for static defense in a pacified area.  Blockhouses were also essential to supporting active offensive and defensive operations.  When France landed in Morocco to pacify an uprising in Casablanca (they pretty much never left) and consolidated their gains by extending out from that city and established several forts around their occupied territory.  Blockhouses were built along roads to keep their mobile forces supplied. Outside of Casablanca one would find the small forts Fort Provot and Fort Ihler.

During the 1920’s, when the Rif insurrection in Spanish Morocco threatened French held Morocco to the south, a line of blockhouses was built along a series of mountains just below the Spanish border.  These forts were more hastily constructed affairs manned by a platoon sized force and located within line of sight of each other (see picture below).  

French Blockhouses Africa

Posted in Legion Forts, Wargame Terrain | 4 Comments

Legion Pulp: The Gorilla of No. 4

This month’s pulp fiction story is from J. D. Newsom and appeared in the 01 January 1928 issue of Adventure.  It is a tale of dandy officers (fancy pants) who find themselves in the midst of a tribal rebellion on the edge of the Sahara.  Cut off from reinforcements the French garrison at el Kelima seems to be losing ground bit by but to the tribesmen of the Ouled-Farik while 4th Company of the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment is believed to have mutinied under the inept command of Lt. Kergonec.  It is only after the arrival of Legion Captain Grellon, the “gorilla”, that things are sorted out properly.

This story is a good example of Newsom’s approach to Foreign Legion fiction.  He liked to have foppish senior officers or bureaucrats pitted against the rough and tumble men of the Legion.  Legionnaires seem to fall by the dozens in his stories only for a handful to hang in there long enough to save the day when the right leader arrives.  It is no coincidence that his collection of Legion stories published in book form (a Dell Paperback) is titled Wiped Out.  His stories are a bit formulaic but still exciting to read (and you will come to really hate Colonel Liancourt and Lieutenant Kergonec in this one).

The Gorilla of No.4

I’m sorry for being AWOL.  It’s been a month since I posted here due to a combination of writer’s block, spring cleaning, work, a sick cat and several other distractions that have kept me from posting.  Hopefully back on track.

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Legion Pulp: A Berber Racket

This month’s pulp story comes from the 15 October 1931 issue of The Popular – Complete Stories.  This title used to be the called The Popular Magazine until it was merged with Street and Smith’s Complete Stories in 1931.  It’s author, Captain Leighton H. Blood was a WWI veteran who turned to journalism and fiction writing after the war.  (I’ve posted some reporting he did on the Foreign Legion in the Rif conflict on this blog–just search for his name to pull up the post and another story by him).

This piece again appeals to the popular obsession Prohibition-era readers of 1931 had for gangsters and mobs and combines this element with the always adventurous French Foreign Legion and the honor-bound Berbers of the High Atlas of Morocco.  This time the Legionnaires are somewhat on the outside of a brewing conflict between a New York mobster and two Berbers half-bothers but they are at least co-conspirators to the deed of delivering “Berber payment, paid in full”.

A Berber Racket

Note:  This scan originated from one by jvh and EXciter.  I’m not sure why but this one takes some time to print even though it is a small file so be patient. 

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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 | 10 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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