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French Foreign Legion 1872–1914

French Foreign Legion 1872–1914

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French Foreign Legion 1872–1914

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20 дек. 2011 г.


This volume covers the classic 'Beau Geste' period, of the French Foreign Legion when the corps was expanded during the most dynamic years of French imperial expansion. Legion battalions fought in the deserts and mountains of southern Algeria and Morocco, as well as in the jungles of North Vietnam, West Africa and Madagascar. Their varied uniforms and equipments for each period and theatre are illustrated and examined. Written by a leading expert on the French Foreign Legion, this is a colourful introduction to the period when the Legion forged their legendary fighting reputation.
20 дек. 2011 г.

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French Foreign Legion 1872–1914 - Martin Windrow

Men-at-Arms • 461

The French Foreign Legion 1872–1914

Martin Windrow • Illustrated by Mike Chappell

Series editor Martin Windrow






The first mounted companies


Son Tay, 1883

Bac Ninh and Hung Hoa, 1884

Tuyen Quang and Hoa Moc, 1884–85

Lang Son, 1885

Pacification, c.1886–1909


Dahomey, 1892

French West Africa


Invasion, 1895

Pacification and garrison, 1896–1905


The Touat and Zafrani, 1899–1900

Figuig, Taghit and El Moungar, 1903

Lyautey’s frontier campaign, 1904–07


Casablanca and the Chaouia, 1907–08

The eastern front, 1908–11

Fes and its aftermath, 1911

The Protectorate, 1912–14





By 1872 the French pacification of northern and central Algeria was essentially complete. The 1871 Arab and Berber rebellion had been crushed ruthlessly; the European settlers (colons), who since 1868 had shaken off much of the control formerly exercised from Paris, were extending their grip over vast new tracts of confiscated farming and grazing land, expelling Arab tribes or reducing them to serfdom. The former military government that had to some extent protected the tribal chiefs from the colons was now restricted to responsibility for the southern wilderness of the pre-Sahara. There – and particularly in the south-west of the departement of Oran, where Algeria’s frontier with the sovereign monarchy of Morocco was unmarked and debatable – warlike tribes still ranged back and forth across the ‘High Plains’ that straddled the notional border, following their flocks and herds and raiding their neighbours.

Slow French penetration of this ‘Sud-Oranais’ in the 1880s–1900s would lead to confrontations in the Algerian–Moroccan borderlands, and, at a time of weak Moroccan government, to operations by the French Army inside Moroccan territory – at first on that border and then, from 1907, on the Atlantic coastal plains. Eventually, in 1912, the Sultan of Morocco was forced to accept a French Protectorate over his country, leading to two years of intense operations that were still continuing at the outbreak of World War I. The leading French commander during both the initial border campaigns and the imposition of the protectorate was Gen Hubert Lyautey, and his most trusted troops were the Foreign Legion, whose expeditionary units had previously served under him in Tonkin (North Vietnam) and Madagascar in the 1890s.

A Belgian légionnaire of 1st RE, Private Verhoven, photographed in 1913 wearing full marching order and three campaign medals; according to the original caption he had served for 11 years and in 16 campaigns – the tops of two red re-enlistment chevrons are just visible on his upper left coatsleeve. Note that his campaign képi-cover is now khaki, but the couvre-nuque neck curtain hooked to it is still white. The paquetage on top of his knapsack under the tentcloth/blanket roll is spare clothing. Note that the knapsack shoulder straps are worn alone here, without contre-sanglons straps, or the M1892 belt-support Y-straps, to hook to the ammo pouches.

The French land forces

Unlike Britain, whose all-volunteer professional army could be deployed anywhere in the world, France employed troops of three different organizations to capture her new empire. After the 1872–75 reorganization following her defeats in 1870–71, her land forces still consisted of the home-based Metropolitan Army; the Naval Troops (Troupes de la Marine), based both in France and overseas; and the Africa Army (l’Armée d’Afrique), based in Algeria, and from 1873 designated the 19th Army Corps. There was a good deal of rivalry between these organizations, which jockeyed for influence and funds. The Navy Ministry was responsible for ‘the colonies’ – i.e. all overseas theatres outside North Africa – but the Naval Troops needed War Ministry support and service units. The Army also often contributed combat troops for such expeditions, and experience showed that the best were long-service professional white infantry – for which the Legion was the Army’s only source.

The Metropolitan Army (‘le biff’) was the conscripted youth of France. From 1872 men were called up at the age of 20 to serve for (initially) five years with the regulars and 15 in various reserve categories. The bulk of the infantry facing the German frontier were provided by the 144 regiments of the Line, each consisting of three battalions each with four rifle companies; the peacetime company establishment was 125 rankers, theoretically increased to 250 on mobilization. (It was intended to increase regimental establishment to four battalions, with 2,400 rankers in peacetime and 4,000 on mobilization, but for lack of funding no fourth battalions were raised until the 1890s.) Though physically ill-suited for it, during their service selected conscripts might also be formed into ‘marching’ battalions or regiments for overseas service. These were temporary, task-organized units formed from drafts of Line troops from the permanent ‘organic’ regiments, who either volunteered for such expeditions or were chosen by lot. These régiments de marche were given temporary numbers or titles; for instance, in Tonkin in 1885 the locally organized 3rd Marching Regt consisted of one battalion each from the 23rd, 111th and 143rd Line.

The historical mission of the Naval Troops was the defence of naval bases both at home and in overseas possessions, and providing units for expeditions to sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific. From 1875 there were initially four unusually large regiments of Naval Infantry, headquartered and largely based in French ports but each supporting many companies in overseas garrisons; the home Navy regiments were also called upon to provide marching units for expeditionary forces. These ‘marsouins’ (and the ‘bigors’ of their supporting Naval Artillery) were a mixture of volunteers and conscripts until 1893, and thereafter solely volunteers. The Naval Troops also raised, led and administered a growing number of native Tirailleur (‘skirmisher’) units in West Africa, South and North Vietnam, and later Madagascar.¹

The Africa Army’s primary mission was garrisoning Algeria (and from 1881, Tunisia), but marching units – particularly drawn from the three, later four large Arab regiments of Tirailleurs Algériens (RTA) – were also available for expeditionary forces elsewhere. Its white infantry consisted of four short-service conscript Zouave regiments (RZ), who had lost their elite character after 1875; the five penal Africa Light Infantry battalions (BILA or ‘Bats d’Af’); and the multi-national volunteers of the Foreign Legion. The cavalry were provided by Arab regiments of Spahis (RS), and mixed but mostly white regiments of Africa Light Horse (Chasseurs d’Afrique, RCA). Apart from the Legion, entirely based in Oran department, one unit of each category was based in each of the three Algerian departments, which were divisional commands. Artillery and service troops were provided by the Metropolitan Army.

The officer corps of the Metropolitan Army were regarded by their Naval Troops and Africa Army counterparts as rigid, snobbish ‘book-soldiers’; they in turn regarded the colonial

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