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I've got a few of the Martin Windrow books on the Legion including The French Foreign Legion published in 1971 from Osprey as well as his Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981. Initially I thought Windrow was just republishing his 1971 book but in 71 his Illustrator was Mike Roffe, this year it is Gerry Embleton so I'll add it to my book list. The Osprey series is a great source of photographs, illustrations and brief histories of men, uniforms and equipment.
The text from book by Martin Windrow, put together by yours truly, from: https://mxdoc.com/osprey-men-at-arms-509-french-foreign-legion-183171.html FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION 1831–71
In March 1831 France's King Louis-Philippe, heir to the Orléans branch of the Bourbon dynasty, was just eight months on his throne since the revolution in Paris that had driven his predecessor Charles X into exile. His 'July Monarchy' enjoyed general popularity, but his experience of the fall of three French kings and one emperor in the past 40 years had made him wary. Revolution was contagious, and was stirring nearby in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. Even the faintest prospect of his regime having to use foreign troops against French mobs was toxic, so he had disbanded seven Swiss and German regiments from Charles X's army. Louis-Philippe had also inherited a confused military adventure in North Africa, where France had recently landed troops to punish the perceived insolence of the Dey of Algiers. The Dey was the governor of what was still nominally an Ottoman Turkish colony, but was in fact an independent pirate city-state surrounded by anarchically competitive tribes who acknowledged no master. The Paris revolution had left the expeditionary corps with neither a commander nor any clear strategy. It was already suffering significant casualties, mostly from disease, which made the campaign unpopular at home. (In the first three months French deaths in Algiers had reached 400 in battle, but twice that number from sickness.) In September 1830 Louis-Philippe's new commander, Gen Clauzel, was sent out with two equally difficult missions: both to reduce the size of the expeditionary corps by some 70 per cent, and to recommend a future military policy to the new government. The roughly 27,000 French conscripts who would be withdrawn were to be replaced where possible by locally-raised troops. 1 However, this situation also presented an opportunity (perhaps recognized by the Minister of War, the wily old Marshal Soult) to rid the streets of French cities of disgruntled foreign ex-soldiers. A royal ordnance of 10 May 1831 created a 'Foreign Legion', strictly for service outside France. Its companies and battalions were to be composed as far as possible of men speaking the same languages. Enlistment was to be for three to five years, open to men between 18 and 40 years of age.
1 Native irregulars would gradually be transformed into regular corps, as follows: (21 March 1831) corps of Zouaves; (17 Nov 1831) 1er & 2e Régts de Chasseurs d’Afrique mixed cavalry; (6 Sept 1833) 1er Régt de Spahis native cavalry; (May 1841) three bns of Tirailleurs Indigènes; (Oct 1855) these absorbed into 1er–3e Régts de Tirailleurs Algériens. Additionally, (4 June 1832) formation, from French convicts, of 1er & 2e Régts d’ Infanterie Légère d’Afrique – ‘Bats d’Af’.
The 'Old Legion' in Algeria, 1831–35
Formation of the first three battalions soaked up most of the German and Swiss ex-soldiers of the Régt de Hohenlohe and the Garde Royale. A second decree had forbidden the enlistment of Frenchmen, other Swiss, or married men, but these provisions were never strictly enforced. No papers were demanded nor any searching questions asked, and any apparently fit man who presented himself at the depots around the country was accepted. The 4th Bn would be largely Spanish, the 5th mostly Italian and Sardinian, and the 6th Dutch and Belgian. The 1st, 4th and 5th Bns were shipped from Toulon to Algiers late in August 1831, followed during the autumn by the 2nd and 3rd and the part-formed 6th Bn. They were short of experienced officers and NCOs, and only patchily trained. Consequently, they were inclined to get drunk, beat up their French cadres, desert, or fight amongst themselves (single nationality companies proved to be a bad mistake – particularly Dutch and Belgians, whose countries had fought over Belgian independence in 1830–31). The first commander, the Swiss Col Stoffel, had to bribe French NCOs to serve, and employed robust methods to achieve a basic level of discipline. By January 1832 the 1st–3rd, 5th, and half of a 7th (Polish) Bn were installed in camps around Algiers, the 4th at Oran and part of the 6th at Bône. The local commanders at first regarded them as good for nothing but to provide a labour corps, for building forts and roads and draining pestilential swamps. France's first years in Algeria (purely a geographical expression, for a country that did not then exist) were militarily chaotic. There was no accepted power structure among the Arab tribes with which the French could treat. Individual tribes raided outposts in the slowly spreading areas of nominal occupation, and ambushed the supply columns on which they depended. Leaders could be bribed into local peace treaties, but these were short-lived, as the caids played the French off against their own rivals in ruthless competition. Far stronger in cavalry, and masters of the terrain, the Arabs could strike static targets and withdraw at will, while French columns were delayed by their necessary wagon trains of supplies. Commanders-in-chief came and went, all of them lacking clear direction from Paris, and there was a rapid turnover of regimental colonels in this thankless posting. By October 1832 the Legion had recorded 5,538 enlistments, but were paying a high price to malaria, typhus and cholera, while their back-breaking labours were punctuated by a succession of usually small, ugly actions. The Legion's first recorded engagement took place outside Algiers on 27 April 1832, when 300 men took part in a successful raid on a tribal camp near Maison Carrée. However, on 23 May Lt Cham and all but one of his 27 men were wiped out nearby by Arab horsemen, after their own escorting cavalry fled.
The young Emir of Mascara, Abd el Kader, was ambitious to extend his influence, and began to play cat-and-mouse with the French, alternating attacks with negotiations. Operating with other units in mixed columns (typically of a battalion or two, a couple of squadrons and a few cannon), the légionnaires proved solid when under attack by horsemen, and also revealed an aptitude for mounting night raids. For instance, the 4th Bn proved themselves at Sidi Chabal on 11 November 1832 and at Karguenta on 27 May 1833, and the 6th Bn in a raid against tribal villages on 13/14 March 1833. When epidemic disease ravaged the camps, units were cross-posted to maintain local strengths; the Italian 5th Bn took part in the captures of Arzew and Mostaganem in June and July 1833, and several later raids. One to Tazerouna on 2 December was notable for the discipline of the column: during a march of 30 hours, and 13 hours under fire, not one man fell out. In difficult terrain and a punishing climate, the return march of such columns often had to be made in leap-frogging echelons under repeated Arab attacks. In February 1834 the 4th Bn, much reduced by the expiry of enlistments, was disbanded, and its Spanish personnel were sent home in April. It was replaced at Oran by the Polish 7th Bn, transferred from Bougie and renumbered as the 4th. The Poles had distinguished themselves on a raid up into the Kabylie hills in March, alongside the 67th Line (which was also Polish, composed of French-naturalized emigrés). On 1 July the 1st and 2nd Bns and the central services were based around Algiers, the 3rd at Bougie, the 4th and 5th at Oran, and the 6th at Bône – where the total garrison of 1,500 lost 1,100 men to disease that year.2 In June 1835 Gen Trézel, commanding at Oran, led a 2,500-strong column against the elusive Abd el Kader, who reportedly had gathered 10,000 warriors. The three-plus battalions of infantry were commanded by the Legion's LtCol Conrad, and included the 5th Bn and three companies from the 4th. On 26 June the column was ambushed among
2. Disease always accounted for the huge majority of French casualties in Algeria. Of 95,665 deaths recorded D between 1831 and 1851, 3,336 were due to combat and 92,329 (96 per cent) to disease.
the wooded hills of Muley Ismael, and only got clear at a cost of 52 killed and 180 wounded. On the 28th, retreating towards Arzew, the column reached the salt-marsh of Macta, where their route was flanked on the left by a wooded crest. The Arabs set the dry marshland reeds ablaze, and opened a heavy fire from the woods. On this left flank the 5th Bn counter-attacked uphill without success, and in the meantime other warriors reached the baggage wagons and began butchering the wounded. Conrad, who was on foot and vomiting with fever, rallied all the Legion companies to fight their way out of the defile. The convoy was left to its grisly fate while the troops made a disorderly retreat, led by Gen Trézel and the cavalry. The Arabs harassed them nearly all the way to Arzew, and the guns had to halt several times to fire grapeshot in support of the infantry flank-guards. Total losses at Macta were 62 known dead plus 218 missing, and 300 wounded.
On 8 July 1835, while still shaken by the disaster at Macta, the Foreign Legion received the news that it had been ceded in its entirety to the service of Queen Isabella II of Spain.3 The Carlist War had broken out on the death of King Ferdinand VII in 1833, when the king's brother Don Carlos contested the legal succession of his infant niece Isabella under the regency of her mother, Maria Cristina. In broad terms, the 'Carlists', whose base of support was in the north-east, were traditionalists; the queen's 'Cristinos' were the more liberal party, supported by an alliance with Portugal, France and Britain. Britain allowed a large volunteer 'legion' to serve with the queen's army; the French contribution was the outright gift of the Legion. The Legion's Col Bernelle arrived at Tarragona in Catalonia in August 1835, with 123 officers and 4,021 rankers in six battalions. For the next two years they would campaign across a corridor between the Pyrenees and the Ebro, and by winter 1836/37 their conditions of service would become wretched. Both sides tended to shoot any prisoners; the légionnaires were unreliably supplied and often unpaid, and the origins and quality of their officers varied widely, so looting and desertions were inevitable. Bernelle, given the local rank of general, took the opportunity to abandon the system of segregated units, and dispersed all nationalities throughout his battalions (the method employed by the Legion ever since). From a base at Lérida they were at first dispersed to fight Carlist guerrillas. Subsequently Bernelle took most of them to defend northern Aragon against Carlist thrusts southwards, fighting a number of battalion actions. In January 1836 he was sent to Vitoria to join the queen's Army of the North, and the Legion brigade was integrated into its 4th Division. After costly fighting in harsh weather south of San Sebastiàn, the légionnaires were pulled back in February to man a series of posts in ruined villages around Pamplona. Prompted by failures of Spanish tactical support, in March 1836 Bernelle (at the expense of his men's back-pay) began forming the first of three integral Polish lancer squadrons, a mountain howitzer company and a stretcher-bearer company. At this time the Old Legion had some 3,000 in the ranks. On 26 April, at Terapegui, 1,000 men of the 4th and 5th Bns held off about five times their number of Carlists for six hours before successfully disengaging, covered by a counter-attack by the 3rd Battalion. On 1 August 1836, the 4th Div attacked a strong Carlist force entrenched behind drystone walls on heights above Zubiri. The Legion lancers turned the enemy's left flank and rolled up his skirmish line; the Legion's howitzers bombarded the central defences, and the 1st and 2nd Bns took them with the bayonet while other units hit the flanks. This day-long battle of Inigo cost the Carlists about 1,200 dead, against a total of 200 French casualties. On 10 August, Bernelle announced his departure; his repeated demands for support had irritated both Madrid and Paris. He was replaced at the head of the French mission by Gen Lebeau, and as Legion commander by Col Conrad, who brought out with him a new 7th Bn in reinforcement. On 14 September 1836, Lebeau sent four Legion battalions into a frontal attack on the village of Aronitz, held by more than a dozen Carlist battalions, while another brigade attacked a flank. Driven back at first by the defenders of the San Gegorio monastery, Conrad's 1st and 7th Bns rallied with the support of the 2nd and 3rd, then drove the enemy right over the high Montejurra ridge and down the far side, at the cost of about 100 casualties. During subsequent manoeuvring around Estella the 6th Bn distinguished itself at Villatuerta on 8 October, before the Legion was reunited in the Pamplona line for the winter. A change of government in Paris had scotched plans to send French regular reinforcements that had been concentrating at Pau, and on 10 October Gen Lebeau resigned; he was replaced by his deputy Gen Comte de Cleonard, seconded by BrigGen Conrad. Winter 1836/37 found the Legion battalions greatly weakened by combat and disease, usually unpaid, raggedly dressed, and shockingly badly fed and supplied; morale was low, and desertions high. In February 1837 Conrad reduced the organization to three battalions. For the 1837 spring campaign Conrad's 2nd Div in the Navarre Corps of the queen's Army of the North comprised the three Legion battalions plus one formed from their elite companies, two lancer squadrons, and the Legion battery. On 21 March they successfully took and held the mountain village of Larrainzar, but lost six officers, a sergeant-major, and some 50 rankers killed, and about the same numbers wounded in each category. During a subsequent contested retreat on Pamplona the Legion led the way through a snowstorm to the Sorauren gap, and held that village against a Carlist attempt to cut the column. Thereafter it was reduced to two battalions. Marching south-east to the Aragon front in response to a Carlist thrust towards the Ebro, on 24 May 1837 the 1,200strong Legion was sent into a fatally mishandled attack on Huesca, where it suffered 350 casualties including 20 officers. Reduced to a single battalion, on 1 June it was effectively destroyed in a savage battle amid olive groves outside Barbastro, where Conrad died at the head of his men; Legion casualties were reported as 27 officers and 600 rankers. About 320 wretched and mutinous survivors withdrew to Pamplona, where stragglers later brought their number up to some 500. For 18 months both Spanish and French governments simply left them to rot, until they were officially disbanded on 8 December 1838 and the survivors shipped to France.
The 'New Legion', 1836–41
The reduction of the Algerian garrison by 4,000 men had to be made up, and formation of a 'nouvelle légion' was authorized on 16 December 1835. The first unit formed was sent to Spain as the 7th Bn, but Cdt Bedeau's new, mainly Dutch 1st Bn arrived in Algiers in December 1836, and saw much hard marching during the next five months. In May, Abd el Kader signed the lucrative Treaty of Tafna, which was supposed to contain his ambitions in western Algeria. Legion recruiting was so brisk (including, remarkably, many veterans of Spain) that the unit could soon put more than 1,200 men in the field, and formation of a 2nd Bn was completed in September 1837. Attention now turned towards the stubborn Berber highlanders of Kabylia to the east. The following month each battalion contributed companies to a bataillon de marche (a temporary task-force unit) which took part in a second attempt on the defiant city of Constantine, perched on a mountain crag. Governor-General Damrémont assembled a force of some 7,000 including a siege train between Bône and Guelma, the Legion unit forming part of Gen Rulhières' 3rd of four brigades. Marching on 2 October, on the 6th they reached the plateau of Koudiat Aly facing Constantine – the only possible jumping-off point for an assault. Under freezing downpours, Cdt Bedeau's 500 men helped to both dig batteries and trenches and to defend them against fierce Kabylie attacks, until the heavy artillery could open fire on 9 October. Both Damrémont and his chief-of-staff were killed before the final assault went in on 13 October. A hundred légionnaires led by Capt Saint-Arnaud formed part of one of three columns, climbing the breach to fight their way successfully through a maze of barricaded and mined streets against fierce resistance, which cost them 21 casualties before the city fell. The Legion battalion was left to garrison Constantine; in December the 1st and 2nd Bns were granted elite companies, and a 3rd Bn was authorized, taking strength up to 3,095 men. The dispersed battalions spent 1838 mostly in labouring, but in May 1839 the 1st Bn took part in the capture of Djidjelli. In October a 4th Bn was authorized. In November 1839, after months of preparation, Abd el Kader broke the Treaty of Tafna and declared holy war. Up to 60,000 warriors rampaged through the western regions, looting and killing peaceful clans and white settlers alike. All the Legion battalions were engaged in May–June 1840 in contested columns between Bougie, Boufarik and Blida, and in the occupation of Médéa and Miliana. Left at Miliana, the besieged 4th Bn suffered greatly from disease while holding off assaults between 15 June and 5 October; the relief force found 208 men on their feet and 80 surviving sick, out of an original strength of 750. The 4th and 5th Bns were again ravaged by fever at Fondouk, losing 216 dead, and 240 evacuated sick when relief arrived on 4 December.
The 1st RE, 1841–54
In December 1840–May 1841 the corps was enlarged and divided into 1er and 2e Régiments de la Légion Étrangère, headquartered at Algiers and Bône respectively, each with three battalions. (According to Grisot & Coulombon, these titles did not officially change to 1er and 2e Régiments Étrangers until the end of 1856, but for simplicity we abbreviate them as 'REs' from this point on.) The 1st RE was mostly composed of and officered by northern Europeans, while the 2nd had more officers and men from the Mediterranean countries. Both were to contribute to the decisive campaigns launched by the new governor-general, Thomas Bugeaud de la Piconnerie, who arrived in February 1841 with heavy reinforcements, and a clear mandate to crush resistance in northern Algeria once and for all. A distinguished but ruthless veteran of the Peninsular War, Bugeaud would not wait to react to Arab initiatives, but would take the war to them, tribe by tribe. He reduced his static garrisons to 14 strategic bases (see map), concentrating troops for a relentless series of merciless razzias – expeditions of destruction and pillaging. Lightened 'flying columns' carried limited supplies on mules, and otherwise relied upon pre-placed depots and planned rendezvous with slower supply convoys. Columns typically consisted of about 4,000 infantry, 2,000 French cavalry and 1,000 native horse; these would burn villages, kill men, seize animals, take families hostage, and destroy food sources until a tribe agreed to submit. Bugeaud was unapologetic about the high death-toll, but once tribes sued for peace their treatment was fairly humane, to demonstrate the advantages of trade, agriculture and European medicine. Since Gen Bugeaud would remain in post for an unusually long time (1841–47), with sufficient troops for his needs, he was able to pursue his conquest with grim efficiency, and it would be continued by his successor, the Duc d'Aumale. Resistance was stubborn, but by 1843 Bugeaud had already reduced Abd el Kader's support to the extent that the emir led his remaining followers across the Moroccan frontier. Enjoying the protection of the sultan, he continued to orchestrate resistance from this safe haven, and in 1844 some 30,000 Moroccan warriors advanced to the Algerian border. Bugeaud responded with a forced march by 11,500 troops, and a night attack on the Moroccan camp on the Oued Isly on 13/14 August. This decisive victory forced the sultan to expel Abd el Kader and allow the French rights of 'hot pursuit'. Bugeaud's expeditions doggedly followed resistant tribes west and south from fertile valleys into hitherto unpenetrated mountains and semidesert, and the 1st RE's exhausting series of dispersed battalion operations in western Algeria were too numerous to list here. This sort of campaigning involved a constant, gruelling rhythm of marches to keep open the always vulnerable lines of communication, punctuated by raids and punitive attacks by night and day. Légionnaires struggled up high ridges to picket the columns' flanks, fought off attacks on rearguards, protected supply convoys against ambush, established and defended depots (including in 1843 one at Sidi bel Abbès, which would later become the Legion's home), and in any intervals between operations laboured to build roads and dig wells. During an insurrection led by one Bou Maza that threatened Orléansville in 1845, a notable action took place on 20 September (only days before the famous massacre of three companies of the 8th Chasseurs à Pied at Sidi Brahim). Commandant Mancelon's III/ 1st RE were part of a column ambushed in the narrow pass of Mehab Garboussa, by Arabs who rolled rocks down to block the route and opened a heavy fire down from both sides of the defile. After two hours' fighting the battalion's ammunition was almost exhausted, and they were beginning a desperate bayonet attack up the slopes when relief arrived. It later transpired that Bou Maza himself had been wounded by a shot from SgtMaj Gabrielli. In April–May 1847, I/ and II/ 1st RE suffered extremes of both heat and cold while forming part of a column led by Gen Cavaignac far south over the high plateaux of Oran province, forcing the submission of Ain Sefra in the Saharan Atlas mountains. In September 1847, Abd el Kader finally surrendered to Gen Lamoricière, and was sent into comfortably subsidized exile; thereafter western Algeria was relatively peaceful, and the 1st RE was dispersed between a number of posts for general duties.
Berber highland tribes were to be found not only in Kabylia and the Aurès but also in the north-west; among the most stubborn were the Beni Snassen, whose hills straddled the porous Moroccan frontier. In May–July 1852 the I/ and II/ 1st RE formed part of Gen Montauban's 4,500-strong column which penetrated their high wooded hills, and for a time discouraged their raiding of peaceful clans.
The 2nd RE, 1841–54
In eastern Algeria the 2nd RE faced the challenge of formidable Berber tribesmen in the natural citadels of the Kabylie and Aurès mountains. The regiment's first task was simply to establish land links from their bases at Djidjelli and Bône to Philippeville, then accessible only by sea. The Kabylies pressed them hard, their pay was late, and initially morale was low, particularly among the debris of the Old Legion from Spain now grouped in the II/ 2nd RE. In May–July 1842 the I/ 2nd held Djidjelli against repeated attacks, and on 25 August an assault on the II/ 2nd at Bougie came to hand-to-hand. In May 1843 Gen Baraguey d'Hilliers coordinated three columns from Constantine, Guelma and Bône; the latter, including I/ 2nd RE, fought their way down to Soukh Ahras to block the enemy's retreat into Tunisia. In June the III/ 2nd at Djidjelli held off two more determined attacks. In February 1844 all six elite companies formed a battalion under Cdt de Chabrière for the Duc d'Aumale's expedition southwards against a lieutenant of Abd el Kader. The column reached Biskra on 4 March, when at least 2,000 warriors established themselves nearby on the M'Chounech ridge. Under heavy fire the grenadiers and voltigeurs scrambled up between the rocks and eventually took the crest with the bayonet. The column went on to spread destruction through the glens of the Aurès until the end of May. Meanwhile, further north some 760 men of the II/ and III/ 2nd RE were ranging between Guelma and Tebessa (and in the process earning themselves a total of 1,808 francs in prize money from the sale of captured livestock). The Aurès tribes were still undeterred from threatening Batna and Biskra and ambushing convoys, and annual columns were launched into the mountains throughout the 1840s. In 1848 the 2nd RE moved its headquarters down to Batna, where it was weakened that summer by the repatriation, at the request of their governments, of 600 Italian and 600 Polish légionnaires. There is no space here for a repetitive diary of operations; however, in 1849 the 2nd RE fought quite another type of battle, at the oasis of Zaatcha. Pursuing a hostile tribe south of Biskra, on 16 August 1849 a light column led by Col Carbuccia, and including 600 men from the I/ and III/ 2nd RE, approached a group of oases of which the largest was Zaatcha. Here several ksar walled villages – in effect, 'castles' of strong, interconnecting buildings – were scattered amid extensive palm groves, and under the trees densely grown plantations were cut by a maze of irrigation channels and mud-brick walls, all surrounded by a canal and strong perimeter walls. As the column passed Zaatcha it was fired upon, and in the skirmish that followed the French lost five killed and 12 wounded. The column had only one light gun, and some of the buildings proved to have Roman stone foundations. The two assault columns subsequently sent in against a ksar were pinned down in the plantations and forced to retreat, with 31 killed and 117 wounded, of which the 2nd RE suffered 14 and 67 respectively. At short range, in close terrain, the soldiers' smoothbore percussion muskets gave little advantage over Arab flintlocks fired from behind walls. Under the blazing sun the column wearily returned to Biskra – which was itself soon threatened by other warriors encouraged by news of this French check, led by a preacher of holy war. Once that threat had been neutralized, Gen Herbillon led a much stronger column down to Zaatcha, camping on 7 October. He had eight infantry battalions (including Col Carbuccia's I/ and III/ 2nd RE), four squadrons, cannon, howitzers and mortars. An impulsive premature attack cost the Legion 27 casualties, including no fewer than seven officers, before work began on trenches and batteries. The defenders sortied to attack these siege works four times between 10 and 15 October. On the 20th, attacks against an apparently practicable breach were driven back with significant casualties. On 25 October an attack across the plantations by 400 infantry, 200 of them from 2nd RE, was also repulsed. On 9 November the arrival of reinforcements brought cholera into the siege camp. The Legion battalions were then tasked with the security of convoys between Zaatcha and Biskra; these were attacked by more than 1,000 Arabs on 16 November and again on the 17th, but fought their way through. Zaatcha was finally taken by storm on 26 November 1849; the Legion's losses had been 85 killed and 175 wounded. A month later the III/ 2nd RE were high up in the Aurès again, until deep snow drove them back. During the following five years the regiment's battalions would serve in repeated columns all over Constantine province, from Collo on the coast to as far south into the desert as Ouargla.
On 10 May 1854 orders arrived for each RE to form two 'war battalions' and a depot for the Army of the East (for details, see Chronology). By 8 July all four units had arrived at Gallipoli; immediately ravaged by cholera, the Legion lost 180 officers and men dead. In August, in accordance with the Franco-British plan to land in Crimea and move on the port of Sevastopol, the Legion formed an advance battalion under Cdt Nayral from the elite companies of both regiments; 800 strong, this landed in Calamita Bay on 14 September to join Gen Canrobert's 1st Division. Marching towards Sevastopol, the Allies met the Russians at the Alma river on 20 September. The French formed the right of the army, crossing the river to face Russian positions on steep cliffs. The Legion battalion followed Gen Bosquet's 1st Zouaves up the heights, and protected Canrobert's right flank in a fierce 2½-hour firefight that cost it 60 casualties. By 19 October the Legion units were reunited as the 3rd Bde of 5th Div, in siege camps on the Chersonese plateau south of Sevastopol. Placed on the left flank of the second line, the brigade was commanded by Gen Bazaine, a Legion veteran of battles stretching back to Macta and Barbastro. Hard labour in muddy trenches became even more punishing when rain gave way to snow and freezing winds, and on 14 November the camps and stores were wrecked by a violent storm. Although French logistics were not as incompetent as British, their troops still suffered appallingly during the winter, losing 11,458 dead from cold, disease and hunger. There was a steady drain of casualties in trench raids by both sides, punctuated by a few major fights: the I/ 1st RE lost 140 casualties (from a starting strength of 290) during a heavy Russian attack on 5 November coinciding with the battle of Inkerman. Each regiment received about 500 reinforcements in late November, but it was December before the first issues of watchcoats, sheepskins and winter footwear arrived. Légionnaires often crept out by night, both to recover their dead and to strip Russian corpses of their boots. In January 1855 an army reorganization saw the Legion transferred to the 3rd Div of I Corps (Gen Pélissier). Between January and May the brigade was reinforced with another 1,000 men, but when a 4th Bn for each RE was authorized in late March the battalions had to be reduced to six companies. Capturing and holding a Russian mortar bastion on the night of 1/2 May cost the Legion 171 casualties including Col Viénot, killed at the head of his 1st RE. On 16 May, Gen Pélissier took over from Canrobert as C-in-C; at that date the French had some 120,000 men in Crimea (compared with 32,000 British), and spring saw an increased tempo of fighting on the French left. On the night of 22/23 May a six battalion attack was attempted on Russian advanced works commanding the extreme left flank. An only partial success was achieved, for losses of 133 to the 1st RE and 209 to the 2nd. The next night the attack was renewed successfully, though at the cost of another 85 légionnaires. In June–August inclusive the two regiments suffered a total of 237 killed and wounded, but during September the major fighting took place on the right flank; by now the Legion was in the 6th or Reserve Div (Gen Paté). Nevertheless, for the final storming of the Malakoff on 8 September, SgtMaj Valliez with 100 volunteers from the 1st RE headed the assault columns carrying scaling ladders and planks. On the 10th, Bazaine's Foreign Bde entered Sevastopol to garrison the captured city; casualties that month totalled 76. A foraging expedition in the Baidar valley saw a few patrol clashes, but on 2 March 1856 an artillery feu de joie signalled the end of hostilities. The Crimean War had cost the Legion 78 officers and 1,625 rankers dead and wounded. On 17 June the two regiments embarked for Algeria – and a confusing homecoming, of which they had been warned in April.
The Swiss Legion, and Algeria 1857
In January 1855 Napoleon III had announced the formation of an entirely Swiss '2nd Foreign Legion' with an ambitious five-battalion establishment (see Chronology for details). This proved to be over-optimistic, and the depots at Dijon, Bescançon and Auxonne only enlisted 1,150 men in the first year. Consequently, in April 1856 an order reduced the Swiss brigade to a single regiment – but this was to be designated the 1st Foreign, while the former brigade from the Crimea was, insultingly, to become the new 2nd RE. Arriving in Algeria in July, the new green-uniformed 1st RE took in serving Swiss personnel from among the returned Crimea veterans. The Berber highlanders of Kabylia had taken advantage of the weakness of the Algerian garrison during the Crimean War, and Gen Randon now launched a major campaign of pacification. In April–June 1857, against stubborn resistance, 35,000 men in four converging columns marched across the mountains, including one battalion of the Swiss 1st RE and two of the veteran 2nd RE. (For campaigns the regiments formed 'bataillons de guerre', with the six fusilier companies increased to 100 men each and the two elite companies to 120 men. For this 1857 campaign the I/ & II/2nd RE totalled 1,576 men.) The 2nd RE distinguished themselves on 24 June at Ischeriden, where tribesmen holding a steep ridge in strength had driven back two Line regiments. The légionnaires marched up the fire-swept slope and reached the crest in 30 minutes, without firing a shot until they closed with the enemy. The next year or so saw both regiments performing the usual roadbuilding and small-scale police operations, with the 1st RE based at Sétif and the 2nd at Sidi bel Abbès. Italy, 1859
Napoleon III's decision to intervene in the northern Italian struggle for independence from Austria, led by the King of Sardinia/Savoy, sparked hostilities in late April 1859. The Legion's weak 1st RE (hoping to recruit Italian patriots) was sent first to Corsica, and three 'war battalions' of the 2nd RE to Genoa, where they were all reunited on 12 May. The 1st RE still had only 600 men, but the 2nd mustered 1,440 all ranks; together with the 2nd Zouaves they formed the 2nd Bde (Gen Castagny) of 2nd Div (Gen Espinasse) of Gen MacMahon's II Corps. The French marched north, crossed the River Po, then swung east from Vercelli towards Milan. Their army of nearly 50,000 met 58,000 Austrians in the bloody battle of Magenta on 4 June, where MacMahon's corps on the French left won the decisive confrontation. Leading the 2nd RE southwards through the Austrian-held village of Marcallo, Col de Chabrière was killed. It is reported that when he saw Castagny's brigade fighting its way into the streets of Magenta, MacMahon exclaimed 'Here's the Legion – this affair's in the bag!' This victory cost the Legion 213 killed and wounded; thereafter the Swiss unit remained in Milan to try to attract recruits, while the 2nd RE marched on to the final battle at Solferino on 24 June. There they were held back to protect the artillery, so took only 46 casualties. After a spectacular victory parade in Milan the 2nd RE were shipped home, landing on 22 August at Mers el Kébir. The 1st RE was sent back to Corsica, but on 14 October an imperial decree brought the failed Swiss experiment to a close. The unit returned to Algeria in February 1860, to be absorbed into a single Régiment Étranger of three battalions, which on 1 January 1862 would record a strength of 2,635 all ranks.
Napoleon III's imperial ambitions reached their climax in his attempt in 1862 to instal the Austrian Archduke Maximilien as a client Emperor of Mexico by means of a French army of occupation.4 He was assured by conservative Mexican conspirators that the people would flock to support a coup against the newly re-elected President Juarez; this proved optimistic, and France was soon drawn into a merciless civil war. By 28 March 1863, when Col Jeanningros' two-battalion Legion marching regiment landed at Veracruz, the French Army's advance on Mexico City had become bogged down by the siege of Puebla. 4
The 2,000 légionnaires did not join them, being dispersed in six posts in the disease-ridden 'hot lands' to guard 56 miles of the supply road from the coast up to the Orizaba plateau.5 Yellow fever, malaria and cholera immediately took a heavy toll, and by 29 April one month in Mexico had already reduced the 3rd Co, I/RE to 62 men without officers. That day they were ordered to march back from the HQ at Chiquihuite to meet and protect an important convoy bringing gold and siege equipment up from Le Soledad. Three veteran officers of the regimental staff volunteered to lead them: S/Lts Vilain and Maudet, and the one-handed adjutant Capt Danjou. There is space here for only the briefest account of their action at Camarón (immortalized by a misspelt French report as 'Camerone') on 30 April, which would become celebrated – but only many years later – as the Legion's iconic 'last stand'.6 Leaving Chiquihuite very early, at about 6am the company had halted to brew coffee when sentries spotted some 800 Juarist cavalry led by Don Francisco de Paula Milan, who was intent on ambushing the convoy. The officers and about 45 men (but not the mules carrying cartridges and water) survived an initial engagement and formed a hollow square, withdrawing through the cactus-scrub until they reached the tumbledown ranchhouse of La Trinidad at Camarón de Tejeda. There they defended an incompletely walled yard about 50 yards across, with lean-to stables, adjoining a two-storey building. The Juarist force was soon increased to 2,000-plus by the arrival of three infantry battalions; Danjou refused a surrender demand, and before he was killed in mid-morning he made his men swear to fight to the last. The French convoy, hearing the gunfire, retreated safely. In increasing distress from thirst, and pressed ever more closely, the dwindling defenders continued to hold off repeated attacks. By late afternoon the building was ablaze, and only S/ Lt Maudet and four men – Cpl Maine, and légionnaires Catteau, Wenzel and Constantin – were still on their feet in a corner of the yard. Each fired his last cartridge, then they charged the enemy with the bayonet; Catteau and Maudet fell, but the Mexican Col Combas was in time to spare the lives of the other three. Of the prisoners taken, about 20 would survive captivity. Two years later and 75 miles away Capt Danjou's wooden left hand was recovered by chance, and would become the Legion's most sacred relic. 5 For an example of the virulence of disease: during 13 days at Veracruz and on the march inland to Puebla, the 20th Chasseurs à Pied lost 600 dead or hospitalized from a strength of 820. 6 For the fullest account of the action and its aftermath, see Rickards in the Select Bibliography.
After Puebla fell in May 1863, Juarez’s troops withdrew from Mexico City into the north. The war dragged on for another four years, mostly in brutal guerrilla and counter-guerrilla fighting. In October 1963 chief command passed to Gen Bazaine, and the Legion was brought up to the plateaux in February 1864. It was enlarged to four battalions in April 1864, to five in April 1865, and to six in April 1866. Among countless farranging columns and smaller actions, one that stands out was a disaster at the end of February 1866 near Parras, where Cdt Brian commanded four companies of the II/RE. Hoping to surprise a Juarist force reported at the hacienda of Santa Isabel, he took 184 officers and men into a dawn attack on the ranchhouse, only to be wiped out by 1,500 Mexicans waiting on surrounding higher ground. One man escaped; at least 100 were killed and 80-odd taken prisoner, of whom none are thought to have survived captivity. The Juarists then attacked Parras, but were held off by Lt Bastidon and his single small company (mainly of invalids) until Cdt Saussier's I/RE arrived to relieve them. In early 1866 the US pressure for a French withdrawal reached a climax, and the Prussian victory over Austria at Sadowa (Königgratz) that July increased France’s need to bring this hopeless adventure to a close. That month the Legion began enlarging to form an all-arms brigade (see Chronology), and in October came the fatal announcement that it would be handed over to the Emperor Maximilien when the French sailed home. Mercifully, this decision was rescinded in December, and on 27 February 1867 the last légionnaires left Veracruz. They left behind them 1,948 dead, most of them victims of disease.
The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, 1870–71
France declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. By early October half the French Army, under Bazaine, was encircled at Metz and soon to surrender; the other half, under Mac Mahon, had been defeated at Sedan; Napoleon III was a prisoner; Paris was besieged; and a Government of National Defence was scrambling to cobble together new armies. On 6 October the Legion was ordered to form two war battalions for France. German and Belgian personnel were transferred into the III/ and IV/RE, and just five days later the 1,457-strong I/ and II/RE were already (continued on page 33)
disembarking at Toulon. They were soon joined by some 450 survivors of a V/RE formed from volunteers in France, which had been mauled during the loss of Orléans. Allocated to XV Corps of the Army of the Loire, the RE took part in France's only outright victory, at Coulmiers on 9 November, but the army's subsequent agonizing winter retreat had reduced it to only about 1,000 men by 10 December. Rebuilt (and greatly diluted) with Line drafts and 2,000 raw Breton conscripts, in January 1871 the new three-battalion marching regiment was sent by train to join Gen Bourbaki's Army of the East for the attempted relief of Belfort. Bourbaki was defeated in the snowbound hills around Héricourt, and much of his army sought internment in Switzerland – though not the Legion. The armistice of late January found the debris of the RE at Besançon on the Doubs river. On 28 March 1871 radicals in Paris declared a revolutionary Commune, and the new parliamentary government under Adolphe Thiers was forced to withdraw to Versailles. Civil war seemed inevitable, and Thiers and Marshal Mac Mahon assembled a 120,000-strong Army of Versailles, to face potentially twice that many Parisian National Guards – 'Federals'. The Foreign Regiment arrived on 1 April, but with only 1,003 rankand-file, of whom perhaps one man in three or four may still have been veterans of Algeria. With the 30th Chasseurs à Pied and the Breton 39th Marching Regt, the RE formed 1st Bde (Gen Dumont), 3rd Div (Gen Montaudon) of I Corps (Gen Ladmirault). Serious fighting in the suburbs broke out on 3 April, and between 15/16 April and 14 May the small RE battalions were rotated through forward positions in the north-western suburb of Neuilly outside the city ramparts. At first holding a perimeter around the Rue Peyronnet and Boulevard d'Argenson, they were heavily shelled and sniped, and occasionally assaulted by Federal infantry. One stint of four days in the entrenched and barricaded ruins cost three officers and 15 men killed and 111 wounded. On 20 April, Line conscript reinforcements brought each of the three battalions (I/, II/ and V/RE) up to about 430 all ranks. The Army of Versailles penetrated the south-western ramparts on 21 May, beginning what became known as 'Bloody Week'. The army drove the Federals through Paris from west, north and south, and converged on the central eastern districts. The RE was brought in through the western Porte Maillot on 25 May, marching clockwise around the inside of the ramparts to join the rest of their division along the East Railway. As part of the northern pincer of the converging forces they fought through the freight yards, canal docks and barricaded streets of the north-east districts on 26–27 May. Late on the 27th they took a leading part in the capture of the major Federal artillery position on the Buttes Chaumont. On 28 May, the last day of fighting, they cleared streets in Belleville, and on the 30th they were withdrawn to barracks. On 15 June they were shipped back to Algeria, where, in the absence of most troops, a rebellion by white settlers had been followed by an Arab rising. In Oran province a company of IV/RE had distinguished themselves in a fight against the bellicose Ouled Sidi Sheikh tribe south of Sebdou on 17 April 1871. Further east, a small battalion drawn from III/RE saw much hard marching in Kabylia in May–June, and between Miliana and Cherchell in August.7
The history of the Legion is continued in MAA 461, The French Foreign Legion 1872–1914.