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Origins of the French Foreign Legion

Mark of Originality of the actual French Foreign Legion, the utilization of the "Chinese Hat" (French: « Chapeau Chinois ») marks the history of this corps along with the Music.

The Origins of the French Foreign Legion (French: Origines de la Légion étrangère) and early years of the French Foreign Legion (French: Légion étrangère) are resumed to that of an Army Corps part of the French Army (French: Corps de l'Armée de Terre Française).

The Origins of the French Foreign Legion (French: Origines de la Légion étrangère) are unmatched. None of the French Army Corps ever aroused so much interrogation, mystique and myth such as the French Foreign Legion. Uncopiable today, the French Foreign Legion was just another foreign formation among so many others that had already served France.

The Legion was left in Spain by Louis Philippe I[1], before being recreated by the latter during an occasion. The Foreign Legion was deeply rooted in combats in Algeria (French: les combats d’Algérie), while becoming each following day more stronger to become an elite unit.


Foreigners in service of FranceEdit

The principal specification of the French Foreign Legion is that the Legion is constituted of foreigners. Well before the creation of a specific military formation, France, as well many other countries, has always recruited foreigners to fill the ranks of their contingents, or for the purpose resolve of political or strategic challenges. The French Foreign Legion distinguishes from all, due to the fact that all recruits are volunteers, while other formed foreign regiments were constituted of constraint personnel within enrollment, for instance, in regards to foreign regiments formed of prisoners of war (not the case of the 1831 Legion).

During the Ancien RégimeEdit

Before the Restoration (French: Restauration), the First French Empire (French: Premier Empire) and even before the Revolution (French: Révolution), the Monarchy (French: Monarchie) had a long tradition of enrolling the service of foreigners.

Accordingly, in Europe, in the Middle Ages (French: Moyen Age), a monetary fee (tax) had to be paid for the Lord (French: seigneur) so that the latter can form an army of Mercenaries to continue local wars. On the other hand, Grand Armies and important battles were won or lost due to the participation of foreigners.

In 1346, at the dawn of Hundred Years' War (French: guerre de Cent Ans), Philip VI of France employed 15,000 Genovese at the Battle of Crecy (French: Crécy en Ponthieu) which resulted in an English victory along with the skilled Archers of Edward III of England. The 13th century and 14th century witnessed also the appearance of the Grand Companies formed of Scottish, Castillans, Savoyards, Swiss or Dutch belonging to Chiefs or princes.

Louis XI of France in the 15th century had his Garde Ecossaise (French: Garde ecossaise) (Scottish Guard), and also called upon 6000 Swiss in 1480, without hesitating on the utilization of their qualities, in instruction tasks, at the camp of Pont de l'Arche. The famous tradition of servicing foreigners to combat for the Monarchy started with Louis XI, because during his reign and for the next three centuries, the French Army would at least always consist of 20%-30% of Non-French (Foreigners).[2] .

Francis I of France would also call upon foreigners, forming his infantry corps in majority and constituting the Foreign Regiments of the Ancien Régime (French: Régiments étrangers au service de l'Ancien Régime), in particular foreigners with German and Swiss origins. These latter would always have a place of choice in the Armies of France, due to a particular status. In fact, following the defeat at Marignano in 1515 (French: Marignan en 1515), the Swiss would no longer fight the French due to the Treaty of Fribourg (1516) (French: Traité de Fribourg (1516)) « Paix perpétuelle » (the perpetual peace) of November 1516.

Day of August 10 1792 (French: Journée du 10 août 1792) La Prise des Tuileries. The red uniforms of the Swiss are distinguished from the other combatants.

In addition to this assurance, François I, since November 7 1515, would be the only French King allowed to service the Swiss, due to their professionalism and fidelity. The Kings of France would accordingly raise strong contingents in the Swiss cantons to form foreign regiments or personal guards. Accordingly, during the Day of August 10 1792 (French: Journée du 10 août 1792), they were 26 Officers and 850 men[3] to defended the King (French: Le Roi), proving by their acts of valor a remarkable fidelity.

The 18th century was still a period where foreign troops had an armed role that was not negligible. Accordingly, during the Seven Years' War (French: guerre de Sept Ans), France aligned 32 Foreign Regiments: 12 German, 10 Swiss, 7 Irish, 2 Italians and 1 Scottish[4].

Within the reference of foreign constituents and during the Revolution, out of the 146,000 available soldiers, 42,000 were non-French (Foreigners)[5]. With the fall of the Monarchy, the Assembly opened the door to numerous foreign volunteer units willing to serve the nation, such as the Foreign Volunteer Units in Service of France (French: Unités de volontaires étrangers au service de la France), whom came forth to combat for liberty or against the Prussian Army. These volunteers came forth in such a quantity that the Assembly thought to regroup and institutionalize their legitimacy within a particular frame. Accordingly, and in sort, was created by decree of July 26 1792, sanctioned on August 1, the Légion Franche Etrangère[6].

After overhearing the reports on these joint diplomatic and military committees, the National Assembly, considered that the circumstances were of necessity to increase the number forces in the armies and accordingly decided on: "There will be formed, in the most brief delays, under the authority and surveillance of the executive power, a new Legion under the denomination « Légion Franche Etrangère », and in which would only admit foreigners". Accordingly, were organized, a Germanic Legion (French: Légion germanique), Italian Legion (French: Légion Italique), Batavian Legion (French: Légion batave) and a Polish Legion (French: Légion polonaise). The law which regulated the latter, precised that : " If the Allied Kings deploy numerous Armies against the free peoples, it is important for them to admit into their ranks all the men whom a sublime impulse calls to fight for the sacred cause of Liberty".[7]

Numerous Foreigners have fought for a nation that is not theirs, hence, the interrogation.

First it's about honor (French: L'honneur), conserving it and preserve all of those that fought for it, even for the concerned Mercenaries, It's an honor to engage in combat for a King of France. In addition for the idealist, France, was in full swing of a revolution and that represented an enormous hope for many Europeans. Finally, the perspective perhaps was that of a Command that is more Human, seemed to be the obvious reasons and the main drive; Frederick the Great (French: Frédéric II) or Peter the Great (French: Pierre le Grand) were not attentive to their troops as was, the Sun King Louis XIV of France[8].

Foreign troops under the EmpireEdit

The First French Empire, by its conquests, was a grand consumer of foreign troops. From the Battle of Wagram (French: Wagram), to Iéna (French: Iéna), to the Battle of Eylau (French: Eylau) and even in Spain, the percentages of non-French (Foreigners) in the Armies of the French Empire attained unique proportions. It was estimated that in Spain, one sixth of formations were foreign.[9], more than half in the Campaign of Russia (French: campagne de Russie)[10]; and even in 1814, the Army counted still 20% of non-French (Foreigners)[10].

As soon as Napoleon ascended to power, the latter needed troops, in 1802. Accordingly, he called upon 4,000 Swiss[11]. He used more than 90,000 during the totality of his reign. They would form the Valaison Battalion (French: bataillon Valaisan), in 1805. Then in 1807, Marshal Berthier (French: maréchal Berthier), prince of Neufchâtel, founded a battalion of the same name. He combat engaged in Austria, Spain and Russia. In total, the Empire formed four infantry regiments in 1805 and 1806. This strong engagement led to heavy losses, in fact, half of the Swiss combatants would not survive the campaigns.

Since 1805, Napoleon utilized Russian and Austrian prisoners, and they composed the Regiment of Tour d'Auvergne (French: régiments de la Tour d’Auvergne) and the Regiment of Isembourg (French: Régiment d'Isembourg). Re-baptized, they became the 1st Foreign Regiment and 2nd Foreign Regiment. They were both dissolved in 1814.

For the units created at the beginning of this century, several Legions can be found taking formations. The Piedmontese Legion (French: Légion Piémontaise) or Légion du Midi, created in 1803, composed of former French soldiers and Piedmontese (French: piémontais) of the French departments of Italy (French: départements français d’Italie). Also to be added are the Spanish Pioneers, the Catalonian Regiment (French: Régiment de Catalogne), the Hanoverian Legion (French: Légion hanovrienne), the Egyptian Mamluks (French: mamelouk égyptiens), or the Portuguese Legion (French: Légion portugaise) created by decree on January 16 1808, and which was composed of 8000 men.

In total between 1806 and 1814, 60 Foreign Units were constituted and commanded by 136 generals, amongst whom feature a couple of famous personality figures, such as Józef Poniatowski, who was made Marshal of France on August 16 1813[12]. A grand part of these Europeans were volunteers. Conscripts formed only those from the regions annexed by the Empire.

To illustrate this heterogeneity, it was estimated that of the 400,000 men which crossed the Neman (French: Niémen) making way towards Moscow (French: Moscou) or Smolensk, 120,000 were actually French[12]. During the Hundred Days (French: Cent-Jours), Napoleon assembled 8 Foreign Regiments marking the attachment of the troops to their veteran chief, and the confidence which the latter gave them.

Under the RestorationEdit

The fall of the Empire entailed the scattering of the Foreign Regiments, nevertheless, France remained a military power and troops were needed, specially to renew the elder cadres or the troop of men whom were drained by the Imperial Wars. Accordingly, trained troops were required and were rapidly needed in demand. Subsequently, requests turned then again to the Swiss. The Monarchy of Louis XVIII of France (French: Louis XVIII de France) incorporated 14,000 Swiss spread in 6 regiments[12]. In addition to the Helvétiques was added four other regiments out of which one was referred to as « colonial » composed of Portuguese and Spanish. All these men constituted the Royal Foreign Legion in 1815[12].

In 1816, the Royal Foreign Legion became the Hohenlohe Legion (French: Légion de Hohenlohe) which itself, became the Hohenlohe Regiment in 1821, from the name of the prince which was in leadership. A German origin figure who served in the army during the revolution, then in the Dutch Army as an emigrant. Governor of the Two-Gallicia in 1807, combatant at Leipzig and the campaign of France, he was nominated as a Lieutenant-general by Louis XVIII, then became Marshal in March 1827[13]. Nevertheless, the Hohenlohe Regiment would be affected by the reorganization of the Army which accompanied the events of July. The regiment was dissolved in 1830 because it was judged to be too loyal to its future sovereign. This last regiment would give the 1831 Legion the particular marching cadence. While the classic infantry regiments paraded at a rhythm of a hundred and twenty paces per minute. The Legion strong of its affiliation with the Ancien Régime and in particular the Hohenlohe Regiment, adopted a slower and more solemn rhythm of almost 80-85 paces per minute[14].

The French Army was exempt of Foreigners beginning 1830. However, this state of exemption would not last : Charles X of France (French: Charles X), the King of France since 1824, was very unpopular. Such unpopularity was due to bad harvesting, a difficult economy and the adoption of a reactant government which was leading to the creation a favorable field for insurrectional movements. The Ordinances of Saint-Cloud (French: ordonnances de Saint Cloud), were described as the King's hammer and limited by force the liberties of the people, being proclaimed on July 25 1830. Accordingly, they led to an immediate violent opposition from the people, which led to the fall of the regime. This Revolution Trois Glorieuse (French: révolution), spread over three days, the 27, 28, 29 July 1830 brought to power a new man, Louis Philippe de Chartres, who became on August 7 Louis Philippe I (French: Louis Philippe I) King of the French. While swearing by the Constitutional Charter Oath of 1814, he installed the July Monarchy (French: « Monarchie de juillet »).

A sovereign for the nation by the will of the nation, his friends and enemies didn't want the King to possess a force that would be too loyal and be remarkably trained like the Hohenlohe regiment which was dissolved in July 1830. In fact, the political forces only wanted a national army.

However and to the dismay, events in Algeria and internal politics constrained a new incorporation of Foreigners.

At the end of 1820, troubles appeared between France and Algeria. The general council of France was sent to meet the Dey[15] of Algiers: Hussein Pacha. The latter provoked the French council. In consequence, France commenced a Naval blockade of Algiers with the maritime force of Capitaine de vaisseau Collet. After a tentative negotiation on July 1829 which revealed to be unsuccessful, the count of Bourmont, minister of war, and baron Haussez, minister of the navy, organized the formation of an expedition towards Algiers. Accordingly, 36,450 men and more than 650 Naval ships left Toulon on May 25 1830 and disembarked on June 14[16]. The conquest of Algeria had just begun. The troops progressed quickly and Algiers fell on July 4.

Creation of the French Foreign LegionEdit

Creation by Royal OrdinanceEdit

The French Foreign Legion was accordingly created by a 9 Articled Royal Ordinance on March 9 1831. The law was then signed by Louis Philippe I[17] and State War Secretary Marshal Soult.

The ordinance gave immediately the cadre as to the usage and formation of this military organization:

The first particularity was that the engagement had to be voluntarily: Article 4. Accordingly, then, the Legion was founded in parallel to the French Army who was applying conscription regulated by the Law Gouvion-Saint-Cyr (French: loi Gouvion-Saint-Cyr) of March 1818, which based conscription on volunteerism and a sort of draw draft. All Foreign volunteers, regardless of their nationality, were directed towards the Legion. Constituted regiments based on nationality were no longer adopted. Accordingly, all Origins were mixed. In addition, the Legion would be assimilated to the Line Infantry : « Art.2 - Battalions of the Foreign Legion would have the same formation as Battalions of the Line Infantry ». Accordingly, this not a Mercenary Troop. The Legion is part of the same title formation as other regiments and battalions of the French Army. The ordinance informed equally about the uniform : Art.3 - For pay, masses and administration, the Foreign Legion would be assimilated to French Regiments. The uniform would be blue with simple passepoil garance and pants of the same color. Buttons would be yellow and would be inscribed with the words Légion étrangère(French for Foreign Legion). This was related to the uniform of the Line Infantry for that époque, because the Legion at that time did not possess any cavalry, nor artillery, nor Combat engineers, unlike today.


As soon as the ordinance was written, recruitment started. Volunteers were regrouped in Haute-Marne at Langres. The depot chief, Commandant Sicco, a former Officer of Napoleon's Army, was a « coriace » (hard, tough and rugged), a veteran of the Russian campaign, his numerous scars in the face were witness to his allure. The Legion was formed around the former Swiss veteran regiments and regiment of Hohenloe, who formed the hard corps nucleus of the professionals. However, with the influx of candidates coming from outré-Rhin (French: Rhin), the complex of Langres which was only one depot was entrenched. According, other new recruitment bureau were created at Auxerre for the Germans, Chaumont for the Belges and Dutch, Agen for the Spanish and Italians and Avignon for the Poles. The men were then regrouped at Bar-lde-Duc, where they held a garrison.

A challenging startEdit

A company of the Legion on the Champ de Mars in Paris (1836).

The beginnings of the Legion are very laborious. The candidates : some had extensive experiences, others were novices in the crafts of arms. Amongst the many purposes of the Legion, the latter did diminish numerous numbers of exiled politicians and potential revolutionaries on the territory; However, it also attracted as much, national individuals or foreigners from all walks of life, colors and backgrounds. The Legion became an enforceable for the State[18]. Certain persons enlisted from a nonetheless motivated allure and voluntary spirit, the époque helping and Africa still unknown, one could also see the adventurer types attempting to enroll[19]. Also, many friends of France, who were numerous, hoped to battle for the nation. Whether it was to find bread, or the will to forget or get redeemed, each individual had his reasons to join and the Legion most importantly would be the spring device of all these reasons.

Nevertheless, this created a motley troop corps, where arms craft soldiers were rubbing side to side with Anarchism. Inactivity in wait for assignments and nationalism of some entailed high energies between communities, which entailed the need to have a more concise common frame.

Officers and Sous-Officiers were needed[20], those of the Imperial Army were too old already and insufficient, for the time époque. The Foreign Officers that left their armies were not familiar with the French language, and hailed from different world armies or others arms such as the cavalry. It is estimated that they were 107 Officers[21] to serve between 1831 and 1836.

In reality, the main difficulty was the creation of a cohesive disciplined esprit de corps which was proud, the indispensable elements at the genesis of an elite unit.[22].

The only way to make coexist all this ensemble was by application of a steel made Military Discipline. The cadres were extremely rigorous in this, punishments were numerous and very harsh, however despite of the strict applications, insubordination and desertions were common. To such a point that in Mid-May, the insubordination and the indiscipline were of such that the National Guard was called upon to circumscribe a possible rebellion. On that day, 20 soldiers were arrested[23]. Colonel Stoeffel, the Legion Chief then, was relieved that the elite army corps didn't scuttle itself, and had to be in the most brief delays sent to Algeria while on a similar proper grip.

Nevertheless, all these individuals and personalities (including the French) living together, cut from the outside world, gave such a unique character to the Legion that each one brought forth his qualities and downsides. This reason led the Legionnaires to build their own home with the context understanding of their own common family.

Despite these complications, less than 6 months after the ordinance[24], 5 battalions were created, each with 8 combat companies. Each battalion regrouped one or two nationalities and counted almost 500 men. They were regrouped at Toulon near the Mediterranean in await for departure to Algeria.

Nationalities by battalion
battalion nationalities
1st Swiss and former of Hohenlohe
2nd Swiss and Germans
3rd Swiss and Germans
4th Spanish
5th Sardinians and Italians
6th Belgians and Dutch

A last battalion would be the most valorous, composed of Poles, whom left their country after the Insurrection of November 1830 (French: insurrection de 1830), arrived in France full of good will.

The beginningsEdit

Starting the month of August, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th battalions deployed to Algeria, counting a total of 78 Officers and 2669 Sous-officiers and Legionnaires[25]. They were under the orders of colonel, baron Christophe Antoine Jacques Stoeffel, a former Swiss officer of the Napoleonic Army who fought in Spain and who has known the army for more than thirty years. He was a high caliber officer, full of integrity, capable, loyal and who believed in discipline. The 5 battalions disembarked at Oran, Algiers, Bône.

Despite the insecurities and existing skirmishes, the Legion was first preoccupied with earthworks. The Legionnaires accordingly gained their reputation as a builder soldiers (French: soldat bâtisseur), the essence base of the Legion. Accordingly, the Legion would build the route of Casbah in the region of Algiers, that of the Emperor's Fort (French: Fort-l’Empereur), or that of the belt of Algiers. The Legion also participated to the construction of many Forts, including the Water Fort. The exploit however would be in favor of the men of captain Droualt of the 2nd battalion who edified the route linking Douéra to Boufarik at the middle of various swamps[26]. This famous route would bare the designation of « chaussée de la Légion ».

Nevertheless, even though these earthworks were useful for the modernization and reconstruction of Algeria, these works exhausted heavily the men: fevers, dysentery and specially cholera (which killed or reformed 3,200 men between 1831 and 1835 - as in one forth of the troops) reduced formations drastically[27].

Following these medical challenges, moral amongst the recruitment of men was at a low and desertions increased. However, these backbreaking works, along with the discipline, would break the men and rendered them more malleable. Stoeffel, a good officer, knew it and applied it. Oblige any outlaw or revolting hard liner to break rocks for ten hours a day with a pickaxe, with half a ration of water, and you will find that his revolting spirit would be lost[28].

Baptize of fire and the first gloriesEdit

With that however, The Legion would quickly get acquainted with its first combats. As of April 27 1832, 300 men of the 3rd battalion began to secure the surrounding of Algiers and combat engaged at Maison Carré, an old Turkish Fort held by the tribes of the El-Ouffia. On May 23, apprehended by ambush by the tribe of Amraoua, a detachment of 27 men directed by lieutenant Cham were exterminated: resulting in 26 fatalities[29]. The Legionnaires didn't give up and were the first of a long list of fatalities. The conquest of Algeria cost the French Foreign Legion : 27 Officers, 61 Sous-officiers and 756 Legionnaires[30]. During the same year, Stoeffel was replaced by colonel Combes, who arrived from Marseille with the first flag of the Legion offered by Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans, in the name of the King.

Inscribed on the flag was : « Le Roi des Français à la Légion étrangère » (King of the French at the French Foreign Legion). The troop was then known and distinguished[31].

Henceforth, the Legion would combat engage in Algeria without unfolding: at Sidi Chabal in November 1832 where the Spanish battalion would distinguished capability. In March 1833, the Legionnaires combat engaged at Ouled Yacoub and Oule Attia, where combats were very violent and suffered the resistance of a young and courageous Emir : Abdelkader along with tribes of the Sig.

Months passed while engaged in combats and sufferance, nevertheless, the French won a victory at Arzew on June 5 and apprehended Mostaganem on July 27 1833.

The year of 1834 was more calmer and formations were in a completed phase[32], with the arrival of the 6th battalion, formed at Chaumont, and which included French, Belgian and Dutch recruits. They were directly followed by the Poles which distinguished capability one more time near the city of Bougie. This last battalion, the 7th, replaced the 4th battalion (Spanish) and would go back to Oran. The Spanish men who were discharged from service, rejoined Spain to participate to the Civil War already in rage.

During this period, the Legion would really be of presence in Algeria; all the battalions: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and half of the 7th held garrison in Algiers; Oran was held by the 4th and Bône by the 6th.

The year of 1835 was marked with the combat of Moulay Ismael where the Legion commanded by lieutenant-colonel Conrad, went with other troops to rejoin Arzew by crossing the territory of the Sig, held by partisans of Abdel El Kader. The face off with the redoubtable cavaliers of the Emir cost the lives of a hundred Legionnaires[33]. What is recalled as the tragedy of Macta is one of the most heaviest tributes paid to the African land, however the Legionnaires showcased great courage, and because of their sacrifice, the column was able to reach Arzew. Henceforth, the Legion would forever be characterized by this abnegation, this impassivity in front of fires, regardless of the sacrifice.

However, the conquest of Algeria would halt brutally, in fact, the Legion had to go to Spain to support the regent Marie Isabelle in her war against the Carlist.

The Spanish Odyssey and the end of the old LegionEdit

The good will of the French Foreign Legion to SpainEdit

While the French Foreign Legion started to root itself in Algeria, the Legion was called to serve in Spain in particular circumstances.

At the death of King of Spain Ferdinand VII of Spain (French: Ferdinand VII d'Espagne) on September 18 1833, the later, transferred the Kingdom to his daughter, Isabella II of Spain, only 3 years of age. The wife of Ferdinand VI, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies (French: Marie Christine), became regent while waiting for her daughter to be sufficiently aged to head the throne. However, after the Salic law (French: loi salique), the turn came to Don Carlos the brother of the King whom the power should have returned to. In front of the refusal of the regent, he started a civil war. Accordingly, he rallied to his cause [34] Galice, the region of Haute-Navarre and the provinces of the Basque countries. In addition, he was aided by the more conservative Europeans : Austria, Prussia and Russia[35]. The Spanish Army was not enough to handle the civil war, accordingly the later requested aide from its neighbors, with whom it had already concluded alliance treaties. This was the beginning of the First Carlist War.

In fact, on June 28 1843, the Ambassadors of London, Lisbon, and Paris, signed with the Ambassador of Spain a treaty aimed at supporting Marie-Christine.

France, didn't favor the prospects of this treaty, because the country did not want to interfere in Spanish Affairs and thought that an intervention in Spain would risk to compromise the European peace[36]. Not wanting to send the French Army (the regular army), the French Foreign Legion would allow to justify engagements. Accordingly, it would then be a deployment of foreign troops destined to a friendly country. The neighbors also sent strong contingents : Portugal sent 6,000 elite soldiers[36], and the British sent 12,000 men, under the orders of Sir De Lacy Evans. The British troops returned to England in 1837 and left behind them 2,500 fatalities.[36].

Accordingly, on January 28 1835, under the pressure of Adolphe Thiers, the minister of interior, the Legion was ceded to the Queen of Spain and on June 29, a royal ordinance stipulated that the French Foreign Legion was no longer part of the French Army[37].

The order given was to head to Algiers, accordingly, embarking on July 30. The Army Corps had been ceded to Spain, and all Legionnaires had to embark: the sick, imprisoned, and those on leave included. The men could no longer back out or would face severe sanctions, of the sort of insubordination, it was perceived that such would be resumed to French Officers being found in half-pay, Foreign Officers without employment and the Legionnaires would have been considered deserters[36].

On July 30, 123 Officers and 4,021 Sous-Officiers and Legionnaires embarked on La Royal[38] heading to Algeria. All the men were under the hands of colonel Bernelle, a former captain of the Imperial Guard of fifty years. He integrated the Army in 1820, after having been placed at disposition. He was an officer with a grip like steel and a remarkable organizer.

Accordingly, during a stopover at the Balearic Islands, he took advantage to reorganize all the battalions, and mixed all nationalities together while being met with interesting resistance[39]. It was this decision which formed a New Legion, that was much more firmer, and where each brought his qualities while being designated as an elite corps.

The first combatsEdit

In addition, it was a Legion that was very different from the Legion of early 1831 and disembarked at Tarragona on August 17 1835. This Legion was a qualified troop, well structured and well directed. A reinforcement troop that was very appreciated to the regent Marie Christine[36].

However, the Spanish welcoming was mediocre, due to the souvenir of the 1811 siege by French Marshal Suchet amongst others[39]. The Legion in Spain became the French Auxiliary Division (French: « division auxiliaire française ») and their chief, colonel Bernelle, became Maréchal de camp of the Spanish Armies.

At arrival, the Legion entered the war against 5,000 Carlist in the region of Catalonia.

The year of 1835 was resumed with several skirmishes in the regions of Navarre and Aragon. The Legion finished by entering into Pamplona, on February 5 1836, in order to circumscribe and isolate the province[40]. It was in this region that an escalation of violence was witnessed. The Carlists led a total war and the battles put on a mask of cruelty and hate until here unknown. The Carlists did not take prisoners of war; all Officers or troop men were executed, such as thirty Legionnaires and their Officers on September 20[41]. Bernelle understood this type of behavior and accordingly responded with Terror. The Legion, as a response, would take no prisoners as well.

Despite the elevated number of actors of the Spanish scene, the Legion would often be brought to fight alone. Accordingly, the Legion organized to become more autonomous[42]; Bernelle compensated his troops with three lancers squadrons, a Howitzer type battery for support, and a medical company to subtract the wounded in the fields of battle. This was the beginning of the modern French Foreign Legion.

Deadly combatsEdit

Combats continued day after day, taking away men from the Legion. On April 15 1836, losses rose to 117 killed, 380 dead by wounds or decease, and 83 deserters[43]. In addition, one had to add the extreme harsh combat conditions: cold, rain, hunger, mediocre sleep, the little empathy of the population and the inhuman character of this war without quarter. However, courage and abnegation governed the ranks, at Tirapequi on April 26, 500 Legionnaires repelled 3,500 Carlists at the cost of 90 dead[41] and, on August 1, at Zubiri, the Legion, all alone killed 1,200 Carlists in one battle[41].

The abandoning of the LegionEdit

The Legion became more and more isolated in Spain. Reinforcements arrived in drops[41]: 379 men on April 15, 89 in July, 438 in August and these would be the last of the men. Paris tendered the deaf ears, the equipment and supplies sent were insufficient, the pay was irregular, while decorations and advancement did not follow through. Adolphe Thiers, president of the council, refused all aid under the pretext that the Legion was handed in full and entirely to Spain. At reaching a limit, Bernelle resigned and returned to France, he was replaced with colonel Conrad, a courageous man who was frank, and a fist full of a man built just like Bernelle. The return of the latter to France provoked the surprise of the King, whom after hearing his battle story, became totally uninterested in the Spanish Odyssey. The King didn't want to send reinforcements from the regular army, out of fear of tiring the troop and get stuck again. In addition, the conquest of Algeria requested reinforcements. The King could not divide his troops. The Legion was accordingly left to its own fate.

Misery and erranceEdit

The Legion continued to fight, the lack of living and decent equipment was aggravated by the winter of 1836-1837, particularly rude, in the plains of Aragon. In fault with pay and living conditions, others passed to the side of the Carlists whom were living off the country.

At the beginning of 1837, the Legion only aligned three battalions, then two; the Legion had been reduced in half since arrival. However, the Legion continued to be combat engaged with a suicidal determination : On May 24 at Huesca, the Legion lost 350 men out of 1,200[44].

On June 2, in an ultimate battle at Barbastro in front of a strong Carlists contingent, the Legion lost its chief, colonel Conrad, who was shot by a bullet to the head. The Legion would not recover and unfolded on Zaragoza before making way on Pamplona where it garrisoned during the winter season.

In 1838, the Legion was only but a shadow to itself. The Legion remained in a very delicate situation, with mediocre living conditions and without resources in the middle of the Carlists. It was only until December 8 that the Queen finally accorded its dissolution. They left from Zaragoza on January 2 1839 and crossed the Pyrenees starved and miserable by Somport.

They were 6,000 to disembark at Tarragona in 1835, they were 63 Officers and 50 troop men to return[45]. Abandoned, they returned nevertheless to France. All were combatants with a solid experience aureole of a grand glory. This arrived perfectly as hardened men were needed. During the Spanish Odyssey, the King had recreated another Legion.

The New LegionEdit

The Second LegionEdit

Portrait of Marie Alphonse Bedeau.

Since the departure of the Legion to the Spanish Army in 1835, the Legion left a void. Foreigners nevertheless remained numerous in their quest to enlist while Africa and Spain required as much men as possible.

Accordingly, a New Legion was formed on December 1835[46], with garrison at Paris and composed only of one battalion. On march 22, two companies of general staff headquarters were formed, and as of June 26, the battalion was in complete formation. However the government, tired of the Spanish adventure, licensed a battalion on August 11 1836 and sent the volunteers issued from this ephemeral Legion to Spain[46]. These would be the last reinforcements.

However, the Legionnaire adventure was not to be finished yet, the government placed a priority on Algeria and re-began the formation of a New Legion on November 1836. On November 21 of the same month, a new battalion was constituted at Pau. Strong with 1,200 men, the battalion embarked at Toulon on the Suffren on December 11[46], and arrived four days later in Algiers.

During that time, recruitment continued in France, and so well that on September 4 1837, a second battalion would be constituted by a Royal Ordinance. The two assembled battalions were the equivalent of a regular infantry regiment.

Since that moment, the Legion would absorb all the hard blows and be of all decisive battles. Starting from Algiers, the year of 1837 was for the French Foreign Legion of Africa a succession of battles. The most important aspect of the year was without a doubt the peace signed between France and the resistance led by Emir Abdelkader and the recognition of the latter in the Tafna Treaty (French: traité de Tafna) of the sovereignty of France in certain Algerian regions.

Despite the treaty, the peace was really relative. The Legion was still subject to harsh expeditions[47], in the valley of Isser to reduce rebels activity whose trouble activities reached until Boufarik.

Battle of ConstantineEdit

The relatively calm situation allowed the elaboration of grand maneuvers. Constantine was the subject of focus. All available troops were charged with marching towards Constantine, a stronghold which was planted on rocks overlooking the Rhummel. Constantine was invulnerable.

Since the unsuccessful expedition of Bertrand Clauzel which cost him his place, the fall of the Citadel was crucial. Battle formations constituted one Legion Marching Battalion, strong with 500 men under the orders of chef de bataillon (Commandant - Major) Marie Alphonse Bedeau (French: Marie-Alphonse Bedeau)[48].

The expedition arrived to Constantine on October 6 1837, général Danrémont (French: le général Danrémont), the governor of Algiers, began the siege. The expedition was divided into four brigades, the Legion was part of the third brigade. The artillery of général Valée pierced a breach in the corps of the Fortress. On October 13, the men accordingly launched the assault. The Legionnaires behind colonel Combes (French: colonel Combe), their former chief, engaged in close quarter corps-a-corps combat clearing the most important arenas[49]. Throughout the course of three dreadful combat hours, the Legion and the other Brigades managed to apprehend Constantine during the night.

Chef de bataillon Bedeau was designated commandant of the lieu and was promoted to a Lieutenant-colonel.


The French Foreign Legion is nonetheless famous. The conquest of Algeria would give the Legion another twenty years of mobilization. Following the success of the Legion at Constantine, the Legion regrouped in Algiers since 1838.

The Legion recorded a number formation of 2823 men[50] on November 10 1838 and continued to mount all combats, distinguishing capability at Djidjelli, Medea, Miliana, often victorious but at the cost of heavy losses.

The Legion definitely garrisoned place in Algeria and France in 1840. First, owing to the return of the survivors of Spain, and their 10,000 enemies[51] which had left their country after the failure of the revolution of Don Carlos. The structural reform which, by the intermediary royal ordinance of December 30 1840, doubled the Legion in two Foreign Regiments. The 1st Foreign Regiment 1er RE, directed by colonel Mollenbeck, was formed in Algiers on April 1 1841. Similarly, the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment 2e REI, directed by colonel Caries de Senilhes was constituted at Bône on April 21 1841.

The Legion would garrison at Sidi Bel Abbès in 1843, and leave that lieu 119 years later. From this corps, vowed to serve the integrity of foreigners, campaigns and courage would make of it one of the most redoubtable combat devices of the époque. From Crimea, to Itlay, to Mexico as well many others, the Legion henceforth would be a respectable and glorious unit in the French Army.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Duke of Orléans was a Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom on July 31 1830.
  2. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 till present), page 11.
  3. ^ Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 11
  4. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion, 175 years of History) page 10
  5. ^ George blond, Histoire de la Légion étrangère 1831-1981 (History of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981), page 25.
  6. ^ Poirmeur (capitaine), Notre vieille Légion(Our Old Legion), page 12.
  7. ^ Poirmeur (captain), Notre vieille Légion (Our Old Legion), page 12
  8. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours(History of the Legion, 1831 until present), page 11
  9. ^ George blond, Histoire de la Légion étrangère 1831-1981 (History of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981), page 25
  10. ^ a b George Blond, Histoire de la Légion étrangère 1831-1981 (History of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981), page 25.
  11. ^ Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of Legion from 1831 until present), page 12
  12. ^ a b c d Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 a nos jours(History of Legion 1831 until the present), page 12.
  13. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire, page 11
  14. ^ Young John Robert/Bergot Erwan La Légion étrangère. Voyage à l'intérieur d'un corps d'élite (The French Foreign Legion- Voyage to the interior elite corps), page 200
  15. ^ Arabic pronunciation of the Turkish title "Pasha", used by some Arab countries and rulers in Ottoman-ruled areas
  16. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (History of the French Foreign Legion 175 years of History), page 14
  17. ^ The Duke of Orleans was a Colonel-General of the Hussars in 1817 and a Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom on July 31 1830.
  18. ^ Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962(The French Foreign Legion 1831-1962), page 38
  19. ^ George Blond, Histoire de la Légion étrangère 1831-1981(History of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981)
  20. ^ Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962 page 39
  21. ^ Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962(The French Foreign Legion 1831-1962), page 40
  22. ^ Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962(The French Foreign Legion 1831-1962), page 47
  23. ^ Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962(The French Foreign Legion 1831-1962), page 44
  24. ^ John Robert Young et Erwan Bergot, La Légion étrangère voyage à l'intérieur d'un corps d'élite (The French Foreign Legion - Voyage to the interior elite corps) page 10
  25. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion 1831 till present), page 15
  26. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion 175 years of history), pages 14-15
  27. ^ Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962 (The French Foreign Legion 1831-1962), page 50
  28. ^ George blond, Histoire de la Légion étrangère 1831-1981 (History of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981), page 26
  29. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the French Foreign Legion 1831 until present), page 16
  30. ^ Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of Legion 1831 until present), page 19
  31. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion 175 years of History), pages 222-223
  32. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion 175 years of History), page 15
  33. ^ Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (The History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 18
  34. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire(The French Foreign Legion, 175 years of History), page 20
  35. ^ Montagnon Pierre. Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos Jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 21.
  36. ^ a b c d e Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours(History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 21
  37. ^ Messager Jean-Luc. La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion, 175 years of History), page 20
  38. ^ This was the traditional surname of the French War Navy.
  39. ^ a b Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours(History of the French Foreign Legion 1831 till present), page 22
  40. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 a nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present, page 24
  41. ^ a b c d Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 till present, page 24
  42. ^ John Robert Young et Erwan Bergot, La Légion étrangère voyage à l'intérieur d'un corps d'élite (The French Foreign Legion - voyage to the interior elite corps
  43. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present
  44. ^ Poirmeur (captain), Notre vieille Légion (Our Old Legion) page 26
  45. ^ Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present) page 26
  46. ^ a b c Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (History of the French Foreign Legion 175 years of History), page 16
  47. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion 175 years of history), page 17
  48. ^ Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 30
  49. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 30-31
  50. ^ Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (French Foreign Legion 175 years of History), page18
  51. ^ Pierre Montagnon, Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 until present), page 27


  • Douglas Porch, La Légion étrangère 1831-1962 (The French Foreign Legion 1831-1962), Fayard, 1994, ISBN 978-2213031118.
  • Pierre Montagnon Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours (History of the Legion from 1831 till present), Pygmalion, 1999
  • Poirmeur (capitaine), Notre vieille Légion (Our Old Legion), éd. Berger-Levraut, Paris, 1931
  • George blond, Histoire de la Légion étrangère 1831-1981 (History of the French Foreign Legion 1831-1981), édition du Club France Loisir, (première édition Librairie Plon). 1981
  • Jean-Luc Messager, La Légion étrangère 175 ans d'histoire (The French Foreign Legion 175 years of History), édition EPA Hachette livre, 2007
  • John Robert Young et Erwan Bergot, La Légion étrangère voyage à l'intérieur d'un corps d'élite (The French Foreign Legion travels to an elite corps), édition en langue française Robert Laffont S.A 1984
  • Girordet Raoul, La Société militaire de 1815 à nos jour (The Military Society from 1815 till present), édition Librairie académique Perin, Malsherbe, 1998
  • Barjot Dominique, Chaline Jean-Pierre, Encrevé André, La France au XIXs. 1814-1914 (France in the XIX century. 1814-1914), édition Presse universitaire de France, Paris, 1995, collection Premier Cycle
  • Julaud Jean-Joseph, L'Histoire de France illustrée (History of Illustrated France), édition FIRST, Paris, 2005