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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 French Foreign Legion is an elite force composed of soldiers of different race, trade, religion, and sentiments, which began as part of the French Army. Through the years, it has earned a quasi-legendary reputation due to its victories and also its gallant defeats.[1] It was founded in 1831 and was given the right to hire foreign recruits.[2] The Foreign Legion was deeply rooted in the French conquest of Algeria. Since its inception, the Legion played an important role in advancing France's colonial expansion.

The Legion was sent to Spain by Louis Philippe I,[3] before he re-created it at a later time.


Foreigners in service of FranceEdit

The principal distinguishing characteristic of the French Foreign Legion is that it is constituted of foreigners. Well before it created a specific military unit, France recruited foreigners for its military. The French Foreign Legion is also distinctive in that all recruits volunteer; other countries' foreign regiments were constituted of conscripts or prisoners of war (not the case of the 1831 Legion).

Ancien RégimeEdit

Before the Bourbon Restoration, the First French Empire and even before the French Revolution, the French monarch had a long tradition of enrolling the service of foreigners. In Europe in the Middle Ages, taxes paid to the lord allowed him to form an army, often from foreign soldiers for hire.

In 1346, at the dawn of the Hundred Years' War, Philip VI of France deployed 15,000 Genovese at the Battle of Crecy, where English longbows result in an English victory for Edward III of England. The 13th century and 14th century also saw the appearance of Grand Companies constituted of Scots, Castillans, Savoyards, Swiss, and Dutch soldiers of given chiefs or princes.

Louis XI of France in the 15th century had his 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 tradition of foreigners fighting for the Crown began with Louis XI. During his reign and for the following three centuries, the French Army consisted of 20%-30% non-French soldiers.[4]

Francis I formed his infantry corps in majority of foreigners and created the Foreign Regiments of the Ancien Régime [fr], especially of Germans and Swiss.

The Swiss had a particular status. Following defeat at the Battle of Marignano in 1515, Treaty of Fribourg in November 1516 proclaimed paix perpétuelle, perpetual peace, between the French and the Swiss.

Day of August 10, 1792 La Prise des Tuileries. The red uniforms of the Swiss are distinct from the other combattants.

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, they were 26 Officers and 850 men[4] to defended the King, proving by their acts of valor a remarkable fidelity.

In the 18th century foreign troops still had an armed role that was not negligible. During the Seven Years' War, France mustered 32 foreign regiments: twelve German units, ten Swiss, seven Irish, two Italian and one Scottish.[5]

During the French Revolution, of 146,000 available soldiers, 42,000 were not French.[6] After the fall of the monarchy, the Assembly opened the door to foreign volunteer units willing to serve the nation, such as the Foreign Volunteer Units in Service of France [fr], who came forth to fight for liberty, or against the Prussian Army. The Assembly decided to group and institutionalize the legitimacy of foreign soldiers. Accordingly, the decree of July 26, 1792 sanctioned on August 1, created the Légion Franche Etrangère.[7]

The National Assembly considered that the circumstances necessitated an increase in the size of the army and decided: "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". A Germanic Legion, an Italian Legion [fr], a Batavian Legion and a Polish Legion were formed. The law which regulated the latter, mandated 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]

First, it was considered an honor to fight for the 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 or Peter the Great were not attentive to their troops as was, the Sun King Louis XIV of France.[4]

Foreign troops under the EmpireEdit

The First French Empire, and its conquests had great demand for foreign troops. From the Battle of Wagram, to the Jena, the Eylau and even in Spain, proportion of non-French in the armies of the French Empire attained unique proportions. In Spain, one sixth of formations were foreign, more than half in the French invasion of Russia. Even in 1814, the Army was 20% composed of foreigners.[6]

Napoleon ascended to power, then needed troops in 1802. He called upon 4,000 Swiss.[8] He used more than 90,000 during the totality of his reign. They formed the Valaison Battalion [fr], in 1805. Then in 1807, Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier, prince of Neufchâtel, founded a battalion of the same name. He fought in Austria, Spain and Russia. In all, the Empire formed four infantry regiments in 1805 and 1806. This led to heavy losses; in fact, half of the Swiss combattants did not survive these campaigns.

After 1805 Napoleon used Russian and Austrian prisoners, and they composed the Regiment of Tour d'Auvergne [fr] and the Regiment of Isembourg [fr]. Re-baptized, they became the 1st Foreign Regiment and 2nd Foreign Regiment. These regiments 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 [fr] or Légion du Midi, created in 1803, composed of former French soldiers and Piedmontese of the French departments of Italy. Also to be added are the Spanish Pioneers, the Catalonian Regiment [fr], the Hanoverian Legion [fr], the Egyptian Mamluks, or the Portuguese Legion created by decree on January 16, 1808, and which was composed of 8000 men.

Between 1806 and 1814, 60 foreign units were constituted and commanded by 136 generals, among whom feature a couple of famous personalities, such as Józef Poniatowski, who was made Marshal of France on August 16, 1813.[8] A large part of these Europeans were volunteers. Conscripts came only from the regions annexed by the Empire.

It was estimated that of the 400,000 men who crossed the Neman River towards Moscow or Smolensk, just 120,000 were actually French.[8] During the Hundred Days, Napoleon assembled eight foreign regiments.

Under the RestorationEdit

The fall of the Empire scattered the foreign regiments, but France remained a military power and needed troops to relieve the older cadres and those drained by imperial wars. Trained troops were in demand. The monarchy under Louis XVIII of France incorporated 14,000 Swiss spread into six regiments.[8] In addition to the Helvétiques the army had four other regiments of foreign soldiers, of which one was referred to as "colonial", composed of Portuguese and Spaniards. These men constituted the Royal Foreign Legion in 1815.[8]

In 1816, the Royal Foreign Legion became the Hohenlohe Legion which then became the Hohenlohe Regiment in 1821, named for its commander Louis Aloysius, Prince of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Bartenstein. A German origin who served in the army[clarification needed] 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.[9] 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.[10]

The French Army was exempt of Foreigners beginning 1830. However, this state of exemption would not last: Charles X of France, 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, 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 July Revolution, from 27 to 29 July 1830 brought a new man to power: Louis Philippe de Chartres, who became Louis Philippe I, King of the French on August 7. While swearing by the Constitutional Charter Oath of 1814, he installed the July Monarchy.

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.

Creation of the French Foreign LegionEdit

The causes for this creationEdit

The creation of the Legion was more of a response and political will to the multiple challenges faced by the nation during that époque; nevertheless, for the founder of the Legion (the King), such would be an issue of relativity. Creation in a big part was due to the Three Glorious Days and its European consequences. The Legion, in its long history has always been a manifestation to the political arenas of foreign countries. One has to really understand the causes of such a creation, and even before the creation of this Legion, the enlistment of foreigners has always been adopted by the Legion. In theory, the Legion should not engage under any circumstances in combat on the national territory.[11]

One of the first causes was the filtration of the army after the July Revolution.[11] Louis Philippe I marked a real disconnection with the Ancien Régime, however the army still had figures which were loyal to the Ancien Régime: bonapartiste or partisans of Charles X. Of the sort, multiple cadres and soldiers of the French Imperial Army reenlisted for service after fifteen years of rest in the Legion. In addition, it was considered border line dangerous for the young parliamentary monarchy, to have numerous officers of the Grande Armée reduced to half-pay and often being inactive. It was important to benefit from the experiences of some of these Imperial Officers, let alone apply also their esprit de corps to a laborious chapter that "could be the mother of all vices".

In addition, the creation of a Legion which had for vocation to combat in faraway horizons, was an excellent occasion to filter the dangerous or restless elements of the regular army, whether they were French nationals or foreign. From this fact, the Legion became a depository and a solution to any element that did not conform to the governing agenda.

Mainly, it was very important to enlist foreigners entering or stationed in France. The European crises had amassed a large number of foreigners on the territory without resources. These were the first waves of unemployment, due to the birth of industrialisation. Most of them hailed from European countries. Accordingly, these were men without resources, without a future, reality which worried the government, because they had to be fed and were often described as populations whom generated troubles.

On another hand, all the political crisis exiles and insurrectional foreigners also came to France: The July Revolution or the Three Glorious Days brought to France many volunteers for the armed fight. Accordingly, there were cohorts of liberals and revolutionaries who came in the hope to install a regime in the continuity of 1789.[12] In addition, the July Revolution had nurtured vast insurrectional movements all across Europe, particularly in Italy, the Germanic provinces, Poland and Spain. However, these insurrections for the most part failed, and the affected governments kicked out of their territories numerous revolutionaries who failed in France, land of liberty. All these individuals were capable of igniting the powder in the big cities of Paris or Lyon. They became then the most dangerous menace of the State, just as much as they menaced the stability of the Kingdom and the economy. Accordingly, they became an urgent topic which required assembling and distancing.[13]

It must also be added that the Swiss and German veteran combatants, or those of the regiment of Hohenlohe would be better off constituting the hard nucleolus of the training corps and formation of this future Legion, rather than be reduced to unemployment (it is always dangerous for a country to harbor numerous idler foreign fighters).

Finally, these combatants, for the most strongly experienced, would prove useful in the next hard combat in which the majority of them would be engaged: the conquest of Algeria.

At the end of 1820, troubles appeared between France and Algeria. The general council of France was sent to meet the Dey[14] of Algiers: Hussein Pacha. The latter provoked the French council. As a consequence, France launched the 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.[15] The conquest of Algeria had just begun. The troops progressed quickly and Algiers fell on July 4. The Dey of Algiers was constrained to exile.

While the conquest of Algeria seemed to have solved a diplomatic crisis, the conquest was considered a prestigious campaign. Charles X, unpopular at the époque, hoped for a quick and swift victory in order to boost his image. With that, right after marked the beginnings of the second French colonial empire. Accordingly, France posed as a European power and attempted to gain as much influence as possible by winning possession territories overseas.

Since then, the army trampled. Insecurity was at the gates of Algiers. In addition, despite the enthusiasm showcased by the men on June 1830, moral was at a low[6] and the war, deemed very unpopular. Requests for reinforcements shifted the course of opinion. Charles X was deposed, and marching backwards was not possible. Louis Philipe I was a pacifist and did not want to weigh the national and military opinion on a costly conquest which would endanger French lives. His only solution then, was the utilization of foreign troops, and since the Kingdom was reduced, it was not feasible to recruit contingents in occupied lands such as during Napoleon’s era. Accordingly, a new sort of troop was required.

Creation by Royal OrdinanceEdit

Here forth the Royal Ordinance which created the French Foreign Legion:

Louis-Philippe, roi des Français, à tous présents et à venir salut ;
Vu la loi du 9 mars 1831 :
Sur le rapport de notre Ministre Secrétaire d’État au Département de la Guerre : Nous avons ordonné et ordonnons ce qui suit :
Art. 1 - Il sera formé une Légion composée d’Étrangers. Cette Légion prendra la dénomination de Légion Étrangère.
Art. 2 - Les bataillons de la Légion Étrangère auront la même formation que les Bataillons d'infanterie de ligne.
Art. 3 - Pour la solde, les masses et son administration, la Légion Étrangère sera assimilée aux régiments français. L'uniforme sera bleu avec le simple passepoil garance et le pantalon de même couleur, les boutons seront jaunes et porteront les mots Légion Étrangère.
Art. 4 - Tout Étranger qui voudra faire partie de la Légion Étrangère ne pourra y être admis qu'après avoir contracté, devant un sous-intendant militaire, un engagement volontaire.
Art. 5 - La durée de l'engagement sera de trois ans au moins et de cinq ans au plus.
Art. 6 - Pour être reçus à s'engager, les Étranger devront n'avoir pas plus de quarante ans, et avoir au moins dix-huit ans accomplis, et la taille de 1m55. Ils devront en outre être porteur d'un certificat d'acceptation de l'autorité militaire constatant qu'ils ont les qualités requises pour faire un bon service.
Art. 7 - En l'absence de pièces, l’Étranger sera envoyé devant l'Officier Général qui décidera si l'engagement peut être reçu.
Art. 8 - Les militaires faisant partie de la Légion Étrangère se pourront rengager pour deux ans au moins et cinq ans au plus. Les rengagements ne donneront droit à une haute paie qu'autant que les militaires auront accompli cinq ans de service.
Art. 9 - Notre Ministre Secrétaire d’État au Département de la Guerre est chargé de l'exécution de la présente ordonnance. Par le Roi :
Le Ministre Secrétaire d’État de la Guerre Signé : Maréchal SOULT Duc de Dalmatie

Louis-Philippe, King of the French, to all present and to those to come salute;
Law decree of March 9, 1831:
On the report of our State Minister Secretary to the Ministry of War: We have ordained and we order what is to follow:
Art. 1 - A Legion will be formed and composed of Foreigners. This Legion will take the nomination and be known as the French Foreign Legion.
Art. 2 - The battalions of the French Foreign Legion will have the same formation as the line infantry battalions.
Art. 3 - For pay, masses and administration, the French Foreign Legion will be assimilated to French regiments. The uniform will be blue with simple passepoil garance and the pants of the same color, the buttons will be yellow and would be inscribed with the words Légion Étrangère.
Art. 4 - Every foreigner who wishes to be part of the French Foreign Legion, would only be admitted after having contracted, in front of a deputy superintendant, a volunteer enlistment.
Art. 5 - The duration of the contract enlistment would be at least three years or a maximum of five years.
Art. 6 - To be received for enlistment, foreigners should not exceed the age of forty and should be at least eighteen years, with a height of 1m55. They should be attested by and in possession of an acceptance certificate from the competent military authority, who asserts that they have the appropriate qualities to conduct a good and proper service.
Art. 7 - In absence of credential pieces, the foreigner would be sent to the general officer to decide whether his engagement would be acceptable.
Art. 8 - Military personnel of the French Foreign Legion can reenlist for a period of two and a maximum of five years. High pay is rightly warranted upon accomplishing five years of service.
Art. 9 - Our State Secretary Minister to the Ministry of War is charged with executing this present ordinance.
The State Secretary War Minister Signed: Marshal SOULT, Duke of Dalmatie

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[16] and State War Secretary Marshal Soult.

The royal 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 Gouvion-Saint-Cyr Law 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 ("Foreign Legion"). This was related to the uniform of the 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 royal 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, 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.[17] 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.[18] 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 own 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,[19] 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[20] 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.[21]

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, insubordinations 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.[22] 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 royal ordinance,[23] 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 1830 November Uprising, 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 2,669 Sous-officiers and Legionnaires.[24] 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 [fr], 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 [fr], 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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30]

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.

In 1834, the year was more calmer and formations were in a completed phase,[31] 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.

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.[32] 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

Goodwill to SpainEdit

While the French Foreign Legion rooted itself in Algeria, the Legion was called to serve in Spain.

At the death of Ferdinand VII of Spain on September 18, 1833, the Crown passed to his daughter, Isabella II of Spain, then only three years of age. His wife, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, became regent. Isabella's claim to the throne was disputed by her uncle, the Infante Carlos, Count of Molina, who claimed that his brother Ferdinand had unlawfully changed the succession law to permit females to inherit the crown.

Under Salic law, introduced by the Bourbons, as brother of Ferdinard, he would have inherited, so he started a civil war. He rallied to his cause [33] Galice, the region of Haute-Navarre and the provinces of the Basque countries. He was aided by the more conservative Europeans: Austria, Prussia and Russia.[34] The Spanish Army requested aid from its neighbors and allies. This was the beginning of the First Carlist War.

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 this treaty, because it did not want to interfere in Spanish affairs and thought that an intervention in Spain risked compromising European peace,[34] so it did not want to send the regular French Army. sending the Foreign Legion would allow France to justify engagements. The neighboring countries also sent strong contingents: Portugal sent 6,000 elite soldiers,[34] 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.[34]

On January 28, 1835, under pressure from Adolphe Thiers, Minister of Interior, the Legion was ceded to the Queen of Spain. On June 29, a royal ordinance stipulated that the French Foreign Legion was no longer part of the French Army.[33]

The order was given to go 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.[34]

On July 30, 123 officers and 4,021 Sous-Officiers and Legionnaires embarked on La Royal[35] heading to Algeria. The men were under the command of Joseph Bernelle, a captain of the Imperial Guard for fifty years who joinef the Army in 1820, after having been placed at disposition. He was an officer with a grip like steel and a remarkable organizer.

During a stopover at the Balearic Islands, he reorganized the battalions, and mixed all nationalities together while being met with interesting resistance.[36] 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.[34]

However, the Spanish welcome was mediocre, due to the memory of the 1811 siege by French Marshal Suchet amongst others.[36] The Legion in Spain became the French Auxiliary Division 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.[37] 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.[37] 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;[38] 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.[39] 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[37] and, on August 1, at Zubiri, the Legion, all alone killed 1,200 Carlists in one battle.[37]

The abandoning of the LegionEdit

The Legion became more and more isolated in Spain. Reinforcements arrived in drops:[37] 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.[40]

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 only 63 Officers and 50 troop men to return.[41] Abandoned, they returned nevertheless to France. All were combatants with a solid experience aureole of a grand glory. This arrived at a perfect time, 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.

After the departure of the Legion to the Spanish Army in 1835, the Legion left a void. Foreigners remained numerous and Africa and Spain required as many men as possible.

Accordingly, a New Legion was formed on December 1835,[42] with a garrison in Paris composed of one battalion. On March 22, two general staff headquarters companies were formed, and as of June 26, the battalion was complete. But the government, tired of the Spanish adventure, licensed a battalion on August 11, 1836, and sent the Legion to Spain.[42] These were the last reinforcements.

The government again began to forma the Legion in November 1836. On November 21, a new battalion was constituted at Pau. With 1,200 men, the battalion embarked at Toulon on the Suffren on December 11,[42] and arrived four days later in Algiers.

Recruitment continued in France, and on September 4, 1837, a second battalion was constituted royal ordinance. The two battalions together were the equivalent of a regular infantry regiment.

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 Treaty of 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,[43] 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 Marching Legion Battalion, strong with 500 men under the orders of chef de bataillon (Commandant - Major) Marie Alphonse Bedeau.[44]

The expedition arrived in Constantine on October 6, 1837, general Charles-Marie Denys de Damrémont, 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 Sylvain Charles Valée pierced a breach in the corps of the Fortress. On October 13, the men accordingly launched the assault. The Legionnaires behind colonel Combes, their former chief, engaged in close quarter corps-a-corps combat clearing the most important arenas.[45] 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 2,823 men[46] 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[47] 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, directed by colonel Mollenbeck, was formed in Algiers on April 1, 1841. Similarly, the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, directed by colonel Caries de Senilhes was constituted at Bône on April 21, 1841. The Legion first garrisoned at Sidi Bel Abbès in 1843, and left 119 years later (in 1962).

Aside from Algeria, the Legion also saw action overseas to advance the French colonial interest. For instance, it completed successful campaigns in Indochina, Madagascar, Morocco, and other territories that eventually became part of the French empire. According to Blanchard, the Legion became part of the colonization "in the professed name of civilization and racial superiority, at a time of rising nationalism and... rivalries between European powers."[48]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Axelrod, Alan (2014). Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies. CQ Press. ISBN 9781483364667.
  2. ^ Blanchard, Jean-Vincent (2017). At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion. Bloomsbury Press. ISBN 9780802743886.
  3. ^ The Duke of Orléans was a Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom on July 31, 1830.
  4. ^ a b c Montagnon 1999, p. 11.
  5. ^ Messager 2007, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c Blond 1981, p. 25.
  7. ^ a b Poirmeur 1931, p. 12.
  8. ^ a b c d e Montagnon 1999, p. 12.
  9. ^ Messager 2007, p. 11.
  10. ^ Young & Bergot 1984, p. 200.
  11. ^ a b Young & Bergot 1984, p. 9.
  12. ^ Porch 1994, p. 37.
  13. ^ Porch 1994, p. 34.
  14. ^ Arabic pronunciation of the Turkish title "Pasha", used by some Arab countries and rulers in Ottoman-ruled areas.
  15. ^ Messager 2007, p. 14.
  16. ^ The Duke of Orleans was a Colonel-General of the Hussars in 1817 and a Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom on July 31, 1830.
  17. ^ Porch 1994, p. 38.
  18. ^ Blond 1981.
  19. ^ Porch 1994, p. 39.
  20. ^ Porch 1994, p. 40.
  21. ^ Porch 1994, p. 47.
  22. ^ Porch 1994, p. 44.
  23. ^ Young & Bergot 1984, p. 10.
  24. ^ Montagnon1999, p. 15.
  25. ^ Messager 2007, pp. 14–15.
  26. ^ Porch 1994, p. 50.
  27. ^ Blond 1981, p. 26.
  28. ^ Montagnon 1999, p. 16.
  29. ^ Montagnon 1999, p. 19.
  30. ^ Messager 2007, pp. 222–223.
  31. ^ Messager 2007, p. 15.
  32. ^ Montagnon 1999, p. 18.
  33. ^ a b Messager 2007, p. 20.
  34. ^ a b c d e f Montagnon 1999, p. 21.
  35. ^ This was the traditional surname of the French War Navy.
  36. ^ a b Montagnon 1999, p. 22.
  37. ^ a b c d e Montagnon 1999, p. 24.
  38. ^ Young & Bergot 1984.
  39. ^ Montagnon 1999.
  40. ^ Poirmeur 1931, p. 26.
  41. ^ Montagnon 1999, p. 26.
  42. ^ a b c Messager 2007, p. 16.
  43. ^ Messager 2007, p. 17.
  44. ^ Montagnon 1999, p. 30.
  45. ^ Montagnon 1999, pp. 30–31.
  46. ^ Messager 2007, p. 18.
  47. ^ Montagnon 1999, p. 27.
  48. ^ Blanchard.


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  • Montagnon, Pierre (1999). Histoire de la Légion de 1831 à nos jours [History of the Legion from 1831 till present] (in French). Pygmalion.
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