1st Foreign Parachute Regiment

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1er Régiment étranger de parachutistes
Insigne du 1° REP.jpg
Regimental insigne
Active 1 July 1948 – 31 December 1950
18 March 1951 – 30 April 1961
Country France
Branch Flag of legion.svgFrench Foreign Legion
Type Infantry
Role Airborne
Colors Green and Red
March Contre les Viets
Anniversaries Camerone Day
Engagements First Indochina War
*Battle of Route Coloniale 4
*Battle of Hoa Binh
*Operation Lorraine
*Battle of Na San
*Operation Castor
*Battle of Dien Bien Phu
Algerian War
Suez Crisis
Algiers putsch of 1961
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Pierre Jeanpierre
Pierre Segrétain
Hélie Denoix de Saint Marc
Abbreviation 1 REP

The 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (French: 1er Régiment étranger de parachutistes, 1er REP) was an airborne unit of the Foreign Legion. It fought in the First Indochina War, Suez Crisis and Algerian War, but was disbanded after taking part in a putsch against the French government in 1961.

Creation and Designations[edit]

  • 1 July 1948 : Creation of the 1er BEP (French: 1er Bataillon étranger de parachutistes, 1er BEP)
  • 31 December 1950: Unit dissolved (after its destruction during the Route Coloniale 4 fights in September–October 1950)
  • 8 March 1951: Second creation of 1er BEP
  • 1 September 1955: The unit is enlarged to a regiment and redesignated 1er REP
  • 30 April 1961: Final disbanding of 1er REP

History[edit]

On 13 May 1948 a Groupement d’Instruction de Parachutistes was formed at Khamis, near Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria for the purpose of raising two parachute battalions.[1] The 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (French: 1er Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes, 1er BEP) was created on 1 July 1948, under the command of Captain Pierre Segrétain.[1]

Indochina[edit]

The battalion boarded the transport ship “Pasteur” on the 24 October 1948 at Mers El-Kebir, and arrived in Indochina on 12 November that same year. During the entire period of conflict in Indochina, the unit primarily saw action in Tonkin (northern Vietnam).

As part of a consolidation of parachute-trained French formations the Parachute Company of 3e REI was disbanded on 31 May 1949 and its men - three officers, fourteen NCOs and ninety-two legionnaires[2] - were transferred to 1er BEP.[3]

On 16 September 1950, the French post at Dong Khe was overrun, with only a small handful of survivors of the garrison making their way south to French lines at That Khe. In response, on September 17 and 18, the battalion jumped on That Khe in order to reinforce the combat command under Lieutenant-colonel Lepage, operating out of Lang Son whose mission was to rescue the garrison of Cao Bang which was evacuating the city along the Route Coloniale 4 (RC4). Following a consolidation of French forces at That Khe, the battalion lead the French forces north towards Dong Khe with plans to retake the town, hold it long enough to link up with French forces retreating from the north, and then evacuate south. Although the two French groups were able to link up, heavy Viet Mihn interdiction on the roads and constant ambushes in the thick jungle forced the French off the roads in an attempt to bypass the town. In so doing, the entire battle group was forced into the Coc Xa gorge, where it was destroyed piecemeal. An attempt to reinforce the battle group occurred on the night of 8 October when approximately 570 additional reinforcements from 3e BCCP (French: Bataillon Colonial de Commandos Parachutistes) were dropped near That Khe in an attempt to draw the Viet Minh forces away from the gorge, but this operation became hopelessly bogged down and the reinforcements were cut to pieces in turn. The unit was almost entirely destroyed in the subsequent battle in October around Dong Khe, with only 130 men of the battalion remaining of the original 500 who jumped. In this engagement, the battalion distinguished itself in its willingness to go to great lengths to evacuate their wounded through forbidding terrain, including an incident in which the men rapelled down a 75 meter cliff at the Coc Xa gorge with the wounded strapped to their backs. Over the course of the battle and subsequent engagements between the 17 September and the 30 October, the unit lost 21 officers, 46 NCOs, and 420 men killed or wounded, including the battalion commander, Pierre Segretain, killed in action the night of 7 October. Only isolated elements of the battalion were able to rejoin the French lines, including Captain Jeanpierre, who would later command the regiment in Algeria. Having ceased to exist as a combat-worthy formation, the unit was disbanded on December 31, 1950.

The 1st BEP reformed on the 18th of March, 1951 from the survivors of the original battalion (which had up to that point been attached to the 2nd BEP), as well as men from the 2nd BEP and reinforcements newly arrived from North Africa. Thus the battalion consisted of 3 companies, including a headquarters formation, the 1st and 2nd companies, and a company composed of Indochinese volunteers.

On the 10 September 1951, the unit returned to combat during Operation Tulip, part of General de Lattre de Tassigny's effort to put the Viet Minh on the defensive around the Cho Ben pass, north of Hoa Binh. The operation was a tactical success with the battalion successfully assisting in the capture of Hoa Binh, but further counter-attacks by the Viet Minh in November convinced the French military command at they were overextended and as a result the area was evacuated, with the last units leaving Hoa Binh in February, 1952.

Having reached an apparent stalemate in early 1952 around the Red River Delta, the French command again decided to go on the offensive, giving the plan the code name Operation Lorraine. On 9 November 1952, the 1st BEP and other airborne formations were dropped into combat near Phu Doan, capturing a quantity of Viet Minh supplies and securing the area. However, the operation failed in drawing the Viet Minh into a large, set-battle (as the French commanders had hoped), and as such the operation was abandoned and the remaining French forces were withdrawn on 16 and 17 November. The battalion was one of the formations selected to hold the rearguard post at Na San, where it sustained a fierce assault from the Viet Minh between 23 November and 2 December 1952. The post was well-fortified and held in the face of overwhelming numbers, with the bloodied Viet Minh falling back after a week of fighting.

After falling back to the French defensive positions around the de Lattre line, the battalion was reorganized and reinforced, with a third company of legionnaires being added, bringing the total strength of the battalion to 4 combat companies: 3 Legion and 1 Indochinese. In addition, on 1 September 1953 the 1st Foreign Parachute Heavy Mortar Company (French: 1ère Compagnie étrangère parachutiste de mortiers lourds, 1ère CEPML) was created and attached to the 1st BEP.

On 21 November 1953, the unit was dropped as part of the second wave of French troops into the area around Dien Bien Phu as part of Operation Castor, with the objective of securing a WWII-era landing strip and drawing the Viet Minh into another pitched battle against a well-defended position. The operation was completed without incident, with the battalion digging in around Dien Bien Phu in late November 1953. During the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the battalion was divided into mobile fire-brigades, with the primary focus being the Huguette forts, specifically Huguette 5. The 1 CEPML was stationed at Dominique 2 until the 14th of March, 1954, at which point it was shifted to various locations in the fort. Despite furious resistance, the 1st BEP is destroyed for a second time on 7 May 1954 with the final fall of Dien Bien Phu camp. The unit lost 316 men killed in action over the course of the siege, not including those who subsequently died in captivity in Indochina.

Algeria[edit]

Following the Geneva Conference, on February 1, 1955, the unit embarked on the steamship “Pasteur” in Saigon and arrived at Mers el-Kebir on the 24th of the same month.

On September 1, 1955, the 1st BEP was expanded to a regiment-level formation and re-designated 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (French: 1er Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes, 1er REP).[4] From that point on, the unit was based out of Zeralda.

November 6, 1956, as part of the 10th Parachute Division, the regiment landed in Egypt at Port-Said and Port-Fuad as part of the French military force participating in the Suez canal crisis. It was evacuated piecemeal between December 10 and 22, 1956, at which point the towns were handed over to United Nations control.

From 1957 onwards, the regiment was sent back to Algeria, first in Algiers, then in the djebel(mountains), and finally at Guelma.

On the 29th of May, 1958, during operation “Taureau 3,” the regimental commander Lt. Col. Jeanpierre was killed when his helicopter was shot down by rebels. His successor, Col. Borthier, assumed command on the 17th of June 1958 with the mission of securing Algeria.

On the eve of the Algiers putsch of April, 1961, the regiment was commanded by Helie Denoix de Saint Marc, as Lt. Col. Guiraud was on leave.

With the agreement of the officers, Cdt. de Saint-Marc activated the regiment alongside the mutineers, and began the putsch on April 21 by marching on Algiers. Following the failure of the putsch, the regiment was disbanded on April 30, 1961 under the orders of Pierre Messmer, the minister of the army. The legionnaires left their camp singing Edith Piaf’s song Non, je ne regrette rien but not before blowing up their barracks as a final act of defiance to the French government and to prevent its use by insurgents. At that point, part of the regiment deserted and went over to the OAS. Those who did not join in the putsch were escorted back to France and detained at Fort de Nogent.

From that point onwards, the 2nd REP remained the only foreign parachute regiment in the French Army.

Commanders[edit]

Battalion[edit]

  • Major Segrétain (1948–1950)
  • Major Darmuzai (1950–1952)
  • Major Albert Brothier (1952–1953)
  • Major Guiraud (1953–1954)
  • Captain Germain (July–October 1954)
  • Major Jeanpierre (1954–1955)

Regiment[edit]

  • Major Jeanpierre (1955–1956)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Brothier (1956–1957)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Jeanpierre (1957–1958)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Brothier (1958–1959)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Dufour (1959–1960)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Guiraud (1960–1961)

Officers and legionnaires[edit]

Honours[edit]

Battle Honours[edit]

Decorations[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Windrow, Martin (1985). French Foreign Legion Paratroops. p. 7. 
  2. ^ "Les origines". Legion Etranger. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  3. ^ Braby & Windrow, Wayne & Martin (1985). French Foreign Legion Paratroops. Osprey Books Ltd. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-85045-629-5. 
  4. ^ Braby & Windrow, Wayne & Martin (1985). French Foreign Legion Paratroops. Osprey Books Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-85045-629-5. 
  5. ^ Camerone is a Battle Honour shared by all Foreign Legion Regiments, no matter when it was formed.

References[edit]

  • Braby, Wayne & Windrow, Martin. French Foreign Legion Paratroops. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1985. ISBN 978-0-85045-629-5

External links[edit]

  • 1er REP - History & images of the 1er REP