1st Free French Division

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1re Division Française Libre
Insigne-1dlf-ghemard.jpg
Badge of the 1st Free French Division. The divisional badge features the Cross of Lorraine
Active 1 August 1940 – 15 August 1945
Country  France
Allegiance France French Army
 Free French Forces
Type Infantry Division
Engagements Dakar
Gabon
Eritrea
Syria
Bir Hakeim
El Alamein
Tunisia
Italy
Provence
Vosges
Alsace
Authion
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Raoul Magrin-Vernerey
Paul Legentilhomme
Marie Pierre Kœnig
Edgard de Larminat
Diego Brosset
Pierre Garbay

The 1st Free French Division (French: 1re Division Française Libre, 1re DFL) was one of the principal units of the Free French Forces (FFF) during World War II, and the first Free French unit of divisional size.

World War II[edit]

Units that eventually formed the division were engaged in combat as early as September 1940 at Dakar in an unsuccessful attempt to bring the Vichy troops there over to the side of the Allies. Other elements fought in Gabon and Eritrea before the various units were organized under British sponsorship as the 1st Free French Light Division in May 1941 near Tel Aviv. From 8 June - 11 July 1941, the division fought with British forces to remove the Vichy authorities from power in the Levant. The division was then disbanded in August 1941, but the component units continued to serve with the Allied forces.[1]

In action as separate brigades, units of the 1st Division became famous for their hard fighting at Bir Hakeim and El Alamein. The division was reformed as the 1st Free French Division on 1 February 1943,[2] and subsequently fought in the Tunisian Campaign during April and May 1943.

For a few months, the 1st Division garrisoned Libya, and then fought in the Italian Campaign from April–July 1944. The division was equipped with U.S. weapons and supplies in January 1944. During the course of the war, the division would be officially renamed the 1st Motorized Infantry Division and finally the 1st March[3] Infantry Division.

In August 1944, the division landed in southern France as part of the follow-on troops of Operation Dragoon, and fought as part of the French 1st Army, through Provence and the Vosges Mountains, and into Alsace.[4] In January 1945, the division defended the area south of Strasbourg at heavy cost, losing the 24th March Battalion during desperate fighting against an offensive by the German 19. Armee. Shortly thereafter, the 1st Division fought as part of the II Corps in the battle of the Colmar Pocket.

In March 1945, the 1st Division was withdrawn from Alsace and sent to spearhead the French offensive into the Alps, recovering French territory taken by Italy in 1940 and claiming part of Italy for France. The final extent of the 1st Division's advance into the Alps became a point of contention between France on the one hand and the United States and Britain on the other, with the French finally withdrawing to the prewar border after an acrimonious dispute.

Divisional Order of Battle[edit]

15 August 1944:[5]

  • 2nd Brigade
    • 4th March Battalion
    • 5th March Battalion
    • 11th March Battalion
  • 4th Brigade
    • 21st March Battalion
    • 24th March Battalion
    • Infantry Battalion of the Navy and the Pacific
  • 1st Regiment of Naval Fusiliers (Reconnaissance Battalion)
  • 1st Artillery Regiment
  • 21st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group
  • 1st Engineer Combat Battalion
  • 1st Transmissions Battalion
  • 101st, 102nd, and 103rd Transportation Companies
  • 1st Traffic Control Detachment
  • 9th Quartermaster Company
  • 1st Maintenance Group
  • Light Surgical Ambulance
  • 1st Medical Battalion
  • Naval Female Medical Evacuation Section

Casualties[edit]

Over the course of the war, the 1st Free French Division lost over 4,000 men killed in action.[7] Another source indicates 3,619 men killed in action including 1,126 Africans.[8]

References and footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Foreign Volunteers, p. 21
  2. ^ Foreign Volunteers, p. 22
  3. ^ The name "March" here refers to the ad hoc origin of the division's subordinate units and connotes units without an existing military tradition. Despite their lack of long tradition, the March battalions of the 1st DFL were very effective in combat.
  4. ^ French Army, pp. 18–19
  5. ^ GUF Vol. V, Part 2, page 17
  6. ^ Reflecting the organization of the division under British sponsorship, the 1st DFL used a brigade structure while later Free French divisions were formed with regiments in the traditional French method.
  7. ^ 1re DFL, p. 203
  8. ^ Jean-François Muracciole, Les Français libres : L'autre Résistance, Tallandier, 2009

Sources[edit]