Belgian Legion

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Belgian Legion in Mexico
Grenadier in Mexico, 1866
Sous-lieutenant in Mexico, 1865-7

Several military units have been known as the Belgian Legion. The term "Belgian Legion" can refer to Belgian volunteers who served in the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleonic Wars, Revolutions of 1848 and, more commonly, the Mexico Expedition of 1867.

French Revolutionary Era[edit]

The first Belgian and Liégeois legions were formed in 1792 from volunteers who had come to serve the First French Republic from the Austrian Netherlands and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège respectively. It was in one of these units that General Louis Joseph Lahure undertook his first military service.

Restoration[edit]

Temporarily regaining control of the Southern Netherlands, on 2 March 1814, Austria formed several military units from regional recruitment. This volunteer force was known as the Légion belge (Belgian Legion) and initially was intended to strengthen the Austrian position in their former provinces in the event of a counterattack from France. With the full occupation of the Southern Netherlands by Austria, Prussia and the United Provinces (Holland), a provisional government was established under the Duke of Beaufort and local levies continued to be recruited separately by each of the three allies. The largest of these was the Belgian Legion which, under the command of the Belgian born Austrian General Count von Murray, was now intended to keep local order.[1] Administrated by the Baron Poederlé, secretary general for armaments, this Legion was made up of 4 line infantry regiments (from Brabant, Flanders, Hainaut and Namur), a light infantry regiment, two cavalry regiments and an artillery regiment.

This unit merged into the army of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 1 September 1814, when that nation annexed the territory that would later form Belgium.

French Revolution of 1848[edit]

In March 1848, during the French Revolution of 1848, Belgian workers living in Paris formed an "Association des démocrates belges" (94, rue de Ménilmontant), led by Blervacq a wine merchant and an old officer called Fosses. This gave rise to a new Belgian Legion. Informally supported by Ledru-Rollin, Caussidière and other members of the French government dreaming of a Republican uprising in the Southern Netherlands and a subsequent French annexation of that area, this Legion's aim was to overthrow the monarchy and establish a Belgian republic. Commanded by Blervacq, Fosses and Charles Graux and escorted by students of the École Polytechnique, a troop of 1100 to 1200 unarmed men in three corps departed Paris on 25 March. Passing via Douai then Seclin (27 March), they were resupplied by the commissioner of the Nord department, Charles Delescluze, and by general Négrier.

However, France's Minister for War Cavaignac, alerted by a recent incident provoked by Belgian workers who had returned to the frontier at Quiévrain by train, demanded that Négrier give no assistance to any violation of the Belgian frontier. Négrier obeyed by ordering the Polytechniciens to turn back and closing the gates of Lille. On the evening of 28 March, however, the Legion broke camp and seized the arms and ammunition gathered by Delescluze before crossing the frontier between Neuville-en-Ferrain and Mouscron. They then confronted Belgian troops under general Fleury-Duray in Risquons-Tout (then a hamlet in the commune of Rekkem, but now part of Mouscron) and were defeated, with 7 killed, 26 wounded and 60 captured, a skirmish known as the Risquons-Tout incident. Some of the captured democrats were imprisoned in the Citadel of Huy and 17 of them condemned to death and executed at Antwerp.[2]

Mexico Expedition[edit]

During the Mexico Expedition 1,500 Belgian volunteers were formed into a Belgian Legion to fight in the army of Emperor Maximilian, whose wife, princess Charlotte of Belgium, was Leopold I of Belgium's daughter.

Composition[edit]

Fanion of the Belgian Legion.

Officially "The Belgian Expeditionary Corps" this Legion comprised an infantry regiment of two battalions - the "Empress Battalion" of grenadiers and the "King of the Belgian's Battalion" of voltigeurs. The officers and non-commissioned officers were mainly drawn from the regular Belgian Army as were some of the other ranks.[3] The Belgians formed part of a much larger "Imperial Mexican Corps of Austrian and Belgian Volunteers", though they served separately from the Austrian contingent which was brigaded with Mexican Imperial troops.[4]

In action[edit]

The first detachment of the Belgian Legion, numbering 604 men, embarked for Mexico on 16 October 1864. Three further contingents were sent over the next three months, bringing the total force up to about 1,500. The Legion's first encounter with the Mexican Republican forces was at the Battle of Tacámbaro on 11 April 1866, where a Belgian detachment of 300 men was forced to surrender after losing up to a third of its strength. The remainder of the Belgian Legion performed well in subsequent clashes but on 12 December 1866 the force was disbanded and 754 of the contingent returned to Belgium where they dispersed.[5]

Second World War[edit]

Several Belgian units, mostly on the Axis Side, have been referred to as "Belgian Legions" - principally the 28th SS "Wallonien" Division or 27th SS "Langemarck" Division. The terminology "Belgian Legion" is not usually applied to Free Belgian Forces.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ronald Pawly, pages 4-6 "Wellington's Belgian Allies 1815, ISBN 1 84176 158 3
  2. ^ Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848, 2e éd., t. 4, vol. II, Paris, Pagnerre, 1866, chap. 6, XVI-XXV, pp. 263-273.
  3. ^ Paul Legrain, page 124 "Les Soldats de Leopold Ier et Leopold II", D 1986/0197/03
  4. ^ Rene Chartrand, page 35 "The Mexican Adventure 1861-67, ISBN1
  5. ^ Rene Chartrand, pages 36-37 "The Mexican Adventure 1861-67, ISBN1 85532 430 X

Further reading[edit]

  • (French) Duchesne, Albert (1967). L'expédition des volontaires belges au Mexique, 1864-1867. Brussels: Musée royal de l'Armée et d'histoire militaire. p. 803.