French Foreign Legion
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (April 2015)|
The Foreign Legion grenade emblem and colours.
|Active||10 March 1831 – present|
|Role||Infantry, Airborne infantry, Armoured cavalry, Combat engineer, Airborne engineer|
|Size||c. 7,700 men in eleven regiments and one sub-unit|
Calvi (2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment)
Metropolitan France (5 regiments)
French Guiana (3rd Infantry Regiment)
United Arab Emirates (13th Demi-Brigade)
|Nickname(s)||The Legion (English)
La Légion (French)
Legio Patria Nostra (The Legion is our Fatherland)
|Colours||Red and Green|
|Anniversaries||Camerone Day (30 April)|
|General Jean Morin|
Captain Jean Danjou (English)
Le Père de la Légion (French)
The French Foreign Legion (French: Légion étrangère (French pronunciation: [leʒjɔ̃ etʁɑ̃ʒɛʁ]), L.É.) is a military service wing of the French Army established in 1831, unique because it was exclusively created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. Commanded by French officers, it is also open to French citizens, who amounted to 24% of the recruits as of 2007. The Foreign Legion is today known as a unit whose training focuses not only on traditional military skills but also on its strong esprit de corps. As its men come from different countries with different cultures, this is a way to strengthen them enough to work as a team. Consequently, training is often described as not only physically challenging, but also very stressful psychologically. A soldier who becomes injured during a battle for France can immediately apply for French citizenship under a provision known as "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood"). As of 2008 members come from 140 countries.
The Foreign Legion was primarily used to protect and expand the French colonial empire during the 19th century. The Foreign Legion was stationed in Algeria, where it took part in the pacification and development of the colony. The FFL were deployed in a number of conflicts, including the First Carlist War in 1835, the Crimean War in 1854, the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, the French intervention in Mexico in 1863, the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Tonkin Campaign and Sino–French War in 1883, supporting growth of the French colonial empire in Sub-Saharan Africa and pacifying Algeria, the Second Franco-Dahomean War in 1892, the Second Madagascar expedition in 1895, and the Mandingo Wars in 1894.
In World War I, the Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles on the Western Front. The Foreign Legion played a smaller role in World War II than in World War I, though having a part in the Norwegian, Syrian and North African campaigns. During the First Indochina War (1946–54), the Foreign Legion saw its numbers swell. The FFL lost a large number of men in the catastrophic Battle of Dien Bien Phu. During the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62), the Foreign Legion was brought to the brink of extinction after some officers, men, and the highly decorated 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1REP) took part in the Generals' putsch. Notable operations included the Suez Crisis, the Battle of Algiers and various offensives launched by General Maurice Challe including Operations Oranie and Jumelles.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Legion had a new role as a rapid deployment force to preserve French interests – not only in its former African colonies but in other nations as well; it also returned to its roots of being a unit always ready to be sent to hot-spots all around the world. Some notable operations include: the Chadian–Libyan conflict in 1969–72 (the first time that the Legion was sent in operations after the Algerian War), 1978–79, and 1983–87; Kolwezi in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1978; Rwanda in 1990–94; and the Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) in 2002 to the present. In 1990, the Foreign Legion were sent to the Persian Gulf as a part of Opération Daguet. In the 1990s, the Foreign Legion helped with the evacuation of French citizens and foreigners in Rwanda, Gabon and Zaire. The Foreign Legion was also deployed in Cambodia, Somalia, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the mid- to late-1990s, the Foreign Legion was deployed in the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville and in Kosovo. In the 2000s, the Foreign Legion was deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operation Licorne in Côte d'Ivoire, the EUFOR Tchad/RCA in Chad, and Operation Serval in the Northern Mali conflict
Other nations have tried to emulate the French Foreign Legion model. There have been units composed of foreign recruits in China, Israel, the Dutch Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indische Leger (KNIL), the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1960s and 1970s, and Russia and Spain.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Conquest of Algeria (1830–1847)
- 1.2 Spain (1835–1839)
- 1.3 Crimean War (1853–1856)
- 1.4 Campaign of Italy (1859)
- 1.5 Mexico (1863–1867)
- 1.6 Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871)
- 1.7 Tonkin campaign and Sino-French War (1883–1888)
- 1.8 Colonisation of Africa
- 1.9 World War I
- 1.10 Between the World Wars
- 1.11 World War II
- 1.12 First Indochina War
- 1.13 Algerian War
- 1.14 Post-colonial Africa
- 1.15 Gulf War
- 1.16 1991–present
- 2 Membership
- 3 Ranks
- 4 Traditions of the Legion
- 5 Composition
- 6 Recruitment process
- 7 Uniforms and equipment of the legion
- 8 Emulation by other countries
- 9 References in popular culture
- 10 Gallery
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
The French Foreign Legion was created by Louis Philippe, the King of the French, on 10 March 1831. The purpose of the Foreign Legion was to remove disruptive elements from society and put them to use fighting the enemies of France. Recruits included failed revolutionaries from the rest of Europe, soldiers from the disbanded Swiss and German mercenary regiments of the Bourbon monarchy, and troublemakers in general, both foreign and French. The Royal Ordinance for the establishment of the new regiment specified that the foreigners recruited could only serve outside France. The French expeditionary force that had occupied Algiers in 1830 was in need of reinforcements and the Legion was accordingly transferred in detachments from Toulon to Algeria.
The Foreign Legion was primarily used, as part of the Armée d'Afrique, to protect and expand the French colonial empire during the 19th century, but it also fought in almost all French wars including the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II. The Foreign Legion has remained an important part of the French Army, surviving three Republics, the Second French Empire, two World Wars, the rise and fall of mass conscript armies, the dismantling of the French colonial empire, and the loss of the Foreign Legion's base, Algeria.
Conquest of Algeria (1830–1847)
Created to fight "outside mainland France", the Foreign Legion was stationed in Algeria, where it took part in the pacification and development of the colony, notably by drying the marshes in the region of Algiers. The Foreign Legion was initially divided into six "national battalions" (Swiss, Poles, Germans, Italians, Spanish, and Dutch-Belgian). Smaller national groups, such as the ten Englishmen recorded in December 1832, appear to have been placed randomly.
In late 1831, the first legionnaires landed in Algeria, the country that would be the Foreign Legion's homeland for 130 years and shape its character. The early years in Algeria were hard on the legion because it was often sent to the worst postings and received the worst assignments, and its members were generally uninterested in the new colony of the French. The Legion served alongside the Battalions of Light Infantry of Africa, formed in 1832, which was a penal military unit made up of men with prison records who still had to do their military service or soldiers with serious disciplinary problems.
The Foreign Legion's first service in Algeria came to an end after only four years, as it was needed elsewhere.
To support Isabella's claim to the Spanish throne against her uncle, the French government decided to send the Foreign Legion to Spain. On 28 June 1835, the unit was handed over to the Spanish government. The Foreign Legion landed at Tarragona on 17 August with around 1,400 who were quickly dubbed Los Argelinos (the Algerians) by locals because of their previous posting.
The Foreign Legion's commander immediately dissolved the national battalions to improve the esprit de corps. Later, he also created three squadrons of lancers and an artillery battery from the existing force to increase independence and flexibility. The Foreign Legion was dissolved on 8 December 1838, when it had dropped to only 500 men. The survivors returned to France, many reenlisting in the new Foreign Legion along with many of their former Carlist enemies.
Crimean War (1853–1856)
On 9 June 1854, the French ship Jean Bart embarked four battalions of the Foreign Legion for the Crimean Peninsula. A further battalion was stationed at Gallipoli as brigade depot. Eight companies drawn from both regiments of the Foreign Legion took part in the Battle of Alma (20 September 1854). Reinforcements brought the Legion contingent up to brigade strength. As the "Foreign Brigade", it served in the Siege of Sevastopol, during the winter of 1854–1855.
The lack of equipment was particularly challenging and cholera hit the Allied expeditionary force. Nevertheless, the "bellies of leather" (the nickname given to the legionnaires by the Russians because of the large cartridge pouches that they wore attached to their waist belts), performed well. On 21 June 1855, the Third Battalion, left Corsica for the Crimea.
On 8 September the final assault was launched on Sevastopol, and two days later, the Second Foreign Regiment, flags and band playing ahead, marched through the streets of Sevastopol. Although initial reservations had been expressed about whether the Legion should be used outside Africa, the Crimean experience established its suitability for service in European warfare, as well as making a cohesive single entity of what had previously been two separate foreign regiments. Total Legion casualties in the Crimea were 1,703 killed and wounded.
Campaign of Italy (1859)
Like the rest of the "Army of Africa", the Foreign Legion took part in the campaign of Italy. Two foreign regiments, associated with the 2nd Regiment of Zouaves, were part of the Second Brigade of the Second Division of Mac Mahon's Corps. The Foreign Legion acquitted itself particularly well against the Austrians at the battle of Magenta (4 June 1859) and at the Battle of Solferino (24 June). The losses were significant and the Second Foreign Regiment lost Colonel Chabrière, its commanding officer. In gratitude, the city of Milan awarded, in 1909, the "commemorative medal of deliverance", which still adorns the regimental flags of the Second Regiment.
The 38,000 strong French expeditionary force dispatched to Mexico between 1862 and 1863 included two battalions of the Foreign Legion, increased to six battalions by 1866. Small cavalry and artillery units were raised from legionnaires serving in Mexico. The original intention was that Foreign Legion units should remain in Mexico for up to six years to provide a core for the Imperial Mexican Army. However the Legion was withdrawn with the other French forces during February–March 1867.
It was in Mexico on 30 April 1863 that the Legion earned its legendary status. A company led by Captain Jean Danjou, numbering 62 Legionnaires and 3 Legion officers, was escorting a convoy to the besieged city of Puebla when it was attacked and besieged by two thousand Mexican loyalists, organised in two battalions of infantry and cavalry, numbering 2,200 and 800 respectively. The Legion detachment under Captain Jean Danjou, Sous-Lieutenant Jean Vilain, Sous-Lieutenant Clément Maudet made a stand in the Hacienda de la Trinidad - a farm near the village of Camarón. When only six survivors remained, out of ammunition, a bayonet assault was launched in which three of the six were killed. The remaining three wounded men were brought before the Mexican commander Colonel Milan, who allowed them to return to the French lines as an honor guard for the body of Captain Danjou. The captain had a wooden hand, which was later returned to the Legion and is now kept in a case in the Legion Museum at Aubagne, and paraded annually on Camerone Day. It is the Foreign Legion's most precious relic.
During the Mexican Campaign, 6,654 French died. Among these losses, 1,918 of the deaths were from a single regiment of the Legion, a fact that testifies to the importance of the Legion's role in the campaign.
Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871)
According to French law, the Foreign Legion was not to be used within Metropolitan France except in the case of a national invasion, and was consequently not a part of Napoleon III's Imperial Army that capitulated at Sedan. With the defeat of the Imperial Army, the Second French Empire fell and the Third Republic was created.
The new Third Republic was desperately short of trained soldiers following Sedan, so the Foreign Legion was ordered to provide a contingent. On 11 October 1870 two provisional battalions disembarked at Toulon, the first time the Foreign Legion had been deployed in France itself. It attempted to lift the Siege of Paris by breaking through the German lines. It succeeded in retaking Orléans, but failed to break the siege. In January 1871, France capitulated but civil war soon broke out, which led to revolution and the short-lived Paris Commune. The Foreign Legion participated in the suppression of the Commune, which was crushed with great bloodshed.
Tonkin campaign and Sino-French War (1883–1888)
The Foreign Legion's First Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Donnier) was sent to Tonkin in the autumn of 1883, during the period of undeclared hostilities that preceded the Sino–French War (August 1884 to April 1885), and formed part of the attack column that stormed the western gate of Son Tay on 16 December. The Second and Third Infantry Battalions (chef de bataillon Diguet and Lieutenant-Colonel Schoeffer) were also deployed to Tonkin shortly afterwards, and were present in all the major campaigns of the Sino-French War. Two Foreign Legion companies led the defence at the celebrated Siege of Tuyên Quang (24 November 1884 to 3 March 1885). In January 1885 the Foreign Legion's 4th Battalion (chef de bataillon Vitalis) was deployed to the French bridgehead at Keelung (Jilong) in Formosa (Taiwan), where it took part in the later battles of the Keelung Campaign. The battalion played an important role in Colonel Jacques Duchesne's offensive in March 1885 that captured the key Chinese positions of La Table and Fort Bamboo and disengaged Keelung.
In December 1883, during a review of the Second Legion Battalion on the eve of its departure for Tonkin to take part in the Bắc Ninh Campaign, General François de Négrier pronounced a famous mot: Vous, légionnaires, vous êtes soldats pour mourir, et je vous envoie où l’on meurt! ('You, Legionnaires, you are soldiers in order to die, and I'm sending you to where one dies!')
Colonisation of Africa
As part of the Army of Africa, the Foreign Legion contributed to the growth of the French colonial empire in Sub-Saharan Africa. Simultaneously, the Legion took part to the pacification of Algeria, plagued by various tribal rebellions and razzias.
Second Franco-Dahomean War (1892–1894)
In 1892, King Behanzin was threatening the French protectorate of Porto-Novo in modern-day Benin and France decided to intervene. A battalion, led by commandant Faurax, was formed from two companies of the First Foreign Regiment and two others from the second regiment. From Cotonou, the legionnaires marched to seize Abomey, the capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey. Two and a half months were needed to reach the city, at the cost of repeated battles against the Dahomean warriors, especially the Amazons of the King. King Behanzin surrendered and was captured by the legionnaires in January 1894.
Second Madagascar expedition (1894–1895)
In 1895, a battalion, formed by the First and Second Foreign Regiments, was sent to the Kingdom of Madagascar, as part of an expeditionary force whose mission was to conquer the island. The foreign battalion formed the backbone of the column launched on Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. After a few skirmishes, the Queen Ranavalona III promptly surrendered. The Foreign Legion lost 226 men, of whom only a tenth died in actual fighting. Others, like much of the expeditionary force, died from tropical diseases. Despite the success of the expedition, the quelling of sporadic rebellions would take another eight years until 1905, when the island was completely pacified by the French under Joseph Gallieni. During that time, insurrections against the Malagasy Christians of the island, missionaries and foreigners were particularly terrible. Queen Ranavalona III was deposed on January 1897 and was exiled to Algiers in Algeria, where she died in 1917.
Mandingo War (1898)
From 1882 until his capture, Samori Ture, ruler of the Wassoulou Empire, fought the French colonial army, defeating them on several occasions, including a notable victory at Woyowayanko (2 April 1882), in the face of French heavy artillery. Nonetheless, Samori was forced to sign several treaties ceding territory to the French between 1886 and 1889. Samori began a steady retreat, but the fall of other resistance armies, particularly Babemba Traoré at Sikasso, permitted the colonial army to launch a concentrated assault against his forces. A battalion of two companies from the 2nd Foreign Regiment was created in early 1894 to pacify the Niger. The Legionnaires' victory at the fortress of Ouilla and police patrols in the region accelerated the submission of the tribes. On 29 September 1898, Samori Ture was captured by the French Commandant Gouraud and exiled to Gabon, marking the end of the Wassoulou Empire.
World War I
In World War I, the Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles on the Western Front, including Artois, Champagne, Somme, Aisne, and Verdun (in 1917), and also suffered heavy casualties during 1918. The Foreign Legion was also in the Dardanelles and Macedonian front, and was highly decorated for its efforts. Many young foreigners, including Americans like Fred Zinn, volunteered for the Foreign Legion when the war broke out in 1914. There were marked differences between such idealistic volunteers and the hardened mercenaries of the old Legion, as the poet Alan Seeger pointed out, making assimilation difficult. Nevertheless, the old and the new men of the Foreign Legion fought and died in vicious battles on the Western front, including Belloy-en-Santerre during the Battle of the Somme, where Seeger, after being mortally wounded by machine-gun fire, cheered on the rest of his advancing battalion.
As most European countries and the US were drawn into the war, many of the newer "duration only" volunteers who managed to survive the first years of the war were generally released from the Foreign Legion to join their respective national armies. Citizens of the Central Powers serving with the Foreign Legion on the outbreak of war were normally posted to garrisons in North Africa to avoid problems of divided loyalties.
Between the World Wars
While at the close of the World War I, the Foreign Legion's prestige was at a high, the Foreign Legion itself had suffered greatly in the trenches of the war. In 1919, the government of Spain raised the Spanish Foreign Legion and modeled it after the French Foreign Legion. General Jean Mordacq intended to rebuild the Foreign Legion as a larger military formation, doing away with the legion's traditional role as a solely infantry formation. General Mordacq envisioned a Foreign Legion consisting not of regiments, but of divisions with cavalry, engineer, and artillery regiments in addition to the legion's infantry mainstay. In 1920, decrees ordained the establishment of regiments of cavalry and artillery. Immediately following the armistice the Foreign Legion experienced an increase of enlistments. The Foreign Legion began the process of reorganizing and redeploying to Algeria.
The legion also took part in the Rif War of 1920–25.
In 1932, the Foreign Legion consisted of 30,000 men, serving in 6 multi-battalion regiments:
- 1st Foreign Infantry Regiment – Algeria, Syria and Lebanon
- 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment, and 4th Foreign Infantry Regiment – Morocco, Lebanon
- 5th Foreign Infantry – Indochina
- 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment – Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco.
World War II
The Foreign Legion played a smaller role in World War II than in World War I, though having a part in the Norwegian, Syrian and North African campaigns. The 13th Demi-Brigade, formed for service in Norway, found itself in the UK at the time of the French Armistice (June 1940), was deployed to the British 8th Army in North Africa and won fame in the Battle of Bir Hakeim (1942). Reflecting the divided loyalties of the time, part of the Foreign Legion joined the Free French movement while another part served the Vichy government as well as fighting as part of the Wehrmacht's 90th Light Infantry Division in North Africa. France and the colonies were divided, sides were picked, Legionnaires under orders and Legion officers upholding their oath while maintaining the integrity of their respective regiments and men; with that principle of discipline for France, the Syria–Lebanon Campaign of June 1941 saw Legionnaire fighting Legionnaire as the 13th Demi-Brigade (D.B.L.E.) clashed with the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment at Damascus in Syria. Later, a thousand of the rank-and-file of the Vichy Legion unit joined the 13th D.B.L.E. of the Free French forces as a third battalion.
Wtih many German Legionnaires already having filled the ranks of the Legion prior to World War II; following world war two, many German former soldiers joined the Foreign Legion to pursue a military career, an option no longer possible in Germany, with Germans making up as much as 60 percent of the Legion during the war in Indochina. Contrary to popular belief however, French policy was to exclude former members of the Waffen-SS, and candidates for induction were refused if they exhibited the tell-tale bloodtype tattoo, or even a scar that might be masking it. The high percentage of Germans was contrary to normal policy concerning a single dominant nationality however, and in more recent times Germans make up a much smaller percentage of the Foreign Legion's composition.
First Indochina War
During the First Indochina War (1946–54), the Foreign Legion saw its numbers swell due to the incorporation of World War II veterans who could not adapt to civilian life. Even so, although the Foreign Legion distinguished itself, it also took a heavy toll during the war: constantly being deployed in operations, it even reached the point that whole units were annihilated in combat, in what was a traditional Foreign Legion battlefield. Units of the legion were also involved in the defence of Dien Bien Phu and lost a large number of men in the battle.
The Algerian War of Independence (1954–62) was a highly traumatic conflict for the Foreign Legion traumitazing about leaving the command center at Sidi Bel Abbès establsihed in 1842. Constantly on call throughout the country, heavily engaged in fighting against the National Liberation Front and the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN), the Foreign Legion was brought to the brink of extinction after some officers, men and the highly decorated 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1e REP) took part in the Generals' putsch. The 1e REP was disbanded by order of President de Gaulle after plans were discovered for the 1e REP to parachute into Paris and overthrow the French government. Upon being notified that their regiment was to be disbanded and they were to be reassigned, legionnaires burned the Chinese pavillion acquired following the Siege of Tuyên Quang in 1884, which should not have left Sidi Bel Abbès, and carried bringing back the wooden hand of captain Jean Danjou, relics of the Legion history museum and the symbolic Legion remains of general Paul-Frederic Rollet ( The Father of the Legion ), Prince Count Aage of Rosenborg, and Legionnaire Heinz Zimmermann; the last killed of Algeria. Notable operations included the Suez Crisis, the Battle of Algiers and various offensives launched by General Maurice Challe including Operations Oranie and Jumelles.
It was during this time that the Legion acquired its parade song "Non, je ne regrette rien" (No, I don't regret anything), a 1960 Edith Piaf song that their NCOs, leaving their barracks for re-deployment following the Algiers putsch of 1961, sung. The song has been a part of Legion heritage since then.
By 1962 the morale of the Legion was at an all-time low; it had lost its traditional and spiritual home (Algeria), elite units had been disbanded, and in addition, many officers and men were arrested or deserted to escape prosecution. President de Gaulle considered disbanding it altogether but after being downsized to 8,000 men and stripped of all heavy weaponry, the Legion was spared, packed up and re-headquartered in metropolitan France.
The Legion now had a new role as a rapid intervention force to preserve French interests not only in its former African colonies but in other nations as well; it was also a return to its roots of being a unit always ready to be sent to hot-spots all around the world. Some notable operations include: the Chadian–Libyan conflict in 1969–72 (the first time that the Legion was sent in operations after the Algerian War), 1978–79, and 1983–87; Kolwezi in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1978; Rwanda in 1990–94; and the Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) in 2002 to the present.
- 1969–1971: interventions in Chad
- 1978: Battle of Kolwezi (Zaïre)
- 1982: Peacekeeping in Multinational Force in Lebanon
In September 1990, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment, the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, and the 6th Foreign Engineer Regiment were sent to the Persian Gulf as a part of Opération Daguet. The Legion force, comprising 27 different nationalities, was attached to the French 6th Light Armoured Brigade, whose mission was to protect the Coalition's left flank.
After the four-week air campaign, coalition forces launched the ground offensive. They quickly penetrated deep into Iraq, with the Legion taking the Al Salman Airport, meeting little resistance. The war ended after a hundred hours of fighting on the ground, which resulted in very light casualties for the Legion.
- 1991: Evacuation of French citizens and foreigners in Rwanda, Gabon and Zaire.
- 1992: Cambodia and Somalia
- 1993: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- 1995: Rwanda
- 1996: Central African Republic
- 1997: Congo-Brazzaville
- Since 1999: KFOR in Kosovo and Macedonia
- Since 2001: Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan
- 2002–2003: Operation Licorne in Côte d'Ivoire
- 2008: EUFOR Tchad/RCA in Chad
- 2014: Operation Serval in the Northern Mali conflict
Historically, the American film industry portrayed the Foreign Legion as, in the words of Neil Tweedie of The Daily Telegraph, having "a reputation as a haven for cut-throats, crooks and sundry fugitives from justice" and also having many men escaping failed romances. Tweedie said that since the legion had asked few questions of its new recruits, it became "an ideal repository for the scum of the earth." As of 2008, according to Tweedie, the "image as a haven for ne'er-do-wells is largely out of date" since the legion now conducts extensive background checks via Interpol.
The Foreign Legion is the only unit of the French Army open to people of any nationality. Most legionnaires still come from European countries but a growing percentage comes from Latin America. Most of the Foreign Legion's commissioned officers are French with approximately 10% being former Legionnaires who have risen through the ranks.
Legionnaires were, in the past, forced to enlist under a pseudonym ("declared identity"). This disposition exists in order to allow people who want to start their lives over to enlist, and the French Foreign Legion held the belief that it was more fair to make all new recruits use declared identities. French citizens can enlist under a declared, fictitious, foreign citizenship (generally, a francophone one, often that of Belgium, Canada or Switzerland). As of 20 September 2010, new recruits may enlist under their real identities or under declared identities. Recruits who do enlist with declared identities may, after one year's service, regularise their situations under their true identities. After serving in the Foreign Legion for three years, a legionnaire may apply for French citizenship. He must be serving under his real name, must no longer have problems with the authorities, and must have served with "honour and fidelity". Furthermore, a soldier who becomes injured during a battle for France can immediately apply for French citizenship under a provision known as "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood").
While the Foreign Legion historically did not accept women in its ranks, there was one official female member, Susan Travers, an Englishwoman who joined Free French Forces during World War II and became a member of the Foreign Legion after the war, serving in Vietnam during the First Indochina War. Women were barred from service until 2000, which then-French Defence Minister Alain Richard had stated that he wanted to take the level of female recruitment in the Legion to 20% by 2020. But at this time, no woman has been known to have joined the Legion.
The Foreign Legion on occasion inducts honorary members into its ranks. During the siege of Dien Bien Phu this honour was granted to General Christian de Castries, Colonel Pierre Langlais, Geneviève de Galard ("The Angel of Dien Bien Phu") and Marcel Bigeard, the Officer in Command of the 6th BPC. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. was also an honorary member.
Membership by country
As of 2008 members come from 140 countries. The majority of enlisted men originate from outside of France, while the majority of the officer corps consists of Frenchmen. Many recruits originate from Eastern Europe and Latin America. Neil Tweedie of The Daily Telegraph said that Germany traditionally provided many recruits, "somewhat ironically given the Legion's bloody role in two world wars." He added that "Brits, too, have played their part, but there was embarrassment recently when it emerged that many British applicants were failing selection due to endemic unfitness."
Original nationalities of the Foreign Legion reflect the events in history at the time they join. Many former Wehrmacht personnel joined in the wake of WWII as many soldiers returning to civilian life found it hard to find reliable employment. Jean-Denis Lepage reports that "The Foreign Legion discreetly recruited from German P.O.W. camps", but adds that the number of these recruits has been subsequently exaggerated. Bernard B. Fall, who was a supporter of the French government, writing in the context of the First Indochina War, questioned the notion that the Foreign Legion was mainly German at that time, calling it:
[a] canard…with the sub-variant that all those Germans were at least SS generals and other much wanted war criminals. As a rule, and in order to prevent any particular nation from making the Foreign Legion into a Praetorian Guard, any particular national component is kept at about 25 percent of the total. Even supposing (and this was the case, of course) that the French recruiters, in the eagerness for candidates would sign up Germans enlisting as Swiss, Austrian, Scandinavian and other nationalities of related ethnic background, it is unlikely that the number of Germans in the Foreign Legion ever exceeded 35 percent. Thus, without making an allowance for losses, rotation, discharges, etc., the maximum number of Germans fighting in Indochina at any one time reached perhaps 7,000 out of 278,000. As to the ex-Nazis, the early arrivals contained a number of them, none of whom were known to be war criminals. French intelligence saw to that.
Since, in view of the rugged Indochinese climate, older men without previous tropical experience constituted more a liability than an asset, the average age of the Foreign Legion enlistees was about 23. At the time of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, any legionnaire of that age group was at the worst, in his "Hitler Youth" shorts when the [Third] Reich collapsed.
The Foreign Legion accepts people enlisting under a nationality that is not their own. A proportion of the Swiss and Belgians are actually likely to be Frenchmen who wish to avoid detection. In addition many Alsatians are said to have joined the Foreign Legion when Alsace was part of the German Empire, and may have been recorded as German while considering themselves French.
Regarding recruitment conditions within the Foreign Legion, see the official page (in English) dedicated to the subject: With regard to age limits, recruits can be accepted from ages ranging from 17 ½ (with parental consent) to 40 years old.
Countries that allow post-Foreign Legion contract
In the Commonwealth Realms, its collective provisions provide for nationals to commute between armies in training or other purposes. Moreover, this 'blanket provision' between member-states cannot exclude others for it would seem inappropriate to single out individual countries, that is, France in relation to the Legion. For example, Australia and New Zealand may allow post-Legion enlistment providing the national has commonwealth citizenship. Britain allows post-Legion enlistment. Canada allows post-Legion enlistment in its ranks with a completed five-year contract.
In the European Union framework, post Legion enlistment is less clear. Denmark, Norway, Germany and Portugal allow post-Legion enlistment while The Netherlands has constitutional articles that forbid it. [Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap, Artikel 15, lid 1e, (In Dutch:)] (that is: one can lose his Dutch nationality by accepting a foreign nationality or can lose his Dutch nationality by serving in the army of a foreign state that is engaged in a conflict against the Dutch Kingdom or one of its allies). The European Union twin threads seem to be recognized dual nationality status or restricting constitutional article.
The United States allows post-FFL enlistment in its National Guard, and career soldiers, up to the rank of captain only and to green card holders. Second Lieutenant Lawrence J. Franks Jr. was sentenced to four years in prison and dismissal from the U.S. Army on charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer and desertion, as he disappeared from Fort Drum, N.Y. in 2009 and reappeared in 2014. During this time, he served with distinction in the Legion under the assumed name Christopher Flaherty.
Israel allows post-Legion enlistment. The Swiss jail or fine their nationals for joining the Legion due to Switzerland's neutrality.
One of the biggest national groups in the Legion are Poles. Polish law basically allows service in a foreign army, but only after written permission from the Ministry of National Defense. Most soldiers do not actually apply for permission, but only a few have been prosecuted on this account and generally they get probation.
Soldats du rang (Ordinary Legionnaires)
All volunteers in the French Foreign Legion begin their careers as basic legionnaires with one in four eventually becoming a sous-officier (non-commissioned officer). On joining, a new recruit receives a monthly salary of €1,200 in addition to food and lodgings. He is also given his own new rifle, which according to the lore of the Legion must never be left on a battlefield. Promotion is concurrent with the ranks in the French Army.
|Foreign Legion rank||Equivalent rank||NATO Code||Period of service||Insignia|
|Engagé Volontaire||Recruit||–||15 weeks basic training.||None|
|Legionnaire 2e Classe||Private / 2nd Class Legionnaire||OR-1||On completion of training and Marche képi blanc (March of the White Kepi).||None|
|Legionnaire 1e Classe||Lance Corporal / 1st Class Legionnaire||OR-2||After 10 months of service.|
|Caporal||Corporal||OR-3||Possible after 1-year of service, known as the Fonctionnaire Caporal (or Caporal "Fut Fut") course. Recruits selected for this course need to show good leadership skills during basic training.|
|Caporal Chef †||Senior Corporal||OR-4||After 6 years of service.|
^ †: No further promotions are given to non-French Legionnaires on attaining the rank of Caporal Chef.
Table note: Command insignia in the Foreign Legion use gold lace or braid indicating foot troops in the French Army. But the Légion étrangère service color is green (for the now-defunct colonial Armée d'Afrique) instead of red (regular infantry).
Sous-officiers (non-commissioned officers)
Sous-officiers (NCOs) including warrant officers account for 25% of the current Foreign Legion's total manpower.
|Foreign Legion rank||Equivalent rank||NATO Code||Period of service||Insignia|
|Sergent||Sergeant||OR-5||After 3 years of service as Caporal.|
|Sergent Chef||Senior Sergeant||OR-6||After 3 years as Sergent and between 7 to 14 years of service.|
|Adjudant||Warrant Officer||OR-8||After 3 years as Sergent Chef.|
|Adjudant Chef||Chief Warrant Officer||OR-9||After 4 years as Adjudant and at least 14 years service.|
|Major ‡||Chief Warrant Officer
Regimental Sergeant Major
|OR-9||Appointment by either: (i) passing an examination or
(ii) promotion after a minimum of 14 years service
(without an examination).
^ ‡: Since 1 January 2009, the French military rank of major has been attached to the sous-officiers. Prior to this, Major was an independent rank between NCOs and commissioned officers. It is an executive position within a regiment or demi-brigade responsible for senior administration, standards and discipline.
Officiers (commissioned officers)
Most officers are seconded from the French Army though roughly 10% are former non-commissioned officers promoted from the ranks.
|Foreign Legion rank||Equivalent rank||NATO Code||Command responsibility||Insignia|
|Sous-Lieutenant||Second lieutenant||OF-1||Junior section leader|
|Lieutenant||First lieutenant||OF-1||A section.|
|Lieutenant-Colonel||Lieutenant colonel||OF-4||Junior régiment or demi-brigade leader.|
|Colonel||Colonel||OF-5||A régiment or demi-brigade.|
|Général de Brigade||Brigadier general||OF-6||Entire French Foreign Legion|
Chevrons d'ancienneté (chevrons of seniority)
The Foreign Legion remains the only branch of the French Army that still uses chevrons to indicate seniority. Each gold chevron, which are only used by ordinary legionnaires and noncommissioned officers, denotes five years with the Legion. They are worn beneath the rank insignia.
Traditions of the Legion
As the Foreign Legion is composed of soldiers of different nationalities and backgrounds, it needed to develop an intense Esprit de Corps, which is carried out by the development of camaraderie, specific traditions, the high sense of loyalty of its legionnaires, the quality of their training and the pride of being a soldier of an élite unit.
Code of Honour
The "Legionnaire's Code of Honour" is the crucible vocal synchronisation of the Legion.
Honneur et Fidélité
Unlike the creed of all the French Army units, the motto of the Foreign Legion's regimental flags is not Honneur et Patrie (Honour and Fatherland) but Honneur et Fidélité (Honour and Fidelity).
Legio Patria Nostra
Legio Patria Nostra (The Legion is our Fatherland) is the latin motto of the Foreign Legion. The adoption of the Foreign Legion as a new fatherland does not imply the repudiation by the legionnaire of his first nationality. The French Foreign Legion respects the original fatherland of the legionnaires who are totally free to preserve their nationalities. The Foreign Legion even asks the agreement of any legionnaire who could be sent in a military operation where his country of origin would be committed.
Roman Regimental Creeds
- 1e RE : LEGIO PATRIA NOSTRA
- 1e REC: NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR (To none other equal)
- 1e REG & 6e REG & 6e REI: AD UNUM (All to one end)
- Para Co. 3e REI & CERA & 1e CEPML & 1e BEP & 3e BEP & 3e REP & 1e REP & 2e BEP & 2e REP: MORE MAJORUM (In the manner, ways and traditions of our ancestors)
- 2e REI: ÊTRE PRÊT (Be ready)
- 2e REG: RIEN N'EMPÊCHE (Nothing prevents)
- 3e REI: LEGIO PATRIA NOSTRA
- 13e DBLE: MORE MAJORUM
- DLEM: PERICULA LUDUS (Peril a pleasure)
Pioneers of the Foreign Legion
The Pionniers (pioneers) are the combat engineers and a traditional unit of the Foreign Legion. The sapper traditionally sport large beards, wear leather aprons and gloves and hold axes. The sappers were very common in European armies during the Napoleonic Era but progressively disappeared during the 19th century. The French Army, including the Legion disbanded its regimental sapper platoons in 1870. However, in 1931 one of a number of traditions restored to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Legion's founding was the reestablished of its beaded Pionniers.
In the French Army, since the 18th century, every infantry regiment included a small detachment of pioneers. In addition to undertaking road building and entrenchment work, such units were tasked with using their axes and shovels to clear obstacles under enemy fire opening the way for the rest of the infantry. The danger of such missions was recognised by allowing certain privileges, such as being authorised to wear beards.
The current pioneer platoon of the Foreign Legion is provided by the Legion depot and headquarters regiment for public ceremonies. The unit has reintroduced the symbols of the Napoleonic sappers: the beard, the axe, the leather apron, the crossed-axes insignia and the leather gloves. When parades of the Foreign Legion are opened by this unit, it is to commemorate the traditional role of the sappers "opening the way" for the troops.
Also notable is the marching pace of the Foreign Legion. In comparison to the 116-step-per-minute pace of other French units, the Foreign Legion has an 88-step-per-minute marching speed. It is also referred to by Legionnaires as the "crawl". This can be seen at ceremonial parades and public displays attended by the Foreign Legion, particularly while parading in Paris on 14 July (Bastille Day Military Parade). Because of the impressively slow pace, the Foreign Legion is always the last unit marching in any parade. The Foreign Legion is normally accompanied by its own band, which traditionally plays the march of any one of the regiments comprising the Foreign Legion, except that of the unit actually on parade. The regimental song of each unit and "Le Boudin" is sung by legionnaires standing at attention. Also, because the Foreign Legion must always stay together, it does not break formation into two when approaching the presidential grandstand, as other French military units do, in order to preserve the unity of the legion.
Contrary to popular belief, the adoption of the Foreign Legion's slow marching speed was not due to a need to preserve energy and fluids during long marches under the hot Algerian sun. Its exact origins are somewhat unclear, but the official explanation is that although the pace regulation does not seem to have been instituted before 1945, it hails back to the slow marching pace of the Ancien Régime, and its reintroduction was a "return to traditional roots". This was in fact, the march step of the Foreign Legion's ancestor units – the Régiments Étrangers or Foreign Regiments of the Ancien Régime French Army, the Grande Armée 's foreign units, and the pre-1831 foreign regiments.
Previously, the legion was not stationed in mainland France except in wartime. Until 1962, the Foreign Legion headquarters was located in Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria. Today, some units of the Légion are in Corsica or overseas possessions (mainly in French Guiana, guarding Guiana Space Centre), while the rest are in the south of mainland France. Current headquarters is in Aubagne, France, just outside Marseille.
- Mainland France
- 1st Foreign Regiment (1e RE), based in Aubagne
- 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment (2e REI), based in Nîmes
- 4th Foreign Regiment (4e RE), based in Castelnaudary (training)
- 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1e REC), based in Orange, Vaucluse (armoured troops)
- 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment (1e REG) former 6th Foreign Engineer Regiment (6e REG), based in Laudun
- 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment (2e REG), based in St Christol
- Foreign Airborne Battalions and Regiments of France
- French Overseas Territories and Overseas Collectives
- Arabian Peninsula
Disbanded unit and attempted coup
The 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1e Régiment Étranger Parachutiste, 1e REP) was established in 1955 during the Algerian War and disbanded in April 1961 as the entire regiment rose against the French government of Charles de Gaulle (Algiers Putsch), in protest against moves to negotiate an end to the Algerian War and providing Algeria's independence from France.
Following the independence of Algeria in 1962, the Foreign Legion was reduced in numbers but not disbanded, unlike most other units comprising the Armée d'Afrique: Zouaves, Tirailleurs, Méharistes, Harkis, Goums, Chasseurs d'Afrique and all but one of the Spahi regiments. The effect was to retain the Foreign Legion as a professional force that could be used for military interventions outside France and not involve the politically unpopular use of French conscripts. The subsequent abolition of conscription in France in 2001 and the creation of an entirely professional army might be expected to put the legion's long-term future at risk but as of 2013[update] this has not been the case.
These are the following deployments:
Note: English names for countries or territories are in parentheses.
- Opérations extérieures (other than at home bases or on standard duties)
- Guyane (French Guiana) Mission de presence sur l'Oyapok – Protection – 3e REI Protection CSG ; 2e REP / CEA; 2e REI / 4° compagnie
- Afghanistan Intervention 1e REC / 3° escadron (1 peloton); 2e REI / 4° compagnie OMLT; 2e REG / 1ère compagnie
- Mayotte (Departmental Collectivity of Mayotte) Prevention DLEM Mission de souveraineté
- United Arab Emirates Prevention 13 DBLE; 1e REC / 1° escadron; 1e REG / 3° compagnie
- Gabon Prevention 2e REP / 3° compagnie – 4° compagnie
|Acronym||French Name||English Meaning|
|CEA||Compagnie d'éclairage et d'appuis||Reconnaissance and Support Company|
|CAC||Compagnie anti-char||Anti-Tank Company|
|UCL||Unité de commandement et de logistique||Unit of Command and Logistics|
|EMT||État-major tactique||Tactical Command Post|
|NEDEX||Neutralisation des explosifs||Neutralisation and Destruction of Explosives|
|OMLT||Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (The official name for this branch is in English)|
Legionnaire of 2 REI with an M2 heavy machine gun.
Legionnaires in Paris on Vigipirate, France's counter-terrorism security alert system, in November 2010.
Legion Special Forces Teams & Commando Groups
The 11th Parachute Brigade which includes the Legion's 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, the 6th Light Armoured Brigade which inlcuded the Legion's 6th Foreign Engineer Regiment, today's 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment part of the French Land Force Command and the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade which include the Legion's 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment are all part of the command of the Rapid Reaction Force.
Special Forces of the Legion include:
- 2e REP Commando Parachute Group ( GCP ).
- 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment Parachute, Underwater Demoltion and Diving DINOPS Teams ( Nautical Subaquatic Intervention Operational Detachment, French: Detachement d'Intervention Nautique Operationnelle Subaquatique ).
- 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment Parachute, Underwater Demoltion and Diving DINOPS Teams and Mountain Commando Group ( GCM ) in some cases as double specialties.
|Arrival||1 to 7 days in a Foreign Legion Information Center. Reception, information, and terms of contract. Afterwards transferred to Paris, Foreign Legion Recruitment Center.|
|Pre-selection||1 to 7 days in a Foreign Legion Recruitment Center (Paris). Confirmation of motivation, initial medical check-up, finalising enlistment papers and signing of 5-year service contract.|
|Selection||7 to 14 days in the Recruitment and Selection Center in Aubagne. Psychological and personality tests, logic tests (no education requirements), medical exam, physical condition tests, motivation and security interviews. Confirmation or denial of selection.|
|Passed Selection||Signing and handing-over of the five-year service contract. Incorporation into the Foreign Legion as a trainee.|
Basic training is conducted in the 4th Foreign Regiment with a duration of 15 weeks:
- Initial training of 4 weeks – initiation to military lifestyle; outdoor and field activities; learning Foreign Legion traditions, learning the French language.
- March Képi Blanc – a 60–75 mile (100–120 km) march in full kit (From Perpignan on a return to the Basic Training camp at Castelnaudary), and graduation ceremony – 3 days to complete.
- Technical and practical training (alternating with barracks and field training) – 3 weeks.
- Mountain training (Chalet at Formiguière in the French Pyrenees) – 1-week.
- Technical and practical training (alternating barracks and field training) – 2 weeks.
- Examinations and obtaining of the elementary technical certificate (CTE) – 1-week.
- March ending basic training – 1-week.
- Light vehicle / trucks school – 1-week.
- Return to Aubagne before reporting to the assigned regiment – 1-week.
Uniforms and equipment of the legion
From its foundation until World War I the Foreign Legion normally wore the uniform of the French line infantry for parade with a few special distinctions. Essentially this consisted of a dark blue coat (later tunic) worn with red trousers. The field uniform was often modified under the influence of the extremes of climate and terrain in which the Foreign Legion served. Shakos were soon replaced by the light cloth kepi, which was far more suitable for North African conditions. The practice of wearing heavy capotes (greatcoats) on the march and vestes (short hip-length jackets) as working dress in barracks was followed by the Foreign Legion from its establishment.
One short lived aberration was the wearing of green uniforms in 1856 by Foreign Legion units recruited in Switzerland for service in the Crimean War. In the Crimea itself (1854–59) a hooded coat and red or blue waist sashes were adopted for winter dress, while during the Mexican Intervention (1863–65) straw hats or sombreros were sometimes substituted for the kepi. When the latter was worn it was usually covered with a white "havelock" – the predecessor of the white kepi that was to become a symbol of the Foreign Legion. Foreign Legion units serving in France during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 were distinguishable only by minor details of insignia from the bulk of the French infantry. However subsequent colonial campaigns saw an increasing use of special garments for hot weather wear such as collarless keo blouses in Tonkin 1884–85, khaki drill jackets in Dahomey (1892) and drab covered topees worn with all-white fatigue dress in Madagascar (1895).
In the early 20th century the legionnaire wore a red kepi with blue band and piping, dark blue tunic with red collar, red cuff patches, and red trousers. The most distinctive features were the green epaulettes (replacing the red of the line) worn with red woollen fringes; plus the embroidered Foreign Legion badge of a red flaming grenade, worn on the kepi front instead of a regimental number. In the field a light khaki cover was worn over the kepi, sometimes with a protective neck curtain attached. The standard medium-blue double breasted greatcoat (capote) of the French infantry was worn, usually buttoned back to free the legs for marching. From the 1830s the legionnaires had worn a broad blue woollen sash around the waist, like other European units of the French Army of Africa (such as the Zouaves or the Chasseurs d'Afrique), while indigenous units of the Army of Africa (spahis and tirailleurs) wore red sashes. White linen trousers tucked into short leather leggings were substituted for red serge in hot weather. This was the origin of the "Beau Geste" image.
In barracks a white bleached kepi cover was often worn together with a short dark blue jacket ("veste") or white blouse plus white trousers. The original kepi cover was khaki and due to constant washing turned white quickly. The white or khaki kepi cover was not unique to the Foreign Legion at this stage but was commonly seen amongst other French units in North Africa. It later became particularly identified with the Foreign Legion as the unit most likely to serve at remote frontier posts (other than locally recruited tirailleurs who wore fezzes or turbans). The variances of climate in North Africa led the French Army to the sensible expedient of letting local commanders decide on the appropriate "tenue de jour" (uniform of the day) according to circumstances. Thus a legionnaire might parade or walk out in blue tunic and white trousers in hot weather, blue tunic and red trousers in normal temperatures or wear the blue greatcoat with red trousers under colder conditions. The sash could be worn with greatcoat, blouse or veste but not with the tunic. Epaulettes were a detachable dress item worn only with tunic or greatcoat for parade or off duty wear.
Officers wore the same dark blue (almost black) tunics as those of their colleagues in the French line regiments, except that black replaced red as a facing colour on collar and cuffs. Gold fringed epaulettes were worn for full dress and rank was shown by the number of gold rings on both kepi and cuffs. Trousers were red with black stripes or white according to occasion or conditions. All-white or light khaki uniforms (from as early as the 1890s) were often worn in the field or for ordinary duties in barracks. Non-commissioned officers were distinguished by red or gold diagonal stripes on the lower sleeves of tunics, vestes and greatcoats. Small detachable stripes were buttoned on to the front of the white shirt-like blouse.
Prior to 1914 units in Indo-China wore white or khaki Colonial Infantry uniforms with Foreign Legion insignia, to overcome supply difficulties. This dress included a white sun helmet of a model that was also worn by Foreign Legion units serving in the outposts of Southern Algeria, though never popular with its wearers. During the initial months of World War I, Foreign Legion units serving in France wore the standard blue greatcoat and red trousers of the French line infantry, distinguished only by collar patches of the same blue as the capote, instead of red. After a short period in sky-blue the Foreign Legion adopted khaki with steel helmets, from early 1916. A mustard shade of khaki drill had been worn on active service in Morocco from 1909, replacing the classic blue and white. The latter continued to be worn in the relatively peaceful conditions of Algeria throughout World War I, although increasingly replaced by khaki drill. The pre-1914 blue and red uniforms could still be occasionally seen as garrison dress in Algeria until stocks were used up about 1919.
During the early 1920s plain khaki drill uniforms of a standard pattern became universal issue for the Foreign Legion with only the red and blue kepi (with or without a cover) and green collar braiding to distinguish the Legionnaire from other French soldiers serving in North African and Indo-China. The neck curtain ceased to be worn from about 1915, although it survived in the newly raised Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment into the 1920s. The white blouse (bourgeron) and trousers dating from 1882 were retained for fatigue wear until the 1930s.
At the time of the Foreign Legion's centennial in 1931, a number of traditional features were reintroduced at the initiative of the then commander Colonel Rollet. These included the blue sash and green/red epaulettes. In 1939 the white covered kepi won recognition as the official headdress of the Foreign Legion to be worn on most occasions, rather than simply as a means of reflecting heat and protecting the blue and red material underneath. The Third Foreign Infantry Regiment adopted white tunics and trousers for walking-out dress during the 1930s and all Foreign Legion officers were required to obtain full dress uniforms in the pre-war colours of black and red from 1932 to 1939.
During World War II the Foreign Legion wore a wide range of uniform styles depending on supply sources. These ranged from the heavy capotes and Adrian helmets of 1940 through to British battledress and American field uniforms from 1943 to 1945. The white kepi was stubbornly retained whenever possible.
From 1940 until 1963 the Foreign Legion maintained four Saharan Companies (Compagnies Sahariennes) as part of the French forces used to patrol and police the desert regions to the south of Morocco and Algeria. Special uniforms were developed for these units, modeled on those of the French officered Camel Corps (Méharistes) having prime responsibility for the Sahara. In full dress these included black or white zouave style trousers, worn with white tunics and long flowing cloaks. The Legion companies maintained their separate identity by retaining their distinctive kepis, sashes and fringed epaulettes.
The white kepis, together with the sash and epaulettes survive in the Foreign Legion's modern parade dress. Since the 1990s the modern kepi has been made wholly of white material rather than simply worn with a white cover. Officers and senior noncommissioned officers still wear their kepis in the pre-1939 colours of dark blue and red. A green tie and (for officers) a green waistcoat recall the traditional branch colour of the Foreign Legion. From 1959 a green beret (previously worn only by the legion's paratroopers) became the universal ordinary duty headdress, with the kepi reserved for parade and off duty wear. Other items of currently worn dress are the standard issue of the French Army.
The Foreign Legion is basically equipped with the same equipment as similar units elsewhere in the French Army. These include:
- The FAMAS assault rifle, a French-made automatic bullpup-style rifle, chambered in the 5.56×45mm NATO round. In bullpup-style firearms, the action and magazine insert is behind the trigger section. This layout shortens the length of the weapon, while retaining the barrel length.
- The SPECTRA is a ballistic helmet, designed by the French military, fitted with real-time positioning and information system, and with light amplifiers for night vision.
- The FÉLIN suit, an infantry combat system that combines ample pouches, reinforced body protections and a portable electronic platform.
Emulation by other countries
Chinese Ever Victorious Army
The Ever Victorious Army was the name given to a Chinese imperial army in late 19th century. The new force originally comprised about 200 mostly European mercenaries, recruited in the Shanghai area from sailors, deserters and adventurers. Many were dismissed in the summer of 1861, but the remainder became the officers of the Chinese soldiers recruited mainly in and around Sungkiang. The Chinese troops were increased to 3,000 by May 1862, all equipped with Western firearms and equipment by the British authorities in Shanghai. Throughout its four-year existence the Ever Victorious Army was mainly to operate within a thirty-mile radius of Shanghai. It was disbanded in May 1864 with 104 foreign officers and 2,288 Chinese soldiers being paid off. The bulk of the artillery and some infantry transferred to the Chinese Imperial forces. It was the first Chinese army trained in European techniques, tactics, and strategy.
In Israel, Mahal (Hebrew: מח"ל, an acronym for Mitnadvei Ḥutz LaAretz, which means Volunteers from outside the Land [of Israel]) is a term designating non-Israelis serving in the Israeli military. The term originates with the (approximately) 4,000 both Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers who went to Israel to fight in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War including Aliyah Bet. The original Mahalniks were mostly World War II veterans from American and British armed forces.
Today, there is a program, Garin Tzabar, within the Israeli Ministry of Defense that administers the enlistment of non-Israeli citizens in the country's armed forces. Programs enable foreigners to join the Israel Defense Forces if they are of Jewish descent (which is defined as at least one grandparent).
Netherlands KNIL Army
Though not named "Foreign Legion", the Dutch Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indische Leger (KNIL), or Royal Netherlands-Indian Army (in reference to the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia), was created in 1830, a year before the French Foreign Legion, and is therefore not an emulation but an entirely original idea and had a similar recruitment policy. It stopped being an army of foreigners around 1900 when recruitment was restricted to Dutch citizens and to the indigenous peoples of the Dutch East Indies. The KNIL was finally disbanded on 26 July 1950, seven months after the Netherlands formally recognised Indonesia as a sovereign state, and almost five years after Indonesia declared its independence.
Rhodesian Light Infantry and 7 Independent Company
During the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1960s and 1970s, the Rhodesian Security Forces enlisted volunteers from overseas on the same pay and conditions of service as locally based regulars. The vast majority of the Rhodesian Army's foreigners joined the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), a heliborne commando regiment with a glamorous international reputation; this unit became colloquially known as the "Rhodesian foreign legion" as a result, even though foreigners never made up more than about a third of its men. According to Chris Cocks, an RLI veteran, "the RLI was a mirror of the French Foreign Legion, in that recruiters paid little heed as to a man's past and asked no questions. ... And like the Foreign Legion, once in the ranks, a man's past was irrelevant." Just as French Foreign Legionnaires must speak French, the Rhodesian Army required its foreigners to be anglophone. Many of them were professional soldiers, attracted by the regiment's reputation—mostly former British soldiers, or Vietnam veterans from the United States, Australian and New Zealand forces—and these became a key part of the unit. Others, with no military experience, were often motivated to join the Rhodesian Army by anti-communism, or a desire for adventure or to escape the past.
After the Rhodesians' overseas recruiting campaign for English-speakers, started in 1974, proved successful, they began recruiting French-speakers as well, in 1977. These francophone recruits were placed in their own unit, 7 Independent Company, Rhodesia Regiment, which was commanded by French-speaking officers and operated entirely in French. The experiment was not generally considered a success by the Rhodesian commanders, however, and the company was disbanded in early 1978.
Russian "Foreign Legion"
In 2010 the service conditions of the Russian Military have been changed. The actual term "Russian Foreign Legion" is a colloquial expression without any official recognition. Under the plan, foreigners without dual citizenship are able to sign up for five-year contracts and will be eligible for Russian citizenship after serving three years. Experts say the change opens the way for Commonwealth of Independent States citizens to get fast-track Russian citizenship, and counter the effects of Russia's demographic crisis on its army recruitment.
Spanish Foreign Legion
The Spanish Foreign Legion was created in 1920, in emulation of the French one, and had a significant role in Spain's colonial wars in Morocco and in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. The Spanish Foreign Legion recruited foreigners until 1986 but unlike its French model, the number of non-Spanish recruits never exceeded 25%, most of these from Latin America. It is now called the Spanish Legion and only recruits Spanish nationals.
References in popular culture
Beyond its reputation as an elite unit often engaged in serious fighting, the recruitment practices of the French Foreign Legion have also led to a somewhat romanticised view of it being a place for disgraced or "wronged" men looking to leave behind their old lives and start new ones. This view of the legion is common in literature, and has been used for dramatic effect in many films, not the least of which are the several versions of Beau Geste.
- Foreign Airborne Battalions and Regiments of France
- Régiments de marche de volontaires étrangers
- List of Foreign Legionnaires – notable members of the French Foreign Legion
- French Foreign Legion Museum
- Wild Geese – Irish soldiers who fought for France
- List of militaries that recruit foreigners
- Spanish Legion
- International Legion
- International Brigades
- Memorial to the American Volunteers, Paris
- Lafayette Escadrille, a World War I volunteer air squadron
- Beau Geste, a novel (with many film adaptations) detailing life in the Foreign Legion
- James Waddell (French Foreign Legion), a New Zealander who became the only known non-Frenchman to reach the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Foreign Legion
- Count Aage of Rosenborg, a Danish Prince who served in the Foreign Legion and died with the rank of lieutenant-colonel
- United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon Peacekeeping in between the Blue Line
-  Official Website of the Commandement de la Légion Etrangère
- Jean-Dominique Merchet, La Légion s'accroche à ses effectifs
- Tweedie, Neil. "The French Foreign Legion – the last option for those desperate to escape the UK". The Daily Telegraph. 3 December 2008. Retrieved on 4 April 2012.
- The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324235104578242993426029234.html. Missing or empty
- Douglas Porch (1 January 1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-333-58500-9.
- Douglas Porch (1 January 1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History. pp. 11–13. ISBN 978-0-333-58500-9.
- Douglas Porch (1 January 1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-333-58500-9.
- Porch p. 17–18
- Douglas Porch (1 January 1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-333-58500-9.
- Douglas Porch (1 January 1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History. pp. 127–128. ISBN 978-0-333-58500-9.
- In Le livre d'or de la Légion étrangère, page 66.
- Rene Chartrand, The Mexican Adventure 1861-67, page 19, ISBN 9781855324305
- "About the Foreign Legion". Retrieved 9 March 2007.
- , Official Website of the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, Historique du 2 REI, La Creation (Creation)
- Neeno, Timothy. "The French Intervention in Mexico (1862–67)". Military History Online. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- Martin Windrow, page 5 "Our Friends Beneath the Sands", ISBN 978 0 297 85213 1
- Lepage, Jean-Denis G.G. (2008). The French Foreign Legion: An Illustrated History. U.S.A: Mc Farland & Co. Inc. p. 60. ISBN 078643239X.
- Philip D. Curtin (28 May 1998). Disease and Empire: The Health of European Troops in the Conquest of Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-521-59835-4.
- Cambridge history of Africa, p.530
- Herbert Ingram Priestly (26 May 1967). France Overseas: A Study Of Modern Imperialism, 1938. Routledge. p. 308. ISBN 978-0-7146-1024-5.
- Musée de l'Armée exhibit, Paris
- Shortly before his death, Seeger wrote, "I have a rendez-vous with Death, at some disputed barricade. ... And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous."
- Porch p. 382–3
- Littlejohn, David (1979). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich: Volume 1: Norway, Denmark and France. San Jose: R. James Bender. p. 199. ISBN 0912138173.
- Porch, Douglas (1991). The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force. HarperCollins Canada, Limited. p. 523. ISBN 978-1616080686.
- While the officers were interned, they sang a variant of the song using lyrics relevant to their situation, which was recorded and is now available on YouTube. 
- "Gallery". Legion of the Lost.
- Kent, Arthur; Brokaw, Tom (13 November 1990). "French Foreign Legion Prepares for Persian Gulf War" (Video News Report). NBC Nightly News (NBCUniversal Media, LLC.). Retrieved 7 December 2014.
Glen Slick is an American bearing arms for President Mitterrand, not President Bush. He's one of 27 nationalities here with the French Foreign Legion.
- Drew Hinshaw and David Gauthier-Villars (15 January 2013). "France Widens Military Effort in Mali". The Wall Street Journal.
- French Foreign Legion – Recruiting
- "Frequently Asked Questions About the Foreign Legion (English)." French Foreign Legion. Retrieved on 4 April 2012.
- "Tomorrow to Be Brave: A Memoir of the Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion (9780743200028): Susan Travers, Wendy Holden: Books". Amazon.com.
- Joy Lichfield (13 October 2000). "Women can run off and join the Legion". The Independent.
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/969475.stm. Missing or empty
- http://www.answers.com/mt/french-foreign-legion. Missing or empty
- "France Awards Schwarzkopf Kisses, Medal". Los Angeles Times. 25 July 1991. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
- Sharpe, Michael. (2008) Waffen SS Elite Forces 1: Leibstandarte and Das Reich (p. 183) ISBN 978-0-7858-2323-0.
- Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage (28 January 2008). The French Foreign Legion: An Illustrated History. McFarland. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-7864-3239-4.
- Bernard B. Fall (1994). Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina. Stackpole Books. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-8117-1700-7.
- Evan McGorman, Life in the French Foreign Legion, p. 21
- "French Foreign Legion – Recruiting". Legion-recrute.com. Archived from the original on 22 November 2013.
- "WPROST – Polska Legia Cudzoziemska". Wprost.pl.
- "Examples of wages". www.legion-recrute.com. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- "Chevrons d'ancienneté". www.legion-etrangere.cc. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- Douglas Porch, page 418, The French Foreign Legion. A Complete History, ISBN 0-333-58500-3
- Martin Windrow (1981). Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831–1981. Blandford. ISBN 978-0-7137-1010-6.
- Szecsko, p. 17
-  Official Website of the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment, 2e Regiment Etranger de Genie ( 2e REG ); Structure du 2ème Régiement Etranger de Génie
- Encyclopædia Britannica 1911 Edition, page 587, Vol. 27
- Martin Windrow (1981). Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831–1981. Blandford. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-7137-1010-6.
- Martin Windrow (1981). Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831–1981. Blandford. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7137-1010-6.
- Martin Windrow (1981). Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831–1981. Blandford. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7137-1010-6.
- Martin Windrow (1981). Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion 1831–1981. Blandford. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-7137-1010-6.
- Benny Morris, 1948, 2008, p.85.
- Moorcraft, Paul L.; McLaughlin, Peter (April 2008) . The Rhodesian War: A Military History. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-84415-694-8.
- Abbott, Peter; Botham, Philip (June 1986). Modern African Wars: Rhodesia, 1965–80. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-85045-728-5.
- Binda, Alexandre (May 2008). The Saints: The Rhodesian Light Infantry. Johannesburg: 30° South Publishers. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-920143-07-7.
- Binda, Alexandre (May 2008). The Saints: The Rhodesian Light Infantry. Johannesburg: 30° South Publishers. pp. 186–188. ISBN 978-1-920143-07-7.
- Montfort, Robert (September 1987). Micheletti, Eric, ed. "La Septième Compagnie indépendante: les volontaires français en Rhodésie" [The Seventh Independent Company: the French volunteers in Rhodesia]. RAIDS (in French) (Paris: Histoire et Collections) (16): 16–20.; Montfort, Robert (October 1987). Micheletti, Eric, ed. "La Septième Compagnie indépendante: les volontaires français en Rhodésie (II)" [The Seventh Independent Company: the French volunteers in Rhodesia (part II)]. RAIDS (in French) (Paris: Histoire et Collections) (17): 28–31.
- Okorokova, Lidia (25 November 2010). "Russia's new Foreign Legion". The Moscow News. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- MR Tony Geraghty (1987). March Or Die: A New History of the French Foreign Legion. ISBN 978-0-8160-1794-2.
- Evan McGorman (1 January 2002). Life in the French Foreign Legion: How to Join and What to Expect When You Get There. Hellgate Press. ISBN 978-1-55571-633-2.
- Douglas Porch (23 June 1992). The French Foreign Legion: Complete History of The Legendary Fighting Force. Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-06-092308-2.
- Roger Rousseau, The French Foreign Legion in Kolwezi, 2006. ISBN 978-2-9526927-1-7
- Tibor Szecsko (1991). Le grand livre des insignes de la Légion étrangère. ISBN 978-2-9505938-0-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to French Foreign Legion.|
- Official Website (French)
- Official Website (English)
- Le Musée de la Légion étrangère (Foreign Legion museum)
- Website about the French Daguet Division (First Gulf War 1990–1991)
- Foreign Legion Information – unofficial website about the French Foreign Legion (English)