Marcel "Bruno" Bigeard (14 February 1916 – 18 June 2010) was a French military officer who fought in World War II, Indochina and Algeria. He was one of the commanders in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and is thought by many to have been a dominating influence on French 'unconventional' warfare thinking from that time onwards. He was one of the most decorated soldiers in France, and is particularly noteworthy because of his ascendance from a regular soldier in 1936 to ultimately finishing his career in 1976 as a Lieutenant General (Général de corps d'armée). A former resistant, he is associated mainly with the war of Indochina and Algeria.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Military career
- 3 World War II
- 4 Indochina
- 5 Algerian War
- 6 Final engagement in war : after 1960
- 7 Political tenure
- 8 Funeral
- 9 Philosophies & principles
- 10 Honors and awards
- 11 Legacy
- 12 Works
- 13 See also
- 14 Notes and references
Marcel Bigeard was born in Toul, Meurthe-et-Moselle on 14 February 1916, the son of Charles Bigeard (1880–1948), a railway worker, and Sophie Bigeard (1880–1964), a domineering housewife. He also had an older sister, Charlotte Bigeard, fours years his senior. Lorraine instilled a strong patriotism in him and his mother a will to win; those two would remain his strongest driving forces. At fourteen, Bigeard quit school to help his parents financially by taking a position in the local Société Générale bank, where he did well.
Prior the War
Following a 6-year career in Société générale, Marcel Bigeard conducted his military service in France at Haguenau at the corps of the 23rd Fortress Infantry Regiment (French: 23e Régiment d'Infanterie de Forteresse)., Incorporated in the regiment as a soldat de deuxième classe in September 1936, caporal-chef, he was relieved of duty and military obligations with the rank of reserve sergent in September 1938.
World War II
6 month following his relieve of duty, in front of the imminent conflict, he was recalled on March 22, 1939 to duty at the corps of the 23rd Fortress Infantry Regiment (French: 23e Régiment d'Infanterie de Forteresse) and promoted to the rank of sergent.
In September 1939, with the arrival of the reserves, the battalions of the 23rd Fortress Infantry Regiment 23eRIF, served each in a chain link to form new Fortress infantry regiments of « mobilization », Brigeard was assigned to the 79th Fortress Infantry Regiment (French: 79e Régiment d'Infanterie de Forteresse) in the under fortified sector of Hoffen and the Maginot Line. Volunteer for the franc corps, he led a combat group at Trimbach in Alsace and became quickly a sergent-chef then adjudant (warrant officer) at the age of 24.
On June 25, 1940, he was captured and made prisoner of war spending 18 months in captivity in a stalag. Following his third attempt to escape on November 11, 1941, he managed to join the free zone.
Volunteer for the French Occidental Africa (French: Afrique-Occidentale française, AOF), he was assigned in February 1942 to a camp in Senegal, in a Senegalese Tirailleurs Regiment of the Armistice Army. Promoted to sous-lieutenant in October 1943, he was directed with his regiment to Morocco.
Recruited as a paratrooper of the Free French Forces, he conducted a military formation, with the British Commandos, near Algiers during three months, then was assigned the preliminary rank of Chef de bataillon (major) at a directorate. In 1944, after paratrooper training by the British, he was parachuted into occupied France as part of a team of four with the mission of leading the resistance in the Ariège département close to the border with Andorra. One of these audacious ambushes against superior German forces gained him a British decoration. His nickname of "Bruno" has its origins in his radio call sign.
At the beginning of 1945, Bigeard created and managed during a scholastic semester, the regional cadres school of Pyla, near Bordeaux, destined to form officers issued from the French Forces of the Interior. Decorated with the Légion d'honneur and the British Distinguished Service Order for his actions in Ariège, Bigeard was promoted to an active captain in June 1945.
Bigeard was first sent to Indo-China in October 1945 to assist with French efforts to reassert their influence over the former French colonies. He commanded the 23rd Colonial Infantry and then volunteered to train Thai auxiliaries in their interdiction of Viet Minh incursions around the Laos border along the 'road' R.C. 41 (Route Coloniale).
In the middle of 1945, captain Bigeard was entrusted with the command of the 6th company of the 23rd Colonial Infantry Regiment (French: 23e Régiment d'Infanterie Coloniale, 23e RIC). Designated to participate to the expeditionary corps in Indochina, the regiment dismebarked in Saigon on October 25, 1945 and served until March of 1946 in various sectors of operations. During this epoque, the "Bruno" surname started to circulate.
On March 8, 1946, a detachment of the 2nd Armored Brigade 2e DB and 9th Colonial Infantry Division (French: 9e Division d'Infanterie Coloniale, 9e DIC), which the 23rd Colonial Infantry Regiment 23e RIC was part of, disembarked in Tonkin.
On July 1, 1946, Bigeard left the 23e RIC and formed south-east of Dien Bien Phu, a unit constituted of four commandos of 25 volunteers at the corps of the autonomous Thai Battalion. At the return of his men in metropole, mid-October 1946, he assumed command of the 3rd company, constituted of almost 40 men. He then left Indochina on September 17, 1947 and reached France three days later.
Volunteer for another séjour in Indochina, Bigeard was assigned on February 1, 1948 to the 3rd Colonial Parachute Commando Battalion 3e BCCP.
On October 1, 1949, Bigeard set on foot the 3rd Thai Battalion, consisting of 2530 men divided in five regular companies and nine companies of civilian guards with military supplementaries. Relieved from this post, he assumed on April 5, 1950 the command of an Indochinese marching battalion who received, in August, the regimental color of the 1st Tonkin Tirailleurs Regiment (French: 1er Régiment de Tirailleurs Tonkinois) which was decorated by the croix de guerre with palm. On November 12, 1950, Bigeard embarked on a paquebot and left again Indochina.
In the spring of 1951, Bigeard was assigned at Vannes, the colonial demi-brigade of colonel Jean Gilles and was confined with a passing battalion. In September 1951, he was assigned the command of the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion 6e BPC at Saint-Brieuc. He was ranked then as a Chef de battaillon in January 1952.
On July 28, 1952, Bigeard, at the head of the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion 6e BPC, disembarked at Haiphong for a third deployment in Indochina. On October 16, 1952, the battalion was parachuted on Tu Lê  and confronted during eight days the opposing regimental divisions. The 6e BPC distinguished savoir-faire again during the Battle of Nà Sản, during an operation on Lang Song July 17, 1953 and during Operation Castor on Dien Bien Phu November 20, 1953. He was a keen self-publicist, welcoming journalists among his troops, which assisted his cause to get the materials needed to help him succeed. His units were noted for their dedication to physical fitness above the normal requirements by the army. This unique style included creating the famous 'casquette Bigeard' cap from the 'excess' material of the long shorts in the standard uniform. He participated in many operations including a combat drop on Tu Lê in November 1952. It was also in 1952 that he fully qualified to be a flying pilot of a military transport helicopter so as to be fully capable of commanding a paratrooper battalion.
On 20 November 1953 Bigeard and his unit took part in Operation Castor, the opening stage of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Bigeard and the 6e BPC returned to Dien Bien Phu on 16 March 1954, parachuting in to reinforce the now besieged garrison. He acted as deputy to Pierre Langlais, and was a member of the "parachute mafia" – a unity of the high-ranking paratroopers at the camp who oversaw combat operations. Historian Bernard Fall asserts that an armed Bigeard, along with Langlais, took de facto command of the camp from General Christian de Castries in mid-March. The historian Jules Roy, however, makes no mention of this event, and Martin Windrow argues that the 'paratrooper putsch' is unlikely to have happened. Both Langlais and Bigeard were known to be on good relations with their commanding officer.
Parachuted on March 16, 1954, while the outcome of Dien Bien Phu was being sealed, commandant Bigeard was promoted to lieutenant-colonel (along with other commanders) during ongoing combats, making of him a recognized figure while leading his battalion on points Éliane 1 and 2, specially codirecting intervention troops of the retracted camp of colonel Langlais. This was in some way seen as a reward for his valiant command of his troops before the expected massacre at the end of the battle.
Lieutenant-colonel Marcel Bigeard was made a captive prisoner of war on May 7, 1954 during the falling of the camp. He was liberated 4 month later, leaving indefinitely Indochina on September 25, 1954.
At the beginning of 1957, the regiment participated at the corps of the 10th Parachute Division of général Massu to the battle of Algiers. The mission of the paratroopers was to re-establish peace in the city in the autumn of 1956 and until the summer of 1957.
In March 1957, the 3e RPC made way south of Blida and participated in numerous operations in Atlas and Agounnenda. The regiment relieved the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment on July 1957 in Algiers. Bigeard revitalized the unit by weeding out laggards and the uncommitted and then put the remainder through an intense training regime. He led the 3e RPC through numerous operations, the most famous being the 1957 Battle of Algiers.
After the initial apparent victory in Algiers, in April 1957 Bigeard moved the 3e RPC back into the Atlas mountains in pursuit of FLN groups in that province. In May he was in the area near Agounennda to ambush a large force of about 300 djounoud of the FLN group Wilaya 4. This group had already attacked an Algerian Battalion on 21 May causing heavy casualties. From a 'cold' start Bigeard estimated the attacking group's probable route of withdrawal and laid a wide ambush along a valley of 100 km². The ensuing battle and followup lasted from 23 to 26 May 1957, but resulted in 8 paras killed for 96 enemy dead, 12 prisoners and 5 captives released. For this exemplary operation he was nicknamed "Seigneur de l'Atlas" ("Lord of the Atlas mountains") by his boss General Massu.
Promoted to colonel on January 1958, Bigeard directed the 3e RPC with others to the Battle of the frontiers from January to June. After other urban, desert and mountain operations Bigeard was replaced as the commander of 3e RPC by Roger Trinquier in March 1958 who headed the regiment.
Accordingly, Bigeard went back to Paris where, the minister of the armies, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, asked him to establish a center of instruction for cadres that saw daylight end of April near Philippeville. The École Jeanne d'Arc in Philippeville (modern day Skikda) was to provide field officers with a one-month training course in counter-insurgency techniques. Bigeard created the school and was placed in charge. Bigeard did not take any part to the events of May 13, 1958.
After fourth months in Toul, Bigeard went back to Algeria taking command of a sector in Saida and Oranie on January 25, 1959. Under his disposition were around 5000 men formed from the 8th Infantry Regiment, the 14th Algerian Tirailleurs Regiment, the 23rd Moroccan Saphis Regiment 23e RSM, one group of DCA, one artillery regiment, and two mobile groups.
Following a meet with de Gaulle on August 27, 1959, he assumed command on December 1 of the Ain-Sefra, with an effectif of 15000 men. In 1959 Bigeard was given command of his own sector in Ain-Sefra and unlike many fellow officers who were closely associated with the war, he did not take part in the Algiers putsch in 1961.
Bigeard was later drawn into the controversy in France around the use of torture in the Algerian war. The admission by senior military people who were involved of the long accepted belief that torture was used systematically has put the spotlight on all figures involved. He justified the use of torture during the Algerian War as a "necessary evil" in Le Monde newspaper, and confirmed its use while also denying any claim of his involvement in personally using torture.
Final engagement in war : after 1960
From July 1960 to January 1963, Bigeard took command of the 6th Colonial Infantry Outremer Regiment 6e RIAOM at Bouar in Central African Republic.
Following a brief passage by the École supérieure de guerre from June 1963 to June 1964, he took command of the 25th Parachute Brigade which included the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment 1e RCP and the 9th Parachute Chasseur Regiment 9e RCP at Pau on August 31, 1964. Following, he also held the command of the 20th Parachute Brigade succeeding général Langlais and which included the 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment 3e RPIMa, the 6th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment 6e RPIMa and the 9th Parachute Chasseur Regiment at Toulouse. Accordingly, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general on August 1, 1967.
Following an encounter with général de Gaulle, he was designated to the post of superior commandant of terrestrial forces in Senegal, which included 2000 men (French Army 1100, French Navy 500, French Air Force 400) and accordingly joined Dakar on February 7, 1968.
In July 1970, Bigeard was back in Paris and was assigned for ten months at the CEMAT headquarter staff.
On August 7, 1971, he took command of Area Forces present in the Indian Ocean at Antananarivo and obtained on December 1, 1971 his third star. He left Madagascar on July 31, 1973 with the total ensemble of French Forces present in that sector.
Following his return to France, he became from September 1973 to February 1974, the second adjoint to the Military governor of Paris. Promoted général de corps d'armée on March 1, 1974, he assumed command of the 4th Military Region, that is 40000 men out of which 10000 paratroopers.
He met on January 30, 1975, President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing who proposed the post of secretary of state attached to minister Yvone Bourges. He held that post from February 1975 to August 1976, date on which he leaves the service.
Following a brief retirement at Toul, he presented himself to the elections and became a deputy of Meurthe-et-Moselle from 1978 to 1981. During this first legislation, he would also be the assigned the function tenure of président de la commission de défense. He was reelected to the first round in June 1981 then to the proportionnelle in March 1986. In 1988, following the dissolution of the assembly, he retired. During his retirement, he spent much of his time writing his memoire and wrote books on his military career while proposing reflexion thoughts on the evolution of France.
Bigeard died on 18 June 2010 at his home in Toul. His funeral procession was held at the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toul on June 21 in presence of former président de la République Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and the ministre de la Défense, Hervé Morin. Full military honours were accorded to the général on 22 June in la cour d'honneur at Les Invalides by the Premier ministre, François Fillon.
Philosophies & principles
Homage to the adversary
Bigeard often manifested his admiration and sympathy to the adversary that fought well. He always distinguished the proper professional and never disregarded his worth of esteem. Bigeard was seen in Indochina, awarding decorations of merit to the Viet adversary, doing also the same in Algeria. In his memory books and Pour une parcelle de gloire, he cited in length, and notably, those who he admired with high esteem and who showcased real qualities of soldiers, valor and courage.
Bigeard cited in his most notable response:
- " On ne se déshonore pas en rendant hommage à l'adversaire. "
English Translation: There is no dishonor in rendering homage to the adversary.
However, the respect he always carried for his adversaries had limitations. He never forgave the useless cruelty of inhumanity in captivity and that well before assumed controversies.
Honors and awards
- Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur
- Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 with 7 citations out of which 3 at the orders of the armed forces (3 palms).
- Croix de guerre des Théatres d'Opérations Exterieures with 17 citations out of which 12 at the orders of the armed forces.
- Croix de la Valeur Militaire with 4 citations at the orders of the armed forces.
- Médaille de la Résistance decree of (6/09/1945)
- Escapees' Medal
- Colonial Medal with "Extrême-Orient" (Far East) clasp
- Commemorative Medal of the 1939-1945 War
- Indochina Campaign Commemorative Medal
- Algeria Commemorative Medal
- Medaille des blessés with 5 stars (5 wounds)
- Honorary Legionnaire de 1ère classe of the Foreign Legion in 1954
- Distinguished Service Order (UK)
- Commander of the Legion of Merit (US)
- Grand officier du Mérite Sénégalais
- Grand officier du Mérite Togolais
- Grand officier du Mérite Comorien
- Grand officier du mérite Saoudite
- Officier de Ordre du Million d'Eléphants et Parasol Blanc du Laos
- Commandeur de l'ordre du Mérite national mauritanien
- Commandeur du Mérite centrafricain
- Commandeur fédération pays Thaï
- Commandeur du Dragon d'Annam
General Bigerad was awarded over 27 citations, including 19 palmes and 8 stars.
Promotion class « Général Bigeard » École militaire interarmes EMIA
Statue at 3e RPIMa
A 3.65 m statue weighting 10 tons was inaugurated on June 29, 2012. The marble statue represents général Bigeard de profil. Also in the commune of La Rochelle, was inaugurated a roundabout général Bigeard.
Homages in France
In France, several avenues, places and roads bear his name:
- Avenue du Général Bigeard à Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle)
- Rond-Point du Général Bigeard à Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône)
- Place du Général Marcel Bigeard à Tellancourt (Meurthe-et-Moselle)
- Square Marcel Bigeard à Aix-les-Bains (Savoie)
- Rue du général Marcel Bigeard à Briey (Meurthe-et-Moselle).
- Rue du général Marcel Bigeard à Villeneuve-Loubet (Alpes-Maritimes)
- Rue du Général Bigeard à Trimbach (Bas-Rhin)
- Rue du Général Bigeard à Lexy (Meurthe-et-Moselle)
- Rond-Point du Général Bigeard à Lagord (Charente-Maritime)
- Rond-Point Général Marcel Bigeard à Banyuls-sur-Mer (Pyrénées-Orientales)
- Rue Marcel Bigeard à Scionzier (Haute-Savoie)
Marcel Bigeard - Gallery
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During his career Bigeard authored or co-authored a number of books which also featured homages to adversaries. In retirement he continued to write, his last work was published in 2010, a few months after he died.
- Contre guérilla (English: Counter guerilla), 1957
- Aucune bête au monde..., Pensée Moderne, 1959
- Piste sans fin (English: Tracks without end), Pensée Moderne, 1963
- Pour une parcelle de gloire (English: For a piece of glory), Plon, 1975
- Ma Guerre d'Indochine (English: My Indochina War), Hachette, 1994
- Ma Guerre d'Algérie (English: My Algerian War), Editions du Rocher, 1995
- De la brousse à la jungle, Hachette-Carrère, 1994
- France, réveille-toi! (English: France, awake!), Editions n°1, 1997 ISBN 2-86391-797-8
- Lettres d'Indochine (English: Letters from Indochina), Editions n°1, 1998–1999 (2 Volumes)
- Le siècle des héros (English: The Century of the Heroes), Editions n°1, 2000 ISBN 2-86391-948-2
- Crier ma vérité, Editions du Rocher, 2002
- Paroles d'Indochine (English: Words of Indochina), Editions du Rocher, 2004
- J'ai mal à la France (English: My France is sore), Edition du Polygone, 2006
- Adieu ma France (English: Good-bye my France), Editions du Rocher, 2006 ISBN 2-268-05696-1
- Mon dernier round (English: My last show), Editions du Rocher, 2009 ISBN 2-268-06673-8
- Ma vie pour la France (English: My life for France), Editions du Rocher, 2010 ISBN 2-268-06435-2
- Ma Guerre d'Indochine, documentaire de 52 minutes Réalisation: Jean-Claude Criton - Production L. Salles/Carrère (1994)
- Ma Guerre d'Algérie, documentaire de 52 minutes Réalisation: Jean-Claude Criton - Production L. Salles/Carrère (1994)
- Portrait de Bigeard, documentaire de 52 minutes Réalisation: Jean-Claude Criton - Production L. Salles/Carrère (1994)
- Ferdinand Foch
- Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
- List of French paratrooper units
- Pierre Segretain
- Pierre Jeanpierre
- Rémy Raffalli
- Paul Arnaud de Foïard
- Hélie de Saint Marc
Notes and references
- Horne 2006, p. 167.
- Singer, Barnett, p.269
- « Le général Bigeard passe l’arme à gauche », Libération (journal), 19 juin 2010
- in reference to the 22e RIF, 23e RIF, 68e RIF and 79e RIF
- In Bigeard, page 58
- Les dates des deux autres tentatives d'évasion sont le 14 juillet et le 22 septembre 1941
- In Pour une parcelle de gloire, page 33
- Windrow 2004, p. 237
- Windrow 2004, p. 551.
- 6th company, 2nd battalion of the 23rd Colonial Infantry Regiment
- In Bigeard, page 149.
- In Bigeard, page 173
- In Pour une parcelle de gloire, page 72.
- In Bigeard, page 232.
- In Bigeard, page 273.
- Windrow 2004, p. 241
- Windrow 2004, p. 416
- Fall, Bernard B. (2002), Hell in a very small place: the siege of Dien Bien Phu, Da Capo Press, pp. 176–179, ISBN 978-0-306-81157-9
- Windrow 2004, pp. 441–444
- In Bigeard, page 330.
- Pour une parcelle de gloire, Marcelle Bigeard, Librarie PLON, 1975, p 295
- Au départ, Bigeard devait prendre le poste d'adjoint au général Ducournau à la tête de la 25e DP, In Bigeard, page 486
- In Pour une parcelle de gloire, page 370.
- In Bigeard, page 499.
- Guerre d'Algérie : le général Bigeard et la pratique de la torture, Le Monde, July 4, 2000 (French)
- In Pour une parcelle de gloire, page 440
- In De la brousse à la jungle, page 74
- In De la brousse à la jungle, page 120.
- De la brousse à la jungle, page 143
- date of dissolution of the assembly by François Mitterrand
- In De la brousse à la jungle, page 212.
- In De la brousse à la jungle, page 243.
- Agence France-Presse, « Obsèques du général Bigeard lundi à Toul », Le Point, 19 juin 2010.
- "Adieu mon general! Honneurs militaires au general Bigeard". Armee de Terre. 8 July 2010.
- Historia, Bigeard le colonel vedette, pages 43-44, Numéro avec majuscule 423, février 1982.
- Historia, Bigeard le colonel vedette, pages 43-44, Numéro avec majuscule 423, février 1982
- Marcel Bigeard, Ma vie pour la France, Éditions du Rocher, year 2010, total page 503, page 196, ISBN 978-2-268-06435-2
-  Chant de la promotion Général Bigeard
- Aussaresses, General Paul (2010). The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Algeria, 1955-1957. New York: Enigma Books. ISBN 978-1-929631-30-8.;
- Fall, Bernard B. (1966). Hell in a Very Small Place. Da Capo Press (published 2002). ISBN 978-0-306-81157-9.;
- Horne, Alistair (1977). A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962. New York Review Books (published 2006). ISBN 978-1-59017-218-6.;
- Singer, Barnett; John Langdon (2004), Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire, The University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-299-19904-5
- Windrow, Martin (2004), The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-84671-X;
- Simpson, Howard (2005). Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot. Potomic Books. ISBN 1-57488-840-4.
- Erwan Bergot, Bataillon Bigeard, Presse de la Cité, 1977,
- Erwan Bergot, Bigeard, Éditions France Loisirs, 1988, ISBN 2-7242-4074-X
- La mort, un terme ou un commencement, Christian Chabanis, Fayard 1982, entretiens avec Marcel Bigeard, etc.
- Marie-Monique Robin, Escadrons de la mort, l’école française, La Découverte, 2004.
- René Guitton, Bigeard, l’hommage, Éditions du Rocher, 2011, ISBN 978-2-268-07141-1
- (French) General Bigeard interview on the battle of Dien Bien Phu, 3 May 2004