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Have you ever heard of the French Foreign Legion under the French Government?
If yes, what comes to your mind when you hear the name of the service? Ruthless brutal men with guns in a heavy coat and white cap, having aged in an environment of violence now ready to face all that comes in their way.
Well, one can rightly describe the French Legion as one of the most dangerous forces any enemy could come across.
The French Legion is regarded as a branch of the French army that is assigned specific duties across the world and consists of volunteers from different countries.
These volunteers are mainly people who are charged with petty crimes either in their country or in France and are given a choice to be pardoned if they serve on a time-bound contract with the Legion. This branch known as the Foreign Legion consists of the infantry, engineers, cavalry, airborne and trained support units.
Irrespective of the orders from the army, the French Legion works as an independent body in terms of its operations in the combat zone as well as recruitments. The legion was created in the year 1831 to serve as a temporary counterpart of the French army. It comprised of men, basically criminals, who were exempted from punishment if they agreed to serve in the legion.
In its initial days, foreigners were barred from entering the legion and serving at any rank in the body but will eventually gain reputation, several individuals not having French citizenship, also expressed their willingness to join the French Legion. With time, the French Foreign Legion came to be known as one of the world’s premier mercenary corps.
Even after France abandoned conscription in the initial days of the 21st century, the legion was successful in retaining its status. As of now, the French Foreign Legion has the strength of more than 8,000 men and the body is often preferred by the French army, mostly for its missions overseas. The legion played a prominent role in the first Gulf War of the '90s and since then has been sent to several operations in Africa, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia
The French Foreign Legion is different from the conventional armies of the modern-day world. For recruitment in armies in the United States and the United Kingdom, the process involves parades and salutes, but the inaugural ceremonies conducted by the Legion in the small city of Aubagne resembles a death wish of many.
The headquarters of the French Legion contains a shrine with a wooden prosthetic hand belonging to legion Captain Jean Danjou, a veteran who passed away during his service in Mexico in the year 1863. All across the shrine are placards with names of those who died serving the French Foreign Legion with over 40,000 names starting from the day the legion came into being in 1831. This is done to portray a clear message that the service demands sacrifice but such a sacrifice of French officers will never be forgotten.
Those serving in the French Foreign Legion are men who seek adventure and danger and ultimately have beaten their fear of death. In many cases, men have experienced a heartbreak, which compels them to leave home and join the legion.
Scroll down to read more about the French Foreign Legion and understand its history, role, and motto as you learn some interesting facts about it.
As mentioned previously, the origin of the French Foreign Legion dates back to March 10, 1831.
The service evolved from the regiments that used to serve outside the Kingdom of France which was derived from the army of the French Kingdom.
The individuals that were recruited to the French Foreign Legion features disbanded soldiers from the Swiss and German military that belonged to the Bourbon monarchy. According to the royal ordinance, those recruits who belonged to foreign countries were allowed to serve outside France only and not within the country.
The first major role played by the French Foreign Legion was experienced in the year 1830 when the French Expeditionary Force, which had occupied Algiers, needed backing. In order to provide support, the legion was sent from Toulon to Algeria to take part in the civil war. Ever since its inception, the French Legion has consisted of thousands of members giving their service at times when it is required. The journey of the legion has also been full of sacrifices with more than 40,000 men losing their lives in service during missions. These men traveled and fought across many countries, such as France, Morocco, Tunisia West Africa, Norway, Lebanon, Italy, Spain, Madagascar, Algeria, Syria, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Central Africa, Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, and Chad.
At first, the French Foreign Legion was primarily given the duty to assist the French forces during their colonial expansion in the 19th century.
Initially stationed in Algeria, the French Foreign Legion took an active part in pacifying and developing the region as a French colony. Thereafter, the legion was transferred to a number of conflicts which included the Carlist War of 1835, the Crimean War of 1854, the Italian War of Independence of 1859, the French Intervention of Mexico in 1863, the French and Prussian War of 1870, and the scene of French War of 1883, all of which contributed to French expansion.
During the French invasion of Mexico by the French government, the French Foreign Legion took on the Mexican force which was significantly larger. Despite being seriously outnumbered they refused to surrender to Mexican forces. According to the records of a Mexican Major, the legionnaires inflicted heavy casualties on the Mexican army.
The legion also took an active part in supporting the French Colonial Empire in the sub-Saharan region of Africa and also fought hand in hand with the French army in the Franco - Dahomean War of 1892. Other contributions of the French Foreign Legion in the 19th century include the Madagascar expedition of 1895 and the Mandingo wars of 1894.
Moving on to the 20th century, the French Foreign Legion fought critical wars in the battleground of the First World War. In the Second World War, the legion took an active part in the campaigns of Syria, North Africa, and Norway. During World War II troops serving in the French Legion were largely recruited from the disbanded Nazi camp.
During the Indochina War of 1946, the legion experienced immense growth in its strength. The battle of Dien Bien Phu proved catastrophic for the legion as the organization lost a large number of people to the forces of Viet Minh.
Service under the French Foreign Legion demands that an individual show the utmost sacrifice and dedication towards their duty.
Troops serving under the French Foreign Legion consist of people not only from France but from countries across mainland Europe. It is for this reason that the motto of the legion is 'Legio Patria Nostra' which translates to 'The legion is our country'. This motto signifies that all members of the legion are required to prove their loyalty to the legion and not just to their country, France.
Upon recruitment, the members of the legion are made to sign a five-year contract and are then transferred to a place called The Farm in the town of Pyrennes for rigorous training that lasts six months. Here, those who are unfit for the very rough life in the legion are weeded out, as the service requires individuals who have achieved a high level of physical strength and fitness. Although the selection is not as tough as the Special Air Service recruitment of the United Kingdom, the process involves thorough training along with marching, singing, and most importantly, building discipline.
Life in the legion was not an easy ride. Commanders felt that to transform an ordinary man into a war machine, he would need strong discipline. Therefore, the soldiers of the legion often experienced a very rough life under the aegis of Legion commanders. Striking men was routine for the officers of the legion and was permitted. The legion adopted a method of breaking an individual, removing his alliances, and then giving him a new family.
Not only this, newly recruited members were allowed to choose a new name. From now on, these recruits would be known only by this new name. Hence, by the end of their basic training, the recruits turn into completely new individuals, with a new identity, to follow the commanding officer in the combat zone. Ultimately, life in the legion results in the honors of death.
The term of service, which is a period of five years, can be renewed after the end of the first five years. In all cases, recruits who have served the legion for more than three years are allowed to take up French citizenship. If a soldier from the legion gets injured during his service, the Legionnaire would automatically gain citizenship, regardless of how long he had served for. He would then obtain the title of 'Français par le sang verse' which means 'French through spilt blood'.
The French Foreign Legion has always been seen as one of the toughest mercenary forces across the world. Those who join this service are guaranteed immunity from prosecution in criminal cases along with a new life and citizenship of France. Today the legion has maintained its reputation as one of the elitist fighting forces and can be compared with the top-class services of different armies across the world like the Special Air Service of the United Kingdom and the Navy SEALs of the United States.
Amongst new recruits, around 42% of the total Jewish recruits in the legion come from central and Eastern Europe. Another 14% comes from the regions of West Europe and the United States while only 10% of the total recruit comes from France itself. The rest is recruited from the countries of Latin America and from Asia.
Even today, scores of young men gather up every year for recruitment in the legion. With thousands of applications every year, more than 80% are rejected. It is important to note that the legion does not accept applications from any people who are wanted by the police or have a serious criminal record. Only those who are charged with misdemeanors or other petty crimes are accepted for the process of recruitment. As of now, the French Legion stands with a strength of 8,000 with almost 1,000 recruits being added every year to replenish those retiring from their service.
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