Spaghetti. Exotic cavalry units of the French army

Spaghetti. Exotic cavalry units of the French army
Spaghetti. Military operations in the south of Algeria, 1897

In previous articles of the cycle, we talked about the units of the Zouaves, which were formed in 1830 at the beginning as “native”. In 1833 they became mixed, and in 1841 - purely French. And about the combat units of the tyrallers, into which the Arabs and Berbers, who previously served in the Zouave battalions, were transferred. But there were other “exotic” formations in the French army.


Almost simultaneously with the infantry units of the thyraliers (Algerian riflemen), in 1831, cavalry "native" units were formed. Initially (until 1834), these were irregular cavalry units, recruited mainly from Berbers. Subsequently, they became part of the regular French army. They were called spahi (spagi or spahi) - from the Turkish word "sipahi". But if in the Ottoman Empire sipahs were elite formations of heavy cavalry, in France their “namesakes” became light cavalry units.

Ottoman spag (above) and Janissaries

Algerian spahi

In addition to military service, spagi were often involved in gendarme functions.

The initiator of the spahi corps was Joseph Vantini, who is sometimes called "General Yusuf."

Joseph Vantini

According to some reports, he was a native of the island of Elba, whose family moved to Tuscany. Here, at the age of 11, he was abducted by Tunisian corsairs, but he did not disappear unknownly, like many brothers in misfortune, but made a good career at the court of the local Bey, being his favorite and confidant. However, the fate of the court is always and always changeable: having angered the lord, Yusuf fled to France in May 1830, where he entered the military service, quickly attracting the attention of his superiors. At the head of the spahi formations recruited on his initiative, he distinguished himself in Algeria during the campaigns of 1832 and 1836, successfully fought against the emir Abd al-Qader, who raised the uprising in Mascara (this was described in the article The defeat of the pirate states of the Maghreb).

Some sources claim that Vantini became a Christian only in 1845, but this contradicts the data on his marriage to a certain Mademoiselle Weyer in 1836: it is unlikely that the French authorities would allow a Muslim to marry a Catholic.

By 1838, Vantini had already reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, and in 1842 he became colonel of the French army. And in 1850, he even wrote the book “The War in Africa” (La guerre d'Afrique).

Military uniform spahi

Like other “native” units, the spagi were dressed in an oriental manner: a short jacket, harem pants, a sash and a white aba (a camel hair cloak with a slit for hands, also used as a bed). On their heads they wore sheshiya (as they called fez in Tunisia).

Spahi. Museum of Mediterranean Civilizations, Marseille

Francois Hippolyte Lalaisse. Spahi with a sword

Only in 1915, spagi switched to a khaki uniform.

Cavalier of the 1st Regiment of Moroccan Spagi (1st Regiment de spahis marocains), 1918


It is connected with spahi story the appearance of the famous jodhpurs.

According to the most common version, Gaston Alexander Auguste de Galifé came up with such a cut that the hip bent after the wound was not evident (or, as an option, he wanted to hide his very ugly curved legs from immodest glances).

However, in fact, Ghalif was simply looking for an opportunity to replace the narrow and tight-fitting pants of cavalrymen (leggings, chikchirs), which looked beautiful, but were very uncomfortable to wear. He found the right option after the Crimean War, when in 1857 he was appointed to command the spahi regiment (he held this position until 1862). Spagger harem pants were much more convenient than leggings, but according to the charter, cavalrymen’s trousers should have been tucked into boots, but this was already inconvenient to do with harem pants.


And then the general made a truly Solomon’s decision - to make a “synthetic version”: cut on top, like a breeches, and bottom - like a leggings.

Gaston Alexander Auguste de Galife - still in leggings, and his legs seem to be not crooked

Gaston Alexander Auguste de Galif. Already in trousers of his own cut

The new trousers were tested during the spahi military operations in Mexico in 1860. But in the entire French cavalry, the novelty was introduced only in 1899, when Gaston de Galifet became the Minister of War. These trousers seemed so comfortable for everyone that already at the beginning of the XNUMXth century they were introduced as part of the uniform in almost all cavalry units of the world.

Beginning of the spahi battlefield

The principle of manning spahi compounds was the same as that of the tyrallers: privates and non-commissioned officers were recruited from local Arabs and Berbers, the officers and specialists were French. Alexander Dumas in the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" made spahi captain Maximilian Morrel - the son of the owner of the ship "Pharaoh", which served as the protagonist of this work.

The service in these cavalry units was more prestigious than the battalions of the thyraliers, and therefore among the spahi there were many sons of the local nobility, who were on their horses. For the same reason (the presence of aristocrats), part of the officer posts at spahi were occupied by local natives, but they could only rise to the rank of captain.

In 1845, three spahi regiments were already formed in North Africa, stationed in Algeria, in Oran, and in Constantine. Each regiment consisted of 4 saber squadrons - 5 officers and 172 lower ranks in each.

In 1854–1856, the spahi squadron ended up in the Crimean War: spagi even went down in history as the first French cavalry unit to set foot on Crimean land. But, unlike the zouaves, tyrants, and units of the Foreign Legion, they did not take part in hostilities, acting as an honorary escort under Marshal St. Arnault, and then under General Canrober.

Spagi from the time of Napoleon III. Hand-painted photograph from Album photographique des uniformes de l'armee francaise, Paris, 1866

Louis Klauth. Trumpeter spahi

And Joseph Vantini at this time tried to create new spahi regiments in the Balkans, but did not succeed. But the spag units were later created in Tunisia and Morocco. And even in Senegal, 2 spag squadrons were created, launched by the Algerian platoon sent to this country in 1843: gradually its soldiers were replaced by local recruits, and officers from North Africa were also commanders.

Senegalese spahi

Senegalese spahi, cigarette card, 1895

Looking ahead a bit, let's say that in 1928 the Senegalese spahi became horse gendarmes.

Spahis Senugalais, 2012

During the Franco-Prussian war, the spagi were utterly defeated by the Prussian cuirassiers and Bavarian lancers, but their hopeless dashing attack made a great impression on King William I, who, according to eyewitnesses, even wept, saying: “These are the brave ones!”

It is interesting that in 1912 several spahi squadrons were created on the model of Algerian Italians in Libya (where, by the way, the same "native" cavalry units, sawari, were created in the same year). There were no military achievements for the Libyan spahi, and they were disbanded in 1942. A sawari (Savari) were disbanded in 1943, after the evacuation of Italian troops from Libya to Tunisia.

Libyan warrior unit sawari

In 1908, the destroyer Spahi, who served in the military, was launched in France navy until 1927 year.

French destroyer Mameluck - sister-ship Spahi

Spahi in World War I and II

By the beginning of World War I, there were 4 spahi regiments in the French army; another was created in August 1914.

During World War I on the Western Front, the role of spahi as a light cavalry was small, they were used mainly for patrolling and reconnaissance.

Moroccan light cavalry patrol on a road near Verdun, Belgium, October 16, 1914, photo: Murise Mondial

On the Thessaloniki Front in 1917, the spahi regiments were used as infantry for some time and they very successfully operated in the mountains they were used to. In 1918, the Spagi, along with horse rangers, took an active part in the hostilities against the 11th German army.

Of greater importance were their actions in Palestine, where they fought against the Ottoman Empire.

On December 31, 1918, after the Armistice Armistice was concluded, one of the spag units at Foth Castle captured General Mackensen (commander of the German occupation forces in Romania) and his staff officers. Mackensen was in captivity until December 1919.

Following the war, the First Spahi Regiment was awarded the military cross (de la croix de guerre), thus becoming the “titled” cavalry regiment of the French army.

By 1921, the number of spahi regiments reached 12: five of them were in Algeria, four in Morocco, the rest in Lebanon and Syria. And if in Algeria and Tunisia spagi performed gendarme and police functions, then in the territory of Morocco, in Syria and Lebanon during the interwar period they fought.

In the 1930s, mechanization of the spahi regiments began, which led to an increase in the number of French in these parts. This process dragged on for a long time and with the help of the Allies was completed only in 1942. At the same time, a tradition appeared to use exotic units of the cavalry units of spahi for ceremonial purposes. Mandatory was their participation in the annual parade in honor of the capture of the Bastille.

1940, Algerian spahi (left), Moroccan spahi (right)

Corporal uniform of the Second Algerian Regiment spahi, 1940

During World War II, in the 1940 campaign, the First and Third spahi brigades fought in the Ardennes and suffered heavy losses. The Third Brigade was almost completely destroyed, many soldiers of the First Brigade were killed, even more captured. The second spahi brigade was on the Swiss border until June 9, 1940 weapon after the surrender of France.

A soldier of the 9th Algerian regiment of the 2nd spahi brigade, captured on June 18, 1940 near Besançon

After the surrender of France, three spahi brigades, the Levantine army, and arrows from Indochina remained under the control of the Petain government.

And de Gaulle got the 19th colonial corps, three battalions of the French African corps, two "camps" of Moroccan gumieres (which are discussed later), 3 regiments of Moroccan spahi, 1 Tunisian battalion, 5 Algerian infantry battalions and 2 battalions of the Foreign Legion (about it - in the following articles).

The number of "native troops" de Gaulle was growing rapidly, it is estimated that in the "Free French Forces" 36% of the troops were members of the Foreign Legion, more than 50% were tyiraliers, spag and gumiers, and only 16% were ethnic French. Therefore, we can safely say that France was introduced into the number of countries-winners in World War II by the forced inhabitants of its colonies and the mercenaries of the Foreign Legion.

Let's go back to the spogs of the times of World War II.

Located in Syria, the First Moroccan regiment spahi left Pétain in the territory controlled by the British. In Egypt, he was additionally mechanized, fought in Libya and Tunisia, participated in the liberation of Paris (in August 1944).

In the years 1943-1944. three spahi motorized regiments (Third Algerian, Third and Fourth Moroccan) fought in Italy as part of the French Expeditionary Force (commander - General A. Juan). In the campaign of 1944-1945. 8 spahi regiments participated - 6 mechanized and 2 horse.

General Lattre de Tassigny in front of the spahi formation, World War II

Corporal of the Seventh Regiment spahi, Germany, 1945

The completion of the spahi story

In January 1952, after the appointment of the new director of the Tunisian colony, Jean de Otklok, 150 members of the New Destour party were arrested (it was led by Habib Burgima, who in 1957 will become the president of Tunisia and will be removed from this post only on November 7, 1987) . The result of these actions was an armed uprising. It began on January 18, 1952. Part of the spag not only Tunisian, but also Algerian participated in its suppression. The fighting, in which up to 70 thousand French troops were involved, continued until July 1954, when an agreement was reached on the transfer of autonomy to Tunisia.

In addition to Tunisia, after the end of World War II, the spahi managed to fight in Indochina and Algeria.

The wars in Tunisia and especially in Algeria suddenly showed that light cavalry could be effective in fighting insurgents. As a result, in Algeria, Oran and Konstantin, horse-drawn regiments of spagas numbering 700 people again were created - 4 squadrons each. Oddly enough, there was no shortage of candidates for service in these regiments not only in Algeria, but also in France: many romantically-minded young people, very skeptical of serving in other units, were not averse to enlisting in cavalry regiments. As instructors for training recruits then they called up the retired former servicemen of the spag corps - both cavalrymen and military veterinarians.

Barbary horse in harness spahi

But time cannot be reversed. In 1962, after France recognized Algeria's independence, all but one of the spahi regiments were disbanded.

Soldiers of the Seventh Algerian spahi regiment from Sanlis at a farewell military parade, September 9, 1962

The only remaining regiment, the First Moroccan, was until 1984 in the FRG, at the base in Schleyer. It is currently located in Valence, near Lyon. It consists of three reconnaissance battalions (12 armored personnel carriers AMX-10RC and armored personnel carriers VAB) and one anti-tank (12 anti-tank vehicles VCAC / HOT "Mephisto").

VAB-HOT (VCAC Mephisto) - VAB anti-tank variant with a HOT ATGM launcher (4 missiles) and an ammunition load of 8 additional missiles

French Army AMX-10 RCR

Regimental Badge of the First Regiment spahi

Every year, his servicemen parade around Paris on Bastille Day.

First spahi regiment at Bastille Day parade, July 14, 2012

The first spahi regiment in 1991 was part of the 6th light armored division, which was part of the international forces during the Persian war in Iraq.

The next article will tell about the completely exotic parts of the French army - the brutal and merciless Moroccan gummers. After the "liberation" of the Monte Cassino region, the Italian anti-fascist partisans were forced to fight them, having forgotten about the Germans.

Italian partisans
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  1. +6
    April 16 2020 18: 35
    We had our own version of the appearance of breeches. To each pocket a bottle, and not noticeable.
    1. +1
      April 16 2020 19: 00
      Quote: chenia
      To each pocket a bottle, and not noticeable.
      Illogical version!
      The French never had to hide bubbles in their legs. Probably cheese stuck. )))
      1. +3
        April 16 2020 19: 08
        Quote: Vladimir_2U
        Illogical version!
        The French have never had bubbles in their legs to hide their needs

        More thoroughly and attentively.

        Quote: chenia
        And try not to agree. laughing
        1. +1
          April 16 2020 19: 09
          Quote: chenia
          More thoroughly and attentively.
          Weli, weli.
    2. Cat
      April 17 2020 00: 06
      And in the post-war CA breeches were the subject of military show-off. Measured by the width of the breeches, almost the same as the diameter of the "airfields"
      1. 0
        April 17 2020 08: 00
        Yes, then even a cap spring was inserted to increase the "windage".
  2. 0
    April 16 2020 18: 59
    The shmat of trophy fat is not in another pocket, you can’t do without a snack, although of course you can sniff your sleeve.
  3. +4
    April 16 2020 19: 15
    Informative articles about exotic divisions. It remains to see articles on the Wild divisions in the Russian army.
    1. +3
      April 17 2020 10: 06
      I only know the "Caucasian" wild division "of V.K. Mikhail Alexandrovich
      1. 0
        April 17 2020 19: 42
        I agree, there was only one "wild" division, but there were enough national formations in the Russian, Russian and Soviet, red army:
  4. +5
    April 16 2020 21: 26
    The next article will tell about the completely exotic parts of the French army - the brutal and merciless Moroccan gummers.
    Thanks to the author for interesting and informative materials! You discover a lot for yourself! As one of my colleagues wrote, it would be interesting to read about our unusual units! Thanks again and good materials to you! hi
  5. Cat
    April 17 2020 00: 14
    And then the general made a truly Solomon’s decision - to make a “synthetic version”: cut on top, like a breeches, and bottom - like a leggings.

    Yeah, commanding the regiment, did he still sew a little at home?
    1. +3
      April 17 2020 03: 22
      You confuse it with Solomon Moiseevich Golifman :)
  6. 0
    April 17 2020 11: 20
    In the breeches Nagan very quietly disappears ....
  7. +1
    April 17 2020 11: 23
    In the Foreign Legion, it’s not volunteers who serve, but volunteers, for which they receive a very modest salary ...
  8. +3
    April 17 2020 12: 30
    "after the conclusion of the Compiegne Armistice, one of the seances at Foth captured General Mackensen" an interesting armistice that captured
    1. VLR
      April 17 2020 12: 43
      Yes, by the way, I was also surprised. And after all, you cannot call it amateur performance - the French authorities did not release, apologizing, and they kept him in captivity for almost a year. Ludendorff also fled to Sweden after the "truce" - he did not wait until some Zouaves "were taken prisoner."
      1. +2
        April 17 2020 13: 37
        Either the French Ministry of War lost control of the discipline that any company commander sent a command order to an interesting place or the frogmen composed rules for themselves
        As the ancients said: "there is no third way"
  9. 0
    April 17 2020 15: 31
    The next article will tell about the completely exotic parts of the French army - the brutal and merciless Moroccan gummers. After the "liberation" of the Monte Cassino region, the Italian anti-fascist partisans were forced to fight them, having forgotten about the Germans.

    Now the "liberated" themselves asked to be released from the "liberators"! Nothing in the world changes, not even the methods. well, at least something is stable in this world
  10. +2
    April 17 2020 17: 59
    Thank you, Valery! I read the article yesterday, was surprised by the "starting" illustration, and was once again upset by the sloppiness of the moderators.
    1. VLR
      April 17 2020 18: 43
      This is the editor's choice - both the section ("Armament") and an illustration for the "cover". I assumed another picture - where two spag on horseback with drawn swords. The next article about gumiers, by the way, also seems to be published in the "Armament" section - both articles bear the "Army of the World" stamp.
      And then - "Foreign Legion", very interesting articles came out, in my opinion.
      1. +2
        April 17 2020 19: 06
        This is not an "editorial choice", it is "inconsistency with the position held" !!! For the editor-in-chief, it makes sense to screw up your staff members before calling for help! For, such jambs have not been observed for a long time. Relax, slobs!
        1. VLR
          April 17 2020 19: 52
          Perhaps they wanted to emphasize the connection between history and modernity. Or - to attract attention, playing in contrast: spagi - something, it seems, is archaic, and suddenly - a modern combat vehicle.
          1. +2
            April 17 2020 19: 57
            Valery! The first time I see that the title picture was not taken from copyright illustrations! Complete nonsense!
            1. VLR
              April 17 2020 20: 13
              No, Anton, this is my illustration - at the end of the article there are two photographs of the machines that are in service with the last regiment of spags: this and "Mephisto".
              1. +2
                April 17 2020 20: 22
                In any case, the placement of your article in this section is a jamb of the administration, indicating disrespect for both the authors and the audience of the resource.
          2. +3
            April 17 2020 20: 03
            To blame. There is such an illustration, but the effectiveness of the moderators from this does not get better.
        2. +3
          April 17 2020 20: 51
          My poet, here you are!
          1. +1
            April 17 2020 21: 00
            Alas, the Beautiful Stranger, I don’t pay the staff of the resource, but Vadim Smirnov. And from time to time it seems that it pays in vain. And I, however, like all the other ordinary members of the forum, are only a feed base, for sloths.
            1. +2
              April 17 2020 21: 25
              And you are right: sometimes you feel sick from the dullness of the authors.
              Or Vadim is an altruist and takes care of all the authors or does not delve into matters
          2. +1
            April 17 2020 21: 28
            Quote: Astra wild
            My poet, here you are!

            What !!!!! Interesting offer !!!! laughing good laughing
            * My poet * -Your answer? bully
            1. +1
              April 18 2020 16: 19
              And what do you personally think about the stupidity of individual authors. Why are they kept on the site?
              1. +2
                April 18 2020 16: 23
                Faith! What are you right about? What kind of stupidity * are you talking about? For me, the criterion is one- * interesting, informative, new knowledge *, or * no *. By concept * stupidity * I try not to be scattered. And the question is who do you call * stupid *? authors of articles or commentators? Be more tolerant, do not like the material, pass by. hi
      2. +4
        April 17 2020 21: 13
        Valery, have you already been told that there are only 2 outstanding authors on the site? And I repeat: I have you and V. O favorite authors. I swallow your work like cakes, but I love sweets
        1. VLR
          April 17 2020 21: 44
          Thanks a lot, try to match smile