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
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."
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 история 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, cigarette card, 1895
Looking ahead a bit, let's say that in 1928 the Senegalese spahi became horse gendarmes.
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.
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.
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
Every year, his servicemen parade around Paris on Bastille Day.
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.