Soldiers of the Second Parachute Regiment of the Foreign Legion
Currently, the units of the Foreign Legion are considered to be one of the few combat formations of the French army and NATO that can carry out their tasks without drones, gadgets and powerful air support: as in the good old days - with arms and legs. And therefore, these relatively small and not very saturated with modern military equipment, units that are not very important in large military operations, are widely used where you need to deliver a quick point strike, especially when it comes to terrain with difficult terrain, where it is difficult to use heavy military equipment . Some even say that the Foreign Legion is now the largest, most powerful and most effective private military company held by the French presidents. And I must say that the French presidents are happy to use this unique military unit.
The list of wars and military operations in which the units of the Foreign Legion took part is more than impressive. Here are some of them.
The wars in Algeria (from 1831 to 1882) and in Spain (1835-1839).
Crimean War of 1853-1856
Wars in Italy (1859) and in Mexico (1863-1867).
The fighting in South Oran (1882-1907), Vietnam (1883-1910), Taiwan (1885), Dahomey (1892-1894), Sudan (1893-1894), Madagascar (1895- 1901).
In the twentieth century, in addition to two world wars, there were also battles in Morocco (1907-1914 and 1920-1935), the Middle East (1914-1918), Syria (1925-1927) and Vietnam (1914-1940) .
Then there was the First Indochina War (1945-1954), the suppression of the uprising in Madagascar (1947-1950), the fighting in Tunisia (1952-1954), in Morocco (1953-1956), the Algerian War (1954-1961) .
The Bonite combat operation in Zaire (Congo) in 1978 was very successful. Many of the above have already been described in previous articles in the series. But there was still a war in the Persian Gulf (1991), operations in Lebanon (1982-1983), Bosnia (1992-1996), Kosovo (1999), Mali (2014).
It is estimated that since 1960, France has carried out more than 40 military operations abroad, and very many (if not all) of the legion's military personnel received “baptism of fire” in them.
Geography of the main African operations of France after 1960
Especially often the legionnaires fought under Francois Mitterrand. This president, his political opponent, former Minister of National Defense Pierre Messmer, even politically incorrectly called "a maniac of military gestures in Africa." Mitterrand twice sent troops to Chad and Zaire (Congo), three times to Rwanda, once to Gabon, and besides, French troops participated in the “UN humanitarian intervention” in Somalia (1992-1995).
And in 1995, French Foreign Minister Jacques Godfrein declared that his government "would intervene every time a legitimately elected democratic power is overthrown as a result of a coup d'etat and if there is a military cooperation agreement."
In Paris, you can now see the monument to the military personnel who died outside France, starting in 1963 (that is, in the military operations of the post-colonial period):
Monument to those killed in external operations since 1963, Paris
In one of these figures (in a traditional cap) it is easy to recognize a legionnaire.
In this article we will talk about the legionnaire missions in the second half of the XX century and at the beginning of the XXI century.
Operation in Gabon, 1964
On the night of February 18, 1964, Gabon rebels from the military and gendarmes captured the presidential palace in Libreville, arresting President Leon Mb and President of the National Assembly Louis Bigmann. Meanwhile, France received uranium, magnesium, and iron from Gabon, while French firms mined oil. Fearing that rivals would come to the country under the new government, de Gaulle said that "non-interference would seduce military groups in other African countries to such violent changes of power" and ordered "restoring order" in the former colony. On the same day, 50 paratroopers captured Libreville International Airport, which was soon landed by planes that delivered 600 soldiers from Senegal and Congo. The country's capital, the rebels, was surrendered without resistance. The military base in the city of Lambarene, where they retreated, was attacked from the air on the morning of February 19 and was fired from with mortars for two and a half hours, after which its defenders surrendered. On February 20, the liberated President MBA returned to the capital and took up his duties.
During this operation, one French paratrooper was killed and four of them were injured. The losses of the rebels amounted to 18 people killed, more than 40 wounded, 150 rebels were captured.
Operation Bonite (Leopard)
In 1978, the French Foreign Legion conducted two operations in Africa.
During the first, known as Tacaud (Cod), the uprising of the Islamic Front for the National Liberation of Chad was crushed and the oil fields were taken under control. In this country, units of the legion remained until May 1980.
But “Tacaud” remained in the shadow of another famous operation - “Bonite” (translation options: “mackerel”, “tuna”), better known under the spectacular name “Leopard” - that is how it was called in Congo. IN history she entered as one of the most successful military landing operations of the late twentieth century.
On May 13, 1978, about 7 thousand Katanga tigers, fighters of the National Congo Liberation Front (FNLC, instructors from the German Democratic Republic and Cuba participated in the training of these fighters, supported by one and a half thousand rebels of the Shaaba province of Shaba (Katanga until 1972), attacked her the capital is the city of Kolwezi.
Congo Democratic Republic on the map of Africa, Katanga province and Kolwezi city on the map of the country
The head of the FNLC at that time was General Nathaniel Mbumbo - the same one who, for three months, together with Jean Schramm defended the city of Bukava in 1967. This was described in the article. "Soldiers of Fortune" and "Wild Geese".
Lieutenant General Nathaniel Mbumba in front of the Katanga Tigers, 1978
At that time, about 2 specialists from France and Belgium worked at Kolwezi enterprises, many of whom came here with their families. In total, up to three thousand people were held hostage by the rebels.
On May 14, the president (often called the dictator) of Zaire (the DRC was called from 1971 to 1997), Sese Seko Mobutu appealed to the governments of these countries for help. The Belgians were only ready for the operation to evacuate the white population of the captured city, and therefore the French began to plan their own operation, which involved the decision of the military personnel of the second parachute regiment of the Foreign Legion, which was located in the barracks of the city of Calvi - Corsica island.
Badge of the 4th battalion of the second parachute regiment of the French Foreign Legion. For some reason, paratroopers call him a "virgin." This symbol appeared at the regiment in Cambodia in 1949. The dragon is not European, but Indochinese
By order of President Giscard d'Estaing, the commander of this regiment, Philippe Erulen, formed a landing group of 650 people, which flew to Kinshasa on May 18 on five planes (four DC-8 and one Boeing-707). The equipment attached to them was delivered to Zaire later on with the US-provided S-141 and S-5 transport aircraft.
2e REP legionnaires from 3rd Company are preparing for jumping over Kolwezi, May 1978
Second Parachute Regiment of the Legion in Kolwezi
On the same day, a Belgian parachute regiment (para-commando regiment) arrived in Kinshasa.
Machine gunner of the 1st battalion of Belgian paratroopers. Illustration from the book of S. Balenko “World Special Forces Encyclopedia. Elite divisions of 100 countries
On May 19, 450 French legionnaires were brought to Kolwezi by five airplanes of Zaire’s armed forces and parachuted from a height of 450 meters, with Colonel Erulen being the first to jump.
The commander of the second parachute regiment of the Foreign Legion Philip Erulen
One of the corporals crashed during the fall, 6 people were injured by rebel fire. The first company of legionnaires was freed by the Lyceum "Jean XXIII", the second - the hospital "Zhekamin", the third - went to the hotel "Impala", which turned out to be empty, and then joined the battle at the technical school, police station and the Church of Our Lady of the World. By the end of this day, the legionnaires already controlled the entire old city of Kolwezi. On the morning of May 20, paratroopers of the 2nd wave - another 200 people, the fourth company, which began to operate in the New Town, were landed on the eastern outskirts of Kolwez.
On the same day, the Belgians began their operation, it was called "Red Beans". At the entrance to the city they were shot at by the legionnaires, but the situation quickly cleared up and no one was hurt. Belgian paratroopers, in accordance with their plan, began to evacuate the Europeans found, and the French continued to "clean up" the city. By the evening of May 21, the evacuation of Europeans from Kolwezi was completed, but the French remained in this area until May 27, displacing the rebels from the surrounding settlements: Maniki, Luilu, Kamoto and Kapata.
Paratroopers of the second regiment of the Foreign Legion during Operation Leopard
After the victory. Legionnaires of the second parachute regiment at the parade in Zaire, June 1978
They returned to their homeland on June 7-8, 1978. The Belgians were in Kolwezi for about a month, performing mainly security and police functions.
Belgian paratroopers and legionnaires of the Second Parachute Regiment, Kolwezi, 1978
The results of the operation carried out by paratroopers of the legion can be considered brilliant. 250 rebels were destroyed, 160 were captured. They managed to capture about 1000 small arms. weapons, 4 artillery pieces, 15 mortars, 21 grenade launchers, 10 heavy machine guns and 38 light machine guns, destroy 2 enemy armored personnel carriers and several cars.
The losses of the legionnaires amounted to 5 people killed and 15 wounded (according to other sources, 25 were wounded).
Legionnaires who died in Kolwezi
One paratrooper was killed in a Belgian regiment.
Losses among the Europeans who were held hostage amounted to 170 people, more than two thousand were saved and evacuated.
In September 1978, Erulen became commander of the Legion of Honor, and a year later died while jogging - from myocardial infarction at the age of 47.
In 1980, the film "The Legion Landed at the Colvesi" was shot about these events in France, the script of which was based on the book of the same name by former officer of the Foreign Legion Pierre Sergeant.
Shot from the film "The Legion Landed in Kolwezi"
Pierre Serjan is an active member of the French Resistance during World War II, the last head of the French branch of OAS. He also wrote a book telling about the history of the first parachute regiment of the legion: “Je ne regrette rien”
If you don’t know why Serge’s book is called the same as Edith Piaf’s famous song (or forgot about it), read the article "The Time of Skydivers" and "Je ne regrette rien".
In 1983-1984 French troops again took part in hostilities in the Republic of Chad, where a new round of civil war began in October 1982. Libyan-backed transitional government leader, Weddey, confronted Secretary of Defense Hissken Habré. On August 9, 1983, François Mitterrand decided to help Habré, combat formations from the Central African Republic were transferred to Chad, the number of French troops was soon increased to 3500.
A Foreign Legion battalion in Chad, Africa, 1983
Those who did not want to enter into direct confrontation between Gaddafi and Mitterrand stopped their troops at 15 parallels and finally agreed on the simultaneous withdrawal of their troops from Chad. By November 1984, the French had left this country. True, later it turned out that 3 Libyans remained in it, which, on the one hand, helped to increase the authority of the leader of the Jamahiriya, and on the other, provoked accusations of Mitterrand in collusion with Gaddafi.
Twice legionaries were part of the international peacekeeping forces in Lebanon: in 1982-1983. and in 2006.
2e REP legionnaires during Operation Epaulard in Lebanon, 1982
1er REG legionnaires (as part of UN forces) with a VAB during Operation Baliste in Lebanon, 2006
And in 1990 they were sent to Rwanda.
Operations Noroît and Turquoise
On October 1, 1990, units of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (consisting mainly of Tutsi refugee men expelled from the country in the 80s by the Hutu tribe) launched an offensive supported by the Ugandan army. They were opposed by the regular troops of Rwanda and the soldiers of the Special Presidential Division of the Zaire dictator Mobutu, French combat helicopters carried out air support. Then, units of the 2nd Parachute Regiment of the Foreign Legion, the 3rd Parachute Regiment of the Marine Corps, the 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment and two companies of the 8th Regiment of the Marine Corps were transferred from the Central African Republic to Rwanda. On October 7, with their help, the rebels were pushed into the forests of Akagera National Park, but they could not achieve complete victory. A shaky, often discontinued truce was established. Finally, on August 4, 1993, an agreement was signed under which several Tutsi representatives were included in the Rwandan government, and the French withdrew their troops.
On April 6, 1994, when landing at the airport in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, a plane was shot down, in which were the President of Rwanda, Habyariman, and the interim president of Burundi Ntaryamir. After that, a large-scale massacre of representatives of the Tutsi tribe began: about 750 thousand people died. The Tutsi tried to answer, but the forces were not equal, and from the Hutu tribe they managed to kill only 50 thousand people. In general, it was really scary, the massacres continued from April 6 to July 18, 1994, many Tutsi refugees surged into neighboring Uganda.
Under these conditions, the troops of the Rwandan patriotic front of the Tutsi resumed hostilities. In fierce battles, they practically defeated the Hutu regular army and on July 4 entered Kigali: now to the south-west of the country, and from there to Zaire and Tanzania, about two million of their opponents fled.
On June 22, UN-mandated Frenchmen launched Operation Turquoise (Turquoise), which was attended by soldiers of the 13th Half Brigade, 2nd Infantry and 6th Engineering Regiments of the Foreign Legion, as well as artillery units of the 35th Parachute Artillery Regiment and 11 th artillery regiment of the marine corps, some other units. They took control of the southwestern regions of Rwanda (a fifth of the country), where Hutu refugees flocked, and remained there until August 25.
French soldiers in Rwanda, 1994
The events in Rwanda have seriously undermined the international authority of France and especially its position in Africa. The world media openly accused the French leadership (and Mitterrand personally) of supporting one of the belligerents, supplying the Hutus with weapons, saving their troops from complete defeat, as a result of which they continued to sorties until 1998. The French were also accused of the fact that during the Turquoise operation, mass killings of the Tutsi continued in their area of responsibility, while not one of the organizers of this genocide or even any of the ordinary participants in the pogroms was detained. Later, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and President Nicolas Sarkozy partially acknowledged these allegations, denying the malicious intent of their predecessors and describing their activities as a “political mistake”.
As a result, the new president of France, Jacques Chirac, ordered the ministries of foreign affairs and defense to develop a new strategy, the meaning of which was to avoid being drawn into civil unrest and ethnic strife in other countries, and peacekeeping operations were now recommended only in conjunction with the African Union and the UN.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Tutsi tribe also lived in Zaire, in which the local dictator Mobutu in 1996 decided to incite the Hutu refugees, sending government troops to help them. But the Tutsis did not wait for a repeat of the Rwandan events, and, united in the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (led by Laurent-Desire Kabila), they began fighting. Of course, no democracy (and no Marxism) in Africa has ever smelled (and doesn’t smell now), but under such ritual “mantras” it is more convenient to knock out and “master” foreign grants.
Mobutu remembered the good old days, Mike Hoar, Roger Folk and Bob Denard (which were described in the article “Soldiers of Fortune” and “Wild Geese”), and ordered the “Legion Blanche” in Europe. He was headed by Christian Tavernier, an old and experienced mercenary who fought in the Congo back in the 60s. Under his command were three hundred people, including Croats and Serbs, who had recently fought among themselves in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. But these soldiers were too few, and neighboring Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda supported the Alliance. As a result, in May 1997, Mobutu was forced to flee the country.
You are deeply mistaken if you think that this story had a happy ending: the so-called Great African War began, in which 20 tribes from nine states of Africa clashed among themselves. Its result was the death of about 5 million people. Kabila, who declared himself a follower of Mao Zedong, thanked the Tutsis for their help and asked them to leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), quarreling with the Rwandans. His allies, he now saw Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
On August 2, 1998, the 10th and 12th Infantry Brigades (the best in the army) rebelled against him, and the Tutsi military formations did not want to disarm: instead, they created the Congolese Union for Democracy and began military operations. At the beginning of next year, this association split into two parts, one of which was controlled by Rwanda (the center is in the city of Goma), the other by Uganda (Kisangani). And in the north appeared the Congo Liberation Movement, whose leadership also collaborated with the Ugandans.
Kabila turned for help to Angola, who threw her into battle on August 23 tank troops, as well as Su-25 purchased in Ukraine. The rebels left for the territory controlled by the UNITA group. And then Zimbabwe and Chad pulled themselves together (apparently, these states had few concerns, all problems were resolved long ago). It was at this time that the notorious Victor Bout began to work here, who, using his available transport aircraft, began to help Rwanda by transferring weapons and military contingents to the Congo.
At the end of 1999, the situation was as follows: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Namibia, Chad and Zimbabwe against Rwanda and Uganda, which, however, soon interlocked without dividing the diamond mines of Kisagani.
Squad of Congolese National Police prepares to speak out against Rwandan partisans
In the fall of 2000, the army of Kabila and the troops of Zimbabwe conquered Katanga and many cities, after which the war moved from the “acute phase” to the “chronic” one.
In December 2000, UN observers were stationed along the front line in Congo.
But on July 16, 2001, Kabila was allegedly killed by Deputy Defense Minister Kayamba, the son of Kabila Jafar “ascended the throne”, and in 2003, a war broke out between the Hema tribes (which was supported by the Ugandans) and Lendu. Then France entered into the matter, which promised to bomb the positions of both of them. As a result, the Congo government and the rebels signed a peace treaty, but the Ituri tribe now declared war on the UN mission forces, and in June 2004 they rebelled the Tutsi, whose leader, Colonel Laurent Nkunda, founded the National Congress to Protect the Tutsi Peoples.
Colonel Laurent Nkunda
They fought until January 2009, when the combined forces of the government of the Congo and the United Nations in a fierce battle (using tanks, helicopters and multiple launch rocket systems) defeated the troops of Nkunda, who fled to Rwanda and was arrested there.
During these events, about 4 million people died, 32 million became refugees.
In April 2012, an uprising of the March 23 Movement (M-23) group, consisting of representatives of the Tutsi tribe (named after the 2009 peace talks), began in eastern Congo. Rwanda and Uganda again spoke on its side. In the summer, UN forces joined in to suppress this uprising, which did not stop the rebels from capturing Goma on November 20. The war continued for another year, several tens of thousands more died.
Fighters of the March 23 Movement in the city of Goma they have seized. November 20, 2012
Congo government forces enter the village to protect it from M 23 fighters
Congolese children on a wrecked tank, Movement M 23, north of the city of Goma, 2013
The war in Congo continues and at present, no one pays special attention to peacekeepers of different nationalities.
The funeral of seven UN peacekeepers killed in November 2018
Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion patrol the village market in Congo. year 2013
In the next article, we will continue the story of the missions and combat operations of the French Foreign Legion.