Military Review

Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian Special Forces

History Wars XIX-XX centuries. knows many examples of use in the fighting of the colonial troops. Virtually every European power that possessed its own colonies considered it their duty to maintain special military units, usually recruited from among the representatives of the peoples of the conquered countries, and in some cases from European settlers, who were trusted more than the representatives of the indigenous peoples. Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium — each of these European states had its own colonial troops. For the most part they served in the colonies, guarding the borders, maintaining order in the conquered territories and fighting the rebels. But those states that claimed the status not only of colonial metropolises, but also of world-wide powers, existed in the colonies numerous regiments and even divisions that were used on European fronts.

The most successful in this regard, the United Kingdom and France. The British Gurkas and Sikhs, the French Senegalese shooters and the Zouaves are known even to those who have never been interested in the history of the colonial troops and the military-political presence of the European powers in Asia or Africa. This article focuses on the French Zouawes. Why is it necessary to use the adjective “French” - because the military units that served the Ottoman Empire, the United States of America, the Papal State, as well as those who participated in the Polish Uprising (“death of the nation”) also wore this name?

Dervishes, Kabyles and Pirates

The history of the origin of the French Zouav is inextricably linked with the colonial policy of France in North Africa, more precisely - in Algeria. Regarding the origin of the word "Zouav" (French "zouave"), there are two main versions. According to the first, this word is associated with the Berber Zwāwa, the name of one of the Kabil tribal groups. The Kabili are five million people of Berber origin, living in the mountainous Algerian region of Kabylia, and now, in large numbers, in France itself (up to 700 thousand cabs). Like other Berber peoples, before the Arab conquest of North Africa, the Kabili were the main population here, and after the creation of the Arab Caliphate they lost their positions. Much of the Berbers mixed with the Arabs and formed the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Maghreb - Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians. However, part of the Berbers, mostly living in the mountainous areas, managed to preserve their own culture, language and ethnic identity, although it was Islamized. Berbers have always been considered warlike tribes - from the time of the Punic Wars. Of course, the most famous "warriors of the desert" - Tuareg, but the mountain Berbers of Morocco and Algeria can also boast of belligerence and combat skills. In Morocco, it was from the Reef Berbers that the Spaniards recruited their Gümiers in the twentieth century, and in Algeria, the French first filled up with Zouava units in Kabila, and later transferred the Berbers to Algerian Tiralier units.

According to another point of view, Zwāwa is nothing more than “dependency”, that is, a community of militant dervishes, members of the Sufi order. Sufism (the mystical trend in Islam) is widely spread in North and West Africa. The followers of the Sufi sheikhs, the dervishes, form a “dependency” - an analogue of the monastic fraternity, which can reach quite impressive numbers. In the Middle Ages, many Turkish janissaries and local Arab and Kabyle mercenaries belonged to Sufi dependencies. On the other hand, mercenaries were recruited from among young and combat-ready dervishes. The Zaviye Citadel was a mountain Kabilia, where a large number of “Zavis” were based, some of whom were engaged in professional military mercenarism and entered the service of the Algerian dey.

Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian Special Forces
- the last Algerian dei Hussein Pasha (1773-1838)

Acts was called the leader of the Turkish janissary army stationed in Algeria and, still in 1600, who obtained the right to choose a commander from the Ottoman Empire. Originally, dei shared power over Algeria with Turkish Pasha, but in 1711, Pasha was sent to Turkey and Algeria turned into a de facto independent state. The Janissary autonomy on the North African coast was a rather original phenomenon of the history of the Middle Ages and the New Age. It can be said that this state lived not so much at the expense of its own economy, but at the expense of robbery — above all, piracy, as well as the real racketeering itself. It should be noted here that since the Middle Ages, the Algerian coast has become the abode of pirates who terrorized the entire Mediterranean. In addition to attacks on European merchant ships, Algerian pirates periodically carried out raids on the southern coast of Spain and Italy - robbed villages and small towns, seized people for the purpose of buying or selling in slave markets. On the other hand, many European companies and even small states preferred to pay the Algerian act a regular tribute to protect their merchant ships from attacks by pirates.

For several centuries, European powers tried to solve the problem of North African piracy by undertaking the so-called "Algerian expeditions" - punitive raids on the Algerian coast. For several centuries, almost all Western states — Spain, Genoa, France, Portugal, the Kingdom of Naples, the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain and even the United States of America — were noted in “Algerian expeditions”. Almost immediately after independence, the United States declared war on the Algerian dey and launched a raid on the Algerian coast in 1815, demanding the release of all American citizens who were in Algerian captivity. In 1816, the city of Algeria was destroyed by British and Dutch naval artillery. But Algerians did not intend to abandon the profitable business, which served as one of the main income items for them. Therefore, once punitive flotilla European states sailed from the North African coast, Algerians took on the old. The end of piracy was only the beginning of French colonization.

Conquest of Algeria

The French conquest of Algeria began with a minor incident, used as a great excuse for colonial expansion. In 1827, the Algerian dei Hussein struck the fan of a French diplomat with a fan. In 1830, French troops swiftly seized the city of Algeria and continued their expansion into other parts of the country. It should be noted that the deev state’s weakness immediately manifested itself - most of the territories were subdued to the French, with the exception of Constantine and Cabille. The most serious resistance to the French was the tribes of Western Algeria, led by emir Abd al-Qadir (1808-1883), under whose leadership the anti-colonial struggle lasted 15 years - from 1832 to 1847.

It was with this Arab-Berber emir that the French had to wage an extremely difficult and exhausting war, accompanied by numerous manifestations of the cruelty of the French troops against local tribes. After Abd al-Kadir surrendered to captivity and spent the next nearly forty years in the status of an honorary prisoner, noting speeches in defense of the persecuted Christians in Syria, the Algerian resistance was actually suppressed, although some regions of the country remained “hot spots” until the end of the colonial era already in the middle of the twentieth century.

It is worth noting that the colonization of Algeria entailed not only the cessation of Mediterranean piracy, but also helped strengthen the position of France in North Africa. After all, a large territory of Algeria, especially its coastal part, was a developed agricultural region and possessed economic attractiveness, as well as the potential to solve social problems of the French state - a significant number of French settlers rushed to Algeria. Another acquisition of France was the possibility of using the potential of a relatively large Algerian population as a labor and military force.

Zuavy - from Kabili mercenaries to French settlers

After 5 in July 1830 dei Hussein surrendered to French troops who had landed in Algeria under the command of General Count Burmon, the latter had the idea to accept the French service of mercenaries - the Zouavs, who had previously been in the service of dey. 15 August 1830 can be considered the day of reference for the history of the French Zouaves - on this day the first 500 people were accepted into the French service. These were Zwāwa, who served deyu, but after conquest, like many mercenary units in other countries of the East, went over to the side of the strongest. In the autumn of 1830, two battalions of Zouavas, a total of 700 troops, were formed, and in 1831, two equestrian squadrons of Zouavs, later seconded to the Senegalese riflemen, were also formed. The infantry units of the Zouavs were originally planned as light infantry, that is, an analogue of modern paratroopers, indispensable where the confrontation with the enemy has to be literally face-to-face. It is not by chance that the Zouavs are called an analogue of the French special forces - they were always distinguished by high courage and were ready to perform any task, albeit at the cost of their own lives.

- General Louis Auguste Victor de Gene de Burmont (1773-1846), conqueror of Algeria

From the first days of its existence, the military units of the Zouaves took an active part in the French colonization of Algeria. The warriors who had served before the Algerian dey no less zealously set about conquering their fellow tribesmen to the French crown. In the autumn of 1830 and in the beginning of winter of 1831, the Zouaves participated in the war against the Titian bey, which initially subordinated to the French, but then rebelled against the colonialists.

The beginning of the combat route of the Zouavs coincided with certain difficulties in recruiting units. Initially it was supposed to recruit Zouavas in a mixed way - that is, to hire Algerians and French from the metropolis. Obviously, the French command believed that the presence of the French in the units of the Zouavs would make them more reliable and efficient. However, this did not take into account the climatic features of Algeria, which are difficult to transfer by many recruits from the metropolis, as well as the religious differences of Muslims - Algerians and Christians - French. Those who had no previous experience of joint service with the Gentiles, and those and others quite difficult to communicate with each other in mixed units. Moreover, French generals doubted the reliability of troop units recruited from Muslims and still hoped for the possibility of recruiting battalions stationed in North Africa by French settlers from the metropolis.

In 1833, it was decided to dissolve the two battalions of Zouaves created three years earlier and create one battalion of mixed personnel, staffing it by recruiting French people who had moved to Algeria for permanent residence. This practice turned out to be more successful and in 1835 a second was created, and in 1837 a third battalion of Zouaves was created. In 1841, in connection with the reorganization of the French army, the Zouaves were no longer recruited on the basis of a mixed principle and began to be staffed exclusively by the French — first of all, by immigrants living in Algeria, as well as volunteers from the metropolis. The French of the Catholic faith formed the basis of the Zouav corps for almost a century, replacing the original Muslim composition of the units. The representatives of the indigenous peoples of Algeria — the Arabs and the Berbers — as has already been said, transferred to the divisions of the Algerian riflemen, tirallors, and also to the cavalry detachments, the spagas who performed gendarme functions.

In the period described, the French army was recruited by drawing lots of draftees, in which all young people who had reached 20 years participated. The service lasted seven years, but there was an alternative - to volunteer and serve two years. However, it was possible to avoid the call - to nominate a “deputy” in his place — that is, a person who wants to fulfill his civic duty for a certain sum of money instead of a wealthy guy who pays for the call. As a rule, representatives of marginal groups of the population, former soldiers who did not find civilian jobs after demobilization, and even former felons went to the “deputies”.

According to contemporaries, among the “Zouavs” practically all the rank and file and corporals were “deputies”, because rich settlers preferred to put in their place landless and unemployed settlers who moved to North Africa in search of a better lot. Naturally, the reckless courage of such a contingent often coexisted with a low level of discipline. The Zouawes were distinguished by great cruelty, they could have been looting, they were opposing the civilian population, not to mention alcohol abuse. In peacetime, when the Zouavs had nothing to do, they indulged in drunkenness and debauchery, which was almost impossible to stop. Yes, and the military command preferred to turn a blind eye to these qualities of the Zouaves, knowing full well which contingent could be recruited from among the “deputies” and, most importantly, being satisfied with the behavior of the Zouaves on the battlefield. After all, the main thing in Zouave was that he fought well and terrified the enemy.

The presence of so-called "Vivandye" was an amazing phenomenon in the Zouava divisions. So called the women who were beaten to the units of the Zouaves and turned into full-fledged military comrades. As a rule, Vivandier were concubines of soldiers, corporals and sergeants, or simply regimental prostitutes, who, however, could take part in hostilities and even had a saber relied upon by their rules. weapons. Although, of course, the main purpose of Vivandier was to serve the Zouaves in several ways at once - in the culinary, sexual and sanitary. Prepare to eat, sleep with a soldier, and, if necessary, give him first aid by treating wounds - this, in principle, reduced the duties of the women of the Zouava units.

The first regiment of Zouavs was created, consisting of three battalions. It is noteworthy that in the units of the Zouavas, up to a quarter of the military personnel were Algerian Jews, whom the French considered more reliable than the Algerians of the Muslim faith. 13 February 1852, according to the decree of Louis Napoleon, the number of units of the Zouaves was increased to three regiments, with three battalions in each. The first regiment was stationed in Algeria, the second - in Oran, the third - in Constantine - that is, in the largest urban centers of the Algerian coast.

Zuavov was also distinguished by a special form of uniforms that retained an oriental flavor. The appearance of the Zouav resembled a Turkish janissary, which, by the way, was fully justified, since the Zouaves began with the janissaries and mercenaries from "depend", who were in the service of the Algerian dey. Zuav was dressed in a short dark-blue woolen jacket embroidered with red woolen braid, a five-button vest sewn of cloth and cotton, red short bloomers, boots and leggings (the last were made up of colored buttons for beauty). The head of Zuawa was crowned with a red fez with a brush - a reminder of the time when the units of the same name served in Ottoman Turkey and in the Algerian dey. A fez was worn with a crease on the left or right side, and could have a green turban wrapped around it — another evidence of Eastern influence on the Zuaw uniform. It is significant that the Zouaves also wore a special brass crescent and star icon. Although by the time of the beginning of their military way outside Algeria, the Zouawes had long been recruited from among the French settlers who professed Catholicism, as well as from Algerian Jews, the crescent and star were preserved as a tribute to the historical tradition and the memory of the first Zuans, the Kabils who professed Islam. Also an important distinguishing feature of the appearance of many Zouavs was the wearing of an encrusted beard. Although, of course, the beardedness or shavenness was a personal matter of each particular Zuava, the command of the Zouav regiments did not cause serious obstacles to wearing a beard and many Zouavas overgrown over the years of service quite impressively. For some, the beard even became a kind of testimony to the length of service, since, ceasing to shave from the moment of recruitment to the regiment, the old Zuavas differed in much longer beards than their young colleagues.

Zuav's battletrack: from Algeria to China

The first foreign campaign in which the Algerian Zouawes took part was the Crimean War. The Zouaves were transferred to the Crimea to fight against the Russian troops as one of the most combat-ready and “freezed” units of the French army. In the battle of Alma, it was the courage of the Zouavs of the third regiment that allowed the Allies to prevail - by climbing up the cliffs, the Zouaves were able to capture the positions of the Russian army. In honor of the victory at Alma was built a bridge over the Seine River in Paris. In addition to the battle of Alma, of the seven regiments that participated in the storming of Malakhov Kurgan, three were represented by the Algerian Zuavas. Marshal Saint-Arnaud, who commanded the French expeditionary corps in the Crimea and died of cholera during the fighting, was escorted to his last journey also by a company of Zouaves. The combat successes of the Algerian soldiers prompted the French Emperor Napoleon III to create an additional regiment of Zouaves as part of the Imperial Guard.

After the end of the Crimean War, the Zouav regiments took part in almost all the wars that France waged in the second half of the 19th - first half of the 20th centuries. In 1859, the Zouaves participated in hostilities against the Austrian forces in Italy, while simultaneously suppressing the uprisings in the territory of Kabylia in Algeria. In 1861-1864 French troops were sent by Napoleon III to Mexico - to help local conservatives who sought to return the country to monarchical rule. The Archduke Maximillian, brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, became a candidate for the Mexican throne. Combined Anglo-French-Spanish troops invaded Mexico to support Maximilian and his supporters. The French had the second and third regiments of the Zouaves. For participation in the battles in Mexico, the third regiment of Zouav received the order of the Legion of Honor. At about the same time, the Zouava regiments participated in the Franco-Moroccan clashes.

In July, 1870 began the Franco-Prussian war, in which the Zouav regiments also took an active part. In addition to the three field regiments of the Zouavas, the regiment of the Zouavs of the Imperial Guard also participated in the war. Despite the fact that he showed himself perfectly in the fighting, after the proclamation of the republic the imperial guard, including the regiment of the Zouav, was disbanded. However, four regiments of the Zouavas were restored in 1872 and participated in anti-insurgency operations in Algeria and Tunisia in 1880 and 1890, as well as in the “pacify” operation of Morocco.

With the establishment of a republican government, the Zouaves were no longer recruited from among volunteers and began to be recruited from conscripts - young French settlers in Algeria and Tunisia, who were called up for military service. Nevertheless, in some Zouavsk regiments, a sufficient number of volunteers remained, who continued to serve and contributed to strengthening the morale and improving the combat readiness of the units.

In 1907-1912 units of the Zouavs participated in the hostilities in Morocco, largely contributing to the signing of the Treaty of Thess in 1912 and the establishment of a French protectorate over Morocco, which meant the actual consolidation of French domination over almost all of North-West Africa. In Morocco, eight Zuav battalions were stationed. The fourth regiment of Zouav was stationed in Tunisia. In 1883, when France began a colonial expansion in Indochina, it was decided to use Zouawa units to conquer Vietnam. In 1885, a battalion of the third Zouava regiment was sent to Tonkin. In 1887, the Zouaves participate in the establishment of French rule in Annam. Two battalions of the Zouav participated in the fighting during the Franco-Chinese War in August 1884 - April 1885. Later, the Zouawes were introduced to China during the suppression of the Ihehetuan uprising in 1900-1901.

Zuavy in world wars

During the First World War, France mobilized large-scale units of the colonial troops for combat operations not only on the African continent and the Middle East, but also on the European front. The start of mobilization allowed the Zouav regiments to be advanced to the European front, while leaving units in North Africa. Linear battalions were created from the four existing Zouav regiments. The battalions of the 2 regiment, the French command transferred to the Levant. December 1914 and January 1915 On the territory of Algeria, several more Zouav regiments were formed — the 7 regiment, the 2-bis from the reserve battalions of the 2-second regiment, and the 3-bis from the reserve battalions of the 3-second regiment. In Morocco, the French formed the eighth and ninth regiments of the Zouav.

Considering the peculiarities of the conduct of hostilities in Europe, in 1915, the Zouave outfit was changed. Instead of the usual blue uniforms, the Zouavas were dressed in khaki uniforms and only a fez and a blue wool belt were left as distinctive signs of these legendary divisions. Zuav regiments were indispensable in attacking enemy positions, gaining the fame of real thugs and inducing fear even to the renowned German infantry.
It is indicative that several Zuav battalions were recruited from among the defectors from Zlzas and Lorraine, the German provinces bordering on France and inhabited largely by the French population and closely related to the French Alsatians. Also, the battalions of the Zouavas accepted individual prisoners of war as volunteers who wished to continue serving in the French army — mainly the same Alsatians who were drafted into the German armed forces and surrendered.

After the end of the First World War, the demobilization of marching regiments created for participation in hostilities began. By 1920, only six Zouava regiments remained in the French armed forces. In 1920-1927 the second Zuav regiment participated in the Moroccan war, when France helped Spain overcome the resistance of the Republic of Rifa and defeat the rebels of Abd al-Krim. In accordance with the law 13 adopted on July 1927, the Zouawes were assigned to the permanent armed forces defending the colonial territories and the French departments of Algeria (the cities of Algeria, Constantine and Oran), as well as Tunisia and Morocco.

The composition of the units of the Zouavs during the interwar period was as follows. The regiment of Zouav usually consisted 1580 military. Three regiments of the Zouavas — 8, 9, and 3 — were stationed in Algeria (8, in Oran, 9, in Algeria, 3, in Constantine). 4 th regiment Zouav was deployed in Tunisia. The 1 th regiment was stationed in Morocco in Casablanca, the 2 th in Morocco, on the border with the Spanish possessions.

France, as you know, France met quite ingloriously - the numerous and well-equipped French armed forces could not prevent the German occupation of the country and the accession of the collaborationist government of Vichy in Paris. Nevertheless, when mobilization was announced in September 1939, the number of Zuava regiments was significantly increased. So, in the 4th regiment, instead of the pre-war strength of 1850, about 3000 people served (81 officers, 342 non-commissioned officers and 2667 rank-and-file zouaves). As a result of mobilization, 15 regiments of zouaves were created. On the territory of North Africa, six regiments of zouaves were trained - in Casablanca, Oran, Constantine, Tunisia, Murmelon, Algeria. In France itself, 5 Zuava regiments were trained, four regiments were left in North Africa to ensure reserve and maintain order - the 21st regiment in Meknes, the 22nd in Oran and Tlemcen, the 23rd in Constantine, Setif and Philippville, 29- th - in Algeria. Zouave regiments thrown into battle during the resistance to German aggression in France, armed only with small arms, were destroyed by fire aviation and enemy artillery.

At the same time, units of the Zouavs that remained in North Africa, after the Allies landed in November 1942, participated in the Resistance Movement. The first, third, and fourth regiments of the Zouavs participated in the Tunisian campaign 1942-1943, nine battalions participated in hostilities in France and Germany in 1944-1945, three battalions were part of the 1 armored division.

After World War II, the last major operation of the Zouavas was to resist the attempts of the Algerian national liberation movement to declare the country's independence and separate Algeria from France. During this period, the Zouav regiments were staffed with conscripts from the metropolis and served as guard and counter insurgents, guarding infrastructure facilities until the end of the war of liberation.

In 1962, after the final completion of the French campaign in Algeria, the Zouaves ceased to exist. The end of the units of the Zouaves was inevitable, since they were completed by recruiting the European population of Algeria, which rapidly left the country after the end of French colonial rule. However, the traditions of the Zouavas before 2006 were preserved in the French military school commandos, whose cadets used flags and uniforms of the zouavs. France does not yet have plans to restore the most well-known and efficient African compound, although the Foreign Legion persists until the present.

The trace of the Zouavas in the military history of the mid XIX - mid XX centuries. hard not to notice. Moreover, despite the relative localization of the French Zouavas by the North African coast, units with the same name and similar uniforms and combat training methods and missions became widespread during the Civil War in the United States of America and the uprising in its defense from uniting Italy, and even in Brazil, where a battalion of slaves was created from among slave offenders, before whom the dilemma was set to go to serve as a zouav or be punished for their offenses (in all other countries, the Zouaves were recruited from among volunteers, and in the Papal State rather strict requirements were placed on candidates for the Zouaves). Even in the fashion of the modern Zouava noted - it is in their honor that the so-called special trousers are called.

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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 10 October 2014 10: 05
    Thank you ... about the participation of the zouaves in the Resistance Movement ... I did not know ...
    1. The comment was deleted.
    2. Duke
      Duke 10 October 2014 13: 09
      Clippings from the movie "Red Square" with the song "Philibert"
    3. Prager
      Prager 2 November 2014 15: 02
      I admit, I also did not know anything about the participation of the Zouaves in the DS. They distinguished themselves in the Crimean War, especially the cavalry.
  2. 2sila
    2sila 10 October 2014 10: 05
    Well I do not know.....
    Probably the part of the special forces should have only a number and a very long track record.
    But feathers, colored cowards, names like the tail of a dead dog, as it is not very, right now, even the "native" will not scare you.
    1. ilyaros
      10 October 2014 11: 16
      we are talking about the year before and the beginning of the last century.
  3. Prager
    Prager 2 November 2014 14: 59
    no wonder - the metropolis attracted the local population of its colonies to solve their problems. the British acted the same way no matter what war they fought.
  4. Prager
    Prager 2 November 2014 15: 03
    Ilya, thanks for the interesting informative article, I gladly gave it a try.