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The underdeveloped nature of Indochina demanded a number of technical units to perform combat support and service support functions that were not easily duplicated among the locally recruited labor force. As the few Foreign Legion engineering units proved their worth, they spun off a number of similar units with increasingly specialized functions throughout Indochina. These were followed by logistics and service units, to include an aerial delivery company and port terminal units. The peculiar combat environment of the major river deltas also produced a need for amphibious assault units – a need met by Legionnaire Cavalry from the most tradition – bound arm of the French Army.
In 1948 a new combat arm was added in the form of the parachute battalions. Traditionalists resisted this move, insisting that the soul of the Legion resided in its infantry approach to warfare, but the young Turks, many newly returned from their first Indochina hitch with the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment (2nd REI), the 3rd REI, or the 13th Foreign Legion Demi-brigade (13th DBLE) thought otherwise. The French Army already had Metropolitan paratroops, whose methods and traditions reflected the American view of airborne warfare, and Colonial paratroops, whose World War II service gave them a decidedly British Special Air Service orientation. Veterans of both joined the Legion paratroopsas officers, as did a large number of German NCOs and enlisted men, some of whose first experience in paratroop combat had been with the Fallschirmjaegers. The first casualty suffered by the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1st BEP) on the Colonial Route 4 operation was Sergeant Kertzl, a Fallschirmjaeger veteran whose German style exit over That Khe fouled his static line and caused him to strangle while being towed.
The following Foreign Legion specialized combat, combat support, and service support units served in Indochina:
1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1st REC):
The 1st Squadron landed at Da Nang on January 4, 1947 as part of two provisional infantry battalions. It took part in the liberation of Hue, then cleared Viet Minh forces from Marble Mountain, Quang Nam, and Fai Foo. As armored vehicles became available, follow-on elements landing in Saigon reassumed an armored role. The 1st and 2nd Squadrons became the Cochinchinese Squadron Group (GEC), while the 1st REC elements in Da Nang became the Central Vietnam Squadron Group (GE). At the time, the regiment's vehicles consisted of H-39 tanks, motorcycles, light trucks, and armored jeeps. They received their first amphibious vehicles from the 13th DBLE in March 1948–U.S. M – 29 Weasels, which the French called Crabs.
Over the following year, the GEC, 1st REC became less of an armored cavalry squadron, and more of amphibious assault unit, developing into a combined task force with the permanent attachment of a platoon from the 13th DBLE. The unit mainly operated in the Plain of Junks, Go Cong and Vinh Long provinces, and along Colonial Route 16. By 1949 they were based at My Tho. Ferrying other units into combat, screening flanks, assaulting across canals and flooded paddies, relieving posts under assault, or clearing specific tracts of the delta, the GEC, now designated the 1st Squadron Group (1st GE), gradually built up into a battalion – sized task force numbering three line troops (squadrons in French).
On October 25, 1950 the unit received some LVT – 4 amphibious Alligators, which greatly increased its operational capacity. In early 1951 the 1st GE fought in Tra Vinh, Cai Lay, Sadec, and the Plain of Junks. On September 1, 1951, it was redesignated the 1st Independent Group, 1st REC, and continued to function as an independent regiment.
The Headquarters Company and 3rd, 4th, and 5th Squadrons (troops) of the 1st REC performed similar missions in Central Vietnam, as did the 7th (Amphibious) and 8th Squadrons in Tonkin. This fractionated existence of the 1st REC continued throughout the war. At one time there were different 18 squadrons under the 1st REC colors. Since any single squadron was half the size of a U.S. tank battalion (285 men versus 525), the 1st REC would have equaled a light amphibious armored division had it been assembled under a unitary command, and designations continued to change.
The Central Vietnam GE became the 1st Autonomous Group (1st GA) in June 1951, with three subordinate squadrons, each having a headquarters element, three Crab platoons of six vehicles, one infantry company and one Alligator platoon of eight vehicles. Strength for a single squadron was six Legion officers, 20 Legion NCOs, eight Vietnamese NCOs, 124 Legionnaires and 127 Vietnamese cavalrymen. In early 1952, the 1st GA was operating in the Mekong Delta. In July 1952 it was back in Central Vietnam, operating near Phu Vang and around Da Nang.
In September 1952 the 1st and 6th Squadrons were sent back to My Tho in the Mekong Delta, while in November 1952 elements of the 1st GA were ordered to Nam Dinh at the southern edge of the Red River Delta. The continued need for amphibious cavalry effectively split the 1st REC into three independent commands by 1953, with the formation of the 1st and 2nd Amphibious Groups, based out of Da Nang and Haiphong. These regimental commands controlled two or more amphibious squadron groups, each controlling two or more squadrons.
The old 1st Squadron remained at My Tho, picking up the 11th Squadron to form the 1st Amphibious Squadron Group, assigned to the 2nd Amphibious Group at Haiphong, but attached to the 13th DBLE at My Tho. It rejoined the 2nd GA on July 27, 1954, as the peace accords went into effect, and performed security and police operations in North Vietnam, assisting in the evacuation of refugees. On December 15, 1954 the 1st Squadron departed Hanoi for Saigon, and on September 28, 1955 started redeployment by echelon to Morocco and Algeria.
1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1st BEP):
The battalion was then sent to the delta, where it took Thai Binh on February 8, 1950. A multi – company drop at Quang Nguyen on April 20, 1950 was then followed by a third battalion – sized drop at That Khe on September 17, 1950. This time, the mission was to reinforce Colonial Route 4 against an expected Viet Minh offensive. Dong Khe, the critical center of this route, had been overrun on September 18. The 1st BEP waited at That Khe while a Moroccan force assembled at Lang Son. With the arrival of the Moroccans at That Khe, the 1st BEP conducted an intelligence raid. Prisoners captured at Poma told of a massive Viet Minh offensive in the works.
On September 30 the task force set out from That Khe with the 1st BEP in the lead. Their mission now was to retake Dong Khe, and push a force beyond to link up with a column led by the 3rd Battalion, 3rd REI, moving south from Cao Bang. With nearly two weeks to invest the terrain around Dong Khe, the Viet Minh were waiting. Following the first serious engagement with Viet Minh forces, the task force pulled back to wait for air support. It renewed the attack on October 2, pushing west to bypass Dong Khe, as the 1st BEP covered the movement by fixing the enemy's attention to Hill 615, where the Viet Minh numbers proved to be overwhelming. Over the course of a week, the Legionnaires and Moroccans were driven into the Coc Xa Gorge, where they were cut to pieces. A mere 23 survivors of the 1st BEP managed to reach French lines. Meanwhile, the 1st BEP Replacement Company, 120 men newly arrived from Algeria under Lieutenant Loth of the 3rd REI, merged with 280 men from the 3rd BCCP, just back from a difficult operation in Laos. This force dropped into That Khe, and also was annihilated. Thus the 1st BEP became the first French parachute battalion lost in combat, followed closely by the colonial paratroops of the 3rd BCCP.
In March 1951 a reconstituted 1st BEP was formed at Hanoi with volunteers from the 2nd BEP, Vietnamese paratroops, and a fresh contingent from North Africa. Organized with one European company, two mixed companies and a Vietnamese company, the battalion commenced operations on April 1, 1951. It fought throughout the Red River Delta, and along the Day River, before jumping into Cho Ben in November 1951 during the opening stages of the Hoa Binh campaign. By December 1951 it was a veteran unit, and moved up to the Black River sector, where it fought at Ap Da Chong, Rocher Notre Dame and Ba Vi Mountain. It then moved into the Colonial Route 6 sector, conducting road clearing operations and retaking Kem Hill, before moving back to the delta.
After multiple operations in the delta and highlands, the 1st BEP jumped into Phu Doan as part of a brigade – sized airborne raid in November 1952. Then it was airlifted into the besieged camp at Na San. On January 26, 1953, the 1st BEP moved south for the first time, engaging Viet Minh forces near Kontum, An Khe, Cuu Dao, Gia Hoi and Ban Me Thuot, before moving to Saigon and then back to Hanoi. Following two months of heavy operations in Tonkin, it performed an administrative jump into Laos and then moved to Da Nang for ground operations in Central Vietnam.
By October 1953 the 1st BEP was back at the Gia Lam Airfield, east of Hanoi. On November 21, 1953 it jumped into Dien Bien Phu as part of Operation Castor. Following a short operation with the 5th Vietnamese Parachute Battalion, the 1st BEP returned to Dien Bien Phu, where it engaged in increasingly harder fighting as part of the 2nd Airborne Battle Group. On April 24, 1954, the 1st BEP's survivors were merged with those of the 2nd BEP to form the Provisional BEP, which subsequently was annihilated. Survivors of the 1st BEP were then merged with rear elements, volunteers from other Legion units, notably the 1st REC, and arriving replacements to form a third 1st BEP in June 1954. By July 1954 it was operating out of Haiphong. On January 30, 1955 the 1st BEP moved to Saigon, where it departed Indochina on February 8, 1955.
2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion (2nd BEP):
By May 1950, elements of the 2nd BEP were back in Central Vietnam. The 2nd Company jumped at My Trach to provide security for an airborne medical unit treating casualties. With the beginnings of Giap's Colonial Route 4 campaign, two companies were rushed to North Vietnam on September 20, 1950, where three days later they jumped at Sin Ma Kay to allow a Moroccan battalion to withdraw. On October 24, 1950, the remainder of the 2nd BEP arrived in Tonkin to replace the destroyed 1st BEP. The 2nd BEP fought throughout Tonkin, and was at Dong Trieu to blunt Giap's offensive in April 1951, as well as in the Day River battles of May 1951. In June and July 1951 the 2nd BEP was at Phat Diem, and on August 8 – 9, 1951 jumped into Kontum to blunt a Viet Minh threat to the Central Highlands. Following operations around Kontum, then Hue, the 2nd BEP returned to Hanoi for the October 4, 1951 drop at Gia Hoi in the Black River highlands, which forced the Viet Minh to abandon their attack on Nghia Lo. In November 1951 the 2nd BEP returned to South Vietnam, but was again called north in December 1951, when Giap accepted De Lattre's challenge at Hoa Binh. After major engagements at Ba Vi, Yen Cu and Ap Da Chong along the lower Black River, the unit moved to Colonial Route 6 for road clearing operations.
Withdrawn to Hanoi on February 26, the 2nd BEP continued to operate throughout Tonkin, and participated in the airborne raid on Phu Doan in November 1952, the only occasion that the two BEPs were on the same airborne operation. In late February 1953 the 2nd BEP was rushed to Na San, but within days it was back in the Hanoi area, trudging through the delta. During Giap's Spring 1953 offensive into Laos, the 2nd BEP was airlifted to the Plain of Jars, where it cleared the road to Luang Prabang and fought at Ban Ban. On July 17, 1953, the 2nd BEP jumped into Loc Ninh (North Vietnam) to cover the withdrawal of the Lang Son raiding force.
After rest at Hanoi, the 2nd BEP was back in the delta on continuous operations, and missed the initial jump into Dien Bien Phu. On December 27, 1953, the unit was airlifted to Laos, where after two weeks of operations it moved to Saigon, and then Nha Trang, for an amphibious landing near Tuy Hoa. The 2nd BEP next moved into the Central Highlands to clear Viet Minh forces from west of Pleiku, and along Colonial Route 19 between An Khe and Dak Ayoun.
Following Giap's 13 March attack at Dien Bien Phu, the 2nd BEP was rushed back to Hanoi. Between April 9 and 11, 1954, it dropped into the besieged camp. By 24 April the unit's casualties had been so heavy that the survivors merged with those of the 1st BEP to form the Provisional BEP. In the two weeks fighting that followed, the Provisional BEP also was annihilated. On June 1, 1954, the rear base of the 2nd BEP merged with the newly arrived 3rd BEP to create a new 2nd BEP, which moved from Cat Bi to Tan Son Nhut on July 21, 1954.
The 2nd BEPs last combat action was fought at Thu Dau Mot on July 30, 1955. It continued to perform security duties in the area after the cease – fire. The 5th Company was stationed at Pleiku from January through May 1955. Following final airborne maneuvers in the Courtenay Plantation region in September 1955, the 2nd BEP departed Saigon for Algeria on November 1, 1955, leaving behind 19 officers, 45 NCOs and 707 Legionnaires killed in action.
1st Foreign Heavy Mortar Parachute Company (1st CEPML):
3rd Foreign Aerial Resupply Company (3rd CERA):
Lang Son Aerial Resupply Company (CARA de Lang Son):
Airborne Forces Training Center – Indochina (CITAPI):
1st Headquarters and Service Company, Foreign Legion Engineers (1st CEMSGLE):
40th Dump Truck Company (40th CCB):
Collapsible Boat Platoon, 1st CEMSGLE:
16th Engineer Maintenance Company (16th CEG):
15th Engineer Maintenance Company (15th CEG):
38th Dump Truck Company (38th CCB):
1st Foreign Legion Engineer Services and Training Company (1st CISGLE):
21st Company, 61st Engineer Battalion:
21st Company, 71st Engineer Battalion:
21st Company, 72nd Engineer Battalion:
21st Company, 73rd Engineer Battalion:
2nd Company, 74th Engineer Battalion:
76th Legion Engineer Battalion:
39th Engineer Boat Company (39th CEFG):
Transportation, Material and Logistics Units:
65th Regimental Repair Company:
64th Foreign Legion Automobile Repair Company (64th CRALE):
65th Foreign Legion Automobile Repair Company (65th CRALE):
723rd Foreign Legion Automotive Repair Company (723rd CRALE), 1st Material Services Battalion:
4th Foreign Legion Repair Company:
5th Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company (5th CMRLE):
2nd Foreign Legion Tank Repair Company (2nd CREBLE):
1st Transportation and Garrison Company (1st CTQG):
2nd Transportation and Garrison Company (2nd CTQG):
3rd Foreign Legion Transportation Company, 516th Transportation Battalion:
2nd Company, 519th Transportation Battalion:
Foreign Legion Engineer and Material Unit – Far East (ULGMEO):
Foreign Legion Reception Company (CPLE):
Foreign Regiments Disciplinary Company – Far East (CDRE-EO):
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