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Honneur et Fidélité, Legio Patria Nostra
March 19, 2011 9:33 PM   Subscribe

The Légion Étrangère is a French special forces unit comprised mostly of foreign nationals who wish to fight for France, and the promise of a French citizenship. They are today considered an elite unit, on par with or superior to the British SAS or Russian Spetsnaz, and have in their long history served in campaigns as far-flung as Mexico and Vietnam, but are most famous for their image as colonial shock-troops in North Africa and the Middle East. Legionnaire fought Legionnaire in the Second World War during the Syria-Lebanon Campaign, as the Vichy's 6e Régiment Étrangère d'Infanterie lined up against the Allied 13e Demi-Brigade de Légion Étrangère in a critical, yet unsung battle for North Africa. Their first campaign was in Algeria - will their latest be in Libya?
posted by Slap*Happy (47 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
They are today considered an elite unit, on par with or superior to the British SAS or Russian Spetsnaz

I'm not sure this is true. Special Forces units like the SAS are recruited from within the armed forces, you so get an elite force picked from within an already highly-skilled group of men. The Foreign Legion recruit from the general populace. That's not to say their training isn't tough or that they aren't above-average soldiers, but they would be more comparable to the Royal Marines - a force set apart by arguably the best regular-force training in the world - than to, say, the SBS, which would recruit from within the Royal Marines.
posted by Dasein at 9:42 PM on March 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


Al I know about this is from Beau Travail so I assume every unit is full of terse, muscular men who are often nearly naked and doing group exercises while struggling with war and painful yet unstated yearnings.
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 PM on March 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


No mention of their contributions to popular culture ? Carry on then.
posted by arcticseal at 10:17 PM on March 19, 2011


I doubt anyone will put too many boots on the ground in Lybia. The troops that really should be deployed are the Green Beret types (from whichever nation) who'll go in and provide training, organize equipment deliveries and help the rebels coordinate with coalition air operations. Though I'm not sure, honestly, if anyone but the US and possibly Russia maintains a force dedicated to that kind of irregular warfare.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:20 PM on March 19, 2011


The French Foreign Legion is an elite unit but it doesn't seem to be considered a special forces unit if
this Wikipedia entry is correct: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commandement_des_Opérations_Spéciales#Arm.C3.A9e_de_Terre_.28Army.29
posted by Bwithh at 10:20 PM on March 19, 2011


They even have re-enactors.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:09 PM on March 19, 2011


The Legion is not a special forces unit and they are definitely not considered superior to SAS. Their training, their mission capabilities nor their selection criteria are all quite different from actual special forces.
posted by Authorized User at 11:14 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, why might this be their last mission? Did I miss it in one of the links?
posted by serazin at 11:25 PM on March 19, 2011


Done better all kinds of previously
posted by Blasdelb at 11:28 PM on March 19, 2011


Documentary of the modern French Foreign Legion
posted by Blasdelb at 11:44 PM on March 19, 2011


considered an elite unit

[by whom?]

on par with or superior to the British SAS or Russian Spetsnaz

[citation required]
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:55 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ex-British Army opinion: The FL are not amongst the best forces, as the training is often effectively focussed on brutality rather than the very highest performance. The standard of recruits has improved from the early 90s due to the influx of Eastern European candidates who often have experience in ex-Yugoslavia etc. The FL has always been based around an ability to drive men hard, but this is increasingly not what is required in modern warfare. 2ème REP take the cream from training, but the fact that many of the best performers in the unit used to be Paras is telling, IMO.

Set against this, they do have a fairly unique advantage. FL soldiers are by nature from diverse backgrounds, and it is not uncommon to have native speakers of the operation area's main language in the squad. They are also often a bit more streetwise then the less experienced British units, and certainly often have far looser ROE because of the ability to manage force even at the individual soldier level.

The British, Russian, American or indeed French SF units are far better resourced and more effective, though.
posted by jaduncan at 1:02 AM on March 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


And the Australians are the best of all :P
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:47 AM on March 20, 2011


This 2006 documentary about the experience of joining up and serving is in French - but is an interesting overview. I guess a number of the recruits are being trained in French as they are being trained in soldiering.
posted by rongorongo at 3:32 AM on March 20, 2011


Why didn't you just put French foreign legion in the FPP? Your links even call it that. The supercilious pretense around here often grates.

To point, the FFL gained their "tough as nails" character simply because the french government did not want to send their highly trained soldiers on suicide missions and a ragtag bunch who had little to live for was willing to do anything. There is a major difference between desperation induced valor and the SF/SAS professionalism, not to mention Delta and SAD. Spetz are still on the fringe.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 4:45 AM on March 20, 2011


There's also the adorable Frank Sinatra song about the FFL.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:12 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why didn't you just put French foreign legion in the FPP?

You what?

They're called the Légion Étrangère because that's their name. Why do you say "Spetz" for the Russian special forces?

The supercilious pretense around here often grates.

No-one's keeping you.
posted by pompomtom at 5:39 AM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


No accents on majuscules, s.v.p.

/supercilious
posted by Wolof at 6:39 AM on March 20, 2011


La Piaf sings "Mon Legionnaire"
posted by briank at 6:48 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


J'suis d'accord. Souvent, la prétention hautaine ici est très désagréable.
posted by killdevil at 7:38 AM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Will Abbott & Costello be among them again?
posted by jonmc at 7:39 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brenden Fraser is available.
FFL guys are the only solders i ever wanted to suckerpunch.
posted by clavdivs at 7:45 AM on March 20, 2011


yeah, HATE them.
posted by clavdivs at 7:46 AM on March 20, 2011


An Irish guy who signed up has an interesting blog called Banks to Battlefields, which is definitely worth a read. He (perhaps obviously, given the title) used to work in a bank as recently as 2008.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:46 AM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


They will take you til you are forty, just in case you are wondering.
posted by shothotbot at 8:05 AM on March 20, 2011


They're called the Légion Étrangère because that's their name. Why do you say "Spetz" for the Russian special forces?

Some foreign proper nouns are adopted wholesale into English while others get anglicized. Compare Munich and München or Moscow and Москва. There's not a strict rule there.

In the case of Spetznaz, the word is basically an abbreviation of special forces, which is a fairly generic term, so using the original Russian word eliminates ambiguity and is more concise than "Russian special forces." Whereas the Foreign Legion is basically unique in the world, so using the original French word does not clarify anything.

And so we see that, for example, the Spetznaz Wikipedia article uses that term throughout, while the French Foreign Legion article uses 'Foreign Legion' throughout. If you prefer a more historical example, Beau Geste uses Legion or variations on it except when quoting something written in French.
posted by jedicus at 8:08 AM on March 20, 2011


Are there ever Americans in the FFL?
posted by geoff. at 8:57 AM on March 20, 2011


Abbott and Costello, dude!
posted by jonmc at 9:00 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are there ever Americans in the FFL?

My understanding is yes, that is sort of the whole deal, they assume you are who you say you are with no real investigation, and when you have done your time you get a French passport in whatever name you gave them when you enlisted, though things may have tightened up.
posted by shothotbot at 9:01 AM on March 20, 2011


Though I'm not sure, honestly, if anyone but the US and possibly Russia maintains a force dedicated to that kind of irregular warfare.

The S.A.S.
posted by ob at 9:01 AM on March 20, 2011


My understanding is yes, that is sort of the whole deal, they assume you are who you say you are with no real investigation, and when you have done your time you get a French passport in whatever name you gave them when you enlisted, though things may have tightened up.

The passport is now required to be in your real name, I believe. It's a little stricter because it is required that there is no Interpol warrant in your name.
posted by jaduncan at 10:00 AM on March 20, 2011


Man, had I known about this when I was 19 I might have signed up! This is some really cool and interesting stuff...

Do I have to change my name when I enlist?

As part of the enlisting process, you will be given a new temporary identity - known as l'anonymat. This means that you will be issued with a new name, a new date and place of birth and a change of your parents' names as well.

posted by snsranch at 1:54 PM on March 20, 2011


Are there ever Americans in the FFL?

Maurice Magnus "was an American, a snob, a mooch, a onetime manager of Isadora Duncan, and a collector of celebrities who often said that "one only has to know the right people.""

So - yeah. His Memoir of his service (working title "Dregs") was posthumously edited and given a long and cranky introduction by D. H. Lawrence, so cranky that the intro was refuted by Norman Douglas in his "D. H. Lawrence and Maurice Magnus, a Plea for Better Manners" casting a minor literary feud at the time.

There is also a Spanish Foreign Legion.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, I thought the threads discussing the Libyan War, and the Western Powers' involvement in it, had been canned for the shouty axe-grindy. I wasn't trying to put on aires or oversell the Legion - I was hoping people would use it as an excuse to talk about the war in reasoned tones.

I guess war-nerd nitpickery is a close enough second option...
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:28 PM on March 20, 2011


There is also a Spanish Foreign Legion.

I imagine no one expects them.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:44 PM on March 20, 2011


Throwing together a FPP with the intention that you can continue a discussion on a different topic that has already been served by previous threads strikes me as a little off. A better researched post would have been more appropriate.
posted by arcticseal at 4:44 PM on March 20, 2011


There is a great quote a friend of mine used to repeat about the FFL about how no matter how bad things seem, never, ever join. Anyone have any idea what I am talking about?
posted by shothotbot at 7:06 PM on March 20, 2011


No accents on majuscules, s.v.p.

This used to be true in spanish and french —because typewriters and older computers weren't able to type them— but it has been changed by both the French and Spanish language academies. Now, everything that's capitalized, that has an accent, should have it.

/supercilious
posted by Omon Ra at 8:56 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've done more than a little research on the FFL for entirely geektastic reasons. The 2ème REP (2nd Parachute Regiment) is certainly a "rapid reaction force," but "special forces" is probably a bit of a stretch. The FFL also has a small "special forces" arm with the unfortunate acronym of CRAP -- unless they finally got around to changing that, anyway. I'm sure it sounds better in French, but whatever...

The Legion runs recruits through Interpol, but they're only looking for major felonies. They screen for all sorts of health issues and such up front. You sign up for five years, handing over your passport and operating under a new name. Your new name will line up with your country of origin, though; the recruiter will offer a name and new home town, so if you're John Doe from Phoenix, AZ, he'll suggest that maybe you're now Sam Rogers from New York. You can eventually reclaim your name and passport.

Strictly speaking, the FFL is NOT a bunch of mercenaries. They're a part of the regular military of France.

After completing your five-year term, you can claim French citizenship. However, you don't get much free time in the Legion, your life is very regimented (way moreso than in an American service), discipline is harsh and the pay is terrible. Desertion is common.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:23 AM on March 21, 2011


A better researched post would have been more appropriate.

Well, it was well researched. In my naivete, I thought the interesting parts would be the history of the FFL in the Middle East and further abroad as French colonial "enforcers," not the hair-splitting over which army dudes are badder. I mean, there's an article from Time in there on their deployment to Indochina written at the time it happened...
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2011


Well, it was well researched.

How well? After all, the very first sentence of your post contains a fundamental mistake about the nature of the Legion.

... not the hair-splitting over which army dudes are badder.

The second sentence of your post contains a badness comparison to other army dudes.

Maybe you should have thought about the framing of your post a little bit harder.
posted by Authorized User at 2:18 PM on March 21, 2011


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Thanks for contributing Slap*Happy. I hope you can take the criticism constructively, even if it wasn't stated in a very constructive way. I, for one, appreciated the post for itself and also for Blasdelb's 'done previously' links.
posted by zueod at 5:00 PM on March 21, 2011


I'd just like to say that I also appreciate it, Slap*Happy.
posted by jaduncan at 7:03 PM on March 21, 2011


Slap*Happy, sorry, didn't mean to start a pile-on. Guess I need more coffee before clicking Post. I appreciate the effort.
posted by arcticseal at 7:24 PM on March 21, 2011


ahem
posted by shothotbot at 7:28 PM on March 21, 2011


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Heh. Touché. Linking to my previous user profiles would not help my case either.

And I did not mean to be so abrupt, the links are indeed interesting, they were just framed quite badly. Opening with glaring factual mistakes tends to rub people the wrong way.
posted by Authorized User at 9:23 PM on March 21, 2011


Being petty and nit-picky about people's posts tends to rub people the wrong way, too.
posted by ged at 7:28 AM on March 22, 2011


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