A very good book, following the tradition of FFL books of Osprey. The narrative starts at the Legion of 1914: a blunt colonial instrument who had to receive young idealistic volunteers. The problems would soon arise, with the idealistc volunteers resenting their more boorish counterparts, who also didn't like them:
"These rock-hard old drunkards regarded the duration-only volunteers as whining civilians unworthy of the proud status of légionnaires which they themselves had earned through hard years in Morocco; the volunteers resented and feared the African veterans as uncomradely brutes." (pg. 4)
AT October 1915 the Moroccan Division (the most decorated of the French Army at the end of the war) was pulled out of the line, and as the Legion 1er RE and 2e RE have suffered so many casualties, the survivors were merged into one single three-battalion Régiment de Marche de la Légion Étrangère (RMLE), which would fight in the Western Front for the rest of the war. The Legion would fight with its traditional bravery and efficiency; in Auberive, the légionnaires took the enemy trenches after three days of clawing their way from shellhole to shellhole in deep mud, and fighting in two days more, expending 50,000 grenades in fives days of combat. Adjudant-Chef Mader won the Légion d'Honneur for driving back most of a company of Saxon infantry and taking a battery of six guns, with only ten légionnaires. At Cumières, in the Verdun front, General Pétain had to invent a new decoration for them - the red lanyard of the Légion d'Honneur - and that he wouldn't mind creating more rewards as long as they kept on fighting so well. Even while fighting very well, the Legion paid a heavy price for its success, and lost as casualties around 70% of those enlisted. While the war was raging in Europe, the undermanned Legion units in Morocco struggle to hold their own:
"In August 1914 Gen. Lyautey, stripped of most of his troops, was ordered to withdraw the rest into safe coastal enclaves. Determined to preserve what had taken so long to win, he pursued instead an exhausting four-year campaign with the resources left to him. Some 20 battalions - légionnaires, criminals of the Bataillons d'Infanterie Légère d'Afrique, Tirailleurs Sénégalais, French Territorial reservists - and local irregular goumiers struggled to hold and supply the remote pots planted among hostile tribes all over this vast country. While the world's attention was fixed on the Western Front a dwindling force of mainly German and Austrian légionnaires fought many desperate, forgotten actions." (pg. 9)
The Legion would see a rebirth in the coming decades, receiving horses and mechanized units, would face terrible setbacks in Morocco but would emerge victorious, it would also see action in Syria and Indochina. A posting in the 5e REI, in Indochina, was considered a luxury posting for men with good records: "pay and allowances were generous, hard physical work was infrequent, and charming female company was plentful." The regiment saw action against the Japanese and Thai forces in 1940. In 1945, Colonel Alessandri lead the 5e REI, and other refugees, in an epic fighting retreat of 800km through jungle and mountains, crossing the Chinese frontier into internment after 52 days.
In Europe, the FFL would form many new units - some of them poorly equipped because of haste in mobilization - that would fight bravely in the Battle of France but would be utterly destroyed before the armistice. The exception was the 13e DBLE, that would fight in Norway, distinguishing itself in the battle of Narvik and in being the first unit to join Charles de Gaulle, starting the Free French Forces. Page 22 shows the famous picture of General Charles de Gaulle reviewing those légionnaires in London, in July 1940. The unit would go through a long Homeric saga from England to Eritrea, where the half-brigade captured over 15,000 prisioners; Syria, fighting légionnaires loyal to Vichy; the epic defense of Bir Hakeim against the Afrikakorps and the Italians; Lybia and Tunisia. The rest of Vichy in Africa would join the Allies and the Legion would participate in the reorganization of the French Army from 1943-44 with US weapons and equippement ("This exercise transformed the Legion for the first time into a modern fighting force"). The newly revamped Legion would take part in the campaigns of Italy, Provance, Alsace, Colmar, the Rhine, reaching German cities like Stuttgart, and going as far as Austria.
The pictures are top quality and the plates are as good as Mike Chappell always make them. The main problem with this volume is that it spends too much time covering uniform details, but I do understand that the main focus at the time were the model builders. But the description of the actions in which the légionnaires took part are thrilling and make you want to know more. I belive it is time for Osprey to make another effort on the French Foreign Legion in the period; a Warrior perhaps. The plates are well balanced in their variaty and the explanation of equipment in plates B2 and B3 are very satisfying. The Légionnaire in parade uniform in plate C3, at the victory celebrations of 1918, gives a good idea of the tough men the Legion had in its ranks. Plates D1-3 give a thrilling idea of colonial warfare, with plate E3 showing legendary Captain Prince Aage in Morocco. Plate H1 makes you wonder about the said parade in Rome and plates H2 and H3 give a good idea of the US-supplied new Legion.
As with every other book on the FFL that Martin Windrow wrote to Osprey, this book is an obligatory acquisition for any enthusiast of the French Foreign Legion.