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Special Operations: The Dark Side Of The Foreign Legion
   Next Article → INDIA-PAKISTAN: Where Have All The Big Bads Gone?
June 10, 2010: The French Foreign Legion, has built up a goodly number of myths during its nearly 180 year history. From the deserts of Morocco to the jungles of Vietnam, the Legion has a well-deserved reputation for extraordinary bravery and fighting ability in the worst of battlefield conditions. Endurance in the face of deprivation has become a quality for which the Legion is legendary. During the 1950s Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Indochina (Vietnam), Legionnaires fought on despite their officers and NCOs all being killed or wounded. The Foreign Legion is quick to point out that its reputation of bravery, courage, and dogged determination is no exaggeration. Furthermore, the Legion likes to portray itself as one of the world's most elite, professional fighting forces, much like the British SAS or the American Special Forces Groups.  

Unfortunately for the Legion, other, less savory myths about life in the Foreign Legion are all too often very true, and are beginning to have a major affect on manpower retention, morale, and professionalism. The Legion has a lot of dirty laundry that almost never gets exposed due to the unit's notoriously secretive nature. For one thing, desertion is, and always has been, rampant in the Foreign Legion. As far as modern, 21st century armies are concerned, the Legion has some of the worst desertion rates in the world. This is the reason why small arms and light weapons are ALWAYS kept under lock and key under the watch of armed guards 24/7 when they are not being used at the range, training, or combat. French Army authorities know that, given the high rates of desertion, it's too much to risk having renegade soldiers running around the French countryside with loaded assault rifles. 

Furthermore, substance abuse, particularly alcoholism, is even more of a problem in the Legion than in other  armies. It is not hard to see why, considering that the Legion has often sent its men to isolated duty stations in some of the most inhospitable and violent regions on earth. Finally, unlike the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, or British Army, corporal punishment (e.g., punching) is still very much alive and in practice in the Legion, and often comes in the form of sometimes savage beatings administered by NCOs as a means of instilling "discipline". The Legion's notorious military police section possesses an even more sinister reputation for brutality and mistreatment. Much of this abuse is directed towards captured deserters and the grim reputation of Legion stockades is well-deserved indeed. Many recruits often complain that some of the instructors are racist and fellow recruits often of an unsavory type, despite the Legion's claim to conduct background checks on potential recruits. 

 

 

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trenchsol       6/10/2010 11:20:53 AM
There is another tradition of Foreign Legion. They were often abandoned and left to die fighting to the last man.  As if France does not truly recognize the Legion as their own.....
 
DG

 
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cerbere    but of course   6/10/2010 2:13:22 PM
Can you name 1 battle where the FFL was actually 'left to die'? most of the mission where with all odds against them, if France do not recognize them as of their own why do they close the 14th july on champs elysee? check your fact ... and yes the selection, training, life is brutal for good reasons, you train to be in the deepest hole in the world with only your platoon to assist in the worst case, that how it always has been and it will always be like this, a lot of people can't take it and the funny part it's always the ones that have the biggest mouth during training that take off after the 6 months probation period. but what you said was just utter BS ...
 
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JFKY    The Legion is WAY over-rated...   6/10/2010 3:13:50 PM
It's not that it's bad, it's just that it's not that GOOD.  Heterogeneous recruiting, makes for uneven recruit quality and lowers training efficiency, poor retention and NCO development makes for a poor NCO cadre.  Douglas Porch covers this in his history of the Legion.
 
This could be a Rafale thread, where the truth, "it's not bad" is going to get converted into, "You say the legion is bad, when in fact it is GREAT."  Neither are great, but neither are bad.  Against many Third World opponents the Legion will perform more than adequately.  I wouldn't put the Legion up against the Bundeswehr, the British Army, or the US Army, though, and expect a great outcome.
 
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cerbere       6/10/2010 8:22:00 PM
Once again ... FFL is not a army but a branch of, men for men the Royal marine, US marine or German marine infantry with same number (roughly 8500) will have but a little chance to survive ... now if you prefer chest stomping feel free its a US site (self masturbation), you guys always have to compare to each country's army and of course if french "ho we will whipe them out" well in the case of FFL or IMa formations no, plain and simple, you can pretend all what you want, but history did show that both of theses branches perform very well against all odds, even if it does nto survive, not sure also where do you saw that NCO where not good please do separate fantasy and reality NCO do not take off only the legionnaire that "barely started" its called discipline, its hard and it have to be, which most recruit never understand until the first slap in the face for not listening, that's what you make me think of  ... Haaa french bashers, good thing being ridiculous doesn't kill or this site will barely have anymore users.
 
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itfin    mais oui   6/10/2010 10:28:54 PM
your point is taken cerbere.  Le Legion Etranger is more like an elite branch (SAS, Rangers, etc).  And I also can't think of a time when it was "abandoned" to die.  The US Army is quite successful at incorporating new immigrants.  As I understand it, the FFL also has some unique training techniques such as pairing a native French speaker up with a non-French speaker during basic training.
Regardless, I didn't interpret this article as "French bashing".  Instead, I interpret it as:
#1 - The French Foreign Legion is an elite and aggressive unit, and
#2 - along with the good from #1 comes some bad like alcohol and bad behaviour.
 
No surprises in #2.  Some guys desert (change of heart) and some warriors have difficulty in peace time (alcohol / crime).
 
The only intriguing part of this article was the reference to corporal punishment  I wonder if it's true and if so, why France continues it.  Is it possible, there are legitimate situations for corporal punishment (or hazing) in military training still?  I'm inclined to think not.
 
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JFKY    The Legion is NOT an Elite unit   6/11/2010 9:51:28 AM
akin to Rangers or the SAS.  It fields an infantry battalion, an Armoured Car battalion, and an Airborne Battalion.  Again it has retention and NCO issues, desertion issues, and violent culture that inhibits retention and training.
 
As long as what was required of a soldier was endurance, stoicism, and the minimal ability to shoot it was as good as any other unit.  I think that time is passing.  As long as the Legion was facing desert nomads, and Chinese brigands it gave a good account of itself, being better armed, better trained, and a more conventional force....as long as the fight was a stand-up conventional fight.  It's record in large-scale warfare is harder to judge.  It fought well in WWI, but then it was filled with volunteers enlisting for that cause.  It fought well at Bir Hakim, but again, they weren't typical peace-time legionaires.
 
Bottom-line: the Legion is a good conventional infantry force, but it is by no means an "elite" unit akin to the SAS or the US Rangers.  Battalion-on-battalion combat would not produce a Legion victory, automatically, were the Legion to face an equivalent Western battalion, 2 REP v. Luftlande/1 Para/504 Infantry, or REC v. a Stryker Battalion, or the REI v. a US Marine/US Light Infantry Battatlion/Green Howards....the Legion brings some baggage to the fight that inhibits its ability to perform.  And talking about Camerone or Legio Patria Nostra isn't going to change that.
 
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cerbere       6/11/2010 2:33:39 PM
Well corporal punishment are a part of the training, as you keep telling the recruit what to do and he does not pay attention then a slap as a minimum will remind him where he is and why he is here for (his life and others depend on how and what he learn as at a time you have to rely only on your team not on arty or anything else to get out of the mission in 1 piece), yes alcohol problem is an issue but not for all, their is always bad apple in that kind of basket, that's why the probation period is of 6 months, JFKY you right thanks god US and UK sas ranger and whatever are here to save the world and too bad FFL and french marine just suck soooo bad that they barely can take on your average civilian, talking about this did rangers/delta fare good in somalia against your average militia or maybe you wanna talk about cisterna ops in WWII? , for my part I am a black belt ninja 15 th dan and my primary weapon is laser from my eyes and secondary is fireball from my ass ( i will not say what come from the front cause i am polite) I just love that kind of comment each of this formation will do well in any kind of environment as they are trained for, but to the point if you think we are so bad why dont you come pass the selection and the training just to see if you can pass any of theses? I promise to treat you fairly.
 
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cerbere       6/11/2010 2:36:50 PM
1 more thing tho WWI or any kind of war before the 80's they were volonteer and no they did not volonteer for "that cause" most of them at that time were criminal running from justice some were even aristocrat (comte of Paris WWII) but at that time you didnt go in to "get a job" the moto walk or die was pretty much to be taken literally at that time as the "training" was in sahara area.
 
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cerbere       6/11/2010 2:55:18 PM
or at least they might
 
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JFKY    Point One   6/11/2010 3:02:58 PM
The Legion of WWI and WII was full of folks who signed on for "that cause."  Please read your own history.  Alan Seager being a case-in-point....an American who enlisted TO FIGHT GERMANY, prior to the US entry into the war.  The troopsa t Bir Hakim and in WWI weren't troops from pre-war but "duration only" volunteers who enlisted to fight, in that war, not enlisted in the Legion....there's a difference.
 
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