The French Foreign Legion is a French Army elite unit composed of eleven regiments, totaling 8,000 men, the majority of whom are foreign nationals. Created in 1831 by Louis Philippe I, the Foreign Legion was originally based in Algeria, North Africa. Perhaps the purpose behind the formation of this unit was to rid France of dissatisfied and riotous elements by drafting them into a French Army special unit to fight for France outside France. These new recruits included French troublemakers who called themselves revolutionaries, professional soldiers from disbanded foreign military units, run-away criminals, and any one who wanted to change his past life. The French Foreign Legion had its baptism of fire in what would become their home base: Algeria, during the French conquest of this African territory, which took place from 1830 to 1847. It also participated in the Spanish Carlist War (1833-1839), a civil war in Spain, where the 4,000-men regiment sent there to fight for Isabella claim to the Spanish throne was depleted, surviving only 450 men. Next, the Legion saw action in the Crimean War, participating in the Battle of Alma (1854) and the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-1855). During the French intervention in Mexico (1863-1867), the unit lost a whole regiment fighting against overwhelming number of Mexican revolutionaries.
The first time in which the French Foreign Legion fought for France in France was in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) against the Prussian Army. They were sent to lift the Siege of Paris by breaking through the German lines. Although they succeeded in re-taking the city of Orleans, they failed to break the siege and France lost the war since the French Imperial Army had already surrendered. The next theater of operation in which the Foreign Legion took part was Indochina during the Sino-French War (1883-1888), with their men being deployed in every major campaign. With the outbreak of World War I, the Foreign Legion came back to the continent to fight for France in France once more time, participating in the Battle of Aisne, the Battle of the Somme, and the Battle of Verdun. But the participation of the Foreign Legion in World War II was not important or decisive; after the German invasion of France in 1940, loyalties were divided among their men as a part of the Foreign Legion joined the Free French movement while another part served with the Vichy government army. At the battle in the Syria-Lebanon campaign of June 1941, legionnaire fought against legionnaire, when the 13th Demi-Brigade clashed with the 6th Régiment Etranger d’Infanterie at Damas in Syria.
After World War II, with many former Waffen-SS soldiers among their troops, the Foreign Legion was shipped to Asia to fight in the French-Indochina War (1946-1954) against the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh. In this armed conflict, the Legion kept its tradition of fighting tenaciously, with whole units being depleted or wiped out, especially during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. From 1991 to 2011, aside from their sporadic incursions in African countries, the French Foreign Legion saw action in the Gulf War (1991), Sarajevo (1993), Kosovo (1999), and Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2011).
French Foreign Legion Documentary I (Video)
French Foreign Legion Training (Video)