France could lose its Foreign Legion. This was stated by the commander of its 13th demi-brigade, Colonel Cyril Yushchenko, while he was giving instructions for the withdrawal of his unit from Africa (Djibouti).
Today it is the only French unit (not counting the peacekeepers in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan) stationed outside of France in Djibouti.
In an emotional address to his personnel, he expressed fears that his unit will be disbanded. Paris continues to reduce its armed forces, and even the famed Foreign Legion could not escape this fate, although it is believed that the Legionnaires are the most combat-ready French soldiers.
The 13th demi-brigade of the Foreign Legion is one of the most famous of its divisions. It was established in January of 1940 to assist Finland that was fighting against the Soviet Union. However, by the time the legionnaires reached their destination, the Finns have ceased resistance.
However, the newly created unit did not have to sit idly: Germany began an operation to seize Norway, and the 13th demi-brigade took an active part in the Battle of Narvik and the campaign on the French territory in 1940.
It became the first French part that joined General de Gaulle and evacuated to Britain. Remarkably, the rest of the Legion remained in the service of Vichy who became allies of Hitler.
In 1940, the 13th demi-brigade took part in the ridding of France's African colonies from Vichy. It is worth mentioning that soon lieutenant colonel Dmitry Zedginidze-Amilahvari, a Georgian prince born in the Russian Empire, was appointed the leader of the unit. Thanks to his personal ingenuity and courage, legionnaires played a key role in defeating the Italian troops in Eritrea in the spring of 1941.
Immediately thereafter, the 13th demi-brigade participated in the defeat of the Vichy forces in Syria and Lebanon, where its main rivals were fellow legionnaires. However, thanks to Amilahvari, the great strife was avoided. The commander of the 13th demi-brigade ordered the orchestra to play the march of the Legions, and Legionnaires in the service of Vichy took the side of those who fought for Charles de Gaulle.
This unit has also played a major role in defeating the Axis forces in North Africa in 1942 - 1943, and particularly excelled in the Battle of El Alamein, when the commander Dmitry Amilahvari was killed. The grateful French named one of the Italian forts in Djibouti in his honor.
Next was the liberation of Italy, France and the defeat of the Nazis in Germany. These heroic deeds took the lives of thousands of the legionnaires. It is no coincidence that the 13th demi-brigade is one of the most celebrated French army units. In particular, it became the only part of the Foreign Legion that gained the highest award of France for World War- the Order of Liberation.
As soon as World War II came to its end, the war in Indochina has started, in which the legionnaires of the 13th demi-brigade had to learn not only the joy of victories, but also bitter failure.
Among the key events of the First Indochina War where the unit participated was the battle of Na-San in 1952, one of the few battles won by the French during the entire campaign. It is noteworthy that it was the 13th demi-brigade that played a key role in defeating the assault of this base by the best Vietnamese forces.
Yet, as we know, the military fortune has a tendency to change. During the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the 13th demi-brigade was utterly defeated and its remnants were captured, and its banners were taken by the Vietnamese as trophies.
However, its Legionnaires managed to save the banner. This story seems unbelievable: according to a legend, a captured, wounded legionary managed to enter the command post of the Vietnamese and steal it. After that, he wrapped the cloth around his body and kept it up until Ho Chi Minh released the wounded French. This way the banner was returned to the Legion.
The recreated unit participated in the Algerian war in 1954 - 1962, after which the 13th demi-brigade was permanently stationed in Djibouti, which became the base for the French operations throughout tropical Africa - from Chad to Congo and the Ivory Coast to Somalia.
This allowed Paris that seemed to have left the lion's share of its colonies, including the African ones, to maintain control over a significant part of the Black continent. And it was not so much a question of prestige for France as one of the "great powers" as a matter of survival. For example, it received nearly all of its uranium from Africa (Niger, Chad, and CAR).
The smooth and stable supply was provided by pro-French elite, which, if necessary, supported the rapid reaction forces from Djibouti, including legionnaires.
In the case of the withdrawal of the French and further reduction and possibly elimination of the Foreign Legion (now it has fewer than eight thousand men), France will lose its former influence.
Such a risk is clearly demonstrated by the events of 2008, when rebels considerably raised their heads in its former dominions. In Chad, which is one of the most important countries of the continent for the French, nearly overturned the pro-French regime.
Will the French Legion manage to maintain control over the territories scattered around the globe from the Caribbean to Polynesia after the reduction? The question remains open. Of course, today's army is expensive, and the maintenance of the French Foreign Legion costs even more. Gone are the days when prisoners were forced to join the Legion and the gendarmes were catching victims of the Legion on the streets - vagabonds and clochards. Now the Legion has become a professional military organization that requires a decent financial reward. Once Sarkozy complained that the salary of the Legionnaires alone costs the treasury nearly a billion euros per year.
Yet, this is nothing compared to the benefits the Legion gives France, despite its former colonial sinister "glory." The unit consists of nearly 80 percent of foreigners and can be employed anywhere in the world without any fear of the indignation of the French public for possible casualties. Sarkozy, who is planning to reduce the army, obviously should not have touched the Legion that is rightly considered the best mix of the French army.
"People look at the U.S. as a failed state led by a clown, and either laugh at American citizens or pity them," regrets the American Historian Peter Kuznick