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A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force

by Douglas Porch

Pub Date: July 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0-06-016652-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

A thorough account of France's most famous military force, meticulously sifting legend from actual events, by the scholarly chronicler of the French colonial presence in Africa (The Conquest of the Sahara, 1984, etc.). Fittingly, in his analysis of primary materials and historical accounts Porch is able to verify that many legends of the Legion contain more than a grain of truth. From its establishment in 1831 it was intended as a catch basin for the malcontents and desperate men of Europe, many of whom were then swarming into France as political refugees. Assigned originally to the French conquest of Algeria, it began to establish a reputation for itself during a subsequent disastrous campaign in Spain in 1835. In the course of its long career, the Legion has served commendably in Russia and Mexico, in the Franco-Prussian and both World Wars, and in Indochina, where its brave but futile struggle to retain Dien Bien Phu against the Viet Minh in 1954 signaled an end to French colonialism in the region. It was to North Algeria, however, that it was most often returned, and in 1961 Algeria almost became its undoing when prevailing Legion sentiments against Algerian independence led to a crisis with the de Gaulle government and a quickly repressed coup d'√átat. As a result of this colorful history, the Legion emerges here with a life of its own, complemented by assessments of the sociopolitical situation. Stimulating reading for adventurers and serious students alike—an informative, lively view of a unique military presence in modern times. (For a searing first-person account of service in the Legion, see Christian Jennings's A Mouthful of Rocks, 1989). (Thirty-two pages of halftones—not seen.)