UPDATED 14 September 2009


Form is less important than function-GO not show

"I'd like to have two Armies -- one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little Soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals and deal little regimental officers, who would be deeply concerned over their General's bowel movements or their Colonel's piles; an Army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country."


"The other would be the REAL ONE, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That's the Army in which I should like to fight."

ACTION not boasts


Jean Larteguy
French Commando/Soldier/Journalist


E-mail 1st TSG (A)

"Your bio note that Jean Larteguy (Jean Osty) was a Foreign Legion Paratrooper is incorrect. He served with either Commando d'Afrique or Commando de France, according to a bio I read many years ago. These were Airborne trained, but not organized units which saw service from Corsica to the Landings in Southern France and up to Germany. After the war, Osty (Larteguy) became a journalist, and his contacts with the old Commando community served him in good stead, as the Commandos provided part of the Indochina Paratroops its leadership. The first Airborne unit into Vietnam was Commando Ponchardier, formed originally as a naval air commando, but it assumed a mutli-service character in SVN. Trinquier served in this unit, and on his return to France with the Colonial Infantry contingent of the unit they formed what became the first Colonial Parachute Commando battalion to serve in Indochina (5th, later 2nd BCCP). Meanwhile, many of Larteguys old comrades were arriving with the Paratroop demi-brigades that replaced Cdo Ponchardier [( DBPM (Hanoi)] or the DBSAS (Saigon)). There were a high percentage of WWII Commando personnel in the former, while the latter was primarily an amalgam of the WWII French SAS units (then part of the British Army as the 3rd and 4th SAS Regiments of the SAS Bde) These were replaced in part by the Colonial Paratroops (although the Metros always maintained at least a battalion presence, usually from the 1st RCP, but once the 10th BPCP). Even when they formed up the Legion Paratroops in 1948, experience Paratroop officers and NCOs were assigned, even though they had no prior Legion experience. Thus Larteguy would have had some contacts there from his old commando days.

Larteguy's novel The Centurions [See the film, Lost Command with Anthony Quinn/George Segal] was dedicated to Jean Pouget, who later wrote an account of his battalion command in Algeria under the title "Bataillon RAS". A very worthwhile book for understanding the 1958 coup, but not about the Paratroops, per se. Pouget had been a company commander in the 1st RCP at Dien Bien Phu.

The sentiment expressed in The Centurions about two armies, although phrased in the conditional, expressed the truth of the French Army at the time. There were, in fact, two armies, one which spent all its time preparing for WWIII, and which could not be sent overseas on contingency operations, and one which fought France's Colonial Wars, which by French accounts did not include Algeria, where draftees (to include Algerian moslems) could and did fight.

The model for Larteguy's Paratroop hero 'Raspeguy', by whom this quote is phrased, is generally agreed to be Marcel Bigeard, however a note of caution. Raspeguy is a composite character. Bigeard was not a Basque (there was a Paratroop colonel whose mother was a Breton nationalist who refused to speak French, and this part of the character is drawn upon COL Langlais.) Also, Larteguy gives Raspeguy a strictly French military background with SAS exposure, while Marcel Bigeard spent part of WWII on a U.S. OSS Jedburg team. Otherwise the character is Bigeard, and the other characters are likewise identifiable among the company and battalion commanders of the period.

One final note on the French Paratroops of the period. While the Legion had some fine Paratroops in the 1st and 2nd BEPs, they were not of a higher calibre than the Colonial and Metropolitan Paratroops in Indochina. And indeed, in that period, they were hardly any more interesting. Yes, the Legion had Paratroops who had jumped at Crete, but they (and the others) also had native Frenchmen who had raided Tobruk, fought with Sterling in North Africa, jumped into Brittany during the D-Day invasion, and jumped into Holland with the SAS in early '45 (not the Arnhem jump). It was these SAS men who bequeathed the red beret to the Colonial Paratroops, who in turn bequeathed it to the entire French Airborne (excepting the Legion) over the course of the Indochina war, and it was they who bequeathed their selection process and methods of combat that made the French Airborne of the 1946-58 time period the absolute finest in the world.

p.s. one of the Commando leaders from WWII, after having risen to Lieut. General in 1950, resigned his position to accept a LTC's commission and command the French Battalion that went to Korea and fought with the 2nd ID. How many U.S. Army generals would have done the same?

Larteguy also wrote an excellent novel on that experience under the title "Les mercenaires"."

I believe the title of Larteguy's bio is The Face of War. You may be able to find it. If you do a search under 'TDM' or 'Troupes de Marine' you should come up with the French Army site on the 'Marines' (The Colonial branch was renamed 'Marine' in 1958) On the page with unit insignia, you will find the 2nd RPIMa's insignia of interest. This is not the same insignia which they wore in Indochina as the 2nd BCCP and later 2nd BPC, as that insignia had been modeled on the 5th RIC's CLI (Light Intervention Corps) Commando, but it still conveys the WWII SAS heritage. The 3rd BCP (Chasseurs Parachustistes - it used to be the school regiment for the Airborne school, much like the 507th is for the U.S. Army) has a similar SAS motif, except their motto is: 'Who Dares, Wins' Anyway, great site. They have an English version, but I've never read it. The difference between the Marines and 'Metropolitan' army may be dying out with the end of the draft. The draft was for a year, during which time the draftee had a right to 45 days leave. If he took Airborne High School ROTC (a one semester program which gave him almost three weeks of training, and four jumps) and volunteered for overseas duty (often a 6th month 'leopard' tour, a young draftee could be assigned to the Paratroops. The 11st Airborne Division's elite strike force, a brigade sized unit called the 'GAP' (Groupe Aeroportee), consisted of two professionalized Marine units (3rd and 8th RPIMa), service in which required a three year TDM enlistment. Its third component was the 2nd REP, which obviously requries a 5 year stint. I don't know what changes have taken place with the end of the draft, but France maintained the largest Airborne contingent in the 'Free World' back in the 80's, when I attended their jump school with a contingent from the 6th RPIMa (a volunteer draftee unit), which was Bigeard's old 6th BPC of Dien Bien Phu fame. (I, obviously, was a foreigner) At that time there were a total of 9 parachute inf battalions, an Airborne Cav Sqdn, an Airborne Arty Bn (all termed 'Regiments'), a strategic long range patrol unit, and a clandestine operations battalion which everyone denied existed. (No wonder, they did the Rainbow Warrior!). The infantry battalions deserve comment. Parachutist is a branch of the Infantry, like the Foreign legion, the Marines, and the Alpine troops. (These days, one can be nearly all if one lands in the right unit). Excepting the REP, they were divided into 'Metropolitan' units (the 1st, 3rd, and 9th Parachute Chasseur Regiments, and the non-divisional 11th Choc) and the Parachute Infantry Marine regiments. Outside the GAP, mentioned above, the strength and mission could change. One regiment was an unconventional warfare unit, one was an understrength overseas garrison unit, and one was really Marine draftee. Regarding the 1st RCP, every man had to be a volunteer for overseas service, as did members of the 9th RCP on various occasions. If there was any real quality difference between these units and those of the "GAP', it was hard for an outsider to tell. The GAP, however, clearly believed that its units enjoyed a quality difference over the 'Metros', but the 3rd and 8th RPIMa would have hotly disputed any alleged difference in quality among themselves in favor the the 2nd REP, who mission, simply put was to: 'constitute the finest parachute force in the world.'

Qui Ose, Gagne


As for commandos, the French have three versions. The colors of the WWII French Commandos who served with the British Commandos are carried by the named Naval Commandos (Commando Jaubert, for example). These are the equivalent of U.S. Navy SEALs, are Airborne and scuba qualified, and wear a rifle green beret with a gold shield above the left eye, much like the Brits. The Air Commandos are the Air Force's special ops types, and while most perform security guard and special weapons escort duties, some have a more spec ops tactical role. My 'Moniteur' at the jump school was an Air Commando. They wear a dark blue (infantry) beret with a metal insignia (winged star imposed on a crusader sword within a circle) worn over the right eye, or on the right side, the usual French custom. Many also wear the Parachute Test wings, the highest jump badge in the French system. The Army has no commandos, per se, other than the CRAP platoons which in the 1980s existed within the Airborne Regiments (Commando de Recherche y Action au Profondeur - i.e. LSSR with Raiding function). Rather they have both regional and a national commando school. The regional commando schools give short three week tactical courses to combat units. When you see a U.S. type who has been 'commando' trained, this is normally the course he's been to. Occasionally they run a 9 week 'Moniteur' course for training commando instructors. This is the equivalent to the Fort Benning Ranger course.

Graduates of the course will receive the same badge as those of the 3 week course, but the word 'Moniteur' (for NCOs) or 'Instructeur' (officer) will be emblazoned on the circle surrounding the upraised sword superimposed on a black eagle. The national commando center trains both Moniteurs and special action/service troops. The course consists of a mountain phase at Mont Louis, augmented by a SCUBA phase at Coullioure. The two phases are run at the same time, so when it comes time to switch locations, the two groups 'E & E' to their new training site, attempting to beat time records set by their predecessors. If you don't like doing pushups in icy water, or are afraid of heights, this is not the course for you. I believe that this course is unit specific. I.e., you must be assigned to the 11th Choc Regiment, or attend with another unit that has a commando type mission, or be assigned to a covert unit or department.

The commandos in Algeria and Indochina were mostly French cadred Indigenous units, often consisting of turned guerrillas. Find the history of SGT Vandenberghe (a colonial infantry type in Indochina) and you will have an interesting read. There was a mostly Rhade (some Vietnamese) Commando in Algeria, designated the 'Far East Commando' (Commando d'Extreme-Orient), which normally served attached to the 1st REP. Its last action was at Tunis in 1961. The 3rd RPIMa (under Trinquier) opted to convert its commando into a 5th rifle company, completely integrated in the unit."

An educator writes:

"I am surprised how many people have read The Centurians and haven't read The Praetorians. I consider the former as the statement of the problem, (how to create a fighting force which can successfull cope with the ideological war as well as the shooting war.) The latter presented the solution, as well as what happens when you threaten the status quo with a better idea. In the long run, better ideas always win out, but usually the first standard bearers are the first casualties. The solution was to create a collaborative force. Thirty years after the para officers first began to take messes with their EMs, boardtrooms in the U.S. began putting union representatives, if not on the boards, at least in the room to hear what was going on. Those first experiments by the Paras have insinuated themselves into the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, darn few people give them credit for the unipon reps in the boardrooms and the 'collaborative learning' now so polular in college campuses.

This entire concept is so difficult to put into place, because it requires that humans act unnaturally. All critters, and we are no exceptions, seek rank and privledge. Social caste, economic caste, all of it involves the striving to be able to say 'I am better than those (fill in the blank, EM,s Non-Coms, junior officers, blue collar workers, students, Serbs, Hutus, whatever).' To consciously and deliberately discard the trappings and privledges of rank, to allow information and ideas to flow up instead of down, requires a great act of will. The results are so spectacularly more successful, however, that in some future day we may have evolved enough for it to be a natural behaviour, rather than a terrible effort.

This directional flow to information is so strong that it has been observed in Japanese maques, the old guard would rather go hungry than adopt a method of separating wheat kernels from chaff that was discovered by a pre-pubescent female. Other young macques, of course, had no problem with learning the new technique.

Have you figured out by now that I am a teacher? Say good monring and I will give you an impromtu lecture on the proper way to cook bacon and eggs.

Anyway, I consider those two books only incidentally books about war. what they really are are blueprints that tell you almost exactly how to create a group that in any competitive exercise, war, business, creative endeavors, will be much more successful and 'thrifty' than it's competitors."