The Légion Étrangère (Foreign Legion) are perhaps the most well-known French infantry formation. The Thirties had seen them relegated to the role of garrison and construction troops and their glory days at the head of French expeditions were now behind them. Nevertheless they were still a volunteer force and composed of men on long-service contracts. Man for man they were still the formations with the most combat experience.
The division between the traditional infantry battalions and the mounted companies (often termed mule companies) was retained, but the ‘mobile companies’ were now to be motorised. For most companies this was to be in trucks, but at least one squadron was fitted out as ‘armoured infantry’. This was achieved by the issue of a platoon of armoured cars, a platoon’s worth of Berliet VUDB armoured carriers (presumably organised like the cavalry with two sections) and enough Panhard 179 armoured carriers to mount three platoons. Other companies might have a single platoon of armoured cars, an infantry platoon in Panhard 179s and three platoons in trucks.
Two Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiments were re-equipped in a similar fashion to the Chasseurs d’Afrique and unlike their infantry counterparts had a more active combat role in the Thirties. Unlike the Chasseurs however the move to wholly motorised formations was more complete. By 1934 at least one squadron had an establishment of a single platoon of three White-Laffly AMD 50 armoured cars and three platoons, each of five Berliet VUDB carriers (one for the HQ and two each for the sections). Other squadrons were mobilised in a variety of trucks.
Chain of Command:Abyssinia French Foreign Legion army list
The French had been using camel-mounted troops in North Africa for some time. With typical patrol areas equivalent to travelling from London to Naples and back (2,500 miles), they had proven ideal for ‘flying the flag’ in the remote desert areas of the Sahara and Maghreb. With similar large areas to cover it was natural that they should raise similar units in the Côte française des Somalis. While there was only a reduced company of two platoons raised, these provided a similar presence in the interior regions of the colony.
While few in number and with limited support weapons, these platoons could form a core around which local auxiliaries, in a similar fashion to the goums raised by the French in Algeria and Morocco, could be formed to create an irregular force to subjugate rebellious chieftains or to deal with bands of shifta (bandits, or anyone opposed to French rule effectively).
While they were of limited value in a conventional warfare scenario, they could operate as an irregular force behind enemy lines, attacking supply routes and interdicting watering parties, both of which were far more important when a force was trying to traverse the vast arid and open spaces of Somaliland.
Chain of Command:Abyssinia Méharistes army list
The mounted counterpart of the Zouaves and Colonial Infantry formations, the Chasseurs were formed from settler conscripts and career French volunteers and officers. While the intention was that at some future point the units would be mechanised cavalry, complete with light armour and trucks for their infantry element, by 1935 the formations were hybrid formations, typically composed of two horse-mounted squadrons, two of motorised cavalry and two armoured car squadrons.
The horse-mounted squadrons were organised in exactly the same way as those of the Spahis, with a small HQ and four platoons and equipped in the same manner. The truck-borne squadrons also shared the same organisation, but swapped horses for a range of trucks in the 15cwt and 30cwt range. The armoured cars were typically of one type, usually the White-Laffly AMD 50, but Schneider AMC P.16 halftracks, Laffly AMD 80 and Panhard 165/175 vehicles are also to be found and in least one regiment their where two vehicle types in use.
Chain of Command:Abyssinia French Chasseurs d’Afrique Cavalry