CONCLUSION OF THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION (FOR NOW)
While in Corte, I made friends with a Sergeant-Chef who had been in the First Foreign Regiment of Parachutists—the unit that had tried to overthrow De Gaulle after he decided the time had come for the French to leave Algeria.
Since the highly mobile paras, using innovative tactics—particularly helicopter assaults—had been highly successful against the Algerian freedom fighters, they objected to this decision and mounted an abortive putsch.
After the effort failed—the largely conscript French Army in Algeria wanted none of it--the 1REP Legionnaires were marched away to be disbanded. As they marched, they sang: “Je ne regrette rien—I regret nothing.” From their perspective—the purely military one--they had won in Algeria and felt betrayed. In contrast, De Gaulle felt it was inevitable that Algeria would become independent—the tide of history was against colonialism—and he wanted to end the drain on the French economy.
My legionnaire friend, who was actually a Hungarian, immediately enlisted in 2REP where he was soon restored to his former rank. The Legion looks after its own. NCOs, by the way, have considerable authority within the Legion. In effect, they run it.
I think the item that cemented our friendship was the copy of THE CENTURIONS I had with me. Together with its sequel, it told the whole story—and was still officially banned within the Legion. The events had happened in 1961 and this was only three years later in 1964.
After leaving Corte, Bunny and I journeyed on to Calvi where the 2REP—now the only remaining Legion parachute regiment left—was based. There, I got considerable access to the unit despite not having gone through channels. It was, quite simply, fascinating—and I can recall few more dramatic sights than watching one of their parachute drops one evening against a backdrop of mountains. Corsica is a very beautiful island—and fragrant. Wild herbs are everywhere.
Unlike Corte, which is in the center of Corsica, Calvi is a coastal port with a fabulous five mile beach of golden sand just next to it—and adjacent to the 2REP camp. The port and town are overlooked by a formidable citadel. Apparently, when the Allies landed on Corsica, the citadel was occupied by the Germans.
According to one old timer I talked to, the Corsican resistance were too impatient to wait for the Allied troops to reach Calvi, and stormed the fort. Quite how they succeeded, I’ll never know, but they did. Or so goes the story. And if I may quote from the movie, JUDGE ROY BEAN, “If it’s not the way it was, it is the way it should have been.”
Calvi Beach boasted a Club Mediterranean in my day, so 2REP, who jumped into the bay, as well as into the valley, had topless bathing beauties to gaze at as they floated down.
The French do these things differently.
As best I can gather, 2REP is still based in Calvi at nearby Camp Raffalli. These days it has become a highly specialized rapid response force with expertise in all kinds of arcane areas from mountain warfare to jungle combat.
The entire Legion consists of 7,700 men in eleven regiments and one sub-unit. REP stands for Régiment étranger de parachutistes, as in 2e REP.