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1st Free French Division

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Country  France
Type  Infantry Division
1st Free French Division
Active  1 August 1940 – 15 August 1945
Allegiance  French Army  Free French Forces
Equipment  French, British, American
Engagements  Dakar Gabon Eritrea Syria Bir Hakeim El Alamein Tunisia Italy Provence Vosges Alsace Authion

The 1st Free French Division (French: 1re Division Française Libre, 1re DFL) was one of the principal units of the Free French Forces (FFL) during World War II.


A unit formed of Europeans and soldiers from the colonies, the division was cited four times at the orders of the armed forces between 1942 and 1945, making the unit with the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division 3e DIA, the most decorated French division of the second world war.

Creation and different nominations

  • 1940 : Free French Expeditionary Corps.
  • 1941 : Free French Brigade of the Orient.
  • May 1941 : 1st Light Free French Division.
  • August 20, 1941 : Dissolution following the campaign of Syria.
  • September 24 1941 : regroupment of the Free French units of the Middle East in the 1st and 2nd Light Free French Divisions, division with two brigades.
  • December 1941 : 1re DLFL, reworked into First Free French Brigade Group to the organization of the British Military, on the way to the western desert.
  • 1942 : Groupment of the two independent Free French brigades of the Moyent-Orient or French Forces of the Western Desert, following the departure of the 2nd independent Free French brigade from the Levant on April
  • February 1943 : recreated under the designation of 1e DFL, division with three brigades 1re, 2e and 4e BFL
  • August 1943 : renamed 1st Motoryzed Infantry Division 1re DMI, nevertheless retained the designation nomination of 1re DFL
  • August 15, 1945 : dissolution
  • 1940

    The 1re DFL officially formed on February 1, 1943 and was dissolved on August 15, 1945; however, for the veterans of this unit, the history of this division began in the summer of 1940.

    In London, on June 30, 1940, amongst the troops that combatted in Norway, 900 men of the 13th Demi-Brigade of Foreign Legion, commanded by lieutenant-colonel Raoul Magrin-Vernerey, and 60 chasseurs alpins made the choice to resume combat. Elements of a tank company, sapeurs, artillerymen and navalmen chose the same; they would constitute the 1er Régiment de Fusiliers Marins 1er RFM. In the Middle East, 350 men of a battalion stationned in Cyprus, led by captain Jean Lorotte de Banes passed to British Egypt. With 120 men of captain Raphaël Folliot, who left French Lebanon on June 27, constituted the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion 1er BIM. They were joined by legionnaires of the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment 6e REI, sailors of the French Naval Squadron (Force X) (French: Escadre Française d'Alexandrie), a squadron of a Moroccan Saphis à cheval of the 1st Spahi Regiment, commanded by captain Paul Jourdier, which would later form the 1er Régiment de marche de spahis marocains. In Africa, a part of the 31st battery of the 6th Marine Artillery Regiment (French: 6e Régiment d'artillerie de marine, 6e RAMa), stationed at Bobo-Diouloasso, commanded by captain Jean-Claude Laurent-Champrosay, passed from Haute-Volta in Gold Coast, then Cameroun to form the 1st Colonial Artillery Regiment (French: 1er Régiment d'artillerie coloniale) 1er RAC.

    Under the designation of Free French Expeditionary Corps (French: Corps expéditionnaire français libre), the troops formed in London disembarked at Freetwon in Sierra Leone and participated from September 23 to September 25, 1940 to the tentative disembarking of Dakar, before being directed on October 1940 to Douala in Cameroun attached to Free France. In November 1940, the unit participated to the campaign of Gabon, before joining via martime means, Durban in South Africa.


    Designated as the Free French Brigade of the Orient (French: Brigade française libre d'Orient) and commanded by colonel Magrin-Verneret, the brigade left Durban and disembarked at Souakim to take part in the campaign of Eritrea. The brigade is reinforced by the Pacific Battalion (French: bataillon du Pacifique) and by troops of the AEF (French: Afrique-Équatoriale française) going from the Bazaville, passed at Bangui, Fort Lamy before joining Khartoum and Souakim. Successful at Kub Kub on February 23, 1941, then during the Battle of Keren on February 26 and at Massaoua on April 8, 1941.

    Under the designation of First Light Free French Division (French: Première Division légère française libre) and under the command of général Legentilhomme, the division entered into Syria in June 1941. The division entered into Damascus on June 21, 1941, then continued to Homs and Aleppo before joining Beirut and Cairo, where the division was dissolved.

    The division is reconstituted under the form of two Free French brigades:

  • The 1st Independent Free French Brigade commanded by général Koenig
  • The 2nd Independent Free French Brigade commanded by général Cazaud
  • A 3rd Independent Free French Brigade remained in French Lebanon and mandated Syria until the end of the war to ensure the protection of these two countries.
  • 1942

    The 1e BFL illustrated capability at the Battle of Bir Hakeim from May 26 to June 11, 1942, then in the Second Battle of El Alamein from October–November 1942.

    The two brigades and the Free French Flying Column formed the French Forces of the Western Desert (French: Forces françaises du Western Desert) at the corps of the Eighth British Army, and the 1st Brigade participated to the battle of Alamein on October 1942, as well as the 2nd Brigade which played a less modest role.


    These two brigades plus a third coming from Djibouti are united on February 1, 1943 in the 1re DFL commanded by Général de Larminat and participated to the end of campaigns of Tunisia and Takrouna in May 1943.

    In June 1943, various troops of the Army of Africa (French: l'armée d'Afrique) joined the ranks of the division. Accordingly, the division was sent to the desert of Libya during two and a half months, at the request of the général Giraud. The 2e DFL of général Leclerc would follow the same procedure.

    After the reunification of the two French forces, on August 1, 1943, the division was officially redesignated as 1st Motoryzed Infantry Division (French: 1re Division Motorisée d'Infanterie, 1re DMI) in light of integration in the French Expeditionary Corps of Word War II (French: Corps expéditionnaire français (Seconde Guerre mondiale) in Italy. In 1944, the 1st Motoryzed Infantry Division became the 1st Marching Infantry Division (French: 1re Division de Marche d'Infanterie, 1re DMI). Nevertheless, for those that composed the division, and in most of the ouvrages that were dedicated to the division, the unit remained designated as the 1re DFL.


    Commanded by général Diego Brosset, the division was integrated into the French Expeditionary Corps of Word War II and participated to the campaign of Italy since April 1944.

    With Army B, the division disembarked in Provence on August 15, 1944 and participated to the liberation of Toulon, then made way to the Rhône after having sent a couple of reconnaissance squadrons until Montpellier. Lyon was reached in September 3.

    In autumn 1944, the FFI integrated during the amalgam of the 1st Army replacing the 6000 Africans of the division in what was referred during that period as blanchiment.


    The division then made way until the Massif des Vosges. Général Pierre Garbay, succeeded général Brosset, and accordingly led the division in the campaign of Alsace, where on January 1945, the division played a primordial role mounting the defensive of Strasbourg, prior to participating to the Colmar Pocket. On March 1945, the division left the guard of the Rhin for the borders of the Alpes, apprehended the Massif de l'Authion ( South of the Alpes), Tende, La Brigue and passed into Italy.


    1re Brigade
  • 1st battalion of the 13th Demi-Brigade of Foreign Legion, 13e DBLE
  • 2nd battalion of the 13th Demi-Brigade of Foreign Legion
  • 22nd North-African Marching Battalion (French: 22e Bataillon Nord-Africain, 22e BMNA)
  • 2e Brigade
  • Marching Battalion no 4, BM 4
  • Marching Battalion ne 5, BM 5
  • Marching Battalion ne 11, BM 11 constituted in Syria in 1941 of the doubling of the BM 1
  • 4e Brigade
  • Marching Battalion no 21, BM 21 constituted following the rallying of Djibouti
  • Marching Battalion no 24, BM 24 (same origin of BM 21)
  • Marine Infantry and Pacific Battalion, issued from the groupment of the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion and the Pacific Battalion no 1 following the Battle of Bir Hakeim.
  • other units dissolved before 1944
  • Marching Battalion no 1, BM1 . With the DFL, the battalion participated to the campaign of Gabon, Eritrea and Syria. The battalion then participated to the campaigns of Fezzan and Tunisia with the colonne Leclerc prior to the dispersing of officers and men in various units in 1943.
  • Marching Battalion no 2 BM 2, attached to the 3rd Independent French Brigade of colonel de Tournadre, in Syria, on July 1942, then sent to Madagascar and AEF.
  • Marching Battalion no 3 BM 3, dissolved in 1942.
  • Other arms

  • 1er Régiment de Fusiliers Marins 1er RFM, Compagnon de la Libération (the 2e BFL also a Compagnon)
  • 1er Régiment de Marche de Spahis Marocains (assigned to colonne Leclerc during the campaign of Tunisia, then in the 2e DB).
  • 1st Tank company (then 501e Régiment de chars de combat in the 2e DB).
  • 11e Régiment de cuirassiers (French: 11e Régiment de cuirassiers)
  • 1st Artillery Regiment of Free French Forces, RAFFL.
  • 21e groupe antillais de DCA, constituted of the marching antillean battalion no 1.
  • 1st Engineer Battalion
  • 4th Anti-Tank company
  • Organic units

  • Company General Headquarter Staff
  • 101st Auto Company
  • 1st Transmission Battalion
  • 9th Company of Divisionary Repairs & 3 Heavy Workshops
  • 1st Circular Road Detachment
  • Prévôté
  • Divisionary Intendance
  • Hadfield-Spears Ambulance
  • Light Surgical Ambulance
  • Naval Female Medical Evacuation Section
  • Decorations

    The division was cited 4 times at the orders of the armed forces (June 26, 1942, following the battle of Bir Hakeim; January 27, 1945, for Italy, the Vosges; March 16, 1945, for combats in Alsace; July 7, 1945, for the campaign of Authion) and the principal forming regiments were awarded the French Fourragere for 2 citations at the orders of the armed forces.

  • Fourragere with olive colors of the Médaille militaire and Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 (4–5 citations at the orders of the armed forces)
  • 13th Demi-Brigade of Foreign Legion 13e DBLE
  • Marine Infantry and Pacific Battalion
  • 1er Régiment de Fusiliers Marins 1e RFM
  • Fourragere with olive colors of the Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 (2–3 citations at the orders of the armed forces)
  • Marching Battalion 2
  • Marching Battalion 5
  • Division Commanders

  • 1941 : colonel Raoul Magrin-Vernerey
  • April 15, 1941 – August 21, 1941 : général Legentilhomme
  • January 1943 – May 16, 1943 : général de Larminat
  • 1943 : général Kœnig
  • August 1, 1943 : général Brosset
  • November 20, 1944 : général Garby
  • Homages

    Forty-eight cemeteries, are the resting places of the more than 3600 members of the division. Eight of the division's units were made Compagnons de la Libération. Four members of the division represent the combatants in uniform resting at the Mémorial de la France combattante at au Mont Valérien, Nous sommes ici pour témoigner devant l'Histoire que de 1939 à 1945 ses fils ont lutté pour que la France vive libre:

  • Maboulkede (1921–1944) – Soldier of the 24th Marching Battalion, BM 24
  • Georges Brière (1922–1944) – Sailor of the 1er Régiment de Fusiliers Marins, 1er RFM
  • Marius Duport (1919–1944) – Sous-lieutenant of the 22nd North African Marching Battalion 22e BMNA
  • Antonin Mourgues (1919–1942) – Caporal-chef au Marine Infantry and Pacific Battalion, BIMP
  • Casualties

    The division endured the loss of 3619 killed in action (out of which 1126 Colonial Indigenous (French: Indigènes Coloniaux)) with 67% killed in the period of April 1944 to May 1945.


    1st Free French Division Wikipedia

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