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Foreign Legion,French volunteer armed force composed chiefly, in its enlisted ranks, of foreigners. Its international character and the tradition of not revealing enlistees' backgrounds have helped to surround the Foreign Legion with an aura of mystery and romance. Although foreigners had served in French armies previously, King Louis Philippe created (1831) this specific foreign legion. Originally intended to pacify Algeria, the legion also was active in the pacification of Morocco and fought in other areas of the French colonial empire and in both world wars. It was later active in the French campaigns in Indochina and Algeria. One regiment of the legion supported Algerian insurgency against the French government (1961) and was rapidly disbanded. The legion was normally stationed in Algeria until 1962, when its headquarters were transferred to S France, near Marseilles. The army's regiments were scattered throughout the world. There have been many other foreign legions; e.g., a British legion participated in the Carlist Wars in Spain, and in the Spanish civil war (1936–39) the International Brigade fought on the Loyalist side.
See T. Geraghty, March or Die: A New History of the French Foreign Legion (1987); J. R. Young, The French Foreign Legion (2d ed. 1988); D. Porch, The French Foreign Legion (1991); A. D. Gilbert, Voices of the Foreign Legion (2010).
French and Spanish mercenary military units in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Since no civil status documents were required for admission to the Foreign Legion, a large proportion of the legionnaires were déclassé elements or criminals from various countries.
The French Foreign Legion was set up in 1831 for use in colonial wars in Africa and Asia. In 1871 the Foreign Legion was directed by the French government based in Versailles to suppress the Paris Commune. The Foreign Legion fought in World Wars I and II and was sometimes used by the French ruling circles to suppress the revolutionary actions of French soldiers at the front and in the rear. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the legion was widely used against the national liberation movements of the peoples of North Africa and Indochina. After World War II some units of the Foreign Legion fought in the wars of the French imperialists in Vietnam (1946–54) and Algeria (1954–62).
The Spanish Foreign Legion was created in 1920 and participated in the suppression of the liberation movement in Morocco in the 1920’s. The Foreign Legion participated in punitive expeditions against the antifascist uprising of the Asturian miners in 1934 and fought on the side of the rebels against the Spanish Republic in 1936–39.