Uniform Guide for the French Expeditionary Corps

My uniform guide for the French Expeditionary Corps (FEC).

Vichy forces in North Africa wore the uniform in use in 1940.

The 1st DFL fighting in north Africa were equipped by the British. The 1st DFL fought throughout the war.

During the Tunisian campaign the Armée d’Afrique fought with French 1940 weapons and equipment. After the campaign the French African Army (Armée d’Afrique) joined the Free French Forces of the Tchad and Egypt. Following the Anfa agreement all French forces were equipped in the US fashion before being shipped to Italy.

By 1944 the French uniform was an extraordinary mess with French, British and American uniforms all being in use. Photos of French troops in overcoats with US webbing and US leggings but many have large thin cotton ‘desert’ scarves – the cheche – wrapped around their necks and all have French Adrian helmets covered with very rough string netting that breaks up the distinctive Adrian outline; later photos have a mix of Adrian and US helmets with the US kit gradually predominating.

As a rule of thumb French soldiers retained their traditional hat/helmet if they could. There were a couple of reasons for this but basically to show:

  • the Allies that they where not fighting under the US command but as one of the Allies, and
  • the enemy that they were facing Frenchmen.

French officers, for example, wore their Kepi if they still had one. The Kepi had a Khaki cover to make it less visible but none the less it made French officers conspicuous.

Some troops retained the Adrian Helmet in preference to US equipment. General de Montsabert of the 3 DIA (3rd Algerian Infantry Division) ordered his men to retain the Adrian so the Germans could tell they were fighting French troops. During the Italian campaign the 2 DIM and the 4 DMM also used the Adrian.

In contrast the 1st DFL – a Free French unit – retained the British helmet to distinguish them from the Armée d’Afrique.

The 2nd Armored Division (Gal Leclerc) were in US uniforms with the exception of an amoured regiment formed from marine troops (Fusiliers Marin called Saccos) who wore the Bachi – the French hat of the navy with a red pompon (it would look great to have a Tank Destroyer with a sailor in the turret). The 501 Regiment de Char de combat used the French tanker black berets, the Regiment de Marche du Tchad (RMT) (the infantry regiment of the 2eme DB) used the Blue and Red colonial troops bonnet de police with the anchor. In the attack on 12 May 1944 the CEF, including the Goumiers, wore British helmets to fool the Germans into believing this was an British attack, i.e. slower and more structured than the normal French affair.

Colonial troops (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Syria) retained elements of their Colonial uniforms even if wearing otherwise British or American uniforms. For example Moroccan Goumier were dressed with both traditional items (e.g. turban and djellabah) and standard uniform items. They were equipped by the US and used the WWI US helmets. The turban color identified the particular Goum.

The Kepi was used on the battle field by both the Foreign Legion and regular officers. The Fusilliers Marins from the DFL (not the same as the 2eme DB) never used any helmet in combat. However, most other ranks would wear a helmet in combat and reserve their Kepi, Fez, or Turban for when out of the line.

Headgear Who wore it
US M1 helmet 2 DIM. 4 DMM. Reserve Units.
Adrian Helmet 3DIA. 2 DIM. 4 DMM. Reserve Units.
Kepi Officers (khaki cover over black) FFL: Kepi (khaki cover over white)
Fez (in khaki brown) Algerian (RTA) and Tunisian (RTT) as well as Senegalese (generic terms for black troops – RTS or RIC). Zouaves (RZ) and Spahis (RSA or RSM)
Turban Morrocan troops (RTM).
Bachi Marine troops
US WWI Goumiers
British Helmet 1st DFL

Some troops also wore a sash : blue for Zouave and FFL, red for ‘tirailleurs’ (Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Senegalese).

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