Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian "special forces"

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Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian "special forces"
Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian "special forces"

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Video: Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian "special forces"
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History of wars of the XIX-XX centuries. knows many examples of the use of colonial troops in hostilities. Almost every European power that possessed its own colonies considered it its duty to maintain special military units, as a rule, recruited from among the representatives of the peoples of the conquered countries, and in some cases from European settlers, who were still trusted more than representatives of indigenous peoples. Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium - each of these European states had their own colonial troops. Most of them served in the colonies, guarding the borders, maintaining order in the conquered territories and fighting the rebels. But those states that claimed the status of not only colonial metropolises, but also powers of world importance, had numerous regiments and even divisions recruited in the colonies, which were also used on the European fronts.

Great Britain and France have succeeded in this respect. British Gurkhas and Sikhs, French Senegalese riflemen and Zouaves are known even by those who have never been interested in the history of colonial troops and the military-political presence of European powers in Asia or Africa. This article will focus on the French Zouaves. Why is it necessary to use the adjective "French" - because military units in the service of the Ottoman Empire, the United States of America, the Papal State, and also took part in the Polish uprising ("death zouaves") also had a similar name.

Dervishes, Kabyles and Pirates

The history of the origin of the French Zouaves is inextricably linked with the colonial policy of France in North Africa, more precisely, in Algeria. There are two main versions regarding the origin of the word "zouave" (French "zouave"). According to the first, this word is associated with the Berber Zwāwa - the name of one of the tribal groups of Kabil. The Kabils are a five-million people of Berber origin, living in the mountainous Algerian region of Kabylia, and now, in large numbers, in France itself (up to 700 thousand Kabyles). Like other Berber peoples, before the Arab conquest of North Africa, the Kabila were the main population here, and after the creation of the Arab Caliphate, they lost their positions. A significant part of the Berbers mixed with the Arabs and formed the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Maghreb - Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians. However, part of the Berbers, mainly living in mountainous regions, managed to preserve their own culture, language and ethnic identity, although they turned out to be Islamized. Berbers have always been considered warlike tribes - since the days of the Punic Wars. Of course, the most famous "warriors of the desert" - the Tuaregs, but the mountain Berbers of Morocco and Algeria can also boast of belligerence and fighting skills. In Morocco, it was from the Berbers of the Reef that the Spaniards recruited their gumiers in the twentieth century, and in Algeria the French at first equipped the Zouave units with cabins, and later transferred the Berbers to the Algerian Tiralier units.

According to another point of view, Zwāwa is nothing more than a zawiya, that is, a community of militant dervishes, members of the Sufi order. Sufism (a mystical trend in Islam) is widespread in North and West Africa. Followers of Sufi sheikhs - dervishes - form zawiyas - an analogue of monastic brethren, which can reach a very impressive number. In the Middle Ages, many Turkish janissaries and local Arab and Kabyle mercenaries belonged to the Sufi zawiyy. On the other hand, mercenaries were recruited from among young and efficient dervishes. The stronghold of the zawies was the mountainous Kabylia, where a large number of zawies were based, some of whom were engaged in professional military mercenaries and entered the service of the Algerian day.

Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian
Legendary Zouaves: Franco-Algerian

- the last Algerian dei Hussein Pasha (1773-1838)

Dey was the name of the leader of the Turkish janissary army, stationed in Algeria and back in 1600, who had won the Ottoman Empire the right to choose a commander from among its midst. Initially, the dey shared power over Algeria with the Turkish Pasha, but in 1711 the Pasha was sent to Turkey and Algeria became a de facto independent state. Janissary autonomy on the North African coast was a rather original phenomenon in the history of the Middle Ages and Modern Times. We can say that this state lived not so much at the expense of its own economy, as at the expense of robbery - first of all, piracy, as well as the real racketeering. It should be noted here that since the Middle Ages, the Algerian coast has become the abode of pirates who terrorized the entire Mediterranean. In addition to attacks on European merchant ships, Algerian pirates periodically raided the southern coasts of Spain and Italy - robbing villages and small towns, capturing people for ransom or selling in slave markets. On the other hand, many European companies and even small states preferred to pay the Algerian dey a regular tribute to keep their merchant ships safe from pirate attacks.

For several centuries, the European powers have tried to solve the problem of North African piracy, taking the so-called. "Algerian expeditions" - punitive raids on the Algerian coast. For several centuries, almost all Western states - Spain, Genoa, France, Portugal, the Kingdom of Naples, the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain and even the United States of America - have been marked in the "Algerian expeditions". Almost immediately after the declaration of independence, the United States declared war on the Algerian dey and launched a raid on the Algerian coast in 1815, demanding the release of all American citizens who were in Algerian captivity. In 1816 the city of Algeria was destroyed by British and Dutch naval artillery. But the Algerians were not going to give up the lucrative industry, which served as one of their main sources of income. Therefore, as soon as the punitive fleets of European states sailed from the North African coast, the Algerians were taken to the old. The end of piracy was only the beginning of French colonization.

Conquest of Algeria

The French conquest of Algeria began with a minor incident, used as an excellent pretext for colonial expansion. In 1827, the Algerian dei Hussein struck a French diplomat in the face with a fan. In 1830, French troops swiftly captured the city of Algeria and continued their expansion to other regions of the country. It should be noted that the weakness of the Dei state immediately made itself felt - most of the territories submitted to the French, with the exception of Constantine and Kabylia. The most serious resistance to the French was put up by the tribes of Western Algeria, led by Emir Abd al-Qadir (1808-1883), under whose leadership the anti-colonial struggle lasted 15 years - from 1832 to 1847.

It was with this Arab-Berber emir that the French had to wage an extremely difficult and exhausting war, accompanied by numerous manifestations of the cruelty of the French troops against local tribes. After Abd al-Qadir surrendered and spent the next almost forty years in the status of an honorary prisoner, noting himself with speeches in defense of persecuted Christians in Syria, the Algerian resistance was actually suppressed, although certain regions of the country remained "hot spots" until the end of the colonial era already in the middle of the twentieth century.

It is worth noting that the colonization of Algeria entailed not only an end to Mediterranean piracy, but also contributed to the strengthening of France's position in North Africa. After all, a large territory of Algeria, especially its coastal part, was a developed agricultural region and had economic attractiveness, as well as the potential for solving social problems of the French state - a significant number of French settlers rushed to Algeria. Another acquisition of France was the opportunity to use the potential of the relatively large Algerian population as a labor and military force.

Zouaves - From Kabyle Mercenaries to French Settlers

After dei Hussein surrendered to the French troops who had landed in Algeria under the command of General Count Bourmont on July 5, 1830, the latter came up with the idea of accepting mercenaries - Zouaves, who were formerly in the service of the dey, into the French service. August 15, 1830 can be considered the countdown day of the history of the French Zouaves - on this day, the first 500 people were accepted into the French service. These were Zwāwa, who served the dey, but after the conquest, like many mercenary units in other countries of the East, they went over to the side of the strongest. In the fall of 1830, two battalions of Zouaves with a total strength of 700 troops were formed, and in 1831 two cavalry squadrons of Zouaves were also formed, later assigned to the Senegalese riflemen. The infantry units of the Zouaves were originally planned as light infantry, that is, an analogue of modern paratroopers, indispensable where the confrontation with the enemy has to be literally "face to face". It is no coincidence that the Zouaves are called an analogue of the French special forces - they have always been distinguished by high courage and were ready to complete any task, even at the cost of their own lives.


- General Louis Auguste Victor de Genne de Bourmont (1773-1846), conqueror of Algeria

From the first days of its existence, the military units of the Zouaves took an active part in the French colonization of Algeria. The warriors who had previously served the Algerian dey, no less zealously set about conquering their own fellow tribesmen to the French crown. In the fall of 1830 and at the beginning of the winter of 1831, the Zouaves took part in the war against the Titterian Bey, who initially submitted to the French, but then rebelled against the colonialists.

The beginning of the combat path of the Zouaves coincided with certain difficulties in recruiting units. Initially, it was supposed to staff the Zouaves in a mixed way - that is, to take into service both the Algerians and the French from the metropolis. Obviously, the French command believed that the presence of the French in the units of the Zouaves would make them more reliable and efficient. However, this did not take into account the climatic features of Algeria, which are difficult for many recruits from the metropolis, as well as the religious differences of Muslims - Algerians and Christians - French. Those who had no previous experience of joint service with the Gentiles, both of them rather difficultly communicated with each other in mixed units. Moreover, the French generals doubted the reliability of the military units recruited from the Muslims - Kabila and still hoped for the possibility of manning the battalions stationed in North Africa with French immigrants from the metropolis.

In 1833, it was decided to dissolve the two battalions of Zouaves created three years earlier and create one battalion of mixed composition, completing it by recruiting the French who moved to Algeria for permanent residence. This practice turned out to be more successful, and in 1835 the second battalion of the Zouaves was created, and in 1837 - the third battalion. In 1841, in connection with the reorganization of the French army, the Zouaves ceased to be recruited on a mixed basis and began to be staffed exclusively by the French - first of all, immigrants living in Algeria, as well as volunteers from the metropolis. The Catholic French formed the backbone of the Zouave corps for nearly a century, replacing the original Muslim units. The representatives of the indigenous peoples of Algeria - Arabs and Berbers - as already mentioned, were transferred to the units of the Algerian riflemen - tyrallers, as well as to the cavalry detachments of Spagi, who performed gendarme functions.

During the period described, the French army was recruited through a drawing of lots for conscripts, in which all young people over 20 years old took part. The service lasted seven years, but there was an alternative - to volunteer and serve for two years. However, it was possible to avoid the draft - to nominate a "deputy" in place of himself - that is, a person who wants to fulfill his civic duty for a certain amount of money instead of a wealthy guy who ransoms from the draft. As a rule, representatives of marginal layers of the population, former soldiers who did not find work in civilian life after demobilization, and even former criminals, were appointed “deputies”.


According to contemporaries, among the "Zouaves" almost all privates and corporals were "deputies", since wealthy settlers preferred to put in their place landless and unemployed settlers who moved to North Africa in search of a better life. Naturally, reckless bravery in such a contingent often coexisted with a low level of discipline. The Zouaves were distinguished by great cruelty, they could show looting, bully the civilian population, not to mention the abuse of alcohol. In peacetime, when the Zouaves had nothing special to do, they indulged in drunkenness and debauchery, which was almost impossible to stop. Yes, and the military command preferred to turn a blind eye to these qualities of the Zouaves, perfectly understanding which contingent they managed to recruit from among the “deputies” and, most importantly, being satisfied with the behavior of the Zouaves on the battlefield. After all, the main thing in the Zouave was that he fought well and terrified the enemy.

An amazing phenomenon of the Zouave units was the presence of the so-called "vivandier". This was the name of women who joined the units of the Zouaves and turned into full-fledged combat comrades-in-arms. As a rule, the Vivandiers were concubines of soldiers, corporals and sergeants, or simply regimental prostitutes, who, however, could take part in hostilities and even had the saber they were entitled to according to the charter as a military weapon. Although, of course, the main purpose of the Vivandier was to serve the Zouaves in several senses at once - in culinary, sexual and sanitary. Preparing food, sleeping with a soldier, and, if necessary, providing him with first aid, treating his wounds - this, in principle, was the responsibility of the women of the Zouave units.

The first regiment of the Zouaves was created, consisting of three battalions. It is noteworthy that in the Zouave units, up to a quarter of the servicemen were Algerian Jews, whom the French considered more reliable than the Algerians of the Muslim faith. On February 13, 1852, according to the decree of Louis Napoleon, the number of Zouave units was increased to three regiments, three battalions in each. The first regiment was stationed in Algeria, the second - in Oran, the third - in Constantine - that is, in the largest urban centers of the Algerian coast.


The Zuavs were also distinguished by a special form of uniform, which retained an oriental flavor. Outwardly, the Zouaves resembled a Turkish janissary, which, by the way, was quite justified, since the Zouaves began precisely with the janissaries and mercenaries from the “zawies” who were in the service of the Algerian dei. Zouave was dressed in a short navy woolen jacket embroidered with red woolen braid, a five-button vest made of cloth and cotton, red short trousers, boots and gaiters (on the latter, multi-colored buttons were sewn for beauty). The head of the Zouave was crowned with a red fez with a brush - a reminder of the time when the units of the same name were in service in Ottoman Turkey and the Algerian dei. Fez was worn with a fold on the left or right side, they could have wrapped a green turban around it - another evidence of the Eastern influence on the uniform of the Zuave. It is significant that the Zouaves also wore a special copper badge in the form of a crescent and a star. Although at the time of the beginning of their military journey outside Algeria, the Zouaves had long been recruited from among the French settlers who professed Catholicism, as well as from Algerian Jews, the crescent and the star were preserved as a tribute to the historical tradition and the memory of the first Zouaves - Kabilas, who professed Islam. Also, an important distinguishing feature of the appearance of many Zouaves was the wearing of a thick beard. Although, of course, beardedness or shaving was a personal matter of each particular Zouave, the command of the Zouavian regiments did not fix serious obstacles to wearing a beard, and many Zouaves grew over the years of service quite impressively. For some, the beard even became a kind of evidence of seniority, since stopping shaving from the moment they were recruited into the regiment, the old Zouaves had much longer beards than their young colleagues.

The battle path of the Zouaves: from Algeria to China

The first foreign campaign in which the Algerian Zouaves took part was the Crimean War. The Zouaves were deployed to the Crimea to fight against the Russian troops as one of the most efficient and "frostbitten" units of the French army. At the Battle of Alma, it was the courage of the Zouaves of the third regiment that allowed the Allies to gain the upper hand - climbing the steep cliffs, the Zouaves were able to capture the positions of the Russian army. In honor of the victory at Alma, a bridge was built across the River Seine in Paris. In addition to the Battle of Alma, of the seven regiments that participated in the storming of the Malakhov Kurgan, three were represented by the Algerian Zouaves. Marshal Saint-Arno, who commanded the French expeditionary force in the Crimea and died of cholera during the hostilities, was also seen off on his last journey by a company of Zouaves. The combat successes of the Algerian soldiers prompted the French emperor Napoleon III to create an additional regiment of Zouaves as part of the imperial guard.

After the end of the Crimean War, the Zouave regiments took part in almost all the wars waged by France in the second half of the 19th - first half of the 20th centuries. In 1859, the Zouaves took part in hostilities against Austrian troops in Italy, while suppressing uprisings in Kabylia in Algeria. In 1861-1864. French troops were sent by Napoleon III to Mexico to help local conservatives who sought to restore monarchical rule to the country. Archduke Maximillian, the brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, became a candidate for the Mexican throne. Combined Anglo-French-Spanish troops invaded Mexico to support Maximillian and his supporters. The French included the second and third regiments of the Zouaves. For participation in the battles in Mexico, the third regiment of the Zouaves received the Order of the Legion of Honor. Around the same time, the Zouave regiments took part in the Franco-Moroccan clashes.


In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began, in which the Zouave regiments also took an active part. In addition to the three field regiments of the Zouaves, the regiment of the Zouaves of the Imperial Guard also participated in the war. Despite the fact that he showed himself excellently in hostilities, after the proclamation of the republic, the imperial guard, including the regiment of the Zouaves, was disbanded. However, four regiments of Zouaves were rebuilt in 1872 and participated in anti-insurgency operations in Algeria and Tunisia in 1880 and 1890, as well as in the operation to "pacify" Morocco.

With the establishment of republican rule, the Zouaves ceased to be recruited from among volunteers and began to be recruited from conscripts - young French settlers in Algeria and Tunisia, called up for military service. Nevertheless, in some Zouavian regiments, a sufficient number of volunteers remained who continued to serve and helped to strengthen the morale and improve the combat readiness of the units.

In 1907-1912. Zouave units took part in the hostilities in Morocco, largely contributing to the signing of the Treaty of Fez by the Sultan in 1912 and the establishment of a French protectorate over Morocco, which meant the de facto consolidation of French rule over almost all of North-West Africa. Eight battalions of Zouaves were stationed in Morocco. The fourth Zouave regiment was stationed in Tunisia. In 1883, when France began colonial expansion in Indochina, it was decided to use Zouave units to conquer Vietnam. In 1885, a battalion of the third Zouave regiment was sent to Tonkin. In 1887 the Zouaves took part in the establishment of French rule in Annam. Two battalions of Zouaves took part in the fighting during the Franco-Chinese War in August 1884 - April 1885. Later, the Zouaves were introduced to China during the suppression of the Ihetuan uprising in 1900-1901.

Zouaves in World Wars

During the First World War, France mobilized large units of colonial troops for hostilities not only on the African continent and the Middle East, but also on the European front. The beginning of mobilization made it possible to advance the Zouave regiments to the European front, at the same time leaving the units in North Africa. Line battalions were created from four active Zouave regiments. The French command transferred battalions from the 2nd regiment to the Levant. In December 1914 and January 1915. on the territory of Algeria, several more Zouave regiments were formed - the 7th regiment, 2 bis from the reserve battalions of the 2nd regiment and 3 bis from the reserve battalions of the 3rd regiment. In Morocco, the French formed the eighth and ninth Zouave regiments.

Taking into account the peculiarities of the conduct of hostilities in Europe, in 1915 the uniform of the Zouaves was changed. Instead of the usual blue uniforms, the Zouaves were changed into khaki uniforms, and only the fez and blue wool belts were left as the distinctive signs of these legendary units. Zouave regiments were indispensable in attacking enemy positions, gaining the glory of real thugs and instilling fear even in the famous German infantry.

It is significant that several Zouave battalions were recruited from among defectors from Zlzas and Lorraine - German provinces bordering France and inhabited to a large extent by a French population and Alsatians closely related to the French. Also in the battalions of the Zouaves, individual prisoners of war who wished to continue serving in the French army were accepted as volunteers - mainly the same Alsatians who were drafted into the German armed forces and surrendered.

After the end of the First World War, the demobilization of the marching regiments created to participate in hostilities began. By 1920, only six Zouave regiments remained in the French armed forces. In 1920-1927. The second regiment of Zouaves participated in the Moroccan War, when France helped Spain overcome the resistance of the Rif Republic and defeat the rebels of Abd al-Krim. In accordance with the adopted on July 13, 1927. By law, the Zouaves were classified as standing armed forces defending the colonial territories and French departments of Algeria (the cities of Algeria, Constantine and Oran), as well as Tunisia and Morocco.

The composition of the units of the Zouaves in the interwar period looked as follows. The Zouave regiment usually numbered 1,580 troops. Three regiments of Zouavs - 8th, 9th and 3rd - were stationed in Algeria (8th - in Oran, 9th - in Algeria, 3rd - in Constantine). The 4th Zouave Regiment was stationed in Tunisia. The 1st regiment was stationed in Morocco in Casablanca, the 2nd - in Morocco, on the border with the Spanish possessions.

As you know, France met World War II quite ingloriously - numerous and well-equipped French armed forces could not prevent the German occupation of the country and the accession of the collaborationist Vichy government in Paris. Nevertheless, when mobilization was announced in September 1939, the number of Zouavian regiments was significantly increased. So, in the 4th regiment, instead of the pre-war strength of 1,850 servicemen, about 3,000 people served (81 officers, 342 non-commissioned officers and 2,667 privates zouaves). As a result of mobilization, 15 Zouave regiments were created. Six regiments of Zouaves were trained on the territory of North Africa - in Casablanca, Oran, Constantine, Tunisia, Murmelon, Algeria. In France itself, 5 Zouave regiments were trained, four regiments were left in North Africa to provide a reserve and maintain order - the 21st regiment in Meknes, the 22nd in Oran and Tlemcen, the 23rd in Constantine, Setif and Philippeville, 29- th - in Algeria. Zouave regiments, armed only with small arms, thrown into battle during the resistance to German aggression in France, were destroyed by enemy aviation and artillery fire.

At the same time, the Zouave units remaining in North Africa, after the Allied landings in November 1942, took part in the Resistance Movement. The first, third and fourth regiments of the Zouaves participated in the Tunisian campaign of 1942-1943, nine battalions - in hostilities in France and Germany in 1944-1945, three battalions were part of the 1st armored division.

After World War II, the last major operation of the Zouaves was to resist the attempts of the Algerian national liberation movement to proclaim the country's independence and separate Algeria from France. During this period, the Zouave regiments were recruited with conscripts from the metropolis and performed the functions of protecting order and fighting the rebels, guarding infrastructure facilities until the end of the liberation war.

In 1962, after the final completion of the French campaign in Algeria, the Zouaves ceased to exist. The end of the Zouave units was inevitable, as they were recruited through the recruitment of the European population of Algeria, which quickly left the country after the end of French colonial rule. Nevertheless, the tradition of the Zouaves was preserved until 2006 at the French commando military academy, the cadets of which used the flags and uniforms of the Zouaves. France does not yet have plans to rebuild the most famous and efficient African unit, although the Foreign Legion has survived to the present day.

The trace of the Zouaves in the military history of the mid-19th - mid-20th centuries. hard to miss. Moreover, despite the relative localization of the French Zouaves on the North African coast, units with the same name and similar uniforms and methods of combat training and mission became widespread during the Civil War in the United States of America and the uprising in Poland, in the Papal State during attempts to defend it from the uniting Italy, and even in Brazil, where a battalion of Zouaves was created from among slaves - offenders, who faced the dilemma of going to serve as a Zouave or be executed for their crimes (in all other countries, the Zouaves were recruited from among volunteers, and in the Papal State for candidates rather strict requirements were imposed on the Zouaves). Even in the fashion of modern Zouaves, they were noted - it is in their honor that a special type of trousers are called so.