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Bataillons de Choc

Page Created
January 31st, 2024
Last Updated
February 15th, 2024
French Flag
Additional Information
Order of Battle
Badge of the Bataillon de Choc
Power of the Legion, lightness of the chasseur, chic of the cavalryman.
May 23rd, 1943
November 1st, 1945
Theater of Operations
Corsica, France
Elba, France
Organisational History

In September 1939, England and France declare war on Germany. However, after a forceful German offensive from May to June 1940, the French authorities are compelled to sign an armistice, effectively ceasing all military opposition against the Germans. Despite the partial occupation by enemy troops, the rest of Metropolitan France and its overseas territories continue under the administration of the new French government, based in Vichy, commonly known as Vichy France.

England, subsequently joined by the United States, is determined to free Europe from Hitler’s control. They decide to utilise French North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, as their strategic starting point for Europe’s liberation, launching Operation Torch in November 1942. The French command in North Africa, along with forces such as the Foreign Legion, sides with the Allies, contributing significantly to the defeat of German and Italian forces in Tunisia. Following this success, the Allies commence the reorganisation of French forces in North Africa, preparing them for future European operations, and leading to the formation of new airborne units.

Among the newly formed units, the Bataillon de Choc (Shock Battalion) stands out as the first. This commando unit, comprised solely of volunteers, is capable of being deployed behind enemy lines for harassment and sabotage missions, or to assist and train local Resistance forces. Its formation is inspired by the British Special Air Service, established in 1941.

In 1943, Battalion Chief Major Fernand Gambiezpersuades the staff of the need to create a special unit “capable of providing powerful aid to elements clandestinely embedded in the landing operation zone.” The creation of the Bataillon de Choc takes place in Staoueli, Algeria on May 23rd, 1943, with the authorisation of General Henri Giraud, the then commander-in-chief of French troops in North Africa. A recruitment notice for volunteers is circulated among all units under his command, including regiments of the Foreign Legion. Despite some commanding officers’ reluctance due to a troop shortage post the Tunisia campaign, many volunteers eagerly sign up.

By May 1943, approximately forty legionnaires – including officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted men – join the battalion based in Staoueli, a commune west of Algiers. Most arrive from Morocco, predominantly from mounted and motorised units of the 3e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie, 3e REI. Some transfer formally, while others leave their original units unofficially, eager to embark on this new venture. Nonetheless, administrative formalities are swiftly completed upon their arrival at the battalion.

The battalion also sees volunteers from demobilised units of 1940, including officers and soldiers who had fled France or escaped from prison camps. They share a collective goal: the liberation of France.

These legionnaires are among the first assigned to this elite unit, distributed across its three companies. Major Fernand Gambiez, a former Foreign Legion officer with service in Morocco, is appointed to lead the Bataillon de Choc. He receives full autonomy in organizing the unit, including its structure, training, equipment, and military doctrine.

Legionnaires, alongside volunteers from other army branches, play a pivotal role in shaping the Bataillon de Choc. The unit prides itself on a unique ethos: combining the strength of the Legion, the agility of the chasseur, and the flair of the cavalryman.


The unit’s baptism by fire occurs in late summer 1943 during Operation Vesuvius for the liberation of Corsica. The operation begins on September 13th, 1943, with the landing of a precursor element of 109 hunters from the 3e company of Captain Manjot in the port of Ajaccio, from the submarine Casabianca, which secures the surrender of the garrison. Following this, on the September 14th, 1943, the remainder of the battalion successfully lands in Corsica, transported by the destroyers Le Fantasque and Le Terrible.

After spending a few days in the Ajaccio region, Gambiez’s men operate across the island until October 4th, 1943, reaching Bastia.

After their commendable role in the liberation of Corsica in September 1943, the first French department to be freed, the Bataillon de Choc is stationed in Calvi’s citadel. The battalion then settles in the citadel of Calvi, and on October 15th, 1943, expands with the 4e company formed from Corsican volunteers, whose emblem features the Moor’s head. Here, the battalion also continues its rigorous commando training, now under the supervision of Allied specialists, including Captain Peter Neale from the British commandos. The training even includes parachute jumps.

A segment of the battalion’s legionnaires forms the “Legion Platoon,” later renamed the “Experimental Platoon.” This elite commando unit is tasked with the development, application, and testing of new combat techniques. Some members of this platoon participate in sabotage operations along the Italian coast during the winter of 1943-1944.


After these commando-type interventions in Italy, the battalion is fully engaged from June 17th, 1944, to June 29th, 1944, in Operation Brassard, as part of the Italian campaign, General de Lattre de Tassigny’s French “B” Army is assigned to seize Elba Island, situated between Corsica and Italy. This mission aims to prevent German forces from using the island as a strategic outpost.

The landing contingent is composed of:

  • Commandos d’Afrique and the Bataillon de Choc, both specialised in special operations.
  • The 9e Division d’Infanterie Coloniale, 9e DIC, forming the core of the assault.
  • A battalion and an additional artillery battery from the Régiment d’Artillerie Coloniale du Maroc or R.A.C.M, providing essential artillery support.
  • The 2e Groupement de Tabors Marocains or 2e RTM, recognised for their effectiveness in challenging terrains.
  • 48 men from “A” and “O” Beachhead Commandos of the Royal Navy, contributing critical support and expertise during beach landings.

The Bataillon de Choc is entrusted with the operation’s most perilous task: neutralising the enemy’s coastal artillery, particularly the Campo and Enfola batteries, crucial to the overall success of the operation.

Divided into seven detachments on inflatable boats, the battalion lands on Elba on June 17th, 1944, at 01:00, a full three hours before the main French troop landing. Detachment No. 7, consisting of the Experimental Platoon and a group of young Corsican volunteers from the 4e Company, is particularly notable.

The legionnaire commandos, led by Second Lieutenant Saunier, Warrant Officer Lévèque, and Senior Corporal Mattei, are tasked with dismantling the German artillery battery’s four large guns on the Enfola peninsula. These 152 mm M1937 (ML-20) howitzer guns, originally from the Soviet Army and repurposed by the Wehrmacht, are effectively neutralised by the Detachment. The Experimental Platoon alone destroys three of these guns and renders the fourth inoperable. The enemy suffers seventeen fatalities, including two officers, along with numerous injuries.

This mission, although successful, leads to the near annihilation of the Experimental Legion platoon, despite their critical contribution to liberating Elba within two days. In total, the Bataillon de Choc suffers 18 killed, 6 officers and 41 hunters injured, and 27 missing.


After returning from Elba men from the Bataiilon de Choc perform some sabotage missions on the Italian coast. These are carried out from Bastia with the support of the American and English navies. Meanwhile, the Bataillion de Choc continues its training in Corsica and Algeria, at Staouéli in the COSULAC (Special Organisation Centre for Light Assault and Commando Units) or COS. In Staouéli, the COS trains future Choc troops and the newly created Commandos of France.

Before the landing, command dispatches teams of the Bataillon de Choc to assist the Vercors Maquis. Following the fall of Vercors, the Corley/Muelle section, comprising thirty men from the COS of Staouéli, is equipped for a parachute jump into Drôme. The half-section under Sub-Lieutenant Corley jumps on August 1st, 1944, followed by the half-section led by Aspirant Muelle on August 2nd, 1944, at 00:25, landing near the Chateau-ruiné close to Comps in Drôme. Several members of the troops sustain injuries upon landing, including Sub-Lieutenant Corley, who then delegates command to Muelle. This section, supported by local maquisards, engages in combat operations from August 2nd, 1944, to September 8th, 1944, before rejoining the Battalion.

In Corsica, at the beginning of August 1944, elements from different companies, including six chasseurs from the 1er Compagnie, four from the 4e Compagnie, and one from the General Staff, who speak English and are familiar with Provence, are selected for a secret operation. Sent to Italy, they are to be parachuted into Provence on August 15th, 1944. They are to be part of the parachute operations of the 1st Airborne Task Force during OPeration Dragoon.

Five are assigned to the U.S. Airborne Troops:

  • Two Chasseurs, Sergeant Joseph Schevenels (4e Compagnie 4e Section) and Jean Folliero de Luna (1er Compagnie 1er Section), at Headquarters Airborne Task Force. It is noted that Jean Folliero de Luna, when boarding the planes, must, reluctantly, give up his place to a U.S. correspondent. He joins the Headquarters in Provence the following day aboard a glider.
  • Two Chasseurs, Gérard Cagninacci (1er Company 2e Section) and François Gilbert (1er Company 1er Section), are assigned to the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.
  • Chasseur Jacques Debray (4e Compagnie 4e Section) is with the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion. He is killed on August 15th in Trans en Provence.

Six Chasseurs are assigned to the English Airborne Troops:

  • Adjudant Roch Lombard (4e Compagnie, 2e Section) and Chasseur Marcel Aubrey (1er Compagnie, 1er Section) to the 6th (Royal Welsh) Parachute Battalion of the 2nd Airborne Brigade.
  • Corporal Claude Jacquemet (1er Compagnie, 4e Section) and Chasseur Joseph Fontana (Headquarters) with the 5th (Scottish) Parachute Battalion of the 2nd Airborne Brigade.
  • Sergeant Henri de Wavrin (1er Compagnie, 4e Section) and Corporal Daniel Bazin (Headquarters) in the 4th Parachute Battalion of the 2nd Airborne Brigade.

They are equipped with either US or English jump gear. The only distinguishing feature setting them apart from the English and Americans is the invasion armband in the national colours.

Meanwhile on August 15th, 1944, 16 members of the battalion and an equal number of paratroopers from the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes also parachute into the Provence.

The men land ahead of the Anvil/Dragoon landings in the Muy and Saint-Raphaël areas. These skilled commandos effectively harass German troops, disrupting their defenses.

The main body of the Bataillon de Choc lands by ship on August 20th, 1944, in the port of Saint-Tropez.

Following these operations, the Bataillon de Choc is actively engaged in several key locations across France. They participate in operations in Toulon, Aix-en-Provence, Saint-Etienne, and Lyon. After skirmishes between Montélimar and Grenoble, the section, attached to an FFI company (16e company of the 1st Battalion of the Drôme-Sud Secret Army), is ordered to attack Le Pont-de-Claix, a gateway to Grenoble. On August 21st, 1944, Muelle’s hunters engage in fierce combat, take over the village, but retreat due to lack of support and the arrival of a German reinforcement column. Eventually, they enter Grenoble as a precursor element on August 22nd, 1944. The section rejoins the battalion for the capture of Dijon on September 9th, 1944.

In the meantime, Gambiez leaves the unit to form the Commandos of France, and the bulk of the battalion lands on August 20th, 1944, in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez at Sainte-Maxime. Led by Captain Hériard-Dubreuil, the Batallion de Choc engages in combat for Toulon from August 21st,1944 to August 24th, 1944, alongside the 3e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens of Colonel Linares. The unit notably fights at the Dardennes hamlet, the gunpowder store, and in the city center.

After the battles of Toulon, the battalion heads north through the Rhône Valley, liberating Dijon on September 11th, 1944, alongside the 2e Régiment de Spahis Algériens de Reconnaissance and a Tank Destroyer platoon.

In September 1944, under the leadership of Commander Vallon, the Commandos de France merge with the Bataillon de Choc to form the Choc Demi-Brigade, entrusted to the capable command of Lieutenant-Colonel Gambiez. Initially assigned to the operational purview of General de Monsabert’s 2nd Army Corps, the demi-brigade later transitions to General Bonjour’s Tactical Group No. 4.

Towards the end of September, the unit approaches Belfort and, after separate engagements by the companies at Ronchamp and Fresse, fights at Miellin and Château-Lambert.

On October 3rd, 1944, the unit is reinforced by the 1er Commandos Lourds (Heavy Commandos) led by Captain Fournier from the Commandos of France. On October 25th, 1944, Captain Lefort takes command of this unit.

In early November, the Choc Demi-Brigade, engages in deadly combat at Haut du Tôt south of Gérardmer, then moves to the Belfort region to participate in the city’s liberation. On November 20th, 1944, the companies first engage in Cravanche, then Coudray and Essert, and enter Belfort, which is fully liberated by November 25th, 1944.

From November 23rd, 1944, to December 3rd, 1944, the Demi-Brigade engages in a succession of battles in Upper Alsace between Belfort and Mulhouse.

On January 5th, 1945, several units are reorganised into six Bataillons de Choc. The original Bataillon de Choc becomes the 1er Bataillon de Choc, 1er Choc. The Janson de Sailly Batallion is reformed as the 2e Bataillon de Choc, 2e Choc. The Commandos de France are transformed into the 3e Bataillon de Choc, 3e Choc. The Commandos de Cluny establish the 4e Bataillon de Choc, 4e Choc. The Groupement de Commandos d’Afrique is reorganised into the 5e Bataillon de Choc, 5e Choc under Commander Ducournau, while the Groupement de Commandos de Provence and the Commandos de Paris/Bataillon Désiré become the 6e Bataillon de Choc, 6e Choc.

On 18th January 1945, these six Bataillons de Choc form three Groupements de Commandos de Choc, each comprising two Bataillons.

  • The 1re Groupement de Commandos de Choc, led by Lieutenant Colonel Gambiez, includes the 1re and 3e Bataillon de Choc.
  • The 2e Groupement de Commandos de Choc, under Commander Quinche, consists of the 2e and 4e Bataillon de Choc.
  • The 3e Groupement de Commandos de Choc, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bouvet, encompasses the 5e and 6e Bataillon de Choc.

These units engage in Alsace in January and February 1945, participating in the battles of clearing the Colmar Pocket and capturing cities like, Cernay, Guebwiller, and Buhl.

After these actions, the units are significantly depleted, with some sections losing half their personnel. They are send to Soultzmatt for a resting period. Here, they conduct training for Rhine crossing operations, including commando raids in Kembs and Nambsheim.

Crossing the Rhine

During the late evening of March 30th, 1945, with the aid of only a few inflatable boats ferrying back and forth, an entire company of the 3e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens starts crossing the river near Speyer and established a small bridgehead. Similarly, near Germersheim, elements of the 151re Regiment d’Infanterie crossed. Despite vigorous enemy counter-attacks, these bridgeheads hold firm. Karlsruhe is seized on April 4th, 1945, at which time three infantry divisions and one armoured division (totaling 130,000 men and 10,000 vehicles) are widely dispersed on the right bank of the Rhine, linked to the Palatinate by a 10-ton bridge at Speyer and soon, a 30-ton bridge near Germersheim.

On April 18th, 1945, General Eisenhower orders the 1er Armée to halt, but General de Lattre de Tassigny refuses. The aim is to outpace the Americans, catch them off guard, cross south of the Danube, and advance towards Ulm to bypass the Swabian Jura, where the Germans might defend themselves. General de Lattre de Tassigny orders General Béthouard to cross the Danube on the April 22nd, 1945 and take the cities of Constance and Ulm by the April 25th, 1945.

Approaching the Black Forest via Baden will allow the Germans time to fortify and organize. However, the French 2e Corps d’Armée enters the massif from the north, seizing Freudenstadt. They advance towards Stuttgart, with the 1e Corps d’Armée following suit. Starting from Freudenstadt, they encircle the Black Forest cutting the German Troops off.

The 1er Bataillon de Choc crosses the Rhine at Germersheim on April 2nd, 1945 and continues its campaign through Germany and Austria. Accompanied by tanks, the unit quickly progresses, engaging in numerous battles, notably in Karlsruhe, Pforzheim, Dobel, and Reutlingen.

The capture of Pforzheim opened the gateway to the left bank of the Enz River, leading to a succession of battles in the Black Forest region. Notable engagements include the capture of Dennach, Unterotenbad, Waldrennach, and Langenbrand.

Fully regrouped by April 20th, 1945 the commandos participate in several confrontations along the route to Lake Constance, including battles at Altenburg, Wannweil, Reutlingen, and Pfullingen. Their objective is to secure the right bank of the lake and block the passage to Austria, thwarting German units seeking refuge in that direction.

The Danube is reached on April 26th, 1945 near Sigmaringen, followed by the complete capture of Lake Constance.

On May 1st, 1945, they take part in the assault on Bregenz, a strongly fortified position. Despite the formidable defences, Bregenz falls within the day. Following their success, the commandos cross the Bregenzer Ach, establishing a bridgehead at Wolfurt on the opposite bank, and continue their advance through the Arlberg defiles. Progress is swift and decisive.

The last battle takes place on May 5th, 1945 at Hintergasse.

On May 7th, 1945, with the announcement of capitulation imminent, Lieutenant-Colonel Gambiez is determined to commemorate the furthest point of the 1er Groupement de Commandos de Choc’s advance. He dispatches ten skilled skiers from the Choc units and commandos to the summit of the Arlberg. There, they plant a colossal French flag, adorned with the banner of the French Commandos and the distinctive black star featuring the red Lorraine cross of the Free Corps. This act serves as a symbolic marker of their triumph and marked the culmination of their courageous campaign.

Following Germany’s capitulation, the Groupements de Commandos are stationed in the Ravensburg area until late 1945.

On October 1st, 1945, the three Groupements de Commandos de Choc are reformed to the three Bataillons of the 1er Régiment d’Infanterie de Choc Aéroporté, 1er RICAP near Wurtemberg, Germany.

  • 1er bataillon: consisting of the 1er Bataillon de Choc and 2e Bataillon de Choc
  • 2e bataillon: consisting of the 5e Bataillon de Choc and 6e Bataillon de Choc
  • 3e bataillon: consisting of the 3e Bataillon de Choc and 4e Bataillon de Choc.

After this date the units move back to France, to the vicinity La Pallu near Bordeaux.

The toll on the original battalion is significant. During the period of their active engagement from September 1943 to May 1945, they suffer heavy losses. The battalion records 170 members killed in action (KIA), a stark testament to the dangerous and often frontline nature of their missions. In addition to these fatalities, approximately 800 members are wounded in action (WIA), indicating the intense and hazardous conditions under which they operated.

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