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Spanish Legion

The Spanish Legión is an elite unit of the Spanish Army. Founded as the Tercio de Extranjeros, it was originally intended as a Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion

The Spanish Legión is an elite unit of the Spanish Army. Founded as the Tercio de Extranjeros, it was originally intended as a Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, but in practice it recruited almost exclusively Spaniards. The Spanish Legion”s animal mascot is the Legión”s goat.

History of the Spanish Legion

The Spanish Foreign Legion was formed by royal decree of King Alfonso XIII on January 28, 1920. In the 1920s the Spanish Foreign Legion”s five battalions were filled primarily by native Spaniards with most of its foreign members coming from the now independent Republic of Cuba.

Historically there had been a Spanish Foreign Legion which preceded the modern Legion”s formation in 1920. On 28 June 1835, the French government had decided to hand over to the Spanish government, lock, stock, and barrel, the French Foreign Legion in support of Queen Isabella”s claim to the Spanish throne during the First Carlist War. The French Legion, with around 4,000 men, landed at Tarragona on 17 August 1835.

This became the First Spanish Legion until it was dissolved on 8 December 1838, when it had dropped to only 500 men. The British Legion (La Legión Británica) of the Spanish Legion also fought during the First Carlist War. This Legion fought for the fortified bridge of Arrigorriaga on September 11, 1835.

The Spanish Foreign Legion was created along the lines of the French Foreign Legion as a corps of professional troops that could replace conscripts in colonial campaigns. There has been much confusion—even today—in the English speaking countries over the Spanish title for this military unit “La Legion Extranjera” which roughly translates in English as “The Legion of Foreigners”. The misconception is over the Spanish word “extranjero” which has a triple meaning and can be translated as “foreigners,” but also can mean “foreign” or “abroad”. In this case the translation is “abroad”. The Spanish title actually should be translated in English as “The Legion to serve abroad”. While the Spanish Foreign Legion did accept non-Spaniards when it was first recruited. Their first major campaign for which they are still famous was in Spanish North Africa. In 1920 Spain was facing a major rebellion in the Protectorate of Spanish Morocco, led by the able Rif leader Abdel Krim.
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On September 2 of that same year, King Alfonso XIII conferred command of the new regiment on Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry José Millán Astray, chief proponent of its establishment. Millán Astray was an able soldier but an eccentric and extreme personality. His style and attitude would become part of the mystique of the Legion.

On September 20 the first recruit joined the new Legion; this date is celebrated yearly. The initial make-up of the regiment was that of a headquarters unit and three battalions (known as Banderas, or “flags”). Each battalion was in turn made up of a headquarters company, two rifle companies and a machine gun company. The regiment”s initial location was at the Cuartel del Rey en Ceuta on the Plaza de Colón. At its height, during the Spanish Civil War, the legion consisted of 18 banderas, plus a tank bandera, an assault engineer bandera and a Special Operations Group. Banderas 12 through 18 were considered independent units and never served as part of the tercios.

Francisco Franco was one of the founding members of the Legion and the unit”s second-in-command. The Legion fought in Morocco in the War of the Rif (to 1926). Together with the Regulares (Moorish colonial troops), the Legion made up the Spanish Army of Africa. In 1934 units of both the Legion and the Regulares were brought to Spain by the new Republican Government to help put down a workers revolt in the area of Asturias.

Flags of the Spanish Legion

Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Juan Yagüe the Army of Africa played an important part in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. The professionalism of both the Legion and the Regulares gave Franco”s Nationalists a significant initial advantage over the less well trained Republican forces. The Army of Africa remained the elite spearhead of the Nationalist armies throughout the Civil War. Following the Nationalist victory in 1939, Ben 10 games download the Legion was reduced in size and returned to its bases in Spanish Morocco. When Morocco gained its independence in 1956 the Legion continued in existence as part of the garrison of the remaining Spanish enclaves and territories in North Africa. The Legion fought Arab irregulars in the Ifni War in 1957-58.

On June 17, 1970, Legion units opened fire and killed eleven pro-independence demonstrators at the Zemla quarters of El-Aaiun in the Western Sahara. The incident, which came to be called the Zemla Intifada, had a significant influence on pushing the Sahrawi anticolonial movement into embarking on an armed struggle which still goes on up to the present, though Spain has long since abandoned the territory and handed it over to Morocco.

Through the course of the Legion”s history Spaniards (including natives of the colony of Spanish Guinea) have made up the majority of its members, with foreigners accounting for 25 percent or less. During the Riff War of the early 1920s most of the Foreigners serving with the Legion were Spanish speaking Latin Americans. After 1987 it stopped accepting foreigners altogether and changed its name to the Spanish Legion.

Legionnaires with a crucifix.

In the 2000s, after the abandonment of conscription, the Spanish Army again accepted foreigners from select nationalities. Included were: male and female native Spanish speakers, mostly from Central American and South American states. Recruits were required to have a valid Spanish residence permit. Promotion prospects for foreigners were however reported to be limited.

Millán Astray provided the Legion with a distinctive spirit and symbolism intended to evoke Spain”s Imperial and Christian traditions. For instance, the Legion adopted the regimental designation of tercio in memory of the sixteenth century Spanish infantry formations that had toppled nations and terrorized the battlefields of Europe in the days of Charles V. Millán-Astray also revived the Spaniard”s ancient feud with the Moors and portrayed his men first as crusaders on an extended Reconquista against the Islamic civilization, and later as the saviours of Spain warding off the twin evils of Communism and democratic liberalism defeating the dangerous spectre of “Eastern Atheism”.

The Spanish Legion nowadays is mostly used in NATO peacekeeping missions. It currently numbers 5,000 in a Brigade of two tercios (regiments). It is directly controlled by the Spanish General Staff.

The Spanish Legion is currently deployed mainly in the Spanish African enclaves, namely Ceuta and Melilla but also in Ronda and Almería in Andalusia. Although the detachment at Málaga was transferred away, every Holy Week a platoon of legionnaires disembarks to procession the Christ of the Good Death, a figure of a crucified Jesus, venerated by the Legion.
The Legion remains a harshly disciplined elite unit.

The Legion formerly had a special operations unit known as the Bandera de operaciones especiales de la legión. The members of this unit, who were volunteers from other banderas of the Legion, received training in: SCUBA/Maritime Warfare, Arctic and Mountain Warfare, Sabotage and Demolitions, Parachute and HALO techniques, Long Range Reconnaissance, Counter-terrorism and CQB, Vehicle insertion, Sniping and SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion. Much of the training was undertaken in Fort Bragg. In 2002 the BOEL was renamed Grupo de Operaciones Especiales “Maderal Oleaga” XIX and was moved to Alicante. GOE XIX currently accepts applicants from other light infantry units and no longer forms part of the Legion.



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