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1st Armored Division (France)

1re Division Blindée
Insigne 1° DB.JPG
Active May 1, 1943 – March 31, 1946
1948 – July 1, 1999
July 1, 2016 - present
Country Flag of France.svg France
Allegiance Flag of France.svg French Army
Branch French Army
Type Armored division
Role Armoured warfare
Size ~ 25,000
Garrison/HQ Besançon
Nickname(s) division Saint-Louis
Motto(s) Nomine et Virtute Prima
Engagements World War II

The 1st Armored Division (French: 1re Division Blindée, 1re DB) is a unit of the French Army formed during World War II.

Dissolved for a first time in 1946, the unit was recreated in 1948. It was again dissolved in 1999 with the cadre of the professionalization of the French Military.

The 1st Mechanised Brigade (1re BM), created on July 1, 1999, inherited traditions of the 1re DB. The 1re BM was again dissolved on July 21, 2015.

The 1st Division (1re DIV) was recreated in 2016.

Creation and different nominations

  • The 1st Armored Division (1re DB) was created on May 1, 1943.
  • It was dissolved on March 31, 1946.
  • The 1st Armored Division was recreated in 1948.
  • On July 1, 1999, the 1st Mechanised Brigade (1re BM) inherited the traditions of the division.
  • The 1st Mechanised Brigade was dissolved on July 21, 2015.
  • The 1st Division (1re DIV) was recreated on July 1, 2016 part of the Scorpion Force alongside the 3rd Division.

Motto and designation

The motto of the division, Nomine et Virtute Prima, translates literally to "La première par le nom et la valeur" in French, "The first by name and valor". The choice of the insignia, the cross of Saint Louis by général Jean Touzet du Vigier, comes from the place of formation of the unit, Tunisia, where King Louis IX of France came to rest in 1270.

The division is known and referred to as "division Saint-Louis".

The division was cited three times at the orders of the armed forces during the Second World War.

History

1943 to 1946

In 1943, a French armed force was formed in North Africa. The unit was equipped with modern equipment coming from the United States, and the program anticipated the constitution of several armed divisions. Following various materials arrivals, only three divisions were constituted, on the following:

  • One command staff
  • One company of headquarter staff
  • Three command staff brigade
  • One reconnaissance regiment
  • Three tank regiments
  • One chasseur tank regiment
  • Three mounted infantry battalions
  • Three artillery groups
  • One engineer battalion
  • One group FTA
  • One repair group squadron
  • One transmission company
  • One service company
  • One medical battalion
  • One exploitation group

This division was organised on American lines, in three Combat commands. The three French divisions were organised like this for their 1944-1945 operations.

Within this context, the 1st Armored Division (1st DB) was formed on May 1, 1943. The division was heir to the Light Mechanised Brigade (French: Brigade Légère Mécanique, BLM) which combat engaged in Tunisia. On January 28, 1943, General Jean Touzet du Vigier (promoted on December 25, 1942) took command of this unit in formation. He had left the command of the BLM to général Brossin de Saint-Didier and installed his command post in Mascara where the training center for armored brigades garrisoned.

When first established, 1 DB consisted of a reconnaissance regiment, the 3rd Chasseurs d'Afrique, of Constantine; two tank regiments, the 2nd and 5th Chasseurs d'Afrique, Oran and Maison Carrée; and a fourth Chasseurs d'Afrique regiment, the 9th, equipped with tank-destroyers. Adding to these four formations, one mounted regiment, the 2nd Zouaves, of Oran, the 68th Artillery Regiment, of Tunisia; the 88th Engineer Battalion, recently created at Port-Lyautey, and the 38th FTA group, of Ténès. In the coming months of May 1943 joined transmission and services. In August, the train and a squadron group reinforced immediately. Then, the 2nd Chasseurs d'Afrique was divided (doubled) to form 2nd Tank-Cuirassiers Regiment, a regiment that général du Vigier commanded in 1940. The latter had just been promoted to a divisional general on August 25, and all the forces which were under his disposition were grouped around Mascara.

The 2nd Zouaves Regiment disappeared and was replaced, as the infantry of the division, by three independent battalions, belonging to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Zouaves, forming a demi-brigade. The division became part of the First Army (then designated Army B) and which would participate to the amphibious assault on Provence. The first embarking commenced in Oran and Mers-el-Kébir at the end of the month of July 1944, after several peregrinations. The Naval ships lifted anchors on August 10 and 11. The disembarking should have taken lieu between Saint-Tropez and Saint-Raphaël. At the dawn of August 15, an enormous naval fleet was assembled north-west of Corsica steering and heading north.

The operations of the 1st Armored Division throughout the course of World War II comprised three phases:

  • From the Mediterranean to the Vosges, August 15 to November 13, 1944
  • Combat in Alsace, November 14, 1944 to February 9, 1945
  • February 10 to May 7, 1945

From the Mediterranean to Vosges, August 15 to November 13, 1944

Throughout the course of the first phase operations, the CC1 was engaged in battle, then the entire division competed with the VI Corps, the siege of Toulon, Marseille and the liberation of Provence. The unit reached the Rhône by means of improvisation, regrouped, west of the river for fifteen days following the disembarking and engaged in a ride of 600 kilometers, which would bring them to the footsteps of the Vosges, following an uninterrupted combat engamenent event series, which lead to the liberation of Saint-Étienne, Lyon, Anse et Villefranche, Chalon-sur-Saône, Chagny, Beaune, Dijon and Langres. Started then the hardships of a slow and difficult incursion by the valleys of the Vosgues, in the mud and the rain and snow. After 54 days of marching towards Le Thillot, which stations are Mélisey, Servance, Haut-du-Them-Château-Lambert, Ramonchamp, Cornimont, Travexin, Fresse, la Chevestraye, Recolonges, la Chapelle de Ronchamp, colline de Bourlémont, the division succeeds to the Trouée de Belfort on October 18, 1944.

Following this first phase operations, the 1st DB was cited for a first time at the orders of the armed forces.

Combat for Alsace November 14, 1944 to February 9, 1945

During the course of the second phase, the re DB was the first to penetrate Alsace and the first at Rhin. Making way on November 14 from the high valley of Doubs, the 1e DB mounted the offensive on Belfort. The division operating within the cadre of the 1st Army Corps (général Béthouart) slides along Héricourt along the French and Swiss border and apprehended Delle on November 18. The next day, the CC3 was in Alsace and, at 1800, the tank platoon of lieutenant Loisy was able to raise the fanion in the Rhin, at Rosenau. The latter was part of the 4th squadron of the 2nd African Chasseur Regiment. This officer would meet his end on the next November 23, when his tank was hit by an anti-tank launcher during the attack on caserne Lefebvre at Muhouse. On the 20, colonel Caldairou entered the city. Nevertheless, despite the success resulting from the junction of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps in the region of Burnhaupt, Colmar remained well protected. During two months, the division held in the snow a defensive sector on Dollar, south of that of what would be later referred to as the Colmar Pocket. On January 20, the 1st Army relaunched the assault on the two northern and southern flanks of the pocket, in the middle of a snow storm. Following a three-week struggle, Alsace was liberated and Colmar seized on February 2. The division, which engaged in combat since December 5 under the orders of général Sudre, following an annoying progression in between mines, witnessed a short exploitation which led to Chalampé on February 9 in the morning. Accordingly, the division finished the campaign of France started on August 15, 1944 and which was over six months later on the Rhin.

Following this second phase of operations, the 1e DB was cited a second time at the orders of the armed forces.

February 10 to May 7, 1945

At the beginning of the third phase, since April 5, the CC2 was in Germany. Combat engaged with the 9th Colonial Infantry Division, the path throughout the Forêt-Noire was cleared, to deliver to the 1st Army the important routes. Later to the turn, the CC3 combat engaged supporting the colonials. Following a march on Kehl and Offenburg, they made way south to apprehend Fribourg on April 21. They rejoined the division on the 28 south-west of Ulm. The 1st Armored Division crossed the Rhin on April 17. Général Sudre regrouped means at the exception of CC3 around Freudenstadt, and while acting with the cadre of the 1st Army Corps, his unit mounted the assault. The division accordingly made way to Danube by Rottweil and Horb, crossed the river on April 21 at Matulheim and Tuttlingen, and while engaging Stockach, pushed back all along the Danube by Sigmaringen until Ulm which was apprehended in liaison with the American 7th U.S. Army arriving from the North. The 1re DB apprehended Immenstadt on April 30 and reached the same day the Austrian frontier to occupy Aach and Oberstdorf. With only the field of mountains in plain sight, the division opened the way for the infantry and regrouped around de Biberach. First in the Rhin, first in Danube, the division with the Cross of Saint-Louis reached objectives following a sequence of successful event combat engagement series. The division played a decisive role towards the final campaign. The CC2 in Forêt-Noire, the CC3 in the fields of Bade, then the entire division engaged in combat until May 7.

Following this ultimate and third phase operations, the 1e DB was cited for a third time at the orders of the armed forces.

End of the war

Following the cessation of hostilities, the 1ere DB joined Palatinat, around Landau. The division remained there for two months. The division sent to Berlin the first detachment in charge of representing France, on July 1, composed of : a squadron of the 3rd African Chasseur Regiment, a squadron of the 9th, 2 companies of the 1st and 3rd Zouaves, and a train detachment. On September 5, the headquarter staff of the division garrisoned at Trèves. The 1re DB, with reduced effectif by the demobilization, returned to France and garrisoned, October 1945 to March 1946 in the zones of Bourges, Châtellerault, Nantes and Angoulême. The division was dissolved on March 31, 1946.

Composition in 1944

The 1re DB which disembarked in Provence in August 1944 was composed of 73% Europeans and 27% Indigènes.

Organic units:

Organization of the mounted Zouaves battalions

The infantry of the 1re DB was constituted of three mounted Zouaves battalions (French: bataillons de zouaves portés, BZP) organized within the following:

One BZP was assigned to each of the three CC which composed the 1e Armored Division. The effectif was almost 800 men (Pied-Noirs, Metropolitan French and Maghrebis) and consisted of 3 combat companies with almost 180 to 200 men each. Each company consisted of three combat sections (platoons) of almost fifty men mounted by 5 half-tracks (armed with machine guns, mortars and cannon 57 anti-tank).

Different and various circumstances governed combats of St-Loup-de-la-Salle, on September 6, 1944, almost 30 kilometers east of Tailly. The entire BZP endured the heavy attack. In other circumstances, road combats were also expected, which led the Zouave to often progress through mounting tanks. Nevertheless, Zouaves also often mounted assaults by themselves. Such various governing circumstances were taking place on September 9 in front of Nuits-St-Georges. A company of the 3rd BZP was ordered to apprehend Nuits-Saint-Georges. Tanks were occupied in Beaune and could not provide fire support. The resistance was strong and companies without rear support endured heavy losses. As tanks were made available again, assaults were relaunched. These were, briefly evoked, the types of various circumstances in which the BZPs conducted battle. Losses were heavy. The infantry accompanying the 1e DB endured killed in action and wounded, 1700 men out of 2400, the initial effectif. Almost 72% of the effective. Losses were compensated by reinforcements sent from North Africa as well as numerous volunteers who engaged as villages and cities were being liberated.[1]

1948 to 1999

The 1st Armoured Division was recreated in 1948.

In 1951, the general headquarter staff garrisoned at Trèves in Germany. The division was part of the French Forces in Germany (French: Forces françaises en Allemagne, FFA).

Composition in 1985:

  • 1er Régiment de cuirassiers de St Wendel
  • 6e Régiment de dragons de Saarburg
  • 8e Groupe de chasseurs de Wittlich
  • 16e Groupe de chasseurs de Saarburg
  • 153e Régiment d'infanterie de Mutzig
  • 9e Régiment d'artillerie de marine de Trèves
  • 61e Régiment d'artillerie de Morhange
  • 13e Régiment de génie de Trèves
  • 1er Escadron d'éclairage divisionnaire de St Wendel
  • 1er Régiment de commandement et de soutien de Trèves

From 1993 to 1999, the 1re Division Blindée was part of the Eurocorps.

1999 to 2015

On July 1, 1999, the 1st Armored Division became the 1st Mechanised Brigade (1re BM). The general headquarter staff garrisoned at Châlons-en-Champagne. The 1re BM was dissolved on July 21, 2015.

Since 2016

The 1st Division was recreated on July 1, 2016. Interarm, the division is formed of three brigades as well French units of the Franco-German Brigade and is part of the Scorpion Force alongside the 3rd Division and units stationed in outre-mer and overseas.

Composition 2016

The 1st Division is subordinated to the Commandement des Forces Terrestres CFT. The division counts 25000 men in :

7e brigade blindée – 7th Armoured Brigade

Insignia of the 7eBB

Based in Besançon.

9e brigade légère blindée de marine - 9th Marine Infantry Brigade

Insignia of the 9e BIM

Based in Poitiers.

27e brigade d’infanterie de montagne – 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade

Insignia of the 27e BIM

Based in Varces.

  • 27e Compagnie de Commandement et de Transmissions de Montagne (27e CCTM) - Command and Signals Company in Varces
  • 4e Régiment de Chasseurs (4e RCh) - Wheeled Armoured Regiment in Gap with 36 ERC 90, 16 VBL and 6 Gazelle helicopters
  • 7e Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (7e BCA) - Mountain Infantry Battalion in Bourg-Saint-Maurice with VAB and VHM
  • 13e Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (11e BCA) - Mountain Infantry Battalion in Chambéry with VAB and VHM
  • 27e Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (27e BCA) - Mountain Infantry Battalion in Annecy with VAB and VHM
  • 93e Régiment d'Artillerie de Montagne (93e RAM) - Mountain Artillery Regiment in Varces with CAESAR self-propelled howitzers and RTF1 mortars
  • 2e Régiment Etranger de Génie (2e REG) in Saint-Christol

Brigade franco-allemande – Franco-German Brigade

Insignia of the BFA

Based in Müllheim, Germany

French contribution:

  • 3e Régiment de Hussards (3e RH) - Wheeled Armoured Regiment in Metz (France) with AMX 10 RC and VBL
  • 1er Régiment d'Infanterie (1er RI) - Infantry Regiment in Sarrebourg (France) with VAB
  • Bataillon de commandement et de soutien (BCS) - Logistic battalion in Müllheim (Germany)

References

  1. ^ Texte émanant du colonel ANDERHUBER, ancien du 3e BZP, Amicale des Anciens du 2e Zouaves 20 juin 2011 - Bulletin n°45

Sources and bibliography

  • De Lattre de Tassigny, Histoire de la première armée française, Plon, 1949.
  • Collectif, La première division blindée au combat, Malakoff, sur les Presses de Théo Brugière, le 30 juillet 1947
  • Revue Ligne de front, Hors série numéro 5 de septembre octobre 2008.