Accueil > History of 1st RPIMa SAS > The units of 1940-1945 (part. 1)


The units of 1940-1945 (part. 1)

On September 29, 1940 General de Gaulle authorizes and approves the creation of a Paratroop Company that was to be commanded by Capitaine G. Bergé who pushed for its creation.

This first CIA (Compagnie d'infanterie de l'Air) soon had the required numbers and its first Platoon was brevetted at RAFB Ringway on Christmas 1940.

In early 1941, the 2nd and 3rd Platoons were also brevetted.

These Free French Paratroopers were the first to be dropped behind enemy lines and quickly proved that it was possible to operate (Operation Savannah in March 1941 and Joséphine B in May) and to be ex-filtrated from behind enemy lines.

In those days, the 1ère C.I.A.underwent some very important reorganization.

A platoon is assigned with the B.C.R.A for "Homo" missions in France, meanwhile the other two platoons are tasked with commando missions, sabotage and raids.

In May of the same year the 1ère Compagnie Parachutiste (ex 1ère C.I.A) is now under Army command. It is shipped to the Middle-East in July.

In October, it becomes the 1ère Compagnie de Chasseurs Parachutistes and is once again under Free French Air Force command. In Great Britain the story was the same for the volunteers who swelled the ranks of the 2ème C.I.A that had been set up in September 1941 per the order of General de Gaulle and this to fill the gap left by the departure of the 1ère C.P.

1942 was a year of intense preparation for the French who were integrated into the S.A.S Brigade of Major Stirling in the Middle-East.

In June, the French Squadron, who was by now well integrated in the SAS, was sent on operations from desert bases; there were a series of raids against German airfields and logistic bases that threatened the route of convoys to Malta. There was also a raid on Crete's Heraklion airfield where Captain Bergé was captured and Corporal Leostic killed.

The Derma raid also ended badly because of the betrayal of the local population.

Lastly on July 27, the French Squadron mourned the death of Officer Cadet Zimheld on his return from a raid on Sidi Haneish, his patrol was attacked by enemy aircraft. It is then that his brothers in arms discovered on his body several writings and the poem he had written in Tunis in April 1938 that became "The Paratrooper's Prayer".

After other raids, General de Gaulle ordered the return to England of the Paratrooper Company, a 2nd SAS Company was formed on the spot, and it was led by Lieutenant Jordan. The unit fought in Tunisia in early 1943.

In Great Britain, 1943 was devoted to the opening of a second front in Europe, with at first, a massive landing operation coming from its shores.

In Great Britain, the 2ème C.I.A, whose numbers came close to that of a light battalion, was being trained to participate in it.

The 1er B.I.A (Bataillon d'infanterie de l'air) was set up in July 1943. It becomes the 4ème B.I.A in late November and the 3ème B.I.A. who had joined up with it earlier in the month; it was set up mainly in North Africa.

SAS HQ was interested in the French Paras whom it wanted integrated in a Special Operations Brigade with a European operations tasking.

In January 1944, the 3ème and 4ème B.I.A. became the 3rd and 4th S.A.S. Right up to May they underwent very intensive specialized training.

On the night of June 5/6 four sticks of the 4ème B.I.A (4th SAS) were airdropped in pairs in Brittany, the Morbihan and Côtes du Nord. Their mission was to evaluate the fighting capabilities of the local Resistance, prepare Operational Bases where the rest of the Battalion would be airdropped, and execute offensive operations against the 150,000 Germans in Brittany; the Germans could snuff out the invasion altogether if they reached the site of Operation Overlord.

The 4ème B.I.A (4th SAS) never had more than 450 men, but its toughness, good use of battle tactics, will to win, destruction of communication links , depots and harassment of convoys obliterated the enemy's plans. Their missions were a success but the cost was high! When US forces arrived in Brittany in early August, there were only a handful of paratroopers left, many were dead, and many had been horribly tortured by the enemy and the Milice (French SS type units)

The unit also had the heartbreaking honor of having the first allied combat death of the Normandy Invasion; Corporal Bouetard was killed less than an hour after he landed in France

Many officers, including Captain Marienne and NCO's were also reported as M.I.A.

The 4ème B.I.A (4th SAS) became the 2ème R.C.P. in late July, and it was awarded the Compagnon de la Libération medal. This Cross will be awarded in Paris, on November 11.

The sticks of the 3ème B.I.A. (3rd SAS) had also participated in the scramble for the spoils, the outcome for these two units spoke for itself.

After being reorganized as a motorized gun jeep regiment, the 2ème R.C.P. sets up shop near the Loire River. Its exploits against enemy divisions who were withdrawing in good order, is almost considered as fiction since the risks and audaciousness exhibited was way beyond what can be considered as reasonable. Here too losses were high. Then at Christmas, depleted by losses of the summer and autumn campaigns, the 2ème R.C.P is nevertheless thrown into the inferno of the Ardennes battle; with the mission to help battered and encircled US units. In spite of the intense cold (-25°) the audacious gun jeep crews effectively disrupt German units in their sector right up to and until late January 1945.

Peace seems to be close at hand, the nation is completely liberated and the SAS doesn't think it will again be involved in an operation. The ranks have thinned out and have not been completely filled up. Many of the seriously wounded are still in hospitals. Nonetheless, the 2ème R.C.P is united with the 3ème R.C.P and will see one last battle.

On April 8, the two regiments are airdropped during the nigh and in bad weather in the Meppel, Assen and Groningen triangle in Holland during Operation Amherst.

Dispersed and facing a now furious enemy, the SAS will hold its assigned ground so as to enable the armor of the 1st Canadian Corps to smash through the last pockets of German resistance in Holland.

The job at hand is hard, the SAS is accustomed to working in hostile environments and it is certain that victory is close at hand. During their mission they accomplish outstanding deeds of courage and efficiency.

This synthetic text on the first units in 1940-45 sheds no light on numerous historical episodes, this is at the center of the preceding tableau.

The epic history of the SAS will end in the disbandment of the two regiments whose members were even more reduced after they were demobilized at the end of the war. A new non SAS 2ème R.C.P. was created with the veterans of the two units in the framework of the Infanterie Métropolitaine (Regular Army)

It kept the traditions and history and was the unit from which the SAS Battalions of Indochina were created.


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