The Spanish Legion (Spanish: Legión Española, La Legión), informally known as the Tercio or the Tercios, is a unit of the Spanish Army and Spain's Rapid Reaction Force. It was raised in the 1920s to serve as part of Spain's Army of Africa. The unit, which was established in January 1920 as the Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, was initially known as the Tercio de Extranjeros ("Tercio of foreigners"), the name under which it began fighting in the Rif War of 1920–1926. Although it recruited some foreigners mostly from Spanish-speaking nations, it recruited predominantly from Spaniards. As a result, and since it existed to serve in Spanish Morocco, it was soon renamed Tercio de Marruecos ("Tercio of Morocco"). By the end of the Rif War it had expanded and again changed its name, to the "Spanish Legion", with several "tercios" as sub-units.
The Legion played a major role in the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In post-Franco Spain, the modern Legion has undertaken tours of duty in the Yugoslav Wars, Afghanistan, Iraq and Operation Libre Hidalgo UNIFIL
Badge of the Spanish Legion
|Founded||28 January 1920|
|Allegiance||God, King, Spain|
|Nickname(s)||Novios de la muerte (Grooms of Death)|
|Motto(s)||Legionarios a luchar. Legionarios a morir! (Legionnaires, to fight. Legionnaires, to die!)|
|March||Canción Del Legionario|
(Official Quick march),
Novio de la Muerte
(Official hymn and slow march)
Spanish Civil War
Western Sahara conflict (1970-75)
Operation Libre Hidalgo UNIFIL
Military intervention against ISIL in Iraq
The Spanish Legion was formed by royal decree of King Alfonso XIII on 28 January 1920, with the Minister of War José Villalba Riquelme stating, "With the designation of Foreigners Regiment there will be created an armed military unit, whose recruits, uniform and regulations by which they should be governed will be set by the minister of war." In the 1920s the Spanish Legion's five battalions were filled primarily by native Spaniards (since foreigners were not easy to recruit) with most of its foreign members coming from the 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 the French Foreign Legion in support of Queen Isabella's claim to the Spanish throne during the First Carlist War. The French Foreign 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 11 September 1835
The Spanish Legion was modelled on the French Foreign Legion. Its purpose was to provide a corps of professional troops to fight in Spain's colonial campaigns in North Africa, in place of conscript units that were proving ineffective. The first commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel José Millán-Astray Terreros, referred to his unit as ‘La Legión’ from the start but this only became part of the unit’s title from 1937.
In the original Tercio de Extranjeros there were, amongst others, one Chinese, three Japanese, one Maltese, one Russian, and one black American. However, soon the majority of its members were Spaniards who joined to fight outside of European Spain.
Tercio (lit. 'a third') is an old Spanish military term that roughly translates as ‘regiment' (originally it had enough manpower to be considered a half-brigade). In the 18th century tercios were replaced by regiments. There is no equivalent word in English. Dating from the 16th century, the name was chosen to evoke the era of Spain's military supremacy as the leading Catholic power in Europe under the Habsburg Emperors. Organised into tercios in 1534, the Spanish infantry gained a reputation for invincibility.
In 1925, the unit title was changed to Tercio de Marruecos (‘Tercio of Morocco’). This was soon abbreviated to ‘The Tercio’. In 1937 at the height of the Spanish Civil War, the Tercio de Marruecos was renamed La Legión, the name by which it is still known today.
The Spanish Legion's first major campaign 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. On 2 September 1920, 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 20 September 1920 the first recruit joined the new legion, a date which is now celebrated annually. The initial make-up of the regiment was that of a headquarters unit and three battalions (known as Banderas, lit. "banners"- another archaic 16th century term). 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 to 18 were considered independent units and never served as part of the additional tercios into which the legion was organised.
Francisco Franco was one of the leaders of the legion and the unit's second-in-command, concurrently commanding the 1st Legion Bandera. 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 October 1934 units of both the legion and the Regulares were brought to Spain by the Republican Government to help put down a workers revolt in the area of Asturias.
Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Juan Yagüe the Army of Africa played an important part in the Spanish Civil War on the rebel side. The professionalism of both the legion and the Regulares gave Franco's rebel troops a significant initial advantage over the less well trained Spanish Republican forces. The Army of Africa remained an elite spearhead, until the expansion of the rebel armies after April 1937 led to the legion and Moroccan units being distributed across several fronts. Following the Francoist victory in 1939, the legion was reduced in size and returned to its bases in Spanish Morocco. It was only after then that the legion attained its present composition of 4 Tercios, and the names given to them, the 4th Tercio of the legion was established later in 1950:
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 17 June 1970, Legion units opened fire and killed between two and eleven demonstrators at the Zemla neighbourhood in El Aaiun, Spanish Sahara, modern day Western Sahara. The incident, which came known as the Zemla Intifada, had a significant influence on pushing the Sahrawi anticolonial movement into embarking on an armed struggle which continues, 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 Rif War of the 1920s most of the Foreigners serving with the legion were Spanish speaking Latin Americans.
In the 2000s, after the abandonment of conscription, the Spanish Legion once again accepted foreigners into service. Male and female native Spanish speakers, mostly from Central American and South American states, were included.
Today, acceptance to the Spanish Legion is based on the following criteria:
In recent years, the Spanish Legion was involved in Bosnia as part of the SFOR. It also took part in the Iraq War, deploying in Najaf alongside Salvadoran troops, until the new Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero fulfilled its electoral promises by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. The legion units deployed in Iraq were involved in several operations against the insurgency. In 2005, the legion was deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Stabilisation Force (ISAF). In 2006, the 10th Bandera was sent to Southern Lebanon as part of United Nations' Operation UNIFIL.
The Spanish Legion is now mostly used in NATO peacekeeping missions. It has 5,000 soldiers in a Brigade of two Tercios (regiments) based in Ronda, Málaga and Viator, Almería (Andalusia). Two other independent tercios are deployed in the Spanish African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla as part of their respective garrisons. The legion is directly controlled by the Spanish General Staff.
Although the detachment at Málaga was transferred away, each year a company of legionaries from one of the Tercios (regiments) returns to march in the Holy Week procession with the Christ of the Good Death, a life-size effigy of Christ Crucified, adopted by the legion as Patron in the 1920s. It also has its own confraternity with its home chapel located in this historic city, where veterans who served in this unit are counted among its membership. The Legion's detachments also take part in various Holy Week events nationwide, including its military band.
The Legion remains a disciplined elite unit.
The currently active units of the Spanish Legion are:
In other commands:
The legion used to have a special operations unit known as the Bandera de operaciones especiales de la legión (Legion Special Operations Company or BOEL). 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 at Fort Bragg (USA). In 2002 the BOEL was renamed 19th Special Operations Group "Maderal Oleaga" (GOE-XIX) and was moved to Alicante. GOE-XIX accepts applicants from other light infantry units and no longer forms part of the legion, nowadays it is subordinated to Special Operations Groups.
The military ranks and promotion conditions of the Spanish Legion are the same as those applicable to the remainder of the Spanish Army. Formerly the Legion had its own rank system for non-commissioned officers. The only modern difference is that soldiers (OR-1) in the Legion are referred to as "Caballeros Legionarios" (Legionnaire knights). Legionnaires consider this title as a distinction, earned through rigorous training and initiation tests.
Basic training lasts four months and takes place in Cáceres or Cádiz. It includes basic military skills, forced marches and a stringent assault course. After the second month, the recruit signs a 2 or 3-year contract. After finishing basic training the recruit joins one of the tercios, in there he receives further training, mostly focused on parading and legionary tradition. This is the same process as in the rest of units in the Spanish army.
From its establishment the legion was noted for its plain and simple style of dress, in contrast to the colourful dress uniforms worn by the Peninsular regiments of the Spanish Army until the overthrow of the Monarchy in 1931. This was part of the cult of austerity favoured by a unit that considered itself on more or less continual active service.
The modern legion has the same camouflage dress for active service and ordinary duties as the rest of the Spanish Army but retains the unique, sage green Tropical uniform for semi-formal barrack dress and as the basis of Legion parade uniform. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the modern legion uniform is the khaki "gorrillo" cap or "chapiri", with red hanging tassel and piping.
Contrary to usual military practice, Legionaries are allowed to sport beards and are permitted to wear their uniforms, both traditional and service, open at the chest.
The basic weapons used by the Legion are the same as those used by the rest of the Spanish Army. These include the G36-E rifle, its 40mm grenade launcher modular attachment the AG36, the HK MG4 and MG42 A3 machine guns, and the HK USP 9mm pistol.
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 16th-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 Spaniards' ancient feud with the Moors and portrayed his men first as crusaders on an extended Reconquista against 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'.
As a tribute to the old Tercios the Legion coat of arms features, besides the crown, weapons used by the soldiers of these units - the musket, halberd and crossbow.
The Legion's customs and traditions include the following:
El Novio de la Muerte (Bridegroom of Death) is the unofficial hymn and regimental slow march of the Spanish Legion, composed in 1921 with words by Juan Costa set to music by Fidel Prado.
Composed in 1920, La Cancion del Legionario (The Legionnare's Song) is the official quick march and anthem of the Legion. It was composed by Modesto Romero and Infantry Commandant Emilio Guillén Pedemonti. It is played by the military bands and bugle bands of the Legion at the regulation 190 beats that it exclusively uses.
Before it became the legion's official march, Le Madelon and Tercios Heroicos (Heroic Tercios) by Francisco Calles and Antonio Soler were its official march past tunes.
The following is a list of Legionaries who have gained fame or notoriety inside or outside of the legion.
The 1st Legion Tercio is an infantry regiment of the Spanish Legion. The regiments headquarters is in Melilla and commands the I Spanish Legion Bandera.2nd Legion Tercio "Duke of Alba"
The 2nd Legion Tercio "Duke of Alba" is an infantry regiment of the Spanish Legion. Its headquarters is in Ceuta and commands the IV Spanish Legion Bandera “Cristo de Lepanto”.3rd Legion Tercio "Don Juan de Austria"
The 3rd Legion Tercio "Don Juan de Austria" is a regiment of the Spanish Legion. Its headquarters are in Almería. The 3rd Tercio "Don Juan of Austria", of the Spanish Legion was created on 1 January 1940 in Spanish Protectorate of Morocco.4th Legion Tercio "Alejandro Farnesio"
The 4th Legion Tercio "Alejandro Farnesio" is a regiment of the Spanish Legion. Its headquarters is in Ronda. Its sole battalion is the X Bandera "Millán Astray. Ot was founded in 1950 and is currently based in Ronda.Alhucemas landing
The Alhucemas landing (also known as Al Hoceima landing) was a landing operation which took place on 8 September 1925 at Alhucemas of the Spanish Army and Navy and, in lesser numbers, an allied French contingent, that would put an end to the Rif War. It is considered the first amphibious landing in history involving the use of tanks and massive seaborne air support.The operations consisted on disembarking a force of 13,000 Spanish soldiers transported from Ceuta and Melilla by a combined Spanish-French naval fleet. The commander of the operation was the then dictator of Spain, general Miguel Primo de Rivera, and, as the executive head of the landing forces at the beach of Alhucemas bay, general José Sanjurjo, under whose orders were the columns of the chief generals of the brigades of Ceuta and Melilla, Leopoldo Saro Marín and Emilio Fernández Pérez, respectively. Among the participating officers, there was the then colonel Francisco Franco who, for his leadership of the Spanish Legion troops, was promoted to brigadier general.Antonio Castejón Espinosa
Antonio Castejón Espinosa (1896, Badajoz – 1969) was a Spanish army officer from the Army of Africa who fought for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.
At the start of the Civil War Major Castejón's unit of the Spanish Legion joined the rebels and took control of Tetuán in Spanish Morocco. In August 1936 he commanded one of the four Nationalist columns that took Badajoz by storm. He was present at the subsequent relief of Toledo and was wounded in the fighting around Madrid.
Castejón was given command of a division of the Army of Andalusia during the Battle of the Ebro. He was promoted to General at war's end.Army of Africa (Spain)
The Army of Africa (Spanish: Ejército de África, Arabic: الجيش الإسباني في أفريقيا, Al-Jaysh al-Isbānī fī Afriqā) or "Moroccan Army Corps" (Cuerpo de Ejército Marroquí') was a field army of the Spanish Army that garrisoned the Spanish protectorate in Morocco from the late 19th century until Morocco's independence in 1956.
At the start of the 20th century, the Spanish Empire's colonial possessions in Africa comprised Morocco, Spanish Sahara, Ifni, Cape Juby and Spanish Guinea.Brigade de la Légion Rey Alfonso XIII
The Brigade de la Légion Rey Alfonso XIII (BRILEG) is a major tactical military formation of the Spanish Legion comprising 2 tercios with elements based in Viator (Almeria) and Ronda (Málaga)Ifni War
The Ifni War, sometimes called the Forgotten War in Spain (la Guerra Olvidada), was a series of armed incursions into Spanish West Africa by Moroccan insurgents that began in October 1957 and culminated with the abortive siege of Sidi Ifni.
The war, which may be seen as part of the general movement of decolonization that swept Africa throughout the later half of the 20th century, was conducted primarily by elements of the Moroccan Army of Liberation which, no longer tied down in conflicts with the French, committed a significant portion of its resources and manpower to the capture of Spanish possessions.July 1936 military uprising in Melilla
The July 1936 military uprising in Melilla occurred at the start of the Spanish Civil War. The rebels seized the main garrisons of the Spanish Army in Africa and by 18 July had crushed the resistance of the army officers loyal to the Republican government. The supporters of the Second Spanish Republic were detained or shot.Legio VI Hispana
Legio sexta Hispana ("Sixth (Hispanian) Legion") may have been a legion of the Imperial Roman army. Only a few records attesting a "VI Hispana" were known in 2015. Seyrig (1923) argued that this unit was created in AD 68 and disappeared before 197. Another theory is that VI Hispana was created after 197 and was destroyed in the turmoil of the Empire's Third Century Crisis.
The scarcity and ambiguity of records of "VI Hispana" has led some scholars to doubt that this legion ever existed and that the inscriptions attesting it were erroneous references to the legions VII Gemina or IX Hispana.Military Museum of the Legion
The Military Museum of the Legion was established in 1940 to celebrate the Spanish Legion. The Legion and its museum moved to Ceuta in 1956 when Morocco gained independence from Spain. At first the museum was in a small room of the barracks of the 2nd Regiment (Tercio) of the Legion in Dar-Riffien (Tetouan). Upon the Moroccan independence, the museum was moved to the Barracks of El Serrallo but a purpose built building was constructed in 1978 on the Paseo de Colón.Muhammad Bassiri
Muhammad Sidi Brahim Sidi Embarek Basir (Arabic: سيدي سيدي إبراهيم مبارك محمد بصير; b. 1942 or October 1944 - disappeared on June 18, 1970) was a Sahrawi nationalist leader, disappeared and presumedly executed by the Spanish Legion in June 1970.Oliver De Lancey (British Army and Auxiliary Legion officer)
Oliver De Lancey (1803–1837) was a British Army officer who volunteered for the British Auxiliary Legion and died fighting in Spain during the First Carlist War, in the battle of Oriamendi.Perejil Island crisis
The Perejil Island crisis was a bloodless armed conflict between Spain and Morocco that took place on 11–20 July 2002. The incident took place over the small, uninhabited Perejil Island, when a squad of the Royal Moroccan Navy occupied it. After an exchange of declarations between both countries, the Spanish troops finally evicted the Moroccan infantry who had relieved their Navy comrades.Siege of Gandesa (1938)
The Siege of Gandesa took place between July and November 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, a few months after a battle in the same town.Spanish Legion (disambiguation)
The Spanish Legion (Spanish: Legión Española, La Legión) is a unit of the Spanish army.
Spanish Legion may also refer to:
Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the ancient Roman army
Legio VI Hispana, a possible legion of the ancient Roman armySpecial Operations Command (Spain)
The Special Operations Command (Spanish: Mando de Operaciones Especiales) is the command charged with overseeing the various Special Operations Groups (Grupos de Operaciones Especiales or GOE) of the Spanish Army.
It is based in Alicante, Alférez Rojas Navarrete barracks.
It was created in 1997, following other NATO armies organization. The Spanish Army had created in the 1980s six Special Operation Groups (Grupos de Operaciones Especiales, GOE) and also had a Special Operations group in the Spanish Legion, the Bandera de Operaciones Especiales de la Legión (BOEL).
Subordinate operating units are Grupos de Operaciones Especiales Valencia III, Tercio del Ampurdán IV, and Bandera de Operaciones Especiales "C. L. Maderal Oleaga" XIX de la Legión.Zemla Intifada
The Zemla Intifada (or the Zemla Uprising) is the name used to refer to disturbances of June 17, 1970, which culminated in a massacre (between 2 and 11 persons were killed) by Spanish Legion forces in the Zemla district of El Aaiun, Spanish Sahara (nowadays Western Sahara).
|Current Spanish Legion units|