French Volunteer Legion Military and Feldpost History

    Légion des Voluntaires Français

    After the defeat and occupation of France in May 1940, an armistice was declared in June between the French and German governments. France was split into two zones. The northern industrial region of France remained occupied and placed under German administration. In the southern region of France, a collaborationist government had established itself in Vichy.
    It was placed under the leadership of WWI military veteran hero, Marshal Philippe Petain.
    German forces occupied southern France in November 1942.

    When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941 it caused great excitement among the collaborating political parties and para-military home based formations. They now found a new unity in their desire to participate in the Russian campaign. The first recruiting center was opened at 12 rue Auber, Paris, additional recruiting centers were placed all over France. On 18 July 1941, the "Légion des Voluntaires Français contre le Bolshevisme (LVF)" was established.

    Initially the Vichy Government had enacted a law that forbade Frenchmen from enlisting into "foreign armies" to prevent them from joining with the Free French forces of exiled General Charles de Gaulle. Since the LVF was a private affair, Marshal Petain amended the law so that no objection would be raised for Frenchmen enlisting into the LVF. These volunteers were placed in the Borgnis-Desbordes barracks at Versailles.

    French Legion

    French Legion Feldpost

    Early legion cover mailed by a volunteer FPN 03865A (1st Btl/1st Co) of the newly formed 638th Infantry Regiment, which was assigned to the German 7th Infantry Division on the Russian Front. Most early covers were required by German postal regulations a written annotation "Durch Deustche Feldpost" (via German military mail).

    French Legion

    Notice the senders rank Sargent Molin and FPN 03865A. The cover shows sealing tape and censorship markings.

    A total of 5800 Frenchmen were selected into the LVF. They wore standard German army uniforms and had the French national arm shield inscribed "FRANCE" placed on their right sleeve. A Colonel Roger Labonne assumed command of the legion.
    On 4 September the first draft of volunteers of 828 officers and men left to the "Truppenuebungsplatz Deba" (troop excercise area Deba), located in Poland. On 20 September the second Legion contingent of 896 men was sent to the Deba troop training facilities.

    By October 1941, the LVF was up to a strength of two battalions with 181 Officers and 2271 other ranks with a liaison staff of 35 Germans. The LVF was registered as "638. Infanterie Regiment" of the German Army.

    By the end of October both battalions proceeded by rail to Smolensk and then by truck and on foot towards the front line near Moscow. The LVF joined the German 7th Infantry Division near Golokovo. In early December a 3rd battalion of 1400 other recruits of the LVF was sent to Deba troop training facilities.

    In February 1942, the 1st and 2nd battalions of the LVF were caught up in the Soviet winter counter-offensive. During this winter offensive, the 2nd battalion was over-run by Soviet forces near Djunovo and virtually annihilated.
    The LVF lost half of its strength either through enemy action or by frostbite. In March 1942 Colonel Labonne was recalled to Paris and relieved of his command.

    The LVF was pulled out of the front line and for 18 months it operated as two separate battalions. The first under the command of Major Lacroix and the third under Major Demessine (the 2nd btl. was destroyed in the winter fighting before Moscow). During the summer of 1942, the 1st btl. subordinated to the 186th German Security Division was deployed in anti-partisan activities near Smolensk. The 3rd btl. was in the southwestern part of Smolensk and fought anti-partisans near Volost where it suffered heavy casualties.

    French Legion

    Above is a feldpost cover mailed by volunteer who was in the Debica training barracks. The reverse shows senders FPN 19440 (Staff Training Unit at Debica). Notice the Legion Tricolore stamps attached to the feldpost cover.

    French Tricolore Legion

    On 28 June 1942, the LVF was officially incorporated into the "Legion Tricolore," which was an attempt by the Vichy government to place it into the French armed forces.
    It was financed by the Vichy government,and headed by Raymond Lachal, Pierre Laval's right-hand man. Members of the "Legion Tricolore" would be available for employment on any front where French interest was at stake. It was quietly dissolved after only 6 months in existence. Hitler didn't approve the Legion on transferring into a French governing system.
    Former members of the "Legion Tricolore" were allowed to rejoin the LVF. By June 1943, after active recruiting and reorganizing, the LVF was refitted and prepared to serve under the German 186th Security Division at Smolensk.

    French Legion

    Interesting propaganda postcard commemorating the 2nd Anniversary of the LVF.
    These men were members of the "Legion Tricolore" and wore French uniforms.
    The men standing in formation belong to the 1st Rgt. of the LVF. One of the legionnaires is holding the LVF flag while Major Bridoux is saluting.

    By the end of December 1942, the "Legion Tricolore" was disbanded at German request.

    638th Infantry Regiment

    The following Feldpost numbers were assigned to the 638th Infantry Regiment

    Regimental Staff-------------00100

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) ------------------- 03865(A-D)

    2nd. Btl. (5-8 Co.)------------------- 04358(A-D)

    3rd. Btl. (9-12 Co.)------------------- 05492(A-D)

    13th. Co.(Light Artillery)-------- Unkown

    Heavy Weapons---------------- 01196

    14th. Co.--------------------------- 02732

    15th. Co.--------------------------- 47702

    Artillery Detachment----------- 06376

    Transport Column--------------- 03279

    Reserve Commando------------- 46795

    In spring 1942, the regiment was reorganized as follows:

    Regimental Staff-----------------39630

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) ---------------------- 03865(A-D)

    15th. Co.--------------------------- 47702

    3rd. Btl. (9-12 Co.)--------------------- 05492(A-D)

    Staff Truppenuebungsplatz Deba ------- 19440

    Artillery Detachment------------- 06376

    Reserve Commando-------------- 46795

    By the end of December 1942, the Legion Tricolore was disbanded at German request. Its personnel were allowed to transfer to the LVF. These transfers resulted in a reorganization of the LVF in December 1943.

    In October 1943 the Legion artillery detachment was disbanded. A 4th Infantry Battalion was formed from excess personnel and was reformed as the French Grenadier Regiment 638.

    Regimental Staff--------------02951

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) ------------------- 03865(A-D)

    2nd. Btl. (5-8 Co.)-------------------- 34206(A-D)

    3rd. Btl. (9-12 Co.)------------------ 05492(A-D)

    4th. Btl. (13-16 Co.)------------------ 03925(A-D)(Added in April 1944)

    Training 2nd Btl--------------- 56381

    Training 4th Btl---------------- 20919

    Transport Column-------------- 03279

    Reserve Commando----------- 46795

    French Legion

    Grenadier Regiment 638

    In January 1944, the LVF was sent to the Russian front and was engaged in anti-partisan operations. A reconstituted 2nd battalion was added, and by the end of the year the LVF was reunited as a whole regiment.
    In April 1944, a 4th battalion was added into the regiment from excess personnel of the disbanded LVF artillery detachment. The formation was designated as the "Grenadier Regiment 638." and was placed under the command of Colonel Edgar Puaud, who was promoted by the Vichy government to the rank of brigadier-general.

    In June 1944, after the collapse of the German 9th Army, the regiment found itself in the path of a major Russian counter-offensive. To stem the Soviet offensive, a battalion of 400 Frenchmen under the command of Major Bridoux, and various adhoc German units formed a "Kampfgruppe" (Battlegroup) near Bobr, Ukraine. This battlegroup fought so successful that it enabled much of the 9th Army to break out of a Soviet encirclement in Bobruysk. A Russian official dispatch spoke of "two French Divisions," a compliment for a battalion of Frenchmen!

    Withdrawn from the front, the regiment was re-grouped at Greifenberg in East Prussia. In September 1944, the LVF ceased to exist. It found itself absorbed into the Waffen-SS.

    French Legion

    Interesting feldpost cover with written annotation indicating non-occupied zone. The reverse shows senders FPN 05492E (3rd Battalion). The cover has sealing tape and censorship markings. This cover came with an enclosed letter, which has been translated. It tells a bit on how these foreign volunteers felt about the issues of their time.

    French Legion

    The content of the letter saids the following:

    "My dear wife"

    "After a cold spell, which reached 27 degrees below zero, I come to tell you I have a frozen ear. I went to see the major and he will tell me what I have to do, if by chance I would be evacuated to a hospital. I will let you know.
    You can be sure I still prefer to stay where I am. I would like to take my revenge upon those bastards of jews and communist because both of them hurt us too much. Remember, dear Charlotte we were together last year, sharing our daily bread in our house close to the fire. This year, we are apart and will maybe never be together again. This is God's will! Nevertheless, I do not forget you, my last memory will be for you. I have been too badly considered within this France I loved and I want to thrash everybody who considered me wrongly when I will be back. This is not the Germans who are hurting France, but indeed a special kind of Gaullist and communist French. Do not believe their lies but try at least to understand what is right and to consider the cowardliness of Russian soldiers who are real bandits, in the pay of communists and jews. One day will come and the French will understand the gesture the Legion did to promote German-French collaboration. Those who are sleeping the eternal rest wanted to make you more happy and to give you some bread, because you are not getting bread from the Russians or the Gaullist but, on the contrary, thanks indeed to the Germans. The Brits are keeping on killing our French people as well as our northern cities. I leave you the hope to see you again. Best regards from the one who is thinking to you. I still have no news from you since November 23, 1940. I kiss you and forward my best wishes to Monsieur Louis and Madame Zizi."
    "Happy New Year to all of you."

    8. Sturmbrigade Frankreich

    By the 1 September 1944 the LVF was disbanded and 1200 of its members volunteered for service with the "8. Sturmbrigade Frankreich" of the Waffen-SS. On 18 July 1944 the "French SS Volunteer Assault Brigade" was pronounced combat-ready. The following Feldpost numbers were assigned:

    Staff Brigade------------- 47335

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) -------------- 41592(A-D)

    2nd. Btl. (5-8 Co.)-------------- 35411(A-D)

    French SS Sturmbrigade

    Very rare SS Feldpost cover mailed in the spring of 1944 by SS French volunteer who was attached to the 8th Sturmbrigade. Volunteer was in SS military training facility (SS Truppen übungplatz Böhmen) located in the Czech village of "Networschitz" (German) now known as "Netvořice" (Czech ). Cover was mailed to Amiens, France. Cover shows a SS sealing tape with a red censor postmark.

    33. Waffen-Grenadier der SS Division Charlemagne

    In September 1944 the assault brigade and the remaining members of LVF were reorganized to form the French "33. Waffen-Grenadier der SS Division Charlemagne." This division was supplemented by French volunteers from the German Navy. The members of this division, which was actually only a brigade in strength, came from the following sources:

    Ex-members of SS Assault Brigade 1000
    Ex-members of the LVF 1200
    Ex-members of the Milice 2500
    Ex-members of transport Corps (NSKK) 2000
    Ex-Naval volunteers 640
    Total 7340

    French Legion

    Interesting late issue feldpost cover sent to NSKK Transport unit in Hamburg. Cover has three French Legion labels with feldpost cancellations dated 10 February 1945.

    Besides the above volunteers, new recruits were still being incorporated into the division. The command for the new division was given to a German SS-General Krukenberg. By middle of February 1945, the division was ordered to join Army Group Vistula. This sector lay about 100Kms southwest of Danzig and contained the 9th, 11th and 2nd German Armies under the command of General Heinrici. This Army Group was used to stem the Russian advance into Pomerania.
    For more historical information, please visit my web page relating to the "Charlemagne" Division. With this transfer to the field came the assignment of Feldpost numbers:

    German general staff---------------------------- 47335

    Inspectorate of the French Waffen-SS------ 55448

    57 SS Rgt. Staff Co., Anti-tank Co.--------- 66641

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) ------------------------- 41592(A-D)

    2nd. Btl. (5-8 Co.)------------------------- 35411(A-D)

    Waffen-Grenadier Rgt. SS-58------------- 02951*

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) ---------------------- 03865(A-D)*

    2nd. Btl. (5-8 Co.)----------------------- 05492(A-D)*

    French Legion

    Rare SS-Feldpost cover mailed in December 1944 by a member of the "Brigade der SS Charlemagne," who was in training at the SS-Barracks in Wildflecken. The cover was addressed to a girl in Speyer, Germany.
    Notice the unit seal, SS censor "AS" hand stamp and the open-unit sender's address.
    The sender posted the incorrect postal code, as indicated by the stamped box "Postleitzahl" and corrected with the handwritten postal code "18."
    Thanks to the "Third Reich Study Group" for allowing me to post the cover.

    Waffen-Artillery Co. 33---------------------- 00290

    SS Engineer Co. 33--------------------------- 64680

    SS Anti-tank Co. 33-------------------------- 66885

    SS Signals Co. 33------------------------------ 14309

    SS Reserve & Training Co. 33-------------- 46795

    SS Marsch Bn. "Greifenberg"------------- 65920

    SS Medical Co. ------------------------------- 66453

    SS Veterinary Co. --------------------------- 64921

    SS Field Police 57------------------------------ 06953

    SS Repair shop platoon-------------------- 13630

    Field post office 57---------------------------- 11498

    Note: (*) Indicates unit transferred from Franz. Gren. Rgt. 638.
    The following numbers were re-assigned:

    Waffen-Grenadier Rgt. SS-58-------------09187

    1st. Btl. (1-4 Co.) -------------------------- 39630(A-D)

    2nd. Btl. (5-8 Co.)-------------------------- 19440(A-D)

    French SS Charlemagne

    Here is another Rare SS-Feldpost cover mailed in January 27, 1945 by the same Waffen-SS French volunteer of the "Brigade der SS Charlemagne," who was in training at the SS-Barracks in Wildflecken. The cover was addressed to a girl in Speyer, Germany.
    This cover has the SS roller censor cancel and Wildflecken postal cancel. The reverse has SS sealing tape with black circular censor SS marking.

    Note:The division post office (FPA SS-33) used Kenn 565 from February to May 1945.
    There exist unit seals with "Ausbildungsstab Franzosiche Legion, Franz Inf Rgt 638 & 33. Waffen-Grenadier der SS Division Charlemagne."

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