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French Armored Cavalry Squadrons in Algeria

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Military Organization > France > French Reconnaissance Squadron (North Africa Type)

West Germany Panzergrenadier Company in 1966

During the Algerian War, the French cavalry implemented a diverse set of regimental and squadron organizations different from the European standard, much like it did in Indochina a couple years earlier. I’ve already written about the Type 107 Foot Squadrons (where cavalry were converted or raised as foot infantry) and the Type 012 EBR Squadron (the European standard that a smaller number of EBR-equipped units maintained until 1960). This article will cover the Type 021 Reconnaissance Squadron, which was implemented in May 1956 (Noulens, p. 74), as well as the Type 022 Mounted Squadron which had a different mix of the same subunits minus armor. Note in the French cavalry (and the British for that matter), a “squadron” is equivalent to an American infantry company or cavalry troop.


The essence of the Type 021 cavalry was flexibility, as there were many competing requirements for cavalry forces in different types of terrain. AFN-type organizations had more dismounted infantry strength than their European-type equivalents to accomplish a wider range of missions. This gave squadrons the flexibility to operate as mixed armor-infantry, two different types of armor (like tanks and armored cars), purely armor (particularly in open terrain), or purely infantry (particularly in the mountains and during airmobile operations). Armor, although reduced, was needed to (Noulens, p. 429):

  • Secure lines of communication

  • Escort convoys and extricate them from ambushes

  • Perform deep raids to intercept ALN forces

  • Cordon areas

  • Support infantry in conducting sweeps and maintaining order

  • Monitor large swaths of border

However, the mass of conversions did also degrade France’s readiness in Europe. From 1955 to 1956, there was a 170% increase in cavalry in Algeria and a 45% decrease in Germany and France (Noulens p. 79). In 1958, there was just 1 Patton and 1 AMX-13 regiment in France, and 1 EBR, 4 Patton, and 4 AMX-13 regiments in Germany out of 74 total regiments (Noulens, p. 94). The primarily foot and motorized infantry missions and training the majority of French cavalry units received in Algeria also degraded proficiency in classic cavalry skills. There was a desire in the French cavalry establishment to at least motorize all cavalry forces, but equipment shortages prevented this. As a result, there was also a diversity in equipment, from French-made standard platforms like the Panhard EBR and AMX-13 light tank to American surplus M8 Greyhounds and M24 Chaffees, and British Ferret armored cars. As a result, the Type 021 Squadron was more or less platform agnostic. There were also squadrons—either modified Type 107 Foot Squadrons or standard Type 022 Mounted Squadrons—mounted in half-tracks or Dodge 1 ½-ton trucks with no real armor component. The Mounted Squadrons were essentially similar to the Type 021 Squadron, just with 4 Mounted Platoons which will be detailed further.


The independence of Tunisia and Morocco in 1956 and cross border National Liberation Army (ALN) basing also put pressure on motorization, as a large border required mobile forces to guard (Noulens p. 80). For example, the 6th Cuirassiers who had been reorganized as a Type 107 infantry battalion (4 squadrons) when they arrived in mid-1956 were reorganized as 3 Type 021 armored squadrons (2 on M8 Greyhound and 1 on M24 Chaffee) and 1 Type 107 foot squadron mounted on half-tracks (Noulens p. 80; Aïcardi). Technically, the regiment Command and Service Squadron (ECS) was designed to support 6 combat squadrons, but command and control issues with the long distances between subunits meant that 4 squadrons was initially the maximum (Noulens p. 74).


There was a push and pull organizationally, between the military establishment in France who wanted uniform cavalry regiments for administrative and logistical reasons, while local commanders wanted units tailored to their tactical situation. By the end of 1958, there were 50 cavalry regiments on 18 different organizations, and there was substantial unit mixing between regiments in practice (Noulens, p. 104). The cavalry also didn’t want to abandon the European mission, despite the significant commitment to Algeria. These factors, combined with personnel shortages, resulted in a reduction of the force and uniformization in 1959-60.


At that time it was decided to make each regiment have 5 combat squadrons, as this would allow 3 armored squadrons to be quickly shifted back to Europe if needed while leaving 2 squadrons (preferably the “mounted” type) in Algeria (Noulens, p. 115). The period also saw consolidation, with some regiments being disbanded, either in their entirety or with their combat squadrons transferred to other regiments. This was a manpower-saving measure, as the disbanded Command & Service Squadrons (ECS) would provide personnel to bolster the understrength combat squadrons (Galula, 1963, p. 200).


Additionally, the EBR and AMX-13 regiments that had initially deployed on Europe-type organizations were realigned to the Algeria-type tables. This was meant to simplify logistics, training, and unit rotations by having a standardized unit organization for the theater. The goal was to reduce the many different types of regiments serving in Algeria to just 3: the Type 021 Reconnaissance, Type 022 Mounted, and Type 107 Foot, with only minor deviations (such as the addition of Algerian harkis or foot squadrons) (Noulens, p. 120). So in September 1960, the cavalry the 21st Spahis (21e RS) were reorganized from 3 Europe-type EBR squadrons, 1 M8 Squadron and 1 Foot Squadron to 4 Type 021 EBR squadrons and the cadre of a harki Mounted Squadron. The 2nd Algerian Spahis (2e RSA) were reorganized as 3 EBR squadrons and 1 AMX-13 squadron (although the AMX-13 squadron was replaced with EBRs in November 1960) (Noulens, p. 137, 534). The 8th Hussars (8e RH) were reorganized as 4 EBR squadrons (plus a foot squadron of indigenous harkis). The 1st Algerian Spahis (1er RSA) reorganized their 4 EBR squadrons on Type 021 (Noulens, p. 137). And the 3rd African Chasseurs (3e RCA) converted from the European to Algerian organization after adding a 4th squadron (so as to not reduce the count of armored vehicles drastically). The EBR Regiments were intended to have 4 armored squadrons (EBR/AMX) rather than the 3 armored squadrons of other Type 021 regiments so as to not reduce the armor count. The 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er REC), which was already on the Type 021 tables after replacing its M8 Greyhounds with EBRs in 1957, added a 4th squadron as well in 1960 (Aïcardi).


On the AMX-13 front, the 2nd Dragoons (2e RD), which was a combined arms regiment (RIA) of the 7th Rapid Mechanized Division, was reorganized from 2 AMX-13 Squadrons, 2 Anti-Tank Voltigeur Squadrons, and 1 jeep-mounted Scout Squadron to 3 AMX-13 Squadrons (Type 021) and 2 Mounted Squadrons (Noulens, p. 116). Cavalry regiments that had been reorganized as Type 107 infantry battalions, but motorized in the process, also had their Command and Service Squadron reorganized on the Type 021 model (Noulens, p. 117).


Following the 1962 Évian Accords, which codified Algerian independence, almost all of the 32 cavalry regiments in Algeria at the time were withdrawn from Algeria and many were disbanded. The exception was the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er REC), which remained at the Mers El-Kébir Naval Base on the Gulf of Oran until October 1967 when the base was withdrawn (Noulens, p. 185-7).



↓ Organization

Part of: Cavalry Regiment (Type 021)

Type: Armored Reconnaissance and Infantry

Time Frame: 1956-1964

Personnel: 5 Officers, 26 NCOs, 150 Junior Enlisted


Command Platoon / Peloton de commandement (1 OF, 8 NCO, 30 EN)

Command Group / groupe de commandement

1× Armored Car or Tank

1× Half-Track

2× Jeeps

3× Motorcycles

2× Jeeps

Administrative Group / groupe administratif

1× 2 ½-ton Truck

1× 1 ½-ton Truck

Maintenance Group / groupe de dépannage

1× Jeep

1× Half-Track

 

2× Armored Platoons / Pelotons blindés (1 OF, 5 NCO, 32 EN each)

5× Armored Cars or Tanks

Armored Car or Tank (Commander)

• 1× Officer

• 4× Privates (tanks) or 3× Privates (armored cars)


2 Armored Groups, each:

Armored Car or Tank

• 1× Non-Commissioned Officer

• 4× Privates (tanks) or 3× Privates (armored cars)

Armored Car or Tank

• 1× Non-Commissioned Officer

• 4× Privates (tanks) or 3× Privates (armored cars)


Protection Group

4× Jeeps (with 2 LRACs and 2 Automatic Rifles)


Support Group

In Armored Car Squadrons:

• 2× Jeeps

• 1× 60mm Mortar


In Tank Squadrons:

• 1× M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage (75mm)

• 1× Half-Track

 

2× Mounted Platoons / Pelotons portés (1 OF, 4 NCO, 28 EN each)

Command Group

1× Jeep

1× Platoon Commander, Officer

1× Deputy Platoon Commander, Non-Commissioned Officer

1× Privates (presumably a Driver)


⁍ 3x Mounted Groups, each:

1× Half-Track (with medium machine gun)

1× Group Commander

9× Privates, between them: 2 Automatic Rifles (e.g. FM 24/29 or BAR), 1 LRAC (e.g. M20 Bazooka)

 

↓ Summary

The Type 021 Combat Squadron consisted of a Command Platoon, 2 Armored Platoons (pelotons blindés), and 2 Mounted Platoons (pelotons portés).


The Command Platoon consisted of a Command Group, Administration Group, and a Maintenance Group. The Command Group had 1 armored car or light tank for the commander, 1 half-track, 3 motorcycles and 2 jeeps. The half-track had 1 SCR506, 1 SCR508, 1 SCR300 and 2 SCR536 radios on board, so it was presumably a command post. The Administration Group had a 2 ½-ton truck (camion) and 1 ½-ton truck (camionette), while the Maintenance Group had a jeep and half-track. This was a slight consolidation of the European-type cavalry squadron’s command and service elements, which had a dedicated Echelon Platoon and 3 armored cars in the Command Group. The standard M16 self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon mounted on a half-track was also done away with, as the theater lacked an air threat.


Each Armored Platoon had a Command Group (with 1 armored car or tank), 2 Armored Groups (each with 2 armored vehicles), a Protection Group with 4 jeeps, and Support Group. The Protection Group, designed for close protection of the armored vehicles and scouting, was one jeep smaller than in the European-type. The Support Group generally had 2 jeeps and a 60mm mortar team in the M8 Greyhound units, or an M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage (75mm) and half-track in the light tank units. European-type light tank platoons had the M8 HMC as well, but the European-type EBR Squadron had an 81mm mortar instead. In Algeria, the 81mm mortar was a regimental-level weapon contained in the ECS (Noulens, p. 74).


Finally, each Mounted Platoon consisted of a Command Group (with a jeep) and 3 Mounted Groups (each with a half-track). Each group, equivalent to a squad, had 1 Sergeant and 9 junior enlisted men. Each served a light machine gun (meaning an M1919A4 .30 type machine gun, probably mounted on the half-track), 2 FM automatic rifles (like the FM 24/29), and an LRAC (bazooka). Not including the drivers of the half-tracks (for the Algeria-type) and jeeps (for the European-type mounted platoon), the Algeria type squadron had about 32 more dismounts than the Europe type.


The Type 022 Mounted Squadron meanwhile was similar in its subunits, but instead of having 2 Armored Platoons, it had 1 Command Platoon and 4 Mounted Platoons (mounted on either half-tracks or Dodge/GMC trucks). In 1958, there were 4 regiments with a mounted component, while in 1959 there were 8 (corresponding to a decrease in 7 Type 107 Foot Regiments) (Noulens, p. 118-120).



↓ Sources


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