The following is a chart showing the national origin of the more than 600,000 Legionaries of the force from 1831 to 1961, which was compiled in 1963. It should be noted that, at a given moment, principal original nationalities of the foreign legion reflect the events in history at the time they join. The legion allows men to escape from the worries of war, especially if their native country has lost. The large numbers of Germans joining in the wake of WWII led to the misconception that the Legion was full of former Waffen SS and Wehrmacht personnel. It is not surprising to see that a large number of German enlistments in the period following WWII, but the figures do not show whether or not the post-WWI period had a similar boost. Bernard B. Fall, writing in the context of the First Indochina War, has called the notion that the Foreign Legion was mainly German at that time:
“a canard . . . with the sub variant that all those Germans were at least SS generals and other much wanted war criminals. As a rule, and in order to prevent any particular nation from making the Legion into a Praetorian guard, any particular national component is kept at about 25 percent of the total. Even supposing (and this was the case, of course) that the French recruiters, in the eagerness for candidates would sign up Germans enlisting as Swiss, Austrian, Scandinavian and other nationalities of related ethnic background, it is unlikely that the number of Germans in the Foreign Legion ever exceeded 35 percent. Thus, without making an allowance for losses, rotation, discharges, etc., the maximum number of Germans fighting in Indochina at any one time reached perhaps 7 000 out of 278 000. As to the ex-Nazis, the early arrivals contained a number of them, none of whom were known to be war criminals. French Intelligence saw to that. Since, in view of the rugged Indochinese climate, older men without previous tropical experience constituted more a liability than an asset, the average age of the Legion enlistees was about 23. At the time of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, any Legionnaire of that age group was at the worst, in his “Hitler Youth” shorts when the [Third] Reich collapsed.
When looking at the overall recruitment chart, one must keep in mind that the Legion accepts people enlisting under a nationality that is not their own. The large number of Swiss and Belgians are actually more likely than not Frenchmen who wish to avoid detection.
Rank Country of origin Total numbers 1 Germany 210000 2 Italy 60000 3 Belgium 50000 4 France 50000 5 Spain 40000 6 Switzerland 30000 7 Poland 10000 8 Russia 6000 9 Austria 5000 10 Hungary 4000 11 Greece 4000 12 Czechoslovakia 4000 13 Netherlands 3000 14 Yugoslavia 3000 15 Luxembourg 2300 16 United Kingdom 1500 17 Romania 1500 18 Portugal 1300 19 Denmark 1000 20 Turkey 1000 21 United States 700 22 Bulgaria 500 23 Finland 500 24 Sweden 500 25 Algeria 500 26 Vietnam 200 27 Morocco 200 28 Tunisia 200 29 Argentina 100 30 Brazil 100 31 Japan 100 32 Canada 100 33 Lithuania 100 34 Latvia 100 35 Norway 100 36 Egypt 100
Regarding recruitment conditions within the Foreign Legion, please see the official page (in English) dedicated to the subject:. However, with regard to age limits, recruits can be accepted from ages ranging from 17 ½ (with parental consent) to 40 years old.
- General Information
- Legion Membership
- Composition of the Legion
- French Foreign Legion Recruitment
- Legion basic training
- Recruitment chart
- Marching step