Free French SAS Paratrooper

Click on the images to see a larger version and the back of the wing/badge
This badge was issued to French Air Force paratroopers from 1936 to 1946.

Like in the German Armed forces, the first French paratroopers were Air Force and not Army. They were assigned to two "Airborne Infantry Groups" (Groupement d'Infanterie de l'Air, GIA in French), the 601 and 602 GIA. The parachute school was in Avignon-Pujaut, southeast France and the 601 GIA was stationed in Reims, the 602 GIA in Maison-Blanche, close to Algiers. The GIA were made of two major units, an aircraft squadron using Potez 25 aircraft and an Airborne Infantry Company of around 250 men.

The French paratroopers were trained mostly by Captain Fred Geille, a World War One Veteran who had fought and was wounded as a Infanrty second lieutenant in the trenches before becoming an air observer in 1917. Then he got his pilot wings and was assigned to parachute experimental unit which was appointed to work on parachutes as a mean of evacuation of destroyed balloons. He also worked on airplane evacuation. In 1935, he was sent to Russia with a couple of French officers to become licensed parachute instructors. In 1935, the Soviets were far ahead anyone else in this field, dropping around 1500 paratroopers at once at a Moscow military show-off in 1935. Coming home a few weeks later, he convinced the Air Force to open its own paratrooper school in Avignon-Pujaut.

The paratroopers wore this badge on the left arm of their Dress uniform, centered between the elbow and the shoulder. Unfortunately, the French paratroopers did not fight in the 1940 Battle of France and the units were disbanded. Some of the troopers made it to Great Britain were they joined the British SAS and formed three French SAS units, serving in Crete and in North Africa, breaking into Axis airfields and sabotaging or blowing up airplanes and facilities. Most of them were either caught or killed, just like most of the British SAS. It was a dangerous job!

But in 1943, the French Forces started to regain their health and the French SAS were regrouped with other parachute units training in North Africa to form three "Parachutist Light Horse Regiments" (Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, RCP) that fought in France and in Germany. The 2nd RCP even joined the 82nd Airborne Division for a time!

In 1946, the French Armed Forces committee decided that the paratroopers should belong to the Army and not the Air Force. They adopted the british red beret and Captain Sauvagnac, a 602 GIA veteran, designed a new parachute insignia that is still worn today by French paratroopers.

This World War 2 insignia, however, is still worn by the men of the 1st RCP who are the direct descendants of the 601 GIA and although they are Army, they still wear Air Force insignia for tradition purposes.

Courtesy - Timothée Larribau

Date Added:
6 cm
6.3 cm

Michael Burroughs Collection
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Aviation Wings and Badges of the World Wars