French Far East Expeditionary Corps

Far East Expeditionary Corps
Insigne du CEFEO.jpg
CEFEO insignia bearing the traditional French Navy anchor symbol.
Active1945 – 26 April, 1956
Country France
AllegianceFrance French Army
TypeExpeditionary Force
EquipmentFrench, British, American
EngagementsFirst Indochina War
Jean de Lattre de Tassigny

The French Far East Expeditionary Corps (French: Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient, CEFEO) was a colonial expeditionary force of the French Union Army that was initially formed in French Indochina during 1945 during the Pacific War. The CEFEO later fought and lost in the First Indochina War against the Viet Minh rebels.

The CEFEO was largely made up of voluntarily-enlisted indigenous tirailleurs from the French Union colonial or protectorate territories, the exception was the French Foreign Legion, which consisted mainly of European volunteers. The use of metropolitan recruits were forbidden by the government during the First Indochina War to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home.


Soldiers shooting with FM 24/29 in 1952.


The CEFEO was largely made up of voluntarily-enlisted indigenous tirailleurs from the French Union colonial or protectorate territories in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and South-East Asia. An exception was the French Foreign Legion which consisted mainly of European volunteers.

In 1954, CEFEO included 177,000 men, including 59,000 indigenous people. Colonial soldiers made up the bulk of the ground forces. Between 1947 and 1954, 122,900 North Africans and 60,340 Black Africans landed in Indochina, or 183,240 Africans in total. On February 1, 1954, they represented 43.5% of the 127,785 men of the ground forces (excluding indigenous Vietnamese). Most of the professional airborne units (BPC) and the entire Chief of Staff were metropolitan French, as were some artillery and specialist units.[1]

From September 1945 to the cease-fire in July 1954, a total of 488,560 men and women served in Indochina:[2]

In early November 1953, the French U.N. volunteers returning from the ended Korean War joined the French Union CEFEO and sailed from Incheon to Vietnam.[3] They would be later involved in the battle of Mang Yang Pass of June and July 1954.

Pacific War (1945)

The CEFEO was created in early 1945 as a replacement for the older Far East French Expeditionary Forces (Forces Expéditionnaires Françaises d'Extrême-Orient, FEFEO). Its purpose was to support Saigon-based General Gilbert Sabattier, divisional commander of colonial "Indochina French Forces" (Forces Françaises d'Indochine)[4] and Free French Forces resistance small groups C.L.I. then fighting with the Japanese Southern Expeditionary Army Group during the March coup. After the 1944 Liberation of France and the fall of Nazi Germany in Europe the following year, the French authorities wanted to "free" the last Axis powers occupied territories in Southeast Asia, these included the newly established Empire of Vietnam, which was a Japanese colony. On June 7, 1945, Leclerc was nominated commander of the CEFEO. On June 22, Leclerc transferred command of the 2nd Armored Division (2ème D.B.) -the famous unit which had liberated Paris in August 1944- to Colonel Dio. Leclerc received command of the Far East French Forces (Forces Françaises en Extrême-Orient) on August 15.

Colonial paratroopers in the delta area of northern Vietnam (1952)

First Indochina War (1946–1954)

In 1946, nationalist, then communist popular rebellion movement rose up against established colonial rule in the French Indochina federation then including Laos, Cambodia, Tonkin (North Vietnam), the Annam (Middle Vietnam) and Cochinchina (South Vietnam), all states being protectorates excluding the latter which was a colony with Saigon as its capital. In 1946, they would become associated states within the French Union and by 1949 Tonkin, Annam and the Republic of Cochin China would merge as the State of Vietnam. The communist Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh overwhelmed its rival nationalist movements and organized itself as a guerilla army using guerrilla warfare, then in the 1950s support—using conventional warfare. The First Indochina War officially lasted from November 20, 1946 until July 20, 1954 and was settled by the Geneva Agreements.

Dissolution (1956)

After withdrawal of the last CEFEO troops from the independent Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1956, the corps was disbanded by General Pierre Jacquot.