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France: Navy colours

Last modified: 2024-01-06 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: navy | colour |
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Description of the Navy colours

Only eight Navy units (Navy website) are allowed to bear a colour, as prescribed by Regulation No. 808 EMM/CAB of 5 December 1985.

The design of the colours follows the general pattern used for the colours of the French Army.
A colour is made of three parts:

- The flag sensu stricto is made of a fabric square of 90 cm in length. Gilded with gold leaf and applied to the flag, ornaments and writings are shaded on the right and lightened on the left with oil paint to increase their depth. The ornaments, placed in each corner of the flag, are made of oak and laurel leaves wreaths, inscribing either the Navy anchor or the intials of the unit name. The flag has a golden fringe on the three "free" sides.
The writings follow the French model, with
RÉPUBLIQUE
  FRANÇAISE
and the name of the unit on the obverse, and
HONNEUR
      ET
  PATRIE
and battle awards if required, on the reverse.

- The sash is a Tricolor stripe of 90 cm x 24 cm. Tied to the finial, the sash bears on each end a wreath similar to those applied on the flag, but embroidered. The most precious part of the colour, the sash bears the decorations and lanyards (fourragères).

- The finial is placed on the top of the staff. A piece of mercury- gilded bronze of 38 cm, the finial bears on the rear side the letters "R.F.", for "République Française" (French Republic) and on the front side the name of the unit.
[Rear Admiral Kessler. Les témoins du sacrifice. Cols Bleus, No. 2326, 11 November 1995]

Ivan Sache, 14 March 2009


1st Marines Regiment (1er régiment de fusiliers marins, 1er RFM)

In 1622, Richelieu set up some 100 compagnies franches, whose members were involved in all maritime campaigns of the 17th-18th centuries.
Napoléon III reorganized the Navy by Decree of 5 June 1856; the first 462 marines received their certificate in Lorient on 16 November 1857 from the Apprentice Fusiliers Battalion (Bataillon des apprentis fusiliers), later renamed Lorient Marines College (École des fusiliers de Lorient). Marines units subsequently served in all European and colonial conflicts.
During the First World War, the 1st Marines Battalion (1er bataillon de fusiliers marins, 1er BFM), commanded by Admiral Ronarc'h, heroically defended Diksmuide, in Belgium.
On 5 July 1940, Admiral Muselier, appointed commander of the Free French Naval Forces by General de Gaulle and a former fighter at Diksmuide, recreated the 1er BFM. After the failed landing of Dakar, the battalion landed at Douala and contributed to the rallying of Gabon and Congo to the Free France; on 23 April 1941, the battalion landed at Qastina (Palestine) to prepare the Syrian campaign together with British units. After the seizure of Damas and Beirut, the battalion was incorporated to the 1st French Free Brigade (1e brigade française libre, 1e BFL) commanded by General Kœnig; they fought, as part of the 8th British Army, in Halfaya, Bir-Hakeim and El-Alamein.
On 24 September 1943, the battalion, renamed 1st Marines Regiment (1er régiment de fusiliers marins, 1er RFM), was incorporated to the 1st French Free Division (1e division française libre, 1e DFL). The regiment landed in Naples and fought on the Garigliano, opening the road to Rome. They landed in Cavalaire (Provence) on 16 August 1944, contributed to the liberation of Toulon and Hyères, eventually joined the 2nd Armoured Division (2e division blindée, 2e DB), coming form Normandy, in Châtillon-sur-Seine (Burgundy), and fought in the Vosges and in Alsace.
The Mechanic Seaman Georges Brières, killed in Giromagny, is buried in vault No. 8 of the crypt of the Memorial of Fighting France in Mont-Valérien, near Paris, as a tribute to the sacrifice of the seamen killed for the liberation of France.

The colour, memory and traditions of the 1er RFM (website) are kept by the Lorient Marines College.
The colour of the 1er RFM (obverse; reverse) has anchors inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
      1ER RÉGIMENT
DE FUSILIERS MARINS

The reverse of the colour bears 11 battle awards:
- in the white stripe:
Dixmude 1914
Yser 1914-1915
Longewaede 1917
Hailles 1918
Moulin de Laffaux 1918
Bir Hakeim 1942
Garigliano 1944
Montefiascone 1944
- in the red stripe
Toulon 1944
Vosges 1944
- in the blue stripe
L'Ill 1945

The colour is decorated with:
- the Cross of the Legion of Honour (5 July 1919);
- the Cross of Liberation (12 June 1945);
- the War Cross 1914-1918, with six palms;
- the War Cross 1939-1945, with five palms;
- the Medal of the French Resistance, with rosette (31 March 1947);
- the Colonial Medal, with four clasps.
The flag bears the fourragères with the colours of:
- the Legion of Honour (1914-1918);
- the Military Medal (1939-1945).

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Marines Half-Brigade (Demi-brigade de fusiliers marins, DBFM)

The DBFM was created in Lorient in 1956 by Captain Ponchardier. Composed of c. 3,500 men forming three battalions, an artillery battery and the 54S squad of the Navy aviation, the DBFM fought in Algeria (history) from June 1956 to July 1962.

The colour, memory and traditions of the DBFM are kept by the Cherbourg Marines Company (Compagnie de fusiliers marins de Cherbourg).
The colour of the DBFM (obverse; reverse) has anchors inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
FUSILIERS
  MARINS

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Navy Gunners (Canonniers marins)

During the First World War, the Navy Gunners (history) operated 18 batteries, forming the 3rd Division of General Reserve of Heavy Artillery (3e division de réserve générale de l'artillerie lourde) commanded by a Rear Admiral. They operated batteries placed on barges, river gunboats and railway wagons.

The colour, memory and traditions of the Navy Gunners are kept by the Saint-Mandrier Navy Instruction Center (Centre d'instruction naval de Saint-Mandrier), founded in 1993 near Toulon, following successive merging of different training centers of the Navy.
Granted on 9 February 1918 by President of the Republic Raymond Poincaré, the colour (obverse; reverse) has the letters "CM" inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
CANONNIERS
    MARINS

The reverse of the colours bears five battle awards:
Champagne 1915
Verdun 1916
Somme 1916
Malmaison 1917
Bataille de France 1918

The colour is decorated with:
- the War Cross 1914-1918 with palm;
- the War Cross 1939-1945 with palm;
- the Military Medal.

The sash bears the writing "Don patriotique de la ville de Toulon" (Patriotic gift from the town of Toulon); the flag was indeed funded by a public suscription organized in Toulon.

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Navy College (École navale)

In 1810, following the defeats of Aboukir and Trafalgar, Napoléon I set up Navy Special Colleges (Écoles spéciales de la Marine) in Brest and Toulon, embarked on the Tourville and the Duquesne, respectively. In 1816, King Louis XVIII replaced Napoléon's colleges by the Navy Royal College (Collège Royal de la Marine), based in Angoulême. Lacking funds and good instructors, and without even a training ship, the Royal College was replaced in 1829 by a college embarked on the Orion at Brest since 1827, officially renamed Navy College (École navale) by Royal Decree on 1 November 1830 (history).
The Navy College was eventually relocated on land, first in Lannion (1915) and then in Saint-Pierre, near Brest (1936). Following the war destructions in Brest, the college was moved in 1945 to the hydroplanes base of Lanvéoc, the new buildings being inaugurated in 1965 by General de Gaulle.

Granted on 15 July 1923 by President of the Republic Alexandre Millerand, the colour of the Navy College (obverse; reverse) has anchors inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
  ÉCOLE
NAVALE

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Fleet Military College (École militaire de la flotte, EMF)

EMF (presentation) was created by the Law of 20 December 1969 to train Navy officers. EMF is part of the Poulmic Colleges' Group (Groupe des Écoles de Poulmic), based, together with the Navy College, at Lanvéoc-Poulmic.

The colour of EMF (obverse; reverse) has anchors inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
ÉCOLE MILITAIRE
  DE LA FLOTTE

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Ship's Boys College (École des mousses)

The Ship's Boys College (history) was created by Decree of 5 June 1856. Until 1940, the college was based on a ship moored at Brest. Short before the Germans reached Brest, the ship's boys embarked on the destroyer Paris and joined Toulon via Britain, Morocco and Algeria.
In 1945, Commander Le Coz reorganized the college on the site of Dourdy in Loctudy, southern Britanny. In 1960, the college was relocated in the former buildings of the Navy College in Brest. The Ship's Boys College was eventually closed on 15 July 1988.

The colour of the Ship's Boy College (presentation) is kept by the Brest Naval Training Center (Centre d'Instruction Navale de Brest).
Granted on 11 November 1958, the colour (obverse; reverse) has anchors inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
      ÉCOLE
DES MOUSSES

The colour is decorated with:
- the War Cross 1914-1918 (12 November 1922);
- the War Cross 1939-1945 (26 October 1951);
- the War Cross TOE (14 December 1955);
- the Cross of the Legion of Honour (16 July 1954).

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Fleet Apprentice Mechanics College (École des apprentis mécaniciens de la flotte, EAMF)

The Apprentice Mechanics Class (Cours d'apprentis mécaniciens), created in Brest on 1 October 1886, was renamed Apprentice Mechanics College (École des apprentis mécaniciens) by Decree of 28 June 1907. On 18 July 1940, the apprentices and their instructors moved to Saint-Mandrier, near Toulon. Closed and bombed in 1943, the college was never reopened.
In parallel, the Mechanics and Firemen College (École des mécaniciens et chauffeurs) was created in Toulon on 5 April 1933. Created in 1922, the Mechanics NCO College (École des sous-officiers mécaniciens), was renamed Engine Petty Officers College (École de maistrance machine). In 1936, the two colleges were relocated to the former Navy hospital of Saint-Mandrier, the first college being renamed Mechanics, Firemen and Divers College (École des mécaniciens, chauffeurs et scaphandriers).
After the Second World War, the college was reopened and renamed Fleet Apprentice Mechanics College (École des apprentis mécaniciens de la flotte, EAMF; history), which was reorganized by Decree of 12 November 1947. The Saint-Mandrier colleges were merged in 1963 to form the Mechanics Colleges' Group (Groupe des Écoles de mécaniciens, GEM); EAMF was eventually closed in 1989 while the GEM was incorporated into the Saint-Mandrier Navy Instruction Center (Centre d'instruction naval de Saint-Mandrier).

The colour of the EAMF is kept in the Saint-Mandrier Naval Training Center.
Granted on 25 January 1985, the colour (obverse; reverse) has the letters "EAMF" inside the wreaths. On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
ÉCOLE DES APPRENTIS MÉCANICIENS
                  DE LA FLOTTE

The colour is decorated with:
- the War Cross 1914-1918 with palm (1922);
- the War Cross 1939-1945 with palm (1953);
- the War Cross TOE (1955);
- the Cross of the Legion of Honour (1958).

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


Marseilles Navy Firefighters Battalion (Bataillon de Marins-Pompiers de Marseille, BMPM)

On 28 October 1938, a blaze broke out in the Nouvelles Galeries department store, located on the Canebière, in the center of Marseilles. The nearest firefighter company was based at Toulon; poorly manned (32 men) and equipped (6 vehicles), the firemen arrived late in the afternoon and could only watch the blaze spreading to the neighbouring buildings. They were able, however, to protect the Hôtel de Noailles (described in Albert Cohen's Belle du Seigneur, abandoned for long and recently completely revamped as a police station), where the Radical Party, led by President of the Council (Prime Minister) Édouard Daladier held its congress. The lack of local organization and the 73 killed in the blaze were a very good opportunity to "punish" Marseilles, which was at the time a main economical and political rival of Paris. The Mayor of Marseilles was sacked and the town was placed under the direct tutorship of the state; nine months later, the BMPM (website) was created by Decree-Law of 29 July 1939.

Following the economic development of the region of Marseilles, the duties of the BMPM were progressively increased, inside and outside the town. The BMPM has in charge the protection of the airport of Marseille-Provence, hospitals, and the port of Marseilles. The commander of the BMPM is the chief of the Emergency Department of the town of Marseilles. In 2004, the law on modernization of civil defence granted the BMPM with the same duties as the Departmental Corps of Firefighters (which depends on the Ministry of the Interior).
Placed under the joint command of the town of Marseilles, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, the BMPM is composed of 2,500 men (including some 100 civilians) with 423 road vehicles and 16 sea vessels (including the only two fireboats in France). Stationed on 28 sites, including 21 emergency centers, they are called, on the average, once every two minutes.
Paris is the only other French town to have a military firefighters unit (Brigade des sapeurs-pompiers de Paris).

Granted on 30 April 1982 by the Minister of Defense, Charles Hernu, in the presence of Gaston Deferre, Ministry of the Interior and Mayor of Marseilles, the colour of the BMPM (photo) has anchors inside the wreaths.
On the obverse of the colour, the name of the unit is written as:
MARINS POMPIERS
    DE MARSEILLE

Ivan Sache & Esteban Rivera, 30 August 2015


 
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