Welcome to the French Marine corps museum

One of the MoD museums, the French Marine corps museum was inaugurated in October, 1981. Currently, a study is being conducted to renovate and extend it. The museum is a shrine. The Crypt, on the ground level, is where tribute is paid to all the Colonial Troops and the French Marine corps soldiers who gave their lives for the glory of France over the past four centuries. It is also a centre for cultural activities where temporary exhibitions can be seen. The Overseas Troops Historical Studies Centre (Centre d'histoire et d'études des troupes d'outre-mer, CHETOM) can host either research workers or symposiums and lectures featured on the annual program. Finally, it is a history museum which, through its permanent collections, evokes the history of the French Marine corps from 1622 to the present. The exhibitions are also displayed so as to evoke the French colonial empire and the history of France’s influence in the world.
We wish you an enjoyable visit.

1-The creation of the Navy Troops 1622

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the history of the French Marine corps was strongly linked to the history of the French overseas conquests. At the beginning of the 17th Century and as a result of the territorial expansion of France in the world, the first troops embarked aboard royal vessels were recruited to cope with the need to have troops available to explore, occupy, develop and defend new territories overseas. Other units were also created to be permanently stationed in military ports and overseas as part of the service in the colonies. They came from the 100 companies for sea-service, created in 1622 by Cardinal de Richelieu. In 1626, the companies were merged into the Régiment La Marine (the Regiment of the Navy). As our colonial empire grew, other regiments were created such as : Régiment des Isles (the Islands Regiment), Régiment des Navires (the Boats Regiment), Régiment royal des Vaisseaux (the Royal Vessels Regiment)…

2-The Marine Infantry 18th Century

At the end of the 17th Century, separate units called “compagnies franches” were created and sent to New France, North America. In the mid-18th century, local troops were recruited first the Sepoy in India (1750), then the Laptot from Gorea Island in Senegal (1765). A substantial part of the French army served overseas where it reinforced the special troops such as the Karrer Regiment, the eight regiments on sea-port duty, the eight overseas regiments (Capetown, Port-au-Prince, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Isle Bourbon, Isle de France, Port-Louis, Pondichery). Their rear base was on the Ile de Ré, on the French Atlantic coast.

3-The Naval Artillery 18th Century

At the end of the 17th Century naval gunners companies were set up. First they served in the large ports of the Western Fleet (Brest and Rochefort) and of the Eastern Fleet (Toulon) before being assigned to serve naval artillery on board warships. The naval gunners were later regrouped into the Royal Corps of Naval Gunners (1786) before merging with the Artillery and Marine Infantry Corps (1792).

4-The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era 1789-1815

During the French Revolution, many of the Marine regiments came under the command of the Army as Infantry Regiments (11th, 43rd, 60th, 99th, 106th, 109th and 110th Infantry Regiments). The Colonial Royal Artillery Regiment was re-flagged as 8th Artillery Regiment. The Marine Artillery took part in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic campaigns with seven half-brigades (1795) and, starting in 1804, four Marine Artillery regiments who gained fame in 1813-1814 during the Campaigns in Germany and in France, before being progressively annihilated on the battlefields.

5-The Marine Troops (French Marine Corps) 1822-1870

In 1822, the 1st and 2nd Marine Infantry regiments were constitued and the 1st Marine Artillery regiment was re-activated. Due to the extension of the French colonies, the number of Marine Infantry regiments was doubled. In 1855, the French Marine corps were composed of four Infantry regiments (120 companies) and one Artillery regiment (27 companies). French Marine corps companies garrisoned all the French colonies and were relieved regularly. They participated to numerous campaigns either alongside with the French Navy or the French Army such as : Madagascar 1829, Algiers 1830, Senegal 1833, Mexico 1830-1839, La Plata 1840, Senegal 1843, Taihiti and Morocco 1844, Nossi Bé 1849, Montevideo 1850, Bissagos 1853, The Baltic and Crimea 1854, China and Indochina 1859 and Mexico 1862-1863.

6-The Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871

As part of the Army of Châlons, the French Marine corps was committed as a single division – the “Blue Division” – under the command of Major General de Vassoigne. Having arrived in the vicinity of Sedan, in the Ardennes, they won fame fighting the Bavarians at the village of Bazeilles (Aug. 31, - Sept. 1, 1870). They lost 2 600 men and the Bavarians twice that number.

7-The French Marine corps 1871-1900

Following the birth of the Third Republic, the strength of the French Marine corps was increased. There were 30 regiments in 1900. They took part in different campaigns : Tonkin (1873), Sudan (1878), Congo (1880), Dahomey (1891), the Ivory Coast (1895), Madagascar (1895), Chad (1900). Being involved in operations that led them deeper and deeper into the overseas territories, they progressively moved away from the tutelage of the Naval and Colonial Ministries. In 1900, the separation was implemented and they became a branch of the Army under the name of Colonial Troops.

8-The Colonial Troops 1900-1914

In 1900, the very year when they became a branch of the Army, the Colonial Troops campaigned in Chad (battle of Kousseri, April 22, 1900) and in China (the storming of Tien-Tsin, July 13th, 1900). From 1908 they intervened in Morocco. At that same period, they were grouped into a Colonial Corps stationed in France.

9-The Great War 1914-1918

Right from the start of the war, the Colonial Corps saw action on the Belgian border where they clashed with the Germans at Rossignol. In the meantime the German colonies in Africa (Togoland, Cameroun) came under attack. In December 1914, the survivors of the battalions who had come from Morocco were regrouped into the Morocco Colonial Infantry Regiment (RICM, in French). Reinforcements poured into France from all our colonies. Senegalese, Malagasy, Indochinese, Somalians were grouped and trained in camps located in Fréjus and Saint-Raphaël, in South-Eastern France. They fought side by side with French soldiers and soldiers who had come from the other colonies (The French West Indies, the Réunion Island, the Pacific territories). The Colonial Troops took part in the Dardanelles expedition, fought on the Somme in 1915, captured German Cameroun, fought at Verdun and on the Somme in 1916, attacked on the Aisne in 1917. In 1918 under the command of General Mangin they stopped at Rheims the German offensive aimed at Paris. The Colonial Troops in the Balkans defeated the Bulgarian armies. After November 11, 1918, they occupied the German city of Mainz.

10-The years between the wars 1919-1939

The surrender of the pocket of Taza marked the completion of the pacification of Morocco. The French mandate over the Levant (i.e. Syria and Lebanon) once established, France with the Paris International Colonial Exhibition in 1931 celebrated its Empire then at its zenith. Books, songs and movies made the public aware of French actions overseas. Primitive art became fashionable ; there was a fascination for exotic things. Senegalese and Indochinese troops were garrisoned in France, at the same time Colonial units completed the pacification of the Western Sahara desert.

11-World War II 1939-1945

The Colonial Troops shouldered their share of the battles of 1940, when France was invaded. Several times, German troops slaughtered captured Senegalese soldiers. The Colonial Troops were the first to join the Free French forces and up to 1943 were their largest contingent. They won fame during the campaigns in Erythrea, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. The Allies equipped the French Forces and this made possible the constitution of the 9th Colonial Infantry Division in July 1943. Together with the 1st Free French Division created in February, it took part in the campaign of Italy (1943-1944). After the Provence Invasion on August 15, 1944, both divisions contributed to the final victory during the campaigns in Eastern France and Germany, where they fought alongside the Colonial Units of the Second Armoured Division (1944-1945).

12-The Far-East Theatre 1945-1954

Most of the French Forces which were deployed against the Vietnamese Nationalists in Indochina belonged to the Colonial Troops. They were organised either as territorial units to hold permanent strong points or reaction units, parachute or commando units for all types of operations. Amphibious units saw action there for the first time. In 1951, Colonial troop instructors began to help creating a Vietnamese National Army. Substantial numbers of Senegalese soldiers served in Indochina.

13-The North Africa Theatre 1954-1962

The Colonial Troops participated to all the operations conducted against the nationalists : pacification, intervention, counter-guerrilla operations. Paratroopers mastered helicopter airborne operation tactics.

15- The French Marine corps since 1962

Starting in 1962 the French Marine corps was stationed in France as well as in Germany and overseas, where it constituted forward deployed forces. The following year, they helped the newly independant African states. Starting in 1978, they saw action, sometimes under the U.N. flag, on theaters located in Africa, Kampuchea, the Middle-East, Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Caribbeans or the Pacific. Under French, NATO, UN or EU command, they now carry out combat, interposition, peacekeeping or humanitarian missions.

16-Overseas Service and amphibious operations

At the dawn of the 21st Century the French Marine corps is the cutting edge of the French Army. Its organization, know-how and experience have set a pattern for the new all-volunteer Army. It is typically an intervention force, designed for service overseas as well as in foreign countries and in amphibious operations. Its units are present on all fronts, training in France and conducting operations overseas or in Europe.

17- Specialists

The French Marine corps always wanted to have the means to support its own units in overseas operations. This has led to emergence of specialists among the Colonial Troops and later the French Marine corps : doctors, medics, quartermasters, clerks, telegraph operators, builders who acquired irreplaceable experience. Colonial camel troops created routes between Algeria and Black Africa through the Sahara. Since the 1960s these specialists have been at work in units or combined Services of the Army, or in the joint services of the Ministry of Defence.
Traditions and Service Culture Since 1622, the French Marine corps, first as part of the French Navy and later of the French Army, has been involved in all the battles waged by France. It often was on its own in continents which were unfamiliar to the other Services. Its actions are backed by four centuries of experience. The versatility of its units, a feature still more important than their specific skills, guarantees their ability to confront any situation they might have to face. Backed by strong traditions, they display the sturdiness of professionals and the moral strength born from the mastery of their skills, the trust in their weapons and their will to be second to none in terms of technical progress.

18-The crypt of the museum

This is a place for meditation, remembrance and ceremonies where “The Last Taps” is sounded. The crypt has an urn in which the remains of the “unknow Marsouin” are kept. These remains come from the ossuary at Bazeilles, in the Ardennes region. This place of remembrance, dedicated to the memory of the 400,000 French Marine corps soldiers who died for France, displays a number of emblems of disbanded regiments arrayed around the golden Anchor, the symbol of French Marine corps. The Marble Wall bears the names of the battles which, over the past two centuries were embroidered on the flags and standards of the Colonial Troops and the French Marine corps.
Thank you for your visit

We hope you found our museum worthy of interest and will be pleased to see you again. In terms of military monuments, museums and memorials you can visit
in Fréjus : The Missiri (a Senegalese mosque), the cemetery of the wars in Indochina, the Buddhist Pagoda.
In Saint-Raphaël : the military cemetery at Boulouris, the beach of Dramont (where the WWII landing took place on August 15, 1944).
The French Marine corps Museum is part of the network of  the Ministry of Defence and of Veterans affairs Museums.
Why not a visit to the other museums shown on the map, in the Provence region, in particular the Artillery Museum at Draguignan and the Museum of the Foreign Legion at Aubagne, near Marseille ?
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