WWII produced many storied armored units. Names such as Panzer Lehr, the US 4th Armored Division, and the UK’s Guards Armored Division earned a well deserved reputation as hard charging units.
Ranked alongside these famous divisions ranks a unit of Frenchmen, the famed 2eme Division Blindee (2nd Armored Division) better known as “Division Leclerc”.
Taking its name from its dynamic and headstrong commander, Major General Phillipe Leclerc De Hautecloque, and comprising a motley mix of French Colonial Troops, Free French escapees, Naval Infantry, and even Spanish Republicans the division proved its mettle storming across Europe. It would start its war in the sands of North Africa, drive across France as part of Patton’s Third Army, liberate Paris and Strasbourg, and end atop Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (It was actually Division Leclerc and not the US 101st Airborne that first entered Hitler’s mountain top retreat.).
The History: Born in the sands of Africa
The French 2nd Armored Division is encapsulated in the will and drive of one man. Phillippe De Hautecloque was born into a minor noble family, and attended the prestigious military academy at Saint Cyr. He served in the cavalry, being posted to Morocco where he fought Moroccan tribal insurgents and earned the respect of french colonial troops and tiraelleurs alike.
By the advent of WWII and the German invasion of France, Leclerc was serving in the French 4th Infantry Division. He was wounded, and recovering in a hospital when the French capitulation occured. When German soldiers raided the hospital, Leclerc leapt out a window, stole a bicycle, and evaded capture moving from France into Spain and then securing passage to London. It was here that Leclerc would meet with the leader of the Free French, Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle would task Leclerc with traveling to the French African colonies and winning them over to the Free French banner, by force if necessary. Leclerc, having prior experience in the colonies and having built contacts amongst colonial troops and officers succeeded handily in his mission with a few thousand men joining his force and several french colonies declaring support for De Gaulle. The men recruited here would form the core of Division Leclerc.
With a sizable force now under his command and utilizing weapons captured or smuggled to his forces, Leclerc decided to take the fight to the enemy. Alongside British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) troops, The “Leclerc Column” would conduct numerous raids on Italian forces in Libya. The most famous of these raids, on the italian base at Koufra, passed into French military legend. It was here, Leclerc and his men swore an oath never to stop fighting until the “French flag flew over the cathedral at Strasbourg”. This was known as the Oath of Koufra, and Leclerc had every intention of fulfilling it.
After the battles of El Alamein and the Torch landings, Leclerc would drive north into Libya and link up with the British 8th Army under General Montgomery. The usually condescending Monty treated Leclerc with respect, in light of Leclerc’s achievements with an understrength and under-supplied force. Now designated “L” Force, Leclerc and his men would fight as part of 8th Army in Tunisia and help vanquish the German and Italian forces in North Africa. Of note, during the victory parade in Tunis, L Force marched as part of 8th Army rather than the other French troops. Leclerc had little patience for bandwagon converts to the Free French cause from Vichy, and this would mark his relationship with other French officers for the rest of the war.
From L Force to 2eme Division Blindee
After the North African campaign, Leclerc’s force underwent a reorganization as did all other Free French units. French units were to be organized along American doctrinal lines, and would be supplied with American equipment. Being a cavalryman and owing to his penchant for maneuver warfare, Leclerc’s force was reorganized into an armored division and renamed the 2eme Division Blindee . The division consisted of the following:
- 501eme Regiment de Chars de Combat (501 RCC-Tanks)
- 12eme Regiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique (12th RCA-Tanks)
- 12eme Regiment de Curaissiers (12th RC-Tanks)
- Regiment de Marche du Tchad (RMT-Armored Infantry)
- Regiment de Marche de Spahis Marocains (RMSM-Armored Recon)
- I Groupe/3eme Regiment d’ Artillerie Coloniale (I/3 RAC-Artillery)
- XI Groupe/64eme Regiment d’Artillerie de Division Blindee (XI/64 RADB-Artillery)
- I Groupe/40eme Regement d’Artillerie Nord-Africain (I/40 RANA-Artillery)
- Regiment Blindee de Fusiliers-Marins (RBFM- Tank Destroyers)
- 22eme Groupe Colonial, Force Terrestre Antiaerienne (22GC-FTA: AAA)
- 13eme Bataillon du Genie (13th DB-engineers)
- 13eme Bataillon Medical (13th BM)
Of note is the eclectic makeup of the 2eme Division Blindee. The RBFM, arguably the most famous unit of the 2 DB, was made up of former French Navy sailors and counted amongst their number Phillippe DeGaulle the son of the Free French leader. North African tiraelleurs and colonial troops filled out the RMT, and the 9th Company of the III Battalion of the unit was made up of Spanish Republican expatriates who choose to fight against Nazi Germany in revenge for the Spanish Civil War. The company was affectionately known as “La Nueve”. Women served alongside men in the medical battalion. Fully manned and equipped the division would be counted amongst the forces to take back France, landing in Normandy in August of 1944.
Into The Fire Of Combat: From Paris to the Eagle’s Nest
Leclerc’s division has the distinction of being one of the first units of the Free French to set foot back on French soil. Also, uniquely, the 2DB would fight nearly all of its war integrated into American armies and corps. This was due to Leclerc’s contentious relationship with formy Vichy officers. As a part of Patton’s Third Army, they helped close the Falaise Pocket and inflicted heavy casualties on the retreating 9th Panzer Division. With the closure of the pocket, Leclerc’s and DeGaulle’s eyes turned to Paris. While the Americans had no interest in directly taking Paris, Leclerc jumped the chain of command and directly entreated the 12th Army Group commander General Omar Bradley. While this infuriated his corps commander, General Gerow of the V Corps, Bradley authorized the operation. Thus enabled, Leclerc would seize the center of Paris with the first troops being the Spaniards of La Nueve. It would be Leclerc and the 2eme DB who would deliver Paris to DeGaulle and the Free French.
After seizing Paris, the division rejoined the Third Army and drove across France with Patton. In the Lorraine region, as part of the tank battles fought there in September 1944 Groupement Tactiques Dio and Langlade (equivalent to American Combat Commands) smashed the German Panzer Brigade 112 at Dompaire. This virtual annihilation is considered the worst loss ratio of tanks vs time ever inflicted on the Germans on the Western Front. After maintaining postions in October, the division would find itself in the Vosges and near to Strasbourg. With the prize so close, Leclerc would force the Saverne gap and drive on the city. On November 24, the tricolor was flown over Strasbourg cathedral. The Oath of Koufra had been kept, and the division had earned an American Presidential Unit Citation.
As the war came closer to a close, Leclerc’s division would fight in reducing the Colmar Pocket as part of the First French Army. This, of course, would not last long as Leclerc had a cantankerous relationship with General de Tassigny, the Army commander and former Vichyois. Leaning on Eisenhower and DeGaulle, Leclerc would once again get his Division moved to American command and end the war in Bavaria after having seized the Eagle’s Nest (a claim disputed by both the American 101st Airborne and 3rd Infantry Divisions!)
In the annals of WWII history, the men of Leclerc’s division rank as a bonafide elite unit and will go down as one of the greatest French military units of all time.
THE LIST BUILD
I have been considering doing the 2eme DB for quite some time, ever since the initial PDF came out. As an American, I actually appreciate the French as our oldest ally and would like to honor them (nevermind the fact Im a single minded US armor player as well, or the fact the Leclerc MBT is one of my favorites!). Also, as the global campaign is getting ready to start I thought now was the perfect time. Though I still build to a fairly standard template of list, I still wanted to capture the “feel” of Division Leclerc. As such, I selected to base my force on Groupement Tactique V which was the force that took Paris and includes in its ranks La Nueve. After some crunching I came up with thus:
100 pt GT V, 2eme Division Blindee
HQ: 2x M4A2 Shermans (9 points)
Platoon 1: 5x M4A3 76mm Shermans (28 points)
Platoon 2: 5x M4A2 Shermans (21 points)
Platoon 3: 3x M4 81mm Armored Mortar (3 points)
Support 1: Cavalry Recon Patrol (small) (3 points)
Support 2: 3x M7 Priest (8 points)
Sherman OP (3 pts)
Support 3: AAA Platoon (2 points)
Support 4: Small Armored Rifle Platoon (15 points)
Division Leclerc (4 points)
French Resistance Raid (2 points)
Ivory X (1 Point)
Lucky (1 point)
The Force incorporates elements of the 501 RCC, III/RMT (to include La Nueve), 64eme RADB, The RMSM, and the 22 GC-FTA that made up Groupement Tactique V. While on the surface its a fairly standard Veteran Tank Company, the cards give it the flavor. The Division Leclerc card is mandatory (obviously) which makes your formation units Last Stand on 3+. Combined with 3+ Tactics, this makes the list pretty hardy. The Free French Raid is a fun one to mess with your opponent’s reserves, and captures the Maquis rising up in Paris as the division approached. Ivory X gives you another template to drop, and I put in to reflect Leclerc’s ability to adapt and improvise. Finally, the Lucky card as insurance for those critical dice rolls.
Modeling Division Leclerc
You will note above I specified M4A2s and M4A3 76mm. Leclerc’s Division were equipped with these types, and it is believed were actually first to get the M4A3 76mm. While they had the odd M4A1 or M4A3 75mm replaced from US Army stocks, they generally fought with the first two types. Most other equipment were standard US kit.
Leclerc’s troops didn’t have the Allied stars on their vehicles nearly as much as the Americans, replacing it with the division logo, tank names, turret numbers and such. La Nueve was authorized to have the Spanish Republican flag displayed on their uniforms, and other troops had small accoutrements as well allowing modelers wide range to customize their force.
Division Leclerc Goes Global!
With the global campaign firing up, stay tuned as I take GT V through the fires of Normandy as part of the campaign. Stay tuned for future articles!