1er BEP, "Operation Douarnenez" 
August 1953

Rolling Thunder French Indochina war studies for re-enactors

The Indochina Living History small section of Rolling Thunder have done an improvised photo shoot 
at War & Peace Revival 2018 to write a second uniform study on the 1er BEP, this time in mid 1953. 

The French paratroopers in Indochina were the post-WWII elite forces of the French army. They were used as firemen for the Indochinese theatre and wherever a situation needed sorting out, they were engaged. 
As Elite troops, their uniform was always quite distinctive from the other French troops and evolved quickly 
during the war. 

Rolling Thunder, the Vietnam Experience
gives you the full Vietnam experience by bringing you 
the 1st Indochina war. 


1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes, 1er BEP

 1er BEP was created on 1 July 1948 in Algeria, arrived in Indochina on the 12 November 1948 
and fought mainly in the Tonkin region (North Vietnam).

Setting the scene 

The 1er BEP, was airlifted from "Seno air base" in Laos to Tourane (Da Nang) in Cochinchina on the 2-3 of August 1953 
to start a search and destroy operation, north of  Nha Trang near Tan Xuan and QL26.
15/08 Operation Concarneau, search and destroy south of Tan Xuan
16/08 Operation
Douarnenez, search and destroy north of Tan Xuan  

Original photo which inspired our photoshoot

Two Legionnaire from the 1er BEP photographed during operation "Douarnenez " 
info thanks to "la Legion √Čtrang√®re en Indochine 1946-1956 book, photo from the internet.

The man on the left is wearing a USMC M44 jacket while the one on the right is wearing the Army M43 version.

Below, recreated photos by members of Rolling Thunder, Indochina section and photographed by Sean Vatcher.

The mixture of British Windproof  trousers with US Camo HBT jacket will be a characteristic feature 
of the French Para during the period of 1951 -1954



This uniform study is of the 1st Foreign Legion paratrooper battalion, 

Uniform & Equipment description  

Both French Para in the photo are wearing very similar uniforms and equipments

The man on the left is equiped with a M1 helmet which has received the TAP-EO modification 
and is covered with the US-M44 camo net, he is wearing a USMC P44  camo jacket with British Windproof trousers. British M37 gaiters and new Brodequin M52 ankle boots (rare in Indochina), his equipment is mostly French TAP with the exception of two M1 carbine US ammo pouches, his haversack is the TAP Musette M50, he is armed with an folding stock M1A1 carbine, late war production with bayonet lug, a couple of theater made grenade pouches with OF &  DF 37 grenades and US M3 fighting knife. He carry a US M44 water bottle, a French M35 quarter shelter tent can been seen in his TAP50 haversack. To be noted is the Carlisle metal First-Aid pouch held by an elastic band to his suspenders. They were mainly seen in the helmet band or under the camo net. He carry a WWII US BC-611 radio (SCR-536) 

Our second paratrooper on the right  virtually wear the same uniform and equipment that the first man. Only difference is the French M51 water bottle, a M41 or M45 brodequin (ankle boots) which can be identified via its reinforcement rivet on the side. He is armed with the early M1A1 Carbine, no bayonet lug and TAP M51 musette identifiable by the button on the small side pocket instead of the popper. 


Detailed description


1BEP53article (13).jpg

 The French Para helmet was WWII US M1c or the M1 with a modified liner which had received the TAP/EO Airborne Indochina modification.  The camo net was the US WWII  M43 net with its foliage band. On the photo above, the band  holds a US WWII Carlisle dressing which was much preferred due to water resistance.  The white cord looped around the foliage band is a piece of parachute suspension cord which was used to secure the helmet to the webbing during parachute jumps. 
In fact the TAP/EO modification were not that strong  as made of standard  cotton cloth and not webbing so, unfortunately they  sometimes broke during parachute jumps resulting with the loss of the helmet.  With the cord, the helmet would stay suspended to the webbing to be retrieved once on the ground.  

1BEP53article (14).jpg

 Re-enactors notes: genuine war time TAP/EO converted helmets are extremely rare and command very high prices.  Conversion kits and converted post war M1 helmets are available from specialised dealers. Genuine nets are a little more difficult to obtain but repro are available.  Genuine First-aid bandage are very common.  


1BEP53article (4).jpg

 US WWII, USMC P44  camo jacket . 
The USMC P44  had an early late construction, with some design improvements on the later Coat which consist of horizontal buttonholes and the male pouch snaps being reinforced by heavy web tape rather than HBT cloth. Also they had a greener tint.

Re-enactors notes: Expensive item,: repro do exist, but do be careful as the P42 is sometime listed as a P44 
by some internet sellers

1BEP53article (10).jpg

WWII British Windproof trousers

The windproof came in a two-piece suit: smock and trousers, the Windproof Camouflaged Smock was intended to be worn as an oversuit over the Battledress. The pattern of printed camouflage was unique to this form of dress and it became popular with the Special Air Service and various commando units. 
It is sometime referred as SAS smock by collectors. This was know to the French army as "peau de saucisson" "sausage skin" due to it's feel. They were used as issued or received modifications:  the trousers were sometime remodeled with a Zip or button fly and pockets were some time added or moved. 

Re-enactors notes: Genuine British War time Windproofs are commanding high price now, luckily fairly good reproductions have been available for re-enactors and even collectors. 
As far as I am aware, there is 3 manufacturers of them, Panzerfaust, What Price Glory and Silverman, the last one been a poor replica due to the wrong colour print and heavy material used.



1BEP53article (21).jpgFRENCHINDOCHINA (148) copy.jpgIMG_0005 copy.jpg

At that time the 1st BEP was mainly equipped with the new TAP 50 French made equipment with 
some left over from earlier time, ie British and US equipment.
On the photo above
is a typical set up for a Para rifleman, TAP 50 suspenders with a TAP 50 belt, WWII US M1 carbine ammo pouch 
with either
the French TTA M51 water bottle or the US M10/M44 water bottle. 

Re-enactors notes: 
The M50 belt is the one to get, but is rare. 
From the late 50's some M50 belts were manufactured in Europe for "Regimental  foyer"  which can be recognised by the flat metal belt loop instead of the rounded type  used on the original Army issue belt.  They are a lot less desirable.  
Buyers must be aware that fake M50 belts have been made from the French M50/53 belt webbing with 50's British web belt buckle and with the flat belt loop.
The M36 US WWII web belt would still have been common with the 1er BEP. 
The rest of the equipment can be easily obtained via the internet, except for the TAP musette which is rarer, 
but can be substituted for a WWII US Para repro one.  A genuine M3 knives are expensive, but good repros do exist

1BEP53article (22).jpg

TTA51 water bottle, cup and pouch
Re-enactors notes: a second and later model of the pouch was made with the standard poppers, these were issued after the Indochina war and are not  correct.



US M44 canteen with pouch and cup, the M1910 with the metal cap was also used
Re-enactors: These are still plentiful and easy to get so no need for repro


1BEP53article (24).jpg

M3 Fighting knife

The fighting knife was often carried by the French on the front of their belt as seen in the photo above. 

1BEP53article (7).jpg1BEP53article (5).jpg

US WWII M1 carbine, twin mag pouch
on the left is the first model with the second model on the right

 Both have the French conversion to allow the TAP harness to be attached to them 

Re-enactors: still
affordable or you can use non modified WWII ones, all WWII US equipment is still available, 
so do not use repro, as they are not of very good quality and can be easily spotted! 

1BEP53article (16).jpg1BEP53article (15).jpg1BEP53article (18).jpg1BEP53article (17).jpg

TAP 50 musette/haversack, this is the first version with a poppers, the M51 will  have buttons instead

Re-enactors: Original are expensive and rare. 

1BEP53article (19).jpg

French M35 light khaki Tent shelter-half 
the US M42 model with front and rear flaps was favoured  when available
1BEP53article (20).jpg

Re-enactors: Original are still can be obtained at a affordable price.

1BEP53article (11).jpg

US WWII Carlisle 1st Aid dressing


fM49 French 1st Aid dressing, bottom one with a piece of inner tube around it.
Re-enactors: both are still easy to get and cheap.


1BEP53article (3).jpg  1BEP53article (2).jpg

Footwear was quite diverse around 1953, and it was very common to see French paras wearing the Infantry ankle boot with gaiters, (This ranged  from the WWI M17 to the WWII M41/M45 Brodequin. Only a few of the M52 model were sent to Indochina for field evaluation). 
All the brodequin were in natural leather colour, but soon turn to dark brown then to near black due to heavy application of shoes "graisse" dubbing to keep them in a serviceable condition in the harsh  and damp conditions of Indochina. The two separate M52 brodequin showed in the photos illustrate the darkening process. The inset is of the M45, reinforcement rivet.

Re-enactors: the brodequin do vary in prices and you can sometime get original M41/45 for sensible money, 
the M52 can also be converted with the addition of a small rivet on the side. Beware, I have seen some "cut off" French issue "brown M50 rangers boots" sold as brodequin.  NOTE: the TTA M1950 Ranger boot was not issued in Indochina!

1BEP53article (6).jpg

 One of the gaiters often used by the Para is the British WWII M37, 
here with the leather straps, some were made with canvas straps
Re-enactors: Original are still around and still affordable. 

1BEP53article (8).jpg

The weapon

Above the US M1A1 carbine, characteristic weapons of the Indochina French Paratroopers, 
this one is the later model with the bayonet lug and is the airborne model with folding stock.
. The M1A1 carbine was well liked by the Para for it compactness and lightness, more ammunitions could also be carried, but the 30 Carbine caliber with its 1990 fps muzzle velocity lacked a little in punch and penetration specially in jungle environment. 

Re-enactors: Original are expensive
but good repro can be obtained.

1BEP53article (24).jpg

Another characteristic weapon of the French Para is the US WWII M3 fighting knife
Re-enactors: Original are expensive but good repro can be obtained 

 1BEP53article (9).jpg

French DF37  and  OF37 grenades.  
Re-enactors  OF/DF37 are rare and difficult to obtain here in the UK, but are available in resin form from France

1BEP53article (23).jpg

The radio
WWII US BC-611 radio (SCR
-536) with a range of  1-3 miles, the lesser for Indochina terrain.
Re-enactors notes: rare radio to obtain.  

More photos of  photoshoot at War and Peace Revival 2018

  Please note the equipment and uniforms described here are time specific for the 1st BEP.  
For instance, 
they would have worn different uniforms and equipment during 
the RC4 fighting in 1950 or DBP in 1954.


Here is the list of our requirements for that specific photoshoot.

Helmet US M1C or M1 modified TAP

US 1943 pattern camo net with or without band

USMC P44 camo jacket

WWII British Windproof trousers

 British M37 Gaiters

French Brodequin M17/41/45/50/52
 (Note, the M52 was not issued in Indochina but a small quantity were send for evaluation)

M50 TAP belt

M50 suspenders

French M51 or US WWII M1910 or M44 water bottle

M1 carbine with folding stock with US M1 twin cell pouch ammo pouch.  

TAP M50  or M51 musette bag  

M35 light khaki square tent/poncho

French or US WWII Carlisle or British WWII field dressing

M3 fighting knife

OF or  DF French grenade

SRC536 radio 


The information published is to my/our best knowledge and may be altered if new information is uncovered. 
 Article written by JLD from Rolling Thunder, The Vietnam Experience, January 2019

All photos are from our collection unless stated and nothing should be re-use without our prior consent! 


 Make a donation


View our Guestbook
Free Guestbooks by Bravenet.com