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The Spanish Legión is an elite unit of the Spanish Army made up of the last of Europe’s gladiators to fight the Islamisation of Europe. Founded as the Tercio de Extranjeros or Foreigners Regiment, it was originally intended as a Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, but in practice recruited mostly Spaniards. The Spanish Legion’s animal mascot is the Legión’s goat.


The Spanish Foreign Legion was formed by royal decree of King Alfonso XIII on January 28, 1920. In the 1920s the Spanish Foreign Legion’s five battalions were filled primarily by natives of Spain with most of its foreign members coming from Cuba.

The Spanish Foreign Legion was created along the lines of the French Foreign Legion as a corps of professional troops that could replace conscripts in colonial campaigns.


The Spanish Legion’s first major campaign, for which they are still celebrated, was in Spanish North Africa.  In 1920 Spain was facing a major rebellion in the Protectorate of Spanish Morocco, led by the able Rif leader Abdel Krim.

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King Alfonso XIII conferred command of the new regiment on Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry José Millán Astray. His style and attitude would become part of the mystique of the Legion.

The heroic Astray earned numerous decorations for valour. He led the defence of the city of San Rafael. The then 18-year old commander fought off a rebel force of 2,000 with only thirty men.

He subsequently served in Morocco, where he lost his left arm and right eye, earning the sobriquet Glorioso mutilado (Glorious amputee). Astray habitually wore an eye patch and a white glove on his right hand when appearing in public.


On September 20, 1920, the first recruit joined the new Legion; a date that is celebrated yearly. Francisco Franco was one of the founding members of the Legion and the unit’s second-in-command, concurrently commanding the 1st Legion Bandera.

The Legion made up the Spanish Army of Africa.  In 1934 units of both the Legion and the Regulares were brought back to Spain by the notorious Stalin-backed Republican regime to help put down a Spanish workers revolt in the area of Asturias. The striking miners of Asturias were mercilessly slaughtered by the Bolshevik supporting Republican government. Defeated, 3,000 workers were killed and 35,000 taken prisoner during the terrible repression that followed.


Desfile Legión Española Madrid

Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Juan Yagüe, the Army of Africa played an important part in the later Spanish Civil War. The professionalism of both the Legion and the Regulares gave Franco’s anti-Communist forces a significant initial advantage over the less well trained Republican forces.


The Army of Africa remained the elite spearhead of the Nationalist armies throughout the Civil War. When Morocco gained its independence in 1956 the Legion continued in existence as part of the garrison of the remaining Spanish enclaves and territories in North Africa. The Legion fought Arab irregulars in the Ifni War in 1957-58.


After 1987 it stopped accepting foreigners and changed its name to the Spanish Legion. Recruits were required to have a valid Spanish residence permit. Promotion prospects for foreigners were however reported to be limited.


Millán Astray provided the Legion with a distinctive spirit and symbolism intended to evoke Spain’s Imperial and Christian traditions. Millán Astray also revived the Spaniard’s ancient feud with the Moors and portrayed his men as crusaders on an extended Reconquista against Islam, and later as the saviours of Spain warding off Communism and democratic liberalism.


Spanish Legion troops, regardless of rank, are titled Caballero Legionario (Knight Legionnaire). When women were admitted, they were given the title Dama Legionaria. Legionnaires are known as Novios de la Muerte (Bridegroom of Death).


When in trouble, a legionnaire shouts A mí la Legión (To me the Legion). Those within earshot are bound to help him regardless of the circumstances. Legionnaires never abandon a comrade on the battlefield. Contrary to usual military practice, Spain’s Legionnaires are allowed to sport beards and can wear their shirts open on the chest.


From its establishment, the Legion was noted for its plain and simple uniforms. This was part of the cult of austerity favoured by a unit that considered itself on more or less continual active service. During the Holy Week processions, the Paso carried by legionnaires is held not on the shoulders but on their extended arms to show their faith, toughness, strength, and endurance.

The Legion’s Hymn


No one in the Regiment knew

Who was that Legionary?

So bold and daring

That he came to join the Legion.


No one knew his story,

Yet the Legion knew

That a great pain gnawed

Like a wolf, at his heart.


Yet if anyone asked who he was

He would reply reluctantly and sternly:


I am a man whom fortune

Struck with a beast’s paw;

I am death’s bridegroom

Who is to be joined in a strong bond

With such a faithful sweetheart.


When the fire and fighting

Were at their fiercest,

Defending his Flag

The legionary advanced.


And without fearing the onslaught

Of the exalted enemy

He died bravely

And rescued the ensign.


And as he soaked the burning ground with his blood,

The legionary murmured in a mournful voice:


I am a man whom fortune

Struck with a beast’s paw;

I am death’s bridegroom

Who is to be joined in a strong bond

With such a faithful sweetheart.


When his body was finally recovered

They found on his chest

A letter and a picture

Of a beautiful woman.


And that letter read:

“… if one day God calls you,

Save a place for me

I will soon find you.”


And in the last kiss that she sent him

She bid him a final goodbye.


Just to be by your side

My most faithful sweetheart,

I became death’s bridegroom,

I am now bound to her with a strong bond

And her love was my Flag.

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