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Pennants of the Algerian Tirailleurs (French Army)

Last modified: 2020-09-20 by ivan sache
Keywords: tirailleurs |
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Such a flag is not a standard as such, in the same sense as a regimental colour, but a fanion (the nearest English equivalent is perhaps battalion or company marker). It is used to mark the position of the unit, especially its commanding officer, on parade and in the field. They are only small, and were attached to a small staff which was placed in the muzzle of a rifle. The regulation sizes were 50cm x 40cm for a battalion fanion, 40 x 30 for a company fanion, and 34 x 27 for a platoon fanion (the latter can also be a triangular pennant 30 x 40).

The regulations of 1857 laid down the colours:-

  • 1st battalion of each regiment: blue sheet
  • 2nd battalion: red sheet
  • 3rd battalion: yellow sheet
  • 4th battalion: green sheet

When wartime expansion created extra battalions, these used fanions in the same sequence of colours, but with a central vertical white band down the sheet.

The devices were coloured by company (note that in the French army, companies were numbered consecutively through the regiment, and not the battalion):

  • 1st, 5th, 9th, 13th: blue
  • 2nd, 6th, 10th, 14th: red
  • 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th: yellow
  • 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th: green

[Pennant of Algerian Tirailleurs]by Jorge Candeias

Source: The World of Flags [cra90]

With red devices on a green sheet, this fanion belongs to the 4th Battalion, 14th Company of any of the regiments (3 until 1878, then 4; the changes in the 20th Century are just too complex to enumerate here).

The central device, the hand of Fatima, is a common device for Algerian units of the French Army. Fatima was the daughter of Mohammed - the hand represents good luck, or at least the warding off of bad luck. The hand on the fanion should be about 18cm high. In 1949, a regulation mentions that crescents pointing outwards are a sign of conquest, whereas crescents pointing inwards are a sign of surrender. Both the hand and the crescent were also used as decorative finials for the fanion staff.

Fanions remained fairly simple in design like this one until the 1920s, when the extended nature of the battlefield, and new specialisations, made each battalion and company relatively more important than in the days when regiments fought in ranks shoulder-to-shoulder, and so fanions were invested with a lot more prestige than before, and the regulations were honoured more in the breach than in the observance, as extensively decorated ones became the norm.

My source has been issue 55 (new series) 1980 of the journal Cahiers de la Sabretache, which is devoted to Tirialleurs algériens and tunisiens, particularly the sections on fanions and symbolism.

Ian Sumner, 16 March 1999

According to Pierre Charrié [chr92], a circular of 10 January 1857 established that a single pennant for each battalion was inadequate, and created guidons [fanions] for each company, with a particular color for each battalion and a border in the color of the company:

These pennnants were adorned with the hand of Fatima and a crescent in each corner, of the color green for the four battalions.

Of these guidons which have been preserved, several do not follow the provisions of the circular regarding the green color for the crescents and the hand of Fatima:

  • The pennant of the 2nd Tirailleurs, 1st battalion, lost in Woerth (Franco-Prussian war, 6 August 1870), is 49 x 54.5 cm, with a red field and a light blue border of 5 cm width. The crescents and the hand of Fatima are light blue.
  • The pennant of the 2nd Tirailleurs, 2nd battalion, is 47 x 52 cm, with a blue field and a black border of 5 cm width. The crescents and the hand of Fatima are light blue, but they have their points oriented to the inside.
  • The pennants of the 3rd Tirailleurs, 3rd batallion, is red-orange with w white border and a white hand of Fatima.

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2002

1st Company of Tirailleurs, 2nd Battalion, attached to the Imperial Guard

[1st Company 2nd Battalion]by Jaume Ollé

The pennants of the battalions attached to the Imperial Guard have in their center a scroll with ".. Tirailleurs" surmounted with an Imperial crown, instead of the hand of Fatima. In the corners, the crescents points to the inside and the battalion number is inscribed into the crescent.

The pennant of the 2nd battalion is kept in the Infantry Museum in Montpellier. Its field is dark blue and its charges are yellow.

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2002

1st Company of Tirailleurs, 3rd Battalion, attached to the Imperial Guard

[1st Company 3nd Battalion]by Jaume Ollé

The pennant of the 3rd battalion has the same design as for the 1st battalion, but its field is emerald green.

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2002

10th Regiment of Tirailleurs, 1st Battalion

[10th Regiment]by Jaume Ollé

The flag of the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 10th Regiment of Tirailleurs contained the crescent moons, hand of Fatima, and a lion's head among other elements. The inscription says, "If you die bravely the gates of paradise will open easily to you."

Jaume Ollé, translated by Joe McMillan, 14 December 2001