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Bernhard H.Holst

In memory of ex Brigadier-Chef Czeslaw ( Cesar ) Kopanczyk, retired Legionnaire

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Hello readers.

The former Brigadier-Chef Czeslaw Kopanczyk , later decorated with the Legion d'Honneur and the Medaille Militaire joined the French Foreign Legion in 1950 and retired in 1964 to reside in the Legion retirement facility of Puyloubier. He lost his life during the large wildfire of 28 August, 1989 which ravaged that area.

Some readers who have read posts of mine related to the conflict in Indochina during the 1951 to 1954 time span may have come across the name of then Brigadier (Corporal ) Kopanczyk. This writer served with him from 1951 to 1953 and again from 1954 to 1956 in an amphibious unit of the !.REC ( 1. Foreign Cavalry Regiment ) in Tonkin, North Vietnam and after the French evacuation of that portion of Vietnam, in the southern part.

He was usually called Cesar since that was easier to pronounce than was Czeslaw.

I first met Cesar after formation of the mounted infantry company of which I was a member of the Headquarters Platoon and he was assigned to the 8..Escadron equipped with amphibious "Weasel" vehicles. He held the rank of Brigadier ( Corporal) after graduation from a tough course in North Africa for potential candidates to hold that rank. For some reason we stuck together and he told me of his unhappiness in his present unit. He had requested transfers on several occasions but always unsuccessfully. He now resorted to the ultimate solution of relinquishing his two rank stripes which action would automatically result in a transfer. He was transferred to my company with the grade of Legionnaire de 1.classe but employed in more responsible duties. He regained his old rank very soon. His position in the 1. Platoon as an assistant squad leader did not place him very close to me, as radio operator to the company commander when on operations but we still found time together.

The photos below show him after the January, 1953 combat of Phung Thon, 7.January, 1953 inspecting recovered weaponry and other items:

The last picture wearing the white kepi unfortunately does not show his face. European person on the right -most is this writer.

Picture shows 1.Platoon with utmost left the company sergeant-major and leader 1.Platoon, Marechal des Logis-Major Tabournel; next, in left file Marechal des Logis Ossenbrink, squad leader 1. Squad and behind him with just his face showing is Brigadier Kopanczyk.

This writer's return for second tour of duty in Vietnam brought me back to my old outfit and at the request of M.d.L.-Major Tabournel was assigned to his platoon as squad leader of 1.Squad with Brig. Kopanczyk leader of 3. Squad. We were glad to be together again and closer than before.

This slip is the roster of evening duties' assignment written by Brig. Kopanczyk for the 1.Platoon. Patrol in town of Nam Dinh and guard post giving names and arms etc.

The next section of this narrative will continue with observations and reflections as well as some additional photos.

Bernhard H. Holst

once in the ranks of the 1.REC in Vietnam

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst

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Hello readers.

This narrative continues with the operations of our amphibious group based on the large town of Nam Dinh, capital of the province of the same name and of the operational Zone South of the Red River delta area.This area was heavily infiltrated by the Viet Minh including regular and regional troops besides the local lightly armed units.

The amphibious vehicles with which our group was equipped, WW II era US built and furnished Weasels and LVT transports and support LVT's with 75 mm howitzers in turrets oftentimes were in need of maintenance and repairs. This made our mounted elements available for the odds and ends of assignments with various other company-size units to form provisional battalions to be deployed wherever a need arose.

Brig. Kopanczyk and his squad operated alongside mine, equipped with the French automatic rifles and rifle grenade launchers and two other light squads armed with submachine guns made up the strength of our platoon. Cesar was the only European in his squad as was I until I was assigned one legionnaire who in hindsight must have been a reject from somewhere. He was unfortunately more of a burden and in constant need of supervision. During the combat on the 21.May 1954 at the Khenon Massif he was wounded due to careless if not to call it stupid acts and rendered my squad nearly ineffective because four Vietnamese troopers had to evacuate him.

During this very close day to day life on active service and some days of rest and refit I could see how easily Cesar could handle his men. In the field or in the rear. No complaints that I recall. We were accustomed to lead from the front, that is to say acting as the point. I remember while searching a village to hear an explosion and Cesar calling out to me that he was hurt. Making my way over to him I saw him fairly dancing on one leg. Coming close he called out to be wounded on the leg of which he was holding the shin.. I saw no blood after pressing down on the pants leg but noticed that the case in which the bolt of his submachinegun traveled was dented. He had his weapon across his chest and our Cesar while opening the door to a hut he wanted to search using a pole to push it open did not wait. So he triggered a booby trapped handgrenade placed behind the door stoop made from bricks. Brick fragments hit his shin and a grenade splinter probably the strong sheetmetal of his weapon denting it rather than his body.

After the armistice we assisted in the evacuation of those parts of the civil population that wanted to move south. A number of our Vietnamese personnel elected to join the National Army. Cesar was appointed to run the Foyer ( PX or canteen) which certainly assured better than regular food of which position I also profited.

Until I was volunteered to attend a course for potential N.C.O. candidates but that is another story.

Our formation was one of the last to leave the northern part of Vietnam.

Here are two pictures of our voyage to Saigon.

First picture Cesar is on the right sporting the French version of Bombay Bloomers. Second picture he is on the left , the transport is just entering the port of Saigon.

The last section of this narrative to follow. This one turned out longer that my intention.Sorry about that.

Bernhard H. Holst

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst

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Hi,

How many of the captured weapons were the same kind that the Legion was using at the time, or had French Weapons become the Norm by then?

Best

Chris

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Hi,

How many of the captured weapons were the same kind that the Legion was using at the time, or had French Weapons become the Norm by then?

Best

Chris

Chris.

Recovered weapons during my tours ( 1951-1953 and 1954 ) could be of several origins. Included were French weapons captured during ambush actions, captured strong points etc. , US made arms furnished by Chinese sources especially after the defeat of Nationalist Forces on the mainland. The pictures show French automatic rifle and bolt action rifle also used by us. Then US Thompson and Springfield and on other picture 30 cal. Browning M.G. , bi pod for 60mm US mortar.

Regular Vietminh forces engaged in the main battles were mostly equipped with Soviet weapons, some units entirely with sub machine guns.. Even the Regional V.M. units with different weaponry did not run out of ammunition, it seemed like.

Bernhard H. Holst

Edited by Bernhard H.Holst

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Hello readers.

My dear comrade then Brigadier Kopanczyk stayed on with the now remnants of our Amphibious Group which was stationed in the harbor area of Saigon under canvas, then in comfortable barracks in Vung Thau ( then Cape St.Jacques ) and finally Na Be on the Saigon River from where I entered a military hospital in Saigon for treatment of a severe Dysentery which caused a lengthy stay in different facilities and return to North Africa on medical grounds. This meant a separation from Cesar who was shipped to North Africa with 2.Groupement Amphibie to be stationed at Meknes, Morocco. Here is a photo of a parade there. Brigadier Kopanczyk had the honor to carry the squadron guidon. Some legionnaires are familiar to me.

I lost touch with Casar until reassigned to Headquarters in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria in 1956. I saw Cesar while on business at one of the transit companies. He had just returned to renew his enlistment after a try in civilian life in France which did not agree with him. He was waiting to be assigned to a permanent unit. That turned out to be the basic training squadron for cavalry also located in Sidi Bel Abbes. He was thoroughly unhappy having to lodge among the recruits following the unreasonable rules on making up beds and arranging belongings and other assorted chicken sh.... At the time of my discharge I was able to give him some desirable articles of which I had a surplus. This included my US steel pot ( very much better that the lately introduced French ones), fatigues and custom made boots.This distasteful job lasted until 1959 when he was assigned to the 2.REC to assume duties in one of the mounted troops as the leader of a automatic rifle team. Cesar had meanwhile been promoted to the rank of Brigadier-Chef ( senior corporal, a rank unknown in British or US armies ). and decorated with the Medaille Militaire following his repeated decoration now with the Croix de Valeur Militaire ( Cross of Military Valor ) after receiving decorations in Vietnam.

Cesar retired form active service in 1964 which gave him at least 22 years of service what with his four years in Vietnam which counted double towards a pension. In April of 1980 he was decorated with the Legion of Honor and had the distinct honor to escort the legendary retired General Vadot who carried the artificial hand of the Captain Danjou to be presented to the assembled troops on 30 April, 1981, as tradition dictates every 30 April to commemorate the sacrifice of an understrength company in Mexico in 1863.

On 28 August 1989 Cesar who had retired to the retirement facility of the Legion at Puyloubier turned up missing during a large wild fire. His burnt remains were found a week later about two killometers distant from the facility. He may have tried to follow an established evacuation route and became disoriented and overcome by smoke and fire. He was buried on 4 September. He died at age 77.

A memorial stone was erected at the place where his remains were found and every year veterans and pensioners visit and decorate the memorial.

I much regret not to have kept in touch over time but my memory is still strong of a good comrade.

I must thank Lars of www.More- Majorum.de for valuable information.

Bernhard H. Holst

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Hi,

Thanks for this information about B/C Kopanczyk. Very interesting story. I would like to ask you if you agree if I can use some parts of your information and pictures for writing  a short text for the Amicale Pologne web site, of course I will put your name as a source of information.?

We do have in our Amicale veteran from Indochine war who served in 13 DBLE, he is now 91. Here is a link for the web site and summary of the book published December 2014

Zygmunt Jatczak can be easily called a living legend of both the Armia Krajowa (The Home Army) and the French Foreign Legion. He took part in the Warsaw Uprising as a member of the “Miotła” battalion and was a Legion soldier serving in Indochina with the 13 D.B.L.E. He was decorated several times, awarded among others, the Krzyż Walecznych (Cross of Valour) for the Warsaw Uprising and the Medaille Militaire for Indochina. 
He was born in 1924 in Warsaw, and there he began his education before it was interrupted by the outbreak of the World War II. He lived with his mother and sisters, his father had passed away before the war. He was to witness the drama of the September 1939 invasion. Existing in the besieged capital during the  bombings and defeat. During the occupation he lived and worked in Warsaw and suffered life under the Nazi rule.  
In January 1943 he was taken into captivity during a round-up on the Warsaw streets. He was sent to the concentration camp Majdanek, near Lublin. He spent a few weeks there, witnessing the extermination of Jews. Thanks to his mother’s efforts he was miraculously dismissed from the camp and returned to Warsaw. Shortly afterwards in 1943 he joined Armia Krajowa (The Home Army). He adopted the nickname “Ryszard” and become a member of a group led by Lieutenant Tadeusz Janicki nicknamed “Czarny” (“Black”). It was a diversion group of Kedyw Armia Krajowa’s headquarters, led by Lt “Czarny”. Zygmunt Jatczak served in this group until 1944 when it was transformed into the “Miotła” battalion. On the 1st of August 1944, with thousands of others in the underground army, these soldiers joined the Uprising. He was 20 years old. His memoirs and thoughts of those days are dramatic, some moments sublime, some heroic but also dark, sad and tragic. 
During the Warsaw Uprising he was a member of the battalion “Miotła” (“Broom”) after the battalion was defeated by the Germans he joined Battalion “Czata49”. He served in the platoon of Kazimierz Jackowski nicknamed “Torpeda”. He fought in Downtown, the Old Town and Czerniaków, he experienced the dramatic canal evacuation of the Old Town. He was wounded during the fighting for which he was awarded the Krzyż Walecznych. He took part in more dramatic battles, saw the death of his colleagues and also came within an inch of death himself. For some time he was one of the soldiers serving in a personal protection unit of Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz “Radosław”, commander of the group. After the capitulation of the Uprising units, like many of his colleagues he was sent to a POW camp. 
He was in German captivity in camps in Sandbostel and Westertimke until the latter was liberated by the British army at the end of April 1945. He joined the Polish auxiliary units and was a member until 1947. It was during this time he made the decision to join the French Foreign Legion. 
He joined Legion on 17th of June 1947 in Strasbourg and was sent to Marseille to the Legion’s transit center at Fort St. Nicolas, from there he was sent to Algeria. 
Arriving on the North African land he was first sent to Sidi Bel Abbes – legion Headquarter, and then next onto the Sahara training center at Saida. Recruit training lasted for two months. The best description of it is given by the author himself: “That Sahara! Marches, marches and marches again! Legionnaires needs to be tough, it’s the old Legion saying – March or die!” His memories of five years service in the Legion are colourful and vibrant. Zygmunt Jatczak tells his story about the everyday Legionnaires life, military operations with many details referring to training, armament and the units organisation. 
After a short period of training at the Legion’s Algerian home, Legionnaire Jatczak was sent to Indochina where he spent the next three years of his service. He joined the 3rd Company of 1st Battalion commanded by Colonel Rossi which was part of 13 DBLE. The company was based at a place called Ca Mau in the Cochinchine region. A significant part in his memories are given to his companies commandants. First was Colonel Laffont a bit slow but a cool headed soldier, he was wounded in the An Non Thai sector and left paralyzed by his injuries. Next was lieutenant Rene Imbot, who had a brilliant career and became a general. Lieutenant Adam was another one. Captain Gilnaves, a great officer died at Hoa Binh. His next CO was captain Montuis and his last one, captain Capeyron. As emphasized by legionnaire Jatczak: each one of them was superb! 
His stories about operations against the Viet Minh, the battles and the prisoners are so vibrant that the reader can almost feel himself transferred to the rice fields of Indochina. Activity in the Ca Mau region and later on at Cu Chi, is a real story of the Indochina war. At the end of his service in Indochina Zygmunt Jatczak was badly wounded which required a few months convalescence. He finished his service in the Foreign Legion in mid-1952 after serving his 5 year contract. He returned to France where he lived and worked until mid 1960s.
The best summary of his service in the French Foreign Legion is given by the author of his memories: 
“Remembering the time of war and my time in the Foreign Legion I can say only one thing, I had a lot of luck, I experienced a lot, I escape death a few times and as it’s said in the Legion I regret nothing. 
Really! I REGRET NOTHING! JE NE REGRETTE RIEN!” 
Zygmunt Jatczak came back to Poland, he now lives in its northern part. He is a honorary member of the Association of Former Soldiers and Friends of the French Foreign Legion in Poland . 

 Amical_contact0001.thumb.JPG.2be13b12b92

Amical contact0001.JPG

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Hello Chris.

You are welcome to make use of any material posted by me in this Forum. You may also be interested in another post by me about Marechal des Logis Theodore Haneman. Searching by his name should give you the post. as I am unable to give you a link.Capitaine Gilnaves ( I have encountered different spelling of his name) was the company commander of a good friend of mine until he was killed at Hoa Binh during the beginning of the evacuation of this strongpoint . He was much liked and missed as I was told by several members of his company. Please mention this to the comrade Jatczak

Bernhard H. Holst

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Hello Bernhard,

Thank you so much for the answer. I will do my best to end the text in August and publish on Amicale web site, will let you know. I will meet  Mr Jatczak  very soon , possibly at the beginning of August. I will tell him about you. Thanks a lot for all!

Best wishes

Chris Schramm

ps. Mr. Jatczak (left) in CU CHI 1951

Cuchi 51 ZgJat Lewo.jpg

and here is the book

Niczego nie  żałuję ulotka.jpg

Noel 51-52 XX.jpg

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Were German WW2 weapons common finds in Indochina then?  If so, what did you see the most of?

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Were German WW2 weapons common finds in Indochina then?  If so, what did you see the most of?

Hello Paul.

I was somewhat puzzled by your question. During my time and location, Red River Delta in  Northern Vietnam then called Tonkin , recovered weapons were French or U S made. Some Soviet weapons as well with which regular Viet Minh units were equipped. Never encountered German-made weaponry. The photos posted illustrate only such French or US made ones.

BTW: On one occasion while operating with a French unit composed mainly of Vietnamese troops I saw one soldier equipped with a Sturmgewehr. Upon my question I was told that the weapon had been brought from Europe and that they still had 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

Bernhard H. Holst

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Thanks so much, Bernhard, for continuing our education on this world-renowned force.  

 

Best,

Hugh

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DSC_0228.thumb.JPG.faba938cf9aaeb5fb5a1fThere were  quite a lot of German weapon in Indochine, includin MGs and MP also Luger etc Legion used also German camo for the jungle uniforms, more about it in a very interesting book "Legion Etrangere en Indochine 1946-56" by Raymond Guyader. A lot of great pictures! Published in French and also in English

Edited by Chris Schramm

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Hello readers.

It seems that I caused some misunderstandings when commenting or answering questions regarding the origins of arms used during the French phase of the Indochina War ( 1945 t0 1954 )

The time span I referred to involves only the period 1952 to 1953 and again early 1954 to the end of armed conflict in the north of Vietnam  towards the end of July 1954.

Weapons recovered by us from the enemy, communist or then called Vietminh  troops consisted of French, U S or Soviet made weapons.

Arms utilized by French or associated troops ( National Arny of Vietnam, Vietnamese French controlled home guards and such) in my personal experience or observation were French or US made.

The magazine pictures shown by Chris of German WW II weapons in use by Foreign Legion units in Vietnam are not disputed by me. My recollection points to a very drastic tendency by the French military to streamline weaponry ( and equipment ) to ease replenishment in ammunition etc. 

Inefficient weapons or considered as such were replaced by other available ones. What comes to mind is the initial use of French 50 mm mortars in our company to be disused because of faulty/aged rounds. They were replaced by the very efficient rifle grenade launchers, easy to aim with reasonable range.

Bernhard H. Holst

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Hello Bernhard,

You are absolutely right about weapon used by the Legion.

Legionnaire Jatczak (13DBLE) about whom I wrote a book said that they had firstly US Remington M1, Thompson; later replaced by French MAS 36, MAT 49, MAS 38, MAC 24/29, MAC 31 ('Reibel), machine guns like BREN, Browning model 1930 and 1950, Hotchkiss and heavy machine gun 13,2 mm.

Heavy weapon used by 3 Company, I bat. 13 DBLE was also mortars; 50, 60, 81 mm, anti tank gun model 1934, 75 mm gun called 'Napoleon',  tanks AMR35, Hotchkiss, and American armoured vehicles 'Greyhound' M8, French Panhard 178, 

also very popular rifle grenade launcher V.B.

That was the basic weapon for this unit.

Edited by Chris Schramm

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