The "Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés"
(Mixed Airborne Commando Group)
commonly referred as
was the "Action Service"
of the SDECE (Cold war Frenchcounter-intelligence service).
The GCMA's origins lay in
the British - US - French joint Operation Jedburgh of WWII France.
* GCMA Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés *
* TAPI Troupes Aéroportées
* EMO-TAP Etat-Major-
Operations des Troupes Aéroportées
Viet - Minh
abbreviation for Việt
Nam Ðộc Lập Ðồng Minh Hội,
"League for the Independence of
This was a national liberation
movement created in 1941
fight Japanese occupation and to
seek independence from France.
et de Contre-Espionnage
and Counter-Espionage Service)
was France's external intelligence agency from 1944 to 1982.
It should not be confused with the
Deuxième Bureau which was purely for military intelligence.
Table of Organization and
Equipment is a document that
prescribes the wartime mission,
structure, and mission essential
personnel and equipment requirements
for military units.
* In effect Pierre Mendes-France
" honourable settlement" during the Geneva peace talks condemn the GMI Maquis of North Tonkin to a certain death. Some of them from the left bank of the Red River after weeks of fighting managed to reach Laos, but for those on the right bank, they had nowhere to go with now all of Tonkin Viet Minh forces tracking them for complete annihilation. *
* One of the worst
"legend" of the GCMA/GMI is the report that in 1956 an aircraft flying near the North Vietnamese border picked up a radio message from a French NCO cursing them to drop some ammunitions so that they could fight and die like men
not like dogs. *
Due to battlefield stagnation during the French Indochina war, General de Lattre de Tassigny, one of France most brilliant WWII Generals was appointed
in December 1950 as the Indochina French Union Forces Commander.One of his initiative to fight the now well established Viet-Minh guerilla war machine
was the creation of a new counter-guerrilla unit under the cover name of
“Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés”.
Back in June 1949,
Col Chavatte, commander in chief of Indochina Airborne troops (TAPI*) created the EMO-TAP* to facilitate all Airborne operations.
The EMO-TAP* was an Operational Airborne Command and was placed under Lt Col Grall.
Their mission was to created comprehensive files on any potential airborne objectives
and to collect any data on:
1) potential DZ,
2) area topography and local population,
3) likely Viet - Minh itinerary and infrastructure,
4) and to contact local population to recruit guides and agents.
A small detachment from the Demi Brigade de Parachutistes Coloniaux (ex French WWII SAS) was attached to them. Col Chavatte to compliment the EMO-TAP* They also created an indigenous Commando Training Centre at "Ty Wan" (Cap St Jacques) to train natives as saboteurs, radios and intelligence gathering operatives, all to be inserted into V-M controlled areas.
It was no surprising when Lt Col Grall received
the command of the newly created GCMA* as his EMO-TAP* could served as partial foundations to it.
In fact the new GCMA* was the “action arm” of the “Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage” (French counter-intelligence service similar to the CIA).
It is interesting to note that late August 1950, MAAG (US Military Assistance Advisory Group) was send to Indochina to officially supervise the use of US military equipment send to support the French effort in fighting the Communist Viet Minh forces. During that time the USA
offered France to create an American led French “Service Action” designed to undertake
anti-guerrilla operations against the V-M* military.
France did refuse American involvement into its own French Special operations in Indochina and created the GCMA on the 26 April 1951.
the GCMA did not show on
France TOE* and as a result it had a real
shortage of cadres.
The 11th Bataillon the Choc was France main Special Forces unit at the time but was very slow in
sending its officers and NCOs to the GCMA.
Most of the GCMA operations were inserted
by land from outposts or by sea by their own assets and sometime with the help of the French Navy. Airborne infiltration also took place, but mainly for agents and Maquis
formations deep into Viet Minh controlled areas
(specially Haut Tonquin and North Laos) .
The GCMA created some very effective Maquis in North Vietnam and North of Laos. This caused such a problem for the Viet-Minh that by 1952, they asked for the 302nd Chinese Division to cross the border to annihilate the Maquis Chocolat.
“ This is course was not reported by any sides in fear of a total Chinese involvement in the war”.
By March 1953 most North Vietnam Maquis: Aiglon, Colibri and Calamar were strong of 1000 men each, commanded by one or two GCMA
Theses Maquis created vast
pro French secured areas in the rear of the Viet-Minh.
On the 1 Dec 1953 the GCMA was renamed "Groupement Mixtes d'Intervention" or GMI for short. The official reason behind the GCMA new name was supposedly for security and secrecy but one wonder if this was not the direct result of the wish of some French high command officers to see the GCMA severed from the TAPI*.
In effect the GMI officers and NCOs will no longer be recruited amongst the Paratroopers from the newly appointed head of the TAPI* General Gilles. (General Gilles was strongly opposed to the GCMA/Special Forces concept).
One also wonder if finance did not play its part in the High Command decision, no more jump pay would be allocated to the GCMA saving the Indochina war funds a lot of needed Francs.
The fall of Dien Bien Phu in Mai 1954 was a very high blow to French moral but was not in military term a significant defeat. But, this did give the French government a firmer reason to seek a way out of the Indochina conflict.
On the 21 July 1954 Prime Minister,
Pierre Mendes-France informed
the French Parliament that he had achieved
"an honorable settlement" to end the war
in Indochina which had cost over 300 000 lives
but he conveniently forgot to tell, that he was abandoning pro French Vietnamese and ethnic minority*.
The French withdrawal of Tonkin after the cease fire condemned the GMI* partisan and their French officers/NCOs of North Vietnam and Laos
to a sure death.
In July 1954, the GMI* stopped all its operations on French Indochina territories and did its last air supply drops to the northern Maquis on the 27
The GMI was officially dissolved in October 1954.
GCMA did not appear in the French Army Table of
Organisation and Equipment and was purely
created for the need of the Indochina conflict.
its Head Quarters were in Saigon.
GCMA consisted of Operation Bases or "Representation Regionale" (RR).
locations and numbers reflected the tactical need of
various area of French Indochina. They were at:
Vientiane in Laos
Hanoi in Tonkin (North Vietnam)
Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands of Annam (South Vietnam)
Tourane in Annam (South Vietnam)
Saigon in Cochinchina (South Vietnam)
This "RR" had various number of
Operational Detachment "Antennes" commanded by one officer with various numbers
of "Centaines" which were company size indigenous guerrilla units. The
"Antennes" and "Centaines*"
were mobile and based where ever the Military
"Centaines*" based in Annam were at
Cu Lao Re, Hon Me and Tourane (Da Nang).
The GCMA* also hadtraining centers at
Ha Dong and Lai Chau.
GCMA* received a threefold mission in the French Indochina territory:
1)the formation amongst the ethnic minorities of counter-guerrilla units (maquis) in enemy controlled area. This “Maquis took the form of rallying local villages in a self-defence system, turning them into operational base with the mission of training their own recruits and carrying political and civic actions in the area to deny territory and people to the Viet Minh. (mission similar to the USSF A-teams.
2)the gathering of intelligence by implanting agents or intelligence networks in Viet Minh occupied or contested areas, prisoner snatch for intelligence, sabotage, psy-war and the destruction of Viet Minh installations and forces by means of infiltration or “Maquis” raids (mission similar to SOG).
3)the organization of escape routes for possible evacuation of isolated French posts/camps and susceptible operation area in the Viet
- Minh occupied or contested area.
TheGCMA* also trained some Pathfinders and acted in some cases as Recon units before
major amphibious or Airborne operations.
During its life, the GCMA/GMI suffered from a lack of human and material resources.
In Oct 1954, when the GCMA/GMI was dissolved,
it’s effectives were
71 officers instead of 83,
219 NCO/French troops instead of 254,
but this small force commanded over 15 000 indigenous troops at ratio of two or three French officers/non-commissioned officers
to a company of native tribesmen.
Its armament, especially Maquis one came from various German liberated stock, pre war French, British or American stock creating a real nightmare for ammunition re-supplying.
Specialist radio equipment were very few and slow to arrive from Paris and not designed for jungle warfare.
Despite the high success of the GCMA* it suffered from a lack of support and often received hostile incomprehension from the local government and from the French Military High command where some regular Army officers had inbred prejudice against any kind of special force!
Strangely, the GCMA* received a better understanding and co-operation from the French Air Force and Navy that it ever did
from the Army!
The GCMA* concept worked very well in Indochinabut was initiated too late in the war to turn the tide.
To give you an idea,
in 3 years the GCMA grew to a force of over 15,000 troops, and tied down 10 Viet Minh battalions.
(Notes: It is also interesting to note that after the cease fire of 1954, the two US Army officers attached to the GMI* were offered to take over the various Maquis in North Vietnam, but refusal came from higher US authorities.
following message came from
the Viet Minh high command in 1953
"We need to exterminate at all cost the pirates (GCMA/GMI and commandos), their works can be considered as the biggest machination destined to undermined the Viet Minh movement. Their work will necessitate our reeducation of affected populations and the reconstruction of our
A French View of
by Col R
The "Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aeroportes" soldiers like most
of the French army during the French Indochina war were ill equipped and wore a mixture
of French, American and English uniform and equipment.
Being a Special Forces covert unit the GCMA* had no authorized distinctive insignia.
Specific units had specific “fob badges made locally” to distinguish themselves.
(See some example from my own collection).
As most of its French or European personnel were from
Colonial regiments the main insignia seen on their uniforms was
the Marines Infantry (Coloniale) patch under their rank
insignia (NCO). Those who were Airborne qualified wore the Colonial Paratrooper's red beret with its
standard Airborne insignia (see above).
Originally, the “Coloniale” was
Army light infantry companies fighting aboard the French
Royal Navy ships
which were mainly recruited and garrisoned in the French Colonial Empire from the late 17th century until 1960. The designation as "Troupes Coloniale" was only used from 1901 until 1960, before and after those dates, they were known as "Infantrie de Marine".
"Troupe Coloniale" were predominantly
Infantry but also included Artillery and the usual
from "Tourane Centaine",
from the "Tourane"
wear a typical French
Officer uniform, for a short
local patrol in the Quang
Ngai province of South
Vietnam (Annam) in 1952/53.
The red beret often worn to
denote his Colonial
Paratroopers origin and will
soon be replaced in the
field by the French bush hat
which is hanging of his
water bottle on the back of
his belt. He
is wearing a 1948 shirt with
his rank on the left chest
trousers are the French M47
pattern worn with French
jungle boots called “pataugas”.He
is armed with a French
“PA” on a US WWII pistol
belt with 2 M1 ammo
pouches, one has a US field
dressing pouch hanging from
it , a USM3 fighting
knife and a French OF37
grenade and US WWII pineapple
grenade. A French Mle 1861
is slung on his shoulder,
which contains ammo as well
his left wrist is his French
army dog tag.Around
his neck are a scarf
made of parachute silk
(camouflaged ones were also
used), a pair of 8x30
1951 French binoculars in leather
case and a whistle
which was often used with indigenous
troops. Also note WWII
German compass hanging from
his belt by the grenade, obviously
a souvenir from WWII.
and equipment from my private
collection, photos taken at
one of my Tribute display in
page has been written by J-L Delauve (Gia Vuc webmaster) after
reading the following books,
this is a work in progress and the webpage can and will
be updated if new information come to light.
Materials: Uniforms of the Indo-China War and Vietnam War,Leroy
Tomphson; Les 170 Jours de Dien Bien Phu, Erwan
French Foreign Legion Paratroops and The French
Indochina War 1946-54 Martin Windrow;
Une Guerre sans Fin, Indochine 1945-54, Pierre
Ferrari et Jaques M.Vernet;
The Last Valley, Martin windrow; Commando et Forces
Speciales en Indochine, Raymond Muelle;
Services Speciaux, GCMA-Iindochine, Raymond Muelle -
Jungle Mission, R Riesen; Le Silence du Ciel, R Riesen;
Les Heros Oublies, Erwan Bergo.