The "Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés"
(Mixed Airborne Commando Group)
commonly referred as 
was the "Action Service"
of the SDECE (Cold war French counter-intelligence service).

The GCMA's origins lay in
the British - US - French joint Operation Jedburgh of WWII France.


 Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés

 Troupes Aéroportées

Operations des Troupes Aéroportées



Viet - Minh
abbreviation for
Việt Nam Ðộc Lập Ðồng Minh Hội,  
"League for the Independence of Vietnam"
This was a national liberation movement created in  1941  fight Japanese occupation and to seek independence from France.


The Service 
Documentation Extérieure 
et de Contre-Espionnage 
(External Documentation 
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.


The Table of Organization and Equipment  is a document that prescribes the wartime mission, capabilities, organizational 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.

Unfortunately 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 NCO. 
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
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 July 1954.

The GMI was officially dissolved in October 1954.


The 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.

The GCMA consisted of Operation Bases or  "Representation Regionale" (RR). 

Their 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 situation dictated.

The "Centaines*" based in Annam  were at  
Cu Lao Re, Hon Me and Tourane (Da Nang).

The GCMA* also had
training centers at Ty Wan, 
Ha Dong and Lai Chau.

The 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.


The  GCMA* 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.
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 Indochina but 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.  

This 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 bases." 

Read about it


A French View of Counterinsurgency
by Col R Trinquier

Combined Arms Research Library, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 


gcma-1.jpgThe "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
gcma-2.jpg 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".

The "Troupe Coloniale" were predominantly Infantry but also included Artillery and the usual support services.


Lt from "Tourane Centaine", 
GCMA, 1952/53

"Photos enlargeable"

gcmaparashadow.jpg gcmaparafront.jpg gmcaparaside.jpg
This GCMA "Lieutenant" from the "Tourane" (DaNang) "Centaine" 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 pocket.  His 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 haversack "musette" is slung on his shoulder, which contains ammo as well as food.  On 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.

Insignia, uniforms and equipment from my private collection, photos taken at one of my Tribute display in 2002


This 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.

Reference Materials:
Uniforms of the Indo-China War and Vietnam War,Leroy  Tomphson; Les 170 Jours de Dien Bien Phu,  Erwan Bergot; 
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 - Eric Deroo; 
Jungle Mission, R Riesen; Le Silence du Ciel, R Riesen; Les Heros Oublies, Erwan Bergo.

Any information and photographs on this site should not be used without prior agreement from the owners.
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