A short while ago a Serb contact got in touch to talk about the adventures of Unité Continentale, a France-based far-right outfit which sent volunteers to fight for the separatists in Ukraine. The unit achieved little except bad publicity and was disbanded by the Novorossiya authorities not long after it arrived.
Recent months have brought problems for Unité Continentale over its volunteer recruitment, some of which took place in Serbia. The authorities took action and some people got arrested.
Here’s the view on the situation from our man in Serbia.
In 1936 civil war erupted in Spain. Right-wing generals tried to overthrow a leftist government and the violence quickly turned into a symbolic battle between fascism and communism. The fighting dragged in foreigners from many different countries.
The left-wing volunteers who came from around the world to fight for the Spanish government are well known, but foreigners also joined the other side. I wrote a book about it.
More information about Franco’s foreigners is coming to light every day. The niece of a British volunteer got in touch about her uncle, who deserted the Royal Navy at Gibraltar to join the Foreign Legion. An aristocratic Belgian pilot is commemorated on a memorial in the centre of Brussels. Now a new book is out about South African Pieter Krueler, a far-right Boer embittered by the deaths of his family in the Anglo-Boer War. In June 1937, already in his fifties, he offered his services to Franco.
The experience disillusioned Krueler so badly that he joined the other side. So he claimed.
Sunday, 22 January 1950. Turk Westerling was the most casually dressed warlord the press men had ever met. Reuters and Australia’s The Herald had a man each at this exclusive interview with Indonesia’s public enemy number one. No guards, no guns, just an old-fashioned colonial bungalow somewhere outside sweaty Bandung and a tough, sun-tanned Dutchman crushing the life out of one cigarette and lighting another.
Westerling wore a white polo shirt and khaki trousers. One journalist noted the brown socks and street shoes. The other jotted shorthand about the expensive gold watch and the gold ring set with a black stone.
The Turk had spread himself all over the international press with his threats to the new United States of Indonesia government. The country was independent, the Dutch had gone home, and everything was supposed to be peace and liberty. Then Westerling (‘a mystery man‘ according to local politicians) came out of nowhere and tore the place apart. The news agencies wanted a closer look.
He had dark hair and eyebrows like thick slashes of marker pen and a grave somewhere in Palestine. Roger Coudroy died at 35-years-old and remains a minor martyr for people who lean so far to the right they’re practically horizontal.
The first European to die for the Palestinian cause, say the blog headlines. Not exactly. Germans and Bosnians and Britons are buried under Arabic pseudonyms out in the desert, volunteers for Muslim armies during the 1948 fighting that gave birth to Israel. Coudroy belongs to a later generation.
The Belgian engineer died the night of 3 June 1968, apparently when Israeli soldiers shot up a commando from the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It was the opening days in the war of attrition that followed Arab defeat in the Six Day War. Palestinian guerrillas penetrated Israeli territory and launched terror attacks on civilians; Israeli planes bombed PLO camps in Jordan and took out Egyptian infrastructure.
The Palestinian cause had a lot of support from young leftists in Western Europe and regimes in the Eastern Bloc. But Coudroy wasn’t a man of the left. Not a chance.
Adwa was a scar on Italy’s heart. Back in 1896 this parched market town in the north of Ethiopia saw the Italian Army humbled by warriors with swords and spears. Politicians in Rome thought they could carve an empire out of the last independent nation in Africa. Ethiopian warriors killed 7,000 men in one day and ended that dream.
The Italians wanted revenge. In 1935 they got it. The land of Dante and Caravaggio was now a boisterously aggressive Fascist state under Benito Mussolini. Provocations at the border late the previous year led to war talk and demands for compensation. European powers tried to intervene but could not afford to alienate Mussolini, needed onside to counter-balance the growing threat of Nazi Germany. In October Italian Fascist legions kicked aside the half-hearted diplomacy and marched into Ethiopia. Bombs, bullets, and mustard gas started raining down.
Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie knew his country was poor and underdeveloped. He needed expert foreign help. Forty foreigners ignored League of Nations resolutions on non-intervention and came to Addis Ababa to fight. Another sixty joined medical units or found other roles. The international press corps gathered in Addis Ababa wrote them up as heroes.
A few mercenaries were honest. A few were competent. The rest was a crazy gang of playboys, Nazis, and black crusaders who could barely shoot straight. Here’s a selection from my book Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com].
In earlier posts we looked at foreign volunteers who found their way into the separatist militias of Eastern Ukraine. Most popular was a five-part interview with a well-informed Serbian contact who took us on a deep dive into the activities of his fellow countrymen.
He got back in touch recently with information about a extremist French organisation that supplied volunteers to the separatists for its own political ends. Some were hardened soldiers, others green recruits.
There’s a Serbian connection and a lot of infighting, so buckle up for backstabbing and paranoia in the ranks of Unité Continentale. As always, my interviewee’s opinions are his own. If you have any information about the situation in Novorossiya then please get in touch.
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large slab of green in the Etterbeek district of Brussels. It is home to some museums, a lot of statues, and a triumphal arch. Foreigners like the park and crowd it out on Belgium’s rare sunny weekends.
Buried in a corner behind hedges and an overshadowing building is a shiny grey stone wall and a monument of an arching pilot reaching for the sky. The wall records all the Belgian airmen who have died in military service since the first biplane wobbled into the sky over the country back in 1908. In the section for the dead of the Second World War is the name R. de Hemricourt de Grunne.
The neatly carved white letters hide a story not many know. Comte de Hemricourt de Grunne was a war hero and aristocrat, but he was also one of only fifty Belgians who fought for General Franco’s right-wing nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War. Short, dark, and bushy browed, the Belgian playboy abandoned a life of idle luxury to fight a personal crusade against a foreign government in a foreign land.