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National Gendarmerie
Gendarmerie nationale
File:Gendarmerie logo.jpg
Logo of the National Gendarmerie
Agency overview
Formed 1791
Annual budget €7.7 billion
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agency France
Size 674,843 km²
Population 66 million
General nature
  • Law enforcement
  • Military provost
Operational structure
Headquarters Paris
Sworn members 98,155 (2011)
Agency executive Général d'Armée Denis Favier [1], Directeur-Général
Regions 3

In France, the National Gendarmerie (French, French pronunciation: ​[ʒɑ̃daʁməʁi nasjɔnal]) is a branch of the French Armed Forces, in charge of public safety, with police duties among the civilian population. It also contains a military police force and a special forces component (GIGN). It has a strength of more than 98,155 personnel in 2011.[2] The Gendarmerie works with the other national law enforcement agency, the Police Nationale, and from 2009, although it is a part of the armed forces establishment, it is now a part of the Ministry of the Interior as its military component and forms part of its operations and budget. It is mandated to fulfill national security duties and duties in support of its parent ministry.


One of the oldest institutions[]

The Gendarmerie is the direct descendant of the Marshalcy of the ancien regime, more commonly known by its French title, the Maréchaussée.

During the Middle Ages, there were two Grand Officers of the Kingdom of France with police responsibilities: The Marshal of France and the Constable of France. The military policing responsibilities of the Marshal of France were delegated to the Marshal's provost, whose force was known as the Marshalcy because its authority ultimately derived from the Marshal. The marshalcy dates back to the Hundred Years War, and some historians trace it back to the early twelfth century.

Another organisation, the Constabulary (French: Connétablie), was under the command of the Constable of France. The constabulary was regularised as a military body in 1337.

Under King Francis I (French: François Ier, who reigned 1515–1547), the Maréchaussée was merged with the Constabulary. The resulting force was also known as the Maréchaussée, or, formally, the Constabulary and Marshalcy of France (French: connétablie et maréchaussée de France), which unlike the constabulary was not a fully military force.

In 1720, the Maréchaussée was officially attached to the Household of the King (Maison du Roi), together with the "gendarmerie" of the time, which was not a police force at all, but a royal bodyguard. During the eighteenth century, the marshalcy developed in two distinct areas: increasing numbers of Marshalcy Companies (compagnies de marechaussée), dispersed into small detachments, were dotted around the French countryside providing law and order, while specialist units provided security for royal and strategic sites such as palaces and the mint (e.g. the garde de la prévôté de l'hôtel du roi and the prévôté des monnaies de Paris.)

While its existence ensured the relative safety of French rural districts and roads, the Maréchaussée was regarded, in contemporary England (which had no effective police force of any nature), as a symbol of foreign tyranny. In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, the Maréchaussée numbered 3,660 men divided into small brigades (a "brigade" in this context being a squad of ten to twenty men.)

The Révolution[]

During the revolutionary period, the Maréchaussée commanders generally placed themselves under the local constitutional authorities. Despite their connection with the king, they were therefore perceived as a force favouring the reforms of the French National Assembly.

As a result, the Maréchaussée Royale was not disbanded but simply renamed as the gendarmerie nationale (Law of 16 February 1791). Its personnel remained unchanged, and the functions of the force remained much as before. However, from this point, the gendarmerie, unlike the Maréchaussée became a fully military force. During the revolutionary period, the main force responsible for policing was the National Guard. Although the Maréchaussée had been the main police force of the ancien regime, the gendarmerie was initially a full-time auxiliary to the National Guard militia.

In 1791 the newly named gendarmerie nationale was grouped into 28 divisions, each commanded by a colonel responsible for three départements. In turn, two companies of gendarmes under the command of captains were based in each department. This territorial basis of organisation continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Nineteenth century[]

Napoleon Elite Gendarme by Bellange

An elite Gendarme of the Imperial Guard.

Under Napoléon, the numbers and responsibilities of the gendarmerie, renamed gendarmerie impériale, were significantly expanded. In contrast to the mounted Maréchaussée, the gendarmerie comprised both horse and foot personnel; in 1800 these numbered approximately 10,500 of the former and 4,500, respectively.

In 1804 the first Inspector General of Gendarmerie was appointed and a general staff established - based in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore in Paris. Subsequently special gendarmerie units were created within the Imperial Guard, and for combat duties in French occupied Spain.

Following the Second Restoration of 1815, the gendarmerie was reduced in numbers to about 18,000 and reorganised into departmental legions. Under King Louis Phillippe a "gendarmerie of Africa" was created for service in Algeria and during the Second Empire the Imperial Guard Gendarmerie Regiment was re-established. The majority of gendarmes continued in what was now the established role of the corps - serving in small sedentary detachments as armed rural police. Under the Third Republic the ratio of foot to mounted gendarmes was increased and the numbers directly incorporated in the French Army with a military police role reduced.[3]

In 1901, the École des officiers de la gendarmerie nationale was established to train its officers.

Battle honours[]

Five battles are registered on the flag of the Gendarmerie:

  • Villodrigo (1812): The 1st legion of Gendarmerie on horseback, belonging to the Brigade of Cavalry of the Army of the North, clashed with the British cavalry on 23 October 1812. Charging with sabres, they penetrated enemy lines, killing 250 and taking 85 prisoners. Colonel Béteille, commanding the brigade, received twelve sabre cuts, but he survived.
  • Taguin (1843): Thirty gendarmes on horseback were mobilised to take part in tracking the tribe of the emir Abd-El-Kader and participated in his capture. In a painting by Horace Vernet, which immortalises the scene (and hangs in the Musée de Versailles), the gendarmes appear alongside the Algerian Governor-General, Henri d'Orléans, duc d'Aumale.
  • Sevastopol (1855): Two infantry battalions of the Regiment of Gendarmerie of the Imperial Guard participated in taking the city. The 1st battalion seized a strategic position that contributed towards the final victory. A total of 153 Gendarmes fell.
  • Indo-China (1945/1954): Three legions of infantrymen from the Republican Guard were formed at the end of 1946. Charged with the formation of the Cochin China Civil Guard, they assumed security roles and patrolled the borders, suffering heavy losses: 654 killed or missing, and 1,500 wounded.

The gendarmerie is sometimes referred to as the maréchaussée (an old name for the service), and the gendarmes as pandores. The symbol of the gendarmerie is a grenade, which is also worn by the Italian Carabinieri and the Grenadier Guards in Britain. The budget in 2008 was approximately 7.7 billion euros.[4]


French Republican Guard Bastille Day 2007 n2

The French Republican Guard is part of the National Gendarmerie and provides security as guards of honour during official ceremonies.

Its missions include:

  • The policing of the countryside, rivers, coastal areas, and small towns with populations under 20,000, that are outside of the jurisdiction of the French National Police. The Gendarmerie provides policing for approximately half of the population of France;
  • Criminal investigations under judiciary supervision;
  • Crowd control and other security activities;
  • The security of airports and military installations, as well as all investigations relating to the military, including foreign interventions;
  • Participation in ceremonies involving foreign heads of state or heads of government; and

To fulfill the tasks pertaining to internal security, the Minister of the Interior, Internal Security and Local Rights is responsible for the use of the services of the National Gendarmerie. "To this end and in relation with the Minister of Defence, the Minister outlines the duties of the Gendarmerie services, save for the tasks related to criminal investigation, determines the conditions of fulfillment of these duties and the resulting terms of organisation" (decree dated 15 May 2002).[2]


Chain of command[]

Gendarmes 501585 fh000019

Four Ile-de-France Departmental Gendarmes (two bikers) and one Republican Guard.

While administratively a part of the French armed forces, and therefore under the purview of the Ministry of Defence, the Gendarmerie is operationally attached to the Ministry of the Interior for its operations within France, and criminal investigations are run under the supervision of prosecutors or investigating magistrates. Its members generally operate in uniform, and, only occasionally, in plainclothes.


In 2002, in accordance with commitments made by Jacques Chirac at the time of his campaign for the 2002 presidential election, the Gendarmerie were attached to the Ministry of the Interior for their duties within France. The gendarmes however retained their military status. The brigades were reorganised and were given a broader sphere of activity. New legislation resulted in a new distribution of Gendarmerie and the police force in France.


The Director-general of the Gendarmerie is appointed by the Council of Ministers, with the rank of Général d'Armée. The current Director-General is Général Denis Favier.


The headquarters of the force, called the Directorate-General of the National Gendarmerie, had been located since 1969 at rue St Didier in the XVI° district of the Paris Metropolis. As it grew, expansion was necessary, and now includes eleven other sites distributed throughout the capital and the outskirts of the city.

The Directorate-General of the national gendarmerie includes: - the general staff, divided into offices and services, - one inspectorate of gendarmerie (IGN), - the inspector-general - three services including/understanding each subdirectorate,

  • The Inspectorate of the National Gendarmerie (I.G.N) - responsible for studies, information and control. In particular for:

- the judicial enquiries into gendarme misconduct. - the control and the administrative council of the formations of the gendarmerie as well as the economic analysis of the management led by these same formations. - measurements of prevention and control relating to hygiene, the safety and the working conditions.

  • Human Resources Service (S.R.H.) - The general, chief of the service of human resources directs the management of the whole of the personnel of the gendarmerie, as well as the policy of recruitment and training of this personnel.
  • Plans and Means Service (S.P.M.) - The controller general, chief of the service of the plans and means, translated into plans and programs budgetary objectives of the gendarmerie.
  • Operations and Employment Service (S.O.E.) - The general, chief of the service of the operations and employment, has authority on:

- the subdirectorate of the organisation and the evaluation, - the subdirectorate of the international co-operation, - the subdirectorate of defence and the law and order, - the subdirectorate of public safety and the road safety, - the subdirectorate of the Criminal Investigation Department.

The Directorate-General takes part in the correct operation of the organisation. It works: - for the units of the ground and with their profit (at the regional level, the areas and the legions are the essential interfaces so that the decisions taken in Paris correspond well to the needs felt on the ground) ; - as a body of decision-making aid political for all that concerns the gendarmerie in police headquarters (budget, employment...).

It employs 2991 active soldiers, 423 civilian volunteers and 363 other personnel (2004 Figures).

Departmental Gendarmerie[]

The Departmental Gendarmerie, or Gendarmerie Départementale, also named «La Blanche»[5] (The White), conducts local policing functions throughout the French territory. Its territorial divisions are based on the administrative divisions of France, particularly the departments from which the Departmental Gendarmerie derives its name.

It is divided into regions (headed by a general, one for each defence zone), themselves divided into legion s (headed by a colonel, one for each of the 26 administrative region), themselves divided into groupements (one for each of the 100 département, thus the name), themselves divided into compagnies (one for each of the 342 arrondissements).

It maintains gendarmerie stations throughout the rural parts of the territory. In addition, it has specialised units:

  • Research units, who conduct criminal investigations when their difficulty exceeds the abilities of the territorial units;
  • Surveillance and intervention units, reinforce gendarmerie forces in high crime areas;
  • Units for prevention of juvenile delinquency;
  • Highway patrol
  • Mountain units, specialised in search and rescue operations, surveillance and inquiries in mountainous areas.

In addition, the Gendarmerie has an institute (Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale) specializing in the investigation of crimes by scientific and technological means.

Note that the research units may be called into action by the judiciary even within cities. As an example, the Paris research section of the Gendarmerie was in charge of the investigations into the vote-rigging allegations in the 5th district of Paris (see corruption scandals in the Paris region).

Gendarmes normally operate in uniform. They may operate in plainclothes only for specific missions and with their supervisors' authorisation.

Mobile Gendarmerie[]

File:Gendarmes mobiles FAMAS.jpg

Some gendarmes mobiles equipped with shields, FAMAS and gas mask.

Gendarmes mobiles p1200789

Riot control gear: body armour, shield, tear gas mask, apparatus for throwing tear gas canisters.

Bastille 2007-05-06 anti Sarkozy 487645689 c9fce856e3 o

Using tear gas.

Bastille 2007-05-06 anti Sarkozy 487623928 37656cd319 o

Using tear gas.

The Mobile Gendarmerie, or Gendarmerie Mobile, also named « La Jaune » (The Yellow), is currently divided into 7 defensive zones (Zone de Défense). These include the FGMI (La Force de Gendarmerie Mobile et d'Iintervention) located around Paris and six other zones (South-West, West, South-East, East, South and North) located throughout the rest of France. As a whole this is composed of 123 squadrons for a total of 17000 men and women.[6][7]

Its main responsibilities are

  • crowd and riot control
  • security of public buildings
  • all policing tasks that require large amounts of personnel (Vigipirate counter-terrorism patrols, searches in the countryside...).

Such units may intervene abroad in varied cases such as a hostage crisis or the support of peacekeeping operations.

The civilian tasks of the gendarmes mobiles are similar to those of the police units known as Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS), for which they are often mistaken. Easy ways to distinguish them include:

  • the uniform of the CRS is blue, the gendarmes mobiles are clad in black;
  • the CRS wear a big red CRS patch; the gendarmes have stylised grenades.
  • the helmet of the gendarmes mobiles is blue.
Specialised units

It has the following specialised units:

  • the intervention group of the Gendarmerie nationale (GIGN). By 2007, this new GIGN has been formed from the older GIGN (elite counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit), the parachutist squadron of the Gendarmerie nationale (EPIGN) and the detachment to the security group of the President of the French Republic, whose responsibility was to ensure the safety of the President and of his family and guests. This new unit incorporates all the tasks of these units which were, then part, of the now defunct security and intervention group of the Gendarmerie nationale (GSIGN).[8]
  • the GBGM (Groupement Blindé de la Gendarmerie Nationale) Armoured which is part of the FGMI. It is composed of eight squadrons (out of the nineteen composing the FGMI) equipped with VXB armoured personnel carriers, better know in the Gendarmerie as VBRG (Véhicule Blindé de Reconnaissance de la Gendarmerie, "Gendarmerie reconnaissance armoured vehicle"). It is based at Versailles-Satory. In the past this unit had been equipped with AMX-VCI, Panhard AML and VBC-90 heavy armoured cars with 90 mm cannons. Its current equipment is already aging and it has been in the intention of the French government to replace it but this has been postponed.[9]

Special divisions[]

Republican Guard[]

The Republican Guard is a ceremonial unit based in Paris. Their missions include:[10]

  • Guarding important public buildings in Paris such as the Élysée Palace, the residence of the Prime Minister of France, Hôtel Matignon, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Hall of Justice, and keeping public order in Paris.
  • Honour and security services for the highest national personalities and important foreign guests;
  • Support of other law enforcement forces (with intervention groups, or horseback patrols);
  • Staffing horseback patrol stations, particularly for the forests of the Île-de-France region;
  • Transporting and escorting urgent organ transplants.

Maritime Gendarmerie[]

Placed under the dual supervision of the Gendarmerie and the Navy, its missions include:[10]

  • police and security in the naval bases;
  • maritime surveillance;
  • police at sea;
  • assistance and rescue at sea.

Air Transport Gendarmerie[]

The Air Transport Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie des Transports Aériens) is placed under the dual supervision of the Gendarmerie and the direction of civilian aviation of the transportation ministry, its missions include:[10]

  • police and security in civilian airfields and airports;
  • filtering access to aircraft, counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic activities, freight surveillance;
  • surveillance of technical installations of the airports (control tower...);
  • traffic control on the roads within the airports;
  • protection of important visitors stopping for a layover;
  • judiciary inquiries pertaining to accidents of civilian aircraft.

Air Gendarmerie[]

Helicopter rescue sancy takeoff

A Gendarmerie helicopter.

The Air Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie de l'Air) is placed under the dual supervision of the Gendarmerie and the Air Force, it fulfills police and security missions in the air bases, and goes on the site of an accident involving military aircraft.[10]

Ordnance Gendarmerie[]

The Ordnance Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie de l'Armement) fulfills police and security missions in the establishments of the Délégation Générale pour l'Armement (France's defence procurement agency).[10]

Provost Gendarmerie[]

The Provost Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie prévôtale), created in 2013, is the military police of the French Army deployments outside of French territory.

Overseas Gendarmeries[]

The non-metropolitan branches include units serving in the French overseas départements and territories (such as the Gendarmerie of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon), staff at the disposal of independent States for technical co-operation, Germany, security guards in French embassies and consulates abroad.

Foreign Service[]

They have also served in:

  • Lebanon
  • Algeria
  • Kosovo
  • Rwanda
  • Ivory Coast
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Haiti
  • Central Africa
  • Republic of Macedonia
  • Afghanistan


Officiers Généraux (General Officers)

Grade (Rank) Insigna Rank
Général d'Armée
(Army General)
Général armée gend
Général de Corps d'Armée
(Corps General)
Général corps d'armée gend
Général de Division
(Divisional General)
Général division gend
Général de Brigade
(Brigade General)
Général brigade gend

Officiers supérieurs (Senior Officers)

Insigna Rank
Insigna Rank
Corps administratif
et technique
Insigna Rank
Garde républicaine
Col gd
Col gm
Col cta
Col gr
(Lieutenant Colonel)
Lcl gd
Lcl gm
Lcl cta
Lcl gr
Chef d'Escadron
(Squadron Leader)
Cen gd
Cen gm
Cdt cta
Cen gr

Officiers Subalternes (Junior Officers)

Insigna Rank
Insigna Rank
Corps administratif
et technique
Insigna Rank
Garde républicaine
Cne gd
Cne gm
Cne cta
Cne gr
Ltn gd
Ltn gm
Ltn cta
Ltn gr
(Second Lieutenant)
Slt gd
Slt gm
Slt cta
Slt gr
Aspirant gend
Élève Officier
(Officer Cadet)
Élève officier eogn

Sous-officiers (Sub-Officers)

Insigna Rank
Insigna Rank
Insigna Rank
Corps de soutien
Insigna Rank
Garde républicaine
(Sergeant Major)
Major gd
Major gm
Major cstag
Major gr
(Chief Adjutant)
(Warrant Officer Class One)
Adc gd
Adc gm
Adc cstag
Adc gr
(Warrant Officer Class Two)
Adj gd
Adj gm
Adj cstag
Adj gr
Maréchal des Logis-Chef
(Chief Marshal of Lodgings)
(Staff Sergeant)
Mdc gd
Mdc gm
Mdc cstag
Mdc gr
Gend gd
Gend gm
Gend gr
Gendarme Réserviste
(Reservist Gendarme)
Gav mdl
Élève Sous-officiers
(Sub-Officer Cadet)
Élève esog

Gendarmes du Rang (Gendarmes of the Ranks)

These lowest ranks are rare since the suspension of conscription.

Insigna Rank
Départementale & Mobile
Gendarme Adjoint Maréchal-des-logis
(Deputy Gendarme Marshal of Lodgings)
Gav mdl
Gendarme Adjoint Brigadier Chef
(Deputy Gendarme Chief-Brigadier)
Gav bch
Gendarme Adjoint Brigadier
(Deputy Gendarme Brigadier)
(Lance Corporal)
Gav bri
Gendarme Adjoint 1ère Classe
(Deputy Gendarme First Class)
Gav 1cl
Gendarme Adjoint
(Deputy Gendarme)
Gav gav


The National Gendarmerie consisted of 105,389 personnel units by 31 December 2006. Career gendarmes are either commissioned or non-commissioned officers. The lower ranks consist of auxiliary gendarmes on limited-time/term contracts. The 103,481 military personnel of the National Gendarmerie is divided into:[11]

  • 5789 officers and 78354 NCOs of gendarmerie;
  • 237 officers and 3,824 NCOs of the technical and administrative body;
  • 15,277 section volunteers, from voluntary gendarmes (AGIV) and voluntary assistant gendarmes (GAV);
  • 1,908 civilian personnel are divided into civil servants, state workers and contracted workers;
  • 40,000 reserve personnel. This reserve force had not yet reached the authorised size limit. Only 25,000 men and women were signed up for reserve engagements (E.S.R.).[12]

This personnel mans the following units:

Départemental Gendarmerie
  • 1,055 Community brigades;
  • 697 autonomous brigades ;
  • 370 Surveillance and Intervention Platoons (PSIG);
  • 271 Dog-handling Teams;
  • 17 Mountain Platoons;
  • 92 Departmental Brigades for Investigations and Judicial Services;
  • 383 Research sections and brigades;
  • 14 Air Sections;
  • 7 River Brigades;
  • 26 Coastal brigades;
  • 93 departmental squadrons for roadway security;
  • 136 Highway Platoons;
  • 37 brigades for the prevention of juvenile delinquency;
  • 21 Centers for Information and Recruitment.
Gendarmerie Mobile
123 squadrons
  • 6 Special Security Platoons.
Special Formations
  • 5 squadrons and 10 companies of Republican Guard;
  • 40 brigades of gendarmerie for air transports and research sections (BGTA);
  • 8 Protection Units;
  • 19 Air sections and detachments;
  • 18 gendarmerie armament units.
Other units
  • 3 673 personnel overseas posts;
  • 74 brigades and postes of the maritime gendarmerie;
  • 54 brigades of Air Gendarmerie;
  • 23 schools and Instruction Centers.[12]

Prospective Centre[]

The Gendarmerie nationale's Prospective Centre (CPGN), which was created in 1998 by an ordinance of the Minister for Defence, is one of the gendarmerie's answers to officials' willingness to the modernise the State. Under the direct authority of the general director of the gendarmerie, it is located in Penthièvre barracks on avenue Delcassé in Paris and managed by Mr Frédéric LENICA, (assisted by a general secretary, Colonel LAPPRAND) "maître des requêtes" in the Conseil d'Etat.[13]

See also[]

  • Law enforcement in France
  • Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez - cult comedy series
  • GendBuntu - the version of the Ubuntu open source operating system developed by the Gendarmerie for their own use



External links[]

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