MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the first woman to ever join the French Foreign Legion

Throughout the bloody and horrific history of human warfare, there are tons of stories of heroism in the face of great danger. Troops all over the world have been willing to risk life and limb to ensure the safety of others and that's worth celebrating. Everyone knows about war heroes like John Basilone, but how many of you know about Susan Travers? If you don't, you should.

Susan Travers, quite simply, was one badass woman. She left behind a pampered life and a wealthy family to do something great. One thing led to another and she eventually became the only woman to ever be allowed to join the prestigious French Foreign Legion, which only allowed male foreign nationals.

Here's how she went from the daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral and heiress to being one of the most badass women in all of history:


The Winter War

Travers initially joined up as a nurse, but quickly realized she didn't like the sight of blood or sickness and subsequently became an ambulance driver with the French Expeditionary Force. She was sent to Finland to assist during their Winter War against the Soviets, but everything changed when France fell to the Nazis.

A Finnish ski patrol, lying in the snow on the outskirts of a wood in Northern Finland, on the alert for Russian troops, January 12, 1940.

(Imperial War Museums)

General De Gaulle's Free French Forces

When the Nazis took France, Travers went to London to get in the fight. There, she was attached to the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion. It was there she shed her disgust for blood and gore and became accustomed to the rough life of a warfighting badass. She earned the nickname "La Miss" from her male comrades. This was when she started driving for higher-ups.

Parade of the 13th DBLE through Roman ruins in Lambaesis, Algeria.

1st Free French Brigade

After spending several months as a driver for senior officers and demonstrating her extreme aptitude for navigating the most dangerous conditions, including minefields and rocket attacks, she was assigned as the driver for the Commanding Officer of the 1st Free French Brigade, Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower with Gen. Pierre Koenig, Military Commander General of Paris, and Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley. August 27, 1944.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Fort of Bir Hakeim

It was in May, 1942, when Rommel's Afrika Korps geared up to attack the Fort at Bir Hakeim. Koenig ordered all the women to evacuate, but Travers refused to leave, becoming the only woman among at least 3,500 men. Rommel assumed the fort would be taken in 15 minutes but, instead, the Free French held out for fifteen days.

Eventually, their supplies ran low, and Koenig led a breakout, trying to evade minefields and German tanks. Being the Colonel's driver, Travers truly led the breakout; however, the convoy was discovered when one of the convoy's vehicles ran over a landmine. Travers stepped on the gas.

Free French Foreign Legionnaires "leap up from the desert to rush an enemy strong point", Bir Hacheim, June 12, 1942.

(Photo by Chetwyn Len)

A "delightful feeling"

Upon discovery, the convoy fell under heavy machine gun fire, and Travers just kept laying on the accelerator. She's quoted as saying,

"It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark. My main concern was that the engine would stall."

She broke through the German lines, creating a gap through which the rest could follow. After they made it to Allied lines, she discovered the vehicle had at least 11 bullet holes in it and sustained severe shrapnel damage. After that, Koenig was sent to Northern Africa to continue the fight while Travers remained with the Legion, seeing action in Italy, Germany, and France. She was eventually wounded when she drove over a landmine.

Susan Travers in Northern Africa.

French Foreign Legion

In May of 1945, Travers applied to become an official member of the French Foreign Legion. She "failed" to mention her gender and they accepted her into their ranks. This made her the first — and only — woman to ever join the French Foreign Legion.

She eventually was sent to Vietnam during the First Indo-China War and, by the end of her career, earned the Medaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre, and the Legion d'honneur (the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits).

In 2000, she published her memoirs.