In January 2019, I did a post on this famous badge and I have received some valuable feedback since then, so I thought I’d make a full article of it. Any comments and insights are still welcome!
It started with that one badge. It looked nice and original, but it turned out to be post-war. So I continued my search for a wartime example. I found one this year, so a took a comparison picture.
My first one was manufactured by Drago. You can see it’s a bit smaller than the second one manufactured by Chobillon. The detailing is different too. Looking at the backsides, it becomes apparent that the Drago was cast, whereas the Chobillon was pressed. The fastening pin on the Drago goes through two loops and the Chobillon has the pin attached.
Bob Wagner is a collector and a veteran of the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Pennsylvania who has been studying these badges for a long time and shared his research with me.
The history of the Zouave badge
This badge was the first foreign award that was allowed to be worn by US troops in WWII, and it is still being worn today.
The US paratroopers of the 509th PIR are allowed to wear this badge (usually on the right pocket) in recognition of the unit’s part in the taking of the Youks Les Bains airfield. On November 15th 1942 the 509th PIB (then 2nd Btn 504th PIR) parachuted into Algeria to take control of the airfield. The airfield was 200 miles from any US reinforcements and was defended by the French 3rd Zouaves Regiment which where dug in. No weapons where fired as the French commander walked forward and pinned his regiment badge onto the tunic of Lt. Colonel Edson Raff declaring themselves comrades.
In the book “First Airborne Taskforce“, there are several photos of paratroopers wearing this badge during the invasion of Southern France.
J’y Suis, J’y Reste
Following WW1 (c.1920), the French Army began wearing berets with regimental insignia. The Zouaves continued to wear the red Fez and wore the insignia on their fourragères. The exact date when the original 3RZ badges were first introduced is unsure.
The silver device features a snarling hyena surmounting a crescent that bears the motto “J’y Suis, J’y Reste”, in English “Here I am, Here I Remain”.
Manufacturers and dates
On the photos of my badges, you can make out the manufacturer marks, but no dates. Together with the size, design and other details on the badge, it is possible to determine where and when they were made.
The first badges for the 3RZ were manufactured by “CHOBILLION, ED.” Some were marked “DEPOSE” and some were not.
The Chobillon badge here is marked on the front with CHOBILLON, ED. in raised relief, and with DEPOSÉ in bas relief on the reverse.
Around 1938, Drago designed and began manufacturing a smaller insignia for the 3RZ in Paris. The exact that when they started producing them is unsure. It appears that every 1-3 years Drago manufactured a relatively small number of badges. The design of the badge, and the hallmarks, changed for each production run.
Drago moved their business to Nice in 1940 and continued to produce insignia for the 3RZ until the Allied invasion of North Africa in late-1942. The 3RZ badges manufactured by Drago in Nice during the German occupation (c.1940-c.1942) all show the Jackal holding a mysterious “Slice of Pizza”. Insignia produced before or after the war do not have the “Pizza”.
In 1943, the 3RZ was reorganized as the “3e bataillon de Zouaves, 3e RZ (infanterie portée)” and wore a different insignia/badge (not made by Drago). The design was different and the motto was changed to “Je Dépasserai” (I will surpass/overcome).
After the war ended in 1945, the 3RZ was reorganized, redeployed to North Africa and began to wear Drago badges again. After the war, they were marked DRAGO PARIS NICE (1945 – 1947) or DRAGO PARIS NICE H131 43 Rue Oliver Metra (1947 – 1952).
The Drago badge here has the name DRAGO and the code H 131, as well as PARIS in raised relief on the reverse. This would make it a badge made between 1952 and 1962. In 1947, all French insignia began using a design code and “H131” is the code for the 3RZ.
Drago produced 3RZ badges until the Regiment was disbanded in 1962.
More information about the Drago company history
Below are comparison photos that Bob shared with me, also showing the ‘Portée’ and post-war 3RZ badges:
During WWII, the soldiers of the 509th PIB acquired their 3RZ badges in one of two ways; directly from soldiers of the 3RZ when the two units operated together (late-1942 to early-1943) or they purchased copies produced by local craftsmen. Such locally made copies, made in Oujda, Morocco and in Naples, Italy are highly valuable today.
When the 509th was reactivated in Germany in 1963, their 3RZ badges were made in Germany.
The 509th moved to Italy in 1973 and, eventually, their 3RZ badges were made in the USA.
The 509th is currently stationed in the USA and new 3RZ badges are made in the USA.
There are also privately produced examples of the 3RZ badge. Some are fine quality and some are not.
More information about the history of the 509th and the RZ badge can be found on this great website of the 509th Parachute Infantry Association.
As a former 1/509 and 4/325 member in Vicenza, I thank you for reminding us of our unit history. I knew Bob Wagner personally, he was a fine Paratrooper, I hope he is well.
Bco 2’nd Plt. 1/509 and 4/325
CSC Scout Plt. 4/325
May 1982 to June 1986