Opened in October 1981, the Musée des Troupes de Marine is one of fifteen armed forces museums. Its collections reveal the history of the naval troops and of France overseas. It also holds educational workshops, conferences, temporary exhibitions and painting exhibitions.
A museum looking at the history, science and techniques of art and military traditions, along with human adventures, the Musée des Troupes de Marine evokes and illustrates the story through its museum pieces, archives and iconographic documents.
The history of arms that gave France its colonial empire acts as a guide to the history of France overseas. 120 display cases, 55 uniforms, 100 firearms and knives, from the 1769 Navy sword to the Lefaucheux revolver from 1858, and 250 decorations.
Paintings make it possible to present all the uniforms worn by the ‘Marsouins’, ‘Bigors’ and sharpshooters of the 17th century to the 1930s.
The history presented in the museum spans nearly four centuries.
In 1622, Richelieu created the “one hundred companies of the sea”, the first naval infantry troop.
From the 18th century indigenous troops were recruited, first the Sepoys in India (1750) and then the ‘Laptots’ from Gorée in Senegal (1765).
The royal corps of infantry was created in 1769 and replaced in 1772 by the royal naval corps. For the first time, the Order Flag bore the navy anchor, a symbol that the naval troops still keep today.
Memories of the old regime are rare in the museum, but include among others the first regulation-issue gun in the navy (1779).
Navy artillery participated in the campaigns over the Empire, in particular Lützen (1813), the oldest battle inscribed on naval emblems.
In the 20th century, only being transported aboard vessels, the naval foot soldiers were nicknamed ‘Marsouins’, or porpoises, by the sailors referring to the sea mammals that often accompany ships.
Some display cases present the battles of the “Division Bleu” which fought until “the last bullet” in the Ardennes in 1870, in Bazeilles. Every year since 1986, Fréjus has hosted the major weapons gathering on 31 August – the day of the “Festival of Bazeilles”.
The colonial history of the Third Republic is represented with souvenirs of Africa, the Pacific, and Indochina.
In 1900, the naval troops left the navy and were attached to the Ministry of War (Army), under the name of “Colonial Troops”
Among the famous colonial officers, is Marshal Gallieni, omnipresent in the museum, who adopted Fréjus as his home town. The museum has the Koch car he used in Madagascar from 1900 to 1905.
Six display cabinets cover the Great War from 1914 – 1918. The colonial exhibition and the 14 July parade in 1931 are remembered through posters and a miniature parade re-enactment.
The Second World War is also represented, as are the wars fought in Indochina and Algeria.
The colonial troops became overseas troops in 1958, then once again naval troops in 1961.
The museum has not forgotten weapon subdivisions or the now lost specialities: colonial stewardship, the equipment and buildings service, colonial telegraph operators, the ‘méharist’ camel cavalry, airmen and the medical service which also has an important place.
A brief summary of recent operations is also represented.
Conservatoire du Patrimoine des Troupes de Marine, the museum is also a venue for various other activities. Conferences, (hall with 200 seats), temporary exhibitions.
Created in 1996, its overseas troops history and study centre (CHETOM) is an official Ministry of Defence archive. 12,000 books, 800 boxes of archives, are open to researchers and historians for consultation.