A savage war of peace: Algeria 1954-1962 Alistair Horne

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
I was ignorant of the Algerian war of independence, mainly because French people don't talk about it much & there hasn't been much coverage of it in the English language. My knowledge extended about as far as having watched the film " la bataille d'Alger" and reading vague stories about atrocities here and there committed by the FLN.

This book is a really comprehensive detail of the build up to the war, its protagonists, conduct and outcome for all involved. All this without getting bogged down in irrelevance or verbosity. The author is also careful to get the right balance when it comes to describing the decisions & actions of the different parties without being judgemental. If you were to read the book with a settled idea of who was right & wrong, then you'll probably be disappointed.

The book explains the conditions which set the scene for the creation of the FLN, such as lack of opportunities, education & civil service jobs for the majority Arab Muslim population.

The descriptions of the massacres in Setif & Phillipeville against European settlers are pretty tough to read & some of the coffins in the images are too small.

What's really striking though is the scale of the French military deployment into Algeria in order to destroy the FLN. There must have been constant parachute deployments by the paras in their pursuit of the FLN and the stance was fast and aggressive. Its fair to say that the top end regiments are unlikely to have lost a battle. Which wasn't experience of the conscript units, some of which suffered appalling casualties when caught in ambushes. There's some fascinating details about booby trapped radios & impersonating FLN call signs by the French with good military outcomes.

A big part of the book is dedicated to describing the political scene in France which was having a hard time getting its head around what was happening. By the end of the war, De Gaulle must've been fairly acclimatised to loud bangs around him as the numerous assassination attempts failed.

The author also puts into context the hostility of de Gaulle towards NATO & the UK joining the EC from the formers lack of support for France in what it was doing, especially post-Suez.

There's little point in re-writing the book for this review, suffice to say that I think it's an important read to better understand a period of time & geographical neighbour which are both close to us and yet so far away.

By all accounts, the fall out from the war is still acutely felt in France; the effects are still being felt and in some cases the consequences are still being played out. The Algerian national identity is clearly rooted in the war of independence, so there's no chance of that diminishing at any point in the near future, whilst the feeling of grievance still lives so large.

Le Pen's FN has its genesis in the Algerian war in a previous iteration so seeing it perform well in opinion polls indicates to a part of France's make up which was very present in French Algeria making a modern re-appearance in la France métropole.

Give it a read.
 
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My wife's father was a captain in the French Army and was killed in an ambush in 1956 so the wounds and memories are still quite raw in her family. For years, there was very little mention of Algeria - the attitude in France was that it was a part of France in the same way that we regard Northern Ireland. Just recently, in our visits to France, we are starting to see separate memorials to 'notre freres' that died there but in seems to be more a departmental initiative rather than a national one. My mother-in-law used to get a pocket book every year from the local veterans association (Burgundy) listing the local fallen from the wars since 1945. Although the losses from Algeria were bad enough, they only occupied the last few pages of an A5 book - the rest of the book listed the casualties from Indo-China which dwarfed those of Algeria, and no one talks about those.
 
Maybe a perspective from @Condottiere or @fantassin ?
Best book on the Algerian War, that I have been able to find. I first read it when serving in 2 REP in the early to mid eighties, as there were still a few Algeria veterans knocking around the dusty corners of the Legion and it figured highly in its mythos.

As I posted recently on the 2 REP thread (https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/t...are-to-the-british-paras.161040/post-10699888)

All I knew about it as a young recruit was that The French had seemingly won a lot of battles, but still lost, which seemed a bit puzzling. As a Legionnaire in training, the whole spirit and mettle of the Legion seemed to emanate from its grounding in Algeria, which had been the Legion's home base, ever since the wars of conquest of that land in the 1830's and 1840's. The city of Sidi-bel-Abbes essentially grew around the Foreign Legion Head-Quarters. It had been a gut-wrenching move to re-establish the Legion's base and move most of its Regiments to France after the end of the war and the passing of a finite extension to garrison rights. (The last units left Algeria in 1967).

The book filled in the gaps in my knowledge admirably and provided me with a more neutral and all-encompassing version of events than several French books on the subject that I also read. The Algerian War is still a very touchy subject in France (and Algeria). It underlined and confirmed that yes, the French Armed Forces had essentially and comprehensively defeated the FLN in the field, but it also thoroughly explained why politically it was a lost cause.

The light at the end of the victory tunnel was an oncoming train of demographic statistics that should Algeria remain French under an equitable political solution, one third (and rising) of French citizens would soon be North African Muslims. And that was something that would likely tear the fabric of the nation apart - which De Gaulle foresaw and moved to avoid.

For all his faults, De Gaulle was a very patriotic Frenchman and a very astute and foresighted politician, who put the interests of France first and foremost. One could say (and I would) that he saved France twice - firstly by saving its honour and rebuilding its international reputation during and after WW2 and secondly by his ultimate handling of the Algerian War. Many would not agree with me, I know.
 
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Thank you for the review. I will pick up a copy.
I wonder whether a case can be made that the initial Axis success in WW2 spelled the end of Empires? The overlords suddenly getting their arses kicked, especially in the case of the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, seems to have caused their colonies (or movements within the same) to gain hope that the Western presence might be a temporary one. Ironic that a war started to ensure (as AH saw it) the supremacy of Europe, had the opposite effect.
Back on topic, I've seen some historians attribute the aggressive French defence of Algeria in part to a desire to wipe out the legacy of the then recent loss of IndoChina, and to implement lessons learned, in a situation where the French were better-resourced.
 
One of my favourite films growing up in the sixties was 'Lost Command' with Anthony Quinn. Probably about the only film in English about the war in Algeria. Showed the conflict experienced by an Algerian officer in the French Paras captured at Dien Bien Phu in the Indo-China war who subsequently joins the FN and fights his old comrades in Algeria.

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Thank you for the review. I will pick up a copy. ........

........... I've seen some historians attribute the aggressive French defence of Algeria in part to a desire to wipe out the legacy of the then recent loss of IndoChina, and to implement lessons learned, in a situation where the French were better-resourced.
True. In Algeria, the French Armed Forces were given a mission and adequate resources to fulfil that mission. This they went and did, fulfilling it at the cost of much blood and treasure, only to be told in the end that it was all for nothing.
 
I would recommend that people interested by that period read that thread.

The first few pages are a bit slow but there are a lot of info on the war by someone who fought it at the tip of the spear.

I hope the old warrior is still with us. I wish him all the best.

Thread 'D`Artagnans Time in the FFL - 2eme REP and Algeria' https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/d-artagnans-time-in-the-ffl-2eme-rep-and-algeria.242210/
Yes, very much so. A perspective from the rank and file. A man who most definitely covered many miles of “crapahut dans le bled” (“tabbing in the ulu”) up “djebel” and down “oued” and many contacts with a determined enemy.
 

BarcelonaAnalPark

LE
Book Reviewer
I would recommend that people interested by that period read that thread.

The first few pages are a bit slow but there are a lot of info on the war by someone who fought it at the tip of the spear.

I hope the old warrior is still with us. I wish him all the best.

Thread 'D`Artagnans Time in the FFL - 2eme REP and Algeria' https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/d-artagnans-time-in-the-ffl-2eme-rep-and-algeria.242210/
A really good thread & it was good to have a re-read. He obviously saw a lot out there & not of which he was happy with. Hopefully he's still amongst us.

As time progresses, more of those images on the thread become unavailable.
 
One of my favourite films growing up in the sixties was 'Lost Command' with Anthony Quinn. Probably about the only film in English about the war in Algeria. Showed the conflict experienced by an Algerian officer in the French Paras captured at Dien Bien Phu in the Indo-China war who subsequently joins the FN and fights his old comrades in Algeria.

View attachment 565816

While the film had its flaws it captured both conflicts that shaped France

The books are of course much better to read


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Offa

War Hero
One of my favourite films growing up in the sixties was 'Lost Command' with Anthony Quinn. Probably about the only film in English about the war in Algeria. Showed the conflict experienced by an Algerian officer in the French Paras captured at Dien Bien Phu in the Indo-China war who subsequently joins the FN and fights his old comrades in Algeria.

View attachment 565816
I had just enlisted and was in Recruit Coy, Maida Barracks, when this film came out. Watched with mates from my platoon in a cinema at Aldershot; most impressed with Claudia Cardinale.
 
I had just enlisted and was in Recruit Coy, Maida Barracks, when this film came out. Watched with mates from my platoon in a cinema at Aldershot; most impressed with Claudia Cardinale.
Ah, yes. Total hottie:
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D'Artagnan was the model of the Osprey colour plate below (the characterin the middle). The caption explained how while still in training his platoon was engaged against an FLN unit.

Légionnaire Johansen was awarded the croix de la valeur militaire during this action which meant he arrived in the 2°REP already sporting a bravery award.

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