VE-Day in Setif, French North Africa: who helped the French?

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by davidbfpo, Jan 15, 2021.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    This is my current research project during lock down. An event that is little known outside Algeria now and my focus is on who helped the French authorities, not the wider context or issues involved.

    Perhaps someone here can help?

    Alistair Horne described Setif, Algeria, as “A Town of No Great Interest,” in his book ‘A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962’:
    To my astonishment US military forces were still present locally and Andrew Hussey wrote:
    From pgs. 152-156 in 'The French Intifada: The Long War between France and Its Arabs' by Andrew Hussey, pub. 2014. Professor Hussey has responded, and his account is based on three sources:

    One book is 'La guerre commence en Algérie' by Mohammed Harbi (Published 1954), and summarised (in English) by him here: Massacre in Algeria

    The second book is 'Le 8 mai 1945 en Algérie' by Ainad Tabet (Published 1985 or 1987) and no English translation was found.

    A third book is 'Algeria: France's Undeclared War' by Martin Evans (Pub. 2012), well reviewed and a copy is nearby, albeit in a nearby, closed university library.


    It appears that by May 1945 the Allied (UK & US) presence in Algeria was for rear area units. The only recorded base in Setif itself was British, used by the RAF, who had several maintenance units (MU) in Algeria maintaining and repairing aircraft, American and British, from the campaign in Italy. See: RAF Maintenance Unit 162 based at Setif and Blida 1943-5 and a few other scattered references to British Army units having been there.

    To my astonishment one account (written by Anthony Clayton, in 1992) cites an eyewitness, a South African officer commanding an infantry company in Setif town; from the 44th Infantry Battalion of the South African Air Force (converted from a Light Anti-Aircraft role in April 1944, then posted to Algeria to guard facilities and prevent theft). A slight mention of their history appears in: History and an advert: CPL JC HORNE-SAAF ACK ACK, AND 44 INF BRIGADE-SUEZ CANAL AND

    For Clayton's article see ‘The Setif Uprising of May 1945’ (pgs. 1-21) See:

    Dr. Clayton in his book ‘The Wars of French Decolonization’ (published 1994) refers on pgs. 30-33 to events in Setif; specifically, he refers to reinforcements being flown in and the use of half-tracks to move around in.


    Clayton’s article in a footnote, reliant on a French military document refers to:
    The only Allied air transport unit identified as present in Algeria were South African too, the 28th Squadron, equipped with C-47 Skytrain (or DC-3 Dakota which could carry twenty-seven soldiers) and Anson aircraft (a smaller aircraft), for general transport duties throughout North Africa.

    From: No. 28 Squadron (SAAF) during the Second World War and The South African Air Force

    I get the impression that there were few, if any shared Anglo-US bases. I have failed to identify a US military base or presence in the town of Setif itself, although it is possible they were present elsewhere in the region.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2021
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  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

  3. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Basing their conclusions on police sources and the testimonies of nationalist activists seeking legitimacy in a revolutionary nationalism, some historians (Kaddache, 1980 ; Pervillé, 2002 ; Planche, 2006) claim that Messali Hadj’s supporters from the PPA gave orders for a general insurrection, but were obeyed only in the northern part of the Constantinois. However, since there is to our knowledge no trace of such a written order from the PPA, we may infer that there was none. This is not to say that the nationalists were reluctant to resort to violence. They were just unable to do so, owing to problems of organization and armament.

    On July 10 and 18, during the parliamentary debates on Algeria, the French government implicated the nationalist leaders Ferhat Abbas, Messali Hadj and Bachir Brahimi. However, it is unlikely that any of them (and above all Abbas who insisted on keeping within the law and resorting to negotiation) would have issued such an order. The military court was unable to establish Abbas’s responsibility. What is true however is that the PPA nationalists wanted to demonstrate with the Algerian flag, as they had on May 1.

    On the other hand, other factors also contributed to the build-up of tensions. The Oulamas’s Arabo-Islamist propaganda was often expressed in anti-French and anti-Christian terms. Praising violence since the late 1930s, some of the PPA extremists had developed a nationalism with Blanquist overtones. Besides, Abbas did not fully realize the deadly influence of those new ideas on an impoverished population. The jihâd was an outlet for the rebellious feelings of the poor peasantry, which led for example to the tribes north of Sétif getting ready to take action. It is important to note that the organizers of the demonstrations had difficulties controlling the heterogeneous crowd who marched on May 8 in defiance of the French authorities.

    The French responsibility for the massacres runs through the whole administrative hierarchy. When leaving Algiers for , de Gaulle had ordered General Martin, commander-in-chief of the 19th corps in charge of the coordination of land forces in Northern Africa, to prevent and repress any seditious movement that might arise while the French and allied armies were busy liberating France and defeating Hitler (Jauffret, 1990: 517).

    On May 8, Yves Chataigneau, the gouverneur général, called in the army to police the rural areas while the civilian authorities kept control of the towns of Sétif and Guelma. In the Sétif area, the military operations were carried out by the head of colonial troops, Colonel Bourdila. In the Guelma and Bône areas, those carried out by Colonel Monniot, under the orders of General Duval, were less important.

    The army can hardly be held directly responsible. It obeyed the orders given by the political power to restore law and order. The soldiers acted like they would in a war, using heavy weapons, airstrikes and the navy as if they were waging a real war against the civilian population of the Sétif area.

    On the other hand, the responsibility of the préfecture and the elected representatives cannot be denied. The Constantine préfet, Lestrade-Carbonnel, who first thought he could control the development of nationalism in early 1945, not only did not oppose the setting up of civilian militias but actually encouraged the civilians to resort to violence on May 13 when he came to Guelma. As for the sous-préfet, André Achiary, rather than using the two companies of colonial troops, he chose to mobilize the militias and, after dismissing the mayor, Maubert, set up two illegal and subversive organizations: a conseil de la milice, and a court called the comité de salut public which job was to sentence the nationalists to death. He also created prisons where the people who had been arrested would be jailed, and asked the police force to help the militias. Thus venturing into illegal grounds, the préfet and the sous-préfet encouraged the militias to commit violent acts on unarmed civilians. They had the political support of the local representatives, Lavie, Champ, Garrivet (who would later become the mayor), all members of a comité de vigilance in Guelma, of the Fédération des maires, and of the powerful Fédération des agriculteurs, an association of land and farm owners presided by one of them, Abbo.

    On May 8 at Sétif at 9:15 am, the demonstration turned into a riot after the police tried to seize the Algerian flags and the nationalist placards brandished by the demonstrators. French civilians were stabbed or shot dead by Muslims – the victims were either town dwellers or rural folk who had come to Sétif for the market. Eventually the rioters were driven out of town and order restored (Rey-Goldzeiguer, 2002: 270-275).

    In the afternoon, as news from Sétif arrived, violence stepped up in the rural areas and spread mostly up north in the Babors, particularly to Kherrata in Petite Kabylie, but also to the north-eastern region of Saint-Arnaud and Chevreul. In a spontaneous reaction, lightly-armed groups of people and whole tribes rebelled in racial and religious terms, using farm tools, knives and shotguns to attack French people on the roads or at home (Planche, 2006: 157-160). However, by the evening of May 12 the insurrection was pulling back.

    In Sétif, the repression of the demonstration banned by Butterlin, the sous-préfet, was carried out by an understaffed police force of less than 40. The policemen used their weapons only after people resisted the seizure of their flags. However, of the policemen and the rioters, it is not known who fired first.

    In the rural areas, four colonial regiments (the 1st, 92nd, 100th and 103rd) – a total of 800 irregular soldiers from Moroccan tribes – and two regiments of Senegalese infantrymen (the 10th and 15th), were used in the Sétif area to “pacify” the mountainous regions until May 24, even though no French people had been killed since May 12. General Henry Martin estimated that the number of insurgents was approximately 40,000 (Jauffret, 1990: 410).

    The airforce was used to pacify the small villages between May 9 - 19. Twelve B29 bombers went on 39 missions, dropping 38 tons of bombs, whilst a further twelve A24 fighter-bombers carried out 39 low-altitude missions and dropped 3 tons of bombs.

    In addition, on May 10 and 11, the Duguay-Trouin cruiser shot on 10 occasions in the cape Aokas area. The artillery fired 858 shells. To sum up, it can be said that a war was waged against the civilian population in the north and north-east of Sétif (Jauffret, 1990, 331, 338, 346, 356, 360 and 363). Militias were set up, in particular at Chevreul and Saint Arnaud, under the leadership of administrators whose activities remain to this day quite unknown.

    In Guelma in the afternoon of May 8, 1,500 young town dwellers from the PPA took part in a peaceful demonstration waving the Algerian flag. There were no casualties among the French population. However, one Muslim was killed and five others wounded by the police under the orders of Achiary, the sous-préfet.

    The insurrections that took place around Guelma were far less violent than those in the north of Sétif. On May 9 and 10, 12 French people were killed. However, when the Muslim population gathered, it was not to fight, but to take refuge in the mountains to escape the bombings.

    The police force led by Tocquard, the Renseignements Généraux (the French intelligence agency) led by Bérard and the gendarmerie under the commandment of Cantais all assisted the militia. Its leader was Champ, a socialist representative. It was officially composed of 280 Frenchmen of all political opinions, ranging from the communist party to the moderate right, and of all kinds of professions. A third of the 35-40 age group enrolled. Actually, most of the militiamen went back home when they saw that the town was not under any threat, leaving just 78 armed militiamen, to whom we must add the armed farm owners who had formed militias under the authorities of the mayors of the villages of the area, Millésimo, Héliopolis and Petit in particular. Those militias were composed mostly of farmers, who joined in the massacres with the Guelma militiamen from May 9 to June 26, 1945, with a peak between May 9 - 19 (Peyroulou, 2007).

    In the Guelma area, the army played a secondary role compared to the militias. It was not until May 15 that Colonel Monniot set up his headquarters in Guelma, once the Combourieu detachment had arrived from Tunisia. Second lieutenant Peyrusse arrived from Sétif on May 16 with the 92nd colonial regiment. In Guelma, there were no casualties in the army, the police, the gendarmerie or the militia.

    A load more stuff
    Setif and Guelma (May 1945) | Sciences Po Mass Violence and Resistance - Research Network
    On VE Day, French Colonists Launched a Massacre in Algeria
    Massacre in Algeria
    French book below
    Chroniques dun massacre: 8 mai 1945 : Sétif, Guelma, Kherrata (Au nom de la mémoire)
    (French) Paperback – 1 Jan. 1995 Author Boucif Mekhaled

    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021
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  4. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery


    26 March, 2008

    Peyroulou Jean-Pierre

    In Algeria on May 8, 1945, just as people were celebrating the allied victory over Germany (in which Algerian native troops took part), banned demonstrations of Algerian nationalists took place in most of the towns of the Constantine département, in the eastern part of the country.

    In Sétif, an average-sized town, the demonstration turned into a riot after the intervention of the police forces. This riot then spread to the area between Sétif and Bougie (Bejaia), and in particular around Kherrata. Ninety French settlers were killed (Tixier, J.O., July 18, 1945).

    Repression was organized by the army and, to a lesser extent, by the civilian population. The death toll, still unknown, probably numbers in the many thousands (Rey-Goldzeiguer, 2001: 292-307).

    On May 8, in Guelma, a small town between Constantine and Bône (Annaba), a demonstrator was killed. There were no casualties among the French population. However, on May 9 and 10, 12 French people were killed. By the end of the month, between 1,500 and 2,000 Muslims had died, most of them in the hands of the civilian population (Peyroulou, 2007).

    The death toll has not yet been precisely established. However, we know that it included 102 French people. Furthermore, several thousand Muslims were either killed or wounded (Jauffret, 1990: 399, 405).

    The fact that colonial Algeria had taken part in the Second World War gave rise to great hope amongst the nationalists, who were united around the figure of Ferhat Abbas, a Sétif chemist and a moderate nationalist conseiller général.

    After the Anglo-American landing in Algiers on November 8, 1942, Algeria slipped away from Vichy’s grip. With the death of Admiral Darlan in December 1942, the end of the General Giraud alternative (sponsored by Roosevelt) and the arrival of de Gaulle in June 1943, Algeria had become the bridgehead of the France libre and the landbase for the political reconquest of the occupied metropolitan territory as well as the restoration of the République.

    In February 1943, in an international context which had become favorable to the allies after the battles of Stalingrad and El-Alamein, Fehrat Abbas submitted to the French authorities a Manifeste in which, after saying that Algeria and its soldiers were fighting Nazism alongside the Allies, he demanded the creation of a federate Algerian state associated with France, in which both French and Jews would be welcome to stay.

    In June 1943, General Catroux, who had been appointed gouverneur général of Algeria by de Gaulle, refused to even consider the plan submitted by Abbas and the moderate nationalists, in the name of French sovereignty in Algeria.

    However, on December 1943, that is to say one month after the Brazzaville speech, with the whole French Empire wanting change, de Gaulle took a decisive step. He announced that French citizenship would be granted to many thousands of Muslims who still wanted it, without them having to give up their personal status, i.e. the legal, customary or Muslim provisions governing among other things family affairs and morals.

    This can be seen as an answer to Abbas’s Manifeste and a sign of the willingness of the Comité français de libération nationale (CFLN) to reform. De Gaulle’s decision led to the March 7, 1944 order (ordonnance) granting citizenship to an elite, which was actually no more than a rehash of the Blum-Viollette plan (under the Front Populaire) which had failed owing to the opposition of the French colonial opinion. The new measure – however limited - met with the same opposition. Besides, it no longer was an answer to the aspirations of the Algerian Muslims, i.e. to become Algerian – not French - citizens, at a time when war was opening up the range of possibilities.

    Ferhat Abbas then founded the movement Les Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté (AML), with the aim to spread among the population the ideas expressed in the Manifeste. Those ideas were congruent with the principles of the Atlantic Charter, among which people’s right to self-determination once the war was over – a right later developed in the United Nations Charter – and were approved of by the Americans who had been in Algeria since November 8, 1942.

    The Manifeste provoked a patriotic landslide (“un raz-de-marée patriotique”, Aït Ahmed, 2002: Chapter 2). It was highly popular among the Algerian lower middle class. The more radical nationalists from Messali Hadj’s Parti du Peuple Algérien (PPA), who asked for complete independence, and Cheik Brahimi’s association of the Oulama, of Arab-Muslim inspiration, joined the AML and spread the nationalist ideas among the Algerian peasantry for the former, and the reformist circles for the latter. Such success worried the moderate Muslim elected representatives, like Bendjelloul or Lakhdari, who saw their voters going to the nationalists.

    Spring 1944 saw the emergence of confrontation between the Muslim and French populations - fuelled by a century of colonization, injustice and racism and accelerated by the events that would later lead to Germany’s defeat. This dynamic was also a result of the war-induced weakening of the power of the State, of the radical regime changes (Pétain, Darlan, Giraud, de Gaulle) and of the provisional government of Algiers leaving for Peyroulou Jean-Pierre, Setif and Guelma (May 1945), Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 26 March, 2008, accessed 05/01/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
    The context


    The victims

    The witnesses


    Interpreting the events


    Setif and Guelma (May 1945) | Sciences Po Mass Violence and Resistance - Research Network
  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    I have read the sources you cite and they do help provide the context, even if with some differences from what Clayton has written. None refer to any external, non-French presence - which I find odd, even though understandable. It was the French who killed so many.

    I have started the process to access the UK Consul's report on events, cited by Clayton; needless to say held at the National Archives (currently closed) so with Drew's help more information should be gained.

    The bitterness of this incident and the war is shown in a YouTube clip (4 mins), admittedly from an Algerian news agency in 2015, using a mixture of B&W footage and so hard to discern whether taken in 1945. For example helicopters appear. Some of the footage appears elsewhere, notably the apparently killing of unarmed Arabs. See:

    Some of the soldiers appear to have Lee Enfield rifles and nearly all appear to be white, whereas most soldiers initially in the area were Moroccan or from West Africa.

    It is noteworthy that after 'Operation Torch' in November 1942 French North Africa was administered by the French under the command of an Allied military government (AMGOT) until August 1944 when France declared itself a Provisional Government). In July 1943 US troops had intervened in Philippeville and from Professor Hussey:
    Another author refers to an:
    For aircraft buffs CLI cites the Sciencepo article on aircraft:
    Halpern, a US author writing in 1948, refers to:
    In my research I found that the French never had the B-29 Super Fortress and expect they were either the B-25 Mitchell or B-26 Marauder medium bombers. From Wiki.

    The A-24 fighter-bombers was a naval aircraft, the Douglas SBD Dauntless ‘Banshee’. See: Douglas SBD Dauntless - Wikipedia

    The P-39 cited by Halpern is the P-39 Airacobra, which was in French service, though not the front line by late 1944. See: Bell P-39 Airacobra - Wikipedia
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2022
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  6. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have for the moment stopped online research as so little is available. With Google Translate I have looked at a number of French references, none appear to comment on a non-French role in Setif on VE-Day 1945. There are many YouTube film clips, only a few appear to be on the VE-Day events.

    The puzzle about next to nothing on the US military presence in Algeria by May 1945 is a puzzle, so I have reached out to two American historians.

    Hopefully soon university and other libraries will be open, where I can locate two books by British authors and one by an Algerian author.
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    A quick update. One USAAF historian assures me that by VE-Day 1945 there were no USAAF presence in French North Africa, with most formations moving to Italian airfields.

    Thanks to another thread I now have a pointer to a South African Air Force historian, although 28 Squadron SAAF does not appear on his website:
  8. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    A second USAAF historian has responded that were USAAF (Air Corps) units were in North Africa for quite some time after the end of the War. Alas it is not a research area they have delved into.
  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have found two references to an odd RAF involvement in this episode; namely ‘At the request of the French authorities a detachment of 75 men of the Foreign Legion were converted from Sidi Bel Abbes in four Royal Air Force transport planes to a landing ground near Constantine.'

    Thanks to a rapid, helpful response from the National Archives I have now located the war diary of the only transport squadron known to be in Algeria then, 28 Squadron SAAF, who were based at Maison Blanch airfield, near Algiers; it was amongst 700 microfiche pgs. so took time to locate. See: No. 28 Squadron | The National Archives

    In summary: twenty-five DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft were based at Maison Blanche, near Algiers and there were ‘no detachments of aircraft or personnel’. The squadron was not on a peace routine and all five hundred personnel were confined to camp for four days in the days before VE-day on 8/5/1945. This order was altered on 6/6/1945 allowing some flexibility – drinking being permitted – in the camp, although this impaired maintenance of the aircraft. There were a number of sporting events, including a team competition with the USAAF (ATC) 1259 Base Unit, RAF 144 MU and RAF 72 Staging Post. Plus, a cricket match with 44 SAAF Infantry Battalion. There is no mention of providing air transport for the French Foreign Legion to Setif.

    I could only find this on the US Base Unit: BASE UNIT.pdf

    The end result I cannot today identify which RAF squadron flew the seventy-five Foreign Legionaires. I assume another RAF transport squadron was in country, which I cannot identify. Personally I have my suspicions it was the SAAF 28 Squadron who obliged.

    After a lot of Google searches I cannot identify an American military presence in Setif, who evacuated French nationals.

    Currently I am looking through the US equivalent of the CWGC to identify anyone who died in April-June 1945, who could be linked to a formation based in French Algeria. All US dead from North Africa are now buried in a cemetery with 6k plus commemorated near Tunis, Tunisia. Again, I assume any cemeteries elsewhere were consolidated to there after the 15th June 1946, when de Gaulle ordered the US close all its bases in Algeria.
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  10. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I still have not been to two London libraries to read two French books, one day soon. Update added as explained the research to a military historian the other day.
  11. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    A small update I did get to read in late 2021 the third book cited by Andrew Hussey for what happened: 'Algeria: France's Undeclared War' by Martin Evans (Pub. 2012). It had nothing about any non-French active role, although he refers to British troops filming the rioting.

    A forlorn hope with a potential US Army witness came to nowt.

    I now have a South African request for help to assemble and potentially a local university helper.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2022
  12. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Trying to give some factual backing to my post, I will point out that Operation Vulture, a 1954 massive air attack planned to relieve the Dien Bien Phu garrison, had to rely on the strategic bomber force (B29s) of the FEAF, as the French had no heavy bombing capability.

    There never were Superforts in the French inventory; it must be a typo.
  13. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    In the last few days I have found an odd passage: 'In his Memoirs, On chantait rouge – in English: ‘We were singing red’ (Publisher: Robert Laffont, 1977), Charles Tillon explains that he has no responsibility in the repression of these riots, and that it was a plot fomented by those nostalgic for Vichy. He says he is convinced that the Americans played a role in this tragedy.'

    Research found that Tillon was a well known Communist and had led the Communist faction of the French Resistance. From: Liberated Paris - Paris After the Liberation: 1944-1949 and Charles Tillon - Wikipedia At the time of Setif he was Air Minister under de Gaulle from 10 September 1944 to 21 November 1945, so may have seen official reporting.

    I now have a book to track down, only in French and not in any UK library. Instead I have found an address for the author in France, so will assemble an email to him.

    Plus, two websites provided have provided some context for the events: and L'autre 8 mai 1945 : les massacres coloniaux de Sétif, Guelma, Kherrata - Résistance 44

    I have overlooked any reporting by the US diplomats in French Algeria, there was a consulate in Algiers; the reporting by the UK diplomats I have found online.
  14. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    American involvement, not in Setif, was found in a report in Stars and Stripes, an official, independent US military newspaper, had a reporter, Jack Foisie wrote a dispatch in the Rome edition on 28/5/1945, this referred to the alleged ten thousand native deaths and that ‘American planes helped transport Moroccan troops from Casablanca to quell disturbances in Algeria during the week following VE-Day.'

    I have not found any such reference before. In fact there are US diplomatic documents for 11th-15th May 1945, between the Consul-General in Algiers (Edward P. Lawton) and the Acting Secretary of State (Joseph Grew) that refer to a denied French request for permission to use American aircraft to ferry troops to the Setif area.

    A visiting American lady diplomat visited the region earlier in 1945 and was accommodated by the US Army in Algiers (plus in Morocco and Tunisia).

    It appears the last identifiable RAF presence on the Setif airfield, was 155 Maintenance Unit, when they were disbanded in March 1945.
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  15. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Discovered today an official South African Defence Forces history refers to the history of the 44th Infantry Battalion of the South African Air Force, being trained in Egypt before being posted to French Algeria on the 7th May 1944, where it performed ‘regular guard duties and the prevention of theft by Arab pilferers’ and by January 1945 they had shot dead twenty-seven pilferers. The members had only signed up for service in Africa. They were relieved in July 1945 by a British Green Howards Battalion (not fully id'd). See:

    One of their roles was to mount guard in Algiers, at airfields to prevent pilfering and and the occasional parade for a previously unknown body, the British Troops North Africa (BTNA). So, may be another line of research to follow.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2022
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  16. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Last edited: Feb 19, 2022
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  17. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    A UNRRA file refers to a Brigadier Clarke heading BTNA on 18/4/1945; the file refers to UNRRA operating a refugee camp Jean d' Arc@ Philippeville (now Skikda), with mainly Italians (30k in 1943), some Spanish and a Yugoslav Guard. The file finishes in June 1945. See:

    Unable to identify Brigadier-General Clarke when no other information.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2022
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  18. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Nearly a year ago I posted this: The end result I cannot today identify which RAF squadron flew the seventy-five Foreign Legionaires. I assume another RAF transport squadron was in country, which I cannot identify. Personally I have my suspicions it was the SAAF 28 Squadron who obliged.

    After a lot of Google searches I cannot identify an American military presence in Setif, who evacuated French nationals.(Ends)

    Thanks to Andreas's recommendation for a South African Archives researcher I have a copy of the SAAF 28 Squadron's 'Record of Sorties'. This shows that on 11th May 1945, four planes flew from Maison Blanche (Algiers) to Sidi Bel Abbes[1], Telergama[2] and Maison Blanche.

    At first it appeared to be odd the Legion were not flown to Setif, which had an airfield outside the town. By the 11th May there was no mayhem in Setif, the need for experienced soldiers was in the rural areas to the east and landing near Constantine was probably more useful.

    I still cannot identify any American presence in Setif itself. I increasingly suspect that if non-French military support for the French authorities in Setif came from the SAAF 44th Infantry Battalion - a company being based in Setif town, which had a large barracks. Conceivably the RAF contingent at Setif's airfield could have helped, with vehicles and drivers etc.

    Still two books to track down, in London libraries and help from a French author.

    [1] The ‘cradle’ of the French Foreign Legion, its headquarters, basic training depot and more till 1962.

    [2] There was a USAAF base at Telergma airfield till October 1944, when it was handed back to French civil use. It is south of the city of Telerghma and is 180 miles or 300 kilometers east of Algiers. From: Telergma Airport - Wikipedia and Telerghma | American Air Museum in Britain The airfield is twenty-two miles south-west of Constantine, and 75 miles or 100kms by road from Setif.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2022
  19. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I composed the below summary as an update to two academic helpers:

    With paid help by a researcher who uses the South African Archives I can confirm it was a four South African Air Force (SAAF under RAF command), DC-3 Dakotas (based at Maison Blanche) that flew seventy-five Legionnaires, from their base to an airfield near Constantine three days after the mayhem in Setif on 8/5/1945. No other such missions were flown in May 1945.

    Other historians have recorded this mission was at the request of local French authorities and the Foreign Office intervened to stop any further support to the French unless approved. Caveat, the emphasis in this direction was to stop the transfer of bombs, rather than transportation.

    The South African Archives have almost nothing on the SAAF 44 Infantry Battalion in Algeria, though the file provided confirms they were in Algeria. It appears most of them were based in Algiers, where two if not three RAF bases were located, plus a General Hospital and other HQ building(s). Each presumably needing a guard, whether ceremonial or more active.

    Other sources, including the British Consul in Algiers, have reported the presence of the SAAF 44 Infantry Bn. presence in Setif on 8/5/1945. I cannot identify any American military presence in Setif nor which RAF units were at the airfield, guarded by the SAAF infantry. Clearly over a hundred SAAF infantry would not guard an empty airfield.

    The SAAF 44 Infantry Bn. had been in Algeria for a year, shooting dead a small number of pilferers. It appears that the company in Setif were housed in part of the military barracks in Setif's town centre (then quite large and demolished after independence, it is now a park). A small French garrison, may be three hundred soldiers were also housed there.

    I think it is entirely plausible that the SAAF Infantry company in Setif quickly responded to a local French request for non-lethal assistance and the violence in the town was over in a few hours, with order fully reestablished two days later. Whether the SAAF in Setif asked for orders from their own command in Algiers or the British command also in Algiers is unknown. I assume the SAAF company had some jeeps and their own lorries. Would they have left Setif town or the immediate area is a moot point.

    Thanks to discovering an American journalist who visited Setif within a few days, I note he makes no mention of a US presence and as he was an independent civilian reporter, also a pacifist, sent there to discover what happened - would he have avoided reporting a US role?. He states he met the RAF officer heading British intelligence in North Africa, who reported to him two thousand Algerians had been killed in Setif itself. As you know many more were killed in the rural areas.(Ends)

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