What was the role of the tirailleurs sénégalais in the Algerian War?
Since 1857 the French colonial army recruited vast numbers of men from her Empire to fight in wars and conflicts wherever her interests were threatened (Bewick, 2012). They distinguished themselves in battle at Gallipoli and the Somme but also in Morocco, Indochina and Algeria (Abagond, 2009). Whilst fighting for France many received honours and medals (Pitriopa, 2010) but they were also subject to racism and massacres at the hands of enemies and friends (Urban, 2011). Here we attempt to shed light on a little studied area of their history: their role in the Algerian War.
The Algerian War of Independence, which in France was known obstinately as a ‘peacekeeping mission’ and nothing more until 1999 (Larousse), was fought between 1954 and 1962. It was a traumatising experience for all sides where torture and guerilla warfare were common (Larousse). Among the soldiers fighting for France could be found Frenchmen (like M. Delaire), Algerians (like M. Slimi) and tirailleurs sénégalais like Mamadou Sarr who was proud to go to Algeria (Delaire, n. d.; Koné, 2009).
As soldiers the tirailleurs senegalais were known for being brave and reputed to feel less pain than their white counterparts (Abagond, 2009) and, while this colonial impression may have been wearing thin by the Algerian War, their reputation for bravery and usefulness to the French command was still very much in evidence. M. Delaire tells us a story of how he went to find an injured tirailleur and how, once his commanding officer knew the tirailleur (who was an excellent scout) was safe, he felt great relief (Delaire, n. d.).
For the tirailleurs who fought in Algeria the war seemed to be routine. There are testimonies from ex-combatants who state that they went all over Algeria to patrol and reconnoitre. They were often used in a technique known as quadrillage, where the country was divided into small parcels and the regiments were then responsible for the peace keeping in particular ones (Wikipedia!). Overall, however there was a feeling among many tirailleurs, particularly those who had served in Indochina, that Algeria was not a “real war” but just a “peacekeeping mission” in line with what the French authorities believed (Pitriopa, 2010).
In conclusion the tirailleurs, who had been present in the French army since 1857, made a substantial contribution to the French war effort in Algeria. Their mission was simple: to keep the peace and by and large they did this bravely and ably.
Well there you are. It’s a bit on the short side I know but it is an essay! And it’s got references and everything. However I’m not entirely sure that I could write anything much longer than this (say a proper academic essay of 3,000 words) on this particular subject using internet sources alone. It might well be possible for something that is all over the internet (conspiracy theories, celebrity bodily misfortunes, pornography) but for a subject that is already little studied it proved very difficult indeed. Here, I would definitely need books or articles I think to provide much needed substance and corroborative evidence for most of what I had to say.
On the positive side, it’s made me realise how important this site is (the AOH) because while I was researching the tirailleurs in the Algerian War, Google kept bringing us up. It was quite a nice feeling really.