Discussion in 'Non-World War 2 History' started by davidbfpo, Dec 16, 2020.
Birth certificates a 20 paces?
It appears that the by May 1945 the Allied (UK & US) presence in Algeria was for rear area units, so no combat troops. Plus the only recorded base in Setif itself was British, very likely the RAF, who had several maintenance units (MU) in Algeria maintaining and repairing aircraft, American and British, from the campaign in Italy.
I get the impression that there were few, if any shared Anglo-US bases. Oddly, well to me in 2020, is that not one American serviceman is buried in Algeria, they are all in a cemetery in Tunisia; whereas the British and Commonwealth dead are buried in a small number of cemeteries, none are near Setif and some died in 1946.
This post is an update on the research so far.
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 university library.
It appears that by May 1945 the Allied (UK & US) presence in Algeria were rear area units, in a safe area (leaving aside criminality).
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
See ‘The Setif Uprising of May 1945’ (pgs. 1-21) See: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09592319208423008?needAccess=true
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.
From: The Wars of French Decolonization
Clayton’s article in a footnote, reliant on a French military document refers to: Royal Air Force aircraft, acting under local command, flew 75 Légion Etrangère to Sétif
The only Allied air transport unit identified as present in Algeria was 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. Nor can I identify any US military bases in Algeria, let alone at Setif or in that region of French North Africa (now Algeria). Any pointers would be helpful!
Thanks for the update. Strange there were no official US bases in that bit of Algeria, but maybe that's the problem.
Recently watched an Anthony Quinn movie called Lost Command, about French paras in Indo-China, then Algeria. One of them, an Arab trooper played by George Segal, deserts and forms a resistance group after his family are murdered and their home destroyed by French troops. Wondered if that was an oblique reference to the business at Setif.
It is clear in my reading that loyalties changed after Setif; yes, may be for a minority and so the Lost Command theme fits. I was astonished that B&W footage exists of the post-protest French action. Some of the clips are hard to identify. This appears at the start to be accurate:
Needless to say the Algerian media have many film clips and there is a short film too - of the firing on the Setif protesters.
Hadn't seen that clip before. Shocking.
In some times and countries human life was not worth a dime. Just read about Idi Amin among other things. His troops did not even use bullets. The people were in lines and the one before used a hammer to crack the skull of the one before in line. Quite handy.
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 remains, 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.
A few years ago when I was looking for the Fillon family in Setif, I posted on a local version of Ancestry.com. Might be worth trying to see if anyone knows anything.
A delayed update:
1. It appears that the Maison Blanche airfield, near Algiers was a shared facility with the USAAF 1259 Base Unit, RAF 144 Maintenance Unit (MU), SAAF 28 Squadron (Transports, with DC-3 x25) and RAF 72 Staging Post. With a guard detachment from the 44 SAAF Infantry Battalion (known to have a company at Setif).
2. The War Diary for 28 Squadron does not refer to any support to the French in flying three planeloads of Foreign Legion from their HQ to near Setif.
3. There is next to nothing on 1259 Base Unit:
http://www.usafunithistory.com/PDF/1000/1259 BASE UNIT.pdf
4. I have gone through most of the burial records for US deaths for January-June 1945, trying to identify US units in Algeria. They are interred now at the only US cemetery in North Africa, near Tunis, Tunisia and originally there were five cemeteries in Algeria at Algiers, Constantine, Oran, Souk Ahras, and Tébessa. Post-1945 they were consolidated at Tunis. So, there are four US units possibly in Algeria in that period of 1945 (details below).
5. The four dead are:
a. Francis Weber, died 14/2/1945, No. 35455139, serving with 428th Engineer Dump Truck Company, US Army
b. Robert Timmons, died 8/5/1945, No. 34090249, serving with 899th Engineer Company Aviation, US Army Air Forces
c. Theodore Wageck, died 10/5/1945, No. 32219841, serving with 125th Ordnance Company, US Army
d. Daniel Payne, died 3/6/1945, No. O-911468, serving with 870th Ordnance Automotive Maintenance Company, US Army (died in North Africa or Iran on one website?)
6. On the 15th June 1945 the French Government ordered the closure of United States military bases in Algeria in response to American policy favouring decolonization. From: Principal Dates and Time Line of History of Algeria 1945-1957 Removal I assume would take months, depending on the size of the task (personnel, stores etc).
Could it have been OSS operating under a cover name?
I don't think so. 'Base Unit(s)' existed all over the place, such Aden and Ghana in 1945. the USAAF having a near global network of air routes to move personnel, planes and more. Their role was:
Link: Unit designations of the United States Army Air Force and United States Air Force - Wikipedia
The snag is that such formations, Base Units being an example, do not feature in the official history. Even more so when the war has moved in this instance from North Africa to Italy, France and other European mainland regions / targets. Nor would it appear in unofficial recollections of an individual's war service.
I did find one OSS death when searching the records of the Tunis cemetery, not for the period I was looking at though.
I have not given up with this topic. A few lines to follow now, apart from visiting libraries in London - which is an issue due to something.
Look forward to it.
Would a trip yo the National Archives help? If you know the units involved you can usually look up their war diary
Yes, that is an option. The snag is that for the US military I cannot identify a specific formation in Algeria, let alone at Setif. Algeria after the invasion of Sicily became a "backwater", with logistic and maintenance units at a small number of airfields. At one point the French Army was rearmed, so there was probably an assistance mission too, by May 1945 I expect that was finished. One American historian says yes, I know units were there, but cannot go further - to be fair Algeria is not his focus.
I did find the SAAF 28 Squadron War DIary online and it is remarkably thin, VE-Day 1945 is mentioned as staff were confined to their base @ Algiers and there is no mention of flying French Foreign Legion into Setif. The SAAF Infantry Battalion, who had a company in Setif, has almost no online presence, so as a "long shot" I have sent an inquiry to a South African military historian.
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.
Would there be an advantage examining British records? I know the General Return on the Strength of the British Army records usually mentions any Allied units, do the RAF records?
Found it or close as one can! See my update on: General Return on the Strength of the British Army