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What happened in Setif; why did US troops respond?

Discussion in 'Non-World War 2 History' started by davidbfpo, Dec 16, 2020.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    Good! I'm sure there was a weekly version as well, David; got one for Scottish Command late 1939, but can't remember where I put it.
    Up to 1942 (I think) the General Returns listed units by location; after that, they were listed by regiment.
    If you can get hold of the following book, it gives a bit more detail about what's in each file-
    https://www.amazon.com/SECOND-WORLD-WAR-Documents-Handbooks/dp/187316260X
    These might be useful.
    WO169- War of 1939-45, War DiarIes, Middle East Forces.
    WO170 War of 1939-45, War Diaries, Central Mediterranean Forces
    WO175 War Diaries, British North Africa Forces
    WO 201 Military HQ Papers, Middle East Forces
    WO 204 Military HQ Papers, Allied Forces HQ
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2022
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  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Member

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    I composed the below summary a month ago 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. A Foreign Legion officer is cited in a book as being flown by the SAAF.

    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). There was a brigadier in command of British Troops North Africa (BTNA) and commanded the SAAF infantry battalion. Each base or building presumably needed a guard, whether ceremonial or more active. In July 1945 a British infantry battalion relieved them; it is unknown when they left.

    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 Battalion had been in Algeria for a year, shooting dead a small number of pilferers. It appears that the company in Setif were not housed in 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 housed there. The SAAF Company CO though witnessed the demonstration, from the barracks and the initial firing, that resulted in a riot; he submitted a report that is in the reports of the British Consul in Algiers deposited in the UK National Archives

    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.

    The SAAF soldiers would be clothed and equipped in British style, possibly with US-made vehicles (jeeps and trucks) and were an all-white formation. It is possible the local population regarded them as British

    One British author refers to the British filming the demonstration (minus any cited source) and there is B&W film available on YouTube (again minus any original source). See: between 032-040 seconds

    Thanks to discovering an American civilian journalist who independently visited Setif within a few days, I note he makes no mention of a US presence and he was 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.

    Liaison with a French historian found that there was in Setif town centre an American information office, manned by 'their military information services were able to move freely in the middle of the insurgent zones without being worried or threatened ' This could refer to the OSS.

    I cannot identify any actaul American military role in evacuating French civilians after the riot began. (Ends)
     
  3. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    I'm a bit dubious about that source. A few years ago I found a discussion forum on Setif, and managed to contact people who had known the family dad was billeted with. Can't find it now, but you could try this one and see who responds-
    Forum Sétif Algérie - Routard.com
     
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  4. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    -
    Here are the pics I originally posted in that other Setif thread. In the first one, dad is the wee guy on the right of the trio, then Mr Fillon, then Gilbert,
    Middle pic is Lulu, last pic her stepmother.
    12006632_10206038147925114_6530062586206819591_o.jpg Lulu.jpg Madame Fillon.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2022
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