‘The Colonial Guernica’ – 8 February 1958: The Bombing of Sakiet as an International Turning Point in the Algerian War of Independence

Prof. Martin Evans

This presentation was a part of Session two: Colonialism, Airpower and Race, From 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm on Friday 11th November, 2011, Lower Ground 02, New Academic Building, Goldsmiths

Abstract

This paper will be divided into three parts. The first part will examine the role of aerial bombardment within the French Empire between 1918 and the end of the Indochina War in 1954. It will outline when and how the French Air Force was used as an arm of colonial repression within Morocco in the 1920s and 1930s, Algeria in May 1945 and Indochina between 1946 and 1954.  The second part of the paper will then focus upon the Algerian War of Independence 1954 to 1962. It will analyse how the French Air Force was an integral part of a counter-insurgency strategy which aimed to isolate Algerian insurgents and then ‘finish them off’ from the air, either through bombardment or the deployment of elite paratrooper units from helicopters. Indeed, the paper will consider the argument that the Algerian War was the first helicopter conflict.

The final part of the paper will then focus upon a decisive event with the conflict: the bombing of the village of Sakiet just over in Tunisia on 8 February 1958.  The French Government justified the aerial attack on the village as legitimate action in the face of sustained Algerian attacks from across the Tunisia boarder.  However, the operation left 79 civilians dead, a further 130 injured, and provoked a huge international outcry.  The paper, therefore, will explore the political and cultural impact of the Sakiet Bombing; the ‘Colonial Guernica’ which, it will be argued, was a turning point in one of the most significant conflicts in the decolonisation process.