This was something I read in the 70s, about an early Algerian war massacre. This was in a popular, French magazine (I don't remember the name) - think Readers’ Digest and you’re not far off.

Now, according to this article it was really gruesome. Took place in one locality, a town maybe. All in day, this wasn't a series of killings. About 300 * odd “colons” killed including babies’ brains dashed out on walls. Real ISIS stuff. Except, and unexpected for the magazine demographics, they were very clear on attributing sophisticated motives to the specific Algerian rebel subgroup that did this. They wanted to provoke French reprisals, which they got in spades.

The French army got played, went medieval on the area and any notion of accommodation, such as with native Algerians that merely wanted the right of vote, went out the window as French military sweeps reacted brutally to the atrocities.

* 300 deaths? This is 40 years later on my end, and the magazine wasn’t known for scholarship. Could have been exaggerated or misremembered on my end. The numbers are fuzzy and I don’t want to requote the French kill count of “rebels” but the article claimed that widespread French brutality in reprisals effectively shut the door on any negotiated settlement short of independence and pushed all the rebels groups into harder positions.

Anyone have an idea of what event this might have been referring to?


2 Answers 2


That would be the Philippeville massacres of 1955, which marked a severe escalation in the Algerian War of Independence.

The massacres broke out at the initiative of Youcef Zighoud, head of the North Constantinois FLN, in order to revive a flagging movement and thwart the advances made by Jacques Soustelle, delegate general of the French government in Algeria. Its purpose, according to the testimony of Lakhdar Bentobal, former deputy of Youcef Zighoud, as recounted by Yves Courrière, was to prevent apathy among the people by digging an unbridgeable gulf of blood between Algerians and French by indiscriminate killing.

Jacques Soustelle, General Delegate of the French Government in Algeria, visited El Halia. Later, he wrote:

"The corpses still littered the streets. Terrorists arrested, dazed, remained squatting under the guard of soldiers. Aligned on the beds, in devastated apartments, the dead, slaughtered, and maimed (including a four-day-old girl) offered the spectacle of their horrible wounds. The blood had spurted everywhere, staining these humble interiors, the pictures hanging on the walls, the provincial furniture, all the poor riches of these unfortunate settlers. At the Constantine hospital, women, boys, and girls a few years old were groaning in their fever and nightmares, their fingers cut off, their throats half sliced. And the clear cheerfulness of the August sun hovering indifferently over all these horrors made them even more cruel."

The initial attack, as expected, was followed by the disproportionately violent response of the French military, settler militas, and enraged vigilantes.

Thousands of prisoners trained men aged 14 to 70 years were captured and taken to a municipal stadium in the city that was turned into a camp for questioning. Despite the efforts of Dupuch, prefect of Constantine, to prevent their deaths, prisoners were massacred with machine guns, and buried in a mass grave.

According to a French soldier present: "All machine guns and machine guns were lined up in front of the crowd of prisoners who immediately began to scream. But we opened fire; ten minutes later, it was almost finished. There were so many that we had to bulldoze them."

All in all, perhaps 130 people died in the initial attack and thousands more (variously said to be anywhere between 1,000 to 12,000) in the reprisals.

Battle_of_Philippeville (English language Wikipedia) - this article has stated quality concerns about its sources, but, asides from the seemingly subjective first paragraph, roughly reports the same facts. Unlike the French-language article it does not mention that, in 2007, then-President Nicolas Sarkozy saw fit to issue an official statement regretting the events of Phillippeville.

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    I am going to go with that. I read the linked Wikipedia in French and it looks like a fairly good match. Both in my remembered context and in the timeline - i.e. this was during the war proper. One problem I see with researching this is that, sadly, many incidents in the Algerian War are likely to have ended up with excessive reprisals by the French army, so any number of them may match my (poorly stated) criteria. Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 4:00

I believe the mention is of the massacre at Sétif in May 1945. This was one of the earliest events leading into the Algerian war of independence. After an anticolonial protester was killed by police, a mob arose and killed roughly a hundred pieds-noirs.

You're right about the repression that followed, but the massacre itself doesn't seem to have been planned. From what I read, it was just fed-up residents of the town who did the job.

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    This sounds quite close. But, the date seems a bit too early for what I remember, 1945's 9 years before the start of the war. Also, would I have noticed that it happened on the Victory Day Europe? And, you are right, this hardly seems like a something that was planned ahead. Reading on Setif info, if there was such a calculated move to trigger reprisals, it's probable the FLN victors would have preferred not to document that much. Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 2:39

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