Douglas A/B-26 Invader

French Air Force in Algeria

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Courtesy of Julien Lepelletier, thanks Julien

The shots taken on these two pages originate from
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Also see the French Air Force in Indochina by Julien Lepelletier



French Air Force in Algeria - Page 2 Black and White shots.

B-26 Invaders were used in considerable numbers (at least 40) by Armée de l'Air in Algeria, even if all of them belonged to a completely different batch than that used in Indo China. Namely, starting in 1951 French authorities began purchasing B-26s from different sources in the USA: almost all were newly-built A-26Bs, stored after the USAAF had cancelled the contract. The first Invaders in Algeria were operated by the EB.77, but this flight was disbanded and a new unit, the CIE.B-26 created at Oran, in August 1956. Two additional units, GB.1/91 Gascogne and GB.2/92 Guyenne, followed in September of the same year, and were also based at Oran. Most if not all AdA B-26s deployed in Algeria retained fully armed dorsal gun turrets, while few also had ventral turrets left in place, usually without machine-guns. Most French Invaders were overall black, but many had their top fuselage painted in white. During the first year of their participation in the war most missions were flown in the Constantine region, in northeastern Algeria: the Invaders were mainly used for level bombing, but also for dive bombing and strafing - frequently in cooperation with FAC-aircraft, such like Cessna L-19 or Piper Cub. The AdA lost a total of 19 B-26s during the Algerian War, only few of which were indeed shot down by the enemy.

Below - French Air Force in Algeria Colour shots


In the early 1950s, a total of seven surplus Invaders was purchased by the French government for use in various test and training programs. The first of these arrived in July of 1951. Seven more were acquired in 1953.

The North African nation of Algeria had been annexed by France in 1834. Shortly thereafter, France began to colonize Algeria in earnest, and European settlers poured into the country. To encourage settlement, the French confiscated or purchased lands at low prices from Muslim owners. Algeria became an overseas department of France, controlled for all practical purposes by the European minority, the colons (colonists). All colons shared a passionate belief in Alg?ie Fran?ise-a French Algeria. The Muslim population of Algeria remained a disadvantaged majority, subject to many restrictions. By French law they could not hold public meetings, carry firearms, or leave their homes or villages without permission. Legally, they were French subjects, but to become French citizens, with full rights, they had to renounce their faith.

Algerian nationalism began to surface immediately after the First World War. There were some attempts to set up an Algerian national assembly, but these were scuttled by stubborn resistance to reform on the part of the colons. After the Second World War, the Algerian Organic Statute (1947) set up Algeria's first parliamentary assembly, with an equal number of European and Muslim delegates, but this satisfied neither natives nor colons and proved ineffective.

In March of 1954, a revolutionary committee known as the Front de Liberation Nationale, or FLN was founded in Egypt. It had the goal of total independence for Algeria. In November of 1954, armed guerilla action began with coordinated attacks on public buildings, military and police posts, roads, bridges, and communications installations.

The initial uprising failed, and the French Army quickly pushed the rebels back. However, popular support for the FLN gradually grew. The uprising spread rapidly and soon forced the French to send in more troops. A series of bloody reprisals and counter-reprisals followed. Indiscriminate murders and kidnappings of Europeans and Muslims who did not actively support the FLN took place on a regular basis, and colon and French army units raided Muslim villages and numerous massacres of civilians took place.

It was decided that a couple of squadrons of B-26 Invaders were needed for the Algerian war, pending the availability of Vantour jet bombers then under development in France. In July 1956, an initial batch of 36 Invaders were allocated to MDAP project 6B541, followed by 12 more in August, and two more in September.

The Invaders were drawn from surplus stocks and overhauled in the USA before being ferried to France. The first Invader arrived at Oran in Algeria in August of 1956. Two bomber squadrons, Groupe de Bombardement 1/91 Gascogne and GB 2/91 Guyenne were set up at Oran to receive them. The two bomber squadrons became operational in early 1957. Most of the French B-26s retained their dorsal gun barbettes (which were fully armed), but only a few of the planes had the ventral barbette in place (without guns).

During the first year of combat in Algeria, the Invaders were used for level bombing as well as for dive bombing and strafing. When dive bombing or strafing, they usually operated under the direction of a forward air controller, which marked the target with white phosphorus. In addition, B-26s sometimes operated patrols over "free fire" zones, which were areas from which all civilians had previously been evacuated and where anything moving was assumed to be hostile.

By early 1958, the French armed forces had largely obtained the upper hand over the FLN. Collective punishment was meted out to entire villages suspected of harboring guerillas. Whole groups were deported to refugee camps. An electrified fence was installed along the Tunisian and Moroccan borders to cut off the FLN supply lines. However, despite their military successes the French were unable to achieve any sort of political settlement to the war. The armed suppression of the Algerian insurrection was increasingly being criticized internationally as a "dirty colonialist war", and France's NATO allies were worried its commitment of so many forces to an unpopular war.

In May of 1958, irritated at what they saw as vacillation, the colons and French army officers in Algeria conspired to overthrow the French government in Paris. The insurrection spread rapidly and threatened to bring civil war to France. A Committee of Public Safety was set up, which demanded the return to power of General Charles de Gaulle. The General was returned to power in June of 1958 to serve as premier, and the French National Assembly gave him the power to rule by decree for six months and to supervise the drafting of an new constitution. The Fifth Republic was approved by a referendum on September 28, 1958, and on December 21, 1958 General de Gaulle was elected as President. The General has as one of his important goals the defeat of the FLN and the maintenance of a French Algeria.

On July of 1959, the Armee de l'Air acquired an additional 26 Invaders from the USA. These planes had originally been authorized for reclamation at the Chateauroux Air Depot in central France. It is not clear whether the Invaders were provided under MAP. Since the war in Algeria was a politically-sensitive matter, it is probable that this transfer was actually done "off the record", with the French being told simply to walk into Chateauroux and help themselves to what ever they could find.

One of the more interesting missions of the Invader during the Algerian war was that of night fighter. In 1961, ECN.1/71 was equipped with eight Invaders that were specially modified as night fighters to intercept aircraft that were attempting to supply FLN guerillas from bases in Tunisia. These aircraft were B-26Cs with glass noses replaced by a British AI Mk. X radar taken from surplus Gloster Meteor NF.11s. They were armed with a twin 0.50-inch machine gun package underneath each wing. In addition, there were two Matra type 122 rocket pods, each containing nineteen SNEB air-to-air rockets. They were unofficially known as B-26N. However, by the time that the B-26Ns became operational, supply aircraft coming in from the Tunisian side of the border were increasingly rare, and only a few interceptions were made.

Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the French forces were generally victorious in most of their battles with the FLN. President de Gaulle initially had the support and backing of the military, since he had given orders for the French armed forces to pursue the Algerian campaign to full victory. However, by 1959 President de Gaulle found himself looking at a seemingly endless conflict in Algeria that promised to consume a ever-increasing toll in lives and treasure, and was becoming increasingly willing to negotiate with the FLN for the creation of a semi-independent Algeria to bring the conflict to an end. He announced his intention to allow Algerians to choose between independence and continued association with France.

This made the military in Algeria extremely unhappy, and many officers who had initially backed de Gaulle's return to power now turned bitterly against him. An unsuccessful revolt against de Gaulle was staged in early 1960. Four generals carried out a coup in April of 1961 in Algeria and made plans to send a squadron of paratroopers to seize Paris and depose President de Gaulle. However, the Air Force and Navy remained loyal to de Gaulle, and all military operations by the B-26-equipped units were temporarily suspended. The coup collapsed within a few days, but some of the rebellious officers set up the Organisation Armee Secrete (OAS) to continue the struggle for a French Algeria. The OAS carried out a brutal campaign of terrorism against both the FLN and the French authorities in Algeria.

The operations of the B-26 combat units in Algeria were essentially halted by the military coup against President de Gaulle. A ceasefire was finally signed on March 18, 1962. The last operational use of the Invader in Algeria was actually against remnants of the OAS, being a flyover of the OAS stronghold at Bab el Oued in Algiers before it was stormed and taken by regular army units.

Algeria voted overwhelmingly for independence in July of 1962, the country officially being named the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria and the B-26-equipped units left for France shortly thereafter. Most of the French colons had left Algeria by the end of 1962.

The Armee de l'Air began to withdraw its B-26s from service in April of 1962, with some being scrapped and others being stored. Some ended up on the civilian market, and four were preserved in museums in France.

















The shots taken on these two pages originate from