French Colonial Wars

French Colonial Wars

In the aftermath of World War II, France found itself struggling to maintain control in its colonies overseas. The war had decimated France, leaving its armed forces and colonial empire in shambles. Unable to exert its military might overseas; French colonies began to rise up in revolution. The revolutionary threat was not a recent development for France, having experienced colonial uprisings throughout its imperial history. During the French Revolutionary-Napoleonic period, France had been defeated on the island of Haiti by a slave uprising. Manpower shortages during the Napoleonic Wars left French expeditionary forces weakened and unable to regain the resource rich colony. Following World War II, France again experienced manpower shortages and lacked the ability to crush the uprisings.

2With the defeat of Japan in the Far East, France again regained control over French Indochina. During World War II, the Vietnamese had fought a guerilla campaign against the Japanese occupiers, led by Ho Chi Minh. When the Japanese withdrew, the Viet Minh (Ho Chi Minh’s rebel army) focused their efforts on the colonial French. From 1945-1954 the French fought a losing campaign in Indochina against the Viet Minh. After the crushing defeat at Dien Bien Phu, France withdrew from Indochina. The colony was broken up into two separate nations, the Republic of South Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam. Conflict would continue to rage in Vietnam, leading to American military involvement. In 1975 the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the country was again united under a single flag.


Africa had long been colonial holding for European nations. Rich in resources, the continent was carved up by European powers exerting control over the native Africans. France had colonial holdings throughout Africa. In 1947 the Malagasy of Madagascar rose up against the French. The Malagasy Uprising lasted until December 1948, once the French had effectively destroyed the rebellion. Despite French efforts to control Madagascar, in 1960 the colony was granted its independence.

4In North Africa, the French were faced with an uprising by the Algerians in the Algerian Revolution. Considered an integral part of France, the French were unwilling to let the colony gain its independence. In response to the uprising, France unleashed a brutal campaign to quell the revolution. The Algerian Revolution saw the return of Charles de Gaulle to power in 1958 following the collapse of the Fourth Republic. With de Gaulle’s return, the war shifted from a campaign to maintain control over the colony, to granting Algeria its independence. A secret military organization, Organization of the Secret Army (OAS), led by key military commanders instigated a war of terror against the French and Algerian governments. Despite efforts to overthrow de Gaulle, the OAS was eventually disbanded and Algeria gained its independence in 1962.

Look for more information regarding the French colonial war in Algeria in the future Modern War issue #21 with the article “The French Military Mutinies: Algeria and the Secret Army 1958-1962” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Managing Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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