Armée d'Afrique 5th Part Specific Units ( English Version )

Article écrit par : Charles Janier

Mis en ligne le 09/09/2008 à 18:52:47


L 'Armée d'Afrique 5th Part
  The Specific Units
French Version HERE

In the Armée d’Afrique the infantry and cavalry troops, like the saharian troops, have resulted in having a strong and strutured organization. It’s the same for artillery units that Armée d’Afrique had at its disposal.
Other units will compose this magnificent warriors phalanx, such as the arms of Engineers, Transportations and Signal. Others lastly must be quoted because they had far less warlike missions. These units are the Medical Corps and the A.I. “ Affaires Indigènes “ (Indigenous Affairs).

The Armée d’Afrique Artillery units

The expeditionary force landed at Sidi Ferruch in june 1830 had at its disposal only seven artillery batteries.
From the conquest of Algeria (1830) up to the Rif Campaign in Morocco (1925-1926), if artillery units have been created in North Africa, their volume will never be important. Their size stays at a battery size, at the best an artillery battalion. Whatever fights they take part in, depending on the theatre of operations in which they participate, the AFN artillery units operate separately in the bosom of each of the divisions which they are assigned to, individually.
In 1924 in Morocco are created the two first R.A.A. – Régiments d’Artillerie d’Afrique (Africa Artillery Regiments). It’s the beginning of series of artillery regiments, specific to North Africa, which are distinguashable thanks to their numeration from 62 to 69. Four other R.A.A. are created from 1927 to 1929 in Tunisia, then in Algeria.
In 1936 the four North Africa Infantry Divisions located in France include in their disposition four metropolitan artillery regiments transformed into R.A.N.A. Régiments d’Artillerie Nord-Africaine (North Africa Artillery Regiments).
At the 1939 mobilization, in addition to these ten regiments, are ceated in North Africa twelve new artillery regiments which raises to 22 the number of the AFN (Afrique Française du Nord) artillery regiments.
After the armistice of june 1940 a total reorganization of North Africa artillery decreases the number of these regiments to eight.
During Indochina war they stay located in AFN. However, out of necessity, three of them send to the Far-East six artillery battalions which are transformed into infantry battalions.
During Algeria war the R.A.A. are gradually reduced to only one battalion. In 1958 they loose their name of “ Africa “ and they become R.A. – Régiments d’Artillerie (Artillery Regiments). They are progressively disbanded between 1962 and 1964, date when the last of them leaves the Algeria land.
The Africa Artillerymen uniform is not particularly distinguishable from the Armée d’Afrique infantrymen or horsemen uniform. Created in the 1920 years in AFN, the R.A.A. wear, like all the other units in french army, the winter cloth ot summer linen tunic and trousers. Like the Zouaves, the Tirailleurs or the Chasseurs d’Afrique, in order to show that it is part of the Armée d’Afrique, the Africa Artilleryman encircles its waist with a large red flannel waistband and puts on a madder chechia which he wears rigid and high. He will keep those two attributes untill his regiments are disbanded in 1964.
During their some forty years existence the eight main North Africa Artillery regiments have harvested, in all the battlefields where Armée d’Afrique has been involved, a fame as glorious as their infantrymen or horsemen homologues.Their reputation couldn’t disappear with their dissolution. As have been recreated at the end of XXth century a Tirailleurs Regiment, a Chasseurs d’Afrique Regiment, and a Spahis Regiment, there is today in the french army at 68th R.A., recalled in 1970, and which perpetuates, within the famous 6th B.L.B. Brigade Légère Blindée (Armored Cavalry Brigade), the Africa Artillery traditions.
Artillery is not the only arm which has formed units in AFN. Other french army arms or services have generated in XIXth or XXth centuries units which have been created in North Africa. Let’s quote, among others, the Engineers, Transportation and Signal arms, or the Quatermaster and Ordnance services.

The Africa Engineers, Transportations, Signal

However these different units of which we have just remembered the engagements had the size of a company. They have been created independently in order to serve in a great unit. They didn’t stay in the collective memory as glorious units with a prestigious past. It’s not possible to quote them individualy even if some of them have been officially mentionned in national dispatches with the Military Cross and other ribbons award. Their recollection is not less than fresh in the historical memory and deserved to be quoted.

The Medical Corps in North Africa
A very particular mention must be given to the Medical Corps. This unit in Algeria was composed by officers who were trusted with an enormous noble task. Totally disinterested, they have treated the native populations whom french troops had just established amicable relations with. Very often lonely and isolated in the heart of the bled, the army medical officer has cured generations and generations of farmers hold aloof from civilization. He has eradicated endemic and centuries-old epidemics such as cholera and malaria. As a preventive, he has vaccinated all the social stratums in the territory. He has built free health centers and hospitals. He has studied the local physiological scourges and has transcribed in enormous volumes these pathologies characteristics as well as the remedies which can make the discovered and studied illnesses disappeared and also avoided.
These officers work is immeasurable and merits to be annotated in a book fully devoted only to it.
We will finish to review the list of the subdivisions of arma which have been constituting the Armée d’ Afrique by evoking the very special unit of the
“ Affaires Indigènes “ (Indigenous Affairs). Its missions of an administrative, educative, economic, medical nature give us a better approach of the mean idea around which has been made up the Armée d’Afrique and which led to the brilliant success which is admired in it.

The A.I. « Affaires Indigènes « (Indigenous Affairs)

In the heart of the conquest of Algeria, officers did their best, with a justice and disinterestedness spirit, to establish in these new regions an order favourable to the conquested people as well as to the conquering power, trying to communicate, without any interface, with the local populations.
These officers have deeply impregnated the beginning of this conquest by working within what has been called originally the “ Bureaux Arabes “ (Arab Division). The first difficulty met by the expeditionary force in Algeria was that they were ignoring the native language. Arabic language Specialists have been appealed to in order to come into contact, completely free, with the local poulations and to supply the command with intelligence.
These “ Bureaux Arabes “ organization is definitely set up by general Bugeaud in february 1844. They are exclusively placed in the military and not secular territories, which represent at that time the greater part of the algerian territory and almost all of the muslim population
In theory the “ Bureaux Arabes “ service is only a technical wheel. It employs about only a hundred of officers under the authority of the generals commanding the territories. Their mission consists in giving intelligence to their superiors about the country political situation, and in serving as an intermediary between the command and the native chiefs. In the facts it’s, for the most part, on them that depends on the conquested areas security.
Remember that their initial mission is an intelligence service mission. They write down in innumerable reports the biographies of the country major persons of rank, the oppositions between tribes and douars (villages), the men and their ressources census. This organization pushes them to understand and to love their citizens so much so that they force anyone to respect the natives goods and customs.
In their opinion the algerian is a warrior. They will consequently set up around them a group of native soldiers horsemen with the intention not to repress the rebels but to protect the security of the populations placed under their responsability.
Any of these officers deludes himself about these populations loyalty. Therefore all the « Bureaux Arabes « efforts must push them to make predominant among the natives the fact that it’s in their interest to accept the french administration which reduces destitution and brings their society toward more justice. They feel the necessity to transform Algeria as deeply as possible. First of all by promoting the change from an extensive farming to an intensive farming. Then by applying social reforms : the native must abandon his tent and settle. The permanent settlement offers two advantages : it conforms much more to an intensive farming and it makes much easier to control the populations.
As far as education is concerned it is advisable to promote the development of a teaching more opened than the koranic schools teaching. Concurrently with the traditional religious subjects they introduce the teaching of french and of scientific subjects such as mathematics or natural sciences.
Lastly, as far as health is concerned, they start a large action of public health by intensifying the medical advices, by vaccinating the populations and by guiding injured and seriously ill people towards the hospitals.
With such a huge program, deriving strength from the support of a french army always relatively large, the “ Bureaux Arabes “ succeed in setting french authority to the whole of native populations. On the other hand the wealth of documentation amassed by the Bureaux Arabes officers is entirely exceptional : some of them were real scientists.
However their large reform ambition has not led to all the expected results. And this for two reasons. The first one is of a financial nature : all new undertaking requires funds. But the authorities have never tied up supplies for them. The second can be explained by the fact that, as soon as the years 1860, Algeria has been dominated by the settlers, these european farmers who have cleared and developed the waste pieces of land in the vast undeveloped territories after they have been conquested.
Faced with the french principle of private property, the Bureaux Arabes support the tribal property of the lands taken by the native “ whatever their rights are “. Their conception is opposed to the settlers idea who manage, with the Third Republic advent, to establish the civil territories enlargement to the detriment of the military zones which were devoid of prerogative.
Because of that the “ Bureaux Arabes “ service is disbanded in 1880. Their experience didn’t remain without enjoying a revival.
It’s not surprising that this kind of unit has been very quickly re-created and maintained under various names in North Africa french colonies untill the independences. Their missions principle, acknowledged to be excellent, has been continued as soon as 1881 at the end of the campain in South Tunisia where they have taken the name of “ Affaires Indigènes du Sud Tunisien “ (South Tunisia Indigenous Affairs).
During the conquest of Sahara, at the end of XIXth century, french command felt the necessity to understand the populations specific character in this immense regions and didn’t find anything better, in order to mix with these tribes which had a particular type, than establishing there the “Affaires Sahariennes“ (Saharian Affairs).
Then at the beginning of XXth century, in Morocco, they have once again been re-created under the name of “ Affaires Indigènes du Maroc “ (Morocco Indigenous Affairs). Their action has participated to a large extent in the success of the Morocco pacification.
They experienced their last stand during the war of Algeria from 1954 to 1962. Officers with a blue képi have given all their youthful high spirits and their savoir-faire in order to bring to the peasant populations of this country at war the peace serenity into an administrative, educative, medical and social organization, adapted to their way of life and of think
. These officers with a blue képi belonged to the S.A.S. – Sections Administratives Spéciales (Special Administrative Sections).
The Bureaux Arabes of the Affaires Indigènes disappear when Algeria gains independence during the summer of 1962. They have been the source of a military command tradition based on the search for understanding customs, uses, and mentalities of the conquested populations in order not to impose on them the conqueror’s hard law of the arms.


In 1962, with independence of Algeria, after 132 years of a particularly gorious existence, disappears one of the most famous flagship of french army, the Armée d’Afrique, composed mainly by native soldiers from the three North African countries, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
It has been one of the most brilliant success of french genius in this region : to bring together, under the same flag and the same ideal, french and natives, brothers-at-arms between whom all the pains and all the dangers, shared without any distinction in the field, have built a cohesion and a spirit which link the men in their heart.
To the end, those men have fulfilled the commitment they had contracted to serve France with loyalty. It’s not by deception, nor by lassitude, nor by revolt, as some would have tried to instill, that the Armée d’Afrique has disappeared. There are only political reasons which have pushed France to transfer its Armée d’Afrique soldiers to the composition of the newly set up armies in the countries to which it had just given independence.
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