How Did Algeria Gain Independence From France?

The Algerian War was fought between the French army and Algerian nationalists, who were fighting for Algerian independence. The war broke out on November 1, 1954, and continued until Algeria gained its independence on July 5, 1962.

How did Algeria gain independence from France? On November 1, 1954, the FLN (National Liberation Front), which sought to free the nation from French rule, launched a series of assaults known as the “Red All Saints Day” (or “Toussaint Rouge”) starting the Algerian War of Independence. As early as 1830, France had claimed Algeria as a colony. In 1955, France invaded Algeria after a state of emergency was established there. It marked the beginning of a bloody conflict between Algerian independence militants and the French army, French Algeria sympathizers, and the Harkis (Algerian fighters who supported the French army). The violence that ensued affected both military and civilian populations in both nations. The Battle of Algiers, which lasted for the better part of 1957, was a prime example. It wasn’t until General de Gaulle was in charge in 1958 that compromise was finally found. In July 1962, the battle came to an end when he took control, signed the Évian Accords, and pushed for Algerian independence.

What were the causes of the Algerian War?

FLN delegation - algerian war
FLN delegation. From left to right: Taïeb Boulahrouf, Saâd Dahlab, Mohamed Seddik Benyahia, Krim Belkacem, Benmostefa Benaouda, Redha Malek, Lakhdar Bentobal, Mhamed Yazid and Seghir Mostefai.

While a global decolonization movement was gaining momentum in the years after World War II, Algeria had already been asserting its independence for some time. It all began when the National Liberation Front (FLN) decided to resort to military conflict. Because of France’s economic interests, fighting broke out between independentists and the French army when oil and gas resources were discovered in Algeria in 1951. As a result of the French government’s broken promises, the Algerian people were likewise left feeling let down. The conflict of Algerian War lasted for eight years, beginning on November 1, 1954, with a wave of assaults on Red All Saints Day and being fueled by violent repression and internal disagreements among political groups.

What role did General de Gaulle play?

Charles De Gaulle
In June of 1958, Charles De Gaulle visited Algiers, Algeria, and made an oblique and universal emotional plea to the whole population by saying “Je vous ai compris” (I have understood you).

After the coup d’état in Algiers on May 13, 1958, Jacques Massu and the Comité de salut public (Committee of Public Safety) asked General de Gaulle to lead the Council and handle the Algerian situation. A new French constitution was his assignment, to be used as the basis for the Fifth Republic. A month after his text was approved, he was elected president. His peace proposals, including Algeria’s full independence and the Évian Accords (1962), as well as a marketing deal, eventually led to the conflict’s conclusion. In 1958, he traveled to Algeria and delivered a now-famous speech in Algiers on June 4. He said to the Algerian people, “I have understood you!” (“Je vous ai compris.”)

Many take this phrase to mean that de Gaulle believed Algeria should gain its independence from France.

Algiers putsch of 1961

After the failed putsch in 1961, the OAS, which included citizens and military personnel opposed to Algerian independence, gained strength. On April 21, 1961, four French generals attempted to seize control of Algeria. At long last, France made an arrest and handed down a punishment. As a kind of revenge for any effort at peace or decolonization, the demands of the OAS showed themselves in a reign of terror, the placing of explosives, and horrific killings. They attempted to assassinate civilians as well as independence leaders like General de Gaulle. If you want to learn more, the INA has produced a film that serves as a summary of the events of this episode.

The Algiers putsch of 1961 was in reaction to de Gaulle’s decision to give Algeria independence. The coup attempt was unsuccessful, and de Gaulle continued to rule. A number of factors contributed to the failure of the 1961 Algiers putsch or coup:

  1. We might start with the fact that the putsch did not have widespread backing within the French armed forces. There was widespread defection among French military troops.
  2. To add to that, the French administration was successful in reestablishing order and authority very rapidly. The city of Algiers was retaken by loyal military soldiers after De Gaulle declared a state of emergency.
  3. Last but not least, the French people mostly disapproved of the putsch. Because of his popularity, many French citizens were opposed to the coup attempt against de Gaulle.

As a whole, the Algiers putsch was unsuccessful because of a lack of support and the government’s swift restoration of order.

How did Algeria obtain its independence?

Houari Boumediène
Houari Boumediene, the leader of the National Liberation Army and future President of Algeria, during the war.

General de Gaulle’s election as president and his speech on June 4, 1958, signaled a shift in French policy toward Algeria. However, it was decided that the Algerian independence from France would be achieved gradually, first via discussions with the FLN (National Liberation Front), and then by the proclamation of Algerian self-determination, which was validated by a French vote in 1959. In France, 75% of people voted “yes.” Despite the Algiers putsch of 1961 and assassination attempts following the signing of the Évian Accords on March 18, 1962, Algeria declared independence on July 5, 1962.

How many people died in Algeria?

Algerian rebel fighters in the mountains
Algerian rebel fighters in the mountains.

As of today, it is still hard to estimate how many lives had been lost. It is hard to put a precise figure on the number of casualties in the Algerian conflict at the current moment due to excessive repression, assaults by the FLN and the OAS, riots, and vendettas that happened after independence. In 1991, the French military believed that 25,000 French had died during the Algerian War. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people are said to have died on the Algerian side, while an additional 3,000 civilians from Europe have been killed. Some numbers put the Algerians’ death count at 1,500,000.

Were acts of torture perpetrated in Algeria?

The accounts of troops and captives, at first suppressed and then publicized, demonstrate that mental and physical torture occurred throughout all camps in the Algerian conflict. Both proponents of French rule and independence fighters, as well as the French military and Algerian militia, used coercive tactics in their pursuit of intelligence and to create a climate of fear among their foes. Some of these acts were amnesties after the end of the war.

What were the consequences of the Algerian War?

The Algerian war’s repercussions extended well beyond the massive loss of life described in the preceding paragraphs. The Pieds-Noirs’ (“Black Feet”) escape was the first of these (Europeans who had settled in Algeria for several generations). Somewhere between 800,000 and a million people fled Algeria that year. The FLN thereafter turned their attention to the Harkis, Algerians who had fought alongside the French.

Several thousand Harkis were killed. Others, despite the government’s opposition, came to seek sanctuary in metropolitan France. The French Algerian War resulted in the restoration of General de Gaulle to power and the creation of a new constitution that laid the groundwork for the Fifth Republic. Several Algerian individuals were killed by police during a rally on February 8, 1962, at the Charonne metro station in Paris. This was one of several demonstrations that took place in France at this time.

What happened after Algeria gained independence?

There were several obstacles for Algeria to overcome once it achieved independence. Establishing a new administration, building a sustainable economy, and resolving social and political concerns that had been repressed under colonial rule were only a few of the obstacles that needed to be overcome.

Integration of the many parties and factions that had participated in the Algerian independence struggle was one of Algeria’s greatest problems following independence. Members of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), which had spearheaded the independence struggle, were integrated with members of other opposition parties and erstwhile allies of the French administration.

The infrastructure of the nation had been severely destroyed during the fight for independence, and its reconstruction posed a further considerable task. Infrastructure, including roads, bridges, schools, and other public buildings, had to be rebuilt, and an actual economy had to be set up.


November 1, 1954 – Beginning of the insurrection in Algeria with the Red All Saints Day

The FLN (National Liberation Front), a relatively new independence organization in Algeria, resolved to launch an armed uprising against the French invaders. 12 separate assaults occurred over the whole of Algeria. The incident had no resonance in France, but it marked the beginning of an eight-year battle for decolonization.

January 1955 – Arrival of Jacques Soustelle

Jacques Soustelle was named Algeria’s Governor General in 1955. His advocacy for French Algeria earned him renown. By 1956, he had been replaced.

1957 – Battle of Algiers

The Algerian War, which lasted from January to October of 1957, is when the Battle of Algiers took place. In an effort to halt the onslaught, General Massu and the French Army’s 10th Parachute Division began dismantling the FLN.

May 13, 1958 – Algiers rises to remain French

The uprising of the Europeans in Algiers was helped along by the news of Pierre Pflimlin’s investiture in France. The newly elected Council president was eager to begin talks with the FLN. The Europeans of Algiers overwhelmingly supported making Algeria part of France. Guided by Pierre Lagaillarde, they took the general government building in Algiers to get their message through. This resulted in the establishment of the Public Safety Committee, headed by General Jacques Massu, the collapse of the Fourth Republic, and the subsequent return of General Charles de Gaulle.

June 4, 1958 – “I have understood you!”

Charles de Gaulle’s address to the Algerian people on June 4, 1958, on the Forum Square in Algiers is still not forgotten even today. The letter began, “I have understood you,” announcing a vote on Algerian independence. However, this was a betrayal for the Pieds-Noirs. Those who opposed General de Gaulle’s formation of the OAS used all measures necessary to thwart his plans.

1960 – Week of the barricades

1960 - Week of the barricades
Barricades in Algiers, January 1960. The banner reads, “Long live Massu” (Vive Massu).

An uprising against the French in Algeria, known as “the week of the barricades,” took place in Algiers from January 24 to February 1, 1960. The protestors were opposed to General Massu’s plan to return to the mainland. Several people were killed during the protest.

January 8, 1961 – Approval of self-determination in Algeria

The right of Algeria to self-determination, that is, the opportunity for the Algerian people to select their political status, was affirmed by the French in metropolitan France at 75% by referendum under the presidency of Charles de Gaulle after the United Nations had acknowledged it. Algeria achieved its independence through a process of self-determination.

April 21, 1961 – Putsch in Algeria

On the night of April 21–22, a group of French generals named Challe, Jouhaud, Salan, and Zeller attempted to take control of Algeria in protest of General de Gaulle’s policies. The putsch failed because of a lack of support and negative public opinion, and the generals were detained. A number of those who made it through the putsch eventually joined the OAS (secret army organization).

October 17, 1961 – Demonstration of Muslims in Paris

At night, many thousands of Algerians responded to a summons from the FLN to rally peacefully in Paris against the curfew imposed on them by the Paris police prefect, Maurice Papon. Police on the scene violently put down the rally, drawing their firearms and parrying blows from the protesters. Some of the victims, who were either murdered or injured, were tossed into the Seine. In 1997, France finally admitted that this atrocity had taken place.

February 8, 1962 – Tragic demonstration in the Charonne subway

A peaceful demonstration in Paris in response to a call from unions and political groups pushing for peace and against OAS terrorism was met with severe violence. Maurice Papon, prefect of police, ordered that the protest be halted. The protestors were driven inside the Charonne metro station by the police’s brutal response. As a result of widespread fear and police violence, 9 people lost their lives and dozens more were injured. Many protesters were injured as they slammed against the locked gates.

March 18, 1962 – Signature of the Évian Accords

The signing of the Évian Accords was the result of talks to end the hostilities between France and Algeria. Foreign Minister Krim Belkacem of the provisional administration of the Algerian Republic and French Minister of Algerian Affairs Louis Joxe (with help from Robert Buron and Jean de Broglie) formally acknowledged Algeria’s independence. The Évian Accords finally ended the war that had been going on for eight years and ended the French occupation of Algeria after more than a hundred years.

The truce was set to begin at noon the next day. France promised a phased withdrawal of its soldiers and continued financial support for a full three years. It secured a “right of choice” for its oil imports and received guarantees from the oil industry. The conflict continued after the accords were signed and didn’t stop until Algeria’s independence was formally declared on July 5, 1962.

March 26, 1962 – Isly massacre in Algiers

4,000 Algerian Europeans assembled in Bab El-Oued eight days after the peace agreements were signed in Évian to protest the shutting off of the area by the French troops. France had a hunch that a high concentration of OAS militants lived in this area of town. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when the protestors made their way along the Rue d’Isly, they were met by French army gunners.

One of the 4th RT members opened fire after becoming scared by the large crowd. The surrounding army saw it as a signal to charge for a full 12 minutes. The gunfight resulted in the deaths of 46 people. Two hundred people were hurt. The lieutenant’s futile cry to “Stop fire!” was captured on the radio at the site of the slaughter.

April 8, 1962 – The French approve the Évian Accords

The March 18 Évian Accords were ratified by over 91 percent of French voters on the mainland. The agreements between France and the FLN acknowledged Algeria’s independence and required France to withdraw its armed forces from the country. Despite 25% of the electorate not voting at all, the overwhelming majority of “yes” ballots demonstrated the French people’s desire to put an end to the eight-year conflict.

August 22, 1962 – The Petit-Clamart attack against de Gaulle

The OAS, which was fighting against Algeria’s independence, planned an assassination attempt on General de Gaulle as he was traveling in a vehicle with his family and bodyguards. The motorcade was halted by three armed men on the road to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. Some members of the secret armed group, including Jean Bastien-Thiry, who was executed on March 11, 1963, were arrested after this effort to repress the French leader. He was the last person to be executed by firing squad.

September 29, 1962 – Ben Bella in power in Algeria

Following the conclusion of the Évian Accords, Ahmed Ben Bella, the head of the FLN, who had been imprisoned in France since 1956, was freed. With the charter from the Tripoli Congress in hand, he returned to Algeria and established the country’s first administration. The Assembly formally appointed him to the position of president of the Council of Ministers, and he served in that capacity until the coup led by Houari Boumediene on September 18, 1963.


  1. Adam Roberts, ‘Civil Resistance to Military Coups’, Journal of Peace Research, Oslo, vol. 12, no. 1, 1975, pp. 19-36.
  2. Stora, Benjamin (1993). Histoire de la guerre d’Algérie. La Découverte.
  3. Stora, Benjamin (2004). Algeria, 1830-2000: A Short History. ISBN 978-0801489167.
  4. Turshen, Meredith. “Algerian Women in the Liberation Struggle and the Civil War: From Active Participants to Passive Victims”. Social Research Vol. 69 No. 3 (Fall 2002) p. 889-911, p.890
  5. Mathilde Von Bulow (22 August 2016). West Germany, Cold War Europe and the Algerian War. Cambridge University Press. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-107-08859-7.
  6. Windrow, Martin. The Algerian War 1954-62. p. 37. ISBN 1-85532-516-0.

By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige is a history writer at Malevus. His areas of historical interest encompass the ancient world and early Europe, along with the history of modern culture.