When truth was a luxury item

Speaking of 1942, I happened to notice that an old torn banknote I have lying around is from the same year as the Salvador Dalí print I wrote about earlier.


The note is dated November 16, 1942, just a few days after the successful conclusion of an Allied campaign known as Operation TORCH. TORCH was a four-pronged invasion of Morocco in the West, and Algeria in the East.


What really fascinated me was to read about actual combat between American and French soldiers. It wasn't much of a contest, though, because while there was French resistance, American casualties were light. Well, maybe not by modern American standards, but light for the times:

Operation TORCH gave the Allies substantial beachheads in North Africa at rather modest cost, considering the size of forces committed. One hundred twenty-five thousand soldiers, sailors, and airmen participated in the operation, 82,600 of them U.S. Army personnel. Ninety-six percent of the 1,469 casualties were American, with the Army losing 526 killed, 837 wounded, and 41 missing. Casualties varied considerably among the three task forces. Eastern Task Force lost the fewest Americans killed in action, 108, Western Task Force, with four times as many American troops, lost 142 killed; Center Task Force lost almost twice as many killed, 276. But without the British-sponsored RESERVIST disaster at Oran, the Center Task Force killed-in-action total would have been in the same range as that of the other task forces.
Remember, Americans were fighting French colonial forces in Algeria, so it was relatively easy for the Americans. The casualties are barely considered noteworthy, as they could have been much worse:
On the Moroccan and Algerian coasts the United States Army executed operations for which its history offered no preparation: large-scale amphibious landings under hostile fire. While those operations ended in victory, any evaluation of U.S. Army performance must allow for the generally inept resistance offered by French and colonial forces. Only isolated artillery batteries and infantry units proved formidable; a better-equipped and more determined opponent could have easily capitalized on the many Allied landing problems. Obviously, the U.S. Army and its Allies would have to overcome these problems before undertaking more ambitious amphibious operations.
So, some 1500 American casualties in a single operation was no big deal in those days. (Besides, the French seem to have been much better at killing Algerians than Americans. If you don't like the Washington Times, read the WaPo piece. 45,000 Algerians killed in one day is an impressive feat. If you like hypocrisy, you'll love the way they're trying to make Sarkozy apologize!)

But I shouldn't skip ahead.

Back to 1942. I'm still wondering... What would you call these American casualties? Killed by the French? Or were the French soldiers who fought and died fighting U.S. forces not "really French"? No, they were French, as they were fighting to hold long-time French colonies while flying the French flag. I'm thinking maybe they were spun as "Axis" soldiers when they fought against us, and "allies" after we'd beaten them.

In wartime, certain fictions are needed, and of course one fiction of World War II needed to be the promulgation of the idea that the French were our allies. (Like "The French are our allies. The French have always been our allies." Etc.) The public probably needed to hear it at the time.

It retrospect, we have the luxury of wondering about the truth.

I like this picture of Patton greeting his newly defeated "friends."

Back to the banknote. It states "L'article 139 du code penal punit des travaux forces a perpetuite le contrafacteur," but who was in charge?

This is obscure history, not the sort normally taught (I mean, how many people know that we suffered casualties fighting the French?), but from what I can discern, the United States had originally recognized the Vichy regime as the legal French government. However, soon after the victory in November, 1942, the U.S. attempted to transform a country with which we were not officially at war (and with which we had diplomatic relations) into a sort of U.S. protectorate. A further complicating factor was that FDR did not like de Gaulle, and apparently did not want to recognize any regime headed by him. So we forced a defeated Vichy colonial official to surrender control to the Americans. Not just of Algeria, but France!

US forces landed in Morocco and Algeria on 8 November 1942. The next to be wooed was Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan, stationed in Algiers, a collaborator who served as Pétain's vice-premier and foreign minister from 1941-42. He remained at Pétain's side when Pierre Laval returned to power in 1942-44 (3).

General Clark had Darlan sign an agreement on 22 November 1942 placing North Africa at the disposal of the US and making France a "vassal" state, subject to "capitulations" (4). The US assumed unprecedented rights over French territorial extensions in Africa, including overseeing troop movements; ports, airfields, military defences and munitions, communications networks and the merchant navy. The agreement also provided for US requisitions of goods and services; tax exemptions; extraterritorial rights; and US-determined military zones. Joint commissions would be responsible for law and order, current administration, censorship and economic policy.

Darlan was eventually assassinated by Gaullist agents, and the United States ultimately recognized the de Gaulle "regime" in 1944. (I am oversimplifying a little, but I'm trying to stick with 1942.)

Here's Darlan with the Americans:


Caption: Negotiations at Algiers, 13 November 1942. Left to right, General Eisenhower, Admiral Darlan, Maj. Gen. Mark W. Clark, and Mr. Robert Murphy of the US. State Department.

I do love these war fictions, and I'm reminded of the quaint notion that Hirohito was a kindly orchid lover, forced into war by the evil Hideki Tojo (actually the latter was a fiercely loyal man who took the rope for Hirohito).

Anyway, the backnote I have is dated November 16, just days after the French ceded control to the Americans. It appears that this was precisely the time that the United States took over the "Banque de L'Algerie," and pegged the Franc to the dollar, as this brief history explains:

The Algerian Franc was first linked to the French Franc in 1878 when the Banque de l'Algerie was established. When the Allies landed, the exchange rate was set at 1 U.S. Dollar = 75 Algerian Francs in November 1942 and 50 Algerian Francs on February 2, 1943. The Algerian Franc rejoined the Franc zone on December 6, 1944. The Dinar replaced the Algerian Franc on April 1, 1965 at 1 Algerian Dinar = 180 milligrams of gold or 1 US Dollar = 4.937 Algerian Dinar.
I guess you could call it a form of American occupation currency, although the French didn't seem all that adverse to losing against the United States.

Having already lost to Nazi Germany (and probably tiring of Hitler), who could blame them?

It's the notion that France was our ally in the war that both rankles and amuses me.

They weren't our ally until we beat them.

But by then they had always been our ally!

AFTERWORD: The inspiration for this blog post came from reading an article titled "Rereading Vietnam" which Stephen Green called "the best article you'll read this summer." It is.

Read it while there's still a smidgen of summer left!

Especially recommended for those who enjoy the topic of French Colonialist fallout.

UPDATE: More accolades for "Rereading Vietnam":

If you read nothing else this week, make time for this. And if you don't have time now, bookmark it and come back to it when you do have a free moment. You owe yourself that much.
Via Glenn Reynolds, who linked the post earlier via Stephen Green, and who now quotes the review's conclusion:
"The first rough draft of history is getting it all wrong again. Somebody get me rewrite."

UPDATE (09/04/07): Regarding my hurried surmise that Darlan was assassinated by a "Gaullist agent," commenter Jim Miller advised me to check the sources, as he had read differently. I thought I might have mischaracterised or overstretched the "le Monde diplomatique" article which states:

Darlan was assassinated by an anti-Vichyite with Gaullist connections on 24 December 1942.
But I looked further, and found three other sources -- two of which seem to confirm the Gaullist connection, and one of which is quite explicit that the assassin, Fernand Bonnier de la Chappelle, was acting on orders emanating from de Gaulle.

The first source is a contemporaneous account which simply calls the assassin an ultra-right-wing royalist:

ALGERIA: Algiers: Admral Jean-Fran├žois Darlan was assassinated here today by a young student, Fernand Bonnier de la Chappelle.

The admiral, the titular high commissioner who was in effect the head of what has been called a Vichy regime with Allied support, left his villa this afternoon to drive to the Palais d'Ete. At the door of his office he was shot by his assassin, who is 20 years old.

Bonnier de la Chapelle is apparently an ultra-right-winger, a member of a group called the Free Corps of Africa, and associated with Henri Astier de la Vigerie, a local monarchist leader. Bonnier will go before a court-martial tomorrow afternoon.

A French web site (apparently Gaullist in nature) almost takes delight in pointing out the de Gaulle connection. Via a web translation:

The future assassin was very designated. Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle, a young volunteer, brave, honest, educated, ready to fight to save France. It is twisted, one makes him believe a heap of salads and it is let take as a kid who it is. It is not, with frankly speaking about a murder which it will be but about a mission against an enemy of France since the orders come from the most level, i.e. Of Gaulle.

From now on, Poses, Henri d' Astier and Cordier is covered: London said YES. The count of Paris said yes. Only one question arises: when will one kill Darlan?
G.I. - Each one is persuaded that the elimination of Darlan is a need. But a need for which? Even they fell into the set of Gaulle. When with the Count de Paris, Of Gaulle has to make him some allusions to the throne! The other, it did not go but it ran.

With the passing and knowing Of Gaulle as we know it from now on, that gives desire for smiling. Me I burst myself sincerely. It should be recognized that it was single in its kind. Unfortunately we speak about thousands of crimes of which it is in the beginning and that, less makes laugh.

On December 24, 1942, Fernand Bonnier of Chappelle achieves his mission. He did not assassinate a French but killed an enemy of France. He sees himself surrounded, congratulated, decorated, to pass to the higher rank, tightening the hand with his famous chief, the general Of Gaulle. He saw a beautiful dream.
Gaullist Royalist:

Then there's Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black, which makes a pretty good case for a Gaullist connection on page 791 (it does appear that de Gaulle's people had their fingerprints all over this although the Royalists seem to have been blamed at the time.) Bonnier was of course speedily executed. (On December 26, two days after the crime!)

A fascinating historical tidbit. But will the truth will ever be known?

I'd say "stay tuned" except I don't think news will be forthcoming, and again, this is not my area of interest or expertise. (I only wanted to figure out the mystery of the 5 Franc banknote, and stumbled onto the rest.)

MORE: Not that it's relevant to anything here, but I think Sarkozy is a great guy, and I've defended him before against an attempted smear by the New York Times.

Thanks to him, the situation in France is looking up!

posted by Eric on 09.03.07 at 06:21 PM


OK, Kevin, just cut and paste from what you sent me...

R. Riley   ·  September 3, 2007 6:54 PM


"from what you sent me..."


Kevin   ·  September 3, 2007 7:05 PM

I always enjoy and am educated by the history posts here at Classical Values... Kudos to the guys!

Scott   ·  September 3, 2007 9:03 PM

Read Rick Atkinson's interesting and well-written history of US forces in North Africa, "An Army at Dawn."

Bleepless   ·  September 3, 2007 10:00 PM

They were considered French by the invaders and it was thought unfortunate that anyone had to die but French honor demanded it. After all the French were nominally German Allies. So token resistance was put up.

Patton has a few things to say on the subject of French honor in North Africa in "The War As I Knew It".

I believe Patton also said something like: "I'd rather have a German Division in front of me than a French Division behind me."

M. Simon   ·  September 3, 2007 11:20 PM

Eric - You may want to check this"

"Darlan was eventually assassinated by Gaullist agents,"

The accounts I have read, including Atkinson's, do not say that the assassin, Fernand Bonnier de la Chappelle, was a Gaullist agent. Atkinson implies that he was acting as the agent of a royalist clique; earlier accounts I have read say that he acted alone, for personal reasons.

Jim Miller   ·  September 4, 2007 3:45 PM

Thanks for the helpful comments, Jim as to the "Gaullist agent," I might have read too much into this:


Darlan was assassinated by an anti-Vichyite with Gaullist connections on 24 December 1942.

You're probably right, as this whole area of history was unfamiliar to me until yesterday.

Eric Scheie   ·  September 4, 2007 5:14 PM

Jim, I may have retracted too fast. (See my update.)

And thanks again!

Eric Scheie   ·  September 4, 2007 5:46 PM

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