After the defeat at Diên Biên Phu, France’s attention turned to its African colonies, whose soldiers had fought in Vietnam and saw the imperial power humbled and humiliated. The insurrection in Algeria began on November 1954, just fourteen weeks after France signed the Geneva Accords, ending its disastrous war in Indochina.
Rather than face a series of conflagrations throughout the Maghreb, the new Socialist government of Guy Mollet gave Tunisia and Morocco independence in March 1956. Algeria was to be held on at all costs, but Tunisia and Morocco were dispensable, and thus they became first countries in Africa to regain their independence from a colonial power.
Yet France maintained a selection of bases across Tunisia (although the Fourth Republic fell and General de Gaulle was returned to power, he evacuated five bases and 50,000 soldiers off Tunisia), most notably at Bizerte, a strategic naval base on the Mediterranean, through which France was to conduct its operations during the war in Algeria. For the Tunisians, the base was an affront to their sovereignty, and in July 1961, they surrounded and blockaded it. De Gaulle’s response was swift and decisive — a rapid strike which killed 700 Tunisians — so decisive that by October, the Bizerte town council was able to crow: “Today’s Bizerte is essentially a French creation….. France managed in less than eighty years to change the face of Bizerte more than the preceding millennium had done.”
In a little over two years, an exhausted France would return Bizerte to Tunisia, as its war in Algeria unraveled.
The photo above is taken by Dominique Berretty who was propitiously in Tunisia as the Bizerte crisis began. Berretty took many famous war photos throughout the 1950s and the 60s, covering the border crisis between India and Pakistan, and later the war in Vietnam, where his photo taken in 1965 of an American soldier watching a burning Vietnam village became a visual shorthand for inhumanity of war.