Accueil > Fighting guerrillas: the history of British and French counter-insurgencies, 1919-1962

DHIS 2400A - Fighting Guerrillas: the History of British and French Counter-Insurgencies, 1919-1962

Type d'enseignement : Elective

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

In the aftermath of the First World War the British and French empires reached the height of their territorial extent, covering large parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Yet simultaneously these empires came under pressure leading, within 50 years, to their disappearance. The spread of ideas of national self-determination and communism undermined the legitimacy of imperial states. In many colonies small bands of guerrillas rebelled against the state and were increasingly successful in gaining the support – passive or active – of the local population. Committed to keeping their colonies, Britain and France used considerable military and economic resources in their attempts to defeat the insurgents. This course will focus on three case studies, Ireland, Kenya and Algeria, in order to judge the effectiveness of modern counter-insurgency campaigns. In the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), Britain was forced to make significant concessions to the Irish republican movement. By contrast, the Kenyan Emergency (1952-1958) represented a British victory over its Mau Mau adversary. The Algerian War (1954-1962), the longest and most costly of the three conflicts, ended with a French withdrawal and Algerian independence. Why did two counter-insurgencies fail and one succeed? During the course we will examine the causes, course and consequences of these colonial wars. Each one had its own particular strategic, political, economic and social conditions. Yet by using a comparative approach we will identify certain parallels and common themes. In order to deepen our understanding of counter-insurgency we will also compare our case studies with a variety of secondary examples, such as the Philippine–American War, the Boer War, Indochina and Malaya. The various elements of counter-insurgency strategy, such as collective punishment, forced resettlement and ‘hearts and minds' will be evaluated. We will address current debates on whether the British approach was more restrained than that of other colonial powers, on the use of torture and on whether the military applied lessons learnt from one counter-insurgency to the next. In examining these issues we will use government records, memoirs, oral history interviews and newsreel footage. Presentations, written work and class discussions will help the students to deepen their knowledge of the subject and improve their analytical and communication skills.


O'CONNOR, Steven (Chercheur)

Required reading

Charles Townshend, The British Campaign in Ireland, 1919-1921: The Development of Political and Military Policies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)

Additional required reading

  • Huw Bennett, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-insurgency in the Kenya Emergency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Martin Evans, Algeria: France's Undeclared War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)
  • Hors-la-Loi (Rachid Bouchareb, 2010)