Vietnamese Guns for Algeria

Vietnamese soldier in French service working on his MAT-49 SMG.
Vietnamese soldier in French service working on his MAT-49 SMG.

I was pointed to this interesting snippet of a document about one particular shipment of arms to the Algerian rebels fighting French colonial occupation in the 1950s – from Vietnam. Can’t say I would have thought about the Vietnamese trying export supply military aid at the time! The guns in question were French MAT-49 submachine guns, which is also an interesting detail – French guns captured in Vietnam sent to supplement the same type of French guns being captured in Algeria, while the French military with its own MAT-49s were the opposition. Makes sense, and it certainly would be convenient.

23 June 1958

Implementing instructions received from the General Military Party Committee[1] and the Ministry of Defense, the Ordnance Department arranged for a large quantity of Tulle submachine guns (weapons captured by our forces during the resistance war against the French)[2] to be wrapped and packaged so that they could be provided to the Algerian people to help them in their resistance war against the French colonialists.

This was a special, top-secret program, so the Ordnance Department arranged for it to be carried out in a very careful and secure manner. A technical team was selected to carry out this mission. This team was headed by Comrade Nguyen Quang Thanh and included Phung Thanh Toan, Ha Vien, etc.

The preservation, standardization, and wrapping of the guns was done in Warehouse 560 at Bach Mai, after which the guns were secretly transported to a staging location at Kha Lam Warehouse in Kien An to be held there for loading aboard a Polish ship that would transport them to our [Algerian] friends under the guise of commercial goods.

This plan was carried out under the guidance and close supervision of the Party Secretariat, the General Military Party Committee, and the Ministry of Defense. This operation began on 23 June and was completed on 24 July 1958, and complete safety and secrecy was maintained throughout the implementation of the plan.

Footnotes by Merle Pribbenow

[1] The General Military Party Committee (Tong quan uy) was a committee made up of a small number of members of the Communist Party Politburo that was responsible for supervising and directing the Vietnamese armed forces. This committee was headed by General Vo Nguyen Giap.

[2] The Tulle submachine gun referred to is the MAT-49, a French 9mm submachine gun that was used by the French Army during the war in Indochina. The Vietnamese captured large quantities of these weapons during the war, especially at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The term Tulle comes from the name of the French manufacturer: Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Tulle (MAT).

Original source: Wilson Center Digital Archive


    • Interestingly, the MAT-49 in Vietnam was often modified to fire the 7.62x25mm cartridge just like the Chi-com Type 50 and PPSh41 Shpagin/PPS43 Sudayev SMGs… And the Vietnamese communist KM50, started with the Shpagin or Chinese copy, and configured it to use similar collapsible stock and barrel/sight arrangements as the MAT-49!

  1. So much for the idea that there was no “cooperation” or “coordination” between Communist and Islamist revolutionaries in the Third World back then.

    Note that the MAT-49 was a standard VC and NVA weapon as well, rebarreled to 7.62 x 25mm.

    During the 1980s, the Cuban government shipped FALs bought by the pre-Castro Batista regime’ to Nicaragua, so the Sandinistas could pass them along to the Communist guerrillas in El Salvador.

    They can easily be spotted by the quarter-sized hole in the side of the magazine housing; this is where the Cuban national crest was literally cut out to disguise their origin;

    Unfortunately for this brilliant bit of camouflage, FN Liege’ still had a record of all the serial numbers.



    • You jumped over period of least 40 years without noticing that recent “Islamist” movement was galvanized AFTER failure of world socialist system, most notably brake-up of Soviet Union.
      As matter of fact, part of effect of Western aggressive stance in Arab world since 9-11 and traditional Western support for dictators, it was primarily the socialism’s failure which caused this new and dangerous trend. It’s birth stems directly from frustration of impoverished rural masses.

      Although originally it had tendencies toward socialism, today’s Algeria is a multiparty society which couple of years ago, after strenuous struggle, successfully supressed domestic Islamist insurgency. Also, it is of interest to note that Algeria was not affected by so called Arab spring.

      • Of course, far more important than the USSR’s break-up, the exhaustion of secular nationalist/ national-socialist or Baathist/ pro-socialist/ pan Arabist regimes in the Arab World…

        In terms of wars with Israel, emulation of the Red Army failed time and again… Hence the switch to terrorism as a part of an “Arab way of war” rather than the models of the UAR/Egypt/Syria, or, for that matter, Iraq vs. Iran, 1980-88.

      • I find this Algerian civil war (breaking out in 1994) rather interesting and for two reasons.

        First, it was an extraordinary cruel war thru which sometime result depended on luck; however, Algerian government had prevailed which is proof of its secular nature. It managed to garner wide support of populace, to its credit. This support apparently lasted up to these days.

        Second was close similarity to struggle against French colonialism with major difference being that Algerian government was in position of defender instead of assailant. They had certainly plenty of experience at that in mere 2 generations.

        Perhaps that was the reason why appetite for “Arab spring” was next to none. Currently I gather that large part of military equipment for Algerian forces is procured from Russia; namely aircraft and vehicles.

      • I have seen interesting document reflecting on human aspect of war in Indochine (the first part). Since French forces comprised of many nationalities from outside of France, their motivation to fight for questionable cause was not very high. Vietnamese command was aware of this fact and gave those members of occupation force who wished so, every opportunity to walk over on their side.

        For large part deserters were treated exceptionally well (often fed and cared for medically better than Vietnamese soldiers) with option of staying (some married) in Vietnam or being repatriated via third country. Same treatment was extended even to members of Foreign legion.

        • Some ALN/FLN leaders were veterans of French Spahi regiments, including WWII and Indochine. At lease one FLN commander was ex-SS Muslim legion. The Viet Minh did clever propaganda appeals to many North Africans that they captured. Some of these combatants went over to the totalitarian FLN movement given the particularities of Algeria as an “overseas department” or settlement colony, unlike other French African possessions.

    • Also recall that the FALs were mostly delivered after 1 Jan. 1959… With the outcome that the MINFAR’s standard service rifle was the FAL until the mid-to-late 1960s, when it was replaced by the Kalashnikov.

      The MNR or militia before the creation of the MTT in 1980 had Czech Model 52 7.62x45mm rifles and LMGs, 9mm samopal 23 and 25 SMGs, Soviet PPSh41 Shpagin SMGs, etc. during the revolutionary regime’s consolidation and defeat of the counter-revolution.

  2. This is not a surprise; other socialist countries were involved in material as well as ideological support to Algerian resistance. Cargo was delivered thru port of Casablanca in Morocco.

    • Yugoslavia was a significant supplier to the ALN/FLN in Algeria. China also offered support, including Stens, Thompsons, and magazines for both, as well as some other weapons.

      Significantly, the only Soviet-designed rifle I am aware of in FLN use was the SKS, which I think was mostly used by the forces built up in neighboring Tunisia rather than in the “Wilayas” being harrowed and hounded by the French inside Algeria’s borders.

    • Most of the material for the FLN/ALN went through Tunis and Tripoli. This created a huge imbalance between the ALN external “regular army” forces stationed there and those in Morocco, which were generally more poorly equipped than their eastern counterparts. The tensions between the two forces erupted after the war with the French had concluded. These units very nearly started a civil war.

      Aside from the PM Mle. 49’s mentioned above, the FLN/ALN received arms from Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, DDR, and other Eastern European countries. A West German arms dealer met his end by the hands of members of the 11th Shock Parachute Regiment operating clandestinely. The USSR is notable for not having provided significant aid. Clothing and footwear largely came from China (who copied the French-issue Pataugas/bush shoes). Uniforms- if any were worn- were largely leftover US M41 and 43 stocks.

      • Some of the ALN/FLN forces in Tunisia even had WWII Italian helmets and Egyptian/Nasser provided camo uniforms…

        Inside Algeria, as you have stated, not so much.

      • Standard ALN/FLN rifle: Kar98k. Also MG34s, but not MG42s… Unsure as to why… Maybe too high a rate of fire/wasteful of ammo?

        Some Stg.1944s too, apparently from DDR/W. Germany, Czech, and Yugo suppliers.

        • Cause Yugoslavia needed MG42s 🙂
          StGs did not come from Yugoslavia, we never had too much of them and they were needed for a whole para brigade.

          Yugo unloaded a lot of ex-French weapons that were captured from Germans in WW2. Including last of Hotchkiss MGs, MAC 24/29 LMGs, MAS36 rifles etc. A lot of Stens also.

        • I have pictures somewhere on my computer of MG-42’s recovered from ALN guerillas, but the -34 was more common. The StG’s came from Czechoslovakia. Lee-Enfields, M1 Garands, Thompson SMGs, MP40s, and BARs, amongst others, were also used by them.

        • French forces in Algeria also used k98 Mauser rifles, German mg34 gpmg, and us m1 carbines and garands as well, just like in Indochina in addition to their standard small arms

      • Really interesting information, Steve. Could you elaborate on the circumstances surrounding the demise of the West German arms dealer in question?

        Many thanks in advance.

        • I’m not Steve, and I’ll defer to his information.
          In the meantime:
          Alistair Horne, _A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962_ (NYRB, 2006), pp. 261-3:
          ” There was the Morice Line barring movements by land [e.g. from Tunisia]; the French navy was extremely active checking shipments by sea [see Ian’s piece on captured CETME rifles used by French Marine commandos…], while any ‘friendly’ nation endeavouring to sell arms to an Arab country that might possibly find their way to the FLN met with the full force of French diplomatic wrath … [Tithes were extracted as “war taxes” from Algerians working in France and abroad, the Arab league donated funds, etc. etc. so money was available…] the French navy boarded off Oran a Yugoslav ship, the _Slovenija_, carrying 148 tons of illegal weapons, including 12,000 arms of Czech origin. […] since the demise of the Allied Occupation controls, the Bonn government had done nothing to replace the previous strict limitations on the arms trade. … the Federal Republic was a happy hunting-ground for the [arms] dealers. One shipment of German flame-throwers, for instance, came to the FLN in a cargo labelled “crop sprayers.” In on the ground floor were a group of ex-Nazis who had found refuge in Cairo … Ernst-Wilhelm Springer, who had helped form the pro-German Muslim Legion … One of his first shipments of rifles, via Yugoslavia and Syria, was confiscated on Tito’s orders, the bolts removed, and the barrels bent. […] after a mysterous attempt on his life, Springer faded from the scene. … ‘Bureau 24’ of the French SDECE closely affiliated with the 11th Shock units … resorted freely to almost every weapon in the ‘007’ inventory to thwart the arms dealers, though usually operating through ‘cut-outs’ or paid killers. … […] Dr. Wilhelm Beisner, a former leader of the SD in wartime Yugoslavia, had a miraculous escape when a … bomb blew him through the roof of his car. Four separate bomb attempts, spread over a period of two years from September 1956, were made against Otto Schlüter, an honourable third-generation Hamburg arms manufactureer. After a fourth attempt, when a remote-controlled automobile bomb killed his mother and injured him, Schlüter prudently abandoned his business with the FLN. … Ait Ahcene [FLN in Germany] was mysteriously shot down in Bonn in November 1957…”

          The section concludes with scandals in Switzerland and various “hits” made by an unknown German named–appropriately enough–“the Killer.” He killed one victim with a blowgun type device hidden in a bicycle pump, and used a bomb under the seat with ball bearings that riddled the intended victim but did relatively little damage to the car, or to passers by.

          • Thanks very much, Dave. I was asking the question based on Steve Rupp’s comments, and I may have accidentally clicked on your post instead. Apologies for any confusion this might have caused.

          • Thanks, Dave. Peter Harclerode’s book “Fighting Dirty” goes into more detail on SDECE/11e BPC’s activities both within and outside of Algeria during the period.

          • Great, thanks Steve! I’ll have to check it out.

            Hopefully it won’t be too hard to locate a copy.

    • I suppose the common shout was “Death to colonialists! Death to tyrants! Death to all white supremacists!”


        “All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

        This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

        The Declaration of The French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: “All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.”

        Those are undeniable truths.

        Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow citizens. The have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice.

        In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

        They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center, and the South of Viet-Nam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united.

        They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. […]” –Hanoi, 1945

        • Dave, this is fantastic!

          No one cant fool the truth no matter what his/her “practical” concerns might be. You did something I wished to do for some time and that is to point out EQUALITY of all peoples as basis of our civilisation. Colonialism in all forms is counter to this truth – and in extended sense it undermined very foundations on which the Western societies were created (see proclamation of Rights of Man, U.S. Constitution, U.N. Charter and such).

          I am hopeful that Webmaster does not object this ‘sideline’ remark we are affording here. At the essence this is expression of sincere reflection of reality and it has, albeit remote relation to central subject – armaments and their applications. They should serve to support of humanity, not to their suppression. Yes, there is place for them, but their use must be the utmost judicious one.

          • I couldn’t have said it better myself — thank you, my friend, and many thanks to Dave for broaching the subject as it should be.

        • Very well stated, Dave. When one examines the true underlying motives of humankind in a given situation at a level of this sort, one begins to realize — however reluctantly — that while the stated principles are true and correct, the implementation thereof is either sadly lacking or confined to merely taking advantage of said principles for some sort of selfish, short-sighted underlying gain, or a combination thereof. Such is the human condition.

          This same myopia prevails among virtually all nations to some extent or the other, varying only by degree. Every nation on Earth has, enshrined in its constitution, noble-sounding precepts about honor, liberty, loyalty, integrity, equality, et al. Yet, the actual practice thereof usually falls far short, as we all know, and which harsh historical fact has proven time and time again to be thus. The few examples that are to the contrary are the exception to the rule, and are few and far between to begin with.

          This constant, often self-inflicted and cynical undermining of the living principles by which we are supposed to go by must stop, regardless of the excuse of “practicality” that is usually trotted out by the ones in power. One can still be wholly practical without this sort of idiotic subterfuge as long as both sides understand that there is a fairly wide latitude of “give and take” involved.

  3. Is there any more concrete information available pertaining to specific weapons type and quantity “exported” to Algeria and other conflict zones of the time?

  4. A friend of mine now 80 was in the 11ieme shock and although most of the time he was in the FLN (algeria) he did help to blow up a polish ship in Gadansk due to carry armes to the algeria rebels
    He was shot and paralized for 6 months while on a night mission in algeria
    The chap who shot him used an mp40
    The armes used by him were berretta 9mm pistols(brigader) and uzi subguns both equipped with large silencers
    He personnaly preferred the pistol as the uzi was quite long
    They did not wear french army uniforms as a rule

    • My great grandfather experienced the Indochina War as a soldier in the multi-ethnic, colonial French Expeditionary Corps. He was captured and convinced by the Vietnamese to create a revolution when he was sent back home to Algeria. When he got back he later fought the French in the Algerian war for independence. We still have some of his guns that he used in indochina war/Algerian war, including a colt 1911, an sks and a MAT-49. There were all kinds of weapons in the Algerian war including German, French, American and Russian weapons like the mauserK98, M1 garand and M1 carbine, MAT-49 and SKS, among many other weapons

  5. It is just a thought, but the Alegerian rebels might have used Kar98k rifles and MG34s because they were the most common arms used by the Afrika Korps, and would have been left behind in vast numbers after the war. I don’t think the MG42 was widely used by the DAK, as the war in North Africa was over by May 1943.

    As to the MAT49, I have always had a fascination for it, as it exudes that certain French quality of difference, a bit like a Citroen DS if you will.

    I was lucky enough to be able to handle one once, courtesy of the kindness of Mr Sam Cummings of Interarms, and I was not disappointed, It is a most handy and well designed weapon, and I much prefer it to SMGs of the same period such as the Sten or the M3.

    Now, it’s a curiosity from a violent period of French history, when they tried and failed to hold on to their colonies in Asia and Africa. It is no coincidence that as they lost their Empire, the French became converts to the idea of European union, and we live with the consequences of that to this day.

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