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