May 8, 1945. While France celebrates VE Day, Muslim protesters in Sétif organize to demand Algerian independence. What begins as a march becomes a massacre: the protesters murder more than 100 European settlers, or pieds-noirs, and French armed forces retaliate by killing (according to various estimates) between 1,000 and 45,000 Muslims.
November 1, 1954. Emboldened by the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) launches armed revolts throughout Algeria and issues a proclamation calling for a sovereign Algerian state. The French are unimpressed but deploy troops to monitor the situation.
August 1955. The FLN begins targeting civilians, inciting a mob that kills more than 120 people in Philippeville. Between 1,200 and 12,000 Muslims are killed in retaliation by French troops and by pied-noir “vigilante committees.” Jacques Soustelle, then governor-general of French Algeria, resolves not to compromise with the revolutionaries.
September 30, 1956. The FLN attempts to draw international attention to the conflict by targeting urban areas. The Battle of Algiers begins when three women plant bombs in public venues. Algiers erupts into violence.
May 1958. A mob of pieds-noirs, angered by the French government’s failure to suppress the revolution, storms the offices of the governor-general in Algiers. With the support of French army officers, they clamor for Charles de Gaulle to be installed as the leader of France. The French National Assembly approves. De Gaulle is greeted in Algeria by Muslims and Europeans alike.