1942: Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, Darlan’s assassin

3 comments December 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1942, just two days after he had assassinated Admiral Francois Darlan, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle was shot by the Vichy army in Algiers.

Despite its shorthand reputation as a Nazi puppet, Vichy France — especially in 1940-42 — was a more nuanced animal that’s enjoyed increased study of late. Vichy controlled southern France under the obvious pressure of the next-door German occupation and effected state collaboration with Berlin including deportations, but it also maintained diplomatic relations with the U.S. Vichy France even shot German spies.

Vichy was one contender among several for political legitimacy in the aftermath of France’s disastrous 1940 defeat at German hands. The most obvious (and here, topical) rival was de Gaulle’s Free French.


Appropriately, the classic film Casablanca premiered in November 1942, featuring Claude Rains as the unprincipled Vichy Captain Renault. The film’s pro-Free French, anti-Vichy slant was not, however, representative of American foreign policy at the time.

This was the background when, in 1942, the US spearheaded Operation Torch to invade Vichy-controlled French North Africa. “This is not the end,” Churchill epigrammed of the Torch landings. “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”* (Correction: Churchill actually said this in reference to the November 1942 Battle of El Alamein, as a very gracious comment observes.)

At the time of that operation, Admiral Darlan happened to be in Algiers. He was the former number two man in the Vichy government, but also a guy whose cooperation with the Nazis had been half-hearted … which is the reason he was the former number two man.

Darlan nevertheless remained the chief of the Vichy armed forces, which meant that it was worth the Torch commanders’ while to come to an arrangement with him when Darlan proved amenable to cooperation.

They cut that deal. Darlan shut down armed resistance and took Vichy North Africa over to the Allies’ side. (He had, indeed, hinted previously to American diplomats that he was prepared to switch sides; see Arthur Funk, “Negotiating the ‘Deal with Darlan'” in Journal of Contemporary History, April 1973.) In exchange, the Allies installed him as High Commissioner of France for North and West Africa — big man on campus for French North Africa.

Like all good compromises, it satisfied nobody.

De Gaulle was enraged: a Vichy official remained in charge of a Vichy state now under Allied auspices. Would Allied recognition set Darlan up to direct France’s postwar direction?

Equally pissed by the defection, Hitler triggered the German contingency plan to occupy Vichy France.† This is why the “especially in 1940-1942″ proviso above: after Operation Torch, Vichy France had no independent military muscle, and was significantly more beholden to Nazi Germany.

Back in North Africa, we finally come to our date’s principal.

A 20-year-old student of monarchist and anti-fascist political proclivities, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle (English Wikipedia entry | French) decided with a couple of friends to cut the Gordian political knot that Darlan’s adoption had created.

Bonnier de La Chapelle drew the short straw (literally, they drew straws) for the privilege/responsibility of murdering the Vichy admiral.

Officially, the young man acted alone. Unofficially, there’s been no end of speculation as to the secret intrigues at work. Nobody’s really clear on exactly how murdering Darlan was supposed to advance the gunman’s supposed agenda. And the Vichy French disposed of the killer with suspicious haste.

Just after lunch on December 24, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle surprised Darlan upon the latter’s return to his study and shot him through the mouth and torso at point-blank range. He was arrested attempting to flee.

The very next evening, he was condemned by a tribunal at Algiers. There was already a coffin on order before that body gaveled into session.

For some reason, the condemned thought his perceived service to the nation would out. “They will not shoot me. I have liberated France,” he assured his confessor. “The bullets will be blank cartridges.” They weren’t. Churchill recorded that Bonnier de La Chapelle was “surprised to be shot.”

Darlan was laid to rest later that morning at a dry-eyed requiem service. One British intelligence officer remembered that Darlan’s “murder fell like a stone into a small pond and the ripples were only brief. It was as if Darlan had never been.” (Source for the quotes in the last two paragraphs)

Henri Giraud, a French general who escaped German custody and took refuge in Vichy France — Vichy refusing to return him to the Germans, who openly intended to kill him — succeeded Darlan’s command of the now-Allied-aligned French North African forces and maintained the objectionable Vichy institutions. He joined the Allied Casablanca Conference a few weeks later. Giraud had already secretly arranged with the Allies to take exactly this position and had repaired to North Africa in anticipation of the invasion before being aced out by Darlan.

Giraud’s Vichy North African government gradually increased cooperation with de Gaulle’s Free French; the two eventually co-founded the French Committee of National Liberation, which de Gaulle, of course, eventually took control of.

In 1945, a postwar appeals court posthumously reversed Bonnier de La Chapelle’s conviction — on the grounds that he’d pulled the trigger “in the interest of liberation of France.”

* Stalin, whose Red Army was then fighting the Wehrmacht tooth and claw at Stalingrad, begged to differ. He’d been imploring the western allies to open a second front, and was none too impressed with their calculation that they weren’t ready to invade continental Europe in 1942. “A man who was not prepared to take risks could not win a war,” Stalin griped to Churchill.

** One knock-on effect of Operation Torch: the Germans reinforced North Africa against the Allies’ imminent push. It was in this campaign that future Hitler almost-assassin Claus von Stauffenberg lost a hand and an eye, leading to his transfer back to the Berlin desk job that would give him his opportunity to try to kill the Fuhrer.

† This resulted in Vichy France’s gesture of resistance, scuttling the Toulon fleet to keep it out of German hands … although this also irritated de Gaulle, who wanted the fleet to defect to North Africa instead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Shot,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1945: Gen. Charles Delestraint

2 comments April 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1945, French general and Resistance figure Charles Delestraint was hastily disposed of, ten days before the liberation of Dachau.

Delestraint, who also spent the First World War as a POW, was among those who noticed the hidebound military dogmas of the past needed updating.

With de Gaulle, Delestraint was a forceful advocate in the interwar period for mechanized warfare.

He didn’t get far enough, certainly not as far as the soon-to-be-vaunted Wehrmacht.

In 1940, just months after retirement, Delestraint was recalled to lead a mechanized division against the Germans, which of course turned out to be a spectacular triumph of tank warfare … for the Germans. While the French distributed armor units throughout their forces, the Germans massed them at a schwerpunkt aiming to break through the French line and speedily conquer in the rear.

Delestraint later remarked of the doctrinal difference,

We had 3,000 tanks and so did the Germans. We used them in a thousand packs of three, the Germans in three packs of a thousand.

Recruited subsequently into the French Resistance and thence betrayed, Delestraint enjoined the hospitality of many concentration camps and the tender mercies of one of their more infamous torturers.

Uncertainty remains over exactly how the Germans killed Delestraint, or even why the Dachau commandants wanted to finish off him in particular, although he was a primo catch in the anti-Resistance operation. The body was immediately cremated, camp records of the execution order disappeared if they ever existed, and eyewitness testimony at variance.

But dying in Dachau for the French Resistance? By any standard, that’s a passport to hero status, as attested by any number of Rue General Charles Delestraints to be found in his native land.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,History,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1945: Robert Brasillach, intellectual traitor

3 comments February 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1945, and notwithstanding a partial outcry in French literary circles, fascist intellectual and Vichy collaborator Robert Brasillach was shot for treason in Montrouge.

Novelist, journalist and llitterateur Robert Brasillach (English Wikipedia entry | French) was the “James Dean of French fascism,” fashionable apostle of the interwar far-right movement Action Française.

A proper James Dean dies young, which fate was supplied courtesy of Brasillach’s editorship of the anti-semitic rag Je Suis Partout (“I Am Everywhere”) and enthusiastic support of the Vichy government.

Inasmuch as his collaboration had been in the form of ideas propagated, Brasillach’s case engaged the French polity in the challenging question of whether “intellectual crime” — and even “intellectual treason” — could exist categorically.

Given another year, when occupation was not so fresh a memory and the Nazis were no longer knocking at the door, the puzzle would probably not have been a life and death one.

But then, ideas are sometimes life and death matters themselves, and nowhere is that more true than in France.

Many anti-fascist intellectuals appealed to de Gaulle for Brasillach’s life — many, but not all. Death penalty opponent Albert Camus signed the petition for clemency; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir refused.

Between fellow-feeling among the literary set, ideological enmity, and the searing experience of the occupation only just lifted lay a test for the conscience of many a French thinker — aphorized by the very words de Gaulle would use in turning aside the appeal.

“Talent is a responsibility.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,History,Infamous,Intellectuals,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1963: Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, model for the Jackal

4 comments March 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1963, clutching a rosary, French officer Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry was shot by a firing squad in the Paris suburb Ivry-sur-Seine for attempting to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.

Perhaps no anticolonial struggle left a more considerable intellectual and cultural footprint than the Algerian War of Independence against France. It gashed the French polity as well; the right violently rejected the swelling sentiment to end their country’s 132-year occupation. It is often said that the conservative Charles de Gaulle was the only man who could have engineered the departure with the support of a sufficient portion of the populace — but a sufficient portion by no means meant all, and every blunder multiplying the [French] body count was laid on de Gaulle’s head besides.

On August 22, 1962 — just weeks after that war successfully expelled the European power — an assassins’ team led by Bastien-Thiry (collaborating with the far-right Organisation de l’armée secrète) unleashed a machine gun fusillade at de Gaulle’s car. Hundreds of shots were fired; miraculously, the president and all his aides all escaped unharmed.

Although the actual gunmen were reprieved by their intended target, their manager was not. Said de Gaulle,

The French need martyrs … I gave them Bastien-Thiry. They’ll be able to make a martyr of him. He deserves it.

Certainly Bastien-Thiry had that in mind. At his trial (as recorded by a sympathetic French-language website), he addressed his conduct to posterity:

Nous avons exercé le droit de légitime défense contre un homme, au nom de ses victimes, au nom de nos concitoyens et au nom de nos enfants ; cet homme est ruisselant de sang français et il représente la honte actuelle de la France. Il n’est pas bon, il n’est pas moral, il n’est pas légal que cet homme reste longtemps à la tête de la France ; la morale, le droit et la raison humaine s’unissent pour le condamner. La vérité que nous avons dite, et que bien d’autres que nous ont dite avant nous, restera attachée au nom de cet homme, où qu’il aille et quoi qu’il fasse. Un jour cet homme rendra compte de ses crimes : devant Dieu, sinon devant les hommes.

Bastien-Thiry’s sensational plot, and the ongoing efforts of the OAS to murder de Gaulle, inspired Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal, and a classic 1973 film of the same title:

Part of the Themed Set: The Written Word.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Infamous,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • Johan Louis de Jong: Becky, I graduated on ethnic minorities, not on capital punishment. Pakistan is a newcomer as...
  • Bryant Winkels: Eva Sampley Died of cancer in 1977. She had been married to William Cody Kelly before she married my...
  • Becky: Johan, You are incorrect to assume that Iran is the only country where executions are conducted in public....
  • Caroline Rickaby: If you are Marco Riva who wrote to my mother Betty Robey in Sussex about Antonio Riva, could you...
  • Bob: Evening All, I’m still researching, what I am almost certain, are photographs of the Cowell nursery...