1793: 213 or so Lyonnaise

Add comment December 22nd, 2011 Headsman

Upon learning of the recent Republican capture of Toulon from the British and anti-revolutionary allies — a military achievement authored by a 24-year-old artillerist by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte — Joseph Fouche dispatched the following missive from the city where he his iron-fisted occupation was earning the epithet “Executioner of Lyon(s)”

Despite showing himself a ferocious Jacobin during the Terror, the Machiavellian Fouche helped author Robespierre‘s downfall and later became ennobled as the Duke of Otranto under Bonaparte. Needled by the Corsican about having voted for Louis XVI’s execution, Otranto aptly riposted, “Yes, sire; and that is the first service I had the honour of rendering your majesty!”

Joseph Fouche to Collot d’Herbois
22nd December 1793

And we likewise, my friend, have contributed to the surrender of Toulon, by spreading terror amongst the traitors who had entered the town, and by exposing to their view the dead bodies of thousands of their accomplices.

The war will be at an end if we know how to profit by this memorable victory; let us show ourselves terrible, that we may not fear becoming weak or cruel; let us annihilate in our anger, and at one single blow, every conspirator, every traitor, that we may not feel the pain, the long torture of punishing them as Kings would do.

Let us follow the example of nature in the exercise of justice. Let us be avenged as a nation, let us strike as quick as lightning, and let even the ashes of our enemies disappear from the land of liberty.

Let the perfidious and ferocious English be assailed from every quarter; let the whole republic turn into a volcano, and pour forth the devouring lava upon them: may the infamous island that produced those monsters, who no longer belong to the human species, be hurled for ever in the waves.

Farewell, my friend: tears of joy gush from my eyes, and overflow my heart. The courier is setting off. I shall write to you by the post.

FOUCHE

P.S. We have but one means of celebrating our victory. We shall this evening send 213 rebels to the place of execution: our loaded cannons are ready to salute them.

(Translation primarily as rendered in the London Times, July 18, 1815)

Whether this horrifying last bit of revolutionary braggadocio was in fact effected does not seem to be quite clear. This book claims that Fouche had 192 executed that day for the amusement of a party of Jacobins and prostitutes, which has the suspicious whiff of propaganda about it.

Hubert Cole, in Fouche: The Unprincipled Patriot reckons it “only” 67, with Fouche routinely inflating his atrocity figures a la military body counts for the benefit of ardent revolutionaries in Paris.

The use of cannon loaded with anti-personnel grapeshot — condemned tied together in pairs and then indiscriminately blasted; troops on hand to finish off survivors with bayonets — was an innovation in death-dealing technology that the National Convention did not appreciate, and Fouche was obliged to return to the more decorous methods of regular firing squads and that newfangled beheading machine.

* Not to be confused with Nazi torturer Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon. We hope the good people of Lyon will not require too many more synonymous sobriquets.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Blown from Cannon,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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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

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