Darlan Assassination - Christmas Eve 1942

Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by Jedburgh22, Dec 23, 2012.

  1. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    Assassinated on Christmas Eve | Full Comment | National Post

    Scott Van Wynsberghe: Assassinated on Christmas Eve

    Special to National Post | Dec 23, 2012 12:01 AM ET | Last Updated: Dec 23, 2012 12:02 AM ET
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    AFP/Getty ImagesFrench Head of State Philippe Petain, right, Spanish Head of State Francisco Franco, centre, and Admiral François Darlan in Montpellier, southern France, during their meeting on Feb. 13, 1941.
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    It was a winter killing in a summer palace. On the afternoon of Dec. 24, 1942 — 70 years ago — a young man entered the so-called Palais d’Eté, the main administrative building of Algiers, in what was then the French colony of Algeria. He lingered in a waiting area until his target returned to the palace from a late lunch. As the target approached the door of his office, the young man moved forward, brandishing a French naval pistol. The target happened to turn around at that moment and was hit by two shots, in the face and chest. Death followed within hours, ending the career of Admiral Darlan, one of the most controversial figures of the Second World War.

    Best known under the given name “François” — although he has also been referred to as “Jean” — Darlan was born in 1881, and his life was defined by the French navy. The navy did him much good, cultivating his organizational skills and bringing him through the ranks to its highest positions (including chief of staff, 1937), but it also warped him.

    As noted by military biographer Mark M. Boatner III, French fleet officers of Darlan’s generation typically hated the British. As well, the navy apparently did not improve another aspect of Darlan’s life: Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander has stated that he “displayed open anti-Semitism in the French Catholic conservative tradition.” All this would come together in the Second World War.

    When France was defeated by Germany in 1940, people such as Darlan found a home in so-called Vichy France, the part of the country left unoccupied by the Nazis. There, Marshal Philippe Pétain ran a curious regime that had a degree of independence — it was even allowed to run the French Empire overseas — but was still watched closely by Berlin. Darlan became one of Pétain’s top ministers, especially during 1941-1942, when Vichy actively worked against British interests in the Middle East and also began issuing ominous restrictions against French Jews. Even when Darlan was eclipsed by a rival Vichy figure, Pierre Laval, the admiral still had control of the Vichy military.

    In the background, however, Darlan was playing an ambiguous game involving the United States, which was still neutral in the war. According to the memoir of U.S. diplomat Robert Murphy, who was posted first to Vichy itself and later to French North Africa, Darlan began using his own son, Alain, and other go-betweens to signal his unhappiness with Vichy. Murphy says these contacts went on for over a year, leading up to late 1942. By that point, the United States was in the war and preparing to invade French North Africa, in an operation codenamed Torch.

    What happened next defied belief. On November 5, Darlan’s wife sent him an urgent telegram, alerting him that their son Alain was in hospital in Algiers — with polio. Thus, when Allied forces began storming the beaches of Algeria and Morocco just three days later, Darlan happened to be on the scene. (Was it really just a coincidence? Apparently so.) As the attacks started, Murphy approached Darlan face-to-face — and this led to tortuous Franco-American talks overseen by U.S. General Mark Clark. The result, on the 13th, was a shocking pact: Hostilities ended, and Darlan was acknowledged to be in charge of French North Africa. A Nazi collaborator had become one of the Allies.

    The “Darlan Deal,” as the arrangement came to be called, was an immediate outrage, denounced on both sides of the Atlantic. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had previously backed General Charles de Gaulle as the true voice of France in exile, was forced to defend the deal in a closed session of parliament on December 10. (Biographer Martin Gilbert says he gave one of his finest speeches, insisting that the deal, however unpleasant, saved lives and advanced the Allied cause.) U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by contrast, seemed to let his field commanders take the lead. When Gen. Clark briefed him about the

    Darlan affair in January, 1943, Clark was “surprised” (his word) by how little FDR knew about it. Meanwhile, in French ranks, knives were being sharpened.

    Enter Philippe Ragueneau, who would go on to become de Gaulle’s spokesman (1958-1959) and a fixture of the world of French books and television. After the war, he revealed that he and three other young French military trainees met secretly near Algiers on November 20 to discuss the Darlan Deal. Ragueneau said they agreed that Darlan, regardless of the deal, had still been a major collaborator and deserved to die. They drew lots for the job of slaying the admiral, and the winner was Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle — who, a month later, did indeed kill Darlan through the methods described in the first paragraph of this article.

    Hostilities ended, and Darlan suddenly was in charge of French North Africa. A Nazi collaborator had become one of the Allies
    Ragueneau, who died in 2003, always insisted that his little group had no ties to any larger movement and was not even a real conspiracy: After the 20th, he and the other two supposedly (and very conveniently) headed off to join the Allied battle against the Nazis in neighboring Tunisia, leaving Bonnier (as he is often called) on his own.

    Things were especially murky in the month leading up to the assassination. Somehow, $2,000 in U.S. currency got into Bonnier’s hands. (It was found on him when he was grabbed after shooting Darlan.) The number sequence of the bills revealed them as having been part of a flow of cash from one of de Gaulle’s top aides, François d’Astier de la Vigerie, to his brother (and Darlan’s own chief of police), Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie. During late December, François had visited Algiers, at one point angrily confronting Darlan.

    And then there was Henri d’Orléans, the Count of Paris and pretender to the extinct French throne. After the war, the count cultivated an image as a benign figure, but he was something else in late 1942. Back then, Algiers was swirling with rumors of plots on his behalf, and his supporters included Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie. The postwar era would feature claims that the count engineered the assassination. He denied it, right up to his own death in 1999, but German scholar Elmar Krautkrämer has effectively argued for the existence of some sort of shady monarchist-Gaullist alliance against Darlan. In this scenario, Darlan was less a war criminal than a political obstacle.

    Allied spies also were in the mix. One has to be cautious here because of unreliable claims, including a 1974 statement by former British intelligence officer F.W. Winterbotham (debunked in 2010 by Keith Jeffrey). Still, it is known that the assassin Bonnier worked at a paramilitary camp linked to both the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In a history of the Second World War, published just this year, British writer Anthony Beevor claimed that anti-Darlan elements in both agencies knew of an assassination plot, and either permitted it to proceed or actually helped it. However, all four of Beevor’s sources for this assertion have been dead for at least six years.

    In the end, nothing about Darlan’s death looked right. Bonnier was tried and shot on Boxing Day, just 40 hours after his deed (and he may or may not have confessed to a conspiracy). A French military-judicial inquiry into the assassination was cut off in 1943 by de Gaulle, who had filled the political void left by Darlan. Important documents in the case (including, possibly, a statement by Bonnier) vanished. Indeed, the case itself vanished: In 1945, an Algiers appeals court exonerated Bonnier on the grounds that the assassination was in the interests of France. Biographer Jean Lacouture says that de Gaulle began referring to the assassination as an “execution” — while still denying involvement in it.

    And so there arose a consensus, a sort of new “Darlan Deal,” that turned a squalid affair into a good thing. One way or another, it seems, the admiral had it coming.

    National Post

    Scott Van Wynsberghe lives in Winnipeg, where nefarious schemes are few.
  2. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    It appeared to have been extremely politically motivated.

  3. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    A very murky business indeed - did not do Anglo-French relations any good at all!
  4. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    The murky world of polotics!
    Thank you for posting one often hears of Darlan's demise but not the story behind it

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