Algeria, the Assassination of Charles de Gaulle, and The Day of the Jackal (Part 2 of 2)

A young Harki in uniform in the summer of 1961.

While this is going on, Algeria started to come apart. Many of the French, especially those in Algeria itself, thought the colony would be content to remain part of France. This turned out to be incorrect. In 1954, Algerian rebels began an armed insurrection against the French which went on until 1962. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed with some estimates as high as 1,500,000, the majority of whom were Algerians. Part of this number includes an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 native Algerians who were murdered by their countrymen after independence. The men, known as Harkis, had fought for the French or supported them in some capacity.

This was a bitter struggle. There was cruelty and torture on both sides. What most angered the terrorists fighting the French was the very large numbers of native Algerians who continued to support the French colonial government. To try and break this allegiance, the Algerian terrorist group known as FLN brought torture and murder to Algerian civilians who weren’t supporting them and killed thousands – men, women, and children – often after sadistic torture and rape of the women. They also began to massacre French settlers and their families in rural areas.

France deployed 400,000 regular army troops (which included tens of thousands of Algerian volunteers serving in the French Army), supplemented by local units comprised of French settlers as well lightly armed groups of irregular Algerian soldiers loyal to France (who outnumbered the armed Algerians fighting the French). While the the French established military control over the colony, they could not hold on forever. The cost in money, lives was enormous as was the volume of international condemnation.

Charles de Gaulle on 20 May 1961 at the airport in Köln/Bonn

In 1958 Charles de Gaulle helped found the Fifth Republic which saw a new constitution written for France which gave unprecedented powers to the new President of France, whom, people assumed, correctly, would be de Gaulle. In 1959 De Gaulle assumed the Presidency of France. After the catastrophe of Dien Bien Phu, most French people, except for the 1.4 million French in Algeria, known as Pieds-Noirs, wanted to be done with colonial war and in 1962 Algeria became independent. This deeply embittered many of the Pieds-Noirs who had spent their lives in Algeria and a terrorist group known as the OAS worked diligently to both prevent independence from occurring and then to prevent it from working. Although we think terrorist bombing is a recent phenomenon, both Algerian terrorists and French terrorists with the OAS, set off bombs in Algeria and France on a regular basis.

Prior to the official day of independence, four retired generals in Algeria attempted a military coup d’etat to bring down de Gaulle. However, only a regiment of Foreign Legion paratroopers in Algeria responded to their orders. All other army units in Algeria and France remained loyal to the government.

Barricades erected in Algiers during the Algerian War of Independence after 24 January 1960 when there was an attempted military coup d’etat against de Gaulle. This was known as La semaine des barricades (“the barricades week”). The failure of this coup served as motivation in the creation of the OAS.

Out of options, the highly secretive OAS then ordered one or more attempts on de Gaulle’s life. It is thought that the novel, Day of the Jackal by the English author Frederick Forsyth, is loosely based on one of these attempts. The novel and the original version of the movie which closely follows the novel are both outstanding. I give both the novel and the movie three stars. Both are well worth your time.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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