The Putsch

Frank S.

L'homme qui rit
Sep 28, 2006
The Mountains of Madness
From wikipedia (fairly accurate account of events):

On 22 April 1961, retired generals Raoul Salan, André Zeller, Maurice Challe and Edmond Jouhaud, helped by colonels Antoine Argoud, Jean Gardes, Joseph Ortiz and Jean-Jacques Susini (whom would form the OAS terrorist group), took control of Algiers. General Challe criticized the government's "treason and lies" toward Algerians who trusted it, and stated that "the commandment reserves its right to extend its actions to the metropole and to reconstitute a constitutional and republican order seriously compromised by a government which illegality burst onto the eyes of the nation" [1] During the night, the 1st Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment (REP), composed of a thousand men (3% of the military present in Algeria) and headed by Hélie Denoix de Saint-Marc took control of all of Algiers' strategic points in three hours.

The head of the Parisian police, Maurice Papon, and the director of the Sûreté nationale, formed a crisis cell in a room of the Comédie-française, where general de Gaulle was attending a presentation of Racine's Britannicus. The president was informed during the entracte of the coup by Jacques Foccart, his general secretary to African and Malagasy Affairs and closest collaborator, in charge of covert operations.

Algier's population was awoken on 22 April at 7 AM to a message read on the radio: "The army has taken control of Algeria and of the Sahara". The three rebel generals, Challe, Jouhaud and Zeller, had the government's general delegate arrested, as well as Jean Morin, National Minister of Public Transport, Robert Buron, who was visiting, and several civil and military personalities. Several regiments put themselves under the command of the insurrectionary generals.

General Jacques Faure, six other officers and several civilians were simultaneously arrested in Paris. At 5 PM, during the ministers' council, Charles de Gaulle declared: "Gentlemen, what is serious in this affair, is that it isn't serious" [2]. He then proclaimed the state of emergency in Algeria, while left wing parties, trade union and the Ligue des droits de l'homme (LDH, Human Rights League) called to demonstrate against the militaries' coup d'état.

The following day, on Sunday 23 April, General Salan arrived from Spain and refused to arm civilian activists. At 8 PM, general de Gaulle appeared in his uniform on TV, calling for French military personnel and civilians, in the metropole or in Algeria, to oppose the putsch:

"An insurrectionary power has established itself in Algeria by a military pronunciamento... This power has an appearance: a quartet of retired generals (un quarteron de généraux en retraite). It has a reality: a group of officers, partisan, ambitious and fanatic. This group and this quartet possess an expeditive and limited savoir faire. But they see and understand the Nation and the world only deformed through their frenzy. Their enterprise lead directly towards a national disaster ... I forbid any Frenchman, and, first of all, any soldier, to execute any single one of their orders... Before the misfortune which hangs over the fatherland and the threat on the Republic, having taken advise from the Constitutional Council, the Premier ministre, the president of the Senate, the president of the National Assembly, I have decided to put in cause article 16 of the Constitution [on the state of emergency and full special powers given to the head of state in case of a crisis]. Starting from this day, I will take, directly if needs arise, the measures which seems to me demanded by circumstances... Françaises, Français! Help me!" [3]

De Gaulle's call was heard on the radio by the conscript soldiers, who massively refused to follow the professional soldiers' call for insurgency. Trade unions decided for the next day a one hour general strike against the putsch. The few troops which had followed the generals progressively rendered themselves. General Challe also gave himself up to the authorities on 26 April, and was immediately transferred to the metropole. The putsch had been successfully opposed, but the article 16 on full and extraordinary powers given to de Gaulle was maintained during five months.
I remember seeing a brilliant documentary on this years ago. It was very surreal to see footage of civilians in Paris preparing for a possible invasion of their own forces from Algeria... people barricading their shops, police searchlights watching the skies for paratroopers, etc.

As a sidenote, the French Foreign Legion dismantled and permanently deactivate the 1st Parachute Regiment as a result... that's why the 2me REP (2nd Parachute Regiment) is the only parachute regiment in the Legion today.