||This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2013)|
|Born||19 October 1927
|Died||11 March 1963
|Service/branch||French Air Force|
|Battles/wars||World War II
|Other work||Aerospace engineer|
Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry (19 October 1927 – 11 March 1963) was a French Air Force lieutenant-colonel, military air weaponry engineer, (creator of the Nord SS.10/SS.11 missiles) who attempted to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle on 22 August 1962, following Algerian independence. Sentenced to death, he remains the last person to be executed by firing squad in France.
Bastien-Thiry was born to a family of Catholic military officers in Lunéville, Meurthe-et-Moselle. His father had known de Gaulle in the 1930s and was a member of the Gaullist RPF. He attended the École Polytechnique, followed by the École nationale supérieure de l'Aéronautique before going into the French Air Force where he specialized in the design of air-to-air missiles. In 1957 he was promoted to become principal air military engineer. He was married to Geneviève Lamirand, the daughter of Georges Lamirand (1899–1994), the latter had been Vichy France General Secretary of Youth from September 1940 to March 1943 but the family was Free French. He had three daughters with her.
Since 1848, French Algeria had been considered an integral part of France. After having returned to power with the stated intention of maintaining the French Départements of Algeria, de Gaulle, in September 1959, made a sudden reversal of policy and instead began opting for the eventual secession of Algeria. (This helped push Bastien-Thiry, who up until this time had been a Gaullist, into becoming an opponent.) As a consequence of this new policy, two referendums on self-determination were held —the first in 1961; and the second on 8 April 1962 (known as the French Évian Accords referendum). The latter was not in accord with Article 3 of the French constitution, as citizens living in Algeria were barred from any input on the referendum.
Bastien-Thiry, who was involved with the still-mysterious organization, "Vieil État-Major" (which was probably supported by high-ranking officials, politicians and possibly some heads of large companies), tried to make contact with the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), which was leading the Resistance against De Gaulle's policy and against FLN terrorism. According to Dr Pérez, OAS chief of intelligence and operations section (ORO), Vieil Etat Major messenger Jean Bichon met him in Algiers but his demanding conditions couldn't be accepted for OAS may help him. Anyway Bastien-Thiry never had contact with the OAS organization and he never told his direct chief was Jean Bichon, arrested later.
Bastien-Thiry led the most prominent of several assassination attempts on de Gaulle. In preparation, his group had set up in the Paris suburb of Petit-Clamart. On 22 August 1962, De Gaulle's car (Citroën DS) as well as nearby shops were raked with machine gun fire. De Gaulle, his wife and entourage were able to escape without injury. After the attempt, some fourteen bullet holes were found in the president's vehicle; another twenty were found to have struck the nearby Café Trianon; and an additional 187 spent shell casings were found on the pavement. This event was fictionalized in the 1971 book, "The Day of the Jackal". De Gaulle credited the unusual abilities of the DS vehicle with saving his life —even though the shots had punctured two of the tires (armoured) the car was still able to escape at full speed.
Arrest and trial
Bastien-Thiry was arrested when he came back from a mission in the United Kingdom. He was brought to trial before a military tribunal presided over by General Roger Gardet from 28 January to 4 March 1963. He was defended by a legal team consisting of attorneys Jacques Isorni, Richard Dupuy, Bernard Le Coroller, and Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour who would be a far-right candidate for the presidential election in 1965. While claiming that the death of de Gaulle would have been justified by the "genocide" of the European population of newly independent Algeria (a reference mainly to the Oran massacre of 1962) and the killing of several tens or hundreds of thousands of mostly pro-French Moslems (harkis) by the FLN, he claimed that while the other conspirators might admittedly have been trying to kill the head of state, he had only been attempting to capture de Gaulle so as to deliver him to a panel of sympathetic judges. Bastien-Thiry, who had been certified as "normal" by psychiatrists in spite of a history of clinical depression (caused by an overworked period) was convicted and sentenced to death, as were two of his associates: Lt de la Tocnaye and Prevost (a former volunteer in Korea and in Vietnam).
Possibility of clemency
De Gaulle as President of France had the power of clemency. He pardoned those who fired the shots, but refused to pardon Bastien-Thiry despite an appeal from Bastien-Thiry's father to spare his son's life. Before the trial the president expressed his intention to grant clemency to Bastien-Thiry, saying the "idiot" would "get off with twenty years and in five years I'll free him" (Lacouture, 328). However, according to his son-in-law Alain de Boissieu, after the conspirators' conviction, de Gaulle stated his reasons for refusing to alter the sentence.
- Bastien-Thiry had directed his subordinates to fire on a car in which there was an innocent woman present (Madame Yvonne de Gaulle).
- He had endangered civilians, namely the Fillon family, who had been travelling in a car near that carrying de Gaulle.
- He had brought foreigners, specifically three Hungarians, into the plot.
- During his trial he claimed he intended to kidnap De Gaulle, not kill him. Asked how he intended to confine the General, Bastien-Thiry replied "We would just have taken away his spectacles and braces". His defence lawyer was heard to mutter "he has just signed his own death warrant", as it was much anticipated that while De Gaulle might have pardoned an assassin, he would not pardon an assassin who publicly mocked him.
- Finally, and most serious in de Gaulle's eyes, while the other conspirators did the actual firing and had thus placed themselves in some danger, Bastien-Thiry had only directed events from afar, acting as a lookout for the gunmen.
These "reasons" have to be taken very cautiously since it is well known De Gaulle wasn't accustomed to give explanations of such acts that he did. Anyway, Bastien stood only a couple of yards away from the snipers Attempt diagram, and he took the risk of managing two teams from summer 1961 to August 1962 while still a high-ranking officer at the Air State Secretariat. Also, it is a longtime French and European tradition for a King or a President to spare a conspirator when nobody is killed by the attempt.
The execution took place only one week after the trial, which was unusual. Probably the biggest security plan in French judicial history was organized to take Bastien-Thiry from his cell to the place of his execution. There were 2000 policemen posted along the way and 35 vehicles used. The government feared an escape was planned, and there had been a plan but it was abandoned. Paradoxically, the police plan was headed by Jean Cantelaube, a former security officer of De Gaulle. He has been recently identified as an intelligence agent who provided information to Bastien-Thiry's organization.
Only one week after the trial and despite a law question likely to cancel the sentence about to be taken by the Conseil d'Etat (French supreme public court), Jean Bastien-Thiry was executed by firing squad at the Fort d'Ivry on 11 March 1963, while clutching his rosary. He refused to be blindfolded. He was 35 years old. That very evening, President De Gaulle offered a dinner party to the presidents of the special courts (in charge of sentencing De Gaulle opponents), including the one who sent Bastien-Thiry to death.
About Bastien-Thiry, De Gaulle said "The French need martyrs ... They must choose them carefully. I could have given them one of those idiotic generals playing ball in Tulle prison. I gave them Bastien-Thiry. They'll be able to make a martyr of him. He deserves it." (Lacouture, 329).
In Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal version of the attempt on De Gaulle's life, it is reported that the only member of the assassin team to get away was OAS Member Georges Watin aka "The Limp" who died February 1994 at age 71.
- Jean Lacouture, Charles de Gaulle – Le souverain 1959-1970, opcit, p.276-279.
- "Nevertheless, even more infamous was the treason, and more unforgivable were the crimes towards the French Moslem populations. For these were men and women who, having trusted the word of the Head of State, a general in uniform, having trusted the French Army and the French government, had committed themselves freely and courageously in making the French choice, and a good number of them had even fought by France's side. A small proportion of these French Moslem populations, thanks to some Army officers who acted sometimes on their own, and contrary to Mr. Joxe's instructions, were able to reach France, abandoning their homeland, and settled, often in miserable conditions, and sometimes exposed to the FLN agents' threats. But there are those, much more numerous, who were purely and simply abandoned to the hands of their torturers and their slaughterers. The press, and above all the national radio, have been strangely silent about the extent of the massacres and tortures inflicted to the francophile Moslems. All these men now have to live under a purge law. In some regions of Algeria, all these men died in jail. This is truly a genocide, perpetrated against Moslems who had trusted France. This genocide claimed the lives of several tens or hundreds of thousands of victims, killed after having been horribly tortured. These slaughters are far worse in horror than the massacres that took place in Katyn, those in Budapest, those in Katanga, and the dictator revealed his monstrous nature in displaying only indifference towards these unspeakable sufferings which are [for de Gaulle] so many derelictions of honour.", translated from « Statement of colonel Bastien-Thiry », 2 February 1963, Cercle Jean Bastien-Thiry, bastien-thiry.com
- Bastien-Thiry by Jean-Pax Meffret
- Cantelaube's notes quoted in Jean-Pax Meffret's book; attempt accomplice interviewed by Olivier Cazeaux
- Lacouture, Jean. De Gaulle: The Ruler 1945-1970.
- Venner, Dominique (2004). De Gaulle: La Grandeur et le Néant. Editions du Rocher. ISBN 2-268-05202-8.
- Soustelle, Jacques (1962). L'Espérance Trahie. Editions de l'Alma.
- Plume, Christian; Pierre Demaret (1973). Target De Gaulle: The Thirty-One Attempts to Assassinate the General. Richard Barry (trans.). Corgi. ISBN 0-552-10143-5.