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Some Aspects of the Fall of the Fourth Republic

(Only interesting, I’m afraid, to those reasonably acquainted with the situation of France in May 1958)

• When the Gouvernement Général was stormed during the 13 May protest, the enterprising businessmen of Algiers took the opportunity to destroy all the police files relating to “economic crime” (smuggling, tax-dodging, and the like).

• The French-Algerian instigators of the military rebellion led by Salan didn’t know what to make of him when he was first appointed to Algeria so they decided, just to be on the safe side, to assassinate him on his first day on the job. Salan survived the bazooka attack on his office but his ADC was killed. The general later became the only socialist freemason to lead a right-wing terror group (the OAS).

• Once the Algiers rebellion commenced and travel between Algeria and metropolitan France was cut, many supporting figures made their way across the Mediterranean by whatever means at hand. Soustelle managed to escape his police guards and get to Algiers via a secretly chartered Swiss plane, but the more romantically inclined Roger Frey — later Minister of the Interior — first tried to get to Algiers on the actor Errol Flynn’s yacht. It didn’t pan out, and instead he was forced to hire the boat of an English ex-naval officer turned smuggler.

• The man in charge of wiretapping French telephones was unsure which side would emerge on top so cautiously refrained from giving the government the full picture of the information his wiretaps revealed.

• When Corsica was seized by the rebels, Moch, the Interior Minister, decided to send in the elite of the police force, the CRS. He was afraid, however, that military transport planes would fly them directly to Algeria, so he was forced to commission Air France planes instead. Upon landing in Corsica, the entire CRS contingent was met by the rebel parachute regiment and immediately defected to the rebellion.

• So widespread was the reluctance to support the government against the military rebels that even the meteorologists send false warnings of storms in the Mediterranean in the hopes of keeping the French Navy from moving against the rebels in Algiers.

• The air force was particularly keen for de Gaulle to take power, and took to flying planes in a Cross of Lorraine formation, as well as sending troop transport planes to Algeria in case they would be needed to invade mainland France.

• Regional military commanders in France varied in their loyalty to the government and sympathy for the rebels. One commander is alleged to have told the regional prefect “M. le Préfet, I am not here to defend your préfecture, but to take it.” Other prefects warned the cabinet that any orders for the police to arrest those suspected of aiding the rebellion might result in the prefects instead being arrested themselves.

• The government had sometimes ordered firemen to unleash their water hoses against rioters in the past. As popular support for the cabinet faded away, the head of the fire brigade felt compelled to inform ministers that his men would not take part in any anti-riot measures but would merely put out any fires that erupted. “And,” he said, referring to the home of France’s National Assembly, “in the Palais Bourbon, they wouldn’t bother.”

• As Philip Williams reports in his article “How the Fourth Republic Died”:

At that night’s cabinet Pleven summed up: “We are the legal government, but what do we govern? The Minister for Algeria cannot enter Algeria. The Minister for the Sahara cannot go to the Sahara. The Minister of Information can only censor the press. The Minister of the Interior has no control over the police. The Minister of Defence is not obeyed by the army.” Said a left-wing Gaullist in the Assembly, “You are not abandoning power — it has abandoned you.”

This post was published on Friday, June 14th, 2013 1:40 pm. It has been categorised under France History and been tagged under , , , .
B T Van Nostrand
15 Jun 2013 10:47 pm

The bitterness remains. I have known two French colleagues in my time who were forced to work together despite the fact that the grandfather of one had ordered the assassination of the grandfather of the other.
Both were well aware of this fact.
And of course De Gaulle’s immediate betrayal of the very people who had brought him back to power has been neither forgotten nor forgiven. He is far more hated by the French traditionalist and monarchist right than he is by the left.

16 Jun 2013 6:56 am

I don’t think they are wrong to be bitter, De Gaulle was in many ways a snake. On the other hand I suppose how important are the royalists in France anymore, regrettably.

Incidentally what were De Gaulle’s views on the monarchy? I am under the impression his parents were Legitimists, was he an Orleanist at some point in his life?

B T Van Nostrand
16 Jun 2013 8:35 pm

It is said that De Gaulle dangled a restoration before the dazzled eyes of that other snake, the Count of Paris. But of course nothing came of it.
None of this is to say that both De G and the Count were not infinitely preferable to what came after them (the excellent Pompidou excepted).

2 Jul 2013 12:21 pm

I believe De Gaulle was an ardent DeGaulleist

Will Cubbedge
20 Nov 2013 9:56 pm

This bit: “The French-Algerian instigators of the military rebellion led by Salan didn’t know what to make of him when he was first appointed to Algeria so they decided, just to be on the safe side, to assassinate him on his first day on the job.” got me thinking about Cardinal Mundelein’s arrival in Chicago as Archbishop in 1915.

The city rolled out the red carpet in front of his private coach when it arrived at the station, and a huge dinner was put on. The Mayor, the Aldermen, the senior clergy of all types, and nearly every rich person in the city attended. The ballyhoo attracted the attention of an eastern European anarchist who worked in the hotel, and figured he could strike a blow against both church and state by lacing the turtle soup with arsenic. While there wasn’t enough in the soup to kill anyone, almost everyone in attendance was taken very ill. Except the new Archbishop, who had attended enough formal, public dinners to know that, when the soup comes around, one takes a spoonful, puts it to ones lips, and returns the spoon and waits for the next course (soup being so messy.) However, he very well could have bought the farm on his first day in town.

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