August 22, 1962: The Event That Inspired “The Day of the Jackal”

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A Brief History

On August 22, 1962, the French ultra-nationalist terror group known as the OAS (Organisation armée secrete, which means “Secret Army Organization”) made a famous attempt on the life of Charles de Gaulle, president of France.  The OAS had tried and failed to kill de Gaulle before, but this particular attempt became all the more famous as the inspiration for the 1971 Frederick Forsyth novel, The Day of the Jackal.  The book became enough of a best seller to in turn inspire the 1973 major motion picture by the same name, starring Edward Fox and Michel Lonsdale.  The mythical assassin known in the book and movie as “The Jackal” also became part of popular culture by lending its name to Carlos Ramirez, an international terrorist and assassin that became known himself as “The Jackal” or “Carlos the Jackal.”  (See our previous article and associated video, “August 14, 1994: World’s Most Famous Hit Man, Carlos the Jackal, Arrested.”)

Digging Deeper

The OAS was a right wing organization formed in 1961 by senior officers intensely opposed to the referendum on self-determination for Algeria in which voters overwhelmingly approved of independence for Algeria from France.  After the failed “Generals’ Uprising” (also known as the “Algiers putsch”) of 1961, Pierre Lagaillarde and General Raoul Salan among other formed the OAS as a force of French nationalism with a goal of retaining the colony of Algeria.  As Algeria had been in French hands since 1830 (and an integral French state since 1848), most French people more or less considered Algeria as directly part of France.  (For perspective, France had “owned” Algeria longer than the US had owned Texas, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico among other territories.  Can you imagine the public reaction if the Federal Government tried to give Texas or California back to Mexico?)

Chronological map of French Algeria’s evolution.

President de Gaulle was targeted for death by the OAS due to his authorship of the referendum to grant Algeria its independence.  After a bitter 8 year war (1954-1962) for Algerian independence, many French military officers were in no mood to allow the sacrifices of those French soldiers killed and wounded to go for nothing if Algeria became independent.  The core of French military officers and politicians with nationalist and even fascist leanings recruited like minded people that had previously fought against the FLN (Algerian rebel National Liberation Front).  Once Algeria had conclusively gained independence, the OAS disbanded in the face of a lost cause and arrests, but not before the OAS had killed about 2000 people in France and Algeria in terrorist attacks.

The August 22, 1962, attempt on the life of Charles de Gaulle was perpetrated by Lt. Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, an Air Force officer and aeronautical engineer that had invented important missiles.  Bastien-Thiry was a member of an ultra-secret group called “Vieil État-Major” and had contacted the OAS to coordinate the assassination of de Gaulle.  Bastien-Thiry denied ever meeting with the OAS and the exact relationship between the OAS and Bastien-Thiry is not clear.  Bastien-Thiry and his accomplices machine gunned the Citroen DS car that de Gaulle was riding in outside of Paris, striking the partly armored automobile at least 14 times.  Nearly 200 shell casings were found at the crime scene, and 2 of the machine gun bullets punctured the armored tires of de Gaulle’s car, although the car managed to be driven away quickly anyway.  No one in the car was hit with bullets, although some of the rounds that penetrated the vehicle came quite close to hitting de Gaulle.

Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi meeting with Charles de Gaulle in France, 1961

Bastien-Thiry was arrested weeks later when he was returning to France from Britain and was tried for the assassination attempt from January to March of 1963.  He and others were convicted, and Bastien-Thiry was sentenced to death.  Although others that had actually fired at de Gaulle were pardoned by the still alive French president, de Gaulle refused to give Bastien-Thiry any clemency.  Bastien-Thiry was executed by firing squad on March 11, 1963, only a week after his trial ended, a highly unusual course of events.  Not only was the execution rushed, the extraordinary security measures of using 2000 policemen and 35 vehicles to transport Bastien-Thiry to his place of execution was taken.  Among other reasons for refusing clemency, the fact that de Gaulle’s wife was in the car riddled with bullets was cited.  Despite claiming he only intended to capture de Gaulle, the execution took place as planned while Bastien-Thiry refused a blindfold.  Along with the “only wanted to capture de Gaulle” defense, Bastien-Thiry also claimed the righteousness of the attempt on de Gaulle due to the tens of thousands of murders and massacred people at the hands of the FLN.

In contrast to the real life event, the Forsyth novel has the title assassin using a cleverly disguised single shot rifle incorporated into a crutch.  No group of assassins and no machine guns used!  Having personally read the book and seen the movie, the author can recommend both as good entertainment.

1971 UK 1st Edition dustjacket (spine & front)

Should Algeria have been made independent from France?  Did the OAS and Bastien-Thiry have any moral foundation for the terrorist actions they had taken?  Was the decision to shoot Bastien-Thiry before any appeal could be mounted the right thing to do?  Feel free, as always, to give us your opinions on these subjects.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Forsyth, Frederick. The Day of the Jackal. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”0525535861″]

Martin. Reagan. The Martyr: Jean Bastien-Thiry and the Assassination Attempt of Charles de Gaulle.  CreateSpace, 2013.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.