Roger Degueldre was executed on July 6th, 1962. In commemoration, we are republishing this anonymous Attack! article. It is a sobering account of the OAS, a brave but intellectually compromised and ultimately ineffectual resistance to the vile and sordid betrayal of the European settlers of Algeria by Charles de Gaulle. Please contact me if you know the identity of the author. With the exception of the first, all photo captions are from the original article.
When William Levy left his Algiers apartment on the evening of November 19, 1961, he failed to notice two men lounging nonchalantly on a motor scooter half a block from his door. As Levy walked down the street, the scooter kicked up and began to follow him, very slowly. As it drew even with him, the man behind the driver pulled out a revolver and fired three shots at Levy’s head. Levy collapsed in the gutter, dead instantly. Before they roared off, the executioners scattered black cardboard triangles around Levy’s body.
William Levy should have been more careful. The secretary general of the French Socialist Party in Algiers and an outspoken opponent of Algeria’s White colonists, Levy had drawn the inevitable wrath of the man the black triangles symbolized: Roger Degueldre, leader of the Delta commandos of the OAS. Degueldre had condemned Levy to death two months before. In the week Levy died, numerous Jews and French liberals who opposed the last desperate effort of the European inhabitants of Algeria to preserve their homeland were gunned down mercilessly.
The movement on which the hopes of the European settlers rested, the OAS—the Organisation d’Armée Secrète, or Secret Army Organization—had been founded in early 1961 by a group of exiled French Algerians and Army officers. The OAS’s most effective operatives, Degueldre and his Deltas, were driven by the cold and relentless hatred of men betrayed. They struck again and again, not at the Moslems of the Algerian National Liberation Front, the FLN, whom they had already vanquished, but at the government of Charles de Gaulle, the man who had given them his solemn word that Algeria was to remain “organically France now and forever.”
Strange as it may seem, the nominal commander of the OAS, General Raoul Salan, reacted violently to Levy’s execution. Salan, like a number of the higher officers who led the OAS, considered himself less a man of action than a politique. He passed for something of a socialist, and he had hopes of appealing to liberal and Jewish opinion in metropolitan France. The outcry which French politicians raised at Levy’s death horrified the general, and be wrote a hastily composed letter to Guy Mollet, the Socialist leader, disavowing the act.
The division over the execution of Levy within the higher echelons of the OAS was characteristic of the organization’s split personality during its brief and bitter history. From its beginnings in the first months of 1961 to its death throes little more than a year later, the OAS suffered from the same confused thinking and deficiency of revolutionary will which have frustrated every White political effort since the end of World War II. Yet, despite its flaws, the OAS, in its struggle against the alien-dominated government of France, came closer to success than any other postwar White resistance movement to date.
Roger Degueldre was the antithesis of the politicized officers and civilian theorists from whom he took his orders. Degueldre scorned his leaders’ attempts to rationalize the OAS’s struggle in terms of transcendent philosophical and moral schemes. A man of primitive instincts and loyalties, he laid bare his motives to his commanding officer more than a year before he joined the OAS: “We have all sworn to keep Algeria French. As far as I am concerned, I keep my oath. That means I keep it to the end.”
Roger Degueldre was born in 1925 in a small town near the Belgian border. To this day it remains uncertain whether Degueldre was a member of the French Resistance, as he claimed, or whether, as the French government maintained, he had fought as an enlisted man in the Wallonian Legion of Hitler’s SS. He was tight-lipped about the past, brushing off questioners with a terse formula: “No photos, no letters, no memories.”
After the war Degueldre enlisted in the Foreign Legion, under a nom de guerre which he continued to use until 1958. For the next 15 years he experienced unremitting combat, first in Indochina, then in Algeria. During this time he distinguished himself through his heroism and military skill, advancing through the enlisted ranks to first lieutenant, a rare occurrence in the Foreign Legion.
Like his fellow soldiers, Degueldre had been embittered by the political sellout of the French troops in Indochina. When the Arabs and Berbers of the FLN initiated a campaign of terror against the French of Algeria in 1954, the French Army fought from motives even more compelling than military pride and the national honor.
The soldiers of the French Army—and particularly those of the Foreign Legion, which was headquartered in Algeria—had close ties to the more than one million French Algerians. Many Legionnaires had married local girls, and they planned to stay on as residents of Algiers or Oran after they retired. The pieds noirs, as the Whites of Algeria were known (from the story that their landless forefathers had arrived in Algeria without shoes, hence their “black feet”), idolized the French troops, especially the elite paratroopers and Legionnaires.
When, in May 1958, it became evident that the leaders of the corrupt French Fourth Republic were ready to negotiate with the FLN, the military moved decisively. General Salan, the commander-in-chief of French forces in Algeria, made it plain to the government that the Army would not countenance another sellout like the one in Indochina, four years earlier. The Fourth Republic collapsed. By the end of May the government of France was firmly in the hands of the one man both the French Algerians and the French Army trusted to keep Algeria French: Charles de Gaulle.
De Gaulle’s appeal to French nationalists was based on a number of myths, myths promoted by the small group of alien interlopers who wielded the real power in postwar France. One of the most effective of these myths was the one to the effect that Charles de Gaulle had singlehandedly “saved the honor of France” by rebelling against the legally constituted French government of Marshal Pétain and siding with the Anglo-Soviet Allies against Europe during the Second World War. A concomitant falsehood was the idea that de Gaulle, by presiding over the bloody purges of anticommunist and anti-Gaullist Frenchmen which were perpetrated after the war, had “purified” France.
No one believed this nonsense more fervently than the officers of the French Army. Those who were old enough to have done so had rallied to de Gaulle and the Resistance during the war. Understandably, there were few Pétainists left in the postwar French officer corps. If French soldiers were perplexed by the fact that their Jewish and leftist allies of the Second World War had proved to be France’s bitterest enemies in the succeeding years, they still harbored no doubts as to de Gaulle’s sincerity.
Initially de Gaulle encouraged these illusions by journeying to Algeria, immediately after his election as president, and assuring the French population of his unwavering support. Behind the scenes, however, he was preparing to do the bidding of the men to whom he owed his position: the small nucleus of Jewish “advisers,” media barons, and other assorted wirepullers who called the tune in France and the rest of the Western world, in 1958 as today.
For two years, de Gaulle, with the help of press czars like Pierre Lazareff, the so-called “Napoleon of the French press,” hoodwinked the French people and outmaneuvered his more perceptive opponents. Gradually de Gaulle weakened his assurances on the future of French Algeria. In January 1959 he was speaking of a future Algeria “tightly associated with France.” In September of that year he expressed his preference for “a government of Algeria by Algerians.” After each trial balloon, Army officers who protested were transferred or forced into retirement.
In January 1960, de Gaulle transferred the popular commander-in-chief of the troops in Algeria, General Massu, for questioning his intentions for Algeria. The pieds noirs took to the streets, with the circumspect assistance of anti-Gaullist Army officers. De Gaulle waited them out, and the “Affair of the Barricades,” as it came to be called, failed to topple him from power. But during the succeeding months the ringleaders of the “barricades” affair, as well as a number of additional disaffected officers, gravitated to Madrid, where they laid the groundwork for the OAS.
By early 1961 de Gaulle had largely purged the French Army of suspected opponents and was ready to proceed with the abandonment of Algeria to the FLN. At this point he met unexpected resistance.
The men who had organized the OAS were hardly the “fascists” or “militarists” of the leftist stereotype. In addition to officers who had dabbled in left-wing politics, like General Salan and Colonel Joseph Broizat (who was later to edit the OAS paper The Centurions), there were enthusiasts of Maoist-style guerrilla warfare, notably Colonel Yves Godard and Colonel Roger Gardes. And the cold, cerebral French Algerian student leader and political theorist, Jean-Jacques Susini, delighted in describing himself as a communist.
The ideologically disparate group who headed the OAS were united in an additional respect besides their hatred of de Gaulle and their devotion to a French Algeria: all of them had declared their opposition to any sort of racism. It was the policy of the OAS from its beginning to its end that Algerian racial and cultural problems could be settled only by the complete integration of the ten million Algerian Arabs and Berbers into the French community.
The OAS leaders showed a distinctly philo-Semitic bias. It was thought that the Jews of France could be swayed to the OAS out of sympathy for the plight of the 300,000 Jews of Algeria, who were despised by the Moslem Algerians as grasping usurers. Jean-Jacques Susini, who emerged as the OAS’s chief theorist and propagandist, even appointed a Jew, André Saada, as his secretary.
During the spring and early summer of 1961 the OAS organized clandestinely in Algeria. Colonel Godard and Lieutenant Degueldre, who had left his Foreign Legion regiment for the OAS in February, created efficient intelligence and operational sections in Algiers and Oran. Cells were formed in the cities of metropolitan France. By the middle of the summer the OAS was ready to act.
Degueldre’s Delta commandos struck first at de Gaulle’s police. Inspector Gavoury was stabbed in his apartment in Algiers. Inspector Goldenberg was shot dead as he drove home through the Algiers University tunnel. Soon Gaullist anti-OAS efforts in Algeria had been fought to a standstill.
When the Deltas then began to aim their attacks at political opponents of a French Algeria, the softer members of the OAS high command took umbrage. The reaction of the press to Levy’s death alarmed Salan, who entertained notions of winning leftist support in the fight against de Gaulle. But Salan was not even willing to hazard an attempt against de Gaulle himself. When a group of right-wing freelancers unaffiliated with the OAS narrowly missed assassinating the president in September, Salan hastily assured the press that his men had played no part in the operation.
Even as liberal-minded leaders of the OAS were attempting to placate “public opinion” in France, de Gaulle’s henchmen were readying a new and murderous weapon against the OAS. The barbouzes (“bearded ones” or “spooks”), as they came to be called, were organized under the aegis of the Gaullist Movement for Cooperation, which had as its rationale the promotion of European-Moslem friendship. They were recruited largely from the Civic Action Service, a private army of toughs whose fanatical loyalty to de Gaulle was useful in intimidating his political opponents. They were joined by a number of professional assassins, mostly Arabs and Vietnamese, the human detritus of the former French colonies, as well as a sprinkling of common criminals from the Marseilles waterfront. Few of them were newcomers to the arts of torture and murder.
These assassins had no legal standing and were likewise subject to no legal constraints. Their very existence was denied by the government. They owed loyalty only to de Gaulle, and their mission was to destroy the OAS.
When news of the barbouzes’ existence and purpose leaked out in mid-November, shortly before their arrival in Algiers, Degueldre moved swiftly and decisively. As the barbouzes cleared customs at Maison Blanche Airport outside the city, hidden cameras photographed them, and clerks and officials sympathetic to the OAS recorded the names on their passports. Within hours posters blossomed on walls and fences all over Algiers, bearing the barbouzes’ pictures and current aliases, and the chilling legend: “Barbouzes—wanted dead or alive.”
At first, the Deltas and the barbouzes circled one another warily, each looking for an opening. But quickly the barbouzes found themselves confined to their headquarters in two Algiers villas, the hunted rather than the hunters. On December 11 a Delta team ambushed two barbouze leaders, Lucien Bitterlin and Jacques Goulay, outside their villa, raking their car with submachine gun bullets. Miraculously, only Goulay was wounded.
On the evening of December 31 the barbouzes in Bitterlin’s villa decided to lower their guard for New Year’s Eve. As they celebrated, Degueldre and his men, armed with machine guns and makeshift bazookas, crept into position on neighboring roofs. The whoosh of the first several rockets, wide of the mark, sent the startled merrymakers rushing to their weapons. Before they could return the fire, a rocket struck home, hitting a cache of the barbouzes’ hand grenades, which blew up with a lethal spray of shrapnel. Simultaneously, Degueldre’s machine gunners caught the defenders in a murderous crossfire. The Deltas vanished into the night, leaving a score of barbouzes dead or wounded.
As the barbouzes’ losses mounted, their bitterness toward the OAS exploded in a frenzied orgy of torture and murder. Completely thwarted in their efforts to eliminate the OAS leadership, they vented their fury on whichever pieds noirs fell into their hands, whether they were OAS members or not.
On January 29 the barbouzes kidnapped Alexander Tislenkoff, the son of a Czarist officer who served the OAS as a radio technician. Tislenkoff was brought to a shack behind the barbouzes’ remaining villa on the heights overlooking Algiers. There he was tortured by two Vietnamese and a Tunisian.
Tislenkoff’s ordeal was interrupted by the arrival at the villa of a large crate, shipped from Paris, which his torturers hastened to help unload. The crate contained a large printing press, the arrival of which had been expected. With it the barbouzes intended to churn out anti-OAS, pro-Moslem posters and tracts by the hundreds of thousands.
The barbouzes crowded around, eager to inspect the new machinery. As an Arab barbouze jimmied open the crate, he triggered a booby trap rigged to a 60-pound plastic charge which the Deltas had planted as the crate lay on an Algiers dock.
The villa was completely demolished by the force of the blast. The barbouzes standing near the press were literally blown to bits. Others were crushed to jelly beneath tons of rubble. Altogether nearly 40 of de Gaulle’s picked executioners were eliminated in one bold coup, among them barbouze leader Mario Lobianco, a fanatical leftist who had served with the communist International Brigade in Spain.
Tislenkoff and another pied noir captive managed to escape after the blast, but Jacques Gosselin, a French Algerian uninvolved with the OAS, died in the cellar of the villa, where he was being held captive.
The remaining barbouzes regrouped for a last stand in the Hotel Rajah in downtown Algiers. It was not long before the Delta commandos came to call at their new headquarters.
On February 19 two Army halftracks rolled to a stop in front of the Hotel Rajah. The barbouzes suspected nothing until the Delta commandos, who had commandeered the military vehicles, directed a withering fire at the façade of the Rajah. Badly outgunned, the barbouzes who were able to saved themselves by fleeing out the back doors and windows.
Among the barbouzes who managed to escape was a badly wounded Vietnamese. His comrades brought him to the Maillot Hospital, near the strongly pro-OAS Bab el Oued district. The next day they returned to retrieve him.
As the barbouzes departed the hospital grounds in their Peugeot, Delta gunmen opened fire. The auto careened down the street, out of control, its tires deflated, and crashed head on into a wall. The fuel tank caught fire and exploded. As the Gaullist killers clawed frantically at the doors, the Deltas surrounded the car and pumped submachine gun bullets into the hapless occupants. Shortly, all was still inside the car. As the flames from the burning Peugeot roared aloft, curious pieds noirs from Bab el Oued gathered around. They evinced no sympathy for the rapidly charring barbouzes.
After the Hotel Rajah incident, the barbouzes were destroyed as an effective force in Algeria. But despite Degueldre’s brilliant successes the situation of the OAS was beginning to deteriorate. De Gaulle and his masters still held almost all the cards, and now they plotted new and brutal expedients.
De Gaulle’s first step, on March 7, was to open negotiations with the FLN. Although the FLN had long since ceased to be a military factor in Algeria, France’s alien-controlled press hailed de Gaulle’s move as a master stroke, foreshadowing by 11 years the nearly identical press reaction to the Kissinger-Nixon “peace with honor” in Vietnam. The largely apathetic and self-centered Whites of metropolitan France were assured that the troublesome events in Algeria would soon be at an end and no longer their concern. The majority of Frenchmen acquiesced in de Gaulle’s plans for the gratuitous surrender of Algeria.
The OAS propagandists, however, continued to try to appeal to the sense of fairness of men who, in fact, were the sworn enemies of a White Algeria. Salan, for example, seemed genuinely surprised when the OAS pirate radio broadcasts, to the effect that de Gaulle’s forces were the new SS and Gestapo, failed to find sympathetic Jewish ears. Similarly, when Georges Bidault organized a pro-OAS National Council of Resistance, patterned on the Resistance he had led during the war, he found no support whatsoever.
Once de Gaulle was assured of the French public’s passivity, he moved to take the offensive against the OAS. Since his security forces had made little progress against the OAS infrastructure, de Gaulle’s strategists made plans to move against the organization’s grass-roots civilian base.
Initially it had been difficult to find Army officers and men eager to combat the OAS, let alone French Algerian civilians. But as it became clear that de Gaulle was likely to prevail, he found willing accomplices among the more cynical military careerists.
De Gaulle’s commander in Oran, General Joseph Katz, brought a special ruthlessness to his straggle with the OAS. It was Katz who had promised a day’s leave to any soldier “eliminating a terrorist.” Katz had developed particularly brutal and effective methods of anti-OAS combat. It was Katz’s methods that were applied against the civilians of Algiers.
On March 23, French tanks and armored cars rumbled into the pied noir neighborhood of Bab el Oued. House-to-house searches were carried out with utter disregard for the pieds noirs’ rights as French citizens. Girls and women were stripped naked by leering recruits. European males who aroused suspicion were bound, beaten, and hauled off for further interrogation. Scores of Algerian Frenchmen, including women and children, were shot down by trigger-happy conscripts.
A few days later thousands of French Algerians gathered to protest the Army’s brutality in the Rue d’Isly in downtown Algiers. They were confronted by squads of Arab troops of the French Army. When the peaceful demonstrators refused to disperse, the Arabs in French uniforms opened fire. The fusillade lasted nearly eight minutes. When it was over, 50 men, women, and children lay dead in the street, with hundreds more wounded.
As de Gaulle poured more and more police and troops into Algeria, and media support and popular indifference gave him an ever freer hand, the OAS began to crack under the strain. Lower-level OAS members were increasingly susceptible to police bribes. One by one, the OAS leaders began to be captured.
Degueldre was seized April 7. He had been betrayed by François Lecca, like Degueldre an ex-Legionnaire. Salan was taken on April 20.
As the OAS collapsed, its less honorable members began to flee. André Saada, the Jew who served as Susini’s secretary, attempted to abscond with the OAS treasury. He got no further than the Algiers railroad station, where his bullet-riddled body was discovered the next day.
With the demise of the OAS, the French Army, in adherence to de Gaulle’s orders, refused to assume the Secret Army’s role in protecting the French Algerians. The terrorists of the FLN, emboldened by the recognition the French government had extended them, embarked on a bloody campaign of terror against the fleeing Europeans. During the last several weeks of the European presence in Algeria, more than 3,000 Whites disappeared, a population loss comparable to the kidnapping of three-quarters of a million Americans in the space of a month. Few of them were ever found, but those who were—a schoolgirl repeatedly raped and then stoned to death in a forest outside Algiers, a shopkeeper fiendishly tortured and mutilated—gave ample evidence of the nature of the men to whom de Gaulle was surrendering Algeria.
With the forced exodus of nearly a million Europeans, the Algerian tragedy was nearly ended. Only the final purge remained.
The captured OAS leaders went on trial for their lives before military courts in France. The generals and the colonels enjoyed a certain sympathy in French social and military circles. They were afforded the best legal counsel available. Some, like Salan, were acquitted outright, while de Gaulle commuted the death sentences of the higher-ranking officers to life imprisonment. Almost all the remaining OAS prisoners were pardoned at the time of the leftist student riots in Paris in 1968, when, in the eyes of many of the OAS’s former supporters, de Gaulle once again “saved France.”
Roger Degueldre, however, enjoyed little support among fashionable Parisians. Those supporters of the OAS who thought of themselves as “responsible” shied away from the leader of the dread Delta commandos. Degueldre’s lawyer, Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, who had been brilliant in winning acquittal for Salan, badly botched Degueldre’s defense. On June 28, Degueldre was found guilty on ten counts of murder.
At dawn on July 6, 1962, Degueldre was transported to the execution ground at Fort d’Ivray outside Paris. He told his executioners, “I want to say to all my fellow officers that I am proud to go to the end and die for having held to the oath I made that every fighting officer has sworn at least once, not to deliver Algeria to the FLN.” He declined a blindfold. As the six rifles cracked, Degueldre sang the Marseillaise.
Source: Attack!, no. 57, 1977