Obituary: General Edmond Jouhaud

On the morning of Saturday 22 April 1961, Algiers woke to the sound of military music. It had a triumphant note. At 6.30am General Maurice Challe, a former commander-in-chief, broadcast the news that he and three other generals had ordered the army to take control in Algeria. This was, he said, to prevent the country from falling into the hands of the nationalist rebels and their Soviet allies. Later in the day the four generals appeared before the excited crowds in the Forum. They were Challe, Raoul Salan, Andre Zeller and Edmond Jouhaud.

Jouhaud was the last surviving member of this quartet (or "quarteron" as de Gaulle famously but inaccurately named them).

De Gaulle was never worried about this "putsch". He had the whole weight of the French state behind him. Jouhaud, sitting in the Villa Hydra, was constantly receiving news of how many army units were failing to respond to Challe's call. The revolt crumbled, Challe and Zelle surrendered, Salan escaped to Spain, but Jouhaud, with great difficulty, made his way to Oran, determined to stay in Algeria. For Jouhaud was the only one of the four generals to be Algerian-born. He could plead, as the others could not, that his country was being taken away from him.

He defended his actions by referring to the example of Marshal Lyautey, in Morocco. When, in 1914, he was ordered to evacuate that territory, Lyautey replied that he had committed himself personally to Morocco in the name of France, that he had given his word to the Moroccan people that they would not desert them. Therefore he could not obey the order that he had received.

Jouhaud had made it clear that he could not abandon Algeria. In 1960, before the situation began to deteriorate, a number of prominent Gaullists had approached him with the suggestion that he should organise an Algeria which would be made up of the French and those Algerians who chose France rather than the nationalists. Nothing came of this, but Jouhaud believed that the cause of French Algeria was not lost.

After the failure of the "putsch", he became one of the leaders of the secret army (the Organisation de l'Armee Secrete, or OAS) which had been founded early in 1961 and which brought together those, military and civilian, who still believed in French Algeria. Violence and terrorism were their weapons and they accomplished many spectacular acts (including a big bank robbery). Although Jouhaud restrained his followers from the more violent forms of racism, he was the undoubted leader of the OAS in the Oran region. He was captured on 25 March 1962 and a trial before a military court was hastily arranged. He was sentenced to death on 13 April.

Ten days later, however, his comrade in the putsch and in the OAS General Salan was given a mere prison sentence. De Gaulle was furious, since Salan was the leader of the OAS, whereas Jouhaud was only No 2. But in his desire to make an example of mutinous generals he refused to pardon Jouhaud, and ordered his execution on a Saturday morning, at dawn.

Only on the preceding Friday were Jouhaud's lawyers able to secure a stay of execution. Jouhaud himself was not immediately told and he spent the night assuming it was his last.

Finally Jouhaud agreed to sign a document ordering the OAS to cease all activity. This admission of defeat, and the persuasive powers of several ministers, caused de Gaulle to relent. Jouhaud was told that he would not be executed, but it was five months before the order was made official. When he joined his fellow "putschists" in prison, Jouhaud understandably remarked, "I have been on a long journey."

He was born in 1905, the son of schoolteachers in the Oran region. He joined the air force and after the defeat of 1940 he joined that section of the French forces that were in active resistance (the Organisation de Resistance de l'Armee). He was involved in air liaison with Britain, with organising the passage across the Pyrenees of those who wished to join Free France and, using his special knowledge, he attempted to make North African workers in the Bordeaux region into resistance fighters. He was also involved in the tragic attempt to get the Resistance leader Pierre Brossolette into England, in February 1944, an attempt which led to Brossolette's capture and death.

After the war Jouhaud commanded the French air force in Indo-China, and in 1958 he became air force commander in the Algiers region, then chief of air staff in Algeria, before his resignation in 1960.

He benefited from the amnesty of 1968, and in 1982, in spite of his great age, he was placed on the air force reserve list by President Mitterrand. In 1961, Salan had endeavoured to persuade him to go to Spain. Jouhaud refused.

"I want to be buried in my native soil of Algeria," he replied, "not in some ditch in Vincennes." He avoided Vincennes, but he died in France.

Douglas Johnson

Edmond Jouhaud, air force officer: born Bou-Sfer, near Oran, Algeria 2 April 1905; died Royan, Charente Maritime 4 September 1995.

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