It was Christmas night, 1942. For a man facing execution by firing squad, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle was in a jovial mood, almost elated. He reassured his mother in his final letter to her that the rifles were not going to be loaded. “They will not shoot me. I have liberated France,” the 20-year-old blithely told his confessor. He insisted the agreed-upon plan was in place: “The bullets will be blank cartridges.” A doctor would declare him dead. He would slip away, to return at the appropriate time, a hero of the French nation. But the bullets that ripped into him the next morning were very real.
Bonnier de La Chapelle’s death in the bright Mediterranean sunshine lighting up Hussein-Dey Square in Algiers, French Algeria, was the second impossible entanglement for the Allies in their war against the Axis forces in North Africa solved by a bullet.
American-led forces had taken French North Africa, from Algeria to Morocco, in a few short days of battle against French armed forces, after an invasion starting on November 8. The Allies now held 1,200 miles of Mediterranean and Atlantic coastline. The worst fighting had taken place in Casablanca between warships, but even that had ended within three days. Algiers, the major city of the French territories, had fallen virtually without resistance, in large measure thanks to the work of United States’ secret agents, who, in the first American black operations prior to battlefield combat, had blunted the French military’s capacity to do battle and will to fight. [That story is told in parts one and two of this series,