Year
1942

French Admiral Jean Darlan is assassinated

On this day, a pro-Free French assassin in Algeria kills Jean Francois Darlan, French admiral and collaborator in the Vichy government. He was 61.

Born on August 7, 1881, in Nerac, France, Darlan graduated from the French naval academy in 1902, and advanced quickly through the ranks, reaching the position of admiral of the fleet in June 1939. He was made commander in chief of the French navy two months later.

Upon the surrender of France to the German invaders in June of 1940, Darlan let it be known that he was inclined to sail the fleet to Great Britain, to keep it out of German hands. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill conceded, “…I would cheerfully crawl on my hands and knees for a mile if by doing so I could get him to bring that fleet of his into the circle of Allied forces.”

But it was not to happen. Darlan was quickly “bought off” by a power position: He was made navy minister and then supreme commander of all Vichy French military forces under Philippe Petain’s government. He became a collaborator with the German puppeteers (even passing on to the Germans sensitive U.S. military information that had landed in the French embassy in Washington, D.C.), and, to add insult to injury, ordering most of the French fleet to North Africa to avoid Allied capture. (The Royal Navy at Oran would nevertheless attack it shortly thereafter.)

In November 1942, when Anglo-American forces launched its North African campaign, Operation Torch, Darlan was in Algiers, Algeria, visiting his seriously ill son. General Dwight Eisenhower took advantage of Darlan’s proximity by ordering American diplomat Robert Murphy and Major General Mark Clark to convince Darlan to aid the Allies in their invasion (Darlan had hinted that he might switch his allegiance again in exchange for heavy financial aid for France from the United States). Darlan vacillated, in part because he still distrusted and disliked the British because of the attack on his fleet at Oran, but in light of the German invasion of France, which the Vichy government’s concessions were supposed to prevent, he eventually acquiesced. He ordered a Vichy-force ceasefire to permit the Allied landings in North Africa to move forward unopposed. Darlan finally signed an armistice with the Allies, folding his Vichy forces into the Free French military.

Nevertheless, Darlan was never fully trusted by the Free French; he was deemed too much of an opportunist. On Christmas Eve, 1942, he was shot dead by Bonnier de la Chapelle, a Charles de Gaulle follower who was training to be a British agent. Despite the help Darlan ultimately provided, the Allies rejoiced. “Darlan’s murder, however criminal, relieved the Allies of their embarrassment at working with him,” admitted Churchill.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

KKK founded

In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of Confederate veterans convenes to form a secret society that they christen the “Ku Klux Klan.” The KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction ...read more

War of 1812 ends

The Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America is signed by British and American representatives at Ghent, Belgium, ending the War of 1812. By terms of the treaty, all conquered territory was to be returned, and commissions were ...read more

Fire ravages Library of Congress

A devastating fire at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., destroys about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including most of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, sold to the institution in 1815. The Library of Congress was established in 1800, when President John Adams ...read more

Soviet tanks roll into Afghanistan

On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978. As midnight approached, the Soviets organized a massive military airlift into Kabul, involving an estimated 280 transport aircraft and three ...read more

Viet Cong bomb Brinks Hotel

Two Viet Cong agents disguised as South Vietnamese soldiers leave a car filled with explosives parked at the Brinks Hotel in Saigon. The hotel was housing U.S. officers. Two Americans were killed in the blast and 65 Americans and Vietnamese were injured. Ambassador Maxwell ...read more

Bob Hope gives his last show in Vietnam

Comedian Bob Hope gives what he says is his last Christmas show to U.S. servicemen in Saigon. Hope was a comedian and star of stage, radio, television, and over 50 feature films. Hope was one of many Hollywood stars who followed the tradition of travelling overseas to entertain ...read more

Curt Flood challenges MLB reserve clause

On this day in 1969, center fielder Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals writes a letter to Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of major league baseball, protesting the Cardinals’ decision to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies and asking to be made a free agent. In 12 seasons with ...read more

Fire destroys Jefferson library

On this day in 1851, a fire sweeps through the Library of Congress and destroys two-thirds of Thomas Jefferson’s personal literary collection. Jefferson, who died in 1826, had offered to sell his personal library to Congress after the Congressional library, along with the rest of ...read more

Kit Carson born in Kentucky

Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson, one of the most celebrated heroes of the American West, is born in Richmond, Kentucky. Shortly after Kit Carson was born, his family moved west to Howard County, Missouri, an ideal spot for a future frontiersman to learn his trade. By the early ...read more

Woody Allen marries Soon-Yi Previn

On this day in 1997, Woody Allen, the 62-year-old Academy Award-winning writer-director of such movies as Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters, marries 27-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his former girlfriend Mia Farrow, in a small ceremony in Venice, Italy. ...read more

Volcanic eruption sweeps away train

In a highly unusual chain of events, a volcanic eruption in New Zealand causes a flood that sweeps away a train filled with passengers on this day in 1953. More than 150 people lost their lives in this improbable disaster. At the top of a 9,000-foot volcano, Mount Ruapehu, on New ...read more

Islamic terrorists hijack a French plane

On this day in 1994, four Islamic extremists hijack Air France Flight 8969 in Algiers. The terrorists then flew the plane to Marseilles with the permission of the French and Algerian governments, givenin part because French special forces would be ready to perform a rescue ...read more

Bombardment of Fort Fisher begins

On this day in 1864,a Union fleet under Admiral David Dixon Porter begins a bombardment of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Although an impressive display of firepower, the attack failed to destroy the fort; a ground attack the next day did not succeed either. Fort Fisher guarded the ...read more

McCarran-Walter Act goes into effect

The McCarran-Walter Act takes effect and revises U.S. immigration laws. The law was hailed by supporters as a necessary step in preventing communist subversion in the United States, while opponents decried the legislation as being xenophobic and discriminatory. The act, named ...read more