Notable Historical Trials IV – Louis Riel

This chapter in the Folio Society‘s collection of Historical Trials moves to Canada.  As settlers moved into the Northwest, they came into contact with Indian tribes and a group of mixed race hunters.  Louis Riel, an unbalanced man who claimed to have a divine mission to lead the natives against the government, took the lead against the government.

The insurgents fought a few skirmishes and were defeated once the government brought its force to bear.  Riel and some of the Indian leaders were hanged.

English: Louis Riel, after a carte de visite f...

English: Louis Riel, after a carte de visite from 1884. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The main impact was political – Riel’s claims that the government was unrepresentative and not acting in the interest of the original residents of the Northwest was more or less true.  The fact that Riel was not allowed to have a Catholic juror in the trial because a rallying point for the French-Canadians in Quebec.

Not much of this helped the original residents of the Northwest – the settlers continued to arrive and the old ways were not able to survive for long.

Dieppe – Denis & Shelagh Whitaker

The Dieppe Raid was an attempt to strike across the channel at the Germans in 1942. The operation was intended to accomplish several purposes – give experience to the troops, practice a landing, release pressure on the Russians by diverting troops to France.  It was a disaster, with the attacking forces suffering severe casualties and most of the remainder being captured.

In a way this is two books in one. Brigadier General Denis Whitaker was there – he was a Captain and was the senior officer in his brigade to survive wounds, death or capture. So part of this book is his personal narrative of the workup to the operation and the raid itself, and his personal view of matters.  Around this Shelagh Whitaker writes a conventional history of the planning and execution of the operation.

Most of the book covers the politics of the Allies and how it impacted the raid.  In 1942, the Russians were hard pressed, Rommel was pressing on Alamein, and the Americans wanted to get into action as soon as possible but were leery of being diverted into peripheral operations.  The English had agreed to a 1943 invasion before Rommel’s offensive into Egypt, but they didn’t really want to.  There was also a danger that doing nothing would cause either the Russians to leave the war, or the Americans to concentrate on the Pacific or both.

The first raid on Dieppe was cancelled due to weather.  When Churchill sold the US and the Russians on the invasion of Africa, Operation Torch, and a major cross-channel raid, the only one they had ready was a repeat of the Dieppe raid.

The original plan had a number of flaws, and rushing to re-do it didn’t improve anything.  Public news broadcasts had put the Germans on alert, and the invasion convoy collided with a German convoy, removing all surprise.  The shelling and air preparation was inadequate and partially cancelled. The tanks were often unable to move across the rocky beach, throwing tracks.  Those that made it ran up to walls that kept them from advancing inland.  The men were raked with machine guns and grenades dropped from the cliffs above.

The conclusion shows the efforts to shuck responsibility.  The authors try to show that the Canadians did not die in vain. The operation preserved the Alliance, caused troops to be deployed to France, and so on.  Some of these may be a bit forced, but I can understand why the Brigadier would want to find some justification for such severe losses.