Assassination Of Alexander – Marseilles 1934

It is interesting that the Yugoslavs experienced the efficiency of the German Mauser Schnellfeuer pistols in a tragic way in the same time when the pistol testing was in progress.
Exact moment of assassination

Namely, the leaders of the Croatian Ustashi emigration and the Bulgarian terrorist organization VMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), made a decision in August 1934, in Rome, to kill the Yugoslav king Alexander I Karadjordjevic (1888-1934). They found his visit to France in October next as the right time for the assassination, and the executors were to be Velicko Dimitrov Kerin, alias Vlado Cernozmski (1897-1934), a member of VMRO, and Mijo Kralj (1908-1940), Ivan Rajic (1903-1944) and Zvonimir Pospisil (1904-1939) who all were the members of the Croatian Ustashi organization.

Kerin and Rajić had a task to kill the King in Marseille and, if failed, Kralj and Pospisil would make a new attempt in Paris.

Stana Godina bought the pistols and hand grenades for this purpose in Trieste in the famous store ”Angelini and Bernadon”. Subsequent investigations revealed that the company ”Angelini and Bernadon” had ordered the 7.63 mm Mauser Schnellfeuer pistols in Oberndorf  already in August 1932.

Kerin, Kralj, Pospisl and Rajic met in Zürich on September 28, 1934 and  on the same night they proceeded to Lausanne. In Lausanne, on October 29th, they had old clothing and spare weapons packed in a suitcase and left it in the wardrobe of the railway station, and proceeded to France afterwards.

During the police investigation, colonel Jaquillard, the police chief of the Vaud canton found the suitcase and handed it to Robert Borel, a French inspector of the National Security (Sûreté Nationale), who coordinated the investigation in Switzerland.

Lieutenant Colonel Piole knocking down the assassin with sword blows

The suitcase contained two pistols, one of the Mauser system and the other of the Walhter. According to the French Court’s expert Gatimel, ’’this weapon was quite different of other models (the pistols sequestered in France) but of the same, German manufacture. It was a revolver (sic!) 7.65 mm Mauser automatic pistol with 8-round box magazine and one 6.35 Walther automatic pistol with 6-round box magazine’’. All this indicates that the weapons found in Lausanne were the Mauser 7.65 mm Mod.1910/1914 and the Walhter 6.35 mm Model 9 self-loading pocket pistols. 

After crossing the Swiss border to France, Rajić and Pospisil went to Paris and Kerin and Kralj proceeded to Marseille. The last two assassins stayed at a hotel ”Modern” in Aix-en-Provence, thirty kilometres away from Marseille, where on October 8 1934, they received the weapons.

Velicko Kerin, armed with the Mauser Schnellfeuer pistol serial number 7391, the Walther PP pistol serial number 762,782, and Italian hand grenade P.O, on October 9 1934 stayed in Marseilles, near the Chamber of Commerce – Le Palais de la Bourse. Around 2P.M. he encountered the pageant ahead of which was a platoon of eighteen Garde Républicaine Mobile horsemen. In the car following the horsemen were the members of the Sûreté Nationale, in the next one were Mr. Jean Berthoin (1895-1979), ’’Directeur Général’’, and Mr. Sisteron, the ’’Contrôleur général de la Sûreté Nationale’’, and behind them moved the black Delage with registration plate 6068 CA 6, owned by Prefecture des Bouches du Rhône. On the right back seat King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was seating, and by his side was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, Jean Louis Barthou (1862-1934).

On the opposite side there were sitting General Alphonse Joseph Georges (1875-1951), a member of ”Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre”. The car was driven by Froissac, and by his side was a member of Security team, Henry Berthelemy. Somewhat ahead and on the right side of the Delage was riding Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre-Henri-Jules Piollet (1879-1966) of the 141e Regiment d’Infanterie Alpine, and on the left side was the commander of the Legion de la Garde Républicaine Mobile, Lieutenant-Colonel Vigouroux.

Suddenly, Kerin bounced out of the crowd of the observers, jumped on the right sidestep of the car and fired his Mauser pistol killing King Alexander and terribly wounding Barthou and General Georges. Gendarme Seraphin Rignot, who was on duty in the street Canebière, tried to stop the assassin and wrest his weapons, but managed to seize only spare 20 Round Detachable Box Magazine. Calestin Galy, a policeman was also rushing on Kerin but was wounded in the chest with shots fired from the Mauser pistol which brought to his death next year. In that time, the lieutenant Piollet managed to turn his horse and with the Model 1882 Infantry Officer’s sword (Manufacture d’Armes Chatellerault, mars 1888) and gave the assassin a few strokes; simultaneously, the policeman Debillon fired his revolver  and hit Kerin at head and flank. The assassin fell on the ground being literally lynched by the furious crowd.

The assassin’s weapon on display at the Belgrade Military Museum

During the investigation, the French police established that the assassin fired 10 shots: 5 at King Alexander, 4 at General George, and one at policeman Calestin Galy, while the French Minister of Foreign Affairs was wounded by the bullet 8mm/92 (8×27 mm) from the official French modèle d’Ordonnance revolver Mle. 1892. However, this report was not available to the public until 1974. From unknown reasons, Barthou refused the assistance of a gendarme, and took a taxi to the ’’Hôtel-Dieu’’, Pl Calvaire. However, the bullet had cut his left arteria brachialis, resulting in over bleeding which caused his death. King Aleksandar was transported to the nearby building of Préfecture, Rue de Rome, where it was found out that he was dead; General Georges was transported to the military hospital (L’Hopital militaire, Rue de Lodi).

At the time of the assassination, Mijo Kralj mingled with a mass of people at the Chambre de Commerce. Being unnoticed he went to Aix-en-Provence and hided his Schnellfeuer Mauser and hand grenades in the mattress in a hotel room. From the hotel he got back to Marseille. From Marseilles, Kralj took a taxi for Fontainebleau, and bought a ticket for Évian-les-Bains. However, on the railway station gendarme François Dire asked him for his identity card and tried to arrest him but Mijo Kralj escaped to the surrounding forests. However, on October 15 ’’commissaire’’ George (Gill) Houdeau arrested him in Melun, 20 km south of Fontainebleau. There was a hand grenade with him whilst he allegedly lost his 7.65 mm Walther PP in the forest of Fontainebleau.

But the next day, October 16th Pierre Monndanel,’’Contrôleur Général de la Brigade criminelle de la Prefecture de police de Paris’’, during the search of the room no. 23 in the Hotel ”Modern”, Aix-en-Provence, found Mijo Kralj’s Mauser Schnellfeuer with serial number 7307, one 10-round 7.63×25 mm calibre Detachable Box Magazine, three 20-round 7.63×25 mm calibre Detachable Box Magazine, and two hand grenades P.O.

Automatic Mauser and Walter PP in the window of the military museum

When Rajić and Pospisil heard that the assassination in Marseilles had been successfully accomplished, in the evening of October 9 they went by train from Paris to Évian-les-Bains, intending to go to Switzerland. 

   Inspector Dumont, who discovered that Rajić and Pospisil had bought the tickets for Evian and Lausanne, phoned the ”commissaire divisionnaire’’ Paul Petit, head of the department at the border post of Annemasse, (”chef de service au poste frontière d’Annemasse, Haute-Savoie”, and the ”commissaire divisionnaire” Mallet, and warned them about the suspected persons. Rajic and Pospisil were arested on October 10 in Thonon-les-Bains. The arrest was performed by Henri Morel, ”commissaire” in Thonon- les-Bains, commissaire divisionnaire Petit and Police Sergeant Menie. Another pair of the assassins confessed that the weapons had not been with them, but were left on the Paris station on 6th October. Due to this information, Brunet, the inspector of National Security found the suitcase on October 15 in the wardrobe of the Saint-Lazare station, in Paris listed No. 9891 hiding two pistols Mauser Schnellfeuer with serial numbers 7279 and 7323, one pistol 7.65 mm Walther PP ser. no. 761,312, one pistol 7.65 mm Walther PPK with serial number 762,673, four Italian hand grenades P.O. and ammunition.

At the trial in Aix-en-Provence, the expertise of weapons identification was conducted by Dr. Berrou an expert in arms, Paul Gatimel from the ”Gatimel Armurier”, 28 Rue Paradis, Marseille, chef engineer of l’Artillerie marine’’ Bernard Capdeville, and engineer Dubourg from ”Corps des Service Ingénieurs des Travaux publics”. They concluded that hand grenades were not the French makes, but did not find out their exact origin, which sounds strange knowing that the Italian grenades P.O. were mass used during WWI.

According to a confidential document no. 124 of 1936, two months after  the trial, Archives Départementales des Bouches-Du-Rhône – Centre d’Aix en Provence, handed the documentation, weapons of the assassins, complete ammunition, cartridge cases, and the black Delage to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The car was transported from Marseilles to the seaport of Split with cargo steamship Vis (ex Renteria) and further on to Belgrade by train, where it arrived in the evening of 27th April 1936.

Reconstructed weapons used during the assassination

On 25 August 1936,  Head Office of H.M. Court donated the admiral’s uniform worn by king Alexander on the day of the assassination to the Military Museum in Belgrade together with black Delage bearing registration plate  6068 CA 6. Also donated were four 7.63 mm Mauser Schnellfeuer pistols with serial numbers 7391, 7307, 7279 and 7323 (the two with and the two without detachable shoulder stock/holster);  one 7.65 mm Mauser M1910/1914 pistol (serial number is not recorded); one 6.35 mm Walther Model 9 pistol (serial number is not recorded); one 7.65 mm pistol Walther PPK pistol with ser. nr. 762.673; two 7.65 mm Walther PP pistols with ser. nr. 761.312 and 762.782; eight Italian hand grenades Petardo Offensivo P.O;  six 20-round 7.63×25 mm calibre Detachable Box Magazines – ’’large calibre Detachable Box Magazines’’; two 10-round 7.63×25 mm calibre Detachable Box Magazines – ’’small calibre Detachable Box Magazines’’; fifteen 7.65×17 mm calibre Box Magazines; two 6.35×17 mm calibre Box Magazines; one cardboard ammunition box; cartridges and cases7.63×25 mm, 7.65×17 mm, 6.35×17 mm, 8×27 mm Mle.92 (for French service revolver d’ Ordonnance Modèle 1892) and 11x17R Mle.73 (for French service revolver Chamelot-Delvigne –MAS- Model 1873).

On August 28 1936, all exhibits were recorded in the book of donors of the Military Museum under inventory number 48. When a new permanent exhibition was opened at the Military Museum on April 20 1937, most of these exhibits were displayed in a special hall named ’’King Alexander I of Yugoslavia’’. Sadly, immediately after the liberation of Belgrade from the German occupation, on October 20 1944, all pistols disappeared from the Military Museum and have never been found.

Serbian extended version

Branko Bogdanovic

Branko Bogdanović

Branko Bogdanović

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