De Gaulle, General Charles, 1890-1970

De Gaulle had served as a subaltern in PETAIN’s regiment during World War I and after the war had made himself a reputation as a military writer and theorist. Among his works was The Army of the future and in this he predicted the nature of armored warfare and preached the need for mechanization. In 1940 his views were finally recognized and he was given command of the 4th Armored Division which was in the process of being set up and was completely inexperienced. He was given this command on 11 May and told by GEORGES ‘here is a chance to act’ although it was too late. He tried to launch an attack towards Montcornet on 17 May, to stop GUDERIAN’s advance on Laon and the Somme. However the attack was quickly brushed aside but he renewed his attack on 19 May and this time some of his tanks penetrated to within a mile of the German Headquarters. The Germans took the edge off this attack by an aerial bombardment and de Gaulle then received instructions to desist, since the divisions were needed elsewhere. In recognition of his success, de Gaulle was appointed Under-Secretary for War and attended the last desperate Cabinet meetings. He left for England on 17 June and on the following day made a broadcast to the French people ‘Believe me! Nothing is lost for France! The same methods which have defeated us may one day bring us victory.’ The war had to go on in the colonies. He declared the existence of ‘Free France’ and made himself head of that organization. Few people joined him at first because he was regarded as a traitor but he determined to try to annex France’s colonies and continue the fight against Germany. The first attempt was to take the port of Dakar, Operation Menace, in October 1940, but this ended in disaster when the French forces under BOISSON refused to surrender and the British ships off Dakar suffered extensive damage.

De Gaulle also convinced CHURCHILL that the French in Syria were ready to desert Germany but when the joint British and Free French forces invaded in June 1941 they faced stiff opposition from the local French armed forces under the command of General DENTZ. It was only when the Vichy government began to collaborate openly with the Germans, that the French began to look to de Gaulle for leadership. Although the British gave him their full support, de Gaulle did not receive recognition from the US until after the Torch landings. Even then the US wished to promote GIRAUD as an alternative leader so de Gaulle was forced to cooperate with him until 1943 when de Gaulle forced Giraud to resign.

De Gaulle returned to France on 13 June 1944 but his moment of triumph came on 25 August, when he entered a liberated Paris to a tremendous reception by the people. A Committee of National Liberation was set up with de Gaulle as its President but the postliberation situation was still difficult. De Gaulle was not invited to the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam and he resented the fact that France was not treated as an equal partner by the Allies. He was the most dynamic leader France had at the time but he was overly concerned with reestablishing France as a Great Power. Unfortunately his decision to reassert France’s rule in Indo-China led to a very costly war, which the country could ill afford after the war.

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