Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, France, on 22nd November, 1890. The son of a headmaster of a Jesuit school, he was educated in Paris. He was a good student and at the Military Academy St. Cyr, he graduated 13th in the class of 1912.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant, the 6 feet 5 tall de Gaulle joined an infantry regiment commanded by Colonel Henri-Philippe Petain in 1913.

In the First World War de Gaulle was wounded twice in the first few months of the conflict. Promoted to the rank of captain in February, 1915, de Gaulle fought at Verdun where he was wounded again and on 2nd March, 1916 was captured by the German Army. Over the next 32 months he was held in several prisoner of war camps and made five unsuccessful attempts to escape.

After the Armistice de Gaulle was assigned to a Polish division being formed in France where he served under Maxime Weygand. He fought against the Red Army during the Civil War and won Poland's highest military decoration, Virtuti Militari.

De Gaulle lectured at the French War College where he worked closely with Henri-Philippe Petain. Over the next few years the two men demanding a small, mobile, highly mechanized army of professionals.

De Gaulle's military ideas appeared in his book, The Army of the Future (1934). In the book he also criticized the static theories of war that was exemplified by the Maginot Line. The book was unpopular with the politicians and the military who favoured the idea of a mass army of conscripts during war. In 1936 de Gaulle was punished for his views by having his name taken of the promotion list.

In 1938 de Gaulle published France and Her Army. This book caused a disagreement with Henri-Philippe Petain who accused de Gaulle of taking credit for work done by the staff of the French War College.

On the outbreak of the Second World War de Gaulle took over command of the 5th Army's tank force in Alsace. He soon became frustrated with the military hierarchy who had failed to grasp the importance of using tanks in mass-attacks with air support.

When the German Army broke through at Sedan he was given command of the recently formed 4th Armoured Division. With 200 tanks, de Gaulle attacked the German panzers at Montcornet on 17th May, 1940. Lacking air support, de Gaulle made little impact on halting the German advance.

De Gaulle was more successful at Caumont (28th May) when he became the only French commanding officer to force the Germans to retreat during the German Invasion of France.

On the 5th June, 1940, the French prime minister, Paul Reynaud, sacked Edouard Daladier and appointed de Gaulle as his minister of war. De Gaulle also visited London but when he returned to France on 16th June he discovered the Henri-Philippe Petain had ousted Paul Reynaud as premier and was forming a government that would seek an armistice with Germany. In danger of being arrested by the new French government, de Gaulle returned to England. The following day he made a radio broadcast calling for French people to continue fighting against the German Army.

Whereas as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the USA recognized Vichy France Winston Churchill refused and backed de Gaulle as leader of the "Free French". Henri-Philippe Petain responded by denouncing de Gaulle. On 4th July, 1940, a court-martial in Toulouse sentenced him in absentia to four years in prison. At a second court-martial on 2nd August, 1940, sentenced him to death.

De Gaulle made attempts to unify the resistance movements in France. In March 1943 Jean Moulin, Charles Delestraint and Andre Dewavrin managed to unite eight major resistance movements under de Gaulle's leadership. However, this good work was undermined when in June, 1943, both Delestraint and Moulin were both arrested by the Gestapo.

On 30th May 1943, de Gaulle moved to Algeria. The following month the French Committee of National Liberation (FCNL) was established with de Gaulle and Henri Giraud as co-presidents. De Gaulle had difficulty working with his co-president and by July, 1943, had limited Giraud's power to command of the armed forces.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were furious when de Gaulle's announced on 26 May, 1944, that the FCNL will now be known as the Provisional Government of the French Republic. Roosevelt and Churchill refused to recognize de Gaulle's action and decided to exclude him from the planning of Operation Overlord.

Despite objections from Britain and the USA, De Gaulle's Provisional Government was recognized by Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia and Norway. On 13th July, 1944, the governments of Britain and the USA also agreed that de Gaulle could help administer the liberated portions of France.

De Gaulle reached France from Algiers on 20th August 1944. De Gaulle and his 2nd Armoured Division was allowed to join the USA Army when it entered Paris on 25th August. At a public speech later that day he announced that the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) would be integrated into the French Army and the militia would be dissolved. He also offered posts in his government to leaders of the resistance. Those who took office included Georges Bidault, Henry Frenay and Charles Tillon.

De Gaulle was upset by not being invited to the Yalta Conference but he was allowed to represent France as one of the four countries to sign the final instrument of surrender with Germany. France was also given one of the four occupation zones in Germany.

On 13th November, 1945, the first Constituent Assembly unanimously elected de Gaulle as head of the French government. He held the post until resigning on 20th January, 1946. He then formed the right-wing group, the Rally of the French People (RFP). After initial success it declined in popularity and de Gaulle left it in 1953 and it was disbanded two years later.

After his retirement from politics de Gaulle wrote the first three volumes of his memoirs. He returned to politics in 1958 when he was elected president during the Algerian crisis. He granted independence to all 13 French African colonies but the Algerian War continued until 1962.

De Gaulle decided that France should have its own atom bomb and repeatedly blocked Britain's attempts to join the European Economic Community. In 1966 de Gaulle withdrew France from the integrated military command of NATO.

Following student riots against his government and negative results in a referendum, de Gaulle resigned from office in April, 1969. In retirement he completed his memoirs. Charles De Gaulle died on 9th November, 1970.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) General Charles de Gaulle, attempted to halt the German invasion of France at Abbeville. He wrote about these events in his book, The Call to Honour (1955)

By the evening (28th May, 1940) the objective was reached. Only Mont Caubert still held out. There were a great many dead from both sides on the field. Our tanks had been sorely tried. Barely a hundred were still in working order. But all the same, an atmosphere of victory hovered over the battlefield. Everyone held his head high. The wounded were smiling. The guns fired gaily. Before us, in a pitched battle, the Germans had retired.

Alas! In the course of the Battle of France, what other ground had been or would be won, except this strip of fourteen kilometres deep? If the State had played its part; if, while there was time, it had directed its military system towards enterprise, not passivity; if our leaders had in consequence had at their disposal the instruments for shock and manoeuvre which had been often suggested to the politicians and to the High Command; then our arms would have had their chance, and France would have found her soul again.

(2) Robert Boothby, Boothby: Recollections of a Rebel (1978)

Within hours of the French capitulation, Louis Spears invited me to lunch to meet what he called 'a French Brigadier whom I have just brought over from Bordeaux. The Brigadier was de Gaulle; and the lunch party consisted of Spears, his wife (Mary Borden), de Gaulle, Mme. de Gaulle, and myself. Spears told us about their flight, how they had run out of petrol and had to make a forced landing in the Channel Islands with two minutes to spare. De Gaulle, who was going to make a broadcast that night, told us that he thought of saying: "France has lost a battle, but not the war." We all thought that this was very good. Later on Spears and de Gaulle quarrelled bitterly when Spears was head of a British Mission to the Levant, and tried - rightly - to ease the French out of Syria and the Lebanon. There is no doubt that, in addition to being a brave soldier and, with Liddell Hart, the most brilliant military historian of our time, Spears was a natural intriguer.

What is equally beyond doubt is that, if he had not pulled de Gaulle into that aeroplane at Bordeaux, de Gaulle would never have been heard of. Spears, and Spears alone, created de Gaulle; and in so doing made history. De Gaulle knew it, and resented it. When Spears took him to see Churchill, the latter said: "Why have you brought this lanky, gloomy Brigadier?" Spears replied: "Because no one else would come."

(3) General Charles de Gaulle, BBC radio broadcast (18th June, 1940)

I, General de Gaulle, now in London, call on all French officers and men who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, with or without their arms; I call on all engineers and skilled workmen from the armaments factories who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, to get in touch with me. Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not and shall not die.

(4) General Charles de Gaulle, wrote about Lend-Lease in his book, The Call to Honour (1955)

On March 9th, at dawn, Mr. Churchill came and woke up to tell me, literally dancing with joy, that the American Congress had passed the "Lend-Lease Bill," which had been under discussion for several weeks. There was, indeed, matter of comfort here for us, not only from the fact that the belligerents were from now on assured of receiving from the United States the material necessary for fighting, but also because America, by becoming, in Roosevelt's phrase, "the arsenal of the democracies," was taking a gigantic step toward war.

(5) General Charles de Gaulle, The Call to Honour (1955)

Jean Moulin was dropped by parachute in France during the night of January 1st. He carried credentials from me appointing him as my delegate for the non-occupied zone of Metropolitan France and instructing him to endure unity of action among the elements of the resistance there. This would mean that his authority would not, in principle, be disputed. It was therefore agreed that it was he who would be the centre of our communications in France, first with the South Zone, then, as soon as possible, with the North Zone.

(6) General Charles de Gaulle, The Call to Honour (1955)

Churchill had made for himself a rule to do nothing important except in agreement with Roosevelt. Though he felt, more than any other Englishman, the awkwardness of Washington's methods, though he found it hard to bear the conditions of subordination in which United States aid placed the British Empire, and though he bitterly resented the tone of supremacy which the President adopted towards him, Churchill had decided, once for all, to bow to the imperious necessity of the American alliance.

(7) Winston Churchill, letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt (16th December, 1941)

The German setback in Russia, the British successes in Libya, the moral and military collapse of Italy, above all the the declarations of war exchanged between Germany and the United States, must strongly affect the mind of France and the French Empire. Now is the time to offer to Vichy and to French North Africa a blessing or a cursing. A blessing will consist in a promise by the United States and great Britain to re-establish France as a Great Power with her territories undiminished.

Our relations with General de Gaulle and the Free French movement will require to be reviewed. Hitherto the United States have entered into no undertakings similar to those comprised in my correspondence with him. Through no particular fault of his own movement has created new antagonism in French minds. Any action which the united states may now feel able to take in regard to him should have the effect, inter alia, of redefining our obligations to him and France so as to make these obligations more closely dependent upon the eventual effort by him and the French nation to rehabilitate themselves.

(8) James F. Byrnes, as Secretary of State, attended the Yalta Conference on 4th February, 1945.

In the fall of 1944 the Soviet Union and the Provisional Government of France had entered into a treaty of friendship. It was immediately obvious at Yalta, however, that the treaty and the friendly words exchanged over it by the diplomats had not changed in any degree Marshal Stalin's opinion on the contribution of France to the war. He thought France should play little part in the control of Germany, and stated that Yugoslavia and Poland were more entitled to consideration than France.

When Roosevelt and Churchill proposed that France be allotted a zone of occupation, Stalin agreed. But it was clear he agreed only because the French zone was to be taken out of the territory allotted to the United States and the United Kingdom. And he especially opposed giving France a representative on the Allied Control Council for Germany. He undoubtedly concurred in the opinion expressed to the President by Mr. Molotov that this should be done "only as a kindness to France and not because she is entitled to it."

"I am in favor of France being given a zone," Stalin declared, "but I cannot forget that in this war France opened the gates to the enemy." He maintained it would create difficulties to give France a zone of occupation and a representative on the Allied Control Council and refuse the same treatment to others who had fought more than France. He said France would soon demand that de Gaulle attend the Big

Three's Conferences.

Churchill argued strongly in favor of France's being represented on the Council. He said the British public would not understand if questions affecting France and the French zone were settled without her participation in the discussion. It did not follow, as Stalin had suggested, that France would' demand de Gaulle's participation in the conferences of the Big Three, he added. And, in his best humor, Mr. Churchill said the conference was "a very exclusive club, the entrance fee being at least five million soldiers or the equivalent."

(9) Harold Macmillan, speech in the House of Commons (31st July 1961)

Therefore, after long and earnest consideration, Her Majesty's Government have come to the conclusion that it would be right for Britain to make a formal application under Article 237 of the Treaty for negotiations with a view to joining the Community if satisfactory arrangements can be made to meet the special needs of the United Kingdom, of the Commonwealth and of the European Free Trade Association.

If, as I earnestly hope, our offer to enter into negotiations with the European Economic Community is accepted, we shall spare no efforts to reach a satisfactory agreement. These negotiations must inevitably be of a detailed and technical character, covering a very large number of the most delicate and difficult matters. They may, therefore, be protracted and there can, of course, be no guarantee of success. When any negotiations are brought to a conclusion then it will be the duty of the Government to recommend to the House what course we should pursue.

(10) Charles De Gaulle, speech (4th January 1963)

The Treaty of Rome was concluded between six continental States - States which are, economically speaking, one may say, of the same nature. Indeed, whether it be a matter of their industrial or agricultural production, their external exchanges, their habits or their commercial clientele, their living or working conditions, there is between them much more resemblance than difference. Moreover, they are adjacent, they inter-penetrate, they prolong each other through their communications. It is therefore a fact to group them and to link them in such a way that what they have to produce, to buy, to sell, to consume - well, they do produce, buy, sell, consume, in preference in their own ensemble. Doing that is conforming to realities.

Moreover, it must be added that from the point of view of their economic development, their social progress, their technical capacity, they are, in short, keeping pace. They are marching in similar fashion. It so happens, too, that there is between them no kind of political grievance, no frontier question, no rivalry in domination or power. On the contrary, they are joined in solidarity, especially and primarily, from the aspect of the consciousness they have, of defining together an important part of the sources of our civilisation; and also as concerns their security, because they are continentals and have before them one and the same menace from one extremity to the other of their territories; finally, they are in solidarity through the fact that not one among them is bound abroad by any particular political or military accord.

Thus, it was psychologically and materially possible to make an economic community of the Six, though not without difficulties. When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, it was after long discussions; and when it was concluded, it was necessary in order to achieve something that we French put in order our economic, financial, and monetary affairs and that was done in 1959.

Thereupon Great Britain posed her candidature to the Common Market. She did it after having earlier refused to participate in the communities we are now building, as well as after creating a free trade area with six other States, and, finally, after having - I may well say it, the negotiations held at such length on this subject will be recalled - after having put some pressure on the Six to prevent a real beginning being made in the application of the Common Market. If England asks in turn to enter, but on her own conditions, this poses without doubt to each of the six States, and poses to England, problems of a very great dimension.

England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions.

(11) Paul-Henri Spaak, The Continuing Battle: Memories of an European (1971)

A new political event of extreme importance was in the making: General de Gaulle had torpedoed our negotiations without having warned either his partners or the British. He had acted with a lack of consideration unexampled in the history of the EEC, showing utter contempt for his negotiating partners, allies and opponents alike. He had brought to a halt negotiations which he himself put in train in full agreement with his partners, and had done so on the flimsiest of pretexts.

What had happened? There is every reason to believe that it was the attitude adopted by Macmillan at his meeting with Kennedy in Bermuda which so upset the President of the French Republic. Macmillan's crime was to have reached agreement with the President of the United States on Britain's nuclear, weaponry. He had in fact arranged for the purchase of Polaris missiles from the United States. In General de Gaulle's eyes the cooperation with the Americans was tantamount to treason against Europe's interests and justified his refusal to allow Britain into the Common Market. The General's resentment was all the greater because a few days before the Bermuda meeting he had received Macmillan at Rambouillet. The British Prime Minister, he claimed, had told him nothing of his nuclear plans. On the other hand, de Gaulle gave Macmillan no warning that he was about to torpedo the negotiations in Brussels. I think the full truth about these events still remains to be told. The French and British versions which have been circulating in the chancelleries differ, but what is certain is that France, without consulting her partners, unilaterally withdrew from negotiations to which she had earlier agreed and that she did so, moreover, after first insisting that the Six must present a united front.

We were faced with a complete volte-face. Stunned and angry, our first reaction was to ignore what had been said in Paris and to continue the negotiation as if nothing had happened. The British showed extraordinary sang-froid. Though, deep down, they were greatly shocked, they gave no outward sign of this and continued to present their arguments at the negotiating table with imperturbable calm.

(12) Charles De Gaulle, speech (4th January 1963)

I should like to speak particularly about the objection to integration. People counter this by saying: "Why not merge the six states together into a single supranational entity? That would be very simple and practical". But such an entity is impossible to achieve in the absence in Europe today of a federator who has the necessary power, reputation and ability. Thus one has to fall back on a sort of hybrid arrangement under which the six states agree to submit to the decisions of a qualified majority. At the same time, although there are already six national Parliaments as well as the European Parliament and, in addition the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe ... it would be necessary to elect over and above this, yet a further Parliament, described as European, which would lay down the law to the six states.

These are ideas that might appeal to certain minds but I entirely fail to see how they could be put into practice, even with six signatures at the foot of a document. Can we imagine France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg being prepared on a matter of importance to them in the national or international sphere, to do something that appeared wrong to them, merely because others had ordered them to do so? Would the peoples of France, of Germany, of Italy, of the Netherlands, of Belgium or of Luxembourg ever dream of submitting to laws passed by foreign parliamentarians if such laws ran counter to their deepest convictions? Clearly not. It is impossible nowadays for a foreign majority to impose their will on reluctant nations. It is true, perhaps, that in this 'integrated' Europe as it is called there might be no policy at all. This would simplify a great many things. Indeed, once there was no France, no Europe; once there was no policy - since one could not be imposed on each of the six states, attempts to formulate a policy would cease. But then, perhaps, these peoples would follow in the wake of some outsider who had a policy. There would, perhaps, be a federator, but he would not be European. And Europe would not be an integrated Europe but something vaster by far and, I repeat, with a federator. Perhaps to some extent it is this that at times inspires the utterances of certain advocates of European integration. If so, then it would be better to say so.