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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.




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