Charles de Gaulle

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Charles de Gaulle was a French hero who refused to accept France’s surrender to Germany’s forces. The other leaders of the Allied forces found him difficult to get along with and would often ignore his input. At the end of the war, de Gaulle became the new president of France.

Early Years

Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890 and raised in Paris. His father was a teacher and de Gaulle described his mother as having an extreme love for France.

De Gaulle joined the army in 1901 and ended up fighting in World War I. It was while in the 33rd Infantry Regiment that de Gaulle met Colonel Henri Petain. De Gaulle stated that it was Petain who taught him how to command.
De Gaulle was wounded three times during World War I and was a prisoner of war for the last thirty-two months of the war.

After WWI, de Gaulle was stationed in Poland, Germany, and the Middle East. He became interested in tank warfare and believed that tanks and aircraft would prevent a stalemate similar to the one that was seen in WWI. The French high command were not interested in de Gaulle’s ideas around mobile warfare and as a result were completely unprepared when German tanks attacked during WWII.

World War II

At the start of WWII, de Gaulle was a colonel in charge of the 4th Armoured Division. He led two main assaults against the German advance and at Caumont, he forced the Germans to retreat. He was the only French commander who was able to force the Germans to retreat during the German invasion.

After his success, he was made a temporary brigadier general but was soon promoted to the position of Under-Secretary of State for National Defense and War. Henri Petain was the French premier during the war and Petain negotiated a surrender to the German forces in June 1940. The country was to be divided in two with the Germans controlling three-fifths of the country and the French government, which would work in close collaboration with the Germans, would control the remaining two-fifths. The capital of the French half was at Vichy so the government run by Petain became known as Vichy France.

De Gaulle refused to accept the surrender and fled to England. Once in London, he spoke on BBC radio calling for resistance to the German occupation. De Gaulle formed the Free French and claimed to be the true government of France. As a result, Vichy France sentenced de Gaulle to death for treason. De Gaulle viewed anyone who agreed to work with the Vichy government as the real traitors.

Difficult Ally

Most of the other leaders of the Allied forces found de Gaulle difficult to work with. Both Churchill and Roosevelt found him to be arrogant with a very large ego. De Gaulle did not go out of his way to make friends and demanded that the Allies treat him as the real government of France. De Gaulle wanted the Allied leaders to treat him as an equal and wanted to be given weapons and the command of troops.

Moving to Algiers

In November 1942, the Allies invaded North Africa. De Gaulle was upset over being left out of the planning for the invasion of North Africa and felt that if he had been consulted, he could have come up with a plan that would have lessened the number of casualties the Allies suffered. The Allies did not include de Gaulle because they wanted the French Africans to support the invasion as well as keep Vichy France out of the fight. Both of these groups thought De Gaulle was a traitor.

De Gaulle had fought French soldiers when he tried to take the port of Dakar in 1940. He also tried to capture French Equatorial Africa in a number of small invasions that suffered a number of casualties and did not achieve anything of strategic value. De Gaulle’s decision to fight Frenchmen instead of Germans affected his reputation with a number of these groups. In fact, no one really looked to De Gaulle for leadership until the Vichy government increased their collaboration with the Germans.

Once the Allies had control of the territory, de Gaulle moved from Britain to Algiers because he wanted to be on French territory. He was upset by security measures since he was kept in a house that was surrounded by barbed wire.

De Gaulle was also upset about having to work with General Henri Giraud to form a committee to help govern the French colonies. De Gaulle hated Giraud because Giraud had previously worked with Vichy France. De Gaulle was able to force Giraud out of the committee and took full power for himself. De Gaulle then told the Allies that if they wanted to remain in the French colonies, they needed to fully support de Gaulle and his plans to free France. Even though de Gaulle was making these demands, he was completely dependent on the Allies. The Allies gave de Gaulle food and other material that were needed to support the colonies. In addition, de Gaulle had no military forces. All of the military units still followed Giraud and fought with the Allies.

De Gaulle was very upset over a meeting of Allied leaders that took place in Casablanca in January, 1943. Casablanca was known as French Morocco. The Allied leaders invited de Gaulle to the meeting and he felt that he should have been an automatic participant in the meeting and not an invited guest. De Gaulle was further offended because he was not informed off the meeting until after it had been arranged. To de Gaulle, this seemed to show that the other Allied leaders viewed him as unimportant.

D-Day

As the Allies were preparing for the invasion of Europe, the American president Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that Churchill keep de Gaulle in the dark about the Allied plans. Churchill agreed to this but on the night of the invasion, Churchill decided that de Gaulle needed to be told of the upcoming invasion.

De Gaulle was still in Algiers so Churchill sent a plane to bring him to England. At first he refused to come but later on agreed to meet with Churchill. De Gaulle was upset over Roosevelt’s plans to install an Allied military government in France after the invasion instead of a French government led by De Gaulle.

De Gaulle wanted the Allies to liberate Paris but at first, the plan was to pass Paris and head east. De Gaulle threatened to order the commander of the 2nd French Armored Division, French General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, to take Paris if the Allies refused to liberate the city. The Allies agreed only because they learned that the Germans had orders to destroy the city as well as to avoid any political conflict with De Gaulle and the French.

On August 25, 1944, de Gaulle entered Paris as thousands of people cheered. De Gaulle took over leadership of France in 1944 but his only real accomplishment was to increase morale. De Gaulle was not even invited to important conferences at Potsdam and Yalta which angered him a lot.

Out of Power

De Gaulle left the government in 1946 because he did not agree with the way the government was being formed. He wanted a presidency that did not have to answer to the general assembly while others wanted a stronger general assembly. When it was decided to have a strong general assembly, de Gaulle left the government.

In 1947, de Gaulle attempted to transform the government by leading a new political party, the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (Rally of the French People, or RPF). The party had some small success but not enough to make an impact.

In 1958, de Gaulle was called back by the government and appointed premier to deal with economic problems as well as the fight over Algeria wanting independence. He was given a lot of authority and was able to solve the Algerian crisis as well as improve the economy, but the improvement in the economy had more to do with the steps taken by the previous ruling party than with anything de Gaulle did.

De Gaulle wanted the world to recognize France as a world power but this never came to be. France slowly lost its African colonies and ended up in a war with Vietnam in an effort to keep the French empire together. De Gaulle attempted to make France more independent from the rest of Europe. He held a referendum hoping to increase the power he held but the referendum failed to pass.

He left the government again in 1969 and died the following year in 1970.