Saturday Nov 22, 1890 to Monday Nov 9, 1970
FranceCharles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) was a French army officer and statesman who led Free France against Nazi Germany in World War II and chaired the Provisional Government of the French Republic from 1944 to 1946 to reestablish democracy in France. In 1958, he came out of retirement when appointed President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) by President René Coty. He rewrote the Constitution of France and founded the Fifth Republic after approval by referendum. He was elected President of France later that year, a position to which he was reelected in 1965 and held until his resignation in 1969.
France during de Gaulle's teenage years was a divided society, with many developments which were unwelcome to the de Gaulle family: the growth of socialism and syndicalism, the legal separation of Church and State in 1905.
In April 1910 he was promoted to corporal. His company commander declined to promote him to sergeant, the usual rank for a potential officer, commenting that the young man clearly felt that nothing less than Constable of France would be good enough for him.
In October 1912 he rejoined the 33rd Infantry Regiment as a sous-lieutenant (second lieutenant). The regiment was now commanded by Colonel (and future Marshal) Philippe Pétain, whom de Gaulle would follow for the next 15 years. He later wrote in his memoirs: "My first colonel, Pétain, taught me the art of command".
De Gaulle was involved in fierce fighting from the outset As a platoon commander, He received his baptism of fire on 15 August and was among the first to be wounded, receiving a bullet in the knee at the Battle of Dinant.
De Gaulle's unit gained recognition for repeatedly crawling out into no man's land to listen to the conversations of the enemy in their trenches, and the information brought back was so valuable that on 18 January 1915 he received the Croix de Guerre.
From 1 July 1925, he worked for Pétain (as part of the Maison Pétain), largely as a "pen officer" (ghostwriter). De Gaulle disapproved of Pétain's decision to take command in Morocco in 1925 (he was later known to remark that "Marshal Pétain was a great man.
The Allied occupation of the Rhineland was coming to an end, and de Gaulle's battalion was due to be disbanded, although the decision was later rescinded after he had moved to his next posting. De Gaulle wanted a teaching post at the École de Guerre in 1929.
On 5 June, the day the Germans began the second phase of their offensive (Fall Rot), Prime Minister Paul Reynaud appointed de Gaulle a government minister, as Under-Secretary of State for National Defence and War, with particular responsibility for coordination with the British.
Reynaud demanded that France be released from the agreement which he had made with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in March 1940, so that France could seek an armistice.
De Gaulle commandeered some retreating cavalry and artillery units and also received an extra half-brigade, one of whose battalions included some heavy B1 bis tanks. The attack at Montcornet, a key road junction near Laon, began around 04:30 on 17 May.
Charles attacked again on 19 May and his forces were once again devastated by German Stukas and artillery. He ignored orders from General Georges to withdraw, and in the early afternoon demanded two more divisions from Touchon, who refused his request.
On 28–29 May, de Gaulle attacked the German bridgehead south of the Somme at Abbeville, taking around 400 German prisoners in the last attempt to cut an escape route for the Allied forces falling back on Dunkirk.
On 2 June he sent a memo to Weygand vainly urging that the French armored divisions be consolidated from four weak divisions into three stronger ones and concentrated into an armored corps under his command. He made the same suggestion to Reynaud.
On 8 June, de Gaulle visited Weygand, who believed it was "the end" and that after France was defeated Britain would also soon sue for peace. He hoped that after an armistice the Germans would allow him to retain enough of a French Army to "maintain order" in France. He gave a "despairing laugh" when de Gaulle suggested fighting on.
On 9 June, De Gaulle flew to London and met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for the first time. It was thought that half a million men could be evacuated to French North Africa, provided the British and French navies and air forces coordinated their efforts.
Later on, 11 June de Gaulle attended the meeting of the Anglo-French Supreme War Council at the Chateau du Muguet at Briare. The British were represented by Churchill, Anthony Eden, John Dill, General Ismay, and Edward Spears, and the French by Reynaud, Pétain, Weygand, and Georges.
On 13 June de Gaulle attended another Anglo-French conference at Tours with Churchill, Lord Halifax, Lord Beaverbrook, Spears, Ismay, and Alexander Cadogan. This time few other major French figures were present apart from Reynaud and Baudoin.
On the afternoon of Sunday, 16 June de Gaulle was at 10 Downing Street for talks about Jean Monnet's mooted Anglo-French political union. He telephoned Reynaud – they were cut off during the conversation and had to resume later – with the news that the British had agreed.
Charles saw Churchill at around 15:00 and Churchill offered him broadcast time on BBC. They both knew about Pétain's broadcast earlier that day that stated that "the fighting must end" and that he had approached the Germans for terms.
British Cabinet was reluctant to agree to de Gaulle giving a radio address, as Britain was still in communication with the Pétain government about the fate of the French fleet. Duff Cooper had an advance copy of the text of the address, to which there were no objections.
De Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June exhorted the French people not to be demoralized and to continue to resist the occupation of France. He also – apparently on his own initiative – declared that he would broadcast again the next day.
In his next broadcast on 19 June de Gaulle denied the legitimacy of the government at Bordeaux. He called on the North African troops to live up to the tradition of Bertrand Clausel, Thomas Robert Bugeaud, and Hubert Lyautey by defying orders from Bordeaux. The British Foreign Office protested to Churchill.
On 23 June the British Government denounced the armistice as a breach of the Anglo-French treaty signed in March and stated that they no longer regarded the Bordeaux Government as a fully independent state. They also "took note" of the plan to establish a French National Committee (FNC) in exile, but did not mention de Gaulle by name.
On 28 June, after Churchill's envoys had failed to establish contact with the French leaders in North Africa, the British Government recognized de Gaulle as leader of the Free French, despite the reservations of Halifax and Cadogan at the foreign office.
Prime Minister Pétain moved the government to Vichy (2 July) and had the National Assembly (10 July) vote to dissolve itself and give him dictatorial powers, making the beginning of his Révolution Nationale (National Revolution) intended to "reorient" French society. This was the dawn of the Vichy regime.
From 22 July 1940 de Gaulle used 4 Carlton Gardens in central London as his London headquarters. His family had left Brittany (the other ship which left at the same time was sunk) and lived for a time at Petts Wood.
De Gaulle and Churchill reached an agreement on 7 August 1940, that Britain would fund the Free French, with the bill to be settled after the war (the financial agreement was finalized in March 1941). A separate letter guaranteed the territorial integrity of the French Empire.
In Algiers in 1943, Eisenhower gave de Gaulle the assurance in person that a French force would liberate Paris and arranged that the army division of French General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque would be transferred from North Africa to the UK to carry out that liberation.
On 14 June 1944, Charles left Britain for France for what was supposed to be a one-day trip. Despite an agreement that he would take only two staff, he was accompanied by a large entourage with extensive luggage, and although many rural Normans remained mistrustful of him, he was warmly greeted by the inhabitants of the towns he visited, such as the badly damaged Isigny.
General Charles de Gaulle and his entourage set off from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees to Notre Dame for a service of thanksgiving following the city's liberation in August 1944.
On Saturday 26 August, it came under machine-gun fire by the Vichy militia and fifth columnists. Later, on entering the Notre Dame Cathedral to be received as head of the provisional government by the Committee of Liberation.
On 12 April 1945, Roosevelt died, and despite their uneasy relationship de Gaulle declared a week of mourning in France and forwarded an emotional and conciliatory letter to the new American president, Harry S. Truman, in which he said of Roosevelt, "all of France loved him".
In May 1945 the German armies surrendered to the Americans and British at Rheims, and a separate armistice was signed with France in Berlin. De Gaulle refused to allow any British participation in the victory parade in Paris.