General de Gaulle, Organizer of Free Frenchmen, Has Had Notable Career
LONG BEFORE the collapse of France the voice of General de Gaulle had been raised in warning, states an article by George Slocombe in World Review, and if the voice had been heeded France might still be free. The article proceeds:
General de Gaulle, who commands the force of free Frenchmen now being organized in this country, is an exceptional figure among the higher officers of the French Army. The French generals I have known have tended to fall into one of two categories. They were of the social type, like Gamelin, or of the intellectual type, like the frail and ascetic General Huntziger.
But General de Gaulle falls into neither category. He is tall and muscular, the sporting type. He plays a fast game of tennis, he is a hard rider and a good hand at bridge. Pie has the appearance and the voice of a natural commander of men. He has a stern, impersonal look. His voice is abrupt and imperious. He does not waste words in idle talk. A Frenchman who went to see him soon after his arrival in London came away feeling that he had failed to impress the general. De Gaulle, after a brief interview, had dismissed him without undue ceremony. Yet the following morning the Frenchman was informed that he was appointed to an important office.
If he has few social graces, General de Gaulle equally fails to resemble the
frail, scholarly type of general who is not unusual in the French Army. There is nothing in De Gaulle’s hard and resolute air, in his impatient and virile carriage, to suggest the burning of midnight oil, the authorship of three books on military strategy, or the preparation of abstruse and highly original lectures for the Ecole de Guerre on the modern mechanization of warfare. These three books—“At the Point of the Sword,” “Towards a Professional Army,” and “France and Her Army”—revealed not only a first-class military mind but also marked a radical and revolutionary departure in the history of military strategy. Men of an original stamp of mind and character rarely have careers which reflect or foreshadow their particular genius. The career of Charles de Gaulle is an exception. It leads logically to his present position as reorganizer of French resistance to the mechanized Germany which has temporarily overrun France.
He was born in Lille on November 22, 1890, the son of a professor in a Catholic university. Destined by his father for a military career, • he was entered at the military academy at Saint Cyr, and graduated as second lieutenant at the age of twenty-one. When the Great War broke out in 1914 he was posted, now a full lieutenant, to the 33rd Regiment of Infantry. During the war De Gaulle was wounded three times. The third time, at Douaumont during the battle of Verdun, he was taken prisoner. In spite of repeated attempts to escape, he remained in German hands until the end of the war. After the Armistice he returned to France and resumed his career in the Army. By a curious coincidence, De Gaulle was brought into close contact with the two men, l’étain and Weygand, against whose conduct of French military affairs he was to rebel.
Subsequently De Gaulle, then a major, commanded a battalion of Chasseurs-à-pied in the Rhineland Army of Occupation. In 1929 he was sent to the Near East, and travelled through Iraq, Iran and Egypt. On his return to France he was appointed Secretary-General of the Committee of National Defense. In 1937 for the first time his brilliant advocacy of the mechanized arm in warfare met with some recognition. He was given the command of the 57th Regiment of Tanks. When the war broke out two years later, he was promoted General Commanding the Brigade of Tanks of the Fifth Army.
On May 13 of this year General de Gaulle was given command of the 4th Armored Division, which played a notable part during the tank battles of May 16 and the next four days.
On June 6, when the situation on the Somme was critical, Paul Reynaud summoned De Gaulle to Paris and offered him a post in his newly-reconstructed Cabinet as Undersecretary for War and National Defense. The general accepted the offer, and during the short spell of independence which remained to France before the capitulation of June 10. he threw all his dynamic energy and his ardent belief in tanks and planes into persuading the French to continue resistance.
Before the French surrender he flew twice to London to confer with Mr. Churchill, and it was his own warnings of the impending end of French resistance that influenced the British Government to make its historic offer of a Federal Union between the French and British Empires. To the last he tried to persuade his own Government to continue the struggle from North Africa. It was only when Pétain and Weygand had acquiesced in the demand for Armistice negotiations made by a group of senators and deputies under the influence of Pierre Laval, that General de Gaulle saw that inside France there was no more hope of resistance. He flew in a British plane to London, and made his famous broadcast appeal to all Frenchmen to fight for a free France under his leadership.
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