Charles de Gaulle

This article is about the French statesman. For other uses, see Charles de Gaulle (disambiguation).
Charles de Gaulle
President of France
In office
8 January 1959  28 April 1969
Prime Minister Michel Debré
Georges Pompidou
Maurice Couve de Murville
Preceded by René Coty
Succeeded by Alain Poher (Acting)
Co-Prince of Andorra
In office
8 January 1959  28 April 1969
Preceded by René Coty
Succeeded by Alain Poher (Acting)
Prime Minister of France
In office
1 June 1958  8 January 1959
President René Coty
Preceded by Pierre Pflimlin
Succeeded by Michel Debré
Chairman of the Provisional Government of France
In office
20 August 1944  20 January 1946
Preceded by Philippe Pétain (Chief of the French State)
Succeeded by Félix Gouin
Leader of the Free French
In office
18 June 1940  3 July 1944
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Minister of Defence
In office
1 June 1958  8 January 1959
Preceded by Pierre de Chevigné
Succeeded by Pierre Guillaumat
Minister of Algerian Affairs
In office
12 June 1958  9 January 1959
Preceded by André Mutter
Succeeded by Louis Joxe
Personal details
Born Charles André Joseph Pierre Marie de Gaulle
(1890-11-22)22 November 1890
Lille, France
Died 9 November 1970(1970-11-09) (aged 79)
Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, France
Resting place Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises Churchyard
Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, France
Political party Rally of the French People (Before 1955)
National Centre of Social Republicans (1955–1958)
Union for the New Republic (1958–1968)
Spouse(s) Yvonne Vendroux (1921–1970)
Children Philippe
Alma mater École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr
Religion Roman Catholicism
Military service
Allegiance  French Third Republic
 Free France
Service/branch French Army
French Armed Forces
Free French Forces
Years of service 1912–1944
Rank Brigade general
Unit Infantry
Armoured cavalry
Commands Free French Forces
Battles/wars World War I
  Battle of Verdun
  Battle of the Somme
World War II
  Battle of France
  Battle of Montcornet
  Battle of Dakar
  Liberation of Paris
Awards See list

Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (French: [ʃaʁl də ɡol]; 22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) was a French general and statesman. He was the leader of Free France (1940–44) and the head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (1944–46). In 1958, he founded the Fifth Republic and was elected as the 18th President of France, a position he held until his resignation in 1969. He was the dominant figure of France during the Cold War era and his memory continues to influence French politics.

Born in Lille, he graduated from Saint-Cyr in 1912. He was a decorated officer of the First World War, wounded several times and later taken prisoner at Verdun, after which he made several failed escape attempts. During the interwar period, he advocated mobile armoured divisions. During the German invasion of May 1940, he led the 4th Armoured Division which counterattacked the invading German army, before being appointed to the French Government as Under-Secretary for War. Refusing to accept his government's armistice with Nazi Germany, de Gaulle exhorted the French population to resist occupation and to continue the fight against Axis powers in his Appeal of 18 June. He led a government in exile and the Free French Forces against the Axis. Despite frosty relations with Britain and especially the United States, he emerged as the undisputed leader of the French resistance. He became Head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic in June 1944, the interim government of France following its Liberation. As early as 1944, de Gaulle introduced a dirigist economic policy, which included substantial state-directed control over a capitalist economy which contributed to thirty years of unprecedented growth.

Frustrated by the return of petty partisanship in the new Fourth Republic, he resigned in early 1946 but continued to be politically active as founder of the RPF party (Rassemblement du Peuple Français). He retired in the early 1950s and wrote his War Memoirs, which quickly became a classic of modern French literature. When the Algerian War was ripping apart the unstable Fourth Republic, the National Assembly brought him back to power during the May 1958 crisis. De Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic with a strong presidency, and he was elected in the latter role. He managed to keep France together while taking steps to end the war, much to the anger of the Pieds-Noirs (Frenchmen settled in Algeria) and the military; both previously had supported his return to power to maintain colonial rule. He granted independence to Algeria and progressively to other French colonies.

In the context of the Cold War, de Gaulle initiated his "Politics of Grandeur", asserting that France as a major power should not rely on other countries, such as the US, for its national security and prosperity. To this end, de Gaulle pursued a policy of "national independence" which led him to withdraw from NATO's military integrated command and to launch an independent nuclear development program that made France the fourth nuclear power. He restored cordial Franco-German relations to create a European counterweight between the Anglo-American and Soviet spheres of influence. However, he opposed any development of a supranational Europe, favouring a Europe of sovereign nations. De Gaulle openly criticised the US intervention in Vietnam and the "exorbitant privilege" of the US dollar. In his later years, his support for an independent Quebec and his two vetoes against Britain's entry into the European Community generated considerable controversy.

Although re-elected President in 1965, in May 1968 he appeared likely to lose power amid widespread protests by students and workers but survived the crisis with backing from the Army and won an election with an increased majority in the Assembly. De Gaulle resigned in 1969 after losing a referendum in which he proposed more decentralization. He died a year later at his residence in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, leaving his Presidential memoirs unfinished. Many French political parties and figures claim the Gaullist legacy.

Early life

Childhood and origins

De Gaulle's birth house in Lille, now a national museum

De Gaulle was born in the industrial region of Lille in the Nord departement, the third of five children.[1] He was raised in devoutly Catholic and traditional family. His father, Henri de Gaulle, was a professor of history and literature at a Jesuit college who eventually founded his own school.[2] Henri de Gaulle came from a long line of parliamentary gentry from Normandy and Burgundy. De Gaulle's mother, Jeanne (née Maillot), descended from a family of wealthy entrepreneurs from Lille. She had French, Irish, Scottish, Flemish, and German ancestry.[3][4]

The family had lost most of its land in the French Revolution, which it opposed.[5] De Gaulle's father encouraged historical and philosophical debate between his children at mealtimes, and through his encouragement, de Gaulle grew familiar with French history from an early age. Struck by his mother's tale of how she cried as a child when she heard of the French capitulation to the Germans at Sedan in 1870, he developed a keen interest in military strategy. He endlessly questioned his father about the other failures of the brief war at Vionville and Mars-la-Tour, and though a naturally shy person his entire life, often organised other children to re-enact ancient French battles. The wider de Gaulle family were also very literary and academic, and he was raised on tales of the flight of the Scottish Stuarts to France, to whom he was related on his mother's side. He was also influenced by his uncle, also called Charles de Gaulle, who was a historian and passionate Celticist who wrote books and pamphlets advocating the union of the Welsh, Scots, Irish and Bretons into one people. His grandfather Julien-Philippe was also a historian, and his grandmother Josephine-Marie wrote poems which impassioned his Christian faith.[6][7]

By the time he was ten he was reading medieval history, such as the Froissart Chronicles of the Hundred Years War. De Gaulle began his own writing in his early teens, and later his family paid for a composition, a one-act play in verse about a traveller, to be privately published.[8] A voracious reader, he later favored philosophical tomes by such writers as Bergson, Péguy, and Barrès. In addition to the German philosophers Nietzsche, Kant and Goethe, he read the works of the ancient Greeks (especially Plato) and the prose of the romanticist poet Chateaubriand.[8]

Education and enlistment in the army

De Gaulle was educated in Paris at the Collège Stanislas and studied briefly in Belgium where he continued to display his interest in reading and studying history and shared the great pride many of his countrymen felt in their nation's achievements. This was not unusual among his peers, who came up in a generation of Frenchmen for whom patriotic and Catholic fervor was rising once again after the long decades of nihilism and anti-clericalism that characterized the post-Revolution country. As he grew older, he also developed a profound belief in his destiny to achieve great things, and, eager to avenge the French defeat of 1870, decided upon a military career as being the best way to make a name for himself. He matriculated at the Saint Cyr military academy in 1908 where he did well; in 1912 he was commissioned in the French army.[9]

Early career

Officer cadet

De Gaulle spent four years studying and training at the elite military academy, Saint-Cyr. While there, and because of his height (196 cm, 6'5"), high forehead, and nose, he acquired the nickname of "the great asparagus".[10]

He did well at the academy and received praise for his conduct, manners, intelligence, character, military spirit and resistance to fatigue. However, he often quarreled with his company commander and other officers that there was a lack of preparation for war with Germany, and that the French training and equipment were inadequate to deal with a numerically superior adversary.[6] Graduating in 1912, he finished 13th out of a class of 230 and his passing-out report noted that he was a gifted cadet who would undoubtedly make an excellent officer. Preferring to serve in France rather than the distant overseas colonies, he joined the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the French Army, based at Arras and commanded by Colonel (and future Marshal) Philippe Pétain. De Gaulle would follow Pétain for the next 20 years.[11]

While at Arras, and in the build-up to World War I, de Gaulle developed a good rapport with his commanding officer, Pétain, with whom he shared a number of ideas on French military affairs, and was often seen on exercise and in officers' quarters with his superior debating great battles and the likely outcome of any coming war.[6] They shared the views of many rising young officers that the new methods of warfare meant that traditional tactics were obsolete and cavalry would no longer serve a useful purpose in the age of machine guns and barbed wire.

First World War

A plaque in Dinant commemorating the place where Charles de Gaulle, then an infantry lieutenant, was wounded while crossing the Meuse in 1914

When war finally broke out in France in early August 1914, the 33rd Regiment, considered one of the best fighting units in France, was immediately thrown into checking the German advance at Dinant. However, the French Fifth Army commander, General Charles Lanrezac remained wed to 19th century battle tactics, throwing his units into pointless bayonet charges with bugles and full colours flying against the German artillery, incurring heavy losses.[6]

Promoted to platoon commander, de Gaulle was involved in fierce fighting from the outset and was among the first to be wounded, receiving a bullet in the fibula at the Battle of Dinant.[12] In hospital, he grew bitter at the tactics used, and spoke with other injured officers against the outdated methods of the French army. Yet, with General Joseph Joffre's decision to stop the retreat and counter-attack, favoured by the arrival of British units and by changes in the command structure, the rapid German advance was eventually stalled by mid September at the First Battle of the Marne. Returning in the Marne in late 1914 to find many of his former comrades dead, he was put in charge of a company. De Gaulle's unit gained recognition for repeatedly crawling out into No mans land to listen to the conversations of the enemy in their trenches, and the information he brought back was so valuable that in January 1915 he received a citation for his bravery. On 10 January, de Gaulle received a bullet in the left hand which incapacitated him for four months and which later forced him to wear his wedding ring on the right hand.[12][13]

At the Battle of Verdun in March 1916, while leading a charge to try to break out of a position which had become surrounded by the enemy, he received a bayonet wound to the thigh after being stunned by a shell and, passing out from the effects of poison gas, was captured at Douaumont, one of the few survivors of his battalion. He spent 32 months in a German prisoner of war camp, where his treatment was satisfactory.[14]

In captivity, de Gaulle acquired yet another nickname, Le Connétable ("The Constable"). This came about because of his reading German newspapers (he had learned German at school and spent a summer vacation in the Black Forest region) and giving talks on his view of the progress of the conflict to fellow prisoners. These were delivered with such patriotic fervor and confidence in victory that they called him by the title which had been given to the commander-in-chief of the French army during the monarchy.[15] During his time as a POW, de Gaulle got to know well Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the future commander of the Red Army and whose theories about a fast-moving, mechanized army closely resemble his. While a prisoner of war, de Gaulle wrote his first book, co-written by Matthieu Butler, L'Ennemi et le vrai ennemi (The Enemy and the True Enemy), analysing the issues and divisions within the German Empire and its forces; the book was published in 1924. At one point, he was held with other POW officers from France, Great Britain, and Russia at a castle in Ingolstadt, Germany. The officers there were even assigned German orderlies to keep their uniforms clean.

He made five unsuccessful escape attempts,[12] being moved to a higher security facility and punished on his return with long periods of solitary confinement and with the withdrawal of privileges such as newspapers and tobacco.[11] In his letters to his parents, he constantly spoke of his frustration that the war was continuing without him, calling the situation "a shameful misfortune" and compared it to being cuckolded. As the war neared its end, he grew depressed that he was playing no part in the victory, but despite his efforts, he remained in captivity until the German surrender. On 1 December 1918, three weeks after the armistice, he returned to his father's house in the Dordogne to be reunited with his three brothers, who had all served in the army and survived the war.

Between the wars

Charles de Gaulle (far right) with Andrew McNaughton, Władysław Sikorski, and Winston Churchill

After the armistice, de Gaulle continued to serve in the army, and was with the staff of the French Military Mission to Poland as an instructor of Poland's infantry during its war with Communist Russia (1919–1921). He distinguished himself in operations near the River Zbrucz and won Poland's highest military decoration, the Virtuti Militari cross. He returned to France, where he taught at the École Militaire. Although a protégé of Marshal Philippe Pétain, de Gaulle believed in the use of tanks and rapid maneuvers rather than trench warfare.

De Gaulle served with the Army of Occupation in the Rhineland in the mid-1920s. As a commandant ("major") by the late 1920s, he briefly commanded a light infantry battalion at Trier (Treves) and then served a tour of duty in Syria, then a French protectorate under a mandate from the League of Nations. During the 1930s, now a lieutenant-colonel, he served as a staff officer in France.

In 1934 he wrote Vers l'Armée de Métier (Toward a Professional Army), which advocated a professional army based on mobile armored divisions. Such an army would both compensate for the poor French demography, and be an efficient tool to enforce international law, particularly the Treaty of Versailles, which forbade Germany from rearming. He proposed mechanization of the infantry, with stress on the wholesale use of tanks. Ironically the German panzer units, so effectively employed in the invasion of France in 1940, utilized similar theories, while the French dispersed and wasted their armor. The book sold only 700 copies in France, where Pétain advocated an infantry-based, defensive army, but 7,000 copies in Germany, where it was studied by Adolf Hitler.[11]

Second World War

The Battle of France

Main article: Battle of France
De Gaulle during World War II; he typically wore the uniform of a Brigade general

At the outbreak of World War II, de Gaulle was still a colonel, having antagonized the leaders of the military through the 1920s and 1930s with his bold views. Initially commanding a tank regiment in the French Fifth Army, de Gaulle implemented many of his theories and tactics for armoured warfare against an enemy whose strategies resembled his own.[11] After the German breakthrough at Sedan on 15 May 1940 he was given command of the improvised 4e Division cuirassée.[16]

On 17 May, de Gaulle attacked German tank forces at Montcornet with 200 tanks but no air support. Although de Gaulle's tanks forced the German infantry to retreat to Caumont, the action brought only temporary relief and did little to slow the spearhead of the German advance. Nevertheless, it was one of the few successes the French enjoyed while suffering defeats elsewhere across the country. In recognition for his efforts, de Gaulle was promoted to acting Brigade general on 24 May, a rank he would hold for the rest of his life.[17] On 28 May, he took part in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the Allied force trapped at Dunkirk by cutting an escape route through German forces at Abbeville. On 5 June, Premier Paul Reynaud appointed him Under Secretary of State for National Defence and War and put him in charge of coordination with the British forces.[18] As a junior minister of the French government, he unsuccessfully opposed surrender, advocating instead that the government remove itself to Algeria (which was an integral part of France at the time) and carry on the war as best it could from France's African colonies.

Leader of the Free French

See also: Free France
General de Gaulle speaking on BBC Radio during the war
"To all Frenchmen": de Gaulle exhorting the French to resist the German occupation

Returning to Bordeaux, the temporary wartime capital, de Gaulle learned that Marshal Pétain had become Premier on 16 June 1940 and was planning to seek an armistice with Nazi Germany. De Gaulle and other officers rebelled against the new French government; on the morning of 17 June, de Gaulle and a few senior French officers flew to Britain with 100,000 gold francs in secret funds provided to him by the ex-prime minister Paul Reynaud.

De Gaulle strongly denounced the French government's decision to seek armistice with Germany and immediately set about building the Free French Forces from the soldiers and officers deployed outside France or who had fled France with him. On 18 June, de Gaulle delivered a radio address via the BBC Radio service; the talk was authorized by Churchill.[16]

De Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June exhorted the French people not to be demoralized and to continue to resist the occupation of France and work against the Pétain government that was going to sign an armistice with Germany. After the armistice was signed on 21 June 1940, Premier Pétain moved the government to Vichy, had the National Assembly vote to dissolve itself and give him dictatorial powers, making the beginning of Marshal Pétain's Révolution nationale (National Revolution) intended to "reorient" French society. This was the dawning of the collaborationist Vichy regime. Although the original broadcast could only be heard in a few parts of occupied France, de Gaulle's subsequent speeches reached many parts of the territories under the Vichy regime, helping to rally the French resistance movement and earning him much popularity amongst the French people and soldiers. At a court-martial by Vichy, on 2 August 1940, de Gaulle was condemned to death for treason.[19]

De Gaulle made his headquarters at Carlton Gardens in central London. His wife and daughter lived in the country four hours from London and seldom saw the general. From 1942–44, he lived in Hampstead, London.[20] The British historian Christopher Flood noted that there were major differences between the speeches of de Gaulle and Pétain, which reflected their views on themselves and of France. Pétain always used the personal pronoun je, portrayed himself as both a Christ-like figure sacrificing himself for France while also assuming a God-like tone of a semi-omniscient narrator who knew truths about the world that the rest of the French did not.[21] De Gaulle began by making frequent use of "I" and "me" in his war-time speeches, but over time, their use declined while de Gaulle never invoked the quasi-religious imagery around himself that Pétain used.[22]

De Gaulle always mentioned Pétain by name whereas Pétain never mentioned de Gaulle directly, referring to him as the "faux ami" ("false friend").[23]

Pétain exonerated the French military of responsibility for the defeat of 1940 which he blamed on the moral decline of French society (thus making his Révolution nationale necessary) while de Gaulle blamed the military chiefs while exonerating French society for the defeat (thus suggesting that French society was nowhere near as rotten as Pétain claimed, making the Révolution nationale unnecessary).[24] Pétain claimed that France had "stupidly" declared war on Germany in 1939 at British prompting while de Gaulle spoke of the entire era since 1914 as "la guerre de trente ans" ("the thirty years' war"), arguing the two world wars were really one with a long truce in between.[25] The only historical figure Pétain invoked was Joan of Arc as a model of self-sacrificing French patriotism in the "eternal struggle" against Britain whereas de Gaulle invoked virtually every major French historical figure from the ancient Gauls to World War I.[26] De Gaulle's willingness to invoke historical figures from before and after 1789 was meant to suggest that his France was an inclusive France where there was room for both left and right, in contrast to Pétain's demand for national unity under his leadership.[27] Most significantly, Pétain's speeches always stressed the need for France to withdraw from the world to find unity; the world outside France was always portrayed as a hostile and threatening place.[28] By contrast, de Gaulle's speeches while praising the greatness of France lacked Pétain's implicit xenophobia and the fight for a democratic France was always portrayed as part of a wider world-wide struggle for freedom, where a free France that would be democratic and inclusive would serve as an anchor for a new democratic order in the world.[28]

De Gaulle organised the Free French Forces and the Allies gave increasing support and recognition to de Gaulle's efforts. In London in September 1941 de Gaulle formed the Free French National Council, with himself as president. It was an all-encompassing coalition of resistance forces, ranging from conservative Catholics like himself to Communists. By early 1942, the "Fighting French" movement, as it was now called, gained rapidly in power and influence; it overcame Vichy in Syria and Lebanon, adding to its base. Dealing with the French Communists was a delicate issue, for they were under Moscow's control and the USSR was friendly with Germany in 1940–41. They came into the Free French movement only when Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. De Gaulle's policy then became one of friendship directly with Moscow, but Stalin showed little interest.[29] In 1942, de Gaulle created the Normandie-Niemen squadron, a Free French Air Force regiment, in order to fight on the Eastern Front. It is the only Western allied formation to have fought until the end of the war in the East.[30]

De Gaulle's relations with the Anglo-Saxons

In his dealings with the British and Americans (both referred to as the "Anglo-Saxons", in de Gaulle's parlance), he always insisted on retaining full freedom of action on behalf of France and was constantly on the verge of losing the Allies' support. Many denials of the deep and mutual antipathy between de Gaulle and British and American political leaders are on historical record.[31][32] De Gaulle explained his position:

Never did the Anglo-Saxons really treat us as real allies. They never consulted us, government to government, on any of their provisions. For political purpose or by convenience, they sought to use the French forces for their own goals, as if these forces belonged to them, alleging that they had provided weapons to them [...] I considered that I had to play the French game, since the others were playing theirs ... I deliberately adopted a stiffened and hardened attitude ....[33]

In addition, de Gaulle harboured a suspicion of the British in particular, believing that they were seeking to seize France's colonial possessions in the Levant. Winston Churchill was often frustrated at what he perceived as de Gaulle's patriotic arrogance, but also wrote of his "immense admiration" for him during the early days of his British exile. Although their relationship later became strained, Churchill tried to explain the reasons for de Gaulle's behaviour in the second volume of his history of World War II:

He felt it was essential to his position before the French people that he should maintain a proud and haughty demeanour towards "perfidious Albion", although in exile, dependent upon our protection and dwelling in our midst. He had to be rude to the British to prove to French eyes that he was not a British puppet. He certainly carried out this policy with perseverance.

De Gaulle epitomised his adversarial relationship with Churchill in these words: "When I am right, I get angry. Churchill gets angry when he is wrong. We are angry at each other much of the time."[34] On one occasion in 1941 Churchill spoke to him on the telephone. De Gaulle retorted that the French people thought he was a reincarnation of Joan of Arc, to which Churchill replied that the English had had to burn the last one.[35] Clementine Churchill, who admired de Gaulle, once cautioned him, "General, you must not hate your friends more than you hate your enemies." De Gaulle himself stated famously, "No Nation has friends, only interests."[36]

After his initial support, Churchill, emboldened by Washington's antipathy to the French general, urged his War Cabinet to remove de Gaulle as leader of the French resistance. But the War Cabinet warned Churchill that a precipitate break with de Gaulle would have a disastrous reaction on the whole resistance movement. By autumn 1943, Churchill had to acknowledge that de Gaulle had won the struggle for leadership of Free France.[37]

Rival French leaders Henri Giraud (left) and Charles de Gaulle sit down after shaking hands in presence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (Casablanca Conference, 14 January 1943) – a public display of unity, but the handshake was only for show[38]

De Gaulle's relations with Washington were even more strained. President Roosevelt for a long time refused to recognize de Gaulle as the representative of France, insisting on negotiations with the Vichy government. Roosevelt in particular hoped that it would be possible to wean Pétain away from Germany.[39] Roosevelt maintained recognition of the Vichy regime until late 1942, and saw de Gaulle as an impudent representative of a minority interest.[40]

After 1942, Roosevelt championed general Henri Giraud, more compliant with US interests than de Gaulle, as the leader of the French Resistance. At the Casablanca Conference (1943), Roosevelt forced de Gaulle to cooperate with Giraud, but de Gaulle was considered as the undisputed leader of the Resistance by the French people and Giraud was progressively deprived of his political and military roles.[41] The British and Soviet governments urged Roosevelt to recognise de Gaulle's provisional government, but Roosevelt delayed it as long as possible and even recognised the Italian provisional government before the French one. British and Soviet allies were outraged that the US president unilaterally recognised the new government of a former enemy before de Gaulle's one and both recognised the French government in retaliation, forcing Roosevelt to recognise de Gaulle in late 1944,[42] but Roosevelt managed to exclude de Gaulle from the Yalta Conference.[43] Later, Roosevelt finally renounced to rule France as an occupied territory and to transfer French Indochina to the United Nations.[44][45]

Plane sabotage

On 21 April 1943, de Gaulle was scheduled to fly in a Wellington bomber to Scotland to inspect the Free French navy. On take-off, the bomber's tail dropped, and the plane nearly crashed into the airfield's embankment. Only the skill of the pilot saved them. On inspection, it was found that aeroplane's separator rod had been sabotaged, using acid.[46][47] Britain's MI6 investigated the incident, but no one was ever apprehended. De Gaulle blamed the Western Allies, and later told colleagues that he no longer had confidence in them.[47]


General de Gaulle and Catroux, North Africa

Working with the French Resistance and other supporters in France's colonial African possessions after the Anglo- US invasion of North Africa in November 1942, de Gaulle moved his headquarters to Algiers in May 1943. He left Britain to be on French territory. He became first joint head (with the less resolutely independent General Henri Giraud, the candidate preferred by the US who wrongly suspected de Gaulle of being a British puppet) and then—after squeezing out Giraud by force of personality—sole chairman of the French Committee of National Liberation.[16]

De Gaulle was held in high regard by Allied commander General Dwight Eisenhower.[48] 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.[48] Eisenhower was impressed by the combativeness of units of the Free French Forces and "grateful for the part they had played in mopping up the remnants of German resistance"; he also detected how strongly devoted many were to de Gaulle and how ready they were to accept him as the national leader.[48]

Preparations for D-Day

As preparations for the liberation of Europe gathered pace, the Americans in particular found de Gaulle's tendency to view everything from the French perspective to be extremely tiresome. Roosevelt, who refused to recognize any provisional authority in France until elections had been held, referred to de Gaulle as "an apprentice dictator", a view backed by a number of leading Frenchmen in Washington, including Jean Monnet, who later became an instrumental figure in the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community that led to the modern European Union. Roosevelt directed Churchill to not provide de Gaulle with strategic details of the imminent invasion because he did not trust him to keep the information to himself. French codes were considered weak, posing a risk since the Free French refused to use British or American codes.[49] De Gaulle refused to share coded information with the British, who were then obliged secretly to break the codes to read French messages.[50]

Nevertheless, a few days before D-Day, Churchill, whose relationship with the General had deteriorated since he arrived in Britain, decided he needed to keep him informed of developments, and on 2 June he sent two passenger aircraft and his representative, Duff Cooper to Algiers to bring de Gaulle back to Britain. De Gaulle refused because of Roosevelt's intention to install a provisional Allied military government in the former occupied territories pending elections, but he eventually relented and flew to Britain the next day.

Winston Churchill and General de Gaulle at Marrakesh, January 1944

Upon his arrival at RAF Northolt on 4 June 1944 he received an official welcome, and a letter reading "My dear general! Welcome to these shores, very great military events are about to take place!"[49] Later, on his personal train, Churchill informed him that he wanted him to make a radio address, but when informed that the Americans continued to refuse to recognise his right to power in France, and after Churchill suggested he request a meeting with Roosevelt to improve his relationship with the president, de Gaulle became angry, demanding to know why he should "lodge my candidacy for power in France with Roosevelt; the French government exists".[51]

De Gaulle became worried that the German withdrawal from France might lead to a breakdown of law and order in the country and even a possible communist takeover.[49] During the general conversation which followed with those present, de Gaulle was involved in an angry exchange with the Labour minister, Ernest Bevin, and, raising his concerns about the validity of the new currency to be circulated by the Allies after the liberation, de Gaulle commented scornfully, "go and wage war with your false money". De Gaulle was much concerned that an American takeover of the French administration would just provoke a communist uprising.

Churchill then lost his temper, saying that Britain could not act separately from America, and that under the circumstances, if they had to choose between France and the US, Britain would always choose the latter. De Gaulle replied that he realised this would always be the case. The next day, de Gaulle refused to address the French nation as the script again made no mention of his being the legitimate interim ruler of France. It instructed the French people to obey Allied military authorities until elections could be held, and so the row continued, with de Gaulle calling Churchill a "gangster". Churchill accused de Gaulle of treason in the height of battle, and demanded that he be flown back to Algiers "in chains if necessary".[49]

De Gaulle and Churchill had a complex relationship during the wartime period. De Gaulle did show respect and admiration for Churchill, and even some light humorous interactions between the two have been noted by observers such as Duff Cooper, the British Ambassador to the French Committee of Liberation.[52] Churchill explained his support for de Gaulle during the darkest hours, calling him "L'homme du destin".[52][53]

In Casablanca in 1943, Churchill supported de Gaulle as the embodiment of a French Army that was otherwise defeated, stating that "De Gaulle is the spirit of that Army. Perhaps the last survivor of a warrior race."[52] Churchill supported de Gaulle as he had been one of the first major French leaders to reject Nazi German rule outright, stating in August 1944 that "I have never forgotten, and can never forget, that he [de Gaulle] stood forth as the first eminent Frenchman to face the common foe in what seemed to be the hour of ruin of his country and possibly, of ours."[52]

In the years to come, the sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly dependent wartime relationship of de Gaulle and his future political peers reenacted the historical national and colonial rivalry and lasting enmity between the French and English,[54] and foreshadowed the deep distrust of France for post-war Anglo-American partnerships.

Return to France

De Gaulle ignored les Anglo-Saxons, and proclaimed the authority of Free France over the metropolitan territory the next day. Under the leadership of General de Lattre de Tassigny, France fielded an entire army – a joint force of Free French together with French colonial troops from North Africa – on the Western Front. Initially landing as part of Operation Dragoon, in the south of France, the French First Army helped to liberate almost one third of the country and participated in the invasion and occupation of Germany. As the invasion slowly progressed and the Germans were pushed back, de Gaulle made preparations to return to France.

General de Gaulle delivering a speech in liberated Cherbourg from the hôtel de ville (town hall)

On 14 June 1944, he 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. Finally he arrived at the city of Bayeux, which he now proclaimed as the capital of Free France. Appointing his Aide-de-Camp Francois Coulet as head of the civil administration, de Gaulle returned to the UK that same night on a French destroyer, and although the official position of the supreme military command remained unchanged, local Allied officers found it more practical to deal with the fledgling administration in Bayeux in everyday matters.[49] De Gaulle flew to Algiers on 16 June and then went on to Rome to meet the Pope and the new Italian government. At the beginning of July he at last visited Roosevelt in Washington, where he received the 17 gun salute of a senior military leader rather than the 21 guns of a visiting head of state. The visit was 'devoid of trust on both sides' according to the French representative,[51] however Roosevelt did make some concessions towards recognising the legitimacy of the Bayeux administration.

Meanwhile, with the Germans retreating in the face of the Allied onslaught, harried all the way by the resistance, there were widespread instances of revenge attacks on those accused of collaboration. A number of prominent officials and members of the feared Milice were murdered, often by exceptionally brutal means, provoking the Germans into appalling reprisals, such as in the destruction of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and the killing of its 642 inhabitants.[55] Liberation of the French capital was not high on the Allies' list of priorities as it had comparatively little strategic value, but both de Gaulle and the commander of the 2nd Armored Division, General Philippe Leclerc were still extremely concerned about a communist takeover. De Gaulle successfully lobbied for Paris to be made a priority for liberation on humanitarian grounds and obtained from Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower an agreement that French troops would be allowed to enter the capital first. A few days later, General Leclerc's French Armoured Division entered the outskirts of the city, and after six days of fighting in which the resistance played a major part, the German garrison of 5000 men surrendered on 25 August, although some sporadic outbreaks of fighting continued for several days. General Dietrich von Choltitz, the commander of the garrison, was instructed by Hitler to raze the city to the ground, however he simply ignored the order and surrendered his forces.

General de Gaulle and his entourage stroll down the Champs Élysées following the liberation of Paris in August 1944

It was fortunate for de Gaulle that the Germans had forcibly removed members of the Vichy government and taken them to Germany a few days earlier on 20 August; it allowed him to enter Paris as a liberator in the midst of the general euphoria,[56] but there were serious concerns that communist elements of the resistance, which had done so much to clear the way for the military would try to seize the opportunity to proclaim their own 'Peoples' Government' in the capital. De Gaulle made contact with Leclerc and demanded the presence of the 2nd Armoured Division to accompany him on a massed parade down the Champs Elysees, "as much for prestige as for security".[56] This was in spite of the fact that Leclerc's unit was fighting as part of the American 1st Army and were under strict orders to continue their next objective without obeying orders from anyone else. In the event, the American General Omar Bradley decided that Leclerc's division would be indispensable for the maintenance of order and the liquidation of the last pockets of resistance in the French capital. Earlier, on 21 August, de Gaulle had appointed his military advisor General Marie-Pierre Koenig as Governor of Paris.

The 2e DB passes through the Arc de Triomphe. Signs read "Long live de Gaulle" and "De Gaulle to power".

As his procession came along the Place de la Concorde on Saturday 26 August, it came under machine gun fire by Vichy militia and fifth columnists who were unable to give themselves up. Later, on entering the Notre Dame cathedral to be received as head of the provisional government by the Committee of Liberation, loud shots broke out again, and Leclerc and Koenig tried to hustle him through the door, but de Gaulle shook off their hands and never faltered. While the battle began outside, he walked slowly down the aisle. Before he had gone far a machine pistol fired down from above, at least two more joined in, and from below the FFI and police fired back. A BBC correspondent who was present reported;

... the General is being presented to the people. He is being received...they have opened fire! ... firing started all over the place ... that was one of the most dramatic scenes I have ever seen. ... General de Gaulle walked straight ahead into what appeared to me to be a hail of fire ... but he went straight ahead without hesitation, his shoulders flung back, and walked right down the centre aisle, even while the bullets were pouring about him. It was the most extraordinary example of courage I have ever seen ... there were bangs, flashes all about him, yet he seemed to have an absolutely charmed life.[57]

Later, in the great hall of the Hôtel de Ville, de Gaulle was greeted by a jubilant crowd and, proclaiming the continuity of the Third Republic, delivered a famous proclamation;

Speech by Charles de Gaulle.
Speech by Charles de Gaulle after the liberation of Paris, August 1944.

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Paris! Paris outraged, Paris broken, Paris martyred, but Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the assistance of the armies of France, with the support and assistance of the whole of France! ... The enemy is faltering but he is not yet beaten. He is still on our soil. It will not suffice that we, with the assistance of our dear and admirable allies, will have chased him from our home in order to be satisfied after what has happened. We want to enter his territory, as is fitting, as conquerors. ... It is for this revenge, this vengeance and this justice, that we will continue to fight until the last day, until the day of the total and complete victory.[58]

That evening, the Wehrmacht launched a massive aerial and artillery barrage of Paris in revenge, leaving several thousand dead or injured.[56] The situation in Paris remained tense, and a few days later de Gaulle, still unsure of the trend of events asked General Eisenhower to send some American troops into Paris as a show of strength. This he did 'not without some satisfaction',[56] and so on 29 August, the US 28th Infantry Division was rerouted from its journey to the front line and paraded down the Champs Elysees.[59]

The same day, Washington and London agreed to accept the position of the Free French. The following day General Eisenhower gave his de facto blessing with a visit to the General in Paris.

1944–46: Head of Free France

Roosevelt insisted that an Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMGOT) should be implemented in France, but this was opposed by both the Secretary of War and the Under-Secretary for War, as well as by Eisenhower, who had been strongly opposed to the imposition of AMGOT in North Africa. Eisenhower, unlike Roosevelt, wanted to cooperate with de Gaulle, and he secured a last-minute promise from the President on the eve of D-Day that the Allied officers would not act as military governors and would instead cooperate with the local authorities as the Allied forces liberated French Territory. De Gaulle would later claim in his memoirs that he blocked AMGOT.[60]

General de Gaulle with General Leclerc and other French officers at Montparnasse railway station in Paris, 25 August 1944

With the prewar parties and most of their leaders discredited, there was little opposition to de Gaulle and his associates forming an interim administration. In order not to be seen as presuming on his position in such austere times, de Gaulle did not use one of the grand official residences such as Hotel de Matignon or the presidential palace on the Elysee, but resided briefly in his old office at the War Ministry. When he was joined by his wife and daughters a short while later, they moved into a small state-owned villa on edge of Bois de Boulogne which had once been set aside for Hermann Göring.[61]

Living conditions immediately after the liberation were even worse than under German rule. About 25% of the city was in ruins and public services and fuel were almost nonexistent. Large-scale public demonstrations erupted all over France, protesting the apparent lack of action at improving the supply of food, while in Normandy, bakeries were pillaged. The problem was not French agriculture, which had largely continued operating without problems, but the near-total breakdown of the country's infrastructure. Large areas of track had been destroyed by bombing, most modern equipment, rolling stock, lorries and farm animals had been taken to Germany and all the bridges over the Seine, the Loire and the Rhone between Paris and the sea had been destroyed. The black market pushed real prices to four times the level of 1939, causing the government to print money to try to improve the money supply, which only added to inflation.[61]

On 10 November 1944, Churchill flew to Paris to a reception by de Gaulle and the two together were greeted by thousands of cheering Parisians on the next day.[52] Harold Nicolson stated that Anthony Eden told him that "not for one moment did Winston stop crying, and that he could have filled buckets by the time he received the Freedom of Paris."[52] He said "they yelled for Churchill in a way that he has never heard any crowd yell before. At an official luncheon de Gaulle said, "It is true that we would not have seen [the liberation] if our old and gallant ally England, and all the British dominions under precisely the impulsion and inspiration of those we are honouring today, had not deployed the extraordinary determination to win, and that magnificent courage which saved the freedom of the world. There is no French man or woman who is not touched to the depths of their hearts and souls by this."[52]

Curbing the Communist Resistance

After the celebrations had died down, de Gaulle began conferring with leading Resistance figures who, with the Germans gone, intended to continue as a political and military force, and asked to be given a government building to serve as their headquarters. The Resistance, in which the Communists were competing with other trends for leadership, had developed its own manifesto for social and political change known as the National Council of the Resistance (CNR) Charter, and wanted special status to enter the army under their own flags, ranks and honours. Despite their decisive support in backing him against Giraud, de Gaulle disappointed some of the Resistance leaders by telling them that although their efforts and sacrifices had been recognised, they had no further role to play and, that unless they joined the regular army, they should lay down their arms and return to civilian life.[61]

Believing them to be a dangerous revolutionary force, de Gaulle moved to break up the liberation committees and other militias. Much as he feared, the communists were not only extremely active, but they received a disturbing amount of support from the population. As early as May 1943, the US Secretary of State Cordell Hull had written to Roosevelt urging him to take action to attempt to curb the rise of communism in France.[6]

The Provisional Government of the French Republic

On 10 September 1944 the Provisional Government of the French Republic, or Government of National Unanimity formed. It included many of de Gaulle's Free French associates such as Gaston Palewski, Claude Guy, Claude Mauriac and Jacques Soustelle, together with members of the main parties, which included the Socialists and a new Christian Democratic Party, the MRP under the leadership of Georges Bidault, who served as Foreign Minister. The president of the prewar Senate Jules Jeanneney was brought back as second-ranking member, but because of their links with Russia, de Gaulle allowed the Communists only two minor positions in his government. While they were now a major political force with over a million members, of the full cabinet of 22 men, only Augustin Laurent and Charles Tillon—who as head of Francs-Tireurs et Partisans had been one of the most active members of the resistance—were given ministries. However, de Gaulle did pardon the Communists' leader Maurice Thorez, who had been sentenced to death in absentia by the French government for desertion. On his return home from Russia, Thorez delivered a speech supporting de Gaulle in which he said that for the present, the war against Germany was the only task that mattered.

There were also a number of new faces in the government, including a literary academic, Georges Pompidou, who had written to one of de Gaulle's recruiting agents offering his services, and Jean Monnet, who in spite of his past opposition to the General now recognized the need for unity and served as Commissoner for Economic Planning. Of equal rank to ministers and answerable only to the prime minister, a number of Commissioners of the Republic (Commissaires de la République) were appointed to re-establish the democratic institutions of France and to extend the legitimacy of the provisional government. A number of former Free French associates served as commissioners, including Henri Fréville, Raymond Aubrac and Michel Debré, who was charged with reforming the civil service. Controversially, de Gaulle also appointed Maurice Papon as Commissioner for Aquitaine in spite of his involvement in the deportation of Jews while serving as a senior police official in the Vichy regime during the occupation. (Over the years, Papon remained in high official positions but continued to be implicated in controversial events such as the Paris massacre of 1961,[62] eventually being convicted of crimes against humanity in 1998.)

In social policy, legislation was introduced in February 1945 that provided for the establishment of works committees in all private industrial establishments employing more than 50 (originally more than 100) people.[63]

Tour of major cities

De Gaulle's policy was to postpone elections as long as 2.6 million French were in Germany as prisoners of war and forced laborers. In mid-September, he embarked upon a tour of major provincial cities to increase his public profile and to help cement his position. Although he received a largely positive reception from the crowds who came out to see him, he reflected that only a few months previously the very same people had come out to cheer Marshal Pétain when he was serving the Vichy regime. Raymond Aubrac said that the General showed himself to be ill-at-ease at social functions; in Marseille and Lyon he became irate when he had to sit next to former Resistance leaders and also voiced his distaste for the rowdy, libidinous behavior of French youths during the Maquisard parades which preceded his speech.[61] When he reached Toulouse, de Gaulle also had to confront the leaders of a group which had proclaimed themselves to be the provincial government of the city.[51]

During the tour, de Gaulle showed his customary lack of concern for his own safety by mixing with the crowds and thus making himself an easy target for an assassin. Although he was naturally shy, the good use of amplification and patriotic music enabled him to deliver his message that though all of France was fragmented and suffering, together they would rise again. During every speech he would stop halfway through to invite the crowd to join him in singing La Marseillaise, before continuing and finishing by raising his hands in the air and crying "Vive la France!"[61]

The legal purges (Épuration légale)

As the war entered the final stages, the nation was forced to confront the reality of how many of its people had behaved under German rule. In France, collaborators were more severely punished than in most other occupied countries.[64] Immediately after the liberation, countless women accused of aiding, abetting, and taking German soldiers as lovers were subjected to public humiliations such as being shaved bald and paraded through the streets in their underwear. Women who got this treatment were lucky as many others were simply attacked by lynch mobs. With so many of their former members having been hunted down and killed by the Nazis and paramilitary Milice, the Partisans had already summarily executed an estimated 4,500 people,[64] and the Communists in particular continued to press for severe action against collaborators. In Paris alone, over 150,000 people were at some time detained on suspicion of collaboration, although most were later released. Famous figures accused included the industrialist Louis Renault, the actress Arletty, who had lived openly with a German officer in the Ritz, the opera star Tino Rossi, the chanteuse Édith Piaf, the stage actor Sacha Guitry and Coco Chanel, who was briefly detained but fled to Switzerland.[51]

Keenly aware of the need to seize the initiative and to get the process under firm judicial control, de Gaulle appointed Justice Minister François de Menthon to lead the Legal Purge (Épuration légale) to punish traitors and to clear away the traces of the Vichy regime. Knowing that he would need to reprieve many of the 'economic collaborators'—such as police and civil servants who held minor roles under Vichy in order to keep the country running as normally as possible—he assumed, as head of state, the right to commute death sentences.[51] Of the near 2,000 people who received the death sentence from the courts, fewer than 800 were executed. De Gaulle commuted 998 of the 1,554 capital sentences submitted before him, including all those involving women. Many others were given jail terms or had their voting rights and other legal privileges taken away. It is generally agreed that the purges were conducted arbitrarily, with often absurdly severe or overly lenient punishments being handed down.[61] It was also notable that the less well-off people who were unable to pay for lawyers were more harshly treated. As time went by and feelings grew less intense, a number of people who had held fairly senior positions under the Vichy government—such as Maurice Papon and René Bousquet—escaped justice by claiming to have worked secretly for the resistance or to have played a double game, working for the good of France by serving the established order.[61]

Later, there was the question of what to do with the former Vichy leaders when they were finally returned to France. Marshal Pétain and Maxime Weygand were war heroes from World War I and were now extremely old; convicted of treason, Pétain received a death sentence which his old protégé de Gaulle commuted to life imprisonment, while Weygand was eventually acquitted. Three Vichy leaders were executed. Joseph Darnand, who became an SS officer and led the Milice paramilitaries who hunted down members of the Resistance, was executed in October 1945. Fernand de Brinon, the third-ranking Vichy official, was found guilty of war crimes and executed in April 1947. The two trials of the most infamous collaborator of all, Pierre Laval, who was heavily implicated in the murder of Jews, were widely criticised as being unfair for depriving him of the opportunity to properly defend himself, although Laval antagonized the court throughout with his bizarre behavior. He was found guilty of treason in May 1945 and de Gaulle was adamant that there would be no commuting the death sentence, saying that Laval's execution was "an indispensable symbolic gesture required for reasons of state". There was a widespread belief, particularly in the years that followed, that de Gaulle was trying to appease both the Third Republic politicians and the former Vichy leaders who had made Laval their scapegoat.[61]

Winter of 1944

The winter of 194445 was especially difficult for most of the population. Inflation showed no sign of slowing down and food shortages were severe. The prime minister and the other Gaullists were forced to try to balance the desires of ordinary people and public servants for a return to normal life with pressure from Bidault's MRP and the Communists for the large scale nationalisation programme and other social changes that formed the main tenets of the CNR Charter. At end of 1944 the coal industry and other energy companies were nationalised, followed shortly afterwards by major banks and finance houses, the merchant navy, the main aircraft manufacturers, airlines and a number of major private enterprises such as the Renault car company at Boulogne-Billancourt, whose owner had been implicated as a collaborator and accused of having made huge profits working for the Nazis.[51] In some cases unions, feeling that things were not progressing quickly enough, took matters into their own hands, occupying premises and setting up workers' committees to run the companies.[61] Women were also allowed the vote for the first time, a new social security system was introduced to cover most medical costs, unions were expanded and price controls introduced to try to curb inflation. At de Gaulle's request, the newspaper Le Monde was founded in December 1944 to provide France with a quality daily journal similar to those in other countries. Le Monde took over the premises and facilities of the older Le Temps, whose independence and reputation had been badly compromised during the Vichy years.[51]

During this period there were a number of minor disagreements between the French and the other Allies. The British ambassador to France Duff Cooper said that during this time de Gaulle seemed to seek out real or imagined insults to take offence at wherever possible.[51] De Gaulle believed Britain and the US were intending to keep their armies in France after the war and were secretly working to take over its overseas possessions and to prevent it from regaining its political and economic strength. In late October he complained that the Allies were failing to adequately arm and equip the new French army and instructed Bidault to use the French veto at the European Council.[51]

On Armistice Day in 1945, Winston Churchill made his first visit to France since the liberation and received a good reception in Paris where he laid a wreath to Georges Clemenceau. The occasion also marked the first official appearance of de Gaulle's wife Yvonne, but the visit was less friendly than it appeared. De Gaulle had instructed that there be no excessive displays of public affection towards Churchill and no official awards without his prior agreement. When crowds cheered Churchill during a parade down the Elysee, de Gaulle was heard to remark, "Fools and cretins! Look at the rabble cheering the old bandit".[61]

Visit to the Soviet Union

With the Russian forces making more rapid advances into German-held territory than the Allies, there was a sudden public realisation that the Soviet Union was about to dominate large parts of eastern Europe. In fact, at the Cairo and Tehran Conferences in 1943 Britain and America had already agreed to allow Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to fall under the Russian sphere of influence after the war, with shared influence in Yugoslavia.[65] The UK was to retain hegemony over Greece, although there had been no agreement over Poland, whose eastern territories were already in Russian hands under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, and which retained a government in exile in London.[65] De Gaulle had not been invited to any of the 'Big Three' Conferences, although the decisions made by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt in dividing up Europe were of huge importance to France.

De Gaulle and his Foreign Minister Bidault stated that they were not in favour of a 'Western Bloc' that would be separate from the rest of Europe, and hoped that a resurgent France might be able to act as a 'third force' in Europe to temper the ambitions of the two emerging superpowers, America and Russia.[6] He began seeking an audience with Stalin to press his 'facing both ways' policy, and finally received an invitation in late 1944. In his memoirs, de Gaulle devoted 24 pages to his visit to Russia, but a number of writers make the point that his version of events differs significantly from that of the Russians, of foreign news correspondents, and with their own eye-witness accounts.[6][61]

De Gaulle wanted access to German coal in the Ruhr as reparations after the war, the left bank of the Rhine to be incorporated into French territory, and for the Oder-Neisse line in Poland to become Germany's official eastern border. De Gaulle began by requesting that France enter into a treaty with the Soviet Union on this basis, but Stalin, who remained in constant contact with Churchill throughout the visit, said that it would be impossible to make such an agreement without the consent of Britain and America. He suggested that it might be possible to add France's name to the existing Anglo-Soviet Agreement if they agreed to recognise the Soviet-backed provisional Polish government known as the Lublin Committee as rightful rulers of Poland, but de Gaulle refused on the grounds that this would be 'un-French', as it would mean it being a junior partner in an alliance.[6] During the visit, de Gaulle accompanied the deputy Russian leader Vyacheslav Molotov on a tour of the former battleground at Stalingrad, where he was deeply moved at the scene of carnage he witnessed and surprised Molotov by referring to "our joint sacrifice".[6]

Though the treaty which was eventually signed by Bidault and Molotov carried symbolic importance in that it enabled de Gaulle to demonstrate that he was recognised as the official head of state and show that France's voice was being heard abroad, it was of little relevance to Stalin due to France's lack of real political and military power; it did not affect the outcome of the post-war settlement. Stalin later commented that like Churchill and Roosevelt, he found de Gaulle to be awkward and stubborn and believed that he was 'not a complicated person' (by which he meant that he was an old-style nationalist).[6] Stalin also felt that he lacked realism in claiming the same rights as the major powers and did not object to Roosevelt's refusal to allow de Gaulle to attend the 'Big Three' conferences that were to come at Yalta and Potsdam.


At the end of 1944 French forces continued to advance as part of the American armies, but during the Ardennes Offensive there was a dispute over Eisenhower's order to French troops to evacuate Strasbourg, which had just been liberated so as to straighten the defensive line against the German counterattack.[6] Strasbourg was an important political and psychological symbol of French sovereignty in Alsace and Lorraine, and de Gaulle, saying that its loss would bring down the government, refused to allow a retreat, predicting that "Strasbourg will be our Stalingrad".[51] At a cabinet meeting he said that the French should be willing to die there alone if the US pulled out its own troops. Churchill backed the French, and Eisenhower was so impressed with the French resolve that he eventually left his own troops in the city even at the risk of being cut off, for which de Gaulle expressed his extreme gratitude.

By early 1945 it was clear that the price controls which had been introduced to control inflation had only served to boost the black market and prices continued to move ever upwards. By this time the army had swelled to over 1.2 million men and almost half of state expenditure was going to military spending.[61] De Gaulle was faced with his first major ministerial dispute when the very able but tough-minded economics minister Pierre Mendès France demanded a programme of severe monetary reform which was opposed by the Finance Ministry headed by Aime Lepercq, who favoured a programme of heavy borrowing to stimulate the economy.[61] When de Gaulle, knowing there would be little appetite for further austerity measures sided with Lepercq, Mendès France tendered his resignation, which was rejected because de Gaulle knew he needed him. Lepercq was killed in a road accident a short time afterwards and was succeeded by Pleven, but when in March, Mendès France asked unsuccessfully for taxes on capital earnings and for the blocking of certain bank accounts, he again offered his resignation and it was accepted.[61]

The Yalta Conference

De Gaulle was never invited to the summit conferences of Allied leaders such as Yalta and Potsdam. He never forgave the Big Three leaders (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) for their neglect and continued to rage against it as having been a negative factor in European politics for the rest of his life.[6]

After the Rhine crossings, the French First Army captured a large section of territory in southern Germany, but although this later allowed France to play a part in the signing of the German surrender, Roosevelt in particular refused to allow any discussion about de Gaulle participating in the Big Three conferences that would shape Europe in the post-war world. Churchill pressed hard for France to be included 'at the inter-allied table', but on 6 December 1944 the American president wired both Stalin and Churchill to say that de Gaulle's presence would "merely introduce a complicating and undesirable factor".[66]

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, despite Stalin's opposition, Churchill and Roosevelt insisted that France be allowed a post-war occupation zone in Germany, and also made sure that it was included among the five nations that invited others to the conference to establish the United Nations.[65] This was important because it guaranteed France a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a prestigious position that despite pressure from emerging nations it still holds today.

President Truman

On his way back from Yalta, Roosevelt asked de Gaulle to meet him in Algiers for talks. The General refused, believing that there was nothing more to be said, and for this he received a rebuke from Georges Bidault and from the French press, and a severely angered Roosevelt criticised de Gaulle to Congress. Soon after, 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".[51]

De Gaulle's relationship with Truman was to prove just as difficult as it had been with Roosevelt. With Allied forces advancing deep into Germany, another serious situation developed between American and French forces in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, when French soldiers were ordered to transfer the occupation zones to US troops. Wishing to retain as much German territory in French hands as possible, de Gaulle ordered his troops, who were using American weapons and ammunition, to resist, and an armed confrontation seemed imminent.[61] Truman threatened to cut off supplies to the French army and to take the zones by force, leaving de Gaulle with little choice but to back down. De Gaulle never forgave Truman and hinted he would work closely with Stalin, leading Truman to tell his staff, "I don't like the son of a bitch."[67]

The first visit by de Gaulle to Truman in America was not a success. Truman told his visitor that it was time that the French got rid of the Communist influence from its government, to which de Gaulle replied that this was France's own business.[6] But Truman, who admitted that his feelings towards the French were becoming 'less and less friendly', went on to say that under the circumstances, the French could not expect much economic aid and refused to accept de Gaulle's request for control of the west bank of the Rhine. During the argument which followed, de Gaulle reminded Truman that the US was using the French port of Noumea in New Caledonia as a base against the Japanese.[6]

Victory in Europe

When, in May 1945 the German armies surrendered to the Americans and British at Rheims, a separate armistice was signed with France in Berlin.[64] De Gaulle refused to allow any British participation in the victory parade in Paris. However, among the vehicles that took part was an ambulance from the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit, staffed by French doctors and British nurses. One of the nurses was Mary Spears, who had set up the unit and had worked almost continuously since the Battle of France with Free French forces in the Middle East, North Africa and Italy. Mary's husband was General Edward Spears, the British liaison to the Free French who had personally spirited de Gaulle to safety in Britain in 1940. When de Gaulle saw the Union Flags and Tricolours side by side on the ambulance, and heard French soldiers cheering, "Voilà Spears! Vive Spears!" he ordered that the unit be closed down immediately and its British staff sent home. A number of French troops returned their medals in protest and Mary wrote, "it is a pitiful business when a great man suddenly becomes small."[68]

Another confrontation with the Americans broke out soon after the armistice when the French sent troops to occupy the French-speaking Italian border region of Val d'Aoste. The French commander threatened to open fire on American troops if they tried to stop them, and an irate Truman ordered the immediate end to all arms shipments to France, and sent de Gaulle an angry letter saying that he found it unbelievable that the French could threaten to attack American troops after they had done so much to liberate France.[6]

However, de Gaulle was generally well received in the United States immediately after World War II and supported the United States in public comments. He visited New York City, on 27 August 1945, to great welcome by the thousands of people of the city and its mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.[69][70] On that day, de Gaulle wished "Long live the United States of America", visited New York City Hall and Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport), and presented LaGuardia with the Grand Croix of the Legion of Honour award.[69][70]

Confrontation in the Levant

On VE Day, there were also serious riots in French Tunisia, while soon after there came a dispute with Britain over Syria and Lebanon which quickly developed into a major diplomatic incident. The US, already alienated from de Gaulle, sided with Britain and a major crisis was at hand.[71]

The two Arab countries, occupying a region known as the Levant, had been ruled under a French mandate given by the League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference. For several months both countries had seen demonstrations against the French.[72] Bidault announced that France intended to defend its economic and cultural rights in Syria and Lebanon, and that there would be "no problem, as long as the British do not interfere".[73] In May, de Gaulle sent General Beynet to establish an air base in Syria and a naval base in Lebanon, provoking an outbreak of nationalism in which some French nationals were attacked and killed.[72]

On 20 May, French troops opened fire on demonstrators in Damascus with artillery and mortars while aircraft dropped bombs. Later, colonial Senegalese troops were sent in with machine guns and, after several days, hundreds of Syrians lay dead in the bazaars and narrow streets of the capital, with reports of looting by the attacking forces.[74] The British, who had substantial forces in the region, said that they would be forced to intervene if the violence did not stop. They were backed by President Truman, who declared "those French ought to be taken out and castrated".[51]

Following the visit to Paris the previous year, and in spite of his efforts to preserve French interests at Yalta, Churchill's relationship with de Gaulle was now at rock bottom. In January he told a colleague that he believed that de Gaulle was "a great danger to peace and for Great Britain. After five years of experience, I am convinced that he is the worst enemy of France in her troubles ... he is one of the greatest dangers to European peace.... I am sure that in the long run no understanding will be reached with General de Gaulle".[51]

Finally, on 31 May, with the death toll exceeding a thousand Syrians,[51] Churchill sent de Gaulle a message saying, "In order to avoid a collision between British and French forces, we request you immediately to order French troops to cease fire and withdraw to their barracks". Meanwhile, the British, under General Bernard Paget moved in with troops and tanks and cut French General Oliva Roget's telephone line with his base at Beirut. Paget ordered Roget to tell his men to cease fire, but the Frenchman said that he would not take orders from the British.[74] Eventually, heavily outnumbered, Roget ordered his men back to their base near the coast, angry that the British had arrived only after he had "restored order". He told a Syrian journalist, "You are replacing the easygoing French with the brutal British". But that night, with the Syrians killing any French or Senegalese troops they could find, the French were forced to accept the British escort back to the safety of their barracks. Later, Roget was sacked, but a furious row broke out between Britain and France.[74]

In France, there were accusations that Britain had armed the demonstrators.[72] De Gaulle raged against 'Churchill's ultimatum', saying that "the whole thing stank of oil".[61] He summoned Duff Cooper and told him, "I recognise that we are not in a position to wage war against you, but you have betrayed France and betrayed the West. That cannot be forgotten".[51]

France was isolated and suffering a diplomatic crisis. The secretary of the Arab League Edward Atiyah said, "France put all her cards and two rusty pistols on the table". In turn, the French press attacked Britain as an enemy of France and accused the US of helping Italy and Germany more than it helped France. It also criticised the Russians when they made it clear that they believed that France was in the wrong.[74]

The Potsdam Conference

During the Potsdam Conference in July, to which de Gaulle was again not invited, Churchill was defeated in the British general election and replaced by the Labour leader Clement Attlee. De Gaulle was disappointed in Churchill's electoral loss and wrote that it was a "disgrace suddenly inflicted by the British Nation upon the great man who had so gloriously led her to salvation and victory" and that Churchill's wartime actions had become "inadequate in this era of mediocrity".[52] The Potsdam Conference brought a decision to divide Vietnam, which had been a French colony for over a hundred years, into British and Chinese spheres of influence.[65] Soon after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, de Gaulle sent the French Far East Expeditionary Corps to re-establish French sovereignty in French Indochina, making Admiral Georges d'Argenlieu High Commissioner and General Philippe Leclerc commander-in-chief and commander of the expeditionary corps.[75] However, the resistance leaders in Indo-China proclaimed the freedom and independence of Vietnam.[72]

New elections and resignation

Since the liberation, the only parliament in France had been an enlarged version of the Algiers Consultative Assembly, and at last, in October 1945, elections were held for a new Constituent Assembly whose main task was to provide a new constitution for the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle favoured a strong executive for the nation,[11] but all three of the main parties wished to severely restrict the powers of the president. The Communists wanted an assembly with full constitutional powers and no time limit, whereas de Gaulle, the Socialists and the Popular Republican Movement (MRP) advocated one with a term limited to only seven months, after which the draft constitution would be submitted for another referendum.

In the election, which was run on the basis of proportional representation, the second option was approved by 13 million of the 21 million voters. The big three parties won 75% of the vote, with the Communists winning 158 seats, the MRP 152 seats, the Socialists 142 seats and the remaining seats going to the various far right parties.

On 13 November 1945, the new assembly unanimously elected Charles de Gaulle head of the government, but problems immediately arose when it came to selecting the cabinet, due to his unwillingness once more to allow the Communists any important ministries. The Communists, now the largest party and with their charismatic leader Maurice Thorez back at the helm, were not prepared to accept this for a second time, and a furious row ensued, during which de Gaulle sent a letter of resignation to the speaker of the Assembly and declared that he was unwilling to trust a party that he considered to be an agent of a foreign power (Russia) with authority over the police and armed forces of France.[6]

Eventually, the new cabinet was finalised on 21 November, with the Communists receiving five out of the twenty-two ministries, and although they still did not get any of the key portfolios, Thorez did manage to obtain one of the four prestigious Ministry of State posts. The old provisional government ruled by decree, but de Gaulle was frustrated by the new Constituent Assembly and its "regime of parties" and believed that the draft constitution placed too much power in the hands of parliament with its shifting party alliances. One of his ministers described him as "a man equally incapable of monopolizing power as of sharing it".

De Gaulle outlined a programme of further nationalisations and a new economic plan which were passed, but a further row came when the Communists demanded a 20% reduction in the military budget. Refusing to 'rule by compromise', de Gaulle once more threatened to resign. There was a general feeling that he was trying to blackmail the assembly into complete subservience by threatening to withdraw his personal prestige which he insisted was what alone kept the ruling coalition together.[61] Although the MRP managed to broker a compromise which saw the budget approved with amendments, it was little more than a stop-gap measure.[6]

Barely two months after forming the new government, de Gaulle abruptly resigned on 20 January 1946. The move was called "a bold and ultimately foolish political ploy", with de Gaulle hoping that as a war hero, he would be soon brought back as a more powerful executive by the French people.[76] However, that did not turn out to be the case. With the war finally over, the initial period of crisis had passed. Although there were still shortages, particularly of bread, France was now on the road to recovery, and de Gaulle suddenly did not seem so indispensable. The Communist publication Combat wrote, "There was no cataclysm, and the empty plate didn't crack".[61]

He was succeeded by Félix Gouin (French Section of the Workers' International, SFIO), then Georges Bidault (MRP) and finally Léon Blum (SFIO).[77]

1946–58: Out of power

The statement of Charles de Gaulle in reference to World War II

After monopolizing French politics for six years, Charles de Gaulle suddenly dropped out of sight, and returned to his home at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises to write his war memoirs.[78]

De Gaulle had told Pierre Bertaux in 1944 that he planned to retire because "France may still one day need an image that is pure ... If Joan of Arc had married, she would no longer have been Joan of Arc".[79] The famous opening paragraph of Mémoires de guerre begins by declaring, "All my life, I have had a certain idea of France (une certaine idée de la France)", comparing his country to an old painting of a Madonna, and ends by declaring that, given the divisive nature of French politics, France cannot truly live up to this ideal without a policy of "grandeur". During this period of formal retirement, however, de Gaulle maintained regular contact with past political lieutenants from wartime and RPF days, including sympathizers involved in political developments in French Algeria, becoming "perhaps the best-informed man in France".[11]

In April 1947, de Gaulle made a renewed attempt to transform the political scene by creating a Rassemblement du Peuple Français (Rally of the French People, or RPF), which he hoped would be able to move above the familiar party squabbles of the parliamentary system. Despite the new party's taking 40% of vote in local elections and 121 seats in 1951, lacking its own press and access to television, its support ebbed away. In May 1953, he withdrew again from active politics,[11] though the RPF lingered until September 1955.[78]

As with a number of other European countries during this period, France began to suffer the loss of its overseas possessions amid the surge of nationalism which came in the aftermath of World War II. Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), colonised by France during the mid nineteenth century, had been lost to the Japanese after the defeat of 1940. De Gaulle had intended to hold on to France's Indochina colony, ordering the parachuting of French agents and arms into Indochina in late 1944 and early 1945 with orders to attack the Japanese as American troops hit the beaches.[80] Although de Gaulle had moved quickly to consolidate French control of the territory during his brief first tenure as president in the 1940s, the communist Vietminh under Ho Chi Minh began a determined campaign for independence from 1946 onwards. The French fought a bitter 7½ year war (the First Indochina War) to hold onto Indochina; it was largely funded by the United States and grew increasingly unpopular, especially after the stunning defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. France pulled out that summer under Prime Minister Pierre Mendès France.

The independence of Morocco and Tunisia was arranged by Mendès France and proclaimed in March 1956. Meanwhile, in Algeria some 350,000 French troops were fighting 150,000 combatants of the Algerian Liberation Movement (FLN). Within a few years, the Algerian war of independence reached a summit in terms of savagery and bloodshed and threatened to spill into metropolitan France itself.

How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?
 de Gaulle

Between 1946 and 1958 the Fourth Republic had 24 separate ministries. Frustrated by the endless divisiveness, de Gaulle famously asked "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"[81]

1958: Collapse of the Fourth Republic

Further information: May 1958 crisis

The Fourth Republic was wracked by political instability, failures in Indochina, and inability to resolve the Algerian question.[82][83]

On 13 May 1958, the Pied-Noir settlers seized the government buildings in Algiers, attacking what they saw as French government weakness in the face of demands among the Arab majority for Algerian independence. A "Committee of Civil and Army Public Security" was created under the presidency of General Jacques Massu, a Gaullist sympathiser. General Raoul Salan, Commander-in-Chief in Algeria, announced on radio that he was assuming provisional power, and appealed for confidence in himself.[84]

At a 19 May press conference, de Gaulle asserted again that he was at the disposal of the country. As a journalist expressed the concerns of some who feared that he would violate civil liberties, de Gaulle retorted vehemently: "Have I ever done that? On the contrary, I have re-established them when they had disappeared. Who honestly believes that, at age 67, I would start a career as a dictator?"[85] A constitutionalist by conviction, he maintained throughout the crisis that he would accept power only from the lawfully constituted authorities. De Gaulle did not wish to repeat the difficulty the Free French movement experienced in establishing legitimacy as the rightful government. He told an aide that the rebel generals "will not find de Gaulle in their baggage".[11]

The crisis deepened as French paratroops from Algeria seized Corsica and a landing near Paris was discussed (Operation Resurrection).[86]

Political leaders on many sides agreed to support the General's return to power, except François Mitterrand, Pierre Mendès France, Alain Savary, the Communist Party, and certain other leftists. On 29 May the French president, René Coty, appealed to the "most illustrious of Frenchmen" to confer with him and to examine what was immediately necessary for the creation of a government of national safety, and what could be done to bring about a profound reform of the country's institutions.[87]

De Gaulle remained intent on replacing the constitution of the Fourth Republic, which he blamed for France's political weakness. He set as conditions for his return that he be given wide emergency powers for six months and that a new constitution be proposed to the French people.[88] On 1 June 1958, de Gaulle became Premier and was given emergency powers for six months by the National Assembly,[89] fulfilling his desire for parliamentary legitimacy.[11]

On 28 September 1958, a referendum took place and 79.2 percent of those who voted supported the new constitution and the creation of the Fifth Republic. The colonies (Algeria was officially a part of France, not a colony) were given the choice between immediate independence and the new constitution. All African colonies voted for the new constitution and the replacement of the French Union by the French Community, except Guinea, which thus became the first French African colony to gain independence and immediately lost all French assistance.[90]

1958–62: Founding of the Fifth Republic

In the November 1958 elections, de Gaulle and his supporters (initially organised in the Union pour la Nouvelle République-Union Démocratique du Travail, then the Union des Démocrates pour la Vème République, and later still the Union des Démocrates pour la République, UDR) won a comfortable majority. In December, de Gaulle was elected President by the electoral college with 78% of the vote, and inaugurated in January 1959.[91]

On 6 November 1958, in Paris, now President de Gaulle presented to his old wartime ally Winston Churchill the Croix de la Libération.[52] De Gaulle remarked: "I want Sir Winston to know this. Today's ceremony means that France remembers what she owes him. I want him to know this: the man who has just had the honour of bestowing this distinction upon him values and admires him more than ever."[52] De Gaulle and Churchill maintained a friendly relationship after World War II. Upon Churchill's death on 24 January 1965 de Gaulle wrote to Queen Elizabeth, "In the great drama he was the greatest of all.[52]

De Gaulle oversaw tough economic measures to revitalise the country, including the issuing of a new franc (worth 100 old francs).[92] Internationally, he rebuffed both the United States and the Soviet Union, pushing for an independent France with its own nuclear weapons, and strongly encouraged a "Free Europe", believing that a confederation of all European nations would restore the past glories of the great European empires.[93]

He set about building Franco-German cooperation as the cornerstone of the European Economic Community (EEC), paying the first state visit to Germany by a French head of state since Napoleon.[94] In January 1963, Germany and France signed a treaty of friendship, the Élysée Treaty.[95] France also reduced its dollar reserves, trading them for gold from the US government, thereby reducing American economic influence abroad.[96]

On 23 November 1959, in a speech in Strasbourg, de Gaulle announced his vision for Europe:

Oui, c'est l'Europe, depuis l'Atlantique jusqu'à l'Oural, c'est toute l'Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde.

("Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the destiny of the world.")

His expression, "Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals", has often been cited throughout the history of European integration. It became, for the next ten years, a favourite political rallying cry of de Gaulle's. His vision stood in contrast to the Atlanticism of the United States and Britain, preferring instead a Europe that would act as a third pole between the United States and the Soviet Union. By including in his ideal of Europe all the territory up to the Urals, de Gaulle was implicitly offering détente to the Soviets.


Further information: Algerian War

Upon becoming president, de Gaulle was faced with the urgent task of finding a way to bring to an end the bloody and divisive war in Algeria.[97] His intentions were obscure. He had immediately visited Algeria and declared, Je vous ai compris—'I have understood you', and each competing interest had wished to believe it was them that he had understood. The settlers assumed he supported them, and would be stunned when he did not. In Paris, the left wanted independence for Algeria. Although the military's near-coup had contributed to his return to power, de Gaulle soon ordered all officers to quit the rebellious Committees of Public Safety. Such actions greatly angered the pieds-noirs and their military supporters.[98]

He faced uprisings in Algeria by the pied-noirs and the French armed forces. On assuming the prime minister role in June 1958 he immediately went to Algeria, and neutralised the army there, with its 600,000 soldiers. The Algiers Committee of Public Safety was loud in its demands on behalf of the settlers, but de Gaulle made more visits and sidestepped them. For the long term he devised a plan to modernize Algeria's traditional economy, deescalated the war, and offered Algeria self-determination in 1959. A pied-noir revolt in 1960 failed, while another attempted coup failed in April 1961. French voters approved his course in a 1961 referendum on Algerian self-determination. De Gaulle arranged a cease-fire in Algeria with the March 1962 Evian Accords, legitimated by another referendum a month later. It gave victory by the FLN, which came to power and declared independence. The long crisis was over.[99]

Although the Algerian issue was settled, Prime Minister Michel Debré resigned over the final settlement and was replaced with Georges Pompidou on 14 April 1962. France recognised Algerian independence on 3 July 1962, while a blanket amnesty law was belatedly voted in 1968, covering all crimes committed by the French army during the war. In just a few months in 1962, 900,000 Pied-Noirs left the country. After 5 July, the exodus accelerated in the wake of the French deaths during the Oran massacre of 1962.

Assassination attempts

De Gaulle was targeted for death by the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), in retaliation for his Algerian initiatives. Several assassination attempts were made on him; the most famous took place on 22 August 1962, when he and his wife narrowly escaped from an organized machine gun ambush on their Citroën DS limousine. De Gaulle commented "Ils tirent comme des cochons" ("They shoot like pigs").[100] The attack was arranged by Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry at Petit-Clamart.[101] Frederick Forsyth used this incident as a basis for his novel The Day of the Jackal.

Direct presidential elections

In September 1962, de Gaulle sought a constitutional amendment to allow the president to be directly elected by the people and issued another referendum to this end. After a motion of censure voted by the parliament on 4 October 1962, de Gaulle dissolved the National Assembly and held new elections. Although the left progressed, the Gaullists won an increased majority—this despite opposition from the Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP) and the National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP) who criticised de Gaulle's euroscepticism and presidentialism.[102][103]

De Gaulle's proposal to change the election procedure for the French presidency was approved at the referendum on 28 October 1962 by more than three-fifths of voters despite a broad "coalition of no" formed by most of the parties, opposed to a presidential regime. Thereafter the president was to be elected by direct universal suffrage for the first time since Louis Napoleon in 1848.[104]

1962–68: Politics of grandeur

Charles de Gaulle's motorcade passes through Isles-sur-Suippe (Marne), the president salutes the crowd from his famous Citroën DS

With the Algerian conflict behind him, de Gaulle was able to achieve his two main objectives, the reform and development of the French economy, and the promotion of an independent foreign policy and a strong presence on the international stage. This was named by foreign observers the "politics of grandeur" (politique de grandeur).[105] See Gaullism.

"Thirty glorious years"

In the immediate post-war years France was in poor shape;[55] wages remained at around half prewar levels, the winter of 1946–1947 did extensive damage to crops, leading to a reduction in the bread ration, hunger and disease remained rife and the black market continued to flourish. Germany was in an even worse position, but after 1948 things began to improve dramatically with the introduction of Marshall Aid—large scale American financial assistance given to help rebuild European economies and infrastructure. This laid the foundations of a meticulously planned program of investments in energy, transport and heavy industry, overseen by the government of Prime Minister Georges Pompidou.

In the context of a population boom unseen in France since the 18th century, the government intervened heavily in the economy, using dirigisme—a unique combination of free-market and state-directed economy—with indicative five-year plans as its main tool. This brought about a rapid transformation and expansion of the French economy.

Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi meeting with Charles de Gaulle in France, 1961

High-profile projects, mostly but not always financially successful, were launched: the extension of Marseille's harbour (soon ranking third in Europe and first in the Mediterranean); the promotion of the Caravelle passenger jetliner (a predecessor of Airbus); the decision to start building the supersonic Franco-British Concorde airliner in Toulouse; the expansion of the French auto industry with state-owned Renault at its centre; and the building of the first motorways between Paris and the provinces.

Aided by these projects, the French economy recorded growth rates unrivalled since the 19th century. In 1964, for the first time in nearly 100 years[106] France's GDP overtook that of the United Kingdom. This period is still remembered in France with some nostalgia as the peak of the Trente Glorieuses ("Thirty Glorious Years" of economic growth between 1945 and 1974).[107]

In 1967, de Gaulle decreed a law that obliged all firms over certain sizes to distribute a small portion of their profits to their employees. By 1974, as a result of this measure, French employees received an average of 700 francs per head, equivalent to 3.2% of their salary.[108]

Fourth nuclear power

During his first tenure as president, de Gaulle became enthusiastic about the possibilities of nuclear power. France had carried out important work in the early development of atomic energy and in October 1945 he established the French Atomic Energy Commission Commissariat à l'énergie atomique, (CEA) responsible for all scientific, commercial, and military uses of nuclear energy. However, partly due to communist influences in government opposed to proliferation, research stalled and France was excluded from American, British and Canadian nuclear efforts.

By October 1952, the United Kingdom had become the third country—after the United States and the Soviet Union—to independently test and develop nuclear weapons. This gave Britain the capability to launch a nuclear strike via its Vulcan bomber force and they began developing a ballistic missile program known as Blue Streak.

As early as April 1954 while out of power, de Gaulle argued that France must have its own nuclear arsenal; at the time nuclear weapons were seen as a national status symbol and a way of maintaining international prestige with a place at the 'top table' of the United Nations. Full-scale research began again in late 1954 when Prime Minister Pierre Mendès France authorized a plan to develop the atomic bomb; large deposits of uranium had been discovered near Limoges in central France, providing the researchers with an unrestricted supply of nuclear fuel. France's independent Force de Frappe (strike force) came into being soon after de Gaulle's election with his authorization for the first nuclear test.

With the cancellation of Blue Streak, the US agreed to supply Britain with its Skybolt and later Polaris weapons systems, and in 1958 the two nations signed the Mutual Defence Agreement forging close links which have seen the US and UK cooperate on nuclear security matters ever since. Although at the time it was still a full member of NATO, France proceeded to develop its own independent nuclear technologies—this would enable it to become a partner in any reprisals and would give it a voice in matters of atomic control.[109]

The Redoutable, the first French nuclear missile submarine.

After six years of effort, on 13 February 1960 France became the world's fourth nuclear power when a high-powered nuclear device was exploded in the Sahara some 700 miles south-south-west of Algiers.[110] In August 1963 France decided against signing the Partial Test Ban Treaty designed to slow the arms race because it would have prohibited it from testing nuclear weapons above ground. France continued to carry out tests at the Algerian site until 1966, under an agreement with the newly independent Algeria. France's testing program then moved to the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls in the South Pacific.

In November 1967, an article by the French Chief of the General Staff (but inspired by de Gaulle) in the Revue de la Défense Nationale caused international consternation. It was stated that French nuclear force should be capable of firing "in all directions"—thus including even America as a potential target. This surprising statement was intended as a declaration of French national independence, and was in retaliation to a warning issued long ago by Dean Rusk that US missiles would be aimed at France if it attempted to employ atomic weapons outside an agreed plan. However, criticism of de Gaulle was growing over his tendency to act alone with little regard for the views of others.[111] In August, concern over de Gaulle's policies had been voiced by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing when he queried 'the solitary exercise of power'.[112]


With the onset of the Cold War and the perceived threat of invasion from the Soviet Union and the countries of the eastern bloc, the United States, Canada and a number of western European countries set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to co-ordinate a military response to any possible attack. France played a key role during the early days of the organisation, providing a large military contingent and agreeing—after much soul-searching—to the participation of West German forces. But after his election in 1958 Charles de Gaulle took the view that the organisation was too dominated by the US and UK, and that America would not fulfill its promise to defend Europe in the event of a Russian invasion.

De Gaulle demanded political parity with Britain and America in NATO, and for its geographic coverage to be extended to include French territories abroad, including Algeria, then experiencing civil war. This was not forthcoming, and so in March 1959 France, citing the need for it to maintain its own independent military strategy, withdrew its Mediterranean Fleet (ALESCMED) from NATO, and a few months later de Gaulle demanded the removal of all US nuclear weapons from French territory.

De Gaulle hosted a superpower summit on 17 May 1960 for arms limitation talks and détente efforts in the wake of the 1960 U-2 incident between United States President Dwight Eisenhower, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.[113] De Gaulle's warm relations with Eisenhower were noticed by United States military observers at that time. De Gaulle told Eisenhower: "Obviously you cannot apologize but you must decide how you wish to handle this. I will do everything I can to be helpful without being openly partisan." When Khrushchev condemned the United States U-2 flights, de Gaulle expressed to Khrushchev his disapproval of 18 near-simultaneous secret Soviet satellite overflights of French territory; Khrushchev denied knowledge of the satellite overflights. Lieutenant General Vernon A. Walters wrote that after Khrushchev left, "De Gaulle came over to Eisenhower and took him by the arm. He took me also by the elbow and, taking us a little apart, he said to Eisenhower, 'I do not know what Khrushchev is going to do, nor what is going to happen, but whatever he does, I want you to know that I am with you to the end.' I was astounded at this statement, and Eisenhower was clearly moved by his unexpected expression of unconditional support". General Walters was struck by de Gaulle's "unconditional support" of the United States during that "crucial time".[114] De Gaulle then tried to revive the talks by inviting all the delegates to another conference at the Élysée Palace to discuss the situation, but the summit ultimately dissolved in the wake of the U-2 incident.[113]

In 1964, de Gaulle visited the Soviet Union, where he hoped to establish France as an alternative influence in the Cold War. De Gaulle always viewed Communism as a passing phenomenon, and never used the term the Soviet Union, always calling it Russia. In his view, Russian national interests rather than Communist ideology determined the decision-making in the Kremlin. Later, he proclaimed a new alliance between the nations, but although Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin later visited Paris, the Soviets clearly did not consider France a superpower and knew that they would remain dependent on the NATO alliance in the event of a war. In 1965, de Gaulle pulled France out of SEATO, the southeast Asian equivalent of NATO and refused to participate in any future NATO maneuvers.

In February 1966, France withdrew from the NATO Military Command Structure, but remained within the organisation. De Gaulle, haunted by the memories of 1940, wanted France to remain the master of the decisions affecting it, unlike in the 1930s, when it had to follow in step with its British ally. He also ordered all foreign military personnel to leave France within a year.[115] This latter action was particularly badly received in the US, prompting Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State, to ask de Gaulle whether the removal of American military personnel was to include exhumation of the 50,000 American war dead buried in French cemeteries.[116]

European Economic Community (EEC)

De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer in 1961

France, experiencing the disintegration of its colonial empire and severe problems in Algeria, turned towards Europe after Suez Crisis, and to West Germany in particular.[116] In the years after, the economies of both nations integrated and they led the drive towards European unity.

One of the conditions of Marshall Aid was that the nations' leaders must co-ordinate economic efforts and pool the supply of raw materials. By far the most critical commodities in driving growth were coal and steel. France assumed it would receive large amounts of high-quality German coal from the Ruhr as reparations for the war, but the US refused to allow this, fearing a repetition of the bitterness after the Treaty of Versailles which partly caused World War II.[55]

Under the inspiration of the French statesmen Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, together with the German leader Konrad Adenauer, the rift between the two nations had begun to heal and along with Italy and the Benelux countries, they formed the European Coal and Steel Community, which following the Treaty of Rome of 1957 became the European Economic Community, also known as the Common Market, launched soon before de Gaulle's return to power.

De Gaulle had not been instrumental in setting up the new organization and, from the start, he opposed efforts by fellow EEC member countries to move toward some form of political integration that, in de Gaulle's thinking, would impinge on the sovereignty of France, both internally and externally. To counter those supranational tendencies that he disparaged,[117] he put forward in 1961 the so-called Fouchet Plan that maintained all decision-making powers in the hands of governments, reducing the projected European parliamentary assembly to a mere consultative assembly. As expected, the plan was rejected by France's partners. In July 1965 de Gaulle provoked a major six-month crisis when he ordered the boycott of EEC institutions (see Empty chair crisis below) until his demands – the withdrawal of a European Commission proposal to reinforce the community institutions to the detriment of national sovereignty, and the acceptance of France's proposal regarding the financing of the newly established Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – were met with the Luxembourg compromise.

De Gaulle, who in spite of recent history admired Germany and spoke excellent German,[118] as well as English,[119] established a good relationship with the aging West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer—culminating in the Elysee Treaty in 1963—and in the first few years of the Common Market, France's industrial exports to the other five members tripled and its farm export almost quadrupled. The franc became a solid, stable currency for the first time in half a century, and the economy mostly boomed. Adenauer however, all too aware of the importance of American support in Europe, gently distanced himself from the general's more extreme ideas, wanting no suggestion that any new European community would in any sense challenge or set itself at odds with the US In Adenauer's eyes, the support of the US was more important than any question of European prestige.[120] Adenauer was also anxious to reassure Britain that nothing was being done behind its back and was quick to inform British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of any new developments.

Great Britain initially declined to join the Common Market, preferring to remain with another organisation known as the European Free Trade Area, mostly consisting of the northern European countries and Portugal. By the late 1950s German and French living standards began to exceed those in Britain, and the government of Harold Macmillan, realising that the EEC was a stronger trading bloc than EFTA, began negotiations to join.

De Gaulle vetoed the British application to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1963, famously uttering the single word 'non' into the television cameras at the critical moment, a statement used to sum up French opposition towards Britain for many years afterwards.[121] Macmillan said afterwards that he always believed that de Gaulle would prevent Britain joining, but thought he would do it quietly, behind the scenes. He later complained privately that "all our plans are in tatters".[116]

American President John F. Kennedy urged de Gaulle to accept the United Kingdom in the EEC, stating that a Europe without Great Britain would create a situation in which the United States were bearing the enormous costs of Europe's protection without any voice. He threatened de Gaulle to withdraw American troops from European soil, but de Gaulle knew that the United States would lose the Cold War if they were to leave Europe.[122] It encouraged de Gaulle to see Great Britain as America's "Trojan Horse".[123]

British Prime Minister Churchill once said to him that if he had the choice between France and the United States, he would always choose the United States. As it appears that Churchill's successor, Harold Macmillan, prioritised the rebuilding of the Anglo-American "Special Relationship", with the recent American agreement to supply Britain with the Skybolt nuclear missile, it persuaded de Gaulle that the United Kingdom lacked the necessary political will to adhere to his bid for a West European strategic independence from the United States.[124][125] He maintained there were incompatibilities between continental European and British economic interests. In addition, he demanded that the United Kingdom accept all the conditions laid down by the six existing members of the EEC (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands) and revoke its commitments to countries within its own free trade area (which France had not done with its own). He supported a deepening and an acceleration of Common Market integration rather than an expansion.[126]

However, in this latter respect, a detailed study of the formative years of the EEC argues that the defence of French economic interests, especially in agriculture, in fact played a more dominant role in determining de Gaulle's stance towards British entry than the various political and foreign policy considerations that have often been cited.[127]

Dean Acheson believed that Britain made a grave error in not signing up to the European idea right from the start, and that they continued to suffer the political consequences for at least two decades afterwards. However he also stated his belief that de Gaulle used the 'Common Market' (as it was then termed) as an "exclusionary device to direct European trade towards the interest of France and against that of the United States, Britain and other countries."[128]

Claiming continental European solidarity, de Gaulle again rejected British entry when they next applied to join the community in December 1967 under the Labour leadership of Harold Wilson. During negotiations, de Gaulle chided Britain for relying too much on the Americans, saying that sooner or later they would always do what was in their best interests. Wilson said he then gently raised the spectre of the threat of a newly powerful Germany as a result of the EEC, which de Gaulle agreed was a risk.[129] After de Gaulle left office the United Kingdom applied again and finally became a member of the EEC in January 1973.[130]

Recognition of the People's Republic of China

In January 1964, France was the first among the Western powers to open diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) which was established in 1949 and which was isolated on the international scene.[131] By recognizing Mao Zedong's government, de Gaulle signaled to both Washington and Moscow that France intended to deploy an independent foreign policy.[131] The move was criticized in the United States as it seemed to seriously damage US policy of containment in Asia.[131] De Gaulle justified this action by "the weight of evidence and reason", considering that China's demographic weight and geographic extent put it in a position to have a global leading role.[131] De Gaulle also used this opportunity to arouse rivalry between the USSR and China, a policy that was followed several years later by Henry Kissinger's "triangular diplomacy" which also aimed to create a Sino-Soviet split.[131]

France established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China – the first step towards formal recognition without first severing links with the Republic of China (Taiwan), led by Chiang Kai-shek. Hitherto the PRC had insisted that all nations abide by a "one China" condition, and at first it was unclear how the matter would be settled.[132] However, the agreement to exchange ambassadors was subject to a delay of three months and in February, Chiang Kai-shek resolved the problem by cutting off diplomatic relations with France.[133] Eight years later, US President Richard Nixon visited the PRC and began normalising relations—a policy which was confirmed in the Shanghai Communiqué of 28 February 1972.[134]

As part of a European tour, Nixon visited France in 1969.[135] He and de Gaulle both shared the same non-Wilsonian approach to world affairs, believing in nations and their relative strengths, rather than in ideologies, international organisations, or multilateral agreements. De Gaulle is famously known for calling the UN the pejorative "le Machin"[136] ("the thingamajig").

Visit to Latin America

De Gaulle and Argentine president Arturo Illia in 1964

During the autumn of 1964, de Gaulle embarked on a grueling 20,000-mile trek across Latin America despite being a month away from his 75th birthday, a recent operation for prostate cancer, and concerns over security. He had visited Mexico the previous year and spoke, in Spanish, to the Mexican people on the eve of their celebrations of their independence at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. During his new 26-day visit, he was again keen to gain both cultural and economic influence.[137] He spoke constantly of his resentment of US influence in Latin America—"that some states should establish a power of political or economic direction outside their own borders". Yet France could provide no investment or aid to match that from Washington.[138]

US dollar crisis

In the Bretton Woods system put in place in 1944, US dollars were convertible to gold. In France, it was called "America's exorbitant privilege"[139] as it resulted in an "asymmetric financial system" where foreigners "see themselves supporting American living standards and subsidizing American multinationals". As American economist Barry Eichengreen summarized: "It costs only a few cents for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to produce a $100 bill, but other countries had to pony up $100 of actual goods in order to obtain one".[139] In February 1965 President Charles de Gaulle announced his intention to exchange its US dollar reserves for gold at the official exchange rate. He sent the French Navy across the Atlantic to pick up the French reserve of gold and was followed by several countries. As it resulted in considerably reducing US gold stock and US economic influence, it led US President Richard Nixon to unilaterally end the convertibility of the dollar to gold on 15 August 1971 (the "Nixon Shock"). This was meant to be a temporary measure but the dollar became permanently a floating fiat money and in October 1976, the US government officially changed the definition of the dollar; references to gold were removed from statutes.[140][141]

Second term

In December 1965, de Gaulle returned as president for a second seven-year term. In the first round he did not win the expected majority, only receiving 45% of the vote. Both of his main rivals did better than expected; the leftist François Mitterrand received 32% and Jean Lecanuet, who advocated for what Life described as "Gaullism without de Gaulle", received 16%.[142] He won a majority in the second round, with Mitterrand receiving 45%.[143]

In September 1966, in a famous speech in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, he expressed France's disapproval of the US involvement in the Vietnam War, calling for a US withdrawal from Vietnam as the only way to ensure peace.[144] However, de Gaulle conversed frequently with George Ball, United States President Lyndon Johnson's Under Secretary of State, and told Ball that he feared that the United States risked repeating France's tragic experience in Vietnam, which de Gaulle called "ce pays pourri" ("the rotten country"). Ball later sent a 76-page memorandum to Johnson critiquing Johnson's current Vietnam policy in October 1964.[145]

De Gaulle later visited Guadeloupe, in the aftermath of Hurricane Inez for two days, bringing aid which totaled billions of francs.

Empty Chair Crisis

De Gaulle and Lyndon B. Johnson meeting at Konrad Adenauer's funeral in 1967, with President of West Germany Heinrich Lübke (center)

During the establishment of the European Community, de Gaulle helped precipitate one of the greatest crises in the history of the EEC, the Empty Chair Crisis. It involved the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy, but almost more importantly the use of qualified majority voting in the EC (as opposed to unanimity). In June 1965, after France and the other five members could not agree, de Gaulle withdrew France's representatives from the EC. Their absence left the organisation essentially unable to run its affairs until the Luxembourg compromise was reached in January 1966.[146] De Gaulle succeeded in influencing the decision-making mechanism written into the Treaty of Rome by insisting on solidarity founded on mutual understanding.[147] He vetoed Britain's entry into the EEC a second time, in June 1967.[148]

Six-Day War

With tension rising in the Middle East in 1967, de Gaulle on 2 June declared an arms embargo against Israel, just three days before the outbreak of the Six-Day War. This, however, did not affect spare parts for the French military hardware with which the Israeli armed forces were equipped.[149]

This was an abrupt change in policy. In 1956 France, Britain and Israel had cooperated in an elaborate effort to retake the Suez Canal from Egypt. Israel's air force operated French Mirage and Mystère jets in the Six-Day War, and its navy was building its new missile boats in Cherbourg. Though paid for, their transfer to Israel was now blocked by de Gaulle's government. But they were smuggled out in an operation that drew further denunciations from the French government. The last boats took to the sea in December 1969, directly after a major deal between France and now-independent Algeria exchanging French armaments for Algerian oil.[150]

Under de Gaulle, following the independence of Algeria, France embarked on foreign policy more favorable to the Arab side. President de Gaulle's position in 1967 at the time of the Six-Day War played a part in France's new-found popularity in the Arab world.[151] Israel turned towards the United States for arms, and toward its own industry. In a televised news conference on 27 November 1967, de Gaulle described the Jewish people as "this elite people, sure of themselves and domineering".[152]

In his letter to David Ben-Gurion dated 9 January 1968, he explained that he was convinced that Israel had ignored his warnings and overstepped the bounds of moderation by taking possession of Jerusalem, and Jordanian, Egyptian, and Syrian territory by force of arms. He felt Israel had exercised repression and expulsions during the occupation and that it amounted to annexation. He said that provided Israel withdrew its forces, it appeared that it might be possible to reach a solution through the UN framework which could include assurances of a dignified and fair future for refugees and minorities in the Middle East, recognition from Israel's neighbours, and freedom of navigation through the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez Canal.[153]

Nigerian Civil War

The Eastern Region of Nigeria declared itself independent under the name of the Independent Republic of Biafra on 30 May 1967. On 6 July the first shots in the Nigerian Civil War were fired, marking the start of a conflict that lasted until January 1970.[154] Britain provided military aid to the Federal Republic of Nigeria—yet more was made available by the Soviet Union. Under de Gaulle's leadership, France embarked on a period of interference outside the traditional French zone of influence. A policy geared toward the break-up of Nigeria put Britain and France into opposing camps. Relations between France and Nigeria had been under strain since the third French nuclear explosion in the Sahara in December 1960. From August 1968, when its embargo was lifted, France provided limited and covert support to the breakaway province. Although French arms helped to keep Biafra in action for the final 15 months of the civil war, its involvement was seen as insufficient and counterproductive. The Biafran chief of staff stated that the French "did more harm than good by raising false hopes and by providing the British with an excuse to reinforce Nigeria."[155]

Vive le Québec libre!

Main article: Vive le Québec libre

In July 1967, de Gaulle visited Canada, which was celebrating its centenary with a world fair in Montreal, Expo 67. On 24 July, speaking to a large crowd from a balcony at Montreal's city hall, de Gaulle shouted "Vive le Québec libre!" (Long live free Quebec!) then added, "Vive le Canada français!" (Long live French Canada!), and finally, "Et vive la France" (And long live France!).[156] The Canadian media harshly criticized the churlish statement, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson, stated that "Canadians do not need to be liberated".[157] De Gaulle left Canada abruptly two days later, without proceeding to Ottawa as scheduled. He never returned to Canada. The speech offended many English-speaking Canadians and was heavily criticized in France as well,[158] and led to a significant diplomatic rift between the two countries.[159]

The event however was seen as a watershed moment by the Quebec sovereignty movement,[160] and is still a significant milestone of Quebec's history to the eyes of most Québécois.[161]

In the following year, de Gaulle visited Brittany, where he declaimed a poem written by his uncle (also called Charles de Gaulle) in the Breton language. The speech followed a series of crackdowns on Breton nationalism. De Gaulle was accused of hypocrisy, on the one hand supporting a "free" Quebec because of linguistic and ethnic differences from other Canadians, while on the other hand suppressing a regional and ethnic nationalist movement in Brittany.[162]

May 1968

Main article: May 1968 in France
Caricature of Charles de Gaulle during the May 1968 crisis (see Chienlit)

De Gaulle's government was criticized within France, particularly for its heavy-handed style. While the written press and elections were free, and private stations such as Europe 1 were able to broadcast in French from abroad, the state's ORTF had a monopoly on television and radio. This monopoly meant that the government was in a position to directly influence broadcast news. In many respects, Gaullist France was conservative, Catholic, and there were few women in high-level political posts (in May 1968, the government's ministers were 100% male).[163] Many factors contributed to a general weariness of sections of the public, particularly the student youth, which led to the events of May 1968.

The mass demonstrations and strikes in France in May 1968 severely challenged De Gaulle's legitimacy. He and other government leaders feared that the country was on the brink of revolution or civil war. On 29 May, De Gaulle disappeared without notifying Prime Minister Pompidou or anyone else in the government, stunning the country. He fled to Baden-Baden, Germany to meet with General Massu, now head of the French military there, to discuss possible army intervention against the protesters. De Gaulle returned to France after being assured of the military's support, in return for which De Gaulle agreed to amnesty for the 1961 coup plotters and OAS members.[164][165]

In a private meeting discussing the students' and workers' demands for direct participation in business and government he coined the phrase "La réforme oui, la chienlit non", which can be politely translated as 'reform yes, masquerade/chaos no.' It was a vernacular scatological pun meaning 'chie-en-lit, no' (crap-in-bed, no). The term is now common parlance in French political commentary, used both critically and ironically referring back to de Gaulle.[166]

But de Gaulle offered to accept some of the reforms the demonstrators sought. He again considered a referendum to support his moves, but on 30 May, Pompidou persuaded him to dissolve parliament (in which the government had all but lost its majority in the March 1967 elections) and hold new elections instead. The June 1968 elections were a major success for the Gaullists and their allies; when shown the spectre of revolution or civil war, the majority of the country rallied to him. His party won 352 of 487 seats,[167] but de Gaulle remained personally unpopular; a survey conducted immediately after the crisis showed that a majority of the country saw him as too old, too self-centered, too authoritarian, too conservative, and too anti-American.[164]

Later life


US president Richard Nixon visiting president Charles de Gaulle one month before de Gaulle's retirement

De Gaulle resigned the presidency at noon, 28 April 1969,[168][169] following the rejection of his proposed reform of the Senate and local governments in a nationwide referendum. In an eight-minute televised speech two days before the referendum,[170] De Gaulle warned that if he was "disavowed" by a majority of the voters, he would resign his office immediately. This ultimatum, coupled with increased de Gaulle fatigue among the French convinced many that this was an opportunity to be rid of the 78-year-old general and the reform package was rejected. Two months later Georges Pompidou was elected as his successor.[171]

De Gaulle retired once again to his beloved nine-acre country estate, La Boisserie (the woodland glade), in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, 120 miles southeast of Paris. There the General, who often described old age as a "shipwreck,"[172] continued his memoirs, dictated to his secretary from notes. To visitors, de Gaulle said, "I will finish three books, if God grants me life." The Renewal, the first of three planned volumes to be called Memoirs of Hope, was quickly finished and immediately became the fastest seller in French publishing history. During the day he also usually took two strolls, one alone and the other with his wife Yvonne around the village.

He declined the sizable pensions to which he was entitled as a retired president and as a retired general and accepted only a much smaller colonel's pension. He was punctilious with regard to money, taking care to separate his private expenses from those of his official function. He paid for his own haircuts and the stamps for personal correspondence, and had an electricity meter installed in the private accommodation at his official residence.[173]

Personal life

Charles de Gaulle married Yvonne Vendroux on 7 April 1921. They had three children: Philippe (born 1921), Élisabeth (1924–2013), who married General Alain de Boissieu, and Anne (1928–1948). Anne had Down's syndrome and died of pneumonia at the age of 20. De Gaulle always had a particular love for Anne; one Colombey resident recalled how he used to walk with her hand-in-hand around the property, caressing her and talking quietly about the things she understood.[172]

De Gaulle's home, La Boisserie, in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises

Like her husband, Yvonne de Gaulle was a conservative Catholic, and campaigned against prostitution, the sale of pornography in newsstands and the televised display of nudity and sex, for which she earned the nickname "Tante (Aunt) Yvonne." Later she unsuccessfully tried to persuade de Gaulle to outlaw miniskirts in France.

Charles de Gaulle had an older brother Xavier (1887–1955) and sister Marie-Agnes (1889–1983), and two younger brothers, Jacques (1893–1946) and Pierre (1897–1959). He was particularly close to the youngest, Pierre, who so resembled him that presidential bodyguards often saluted him by mistake when he visited his famous brother or accompanied him on official visits.

One of Charles de Gaulle's grandsons, also named Charles de Gaulle, was a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 2004, his last tenure being for the National Front.[174] The younger Charles de Gaulle's move to the anti-Gaullist Front National was widely condemned by other family members, in open letters and newspaper interviews. "It was like hearing the pope had converted to Islam", one said.[175] Another grandson, Jean de Gaulle, was a member of the French parliament until his retirement in 2007.[176]


Grave of Charles de Gaulle at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises

On 9 November 1970, two weeks short of what would have been his 80th birthday, Charles de Gaulle died suddenly, despite enjoying very robust health his entire life (except for a prostate operation a few years earlier). He had been watching the evening news on television and playing Solitaire around 7:40 pm when he suddenly pointed to his neck and said, "I feel a pain right here", and then collapsed. His wife called the doctor and the local priest, but by the time they arrived he had died from a ruptured blood vessel.[177] His wife asked that she be allowed to inform her family before the news was released. She was able to contact her daughter in Paris quickly, but their son, who was in the navy, was difficult to track down, so President Georges Pompidou was not informed until 4 am the next morning and announced the general's death on television some 18 hours after the event. He simply said, "Le général de Gaulle est mort; la France est veuve." ("General de Gaulle is dead. France is a widow.")

De Gaulle had made arrangements that insisted his funeral be held at Colombey, and that no presidents or ministers attend his funeral—only his Compagnons de la Libération.[178] Despite his wishes, such were the number of foreign dignitaries who wanted to honor de Gaulle that Pompidou was forced to arrange a separate memorial service at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, to be held at the same time as his actual funeral. The only notable absentee was Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, possibly because he was still angry over de Gaulle's cry of "Vive le Quebec libre" during his 1967 visit.[172]

The funeral on 12 November 1970 was the biggest such event in French history, with hundreds of thousands of French people—many carrying blankets and picnic baskets—and thousands of cars parked in the roads and fields along the routes to the two venues. Special trains were laid on to bring extra mourners to the region and the crowd was packed so tightly that those who fainted had to be passed overhead toward first-aid stations at the rear.[172] The General was conveyed to the church on an armoured reconnaissance vehicle and carried to his grave, next to his daughter Anne, by eight young men of Colombey. As he was lowered into the ground, the bells of all the churches in France tolled, starting from Notre Dame and spreading out from there.[179]

Madame de Gaulle asked the undertaker to provide the same type of simple oak casket that he used for everyone else, but because of the General's extreme height, the coffin cost $9 more than usual.[172] He specified that his tombstone bear the simple inscription of his name and his years of birth and death. Therefore, it simply states, "Charles de Gaulle, 1890–1970".[180] At the service, President Pompidou said, "de Gaulle gave France her governing institutions, her independence and her place in the world." André Malraux, the writer and intellectual who served as his Minister of Culture, called him "a man of the day before yesterday and the day after tomorrow." De Gaulle's family turned the La Boisserie residence into a foundation. It currently houses the Charles de Gaulle Museum.



Charles de Gaulle. Portrait by Donald Sheridan

Historians have accorded Napoleon and de Gaulle the top-ranking status of French leaders in the 19th and 20th centuries.[181]

According to a 2005 survey, carried out in the context of the tenth anniversary of the death of Socialist President François Mitterrand, 35% of respondents said Mitterrand was the best French president ever, followed by Charles de Gaulle (30%) and then Jacques Chirac (12%).[182] Another poll by BVA four years later showed that 87% of French people regarded his presidency positively.[183]

Statues honoring de Gaulle have been erected in Warsaw, Moscow, Bucharest and Quebec. The first Algerian president, Ahmed Ben Bella, said that de Gaulle was the "military leader who brought us the hardest blows" prior to Algerian independence, but "saw further" than other politicians, and had a "universal dimension that is too often lacking in current leaders."[184] Likewise, Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, said that few Western leaders could boast of having risked their lives to grant a colony independence.

In 1990 President Mitterrand, de Gaulle's old political rival, presided over the celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. Mitterrand, who once wrote a vitriolic critique of him called the "Permanent Coup d'État", quoted a then recent opinion poll, saying, "As General de Gaulle, he has entered the pantheon of great national heroes, where he ranks ahead of Napoleon and behind only Charlemagne."[185] Under the influence of the paleo-left CERES leader Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Mitterrand had, except on certain economic and social policies, rallied to much of Gaullism. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s there developed a left-right consensus, dubbed "Gaullo-Mitterrandism", behind the "French status" in NATO: i.e. outside the integrated military command.

Relationships with other political leaders

Although he initially enjoyed good relations with US President John F. Kennedy, who admired his stance against the Soviet Union—particularly when the Berlin Wall was being built—and who called him "a great captain of the Western world", their relationship later cooled.[51] De Gaulle was Kennedy's most loyal ally during the Cuban Missile Crisis and supported the right that the US claimed to defend its interests in the western hemisphere, in contrast to then German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer who doubted Kennedy's commitment to Europe and thought the crisis could have been avoided.[186] De Gaulle accepted that it might be necessary for the United States to take preemptive military action against Cuba, unlike many other European leaders of his time.[114] De Gaulle was a prominent figure at Kennedy's funeral.[187] De Gaulle was very much admired by the later President Nixon. After a meeting at the Palace of Versailles just before the general left office, Nixon declared that "He did not try to put on airs but an aura of majesty seemed to envelop him ... his performance—and I do not use that word disparagingly—was breathtaking."[51] On arriving for his funeral several months later, Nixon said of him, "greatness knows no national boundaries".[188]

Lt. General Vernon A. Walters, a military attaché of Dwight Eisenhower and later military attaché in France from 1967–1973, noted the strong relationship between de Gaulle and Eisenhower, de Gaulle's unconditional support of Eisenhower during the U-2 incident, and de Gaulle's strong support of John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Thus Walters was intensely curious as to the great contrast between de Gaulle's close relations with two United States presidents during notable Cold War crises and de Gaulle's later decision to withdraw France from NATO's military command, and Walters spoke with many close military and political aides of de Gaulle.[114] Walters' conclusion, based upon de Gaulle's comments to many of his aides (and to Eisenhower during a meeting at Ramboullet Castle in 1959), is that de Gaulle feared that later United States presidents after Eisenhower would not have Eisenhower's special ties to Europe and would not risk nuclear war over Europe.[114] Also, de Gaulle interpreted the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis without fighting to take back Cuba from communism a mere 90 miles from the United States as an indication that the United States might not fight for Europe's defense 3,500 miles away following Soviet aggression in Europe, but would only go to war following a nuclear strike against the United States itself.[114] De Gaulle told Eisenhower that France did not seek to compete with the Strategic Air Command or army of the United States, but believed that France needed a way to strike the Soviet Union.[114]

A number of commentators have been critical of de Gaulle for his failure to prevent the massacres after Algerian independence[64] while others take the view that the struggle had been so long and savage that it was perhaps inevitable.[51] The Australian historian Brian Crozier wrote, "that he was able to part with Algeria without civil war was a great though negative achievement which in all probability would have been beyond the capacity of any other leader France possessed."[189] In April 1961, when four rebel generals seized power in Algeria, he "did not flinch in the face of this daunting challenge", but appeared on television in his general's uniform to forbid Frenchmen to obey the rebels' orders in an "inflexible display of personal authority".

De Gaulle was an excellent manipulator of the media, as seen in his shrewd use of television to persuade around 80% of Metropolitan France to approve the new constitution for the Fifth Republic. In so doing, he refused to yield to the reasoning of his opponents who said that, if he succeeded in Algeria, he would no longer be necessary. He afterwards enjoyed massive approval ratings, and once said that "every Frenchman is, has been or will be Gaullist".[118]

That de Gaulle did not necessarily reflect mainstream French public opinion with his veto was suggested by the decisive majority of French people who voted in favour of British membership when the much more conciliatory Pompidou called a referendum on the matter in 1972. His early influence in setting the parameters of the EEC can still be seen today, most notably with the controversial Common Agricultural Policy.

Some writers take the view that Pompidou was a more progressive and influential leader than de Gaulle because, though also a Gaullist, he was less autocratic and more interested in social reforms.[64][190] Although he followed the main tenets of de Gaulle's foreign policy, he was keen to work towards warmer relations with the United States. A banker by profession, Pompidou is also widely credited, as de Gaulle's prime minister from 1962–1968, with putting in place the reforms which provided the impetus for the economic growth which followed.

In 1968, shortly before leaving office, de Gaulle refused to devalue the Franc on grounds of national prestige, but upon taking over Pompidou reversed the decision almost straight away. It was ironic, that during the financial crisis of 1968, France had to rely on American (and West German) financial aid to help shore up the economy.[64] Perry has written "The events of 1968 illustrated the brittleness of de Gaulle's rule. That he was taken by surprise is an indictment of his rule; he was too remote from real life and had no interest in the conditions under which ordinary French people lived. Problems like inadequate housing and social services had been ignored. The French greeted the news of his departure with some relief as the feeling had grown that he had outlived his usefulness. Perhaps he clung onto power too long, perhaps he should have retired in 1965 when he was still popular."[64]

Brian Crozier has said "the fame of de Gaulle outstrips his achievements, he chose to make repeated gestures of petulance and defiance that weakened the west without compensating advantages to France"[189]

Régis Debray called de Gaulle "super-lucide"[118] and pointed out that virtually all of his predictions, such as the fall of communism, the reunification of Germany and the resurrection of 'old' Russia, came true after his death.[191] Debray compared him with Napoleon ('the great political myth of the 19th century'), calling de Gaulle his 20th century equivalent. "The sublime, it seems, appears in France only once a century ... Napoleon left two generations dead on battlefield. De Gaulle was more sparing with other people's blood; even so, he left us, as it were, stranded, alive but dazed... A delusion, perhaps, but one that turns the world upside down: causes events and movements; divides people into supporters and adversaries; leaves traces in the form of civil and penal codes and railways, factories and institutions (the Fifth Republic has already lasted three times as long as the Empire). A statesman who gets something going, who has followers, escapes the reality of the reports and statistics and become part of imagination. Napoleon and de Gaulle modified the state of things because they modified souls".[118] However, Debray pointed out that there is a difference between Napoleon and de Gaulle: "How can the exterminator be compared with the liberator? ... The former ran the whole enterprise into the ground, while the latter managed to save it. So that to measure the rebel against the despot, the challenger against the leader, is just glaringly idiotic. You simply do not put an adventurer who worked for himself or his family on the same level as a commander-in-chief serving his country. ... Regrettably, Gaullism and Bonapartism have a number of features in common, but Napoleon and de Gaulle do not have the same moral value. ... the first wanted a Holy French Empire without the faith, a Europe under French occupation. The second wanted to rescue the nation from the emperors and establish a free France in a free Europe".[118]

While de Gaulle had many admirers, he was at the same time one of the most hated and reviled men in modern French history.[192]


1st Government: 10 September 1944 onwards

2nd Government: 21 December 1945 – 26 January 1946

3rd Government, 9 June 1958 – 8 January 1959


Honours and awards







The plaque commemorating the headquarters of General de Gaulle at 4 Carlton Gardens in London during World War II

A number of monuments have been built to commemorate the life of Charles de Gaulle.

France's largest airport, located in Roissy, outside Paris, is named Charles de Gaulle Airport in his honour. France's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is also named after him.


French editions

English translations

See also


  1. "Chronologie 1890–1913". Fondation Charles de Gaulle (in French).
  2. Fenby, Jonathan. The General: Charles de Gaulle and The France He Saved (2010) pp. 42–47
  3. Crawley, Aidan (1969). De Gaulle. London: The Literary Guild. pp. 13–16. ASIN B000KXPUCK.
  4. Ledwidge p. 6
  5. Fenby p 41
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 David Schoenbrun, The Three Lives of Charles de Gaulle (1966)
  7. Fenby, pp 42–47
  8. 1 2 Alan Pedley (1996) As Mighty as the Sword: A Study of the Writings of Charles de Gaulle. pp. 170-72. Intellect Books; ISBN 978-0950259536.
  9. Fenby, pp 51–53
  10. Dallas, Gregor (2005). 1945: The War That Never Ended. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-300-10980-6.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Charles de Gaulle". Time. 5 January 1959.
  12. 1 2 3 4 "Chronologie 1909-1918". Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  13. "Yvonne de Gaulle". Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  14. Jean Lacouture, De Gaulle: The Rebel, 1890–1944 (1990) pp 42–54.
  15. Ledwidge p. 24
  16. 1 2 3 Brad DeLong (29 May 2000). "Charles de Gaulle". University of California at Berkeley. Archived from the original on 7 January 2006.
  17. Ledwidge pp. 50–52
  18. "Cabinet Paul Reynaud". Assemblée Nationale Française. 2008.
  19. Lacouture 1:244
  20. Lacouture 1:257–58
  21. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France at War in the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000 pages 92–93.
  22. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle", pp. 88–110 from France At War In the Twentieth Century, edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000, pp. 93–94.
  23. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France At War In the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000, pp. 94–95.
  24. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France At War In the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000 pagess 98 & 104.
  25. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France At War In the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000 pagess 99 & 105.
  26. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France at War in the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000 pages 101–102 & 107–108.
  27. Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France At War In the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000 page 108.
  28. 1 2 Flood, Christopher "Pétain and de Gaulle" pages 88–110 from France At War In the Twentieth Century edited by Valerie Holman and Debra Kelly, Oxford: Berghahan Books, 2000 page 106.
  29. Lacouture 1:373, 462
  30. Sean M. Mcateer, "500 Days: The War in Eastern Europe, 1944–1945", p.361
  31. Butler, F. Patrick Cavorting with Strangers: Book VIII- Charles de Gaulle arrogant autocrat, Chapter 1: Feet of Clay
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  88. As he commissioned the new constitution and was responsible for its overall framework, de Gaulle is sometimes described as the author of the constitution. De Gaulle's political ideas were written into a constitution by Michel Debré who then guided the text through the enactment process. Thus while the constitution reflects de Gaulle's ideas, Michel Debré was the actual author of the text.
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  94. "Germans Give General de Gaulle a Hero's Welcome". The Times. 6 September 1962.
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  96. Crawley p. 439
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  102. "De Gaulle Challenge to Parliament – To Retire if Referendum not Approved – Call to Nation before Debate on Censure Motion". The Times. 5 October 1962.
  103. "De Gaulle against the Politicians – Clear Issue for October Referendum – Assembly Election Likely after Solid Censure Vote". The Times. 6 October 1962.
  104. ""Yes" Reply for Gen. De Gaulle – Over 60 p.c. of Valid Votes – President Likely to Keep Office". The Times. 29 October 1962.
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  106. France's GDP was slightly higher than the UK's at the beginning of the 19th century, with the UK surpassing France around 1870. See e.g., Maddison, Angus (1995). L'économie mondiale 1820–1992: analyse et statistiques. OECD Publishing. p. 248. ISBN 92-64-24549-9.
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  110. "Weekend of Rejoicing in France". The Times. 15 February 1960.
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  112. "Independents Fear for France's Future – Gaullist Policy Queried". The Times. 18 August 1967.
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  166. Crawley (p. 454) also writes that de Gaulle was undoubtedly using the term in his barrack-room style to mean 'shit in the bed'. De Gaulle had said it first in Bucharest while on an official visit from which he returned on 19 May 1968. Pompidou told the press that de Gaulle used the phrase after the Cabinet Meeting on 19 May.
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  188. Time, 23 November 1970
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  197. Coat of Arms in Frederiksborg Castle
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Further reading


World War II


Foreign policy

Ideas and memory

External links

Military offices
New office Leader of the Free French
Position abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
Philippe Pétain
as Chief of the French State
Chairman of the Provisional Government of France
Succeeded by
Félix Gouin
Preceded by
Pierre Pflimlin
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Michel Debré
Preceded by
Pierre de Chevigné
Minister of Defence
Succeeded by
Pierre Guillaumat
Preceded by
René Coty
President of France
Succeeded by
Alain Poher
Co-Prince of Andorra
Served alongside: Ramon Iglesias Navarri
Succeeded by
Alain Poher
Party political offices
New political party Gaullist nominee for President of France
1958, 1965
Succeeded by
Georges Pompidou
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