On June 18, 1940 on the air of the BBC radio, broadcasting programs to France, it sounded: “This war is not limited only to the unfortunate territory of our country. The outcome of this war is not decided by the battle for France. This is a world war. “
Stubborn versus surrender
A voice addressing the French called for the continuation of the struggle. But those who listened to him only shrugged their shoulders. Henri Philippe Pétain, the hero of the Great War, who had just headed the French government, spoke of something completely different – that no further sacrifices were needed, that it was time to stop the struggle and start all over again.
“The French people do not dispute their failures. All peoples had to experience both successes and hardships. But by the way they react, their weakness or greatness is known, – said Pétain, – We will learn a lesson from the battles lost. After the victory, the spirit of pleasure prevailed over the spirit of sacrifice. We demanded more than we deserved … I was with you in the glory days. As head of government, I remain and will be with you in these dark days. Be near me. “
They believed Pétain, and the voice on the English radio only annoyed him. Who is he, this de Gaulle, who fled to London with the British?
It was years later that the speech on June 18, 1940 was recognized not only as a national, but as a world heritage of history. It is then the person who pronounced it, will stand on a par with the greatest people of France.
And in June 1940 Charles de Gaulle seemed just an eccentric, not ready to accept the obvious. In his memoirs, he writes: “At first I did not represent anything … In France, there was no one who could vouch for me, and I did not enjoy any fame in the country. Abroad – no trust and justification for my activities. “
Raised by a patriot
His upbringing did not allow him to come to terms with what the others put up with. Charles’s father, professor of philosophy and literature Henri de Gaulle, instilled in his children a love of history and an unbending spirit of patriotism. De Gaulle Sr. knew what the defeat of the country was – as a young lieutenant, he fought in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, and drank the thicket of national humiliation in full.
Charles de Gaulle wrote in his Military Memoirs: “My father, an educated and thinking man, brought up in certain traditions, was filled with faith in the high mission of France. He first introduced me to her story. My mother had a feeling of boundless love for her homeland, which can only be compared with her piety. My three brothers, my sister, myself – we were all proud of our Motherland. This pride, mixed with anxiety about her fate, was second nature to us. “
It is not surprising that Charles, brought up in a similar spirit, chose the military path. In 1912, he graduated from the Special Military School at Saint-Cyr, and was assigned to the 33rd Infantry Regiment. The newly-minted lieutenant began his service under the command of … Colonel Petain. Yes, yes, the same one who, three decades later, will embody everything that is unacceptable to de Gaulle.
Feat and captivity
In the First World War, he fought bravely. So much so that after the third wound received in the “Verdun meat grinder”, he was given … posthumous honors. It was believed that Captain de Gaulle had perished on the battlefield irrevocably.
In fact, he ended up in German captivity. Barely recovering, he tried to escape, was caught, ran again … In total, de Gaulle made six attempts to escape, until he was placed under strict guard in the Ingolstadt fortress. There, among the prisoners, there was the same as he was, a fan of the latest weapons and new battle tactics. Charles spent many hours in conversation with him. The interlocutor’s name was Mikhail Tukhachevsky…
De Gaulle would be released only in November 1918, when the war had already ended. Once on the territory of the newly created Poland, he will begin teaching at a local educational institution, and then even take part on the side of Warsaw in the Soviet-Polish war. However, de Gaulle had no direct relation to the rout of his friend in captivity, Tukhachevsky.
Having given up a career in the Polish army, he returned to his homeland. De Gaulle started a family (he named his son Philip in honor of the then respected Pétain), settled down, took up teaching and scientific work.
“We will lose the war in the most miserable way.”
In the 1930s, he became a famous military theorist, whose work in France … was not taken seriously. De Gaulle argued that tanks would play a decisive role in a new war, and called for a large-scale reform of the army. They looked at him with bewilderment – what kind of new war? Spending huge amounts of money on rearmament of troops when there are a lot of real, not mythical, problems is not even stupidity, it is a crime!
By the beginning of World War II, de Gaulle was the commander of the tank forces in the Saar, with only a group of light tanks under his command. “It’s just a speck of dust,” he wrote. “We will lose the war in the most miserable way if we don’t act.”
In May 1940, he was entrusted with the command of the emerging tank army, hastily conferred the rank of brigadier general, but it was too late. The Nazis were rapidly crushing the French defense, and de Gaulle, in his desire to fight to the end, turned out to be a “black sheep”. Tank formations of the Wehrmacht, seeking local superiority in their chosen place, cut through the positions of the French and went into deep breakthroughs. They will repeat this everywhere – and no army in the world will be able to effectively counter this for several years. In 1941, the Red Army will throw subunits into suicidal counterattacks directed at the flanks of the German “wedges”. Experience will show that this is fraught with very high losses, but this is the only way to delay the Wehrmacht and, inflicting losses on shock units, reduce their quality. In France in 1940, the only commander of a sufficiently serious level who, without delaying, quickly tried to organize counterstrikes into the flanks of the advancing Germans, was De Gaulle. But the main command of the Franco-British forces did not follow De Gaulle’s example, planning to gather the largest possible grouping and only then strike. Time was lost, leading to one of the largest encirclements of World War II. If the Germans actually allowed the remnants of British troops to evacuate by sea from Dunkirk, then France’s hopes were dashed.
On June 14, in already surrendered France, German units entered Paris. Then all the same Pétain will head the puppet government that controls the southern part of the country, but is completely dependent on Berlin. Part of the French military was not going to capitulate, wanting to fight for their country and all of Europe.
June 17, 1940 De Gaulle flew from Bordeaux to London, where he was awaited Winston Churchill… The English prime minister did not smile at all to be left alone with the Third Reich. And France under Petain could not only get out of the war, but, what good, turn into an ally Hitler… Therefore, he gave the radio air to this strange eccentric, who had to call on the French officers by any means to get over to the British to continue the struggle.
Be an ally, not a puppet
De Gaulle was not a narcissistic idiot and was well aware that his organization “Free France” so far existed only on paper, and even his recognition by Churchill as the “head of the free French” did not fundamentally change anything. For de Gaulle it was important to preserve the de facto independence of France: he wanted to be a full-fledged member of the anti-Hitler coalition, and not a formal figure. A hard struggle began to drag military forces to their side in the French colonies. This process was balancing on the brink of civil war – after all, the same French, who were guided by the Petain government, had to resist.
In June 1941, after the German attack on the USSR, the authorities of the Soviet Union recognized Free France as the legal representative of the French people. De Gaulle highly appreciated this step and suggested using French pilots and aircraft mechanics on the Eastern Front. This was the beginning of the squadron, and then the Normandie-Niemen regiment.
Relations between the USSR and France during the war years were probably the most sincere among the allies. Moscow reoriented the French communists to cooperate with de Gaulle, whose units formed the backbone of the partisan forces in the occupied territory. The Soviet Union spoke of the need for the complete and unconditional restoration of France’s independence, while Great Britain and the United States did not forget to remind de Gaulle at times that he was not a full-fledged ally.
In November 1942, the Americans, having landed in Africa, began to negotiate with the Vichy, bypassing de Gaulle. Simply because it was so convenient for them. And principles can always be changed. At the beginning of 1943, “Free France”, renamed “Fighting France”, generally tried to push it out of business. De Gaulle was going to be replaced by a more pragmatic and ready to compromise General Henri Giraud…
The Americans openly supported Giraud, and de Gaulle would have simply been sent to hell if not for Churchill, who considered de Gaulle his creature, and not for Stalin, who was a potential partner in France.
“If France wants to take its former place, it must rely only on itself”
The most difficult time for the general came in June 1944. General Eisenhower He openly declared that after the landing in Normandy, the French must fully obey the instructions of the “allied command,” and de Gaulle’s organization had no place in this alignment of forces.
The stubborn general refused to accept this reality, just as he did not accept defeat in 1940.
After meeting with Roosevelt in Washington, he wrote: “Listening to the American president, I was finally convinced that in business relations between the two states, logic and feeling mean very little in comparison with real strength, that here the one who knows how to grab and hold what is captured is valued; and if France wants to take its former place, it must rely only on itself. “
In August 1944, de Gaulle marched through Paris liberated by the Americans, the Free French division and the Resistance fighters as a victor, greeted by tens of thousands of compatriots.
Having become the head of the Provisional Government of France, he relied on Stalin will get Washington and London to preserve their country in the status of great powers. In May 1945, the French, to the great surprise of the defeated Germans, will accept the surrender of the Wehrmacht along with the other victorious powers.
De Gaulle has done his job, de Gaulle can go
His tough and uncompromising character will lead to the fact that in 1946 he will retire. Until 1953, he will try to implement his program through party structures, and then, after making sure that the system does not accept him, he will retire.
In 1958, amid the Algerian crisis, de Gaulle was called upon to rescue the country once again, and he took over as prime minister. He will break the foundations by establishing the so-called “Fifth Republic regime.” De Gaulle, having achieved the adoption of the new Constitution and taking over as president, will with equal zeal suppress the right-wing radicals and push the communists to the sidelines of the political life, leading the country in his own way.
He will actually withdraw France from NATO’s military structures, establish close economic ties with the USSR, advance the process of reconciliation with Germany, and proclaim the principle of “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.” For ten years de Gaulle will build an independent France with a tough hand, and his methods will make young people believe that he is the main evil of the country. The riots of 1968 will be the largest crisis in the post-war history of the republic. However, the parliamentary elections held will allow de Gaulle’s party to achieve an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly.
In the spring of 1969, the president will submit to a referendum a draft reform that provides for decentralization and a change in the principles of forming the Senate. De Gaulle announced that if the reform did not receive the support of the majority, he would resign. Less than 48 percent of those who voted for his draft, more than 52 percent against. True to his promise, on April 28, 1969, Charles de Gaulle resigned – this time for good.
Until his 80th birthday, he did not live only a couple of weeks – the general died on November 9, 1970. According to the will, he was buried in the village cemetery next to his daughter, in the presence of relatives and associates of the Resistance. He devoted his whole life to France, and left when he felt that she no longer needed