Georges Catroux

1877-1969
Portrait of General Catroux: Source SHD

(29th January 1877: Limoges - 21st December 1969: Paris)

 

The son of a serviceman who distinguished himself during the campaigns of the Second Empire in Africa and Asia and of a Genoese mother, Georges Catroux inherited a sense of service and a taste for distant lands. After attending schools in Limoges, Angers and Rennes depending on where his father was stationed, he went to the Prytanee National Military Academy in La Flèche and then the Special Military School of St. Cyr in 1896, graduating in the class of "great manoeuvres", before opting for the Foot Chasseurs Corps (Grenoble). In 1900, as a young lieutenant in the Foreign Legion, he was sent on a pacifying mission to the Sahara. Three years later, he was in Indochina to assist the Governor General Paul Beau, before leaving again for North Africa, firstly to Algeria where he encountered Lyautey (he would write a few years later about Lyautey the Moroccan ), and then to Morocco where, until 1911, he carried out preparatory operations for the occupation of the country, before returning to Algiers alongside the Governor General Lutaud. At the beginning of the First World War, he was in command of the 2nd regiment of Algerian tirailleurs. Wounded near Arras in October 1915, he was taken prisoner and met Charles de Gaulle at the 9th Fort in Ingolstadt.

He was a member of the French military expedition to Arabia in 1919-1920 and then appointed Governor of the State of Damascus, where he laid the foundations for the administration and governance of Syria, before carrying out the role of military attaché in Constantinople - he would share his Levantine experiences in Deux missions au Moyen-Orient (Two missions in the Middle East), 1919-1922. Lyautey recalled him to Morocco from June to October 1925 during the Rif war. Assigned to Henri de Jouvenel, the High Commissioner of the Levant, Catroux defended the argument for the independence of Syria and the Lebanon. Unable to find favourable support, he asked to be relieved of his duties and returned to the desert in 1927 to lead the 6th regiment of Algerian tirailleurs in Tlemcen. Promoted to Colonel and then to General, he commanded in Marrakech from 1931 to 1934, followed by Mulhouse and then the 19th Army Corps in Algiers from 1936 to 1939. When war was declared in September 1939, Catroux had been Governor General of Indochina for three months: then a reserve officer, he had been recalled by Mandel on the 21st August to fill this position. On the armistice he had to deal with a government that refused the presence of foreign troops in the country and promote relations with China and the Japanese, who were eager to take hold on the continent in order to take on Peking. The Vichy government removed him from office on the 26th July 1940. He therefore refused to return to France and decided to rally support for the Free French (France Libre) via Singapore and Cairo. Arriving in London on the 17th September 1940, General de Gaulle gave him the task of preparing the rallying of the States of the Levant as the France Libre's representative in the region. In June 1941, as a member of the Council for the Defence of the Empire and Commander in Chief and General Delegate for the France Libre in the Middle East, he announced the independence of Syria and the Lebanon. On he 19th July he was appointed High Commissioner of the France Libre in the Levant on the orders of General Wilson, the Commander in Chief of British troops in this area. He took part in the negotiations following the landings in North Africa and, when appointed Commander of the French Forces on the 25th November 1942, he took on the task of reuniting the overseas territories under his authority, whilst at the same time playing an intermediary role between de Gaulle and Giraud. In May 1943, as State Commissioner on the French Liberation Committee, he was given the task of coordinating Muslim affairs and drafted the order of the 7th March 1944 granting French nationality to certain categories of Muslims and the possibility of obtaining it for others. Governor General of Algeria in June 1944 and a Companion of the Liberation, he was appointed Secretary of State for North Africa in the provisional government of the French Republic on the 9th September that same year.

He was French Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1948, an experience that he would make the subject of J'ai vu tomber le rideau de fer, (I saw the iron curtain fall) and served as diplomatic advisor to the government on his return, when he was promoted to the dignity of Grand Chancellor of the Légion d'honneur in 1954. While a commission was set up to determine the responsibility for the defeat of Dien Bien Phu, he would express his opinions of this war in Deux actes du drame indochinois (Two acts of the Indochinese drama). In 1955, when he was chosen to resolve the troubles in Morocco, he played a predominant role in the negotiations for the return of sultan Mohammed V, who was exiled in Madagascar. The following year, he carried out the duties of resident minister in Algeria, but resigned because of hostile demonstrations against Europeans. In 1961, Catroux was a member of a military tribunal responsible for judging the Putschist Generals Challe and Zeller and their accomplices. Retired from active service in 1969 and made a Companion of the Liberation, Georges Catroux died on the 21st December, in the Val-de-grâce hospital. He is buried in the cemetery in Thiais (Val-de-Marne).