Henri Giraud

Portrait of General Giraud. 1934-1936. Source: ECPAD

(18th January 1879: Paris - 11th March 1949: Dijon)


From a humble Alsation family who had settled in Paris - his father was a coal merchant - Henri Giraud, a young man with an adventurous nature, excelled in his secondary education at the Stanislas, Bossuet and Louis-le-Grand high schools, joining the ranks of the French army in 1900 on leaving the Saint-Cyr military academy.

He was posted to the 4th Zouaves, in North Africa, with which unit he was sent to the front in 1914. Wounded, he was taken prisoner on the 30th August at the Battle of Guise, during a counter attack by General Lanrezac against von Bulow's Second German Army. He managed to escape at the end of September with the help of Doctor Frère's network, meeting up with the French military attaché at La Haye, who evacuated him to the United Kingdom, from where he was able to return to France. He distinguished himself once again in the autumn of 1917 when the 3rd Battalion of the 4th Zouaves recaptured the fort of La Malmaison, on the Chemin des Dames and then during the offensives planned by Pétain following the crisis of spring 1917. After the war, he joined General Franchet d'Esperey's troops in Constantinople, returning with his Colonel's stripes to Morocco at Lyautey's request to fight against the Berber rebellion movements. He thus contributed to the surrender of Abd-el-Krim (27th May 1926) during the Rif war, for which brave feat he was awarded the légion d'honneur.

Promoted to Military Commander of the town of Metz, he met Colonels Charles de Gaulle and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. Made a General in 1936 and Commander of the 7th army and member of the Upper War Council, Giraud, who did not believe in the effectiveness of armoured tanks, was challenging the tactics advocated by de Gaulle when the Second World War broke out. On the 10th May 1940 his units, having been sent to the Netherlands, delayed the German advance, most notably at Breda on the 13th May. He was taken prisoner on the 19th May in Wassigny whilst trying to stand in the way of the Panzer divisions with the 9th Army in the Ardennes. He was imprisoned in Silesia at Koenigstein castle, near Dresden. On the 17th April 1942, Giraud escaped from there with the help of some loyal supporters, Generals Mesny, Mast and Baurès and the British secret services who facilitated his escape from Schandau onwards. He then reached the Alsace and, later, Vichy. His adventure, which quickly became general knowledge and which he relates in Mes evasions (My Escapes), annoyed the German government who wanted him to return to prison, but he escaped this sanction by signing a letter to Marshal Pétain expressing his intention not to oppose his regime. Living under supervision, it was not long before Giraud was contacted by the Allies who were anxious to keep General de Gaulle away from the preparations for Operation Torch. Exfiltrated in November 1942 via Gibraltar, he met Eisenhower from whom he obtained permission to remain in command of the French troops. On the ground, the situation degenerated into a civil war, with Admiral Darlan's men refusing to recognise his authority. The assassination of Darlan on the 24th December put an end to the conflict. Giraud took over as his successor, maintaining the institutions, as well as the exceptional status of Jews and having some of the resistance fighters who had assisted in the landings interned in camps in the Southern Sahara. Present at the conference of Casablanca, he was forced to release these resistance fighters and make his government more democratic. He then went on the board of directors of the French Committee for National Liberation (Comité français de Libération nationale or CFLN) and so the "dual between Giraud and de Gaulle" reached its peak. However, he was quickly overwhelmed by General de Gaulle's rallying actions and had to give in to him. His unfailing support for Pierre Pucheu ended up discrediting him amongst his partisans. Pétain's former Minister of the Interior had in fact persuaded Morocco to serve the colours of the Free French (France Libre), but his move was considered to be too late for someone accused of collaboration with the enemy and participation in the arrest of hostages.

On the 13th September 1943, he sent French troops to support Corsican resistance fighters by landing on the island. It was a military success but Giraud was the subject of much criticism from General de Gaulle for having armed the communist Corsican resistance movement, giving a political tone to the operations for the liberation of Europe and weakening the unification work of the resistance movement. He finally lost his seat on the CFLN. In April 1944, Giraud organised French participation in the Italian campaign, but, considered to be too implicated in the repressive Vichy system, he was discharged from his position of Commander in Chief and had to withdraw from the military involvement with the France Libre. He would share his experiences of these troubled times in his book: Un seul but: la Victoire, Alger, 1942-1944(Just one goal: Victory, Algiers1942-1944). On the 28th August 1944 he survived an assassination attempt in Mostaganem. In 1946, Giraud stood for the position of Deputy in Lorraine for the second National Constitutional Assembly on the list of the Republican Party of Liberty and of the Agrarian Independents. Elected on the 2nd June, he whipped support for the group of independent republicans and contributed to the creation of the Fourth Republic, despite his refusal to vote for the constitution. He took part in debates on the situation of non-repatriated prisoners of war (25th July 1946) and on the general policy of the government in Algeria (22nd August 1946). He sat on the Upper War Council until December 1948 and on the 10th March 1949 he received the Military Medal for his outstanding escape. He died the following day and is buried at Les Invalides.