Jean de Lattre de Tassigny


Le général de Lattre acclamé par la population de Colmar. Source : ECPAD
Le général de Lattre acclamé par la population de Colmar. Source : ECPAD

At the beginning of the Second World War (1939-45), Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was France's youngest general.

After the signing of the armistice, on 22 June 1940, he set about planning to overcome the Nazi occupier, under the motto Ne pas subir ('Never give in'). His rallying to General de Gaulle's Free France took him to Algiers, which he left with his army in 1944 to liberate France, from Provence to the Rhine.

On 9 May 1945, de Lattre was present in Berlin, alongside the Allies, to sign, on behalf of France, the official act of surrender of Nazi Germany.

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General de Lattre in 1951. Source: Association Rhin et Danube

De Lattre before the Second World War: France's youngest general

Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was born on 2 February 1889, in the village of Mouilleron-en-Pareds, in the Vendée countryside.

After studying in Poitiers and Paris, in July 1908 the future Marshal of France entered the Saint-Cyr military academy to train as a cavalry officer.

Jean de Lattre, lieutenant of the 12th Dragoons. Source: Musée National Clemenceau-de-Lattre

In October 1912, fresh out of the Saumur cavalry school, he was posted to the 12th Dragoons Regiment, at Pont-à-Mousson. As a reconnaissance officer of the 2nd Cavalry Division, Lieutenant de Lattre was wounded twice within months of the outbreak of the First World War: in August a shrapnel wound and in September a spear wound to the chest. On 20 December 1914, he was made a Knight of the Légion d'Honneur. In 1915, he requested a transfer to the infantry. Temporarily promoted to captain, he chose the 93rd Infantry Regiment, the Vendée regiment, with which he spent several months fighting at Verdun, on the Chemin des Dames. He ended the war at the 2nd Staff Office of the 21st Division. Wounded on several occasions, by the end of the conflict he had been mentioned eight times in dispatches.

Jean de Lattre with the 93rd Infantry Regiment. Source: Musée National Clemenceau-de-Lattre

After spending two years in Bayonne with the 49th Infantry Regiment, Captain de Lattre asked to be sent to Morocco. He took part in operations in Haute Moulouya in 1922 and Taza in 1923. He was chief of staff for the Taza region during the uprising against the French led by Abd el-Krim (Rif War, 1925-26). Wounded twice, he had three further mentions in dispatches.

Jean de Lattre on active service in Morocco. Source: Rights reserved

The year of his marriage to Simonne Calary de Lamazière, in 1927, battalion commander de Lattre entered the École de Guerre, France's highest military academy for senior officer training. In 1932, he served on the staff of General Weygand, then vice-chairman of the Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre (Supreme War Council). Charged with planning and foreign affairs, over the next three years spent with General Weygand then General Georges, Lieutenant Colonel de Lattre followed the development of foreign policy and certain matters of domestic policy affecting the military budget. Promoted to colonel, he commanded the 151st Infantry Regiment at Metz from 1935 to 1937. In 1938, he trained at the Centre des Hautes Études Militaires (Centre for Higher Military Studies, or CHEM). His appointment to the rank of brigadier general, in March 1939, made him the youngest general in France.

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From the Second World War to Indochina

Chief of Staff of the 5th Army - the army of Alsace - when war was declared on 3 September 1939, in January 1940 he took command of the 14th Infantry Division. In the fighting of May and June, the division distinguished itself at Rethel, where it pushed back three times German troops trying to cross the Aisne, before retreating to engage in stalling attacks along the Marne and Loire.

The armistice was signed with Germany on 22 June 1940. The French armed forces were demobilised and disarmed, and France was permitted to keep only the troops necessary to maintain domestic law and order. In this climate of defeat, de Lattre wanted to give hope and faith back to the French youth, and devoted himself to the training of senior army officers. His motto was Ne pas subir, or 'Never give in'. At Opme near Clermont-Ferrand, at Salammbô in Tunisia and at Carnon near Montpellier, he worked to put French forces back on their feet, with a view to resuming combat alongside the Allies.

On 11 November 1942, when the Germans entered the Free Zone, he gave his troops the order to come out of their garrisons and resist. He was arrested and held at the Maison Centrale d'Arrêt in Toulouse, then at Fort Montluc in Lyon, before being sentenced on 9 January 1943 to ten years' imprisonment for abandonment of post by the Tribunal d'État (a special court without the right of appeal). On 2 February, he was transferred to Riom, from where he escaped on the night of 2-3 September, with the aid of his wife and son, Bernard.

After lying low in the Auvergne for a month, he headed to the Mâcon area, then on to London in mid-October, then Algiers, now the capital of Free France, on 20 December. General de Gaulle entrusted him with the training and command of Army B, whose senior officers were trained at the Douera school. Victorious on the island of Elba in June 1944, the army came from Africa and Italy to land in Provence in August alongside the Allies, in Operation Dragoon. Its mission, according to the US plan, was to take Toulon on the 4th and Marseille on the 24th September.

August 1944: General de Lattre and his men prepare to land in Provence.Source: ECPAD

Ahead of schedule, it liberated the two port cities on 27 and 28 August, then headed up the Rhône Valley, entering Lyon on 3 September and liberating Mâcon, Autun and Dijon, where General de Lattre linked up with the 2nd Armoured Division and achieved what was perhaps his greatest feat: the incorporation of the Resistance fighters of the French Forces of the Interior with the regular units of the Army of Africa.

De Lattre's army, now called the First French Army, was the first of all the Allied armies to reach the Rhine, on 19 November. The recapture of Belfort, Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Colmar completed the liberation of France.

General de Lattre's staff at Montbéliard, January 1945, by Siss. Source: Musée National Clemenceau-de-Lattre

On 31 March 1945, his troops stormed across the Rhine, reaching Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, then crossed the Danube and advanced as far as Ulm, while others followed the Swiss border from Basel to Konstanz, then on to Arlberg.

General de Lattre is cheered by the inhabitants of Colmar. Source: ECPAD

On 9 May 1945, General de Lattre was present in Berlin alongside the Allies to sign, on behalf of France, the act of surrender of Nazi Germany.


Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Corporals and Soldiers of the First French Army,

The day of Victory has come.

In Berlin, I am proud to sign on behalf of France, on your behalf, the official act of Germany's surrender.

Worthy of the trust of our Supreme Leader, General de Gaulle, liberator of our Country, you have, by your efforts, your fervour and your heroism, given this Nation back its prestige and greatness.

Standing as brothers with the soldiers of the Resistance, side by side with our Allied comrades, you cut the enemy to pieces wherever you found him.

Your flags fly at the heart of Germany.

Your victories mark the stages in the French Resurrection.

From the bottom of my soul, I offer you my gratitude. You have the right to be proud of yourselves and your exploits.

Let us faithfully preserve the memory of our dead. Noble comrades fallen on the Field of Honour, they have joined, in sacrifice and glory, for the Redemption of France, our martyrs and our sons killed by firing squad.

Let us celebrate your victory: a May victory, a radiant spring victory giving France back its Youth, Strength and Hope.

Victorious soldiers, your children shall be taught the new epic which is France's debt to you.

Berlin, 9 May 1945

General de Lattre de Tassigny,

Commander-in-Chief of the First French Army


Inspector-General and Chief of the General Staff of the French Army from 1945, in 1948 de Lattre was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces of Western Europe, under Field Marshal Montgomery.

On 6 December 1950, in view of the gravity of the situation in Indochina, in the war between the French and Viet Minh which had been going on since 1946, de Lattre was appointed High Commissioner for Indochina and Commander-in-Chief for the Far East. He restored the situation in Tonkin with victories at Vinh Yen and Mao Khe, encouraged and gave renewed confidence to all, and developed the Vietnamese army. His only son, Bernard, was killed at Ninh Binh, on 30 May 1951, at the head of a Vietnamese troop of the 1st Light Cavalry Regiment.

Vietnamese army parade. Source: Rights reserved

After several missions to Washington, London and Rome, though already in poor health, he departed once again for Vietnam. He returned to France to attend the High Council of the French Union for Associated States (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos), at which he reported on the situation in Indochina. He died on 11 January 1952. Four days later, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was made a Marshal of France.

He held the titles of Grand Croix of the Legion of Honour and Compagnon de la Libération, and was awarded the Médaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre 1914-1918, Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 and Croix de Guerre des Théâtres d'Opérations Extérieurs (for conflicts other than WWI and WWII), and the Médaille des Évadés (for escaped POWs), as well as numerous foreign decorations.

Memorial to Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny and the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, Mouilleron-en-Pareds. Source: Rights reserved