Jean-Marie de Lattre de Tassigny (1889-1952)
Jean-Marie de Lattre de Tassigny was born on 2 February 1889, at Mouilleron-en-Pareds, in the Vendée, into an old aristocratic family from French Flanders. He received a good education at the Collège Saint-Joseph, in Poitiers.
Between 1898 and 1904, de Lattre prepared for the École Navale and Saint-Cyr, being admitted to the latter in 1908. He did his training with the 29th Dragoons, in Provins. He was a Saint-Cyr cadet from 1909 to 1911, in the “Maurétanie” year group, and he graduated fourth in his year. In 1911, he entered the École de Cavalerie in Saumur. In 1912, he was assigned to the 12th Dragoons at Pont-à-Mousson, then sent to the front. As captain of the 93rd Infantry Regiment during the First World War, he was wounded four times and mentioned in eight dispatches. He was then assigned to the 49th Infantry Regiment, in Bayonne, from 1919 to 1921. In 1921, he was sent to Morocco, where he served in the Troisième Bureau, then on the Taza regional staff, until 1926. From 1927 to 1929, he joined the 49th intake of the École de Guerre. In 1927, he married Simone de Lamazière, who gave him a son in 1928. In 1929, he became a battalion commander in the 5th Infantry Regiment, at Coulommiers.
In 1932, he was promoted to the army staff, then to the staff of General Maxime Weygand, vice-chairman of the Supreme War Council, as a lieutenant-colonel. In 1935, he was made a colonel, and put in command of the 151st Infantry Regiment, at Metz. Between 1937 and 1938, he trained at the Centre des hautes études militaires (Centre for Higher Military Studies), and in 1938 he became the Governor of Strasbourg’s chief of staff.
Second World War
Promoted to the rank of brigadier on 23 March 1939, de Lattre was chief of staff of the Fifth Army on 2 September 1939. On 1 January 1940, he took command of the 14th Infantry Division, which he commanded during the confrontations with the Wehrmacht at Rethel, where his troops resisted heroically, as far as Champagne and the Yonne, miraculously preserving their military cohesion amidst the chaos of the rout. From July 1940 to September 1941, he was deputy to the commander-in-chief of the 13th Military Region at Clermont-Ferrand, then he was made a major-general and assigned to the command of troops in Tunisia until the end of 1941. He went on to command the 16th Division at Montpellier, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. When the Free Zone was invaded by German troops, he rejected the order not to fight, and was arrested. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment by the Tribunal d’État, Lyon Section. He succeeded in escaping from Riom prison on 3 September 1943, and went to London, then Algiers, where he arrived on 20 December 1943, having been promoted to the rank of general on 11 November 1943 by General de Gaulle. In December 1943, he commanded Army B, which went on to become the French First Army. He landed in Provence on 16 August 1944, took Toulon and Marseille, went up the Rhône Valley, then the Rhine, liberated Alsace, and entered Germany as far as the Danube. He represented France at the signing of the armistice on 8 May 1945, at the headquarters of Field Marshal Joukov, in Berlin.
After the war
Between December 1945 and March 1947, he was Inspector-General and Chief of the Army General Staff. In March 1947, he was appointed Inspector-General of the Army, then Inspector-General of the Armed Forces. From October 1948 to December 1950, he was Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces of Western Europe, at Fontainebleau.
He was made High Commissioner for Indochina and Commander-in-Chief for the Far East (1950-1952), and established a Vietnamese national army. Exhausted by the strain of a career of overwork, which did not suit his war wound from 1914, stricken with grief at the death of his son Bernard, killed in the Indochina campaign, and suffering from cancer, he died in Paris on 11 January 1952 after undergoing surgery. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Field Marshal, at his funeral on 15 January 1952. He was buried in the village of his birth, Mouilleron-en-Pareds.