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Henri Giraud in Casablanca, 19 January 1943

Henri Honoré Giraud (18 January 1879 – 11 March 1949[1]) was a French general who fought in World War I and World War II. Captured in both wars, he escaped each time. After his second escape, he joined the Free French Forces.


Early life

Henri Giraud was born in Paris, of Alsatian descent. He graduated from the Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1900 and joined the French Army, serving in North Africa until he was transferred back to France in 1914 when World War I broke out, when he commanded Zouave troops. He was captured in the Battle of Guise in August 1914, when he was seriously wounded, but escaped two months later and returned to France via the Netherlands.

Afterwards, Giraud served with French troops in Constantinople under General Franchet d'Esperey. In 1933, he was transferred to Morocco to fight against Rif (kabyle) rebels. He was awarded the Légion d'Honneur after the capture of Abd-el-Krim and later became the military commander of Metz.

Capture and escape

When World War II began, Giraud was a member of the Superior War Council, and disagreed with Charles de Gaulle about the tactics of using armoured troops. He became the commander of the 7th Army when it was sent to the Netherlands on 10, May 1940 and was able to delay German troops at Breda on 13 May. Subsequently, the depleted 7th Army was merged with the 9th. While trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes, he was captured by German troops at Wassigny on 19 May. He was taken to Königstein Castle near Dresden which was used as a high-security POW prison.

Giraud planned his escape carefully over two years. He learned German and memorised a map of the surrounding area. On 17 April, 1942, he lowered himself down the cliff of the mountain fortress. He had shaved off his moustache, and, wearing a Tyrolean hat, traveled to Schandau to meet his SOE contact. Through various ruses, he reached the Swiss border and eventually slipped into Vichy France. After escaping from prison, he told Marshal Pétain that Germany would lose and they must resist. The Vichy government refused to return Giraud to the Germans (see Giraud and the African Scene by G. Ward Price).

Cooperation with the Allies

Giraud's escape was soon known all over France. Heinrich Himmler ordered the Gestapo to assassinate him, and Pierre Laval tried to persuade him to return to Germany. Giraud supported Pétain and the Vichy government, but refused to cooperate with the Germans. Consequently, he agreed upon an Allied landing in North Africa and asked to be the Commander of such an operation. Eventually Giraud travelled to Algeria, and on 7 November 1942 the British submarine Seraph took him to meet General Dwight Eisenhower in Gibraltar. Eisenhower, giving him the code name King-Pin, asked him to command French troops in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia after Operation Torch, but Giraud was disappointed not to command the whole operation. He made a series of significant concessions at Gibraltar before this operation took place. He refused to leave immediately for Algiers, where the French resistance was waiting for him, but rather stayed in Gibraltar until 9 November. When asked why he did not go to Algiers he replied: "You may have seen something of the large De Gaullist demonstration that was held here last Sunday. Some of the demonstrators sang the Marseillaise. I entirely approve of that! Others sang the Chant du Depart [a military ballad]. Quite satisfactory! Others again shouted "Vive de Gaulle!" No Objection. But some of them cried "Death to Giraud!" I don't approve of that at all." [2]

The French resistance, pursuant to agreements secretly made in Cherchell on 23 October 1942 with General Mark W. Clark of the combined Allied command, acted without him. The Putsch of 8 November 1942 was accomplished by 400 poorly armed men who overnight neutralised Vichy army and coastal artillery units, took over the majority of the strategic points of Algiers, and arrested most of the Vichy military and civilian leaders, including General Alphonse Juin, the French commander-in-chief of North Africa, as well as Admiral François Darlan. Allied forces occupied Algiers and compelled Juin and Darlan to order a ceasefire. Ships that refused to join the Free French were scuttled. Germany, seeing these actions as betrayal, proceeded to occupy southern France.

In turn, Eisenhower accepted Darlan's self-nomination as high commissioner of French North and West Africa, a move that enraged de Gaulle, who refused to recognise Darlan's status. Giraud arrived on the evening of 9 November in Algiers, and on the 10th he agreed to subordinate himself to Darlan as the French African army commander. Darlan maintained Nazi-inspired racist laws and deported people to Vichy concentration camps.

That situation, qualified by Roosevelt as "military expediencies", could not be accepted by the French resistance. Consequently, during the afternoon of 24 December 1942, a 20-year-old French monarchist, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, entered Darlan's headquarters in Algiers and shot him twice. Although de la Chapelle had been a member of the resistance group led by Henri d'Astier, it is believed he was acting on his own initiative.

Free French leader

Giraud and de Gaulle during the Casablanca Conference

After Admiral Darlan's assassination, Giraud became his de facto successor with Allied support. This occurred through a series of consultations between Giraud and de Gaulle. De Gaulle ([3]Flemish descent) wanted to pursue a political position in France and agreed to have Giraud as commander-in-chief, as the more militarily qualified of the two. It is probable that he ordered that many French resistance leaders who had helped Eisenhower's troops be arrested, without any protest by Roosevelt's representative, Robert Murphy. Giraud took part in the Casablanca conference, with Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle, in January 1943. Later, after very difficult negotiations, Giraud agreed to suppress the racist laws, and to liberate Vichy prisoners from the awful South Algerian concentration camps. Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle then became co-presidents of the Comité français de la Libération Nationale and Free French Forces. Giraud wanted to lift all racial laws immediately; however, only the Cremieux decree was immediately restored by General de Gaulle. De Gaulle consolidated his political position at Giraud's expense because he was more up to date with the political situation.

On 13 September, Giraud led the landings at Corsica arming Corsica's Communist-oriented Front National resistance group. This drew more criticism from de Gaulle, and he lost the co-presidency in November 1943.

When the Allies found out that Giraud was maintaining his own intelligence network, the French committee forced him from his post as a commander-in-chief of the French forces. He refused to accept a post of Inspector General of the Army and chose to retire. On 28 August 1944, he survived an assassination attempt in Algeria.

Postwar life

On 2 June 1946, he was elected to the French Constituent Assembly as a representative of the Republican Party of Liberty and helped to create the constitution of the Fourth Republic. He remained a member of the War Council and received a medal for his escape. He published two books, Mes Evasions (My Escapes, 1946) and Un seul but, la victoire: Alger 1942-1944 (A Single Goal, Victory: Algiers 1942–1944, 1949) about his experiences.

Henri Giraud died in Dijon, France, on 11 March 1949.

According to a first person account by the Countess of Ranfurly, Giraud's wife was still in German hands as of February, 1944. His married daughter and her tiny baby were taken prisoner by the Germans when they left Tunis. In April, 1944 his then 17 year old daughter traveled across France to leave her grandmother in a safe place. She then set off alone to walk across the Pyrenees and Spain. She was then flown from Gilbralter to Algiers.


Giraud and the African Scene, p. 260. G. Ward Price. MacMillan. New York, NY, 1944.

To War With Whitaker the Wartime Diaries of the Contess of Ranfurly. Manderin Paperbacks. 1994 ISBN 0 7493 1954 2

  1. ^ (French) Sa fiche sur le site de l'Assemblée nationale
  2. ^ Giraud and the African Scene, p. 260. G. Ward Price. MacMillan. New York, NY, 1944.
  3. ^

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