Henri Giraud

Henri Giraud

Henri Giraud was born in Paris, France, on 18th January, 1879. After graduating from St Cyr in 1900, he joined the French Army. He served in the 4th Zouave Regiment in North Africa until 1914 when he returned to fight on the Western Front. Giraud was captured in the battle of Guise in August 1914, but escaped two months later.

After the war Giraud remained in the army and joined the staff of General Francet d'Esperey in Constantinople. He went to Morocco in 1922 and was promoted to colonel three years later. He won the Legion d'Honneur for his role in the capture of Abd-el-Krim and later succeeded Hubert Lyautey in Morocco before becoming military governor of Metz.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Giraud, a member of the Superior War Council, was given command of the 7th Army. Although an early advocate of motorization, he was fairly ignorant of modern warfare and soon clashed with General Charles De Gaulle over tank tactics.

Giraud and the 7th Army were sent into Holland on 10th May 1940 and was able to briefly halt the advance of the German Army at Breda on 13th May. He was then sent to try and block the German attack through the Ardennes. Giraud was captured at Wassigny on 19th May and imprisoned in Koenigstein Castle near Dresden.

With the help of the Allied secret services, Giraud escaped from prison on 17th April 1942. Pierre Laval tried to persuade him to return to Germany, fearing he could become one of the leaders of the French Resistance. Giraud refused and instead went to live in Algeria.

On 7th November, Giraud had a secret meeting with General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Gibraltar. Eisenhower told Giraud about Operation Torch and persuaded him to become commander of French forces in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia after the invasion of North Africa. The following day Allied forces landed in Casablanca, Oran and Algiers.

Most French officers in North Africa refused to accept the authority of Giraud. The French troops fought back at Oran and General Mark Clarkimmediately began negotiations with Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan, overall C-in-C of Vichy forces, in an attempt to negotiate a ceasefire.

When Darlan was assassinated on 24th December 1942, Giraud became his successor as the civil and military chief of French North Africa. He quickly upset the Allies by ordering the arrest of several Frenchmen who had aided General Dwight D. Eisenhower during Operation Torch.

Giraud met Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle at Casablanca in January 1943. After much discussion it was agreed that Giraud and De Gaulle would become co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation (NCNL). De Gaulle reached Algeria on 30th May and soon used his superior political skills to become leader of the organization.

Giraud retained control of the French armed forces and on 13th September led the invasion of Corsica. During the operation he was criticized by De Gaulle and other Allied leaders for arming Corsica's Front National, the communist dominated resistance group.

In April 1944 Giraud lost his post as commander in chief and was put on the retired list. On 28th August 1944 he survived an assassination attempt in Algeria.

On 2nd June 1946 Giraud was elected to the Constituent Assembly as a member of the Republican Party of Liberty. Henri Giraud, who published Mes Evasions (1946) and Algeria 1942-1944 (1949), died in Dijon on 13th March 1949.

Primary Sources

(1) Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (1948)

General Giraud, though dressed in civilian clothes, looked very much a soldier. He was well over six feet, erect, almost stiff in carriage, and abrupt in speech and mannerisms. He was a gallant if bedraggled figure, and his experiences of the war, including a long term of imprisonment and a dramatic escape, had not daunted his fighting spirit.

It was quickly apparent that he had come out of France laboring under the grave misapprehension that he was immediately to assume command of the whole Allied expedition. Upon entering my dungeon he offered himself to me in that capacity. I could not accept his services in such a role. I wanted him to proceed to Africa, as soon as we could guarantee his safety, and there take over command of such French forces as would voluntarily rally to him. Above all things, we were anxious to have him on our side because of the constant fear at the back of our minds of becoming engaged in a prolonged and serious battle against Frenchmen, not only to our own sorrow and loss, but to the detriment of our campaign against the German.

General Giraud was adamant; he believed that the honor of himself and his country was involved and that he could not possibly accept any position in the venture lower than that of complete command. This, on the face of it, was impossible. The naming of an Allied commander in chief is an involved process, requiring the co-ordinated agreement of military and political leaders of the responsible governments. No subordinate commander in the expedition could legally have accepted an order from General Giraud. Moreover, at that moment there was not a single Frenchman in the Allied command; on the contrary, the enemy, if any, was French.