Henri Giraud

Henri Honoré Giraud (18 January 1879 – 11 March 1949)[1] was a French general and a leader of the Free French Forces during the Second World War until he was forced to retire in 1944.

Henri Giraud
Henri Giraud 1943Jan19.gif
Giraud in Casablanca, 19 January 1943
Co-chairman of the French Committee of National Liberation
(with Charles de Gaulle)
In office
3 June 1943 – 9 November 1943
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Civilian and military commander-in-chief for French North Africa and French West Africa
In office
26 December 1942 – 3 June 1943
Preceded byFrançois Darlan (as High-Commissioner)
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Member of the Constituent Assembly
from Moselle
In office
11 June 1946 – 27 November 1946
Personal details
Henri Honoré Giraud

18 January 1879 (1879-01-18)
Paris, France
Died11 March 1949(1949-03-11) (aged 70)
Dijon, France
AwardsGrand Cross of the Legion of Honor
Military service
Allegiance French Third Republic
 Free France
Branch/serviceFrench Army
Years of service1900–1944
RankGénéral d'Armée
Battles/warsWorld War I
Rif War
World War II

Born to an Alsatian family in Paris, Giraud graduated from the Saint-Cyr military academy and served in French North Africa. He was wounded and captured by the Germans during the First World War, but managed to escape from his prisoner-of-war camp. During the interwar period, Giraud returned to North Africa and fought in the Rif War, for which he was awarded the Légion d'honneur.

Early in the Second World War, Giraud fought in the Netherlands. In May 1940, he was again captured by the Germans, but made another successful escape from captivity in April 1942 after two years of careful planning. From within Vichy France he worked with the Allies in secret, and assumed command of French troops in North Africa after Operation Torch (November 1942) following the assassination of François Darlan. In January 1943, he took part in the Casablanca Conference along with Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later in the same year, Giraud and de Gaulle became co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation, but he lost support and retired in frustration in April 1944.

After the war, Giraud was elected to the Constituent Assembly of the French Fourth Republic. He died in Dijon in 1949.

Early lifeEdit

Henri Giraud was born in Paris, of Alsatian descent, and was the son of a coal merchant.

Military careerEdit

He graduated from the Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1900 and joined the French Army as a sub-lieutenant in the 4th Zouaves. In 1907, he qualified for admission to the École Supérieure de Guerre,[2] and on 10 December was transferred to the 27th Infantry.[3] Having successfully qualified as a staff officer, he was appointed to the staff of the 9th Army Corps on 13 October 1909.[4] On 23 October 1911, he was appointed to the staff of the 1st Brigade of Cuirassiers.[5] Due to the slow pace of promotion in the peacetime army, he only received a brevet promotion to captain on 23 December 1912, over a decade after his promotion to lieutenant.[6] On 23 June 1913, Giraud returned to the 4th Zouaves,[7] and commanded Zouave troops in North Africa until he was transferred back to France in 1914 when World War I broke out.

World War IEdit

Giraud was seriously wounded while leading a Zouave bayonet charge during the Battle of St. Quentin on 30 August 1914, and was left for dead on the field. He was captured by the Germans and placed in a prison camp in Belgium. He managed to escape two months later by pretending to be a roustabout with a traveling circus. He then asked Edith Cavell for help, and eventually he was able to return to France via the Netherlands, with assistance from Cavell's team. [8][9] His feat earned him appointment as a knight of the Legion of Honour on 10 April 1915.[10] With effect from 26 February 1915, he was reappointed a staff officer.[11]

Afterwards, Giraud served with French troops in Istanbul under General Franchet d'Esperey.


In 1920 Giraud was transferred to Morocco to fight against Rif rebels. He was awarded the Légion d'Honneur after the capture of Abd-el-Krim (1926).[8] On 20 October 1927, by now a brevet colonel with the 5th Infantry, he was appointed professor of infantry tactics at the École de Guerre,[12] where one of his students was Captain Charles de Gaulle. On 3 February 1930, Giraud was "placed at the disposal of the resident-general of France in Morocco", then Lucien Saint, and was assigned to monitor the Algerian-Moroccan borders as commander of the Moroccan frontier post of Boudenib.[13] He was promoted to brigadier-general on 22 December 1930.[14] On 11 April 1936, he was appointed military governor of Metz, commanding the 6th military region.[15]

World War II: command, capture and escapeEdit

Captured French General Giraud (second from right) with German officers
Captured French General Giraud, during his daily walk. Germany, c. 1940–41.

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 at the front with a reconnaissance patrol when he was captured by German troops at Wassigny on 19 May. A court-martial tried Giraud for ordering the execution of two German saboteurs wearing civilian clothes but he was acquitted and taken to Königstein Castle near Dresden, which was used as a high-security POW prison.[16]

Giraud planned his escape carefully over two years. He learned German and memorised a map of the area. He made a 150 feet (46 m) rope out of twine, torn bedsheets, and copper wire, which friends had smuggled into the prison for him. Using a simple code embedded in his letters home, he informed his family of his plans to escape. 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, travelled to Schandau to meet his Special Operations Executive (SOE) contact who provided him with a change of clothes, cash and identity papers. Through various ruses, he reached the Swiss border by train. To avoid border guards who were on the alert for him, he walked through the mountains until he was stopped by two Swiss soldiers, who took him to Basel.[8] Giraud eventually slipped into Vichy France, where he made his identity known. He tried to convince Marshal Pétain that Germany would lose, and that France must resist the German occupation. His views were rejected but the Vichy government refused to return Giraud to the Germans.[17]

Cooperation with the AlliesEdit

Algiers, French Algeria. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander in chief of the Allied Armies in North Africa, and General Henri Honoré Giraud, commanding the French Forces, saluting the flags of both nations at Allied headquarters.

Giraud's escape was soon known all over France. Pierre Laval tried to persuade him to return to Germany. Yet while remaining loyal to Pétain and the Vichy government, Giraud refused to cooperate with the Germans. In retaliation, Heinrich Himmler ordered the Gestapo to try to assassinate him and to arrest any members of Giraud's family that could be found, who would be held hostage in order to discourage Giraud from cooperating with the Allies. Seventeen members of Giraud's extended family were arrested.[18]

He was secretly contacted by the Allies, who gave him the code name Kingpin. Giraud was already planning for the day when American troops landed in France. He agreed to support an Allied landing in French North Africa, provided that only American troops were used (like many other French officers he was bitterly resentful of the British, particularly after their attack on Mers-el-Kébir[citation needed]), and that he or another French officer was the commander of such an operation. He considered this latter condition essential to maintaining French sovereignty and authority over the Arab and Berber natives of North Africa.[citation needed]

Giraud designated General Charles Mast as his representative in Algeria. At a secret meeting on 23 October with U.S. General Mark W. Clark and diplomat Robert Daniel Murphy, the invasion was agreed on, but the Americans promised only that Giraud would be in command "as soon as possible". Giraud, still in France, responded with a demand for a written commitment that he would be commander within 48 hours of the landing, and for landings in France as well as North Africa. Giraud also insisted that he could not leave France before 20 November.[19]

However, Giraud was persuaded that he had to go. He requested to be fetched by aeroplane, but General Dwight Eisenhower advised that he should be brought to Gibraltar by the British submarine HMS Seraph, masquerading as "USS Seraph" under the nominal command of American Captain Jerauld Wright, as no US submarines were operating in the vicinity. On 5 November, he and his two sons were picked up near Toulon by HMS Seraph and taken to meet Eisenhower in Gibraltar.[20]: 544  He arrived on 7 November, only a few hours before the landings.

Eisenhower asked him to assume command of French troops in North Africa during Operation Torch and order them to join the Allies. But Giraud had expected to command the whole operation, and adamantly refused to participate on any other basis. He said "his honor would be tarnished" and that he would only be a spectator in the affair.[21]

However, by the next morning, Giraud relented. He refused to leave immediately for Algiers, 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 départ [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."[17]: 260 

Pro-Allied elements in Algeria had agreed to support the Allied landings, and in fact seized Algiers on the night of 7–8 November; the city was then occupied by Allied troops. However, resistance continued at Oran and Casablanca. Giraud flew to Algiers on 9 November, but his attempt to assume command of French forces was rebuffed; his broadcast directing French troops to cease resistance and join the Allies was ignored.[21] Instead, it appeared that Admiral François Darlan, who happened to be in Algiers, had real authority, and Giraud quickly realized this. Despite the fact that Darlan was the de facto head of the Vichy government, the Allies recognized him as head of French forces in Africa, and on 10 November, after agreeing to a deal, Darlan ordered the French forces to cease fire and join the Allies.[21][dubious ]

On 11 November, German forces occupied southern France. Negotiations continued in Algiers, and by 13 November, Darlan was recognized as High Commissioner of French North Africa and West Africa, while Giraud was appointed commander of all French forces under Darlan.[citation needed][dubious ]

All this took place without reference to the Free French organization of De Gaulle, which had claimed to be the legitimate government of France in exile.

Then on 24 December 1942, Darlan was assassinated in mysterious circumstances. On that afternoon, the admiral drove to his offices at the Palais d'Été and was shot down at the door to his bureau by a young man of 20, Bonnier de la Chapelle, a monarchist. The young man was tried by court martial under Giraud's orders and executed on the 26th.[20]: 577  With the strong backing of the Allies, especially Eisenhower, Giraud was elected to succeed Darlan.

Army of Africa leaderEdit

Giraud and Charles de Gaulle during the Casablanca Conference; seated: Roosevelt and Churchill

After Admiral Darlan's assassination, Giraud became his de facto successor with Allied support. This occurred through a series of consultations between Giraud and Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle 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.[citation needed] 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 South Algerian concentration camps. Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle then became co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation 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. Giraud went to the U.S. in July on a useless trip while de Gaulle gained strength. Giraud made a fool of himself in Detroit with a speech praising Nazi achievements in Germany.[22]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Giraud in Casablanca

Following the Resistance uprising in Corsica on 11 September 1943, Giraud sent an expedition, including two French destroyers, to help the resistance movement without informing the Committee.[23] 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 after forty-four years' service. On 10 March 1944 he received a telegram from Winston Churchill offering Churchill's sympathy for the death of Giraud's daughter who had been captured in Tunisia, and carried off into Germany with her four children.[24] On 28 August 1944, he survived an assassination attempt in Algeria.

Postwar lifeEdit

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 was decorated for his escape.[citation needed] 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.

Military ranksEdit

Cadet Sub-lieutenant
1899 1 October 1900[25]
Lieutenant Captain Battalion chief Lieutenant colonel Colonel
1 October 1902[26] 23 December 1912 (brevet)[6] 22 March 1915[27] 25 June 1924[28]
Brigadier general Division general Corps general Army general
22 December 1930[14]


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "Henri Giraud". Assemblée nationale (in French).
  2. ^ Government of the French Republic (25 March 1907). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  3. ^ Government of the French Republic (11 December 1907). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  4. ^ Government of the French Republic (14 October 1909). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  5. ^ Government of the French Republic (27 September 1911). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  6. ^ a b Government of the French Republic (25 December 1912). "Armée active: nominations et promotions". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  7. ^ Government of the French Republic (24 June 1913). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Painton, Frederick C. (September 1943). "Giraud's Brilliant Escape from a Nazi Prison". Reader's Digest. p. 39.
  9. ^ "Henri Giraud". Chemins de Mémoire.
  10. ^ Government of the French Republic (13 April 1915). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  11. ^ Government of the French Republic (2 March 1915). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  12. ^ Government of the French Republic (25 October 1927). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  13. ^ Government of the French Republic (3 February 1930). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  14. ^ a b Government of the French Republic (21 December 1930). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  15. ^ Government of the French Republic (7 March 1936). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  16. ^ Bernin, Michel (21 September 1942). "Königstein Prison". Life. p. 124. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  17. ^ a b Price, G. Ward (1944). Giraud and the African Scene. New York: Macmillan.
  18. ^ Harding, Stephen (2013). The Last Battle: When US and German soldiers joined forces in the waning hours of World War II in Europe. Da Capo Press. p. 53. ISBN 9780306822087.
  19. ^ Murphy, Robert (1964). Diplomat Among Warriors. New York: Doubleday. pp. 115–122.
  20. ^ a b Churchill, Winston (1951). The Second World War, Vol 3: The Hinge of Fate.
  21. ^ a b c Eisenhower, Dwight (1948). Crusade in Europe. New York: Doubleday. pp. 99–105, 107–110.
  22. ^ Bernard Ledwidge, De Gaulle (1982) pp. 142, 168
  23. ^ Macmillan, Harold (1967). The Blast of War. Macmillan. p. 412.
  24. ^ Churchill, Winston (1952). The second World War. 5. Cassel. pp. Appendix C.
  25. ^ Government of the French Republic (28 September 1900). "Armée active: nominations et promotions". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  26. ^ Government of the French Republic (28 September 1902). "Armée active: nominations et promotions". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  27. ^ Government of the French Republic (23 March 1915). "Armée active: nominations et promotions". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  28. ^ Government of the French Republic (27 June 1924). "Armée active: nominations et promotions". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  29. ^ Government of the French Republic (4 August 1929). "Ministère de l'instruction publique et des beaux-arts". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  30. ^ Government of the French Republic (19 October 1927). "Ministère de la guerre". gallica.bnf.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.

Further readingEdit