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Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
Général de Lattre in 1946
|Birth name||Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny|
|Nickname(s)||Le Roi Jean ("King John")|
|Born||2 February 1889|
|Died||11 January 1952 (aged 62)|
Free French Forces
|Years of service||1911–1952|
|Rank||Marshal of France (posthumous)|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
World War II
First Indochina War
|Awards||Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor|
|Relations||Bernard de Lattre de Tassigny|
Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny, GCB, MC (French: [ʒɑ̃ də latʁ də tasiɲi]; 2 February 1889 – 11 January 1952) was a French military commander in World War II and the First Indochina War. He was posthumously promoted to Marshal of France.
As an officer during World War I, he fought in combat in various battles, including Verdun and was wounded five times, surviving the war with 8 citations, the Légion d'honneur and the Military Cross. During the Interwar period, he took part in campaigns in Morocco where he was wounded in action again. He then pursued a career in the general staff headquarters and as a commander of a regiment.
Early in World War II, from May to June 1940, he was the youngest French Général. He led his division during the Battle of France, at the battles of Rethel, Champagne-Ardenne, and Loire and until the Armistice of 22 June 1940. During the Vichy Regime, he remained in the Armistice Army, first in regional command posts, then as commander-in-chief of troops in Tunisia. After the disembarking of Allied forces in North Africa, on 11 November 1942, the Germans invaded the free zone; de Lattre, Commander of the 16th Military Division at Montpellier, refused the orders not to fight the Germans and was the only active général to order his troops to oppose the invaders. He was arrested but escaped and defected to Charles de Gaulle's Free France at end of 1943. From 1943 to 1945 he was one of the senior leaders of the Liberation Army, commanding the forces which landed in the South of France on 15 August 1944, then fought up to the Rivers Rhine and Danube. He was the only French general of World War II to command large numbers of American troops, when the US XXI Corps was attached to his First Army during the battle of the Colmar Pocket. He was also the French representative at Berlin on 8 May 1945, with Eisenhower, Zhukov and Montgomery.
Commander-in-Chief of French Forces in Germany in 1945, then Inspector Général of the French Army (Inspection générale des armées) and General Headquarters of National Defence (Chef d'État-Major général de la Défense nationale) in 1947, he was the vice-president of the Supreme War Council. From 1948 to 1950 he served as Commander-in-chief of the Western Union's ground forces. In 1951, he was the High Commissioner, commander-in-chief in Indochina and commander-in-chief of the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, winning several battles against the Việt Minh. His only son was killed there, then illness forced him to return to Paris where he died of cancer in 1952. He was elevated to the dignity of Marshal of France posthumously in 1952 during his state funeral.
From 1898 to 1904, he prepared for the French Naval School (École navale) and Saint-Cyr, where he won a place in 1908. He was a cadet at Saint-Cyr from 1909 to 1911 (his year was the Mauritanie promotion) and graduated 5th in his class. Then, he entered the cavalry school at Saumur.
In 1912, he was a sous-lieutenant assigned to the 12th Dragoon Regiment (12e Régiment de Dragons). He was wounded for the first time on 11 August 1914, by a shrapnel munition blast during a reconnaissance mission. On 14 September, he was wounded again by an Uhlan's lance while leading the charge of his dragoon troop. Weakened by his wound, he was saved from captivity by an officer of the 5th Hussard Regiment (5e Régiment de Hussards). He received the Légion d'honneur (20 December 1914).
In 1915, he was promoted to captain in the 93rd Infantry Division (93e Régiment d'Infanterie) and fought in the Battle of Verdun for 16 months enduring 5 wounds, for which he received 8 citations and the Military Cross. Consequently, he was then assigned to the 2nd bureau of general staff headquarters of the 21st Infantry Division (21e division d'infanterie (France)).
In 1919, he was assigned to the Franco-American section at Bordeaux, then to the 49th Infantry Regiment (49e Régiment d'Infanterie) at Bayonne. From 1921 to 1926, he was posted in Morocco and took part in various battles, where he was wounded, received three citations and was promoted to the rank of Chef de battaillon (major).
From 1927 to 1929, he took further courses at the War College, where he was awarded the ceremonial honour of chief of the graduation class. In 1928, he was assigned to the 5th Infantry Regiment (French: 5e Régiment d'Infanterie).
In 1931, he was assigned to the bureau of the Chief of the Defence Staff (l'État-Major de l'Armée). With the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, he was assigned to the general headquarters staff of général Maxime Weygand. During this posting, he was tasked mainly with following foreign international policies, internal politics and the challenges of complex military budgets initiatives. With the retirement of Weygand who had reached mandatory retirement age, de Lattre was retained in the general headquarters staff of général Alphonse Joseph Georges. In 1935, he was promoted to colonel and appointed regimental commander of the 151st Infantry Regiment (151e Régiment d'Infanterie). Between 1937 and 1938, he studied courses at the Centre for Higher Military Studies (CHEM – an advanced staff college for generals). In 1938 he became Chief of Staff at the headquarters of the military governor of Strasbourg.
Promoted to Brigadier General on 22 March 1939, the youngest général of France, he was subsequently assigned as Chief of Staff at general headquarters of the 5th Army (French: 5e Armée), on 3 September 1939. In January 1940, he took command of the 14th Infantry Division (French: 14e Division d'Infanterie) engaging the enemy at Rethel where his division resisted for an entire month, three times repelling enemy assaults in front of the River Aisne. The division continued to fight at Champagne-Ardenne, at Mourmelon, then conducted delaying actions on the Marne, Yonne, Loire and Nièvre. The division retained military cohesion and unity in the middle of chaos and debacles. A German officer likened its resistance to the Battle of Verdun.
Following the Armistice of 22 June 1940, he remained in the Army of Vichy and from July 1940 to September 1941, he was the adjutant to the général commanding the 13th Military Division at Clermont-Ferrand and military commander of Puy-de-Dôme. During these complex times, de Lattre played an important role in maintaining military cohesion, confidence and discipline. At this time he implemented government directives, believing that the regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain was acting in defence of the national interest. Keen to encourage young men, he opened several field schools and military instruction centres – built up by Alsatians and soldiers – with the aim of producing capable officers and generals, trained in team work and able to spread their experience across the board of the armistice army. Promoted général de division, he was the commander-in-chief of troops in the protectorate of Tunisia where he opened another military instruction centre. Following this four-month deployment from late September 1941 to 2 February 1942, he was recalled to France after a dispute with his superior Alphonse Juin and was reassigned. Returning to France de Lattre took charge of the 16th Military Division, based in Montpellier. Following the Allied landings in French North Africa on 8 November 1942, Germany occupied southern France and disbanded the Vichy Army. De Lattre was arrested and imprisoned for several months.
After managing to escape to London in September 1943, he went on to Algiers and joined the Free French. He was promoted to the rank of général d'armée on 11 November 1943, by Charles de Gaulle. In December 1943, he commanded French Army B, which had been formed on 31 July 1943 as an amalgam of Free French Forces, the Army of Africa (French: Armée d'Afrique (France)) forces and volunteers. Once again he opened another cadre training centre in Algiers. De Lattre's army liberated the island of Elba on 17 and 19 June 1944.
As commander of Army B, he assisted in the preparations of Operation Dragoon which was to take place on 15 August, a number of weeks after Operation Overlord in Normandy. De Lattre's seven divisions (almost 256,000 men), along with three US divisions, Special Forces and Airborne Forces, made up General Alexander Patch's US 7th Army.
With the US VI and VII Corps, de Lattre and his commanders, mainly générals Antoine Béthouart, Edgard de Larminat (replaced on 31 August 1944, by Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert) disembarked in Provence on 15 August 1944 and took part with French Forces of the Interior, F.F.I in the battles of Toulon on 27 August and Marseille on 29 August. The liberation of these two sea ports greatly increased Allied capacity to land men and munitions, gaining them a decisive advantage on the Western Front.
The armies ascended up the Vallée du Rhône and liberated Saint-Étienne on 2 September, Lyon on 3 September and Mâcon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Beaune and Autun on 8 September.
By incorporating some of the French Forces of the Interior, de Lattre increased his effective strength from 137,000 men to almost 400,000. From September 1944, the French Liberation Army (French: Armée Française de la Libération,) was an amalgam of the Armistice Army, the Free French Forces and the French Forces of the Interior (French: heureux amalgame de l'armée d'armistice, de la France libre et des Forces françaises de l'intérieur). This allowed Army B to be formed into the French 1st Army on 25 September 1944.
After it linked up with Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque's 2nd Armored Division (2e D.B) coming from Normandy, to Montbard, Aisey-sur-Seine and Nord-sur-Seine, near Dijon on 12 September 1944, from the beginning of October the First Army took part in the Battle of the Vosges (1944–1945) with the US Seventh Army, took Montbéliard and Héricourt (Haute-Saône) on 17 November, then Gérardmer. They were the first Allied forces to reach the Rhine, on 19 November, then liberated Strasbourg on 23 November, Mulhouse on 24 November and Belfort on 25 November.
The Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 30 January 1945) briefly halted the Allied advance and for a while it seemed the Allies might have to abandon Alsace and Strasbourg. This was not a feasible option for de Gaulle, especially since Strasbourg had so recently been liberated. De Lattre had been under the command of General Jacob L. Devers's US 6th Army Group since 1944. In the meantime, on 31 December, the Germans counter-attacked again at Sarreguemines, Bitche and Colmar. The French First Army maintained defensive positions around Strasbourg despite heavy losses.
Following his request for reinforcements on 19 January 1945, General Devers placed 4 US divisions of the XXI American Corps of General Frank W. Milburn under the orders of général de Lattre making of him the only French general of World War II to command United States units. De Lattre's army then participated on 20 January in the reduction of the Colmar Pocket. The city was liberated on 9 February 1945.
The First Army crossed the Siegfried Line during the Battle of the Palatine on 19 March 1945. On 31 March 1945, the French Army crossed the Rhine at Speyer and Germersheim and advanced through the Black Forest and to Karlsruhe and Stuttgart while enduring heavy combat losses. The army of de Lattre advanced on Sigmaringen, taken by the French on 22 April, and then Ulm on the Danube on 24 April; it reached the Swiss border at Basel. The Rhin et Danube campaign ended in Austria after the army engaged the German 25th Army in Bregenz, Austria, and advanced through to Bludenz and Landeck.
On 8 May 1945, de Lattre was in Berlin at the general headquarters staff of Marshal Zhukov.
From 31 March 1945, to 27 May 1947, de Lattre was the commander-in-chief of French Forces in Germany. On 17 June 1945, he welcomed the Normandie-Niemen squadron back to France. Between December 1945 and March 1947, he was Inspector-General of the French Army (French: Inspection Générale des Armées,) and General Headquarters of National Defence (French: Chef d'État-Major général de la Défense nationale), vice-president of the Conseil Supérieur de Guerre (Supreme War Council) while continuing to serve as Inspector-General of the Army and then Inspector-General of the Armed Forces. From October 1948 to December 1950, with Field Marshal Montgomery, he was the first commander-in-chief of Western Union Defence Organisation ground forces in Western Europe. While in that post he bickered a great deal with Montgomery.
From October to November 1947, he led a diplomatic and economic mission to South America where he held numerous talks with presidents from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil and high-ranking ministers in the respective countries including French communities. He also took part in several related conferences.
From 1950 to September 1951, he commanded French troops in French Indochina during the First Indochina War. He was highly regarded by both his French subordinates and Việt Minh adversaries and has been described as the "Gallic version of [United States General Douglas] MacArthur – handsome, stylish, sometimes charming, yet egocentric to the point of megalomania" and "brilliant and vain" and "flamboyant". After de Lattre's arrival in Vietnam, Việt Minh General Giap proclaimed that his army would face "an adversary worthy of its steel".
De Lattre's arrival raised the morale of French troops significantly and inspired his forces to inflict heavy defeats on the Việt Minh. He won three major victories at Vĩnh Yên, Mao Khé and Yen Cu Ha and defended successfully the north of the country against the Việt Minh.
At the Battle of Vĩnh Yên in January 1951, he defeated 2 Việt Minh divisions, totalling 20,000 men under Giap's personal command, by taking charge of the outnumbered French forces, flying in reinforcements and mustering every available aircraft to bomb the massive Việt Minh formation. Giap retreated after three fierce days of combat that killed 6,000 and wounded 8,000. De Lattre had anticipated Giap's attacks and had reinforced French defences with hundreds of cement blockhouses and new airfields.
In March 1951, at the Battle of Mạo Khê near the port of Haiphong, de Lattre again defeated Giap, who had underestimated de Lattre's army's ability to deploy naval guns and to move reinforcements aboard assault boats on deep estuaries and canals.
However, de Lattre's only son, Bernard de Lattre de Tassigny, was killed in action during the war at the Battle for Nam Định, in late May 1951. He had obeyed his father's orders to hold the town at all costs against three Việt Minh divisions. After three weeks of battle the French victory halted Giap's offensive in the Red River Delta.
On 20 September 1951, de Lattre spoke at The Pentagon to request American aid and warned of the danger of the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia if northern Vietnam fell completely to the Việt Minh. However, the United States was preoccupied with the Korean War. The US sent de Lattre some transport planes and trucks and other equipment: a "significant contribution" but "scarcely enough to turn the tide for France" in Vietnam.
In 1951, illness forced de Lattre de Tassigny to return to Paris, where he later died of cancer. After his return to France, his successors, Raoul Salan and Henri Navarre, did not enjoy the same success as de Lattre.
He was elevated to the dignity of Marshal of France by French President Vincent Auriol, on the day of his funeral procession, on 15 January 1952 at Notre Dame de Paris, Les Invalides in presence of Charles de Gaulle, Dwight David Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery.
The dignity of the Marshal of France had not been bestowed since it was given to the victors of World War I; after de Tassigny, three générals were raised to this dignity: Alphonse Juin (1888–1967) (to next of kin), Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque (1902–1947) (posthumous), Pierre Kœnig (1898–1970) (posthumous).
He was buried in a state funeral lasting five days in what Life magazine described as the "biggest military funeral France had seen since the death of Marshal Foch in 1929". His body was conveyed through the streets of Paris in a series of funeral processions, with the coffin lying in state at four separate locations: his home, the chapel at Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe and before Notre Dame. Those marching in the funeral processions, following the gun carriage on which the coffin, covered with the French flag, was carried, included members of the French cabinet, judges, bishops and Western military leaders. The pallbearers included other Allied generals of World War II, such as Bernard Montgomery and Dwight Eisenhower.
The route included the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs-Élysées. The processions went from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame and then from Notre Dame to Les Invalides. The stage of the journey from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame took place in the evening, and cavalrymen from the Garde républicaine flanked the coffin on horseback bearing flaming torches.
Walking behind the soldiers marching in the funeral processions was the lone figure of the Marshal's widow, Simonne de Lattre de Tassigny, who was dressed in black and prayed as she walked. Thousands of people lined the funeral route, forming crowds that were ten-deep. The pageantry included the tolling of bells, and flags being flown at half-mast.
The final stage of the funeral was a journey of 400 km to his birthplace of Mouilleron-en-Pareds, in western France. There his 97-year-old father, Roger de Lattre, aged and blind, ran his hands over the ceremonial accoutrements on the coffin, which included the posthumously-awarded marshal's baton and his son's képi. The family line became extinct with his death.
Then, the coffin was lowered into the ground and the Marshal was laid to rest beside his only son, Bernard, who had been killed fighting under his father's command in Indochina about eight months earlier.
De Lattre was awarded the following awards and decorations:
Many memorials have been erected to his memory, including a stele erected in the countryside near Manziat, l'Aigle.
An annual military service, involving serving soldiers, veteran associations, and ceremonial carriage of the Marshal's baton, takes place at the graves of his family in his birthplace, Mouilleron-en-Pareds.
The 1951–1953 promotion of de l'École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan bears his name.
Various institutions, squares, boulevards, avenues and streets bear his name:
Marshal of France Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
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