French statesman (1890-1970). He commanded the French resistance during World War II.
The most important name in French political life since Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Andre Marie Joseph de Gaulle was born in Lille, Northern France, on November 22, 1890, and joined the French Military Academy at St. Cyr in 1910. He formed a few weeks before the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918), during which he served in combat as a lieutenant in the French army. After the war, he served in the military occupation of Germany and the French overseas colonies, before returning to France to accept an appointment to the Supreme War Council and the National Defense Council. In the 1930s, France's defensive strategy — that of protecting itself from neighboring Germany, its traditional enemy — was based on the design of a highly fortified fixed defensive perimeter known as the Maginot Line. De Gaulle began to irritate his military superiors when he came to criticize the Maginot Line and the idea of a fixed defense. Instead, he proposed a mobile force of tanks and armored vehicles, similar to those the Germans were developing. After the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945) on September 1, 1939, the Germans made no immediate attempt to attack the Maginot Line. But in May 1940, German forces attacked France, heading north of the Maginot Line. It was up to De Gaulle to lead several successful actions with the few tanks he owned. Overall, however, the French were not well prepared to face the Germans, and on June 14 the invaders captured Paris and defeated France.
De Gaulle fled to England, from where he sent several messages to the French people to continue the resistance. The Vichy government of France, set up under the auspices of the German occupying troops, condemned de Gaulle, but, with the support of the English (and later the Americans), he managed to rally his French Free Army. On June 6, 1944, when the Allies landed in Normandy to liberate France first and then Europe, de Gaulle and his army were present. And he led them victoriously in the liberation of Paris ten weeks later. De Gaulle then formed a provisional French government, in which he himself held the position of president. Shortly thereafter, in 1946, he retired.
In 1958, when the war in the French colony of Algeria threatened to trigger a conflict within France itself, de Gaulle decided to set aside retirement and was elected president by an overwhelming majority of votes. He solved the Algerian problem by giving them independence and then set about rebuilding French economic and political life. Under its Fourth Republic, France once again occupied its prominent place as one of the main political forces in Europe and, of course, in the world.
In 1968, however, a revolt that united students and workers weakened the confidence of the French people in the de Gaulle government and on April 28, 1969 he resigned, passing the Fourth Republic to Georges Pompidou (1911-1974). De Gaulle died in Colombey les Deux Églises on November 9, 1970.