Notable Achievements of Charles de Gaulle – French General and First President of the Fifth Republic

Charles de Gaulle ranks as one of the greatest French leaders of all time. He has been put in the same category as the likes of Napoleon I, the French emperor.

Charles de Gaulle, born Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle, is considered one of the most intelligent, zealous, devout, and hardworking European political and military leaders of the 20th century.

Due to his imposing stature, he was dubbed “the great asparagus” during his military training at “Saint-Cyr.” He was a 1912 military graduate of Saint-Cyr.

He returned to the 33rd Infantry Regiment as a second lieutenant in October 1912. His quick wit and tireless work ethic distinguished him among lieutenants and captains. As a cadet during France’s preparation for World War I, he frequently discussed major battles and the potential outcomes of any upcoming war with army superiors.

In the 1930s, he produced books and essays on the military, criticizing France’s dependence on the Maginot Line as a defensive strategy against Germany and thus advocated the construction of mechanized armored units. However, his warnings were ignored, and Germany quickly overpowered France in June 1940.

Accomplishments of Charles de Gaulle

He is famously known as the President of France from 8 January 1959 until 28 April 1969 and the French Prime Minister under President Rene Coty. However, he achieved several other milestones during his life, including:

Led the Free French Forces to resist German occupation during the Second World War

Free France was a political movement that claimed legitimate governance of France after the fall of the French Third Republic in 1940. Led by Charles de Gaulle, the movement was created in June 1940 as a government-in-exile in London after Germany subdued France in World War II.

Initially, the majority of the territories of France’s colonial empire rejected his call for the Free France movement and pledged loyalty to the Vichy government and Marshal Philippe Pétain. Eventually, through several military interventions by the “Allies,” he led Free France to take control of many Vichy possessions and obtained the majority of the French colony by November 1942.

Free France fought with its “Free French” units and forces, resisting Axis, Vichy troops, and German troops in Nazi-occupied French colonies. The forces fought until the liberation of Paris in August 1944.

The Free France movement and its forces later formed the French Liberation Army to fight against Nazi forces and fascism in Europe.

Gave speeches on the BBC to encourage all of France to fight Nazi occupation

After fleeing France following Germany’s victory over France, he was granted the opportunity by British leader Winston Churchill to address the French people via the BBC radio. His address took place on June 18, 1940. He called on French to remain resolute and staunchly resist the German occupation. His next broadcast swerved on into criticism of the French government that capitulated too easily to Germans. He criticized the signing of the armistice between France and Hitler’s Germany. Later that month, Britain recognized de Gaulle as the head of the government of Free France.

Led the Provisional Government of the French Republic (PGFR) from 1944 to 1946.

He led the PGFR to succeed the French Committee of National Liberation (CFLN), which had been the interim administration of France in the “Free French” freed overseas territories and metropolitan areas of the country.

As France’s wartime administration between 1944 and 1945, the PGFR’s principal goals were to deal with the consequences of the “Occupation of France” and continue fighting the Nazis as a significant member of the Allied forces

He also led the PGFR to several significant political reforms and decisions, including  securing the right to vote for all women, establishing the École Nationale d’administration, and setting the foundations of French social security.

Furthermore, through PGFR, he laid the groundwork for a new constitutional system, which culminated in the French Fourth Republic.

de Gaulle rewrote and updated the Constitution of France and established the country’s Fifth Republic

As the Prime Minister under President Rene Coty, he used his authorization to reform the French Constitution. He was the driving force behind the “Constitution of the Fifth Republic” and the establishment of the Fifth Republic. His updated constitution was adopted on October 4, 1958, and as of 2021, it had been amended about 24 times through the Constitutional law on the Modernization of the Institutions of the Fifth Republic. It regards church-state separation, social welfare, and democracy. It considers indivisibility as the core value of France.

He resolved the Algerian War by signing the Évian Accords

As president, one of his greatest challenges was finding a solution to end the brutal and divisive Algerian War (1954-1962). In the 1950s, some French military commanders in Algiers rebelled against him, founding the Secret Armed Organization (OAS) (Organisation Armée Secrète). They opposed his intentions to conclude the Algerian War and grant the Algerian National Liberation Front’s desire for full independence.

Eventually, the OAS took control of Algiers in April 1961 and threatened to conquer Paris. However, de Gaulle reacted forcefully. He used the emergency powers granted by the constitution of the Fifth Republic. Ultimately, he received tremendous support from the population, enabling him to negotiate the 1962 Algerian independence (with the Évian Accords) and conquer the OAS.

Granted independence to French African colonies

Signed on March 18, 1962 between France and the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (i.e. Front de Libération Nationale), the Évian Accords enabled Algeria gain its independence from France. Not only did the Accords bring an end to the Algerian War (1954–1962), it also paved the for Algeria to be recognized as an independent nation.

Algeria was not the only African country to be granted independence by de Gaulle’s government. His time as president saw many French African colonies secure independence in the early 1960s, including Guinea, Senegal, Togo, Mali, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, and Mauritania, among others.

Other interesting facts about Charles de Gaulle

de Gaulle is generally recognized as one of the French Republic’s great statesmen

de Gaulle measured at 6 foot five inches in height, making him a physically towering figure in French politics. He was known for walking with an air of self-confidence.

He was the third of five children of his parents – Henri and Jean de Gaulle.

His father, Henri de Gaulle, was a military officer who had fought in the Franco-Prussian War. Following the War, Henri became a teacher at a Catholic school in Lille. He later became the principal of the Jesuit College of the Immaculate Conception in Paris.

Charles described his parents are devoutly patriotic to France and having an uncompromising love for their country.

He traces his roots to Sieu Jehan de Gaulle, a French knight who fought in the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The battle, which was one of numerous battles during the Hundred Years’ War, pitted England against France. The English emerged victorious on that day.

Charles de Gaulle attended the Jesuit College that was ran by his father. The French leader loved to read, with philosophy and military history being some of his most preferred subjects. He later attended the military academy of Saint Cyr (École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr). After graduation, he enlisted into the 33rd Infantry regiment stationed at Arras.

He went by a number of nicknames, including “La Grande Asperge”, “Le Grande Charles” and “Colonel Motors”. The first nickname was in reference to his tall stature.

The French leader was classmate of General Bethourt, a general who fought in the 1940s Battle of Norway

He got wounded in the knee in the first few months of World War I. For his heroic efforts in gathering intelligence during WWI, he was honored with the Croix de Guerre medal.

At the Battle of Verdun in March 1916, he sustained an injury in his thigh and later got captured. He was taken prisoner. During his time as a prisoner of war, he tried to escape five times, including once hiding in a laundry basket and posing as a nurse. His inability to fight for the remainder of the war caused a great deal of emotional pain to him. After WWI he spent a year teaching as a military history lecturer at St. Cyr Academy.

De Gaulle passed away in 1970 after suffering from a raptured blood vessel.

Wife and Children

He tied the knot with Yvonne Charlotte Anne-Marie in 1921. The couple had three children – Philippe, Élisabeth, and Anne. The marriage lasted until his death in 1970. Yvonne de Gaulle passed away in 1979.

de Gaulle’s wife was a very conservative Catholic, who kicked against nudity on TV and magazines. The Calais-born even tried to convince her husband to ban miniskirts in France.

de Gaulle during the Cold War

In the late 1950s, there were some French politicians, led by then-French President Charles de Gaulle, who did not like what they felt was United States’ hegemony in NATO. France’s president de Gaulle and his allies were also dismayed by what they believed was NATO’s interference in its foreign policy and military setup, arguing that France was losing its sovereignty. The following decade saw France complete its withdrawal from NATO’s military command structure.

Charles de Gaulle also ordered for the eviction of  NATO forces, HQ and staff from its territories. However, France did not leave the military alliance. The French president kept his country’s seat in NATO’s council. France’s nuclear weapon arsenal remained separate from NATO’s strategic planning setup all throughout the Cold War. He also helped French nuclear arsenal become the fourth nuclear power in 1960.

Assassination attempts on the life of Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle survived a number of assassination attempts on his life as well that on his wife. In one of those attempts, which took place on August 22, 1962, the French leader and his wife escaped by the skin of their teeth when the car they were riding in was riddled with bullets from a machine gun. The attack was orchestrated by a former French Air Force officer Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry. Like some members of the French military, Bastien-Thiry was annoyed at the French leader’s decision to grant Algeria its independence in 1962. The perpetrator was tried and sentenced to death by firing squad in 1963.

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