Political leaders 

The political leaders : Churchill, de Gaulle, Hitler, Roosevelt and Stalin.

 

Winston Churchill

(30th November 1874 - 24th January 1965)

Winston Churchill, an officer in the British Army, took part in the First World War on the French Front.

In May 1940, he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain. During his first speech as a Prime Minister on 13th May 1940, he spoke out the following words:

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat".

He did not want to lie to the British people but also wanted to offer his support.

Churchill did not want the United Kingdom to be the only European power to be victorious at the end of the war. He therefore supported de Gaulle and the Free France organisation, in order to counterbalance the giants that were the United States and the USSR. But relations between the two men did not always go smoothly. Churchill even declared:  "The hardest cross I have to bear is the cross of Lorraine ".

On 6th June 1944, Churchill’s intention was to embark aboard HMS Belfast (one of the cruisers involved in the initial barrage). His purpose was to make a quick tour of the beaches before embarking on a Destroyer. But king Georges VI ordered him not to expose himself. Churchill had to wait for news from the Allies in London.

Charles de Gaulle

(22nd November 1890-9th November 1970)

De Gaulle chose a career in the military in his early years. He fought in the First World War as Lieutenant, was taken prisoner in 1916 and was not released until the armistice. Between the wars, he unceasingly called for the modernisation of the French army. 

During the 1940 campaign in France, De Gaulle became Colonel, excelled at Laon and halted the Germans at Abbeville. He was promoted provisional Brigadier General and Paul Reynaud, president of the Conseil, named him as Under-Secretary of State of National Defence and War.  

On 17th June 1940, when Marshal Petain asked the Germans for an armistice, De Gaulle refused the defeat. He left for London where, the next day, he made his appeal via the BBC to continue the combat. 

This appeal was the founding act of the France Libre, for which he unceasingly fought throughout the war, requesting legitimate recognition.

On 14th June 1944, he landed in Normandy on Courseulles beach. From there he went to Bayeux , which had been liberated by British troops on 7th June 1944. He was welcomed by a joyful crowd, to which he spoke on the "Place du Chateau" next to the Sous-Prefecture. The square is now known as "Place Charles De Gaulle". He confirmed the participation of French troops in the liberation. The population gave his speech an enthusiastic reception and this displayed his political legitimacy to the heads of the Allied governments. De Gaulle, while in Bayeux named Francois Coulet as Commissaire de la Republique charged with re-establishing the legality of the Republic on national soil. 

The original plan anticipated movements towards the North and East - thus avoiding the Capital - but de Gaulle vigorously insisted to General Eisenhower that Paris be rapidly liberated. He wanted French troops to be the first to enter the city and so on 25th August 1944 General Leclerc’s 2nd DB liberated Paris.  

Reinstalled in Paris at the War Ministry, rue Saint Dominique, general de Gaulle went to the Hotel de Ville, where he gave a speech insisting on the role played by the French in their own liberation. The next day, on 26th August 1944, he walked down the Champs-Elysées in triumph. 

Adolf Hitler

(20th April 1889 - 30th April 1945)

Führer (guide) of the German National Socialist Party (NSDAP) from 1920.  

Hitler was called to power by the Reich President Hindenburg to the function of Chancellor on 30th January 1933. In 1934, he became President by popular vote and, by extension, Führer of the German people. 

Adolf Hitler led with policies based on xenophobia, anti-Semitism and the expansion of the Aryan people. He thereby annexed some territories considered as Germanic: Austria, in March 1938 (Anschluss), Sudetenland in October 1938 and Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. Finally, he launched a much more aggressive policy of territorial conquest. In September 1939 he sent German troops to invade Poland, triggering the reaction of the British and French governments, who declared war on Germany. 

During the war, Hitler was at the head of the Wehrmacht high command. 

In June 1944, he was completely duped by Operation Fortitude, which led him to believe in large scale landings on the Pas-de-Calais coast. As a result, when the Battle of Normandy  began, Hitler believed that Operation Overlord was a mere diversion. He delayed the deployment of Panzer divisions stationed in proximity to the coasts of Northern France.

In August 1944, he ordered Marshal Von Kluge to conduct a counter-attack at Mortain and foil the American breakthrough in Avranches, but the offensive proved a failure.

The successive failures of the Wehrmacht to repulse the Allies psychologically wore Hitler down and his health began to degrade.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

(30th January 1882 - 12th April 1945)

President of the United States since 1932, Roosevelt declared war on the Axis forces in December 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was Commander in Chief of the American army, notably guided in his decisions by General George Marshall. During the war, he met with Churchill, Stalin and also de Gaulle to prepare the offensive against the Axis and the post war.  

His relations with General de Gaulle were difficult. He perceived the latter as a military insubordinate, who had accumulated military and civil functions, (Head of the Free French), which seemed to presage a future dictator. One of the culminating points of their misunderstanding was Roosevelt’s declared wish to impose, as in Italy, the system AMGOT, which would place the liberated territories under American administration.

Joseph Stalin

(18th December 1878 - 5th March 1953) 

Stalin led the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, (USSR), from the end of the 1920’s until his death. He was General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party from 1922 until 1952.  

He agreed the signature of the 23rd August 1939 non-aggression pact with Germany, which he scrupulously respected. When the pact ended on 22nd June 1941, with the Wehrmacht invasion of the USSR, Stalin became war leader. For months he lobbied the American and British leadership for the opening of a second front in Western Europe, in order to oblige Germany to redistribute her forces and so reduce the pressure on the USSR.

In June 1944 Stalin obtained satisfaction when Operation Overlord was launched.

 

With the contribution of Remy Desquesnes

Historian