Red Coronation Day in Paris
Author says, we explore the first chapter ("As God Made Me") of de Gaulle: The Ruler, 1945-1970 by Jean Lacouture (1985) wondering perhaps if a quite unexpected turn of events would have expelled the unwanted British and Americans from post-war continental Europe.
On August 26th 1944, the French First Army entered Paris with an assorted cortege of jeeps, half-trucks and old Citreon tractions avante led by the open car that General Charles de Gaulle insisted on using.
Preparing to declare himself the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic in an appropriately symbolic setting, de Gaulle reached Notre-Dame Cathedral after a brief stop in front of Hotel de Ville.
For the rebuilding of French prestige, the General had demanded to lead the liberating army on Coronation Day downplaying the role of his British and Americans allies in a characteristic statement ~
I was there of course to greet the American division passing through Paris on their way further combat, but I had in no sense asked for their help.
The General soon learnt that the Belgian Government in Exile had permitted Americans forces to liberate Brussels, commenting to Claude Maurice that ~
Make no mistake, they [the Americans and British] won't go until we kick them out. The Allies are betraying us, they're betraying Europe, the bastards. But they'll pay for it. In fact, they're already beginning to pay for it, especially the British. Americans taking Brussels! What never .. They would have taken Paris if I hadn't been there!
Astounded by what he perceived to be their Anglo-Saxon arrogance, he responded by immediately despatching General Leclerc's Free French 2nd Armoured Division to Strasbourg. Because de Gaulle quite rightly believed that the British and Americans would have to be forced out of continental Europe. Events would prove this was to be the case although under a rather different set of circumstances.
Yet in his haste to re-establish an autonomous French identity, the General had overplayed his own hand. In fact, the entire Allied command structure had fatally miscalculated the sentiment in liberated Europe. And the decision by the British and Americans not to recognise the French Provisional Government during August would persuade de Gaulle that he must install himself in Paris. It was not to be. As recounted by Dominique Lappiere and Larry Collins in Is Paris Burning?, de Gaulle described the scene at Notre-Dame as follows ~
It was immediately apparent to me that this was one of those contagious shooting matches which high feelings sometimes sets off in over-excited troops on the occasion of some fortuitous or provoked incident. Nothing could be more important for me not yield to the panic of the crowd.
In Crusade in Europe, General Eisenhower later confirmed that de
Gaulle's refusal of American reinforcements to secure Paris cost the General his
life. And within days, Eisenhower would be forced to backtrack himself, ordering
an American Division to confront a new Paris Commune. All across north west
Europe, the pattern would repeat itself as Operation Overlord proved both a
military success and a political failure - Allied Forces were powerless to
prevent European Cities being seized by Communists.
Extensive use of original content has been repurposed to celebrate the author Jean Lacouture's genius in writing de Gaulle: The Ruler, 1945-1970 (1985)
The quotations from de Gaulle are repeated in unmodified form although the timings and context are varied considerably. In Crusade in Europe Eisenhower does confirm his outrage at de Gaulle's grand-standing by requesting support from an American Division to secure Paris, having dispatched deClerc and his men to Strasbourg.
Due to the General's courage, he was able to report on August 31st that ~
Things are settling down satisfactorily here of course, certain elements have tried to take advantage of the inevitable confusion, and if need be, to create it, to pull the blanket over.
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