Jacques Philippe Leclerc

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Jacques Philippe Leclerc

The French general Jacques Philippe Leclerc (1902-1947) commanded the division which liberated Paris in 1944. He warned against the French attempt to regain control of Indochina.

Jacques Philippe Leclerc, Resistance name of Philippe Marie de Hauteclocque, was born into an aristocratic family on Nov. 22, 1902, at Belloy-Saint-Léonard. Graduating from St-Cyr in 1924, he made a brilliant reputation in Morocco during the struggle against the nationalist Riffi. Rising quickly through the ranks, he was a general staff officer when World War II began. Captured twice by the Germans in May-June 1940, he escaped both times and in July joined Charles De Gaulle in London.

Sent to rally French Equatorial Africa to De Gaulle, Leclerc, after a 39-day march over more than 1,500 miles, joined his ragtag army to that of Gen. B. L. Montgomery at Tripoli on Jan. 25, 1943. The Tunisian and Tripolitanian campaigns concluded, he participated in the cross-channel Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, as commander of the French 2d Armored Division. Leclerc arrived in Paris on August 24. The following day, after a triumphal march to the Hôtel-de-Ville, he received the surrender of the German commandant Gen. Choltitz.

After liberating Strasbourg and Bordeaux, Leclerc was named supreme commander of French forces in Indochina by De Gaulle. The French signatory of the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, he arrived in Saigon in October with orders to quell the nationalist rebellion of the Vietminh. Immediately recognizing that such a task required a massive French army and years of guerrilla warfare, Leclerc— convinced the cost was too high and ultimate success uncertain—recommended a negotiated peace. Although the Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh was amenable, Leclerc's recommendations were thwarted by the Catholic politicians in Paris and a clique of French colonialists in Saigon headed by Governor General Adm. Thierry d'Argenlieu. After the decision of the French government in 1947 to reconquer Indochina, the stage was set for the 7-year guerrilla war, which ended in the French humiliation at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Leclerc never lived to see his worst fears realized. Named inspector general of the French armies in North Africa in 1946 and promoted to full general the following year, he was killed in an airplane crash near Colomb-Béchar in Algeria on Nov. 28, 1947. At the time it was rumored, but never substantiated, that the accident was organized by colonial groups in Indochina who suspected Leclerc's "capitulationist" tendencies.

Leclerc was honored as a companion of the Order of the Liberation by Charles De Gaulle and named a commander of the Legion of Merit by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1952 he was posthumously raised to the dignity of marshal of France.

Further Reading

The only biography of Leclerc is in French. In English his career may be followed in Alexander Werth, France, 1940-1955 (1956), and Robert Aron, France Reborn: The History of the Liberation (1964). □

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Jacques Philippe Leclerc

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