Specifically, what institutional authority did he use to derive his command of the Free French forces in WW2? I’m fully aware that the main reason he was in charge was that he took charge - the FFI was his creation, after all. The speech he made over the BBC, right after the government’s surrender, announcing it and calling on all Frenchmen who could to join him, can still make one want to start singing “La Marseillaise” just by reading it on the brass plaque under the Arc de Triomphe.
But how did he get so far as to get Churchill to let him do it? Simply force of personality? Did he have a position in the pre-surrender government and just happened to be the highest-ranking official who didn’t go along? Or was he just some minor general who didn’t get the memo? And did he actually get elected President de la Republique right after the liberation, or was that really a military dictatorship?
It’s worth pondering, too, what form the French military and government would have taken without that. Perhaps the British Army would have contained some refugee French units, like the Polish squadrons in the RAF, with the French people having a harder time claiming they had liberated themselves. Maybe the Communist-led Resistance would have taken control of Paris, like the Commune in 1871, and with a similar military suppression required. Perhaps that’s a GD thread.
Quite literally and with no intent of irony, the answer is “moral authority.”
Remember that the French approach to authority in a democracy differs in minor but significant ways from the Anglo-American, and that Churchill, from whose writings I’m cadging this (from memory), was well versed in the distinctions.
Under the Reynaud government before the 1940 Armistice, DeGaulle was (a) a general in the French Army, not well liked because he kept preaching the value of armor (tanks, not what knights wore!) when the old-line generals at Grand-Quartier General felt that infantry would hold back the Germans; and (b) Deputy War Minister. As such, he held the droit administratif to command the authority of Frenchmen combatting the Nazi onslaught. His logic justifying his actions was that the actions of Petain converting the Third Republic into the quasi-Fascist Etat Francais and signing the Armistice were ultra vires and released Frenchmen from the necessity of allegiance to Petain. In his own offices, he commanded the allegiance of the Free French to the continuing survival of the French Republic. (That he was egotistical and somewhat charismatic helped in pulling this off.)
Churchill bought into this view, and continued to deal with him despite his haughtiness, at least partly in order to have effective leadership focusing the loyalties of the Free French, those who continued to fight the Nazis.
DeGaulle did not gladly give up power, and after the Liberation a National Committee was established by the Allies as a provisional government. He begrudged them the power they took from him as leader of the Free French. However, he was staunch for the reestablishment of the French Republic, though he did not care for the Fourth Republic and its revolving-door-Premiership policy. IIRC, he was elected to a major position (President or Premier) but resigned in a huff when he could not get the Parliament to concentrate political power in his position.
On this point, but bit some what off point, the French establishment has long since bought the idea that DeGaulle legitimately held authority after the fall of France in 1940. If you visit the Museum of the French Army in Les Invalides (sp?) in Paris you will find one floor devoted to Napoleon I and a fair portion devoted to Napoleon II and the First World War. You will find most of the first floor devoted not to the Second World War but to the glory of Charles DeGaulle, savior of France. From the museum exhibits you would never know that the British Empire and the United States were involved, let alone the Soviet Union and the Japanese. The generals’ revolt in Algeria, of course, never happened.
The Napoleonic exhibit, by the way, is tremendous.
Thanks for the replies. So, institutionally, De Gaulle really was simply the highest-ranking official who hadn’t surrendered, I gather.
SG, the last time I was in Paris, the WW2 exhibit at the Musee de l’Armee hadn’t opened yet. I’ll definitely check it out next time I have a chance.