Jean de Lattre de Tassigny

Jean de Lattre de Tassigny

Général de Lattre in 1946
Birth name Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny
Nickname(s) Le Roi Jean ("King John")
Born 2 February 1889 (1889-02-02)
Mouilleron-en-Pareds, France
Died 11 January 1952 (1952-01-12) (aged 62)
Paris, France
Allegiance  France
 Vichy France
 Free French Forces
Years of service 1911–1952
Rank Marshal of France (posthumous)
Général d'Armée
Commands held
Battles/wars World War I
Rif War
World War II
First Indochina War
Awards Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor
Relations Bernard de Lattre de Tassigny

Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny, GCB, MC (2 February 1889 11 January 1952) was a notable French military commander during World War I and even more so in World War II and the First Indochina War. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was posthumously promoted to Marshal of France.

An officer during the World War I, he was engaged notably in combat on various fronts, including Verdun while being wounded five consecutive times and endured the war finishing with 8 citations, the Légion d'honneur and the Military Cross.

During the Interwar period, he took part in campaigns in Morocco where he was wounded in action again. He then pursued a career in the general staff headquarters and command of regiments.

At the debut of World War II, from May to June 1940, the youngest Général of France led his division during the Battle of France, making front at the battles of Rethel, Champagne-Ardenne, and Loire and carried on till the Armistice of 22 June 1940.

During the Vichy Regime, he remained in the Armistice Army, where he occupied command posts at the regional echelons, then as commander-in-chief of troops in Tunisia. Commander of the 16th Militay Division at Montpellier, during the invasion of the free zone, following the disembarking of Allied forces in North Africa, on November 11, 1942, he was arrested for having refused the orders not to fight and, the only active général to do so, he commanded his troops to oppose the invaders. Nevertheless, he managed to escape and rallied Free France at end of 1943.

Following his rallying to Charles de Gaulle, he was one of the grand commander-in-chiefs of the Liberation Army from 1943-1945 who illustrated his leadership at the head of the Army which following the disembarking of August 15, 1944, led the successful campaign battles including « Rhin et Danube ». He was the only French général of World War II who commanded Grand American Units.

He was the French representative at Berlin on May 8, 1945, with Eisenhower, Zhukov and Montgomery.

Commander-in-Chief of French Forces in Germany in 1945, then Inspector Général of the French Army (French: Inspection générale des armées,) and General Headquarters of National Defence (French: Chef d’État-Major général de la Défense nationale) in 1947, he was the vice-president of the superior war council. From 1948 to 1950 with Field Marshal Montgomery, he was the first commander-in-chief of Ground Forces in Western Europe.

In 1951, he was the High Commissioner, commander-in-chief in Indochina and commander-in-chief of the French Far East Expeditionary Corps.

He was elevated to the dignity of Marshal of France posthumously in 1952 during his national funeral.

Early life

Coat of arms of de Lattre de Tassigny family

Born at Mouilleron-en-Pareds (Vendée), in the same village of World War I leader Georges Clemenceau, to an aristocratic family.[1]

Military career

From 1898 to 1904, he prepared for the French Naval School (French: École navale) and Saint-Cyr where he was received accordingly in 1908. He was a candidate in Saint-Cyr from 1909 to 1911 in the "Mauritanie" promotion where he ranked 5th in his class. Subsequently, he entered the cavalry school at Saumur.

World War I

In 1912, he was a sous-lieutenant assigned to the 12th Dragoon Regiment (French: 12e Régiment de Dragons). He was wounded for the first time on August 11, 1914, by a shrapnel munition blast during a reconnaissance mission. On September 14, he was wounded again from a lance coming from an Uhlan while leading the charge of his dragoon platoon. Weakened by his wound, he was saved from captivity by an officer of the 5th Hussard Regiment (French: 5e Régiment de Hussards).

In 1915, he was promoted to captain in the 93rd Infantry Division (French: 93e Régiment d'Infanterie) and engaged in the Battle of Verdun for 16 months enduring 5 wounds, for which he received 8 citations, the Légion d'honneur (December 20, 1914) and the Military Cross. Consequently, he was then assigned to the 2nd bureau of general staff headquarters of the 21st Infantry Division (French: 21e division d'infanterie (France)).

Interwar period

In 1919, he was assigned to the Franco-American section at Brodeaux, then to the 49th Infantry Regiment (French: 49e Régiment d'Infanterie) at Bayonne . From 1921 to 1926, he was sent to Morocco and took part in various campaign battles where he was wounded in operations, received 3 citations and was promoted to the rank of Chef de battaillon.

From 1927 to 1929, he pursued further courses at the War College, where he awarded the ceremonial promotion of chief of the graduation class. In 1928, he was assigned to the 5th Infantry Regiment (French: 5e Régiment d'Infanterie).

In 1931, he was assigned to the bureau of the Chief of the Defence Staff (French: l'État-Major de l'Armée), post ranked as a Lieutenant-Colonel, he was assigned to the general headquarters staff of général Maxime Weygand. During this tenure, he was tasked mainly with following foreign international policies, internal politics and the challenges of complex military budgets initiatives. With the retirement of Weygand who was reached by the age limit, he was carefully maintained in the general headquarters staff of général Alphonse Joseph Georges. In 1935, he was promoted to colonel regimental commander of the 151st Infantry Regiment (French: 151e Régiment d'Infanterie). Between 1937 and 1938, he pursued courses at the center for higher military studies and became in 1938, the headquarters staff chief of the military governor of Strasbourg.

World War II

Battle of France

Main article: Battle of France

Promoted to Brigadier General on March 22, 1939, the youngest général of France, he was subsequently assigned as chief of the general headquarters staff of the 5th Army (French: 5e Armée), on September 3, 1939. In January 1940, he took command of the 14th Infantry Division (French: 14e Division d'Infanterie) making front confronting at Rethel and where his division resisted an entire month, repelling three times assaults in front of Aisne, continued to battle until Champagne-Ardenne, at Mourmelon, then unfolded leading delay combats on the Marne, Yvonne, Loire and Nevers. The division conserved military cohesion and unity in the middle of chaos and debacles. a German officer said that the French resistance was similar to the Battle of Verdun.

Army of Vichy

Following the Armistice of 22 June 1940, he remained in the Army of Vichy and from July 1940 to September 1941, he was the adjutant to the général commanding the 13th Military Division at Clermont-Ferrand and military commander of Puy-de-Dôme. During these profound complex times, de Lattre was institutional in mustering cohesion, confidence and discipline. During this time he believed that the regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain defended the national interest and applied accordingly subsequent related directives. Interested in the youth, he enacted several field schools and a military instruction centers - built up by Alsatians and soldiers - with the purpose of producing quality officers and chiefs (French: produire des chefs) for an army apt for team work and to spread this experience across the board of the armistice army. Promoted général de division, he was the commander-in-chief of troops in the protectorate of Tunisia where he enacted another military instruction center. Following this four-month deployment from end of September 1941 to February 2, 1942, he was recalled to France and was reassigned on 1 January 1942 after a dispute with his superior Alphonse Juin.[2] Returning to France de Lattre took charge of the 16th Military Division, based in Montpellier. Following the Allied landings in French North Africa on 8 November 1942, Germany occupied southern France and disbanded the Vichy Army. As part of the occupation, de Lattre was arrested and imprisoned for several months, but he succeeded in escaping to London in September 1943 and joined the Free French. From there he took command of the newly formed French Army B in summer 1944.

Rallying to de Gaulle

After managing his escape, he travelled to London, then Algiers where he was promoted to the rank of général d'armée on November 11, 1943, by général Charles de Gaulle. On December 1943, he commanded Army B which would become the French 1st Army on September 25, 1944, constituted of an amalgam realized on July 31, 1943, forming Free French Forces, the Army of Africa (French: Armée d'Afrique (France)) and volunteers. Loyal to his principles, he enacted a cadre training center in Algiers. This army liberated the island of Elba on June 17 and 19 of 1944.

Disembarking in Provence and ascending to the Rhône

Main article: Operation Overlord

As commander of the Army B, he assisted in the preparations of Operation Dragoon with Allied Forces who were linked to the Battle of Normandy. Expected forces for this operation placed under the command of general Alexander Patch were constituted in a sginificant part by 7 Divisions of de Lattre (almost 256,000 men) and of 3 U.S. Divisions, Special Forces and Airborne Forces of the U.S. 7th Army.

With the U.S. 6th and 7th Corps, de Lattre and his commanders, mainly générals Antoine Béthouart, Edgard de Larminat (replaced on August 31, 1944, by Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert) disembarked in Provence on August 15, 1944, and took part with French Forces of the Interior, F.F.I to the battles of Toulon on August 27 and Marseille on August 29th. The taking of these two sea ports augmented the capacity of receiving personnel and materials in relation to the Normandy front, and brought forth a decisive advantage for the following series of combat engagement events at the Western Front.

The armies ascended to the Vallée du Rhône while liberating Saint-Étienne on September 2, Lyon on September 3, Mâcon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Beaune and Autun on September 8.

By incorporating to his army a number of F.F.I, de Lattre managed to notably increase his effective unit formations of 137,000 men to almost 400,000 men. Since September 1944, the French Liberation Army (French: Armée Française de la Libération,) was an amalgam of the Armistice Army, the Free French Forces and the French Forces of the Interior (French: heureux amalgame de l'armée d'armistice, de la France libre et des Forces françaises de l'intérieur). Jean de Lattre de Tassigny's amalgam, in the straight lining formation of Army B followed formation in the French 1st Army with forces issued from the French Resistance and proved to be a success.

Campaign Rhin et Danube

Main article: Battle of the Bulge

After having completed junction with the 2nd Armored Division, 2e D.B coming from Normandie, to Montbard, Aisey-sur-Seine and Nord-sur-Seine, near Dijon on September 12, 1944, the 1st Army participated from the beginning of October in the Battle of the Vosges (1944-1945) with the U.S. 7th Army, took Montbéliard and Héricourt (Haute-Saône) on November 17, then Gérardmer and reached the Rhine on November 19, before all the Allied Forces. Following this, the division liberated Mulhouse on November 24 and Belfort on November 25.

The Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944- January 30, 1945) halted momentarily the advancement of the Allies and suggested a doubtful fate for Alsace and Strasbourg. For Charles de Gaulle, the idea of the refalling of Alsace was not a feasible option and also specially not for Strasbourg which was just recently liberated by the 2nd Armored Division, 2e D.B of général Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque on November 23. de Lattre mainly shared the field with his superior American, General Jacob L. Devers, commanding the U.S. 6th Army Group which included the 1st Army since 1944. In the meantime, on December 31, the Allies already encountered another counter-attack on Sarreguemines, Bitche and since Colmar, the French First Army responded to defend Strasbourg. The 1st Army maintained positions around the city despite heavy losses.

Following his request for reinforcement on January 19, 1945, general Devers placed 4 U.S. Divisions of the XXI American Corps of general Frank W. Milburn under the orders of général de Lattre making of him the only French general of World War II to command United States Units. The army of de Lattre participated then on January 20 in the reduction of the Colmar Pocket. The city was liberated on February 9, 1945.

De Lattre reached the Rhine on March 30, 1945. The 1st Army crossed the Siegfried Line, penetrated the black forest then on to Karlsruhe and Stuttgart while enduring heavy combat losses. The army of de Lattre advanced on Sigmaringen, taken by the French on April 22, then Ulm on the Danube on April 24 and reached the Swiss border of the Bâle. The campaign called « Rhin et Danube » was completed in Austria.

On May 8, 1945, général de Lattre was in Berlin at the general headquarters staff of Marshal Zhukov.

Post-war career

The Supreme Commanders on June 5, 1945 in Berlin: Bernard Montgomery, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Georgy Zhukov and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.

From March 31, 1945, to May 27, 1947, de Lattre was the commander-in-chief of French Forces in Germany. On June 17, 1945, he welcomed the Normandie-Niemen squadron back to France. Between December 1945 and March 1947, he was the Inspector Général of the French Army (French: Inspection Générale des Armées,) and General Headquarters of National Defence (French: Chef d’État-Major général de la Défense nationale), vice-president of the superior war council while being maintained as inspector général of the Army, then inspector general of the Armed Forces. From October 1948 to December 1950 with Field Marshal Montgomery, he was the first commander-in-chief of Ground Forces in Western Europe.

From October to November 1947, he led a diplomatic and economic mission to South America where he held numerous talks with Presidents from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil as well as high ranking ministers in the respective countries including French communities while also engaging in several related conferences.

Vietnam service

From 1950 to September 1951, he commanded French troops in Indochina during the First Indochina War. De Lattre was highly regarded by both his French subordinates and Vietminh adversaries, and has been described as the "Gallic version of [United States General Douglas] MacArthur - handsome, stylish, sometimes charming, yet egocentric to the point of megalomania" and "brilliant and vain" and "flamboyant".[3] After de Lattre's arrival in Vietnam, Vietminh General Giap proclaimed that now his army would face "an adversary worthy of its steel".[4] De Lattre's arrival raised the morale of French troops significantly at that time and he inspired his forces to inflict heavy defeats on the Vietminh.[5] He won three major victories at Vinh Yen, Mao khé and Yen Cu Ha and defended successfully the north of the country against the Viet Minh.

At the Battle of Vinh Yen in January 1951, he defeated 2 Vietminh divisions (totaling 20,000 men) under General Giap by personally taking charge of the outnumbered French forces, flying in reinforcements, and mustering every available aircraft to bomb the massive Vietminh formations; Giap retreated after 3 fierce days of combat with approximately 6,000 dead and 8,000 wounded.[6] De Lattre had anticipated Giap's attacks and had reinforced French defences with hundreds of cement blockhouses and new airfields.[6]

In March 1951, at the Battle of Mao Khe near the port of Haiphong, de Lattre again defeated Giap. This time, Giap underestimated de Lattre's army's ability to deploy naval guns and move reinforcements aboard assault boats on deep estuaries and canals.[7]

However, de Lattre's only son, Bernard de Lattre de Tassigny, was killed in action during the war at the Battle for Nam Dinh in late May 1951, while obeying the elder de Lattre's orders to stubbornly hold that town at all costs against 3 Vietminh divisions.[8] This approximately three-week battle was a victory that halted Giap's initiative in the Red River Delta.[9]

On September 20, 1951, de Lattre spoke at the United States Pentagon to request American aid, warning of the danger of the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia if northern Vietnam fell completely to the Vietminh forces.[9] However, the United States could only partially help because it was committed to the Korean War at that time. The United States did send de Lattre a number of transport planes, trucks, and other equipment - a "significant contribution", but "scarcely enough to turn the tide for France" in Vietnam.[9]

In 1951, illness forced de Lattre de Tassigny to return to Paris where he later died of cancer; in 1952, he was posthumously made Maréchal de France. After his return to France, his successors Raoul Salan and Henri Navarre did not enjoy the same level of success as de Lattre did.

Marshal of France

Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny was elevated to the dignity of Marshal of France by French President Vincent Auriol, on the day of his funeral procession celebrated on January 15, 1952 at Notre Dame de Paris, Les Invalides in presence of Charles de Gaulle, Dwight David Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery.

The dignity of the Marshal of France had not been bestowed since being honored to the victors of World War I; following de Tassigny, three générals were raised to this dignity: Alphonse Juin (1888-1967) (to next of kin), Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque (1902-1947) (posthumous), Pierre Kœnig (1898-1970) (posthumous).

State funeral

Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was buried in a state funeral lasting five days, in what Life magazine described as the "biggest military funeral France had seen since the death of Marshal Foch in 1929".[10] The Marshal's body was conveyed through the streets of Paris in a series of funeral processions, with the coffin lying in state at four separate locations: his home, the chapel at Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe and before Notre Dame. Those marching in the funeral processions, following the gun carriage on which the tricolor-covered coffin was carried, included members of the French cabinet, judges, bishops, and Western military leaders. The pallbearers included other Allied generals of World War II, such as Bernard Montgomery and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The route included the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs-Élysées, and the processions went from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame, and then from Notre Dame to Les Invalides. The stage of the journey from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame took place in the evening, and cavalrymen from the Garde Républicaine flanked the coffin on horseback bearing flaming torches. Walking behind the soldiers marching in the funeral processions was the lone figure of the Marshal's widow, Simonne de Lattre de Tassigny, dressed in black and praying as she walked. Thousands of people lined the funeral route, forming crowds standing ten-deep. The pageantry included the tolling of bells, and flags being flown at half-mast. The final stage of the funeral was a journey of 250 miles to the Marshal's birthplace of Mouilleron-en-Pareds in western France. In attendance there was the Marshal's 97-year-old father, Roger de Lattre. Aged and blind, and the last of the de Lattres, he ran his hands over the ceremonial accoutrements on the coffin, which included the posthumously awarded marshal's baton and his son's kepi. Then the coffin was lowered into the ground and the Marshal was laid to rest beside his only son, Bernard, who had been killed fighting under his father's command in Indochina some eight months previously.[10]


De Lattre was awarded the following awards and decorations:[11]

Knight - 20 December 1914;
Officer - 16 June 1920;
Commander - 20 December 1935;
Grand Officer - 12 July 1940;
Grand Cross - 10 February 1945.


Numerous monument memorials have been erected to the memory of Jean de Lattre. An annual military service, involving serving soldiers, veteran associations, and ceremonial carriage of the Marshal's baton, takes place at the graves of the de Lattre family in Jean de Lattre's birthplace of Mouilleron-en-Pareds.[13]


The 1951-1953 promotion of de l'École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan bears his name.

A stele was erected in the country side of Manziat, dit « terrain de l'Aigle ».

Scholastic Institutions, places, boulevards, avenues and streets bear his name:

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.


  1. Obituary: Simonne de Lattre de Tassigny, Douglas Johnson, The Guardian, Thursday 12 June 2003
  2. Clayton 1992, pp. 66–67.
  3. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983. pp163, 185-6, 336.
  4. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983. p185
  5. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983. p163, 186, 695
  6. 1 2 Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983.p186
  7. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983. p186
  8. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983.p187
  9. 1 2 3 Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking Press; 1983. p187
  10. 1 2 Destiny is too hard, Life 28 January 1952, page 20
  11. "Jean de Lattre de Tassigny". Biographies des Compagnons de la Libération. Museee de L'Ordre de la Libération. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  12. "Diário Oficial da União (DOU) • 29/10/1947 • Seção 1 • Pg. 3". JusBrasil. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
  13. Les manifestations - Mouilleron en Pared : Cerémonie de Lattre, le site de l'Union Nationale des Combattants de Vendée, accessed 17 January 2010
  • Clayton, Anthony (1992). Three Marshals of France. London: Brassey's. ISBN 0-08-040707-2. OCLC 25026611. 

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