Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque (1902-1947)
Born in the family dwelling at Belloy-Sainy Léonard near Amiens, Philippe de Hauteclocque grew up in a Christian and traditionalist aristocratic environment. He chose a career in the armed services and, with hard work, succeeded in passing the examination for the Saint-Cyr military school and was head of his class at the Saumur Cavalry School. After a first assignment to Germany, where he was followed by his young wife, Marie-Thérèse de Gargan, Hauteclocque was assigned upon his own request to Morocco to pacify the rebel tribes between 1926 and 1933. There, he underwent his baptism of fire and was deeply immersed in this country, whose culture he appreciated. After a return to France, he was an instructor and was the first to be accepted at the War School. War was declared as he was finishing his first year.
On the front, the young captain was assigned to the staff of the 4th Infantry Division. He was unable to accept the retreat of the troops and, with the agreement of his superior, left his unit to combat in the east. He refused captivity twice. Wounded and refusing defeat, he went to Paris, where he heard talk of General de Gaulle’s appeals on June 25th. He made his choice to join the head of the Free French in London. He went through Spain and presented himself to General de Gaulle on July 25, 1940. On August 6, under the name “Leclerc,” he embarked with Claude Hettier de Boislambert and René Pleven for a major mission to rally the countries of Equatorial Africa to the Free French.
After rallying Cameroon and Gabon, Leclerc went to Chad. With very inadequate means, the Leclerc Column carried out raids in conjunction with the British. On March 1, 1941, the Column won its first victory for Free France against the Italian Sahariana force posted at Kufra. At that point in time, the “Oath of Kufra” seemed exceedingly ambitious: arms were not to be laid down until Strasbourg had been liberated. On March 6, 1941, Leclerc was made a Companion of the Liberation. In spite of the climatic conditions, the Leclerc Column launched raids against the Italian oases of Fezzan in two campaigns, carried out in winter in 1941-42 and 1942-43. In late January 1943, it joined the British 8th Army at Tripoli. As Force L, it participated in the Tunisian campaign. Force L later became the Free French 2nd Armored Division. In August 1943, the 2nd Armored Division commanded by Leclerc was formed by separating the colonial troops and including units from the Army of Africa. In spring 1944, it embarked for the United Kingdom. The 2nd Armored Division landed on August 1, 1944, at Saint-Martin de Varrefille and was under fire, first in Normandy and then as it approached the capital. In the evening of August 24, Leclerc sent Captain Dronne to head a detachment to notify the Resistance of the arrival of the 2nd Armored Division on the following day. General Leclerc was at the side of General De Gaulle on August 26, 1944, as they descended the Champs-Élysées cheered along by an immense crowd.
But the war was not over, and the 2nd Armored Division left for the east. After bitter fighting, Strasbourg was liberated on November 23, 1944. The Oath of Kufra was fulfilled and the 2nd Armored Division continued on to Berchtesgaden, where Hitler resided, in May 1945.
General Leclerc represented France during the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. Named head of the Far East Expeditionary Corps, he re-established sovereignty in Indochina while recommending independence. Named Inspector General of Land Forces in North Africa, he was killed in an airplane accident near Colomb Béchar (Algeria) on November 28, 1947. On August 23, 1952, he received the posthumous title of Marshal of France.