General Charles de Gaulle was a member of the French Cabinet in 1940 and escaped from the German occupation in France. On June 18, 1940 De Gaulle spoke to the French people from London, via BBC radio. The British Cabinet had attempted to block the speech, but was over-ruled by Winston Churchill. De Gaulle asked French men and women to join in the fight against the Nazis. In France, de Gaulle's "Appeal of June 18" could be heard nationwide, at 7:00 p.m. To this day, it remains one of the most famous speeches in French history.
De Gaulle also created the Free French flag with the red Cross of Lorraine in the white band. Despite the repeated broadcasts, by the end of July that year, only 7,000 people had volunteered to join the Free French forces. The Free French Navy had fifty ships and some 3,600 men operating as an auxiliary force to the Royal Navy.
In autumn of 1940, the French colonies of Chad, Cameroon, Moyen-Congo, French Equatorial Africa, and Oubangi-Chari joined the Free French side. French colonies in New Caledonia, French Indochina, French Polynesia, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the New Hebrides joined later.
To stop their ships from falling into German hands, the Royal Navy attacked the French Navy at Mers El Kébir and Dakar, causing bitterness in France - the fact that did not make French soldiers favor joining them in Britain. Also their attempt to make Vichy French forces to join de Gaulle in Dakar failed.
In September 1941 de Gaulle created the Comité National Français (French National Committee), the Free French government-in-exile. On November 24 that year the United States granted Lend-Lease support to the Comité National Français.
Free French soldiers participated in British and Allied campaigns in Libya and Egypt. General Marie-Pierre Koenig and his unit fought well against the Afrika Korps at the Bir Hakeim in June 1942. Free French forces also fought Italian troops in Ethiopia and Eritrea and faced French troops loyal to Vichy France in Syria and Lebanon.
The French Resistance gradually grew in strength. Charles de Gaulle set a plan to bring together the different groups under his leadership. He changed the name of his movement to Forces Françaises Combattantes (Fighting French Forces) and sent Jean Moulin back to France to unite the eight major French Resistance groups into one organization. Moulin got their agreement to form the Conseil National de la Résistance (National Council of the Resistance). He was eventually captured, tortured, and executed by the Nazis.
During the Allied invasion in Northern Africa, various French troops surrendered and joined the Free French cause. After French General Henri Giraud escaped from the German imprisonment, de Gaulle outmaneuvered him to keep his leadership of the Free French.
100,000 Free French soldiers fought in the Allied side in Italy in 1943. By the time of the Normandy Invasion, the Free French forces numbered more than 400,000 people. The Free French 2nd Armoured Division, under General Philippe Leclerc, landed at Normandy and eventually led the drive towards Paris. The Free French 1st Army, under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, joined the Allies' invasion of southern France and took Alsace.
When the Allied forces marched on Paris, General Eisenhower, accorded de Gaulle and his Free French Forces the honor of officially liberating the capital city.
List of Notable Free French Personas