Henri Giraud was born in Paris, France. He was of Alsatian descent. He graduated from the Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1900 and joined the French army. He served in North Africa until he was transferred back to France 1914 when the First World War broke out and commanded Zouave troops. He was captured in the Battle of Guise in August 1914 when he was seriously wounded but escaped two months later and returned to France through Netherlands.
Afterwards Giraud served in French troops in Constantinople under General Francet d'Esperey. In 1933 he was transferred to Morocco to fight against Rifkabul rebels. He was awarded the Légion d'Honneur after the capture of Abd-el-Krim. He became a military commander of Metz.
When World War Two begun, Giraud was a member of Superior War Council. He disagreed with Charles de Gaulle about tactics of armored troops. He became a commander of the 7th army group when it was sent to Netherlands in May 10 1940 and was able to delay German troops in Breda on May 13. His depleted army was merged with the 9th army. When he was trying to block German attack through the Ardennes, German troops captured him at Wassigny in May 19. He was taken to Königstein Castle near Dresden that was used as a high-security POW prison.
Giraud planned his escape carefully over two years. He learned German and memorized a map of the surrounding area. On April 17, 1942 he lowered himself down the cliff of the mountain fortress. He had shaved his moustache and used a Tyrolean hat and traveled to Schandau to meet his SOE contact. Through various ruses he reached the Swiss border and eventually slipped to Vichy France.
Giraud's escape was soon known all over France. Heinrich Himmler ordered Gestapo to assassinate him. Pierre Laval tried to persuade him to return to Germany. Giraud supported Petain but refused to cooperate with Germans. Eventually Giraud traveled to Algeria. On November 17, 1942, the British submarine Seraph took him to meet Dwight Eisenhower in Gibraltar. Eisenhower asked to command French troops in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia after the Operation Torch. Giraud was given a code name King-Pin. However, most French officers in North Africa refused to recognize his authority and fought American troops until Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan ordered a cease-fire.
After Admiral Darlan was assassinated on December 24, 1942, Giraud became his de facto successor with Allied support. He upset Americans when he ordered that many French who had helped Eisenhower's troops to be arrested. Free French Forces refused to recognize his status as a military governor of French North and West Africa.
Giraud took part in Casablanca conference in January 1943. He and Charles De Gaulle became co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation and Free French Forces. However, De Gaulle consolidated his political position at Giraud's expense because he was more up to date with the political situation. Giraud also lost influence when he refused to reveal his plans for the invasion of Corsica until the last minute.
On September 13 Giraud led the landings of Corsica. He armed Corsica's communist-oriented Front National resistance group, which drew more criticism from De Gaulle. He lost the co-presidency in November 1943.
When Allies found out that Giraud was maintaining his own intelligence network, they forced him from his post as a commander in chief of the French forces. He refused to accept the post as a Inspector General of the Army and retired. On August 28, 1944 he survived an assassination attempt in Algeria.
On June 2, 1946 he was elected to the French Constituent Assembly as a representative of the Republican Party of Liberty and helped to create to constitution of the Fourth Republic. He remained member of the War Council and received a medal for his escape. He published two books, Mes Evasions (My Escape, 1946) and Algeria 1942-1944 (1949) about his experiences.