Book Review: Free France's Lion: The Life of Philippe Leclerc, de Gaulle's Greatest General


by William Moore

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011. Pp. xx, 508. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1612000681

This is the first English biography of Philippe François Marie, the comte de Hauteclocque (1902-1947), better known as “Leclerc”, one of the heroes of the “Free French” movement and an excellent commander.

Moore, a British novelist and historian, not only gives us a very intimate look at the general, born Philippe François Marie, comte de Hauteclocque, but also sets his life and career firmly into the context of his times.  He opens with a chapter on de Hauteclocque’s background (distinctly upper class, Catholic, and rightist) and early military career.  He follows this with an account of the disastrous “Battle of France” in May-June 1940, in which de Hauteclocque, still only a captain, played a minor role.  Moore then he plunges into an account of the rise of the Gaullist resistance movement, its complex relationship with both Britain and the Vichy regime.  We get a brief look at life in Vichy France, de Hauteclocque’s flight through the German occupied zone to Spain, and thence on to England, to join de Gaulle, adopting the nom de guerre “Leclerc” to protect his family in France. 

Leclerc was dispatched to French Equatorial Africa, where he led a column from Chad into Libya in support of the British in the Western Desert, then taking part in the liberation of French North Africa.  Recalled to England, Leclerc was placed in command of the French  2nd Armored Division, and landed in Normandy at the beginning of August 1944 to take part in the Liberation 

Moore devotes nearly half the volume to Leclerc’s role in the Liberation, which had its most glorious moment when Leclerc’s entered Paris, but culminates with his troops deep inside Germany on VE Day.  He then takes Leclerc to East Asia, where the general represented France at the surrender of Japan, and, with his name now formally changed to Leclerc de Hauteclocque, to a brief period in command in Indo-China, where he attempted to reach out to the nationalist side of the Viet Minh movement, and then on to North Africa, where he met an his untimely death in a plane crash at just 45.    

Because of the depth of Moore’s account, Free France’s Lion is an excellent introduction to France in the Second World War, and particularly the “Free French” movement, both topics not well treated in most English-language accounts, as well as the life of Leclerc. 


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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