Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Billotte, Gaston Henri Gustave (1875–1940)

French army general and commander of the 1st Army Group during the battle for France. Born on 10 February 1875 in Sommeval (Aube), near Troyes, France, Gaston Billotte graduated from the French Military Academy of St. Cyr in 1896. Commissioned in the naval infantry, he served in Indochina until 1915, and during World War I, he held a variety of command and staff positions. While leading an infantry division, he was twice gassed.

Billotte returned to Indochina after the war, becoming commander of French forces there in 1930. Seven years later, he was inspector general of colonial troops. Billotte advocated the employment of tanks in the French military, and Charles de Gaulle credited him with the creation of the first two French tank divisions. Just before the outbreak of war in 1939, Billotte took command of 1st Army Group and positioned this unit along the Belgian border around Malmédy. Among its five armies was the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

Billotte's 1st Army Group played the major role in the battle for France. On the German invasion of the west in May 1940, Billotte moved the bulk of his forces into Belgium in accordance with prearranged plans. The Germans then struck to the south, overrunning Billotte's southernmost army, the Ninth, in the area between Sedan and Givet. On May 14, realizing the threat this posed to his northern forces, Billotte ordered a withdrawal from the Dyle Line to the Escaute River.

On the night of 21 May, Billotte was seriously injured in a car accident after meeting with the new French army commander, General Maxime Weygand. His incapacitation increased confusion in the French army command. Billotte died of his injuries in Ypres on 23 May 1940.

Kevin D. Strait


Further Reading
Beaufre, André. 1940: The Fall of France. Trans. Desmond Flower. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.; Chapman, Guy. Why France Fell: The Defeat of the French Army in 1940. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.; Ginsburg, Jeffrey. "The Battle of the Belgian Plain, May 12–14, 1940: The First Great Tank Battle." Journal of Military History 56, no. 2 (April 1992): 207–244.; Horne, Alistair. To Lose a Battle: France, 1940. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969.
 

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