Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Delestraint, Charles Georges Antoine (1879–1945)

French army general. Born in Biache-Saint-Waast (Pas-de-Calais) on 12 March 1879, Charles Delestraint graduated from the French Military Academy of Saint Cyr in September 1900 as an infantry officer. He transferred to a cavalry unit in 1910. Delestraint was taken prisoner early in World War I and spent four years in captivity, during which time he learned German, English, and Russian. During the years after the war, he became an outspoken advocate of tank warfare along with Charles de Gaulle, with whom he shared many discussions. A critical, tradition-bound military leadership forced Delestraint into the reserves in March 1939, but he was almost immediately recalled to active duty.

In early 1940, Delestraint took command of an armored group of three tank divisions that included then-Colonel de Gaulle's own. Delestraint directed the French counterattack at Abbeville of 3–4 June 1940. His exemplary leadership brought him a promotion to major general. Rejecting the armistice with Germany, Delestraint resigned from the army on 8 July 1940, settling in unoccupied Bourg en Bresse. There he headed an association of former armor officers.

Delestraint secretly organized a military headquarters complete with staff sections, and he settled on the Vercors Plateau as a site for a national redoubt. On the recommendation of Resistance leaders Henri Frenay and Jean Moulin, de Gaulle selected his former commander to head the Armée Secr?te (AS, Secret Army) in France. Under the code name Vidal, Delestraint made significant progress in amalgamating diverse Resistance groups into a military force. Internal disputes remained, notably with the Communists over issues of weapons distribution and support for de Gaulle's overall strategy.

Learning of Delestraint's activities, Gestapo chief in Lyon Klaus Barbie engineered a trap for him in Paris, and the Gestapo arrested him outside La Muette subway station on 9 June 1943. Under Barbie's interrogation, Delestraint admitted his position. Shortly thereafter, Moulin was also taken, and the organization was bereft of its leadership just as it was gathering strength.

Delestraint arrived in Dachau in September 1944 following 15 months' questioning and internment in a series of camps. He was shot there on 29 April 1945. Delestraint's steadfast dignity and leadership, despite horrific conditions, inspired other inmates, no matter their nationality.

Robert B. Martyn


Further Reading
Frenay, Henri. The Night Will End: Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Trans. Dan Hofstadter. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.; Guillin, François-Yves. "General Delestraint: First Head of the Secret Army." Doctoral dissertation, Lumière-Lyon University, 1992.; Schoenbrun, David. Soldiers of the Night: The Story of the French Resistance. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980.
 

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