In March 1939, de Lattre commanded the 14th Infantry Division, which acquitted itself well during the Battle for France, at Sedan, at Rethel, on the Marne, and on the Loire, ending the campaign near Clermont-Ferrand.
De Lattre continued in command of the 14th Division in the Armistice Army, before becoming commandant at Puy-de-D™me Depot. He then commanded the 13th Military Region and worked to retrain what was left of the French army. In September 1941, de Lattre was posted to command French forces in Tunisia. In fighting between British/Free French forces and the Germans in Libya, de Lattre maneuvered his own troops so as to cut off the German retreat. Alarmed, the Vichy government ordered his return to France, where he took command of the 16th Military District at Montpellier in January 1942.
When the Germans entered unoccupied France in November 1942, de Lattre contravened Vichy orders and began defensive operations, allowing many anti-German French to escape to the Mediterranean coast. Subsequently arrested, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. In September 1943, de Lattre escaped from Riom Prison, evading capture with the help of the maquis (guerrillas), until he was evacuated to England on 17 October.
On reporting to the head of the Free French government in Algiers, General Charles de Gaulle, de Lattre took charge of training French forces in North Africa. He then commanded French troops in the June 1944 invasion of Elba. He led the Free French First Army into southern France in Operation dragoon, and his subsequent capture of the fortified ports of Toulon and Marseille proved a brilliant feat of arms. The First Army fought on the Allied right flank through Alsace. By occupying territory technically within the Allied boundaries, de Lattre reached the Franco-German border abreast of the Americans, rather than behind them as he had been ordered. Among his successes was the capture of the fortress of Belfort at a cost of only 1,000 French casualties. He then pushed nine divisions into Germany by the armistice, helping to secure for France a substantial role in the postwar occupation of Germany.
Following the armistice, de Lattre served on the Allied Control Council for Germany. He then served as inspector general of the French army, overseeing its modernization and retraining. From 1948 to 1950, he was commander of land forces of the Western European Union.
In December 1950, as a gesture of its determination, the French government sent de Lattre, its greatest living soldier, to Indochina as high commissioner as well as commander of French military forces. De Lattre infused new vigor in the French military effort and won a series of pitched battles against the Vietminh. Consumed by cancer, de Lattre returned to Paris in December 1951 and died there on 11 January 1952.
Robert B. Martyn and Spencer C. Tucker
Clayton, Anthony. Three Marshals of France: Leadership after Trauma. London: Brassey's, 1992.; De Lattre de Tassigny, Jean. The History of the French First Army. Trans. Malcolm Barnes. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1952.