During World War I, Legentilhomme fought on the Western Front and rose to the rank of captain. He was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1915. After the war, he served in the Far East and then in Madagascar between 1922 and 1931. Promoted to brigadier general in 1938, he commanded French forces in French Somaliland and then French and British forces in Somaliland (1939–1940). After Italy's entry into the war in June 1940, Legentilhomme led forces into Ethiopia along the Djibouti–Addis Ababa Railroad. He continued the advance even after France signed the armistice with Italy.
Legentilhomme and Georges Catroux were the only French generals initially rallying to Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle. Uncertain of support from his subordinates, Legentilhomme departed Djibouti secretly on the night of 1–2 August 1940 and made his way to London. Promoted to major general in the Free French forces in January 1942, he joined British units in the Sudan. In April, he received command of French forces in the Middle East being formed into the 1st Free French Division. Legentilhomme's division participated in the invasion of Syria in June and July 1941, entering Damascus on 22 June. Although seriously wounded in the fighting, he kept his command.
Court-martialed by the Vichy French government, Legentilhomme was sentenced to death in absentia in September, the same month he was appointed commander in chief in Free French Africa. In December 1942, he was named commissioner of French possessions in the Indian Ocean area. In November 1942, Legentilhomme took administrative control of Madagascar following the British capture of that island.
Promoted to lieutenant general on March 1943, Legentilhomme was assistant commissioner and then commissioner of national defense. At the end of June 1944, he took command of the 3rd Military Region of France, which included Normandy. Following its liberation, he became the military governor of Paris. After being promoted to full general in January 1947, Legentilhomme retired. He died in Nice on 23 May 1975.
Spencer C. Tucker
de Gaulle, Charles. The Complete War Memoirs. Trans. Jonathan Griffin and Richard Howard. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.