Catroux continued in the French Army after the war, and in 1931 he was promoted to brigadier general and in 1936 to lieutenant general. Advanced to full general in 1938, he commanded the XIX Army Corps in Algeria. In 1939 he vainly urged change in the French military command. Only a few months before the start of World War II, he was placed on the reserve list.
In August 1939 Catroux was named governor-general of Indochina. Catroux, who came to be a colonial troubleshooter, was also one of the outstanding advocates of a liberal policy toward nationalism in the colonies. As governor-general, Catroux had the difficult task of dealing with the Japanese. With Indochina weak militarily, he had virtually no bargaining power. In the summer of 1940 Tokyo demanded the closing of the Sino-Vietnamese border and an end to transportation of war matériels from Indochina to the Chinese government at Chongqing (Chungking). Catroux tried to stall for time, but Japanese demands coincided with the French military defeat by Germany and replacement of the Third Republic with the Vichy government. With the British and U.S. governments unwilling to help, Catroux had to accept Tokyo's demands, including a Japanese control commission to oversee French compliance. Catroux hoped to use the rainy season to strengthen his forces with U.S. assistance and then deal with the Japanese.
Catroux protested the armistice between the French government and the Germans and refused to submit to its conditions. This and his independence of action in dealing with the Japanese led the Vichy government to replace him with commander of French naval forces in the Far East Vice Admiral Jean Decoux. No more able to resist the Japanese, Decoux in September 1940 was forced to grant Japan the right to transport troops across northern Vietnam to south China, to build airfields, and to station 6,000 men in Tonkin.
Many in the British government and the Free French faction preferred Catroux to Charles de Gaulle. When the British transported Catroux to London, some believed that Brigadier General de Gaulle would have to defer to the full general, but Catroux placed himself at de Gaulle's disposal. In 1941 de Gaulle named Catroux Free French commander in the Near East. Catroux subsequently served as governor-general of Algeria (1943–1944) and in the important post of French ambassador to Moscow during the critical period of 1944–1948.
In 1955 Catroux negotiated with Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef of Morocco for the latter's return to power. In 1956 socialist French Premier Guy Mollet named Catroux resident minister of Algeria, but his liberal reputation caused consternation among European settlers there, leading Mollet to rescind the appointment. Catroux published his memoirs in 1959. He died in Paris on 21 December 1969.
Spencer C. Tucker
Hammer, Ellen. The Struggle for Indochina. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1954.