Charles de Gaulle

Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) was a French general and statesman. He was the leader of Free France (1940–44) and the head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (1944–46). In 1958, he founded the Fifth Republic and was elected as the President of France, a position he held until his resignation in 1969. He was the dominant figure of France during the Cold War era and his memory continues to influence French politics.

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Buste Charles de Gaulle (Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux, France)

Buste of Charles de Gaulle (Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux, France)

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Monument Général de Gaulle à Bayeux, France

General de Gaulle Monument in Bayeux, France

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He was a decorated officer of the First World War, wounded several times, and later taken prisoner at Verdun. During the interwar period, he advocated mobile armoured divisions. During the German invasion of May 1940, he led an armoured division which counterattacked the invaders; he was then appointed Under-Secretary for War. Refusing to accept his government’s armistice with Nazi Germany, de Gaulle exhorted the French population to resist occupation and to continue the fight in his Appeal of 18 June. He led a government in exile and the Free French Forces against the Axis. Despite frosty relations with Britain and especially the United States, he emerged as the undisputed leader of the French resistance. He became Head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic in June 1944, the interim government of France following its Liberation. As early as 1944, de Gaulle introduced a dirigiste economic policy, which included substantial state-directed control over a capitalist economy which was followed by 30 years of unprecedented growth, known as Les Trente Glorieuses (“The Glorious Thirty”).

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When the Algerian War was ripping apart the unstable Fourth Republic, the National Assembly brought him back to power during the May 1958 crisis. He founded the Fifth Republic with a strong presidency, and he was elected to continue in that role. He managed to keep France together while taking steps to end the war, much to the anger of the Pieds-Noirs (Frenchmen settled in Algeria) and the military; both previously had supported his return to power to maintain colonial rule. He granted independence to Algeria and progressively to other French colonies.

In the context of the Cold War, de Gaulle initiated his “Politics of Grandeur,” asserting that France as a major power should not rely on other countries, such as the US, for its national security and prosperity. To this end, de Gaulle pursued a policy of “national independence” which led him to withdraw from NATO’s military integrated command and to launch an independent nuclear development program that made France the fourth nuclear power.

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