Little Bits of History

Frenchman Takes Off

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 17, 2012

Henri Giraud

April 17, 1942: Henri Giraud escapes from his POW prison. Henri was born in Paris in 1879 and graduated from the Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1900. He joined the French Army and served first in North Africa until World War I broke out. At that time, he was transferred back to France. He was seriously wounded in the Battle of Guise in August 1914. He was taken prisoner and managed to escape two months later. He returned to France and continued to fight.

In 1933 he was sent to Morocco to fight against rebels and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur after capturing Abd-el-Krim. He was made military commander of Metz. At the beginning of World War II he was a member of the Superior War Council and disagreed with Charles de Gaulle over tactics. He was made commander of the 7th Army and sent to the Netherlands. He was again taken prisoner on May 19, 1940 at Wassigny and transferred to Königstein Castle near Dresden which was used as a high-security POW prison.

The Königstein Castle is also sometimes referred to as a Fortress. It was first mentioned as a castle in 1241 and was the line between two states with King Wenceslaus I using the castle to control the Elbe River valley. It is perched high on a rise and was considered to be unconquerable; it eventually became a state prison for the most notorious prisoners. During the war, it was used for the most important POWs.

Giraud planned diligently for his escape. He was 63 at the time. He learned German while in prison and studied a map of the area. He shaved his mustache, donned civilian clothing, and lowered himself down the mountainside cliff face. He made his way to Schandau (about 30 miles)  and met his Special Operative Executive. He was helped in his escape and made his way back to Vichy France. The Gestapo was ordered to assassinate him, if they should find him. He cooperated with the Allies and was a part of the Casablanca Conference. He wrote two books about his experiences after the War and died in Dijon, France in 1949.

We feel free when we escape — even if it be but from the frying pan to the fire. – Eric Hoffer

A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him. – Winston Churchill

The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his. –  George S. Patton

War is fear cloaked in courage. – William C. Westmoreland

Also on this day:

America’s Renaissance Man – In 1790 Benjamin Franklin dies.
FedEx – In 1973, FedEx began operation.
Stories – In 1397, Chaucer presented the Canterbury Tales for the first time.

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