Friday, March 05, 2010

D-Day by Anthony Beevor (4)

The Brits might have had Vicount Weymouth, liaison officer of XIX Corps — who was wont to wander around the battlefield leading two ducks around on a leash — but the French could count on General Phillipe de Hautecloque, instantly recognisable atop his tank, because of the malacca cane he waved around and the goggles he wore around his kepi.

Better known by his nomme de guerre 'Leclerc', de Hautecloque led the French 2nd Armoured Division in Normandy, famed in his homeland as the Deuxième Division Blindée (2ème DB).

Something of a Catholic nutjob, Leclerc recruited a dozen members of the White Fathers — a nineteenth century order established to take the true faith to the Tuaregs — as his divisional chaplains. They must have looked a bit like Gaulish druids with their white habits and flowing white beards.

Beevor ticks off the brave general for his Francocentric outlook, not entirely unlike that of his commander-in-chief:

"Like de Gaulle, he felt bitter that, since the disaster of 1940, the British had accumulated so much power while France had declined drastically. Both were inclined to suspect that the British took every opportunity to exploit this. In their resentment, they could not see that Britain, despite her apparent strength, had bankrupted herself, physically and economically, during five years of war."

The resistance were extremely sceptical about other French officers who donned their uniforms in order to greet the newcomers. "Mothballs" was the nickname soon applied to these former enthusiasts for the Vichy regime.

Many of the resistance fighters had communist sympathies but had apparently received almost no assistance from Stalin, who remained sore about the speed of the French collapse in 1940, which had left the USSR exposed to a Nazi double-cross sooner than he might have anticipated.

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