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First Sea Lord pays tribute to a ‘living symbol’ of the bond between the Royal and French Navies

First Sea Lord pays tribute to a ‘living symbol’ of the bond between the Royal and French Navies
13 March 2024
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One of the last Frenchmen to fight side-by-side with the Royal Navy in WW2, Philippe de Gaulle – son of the French legendary military and political leader Charles – has died at the age of 102.

The future admiral was studying at the École navale – the French equivalent of Dartmouth – in Brest when the Germans invaded his country in May 1940.
The teenage de Gaulle fled to the UK by ship and joined the Free French Naval Forces, serving extensively at sea and in the air – he was also a trained pilot – after completing his training jointly with his own navy and at Britannia Royal Naval College.

As a junior officer, he served in the Atlantic, Arctic and Channel, took part in the Dieppe raid in August 1942, flew from Royal Navy carrier HMS Indomitable and conducted anti-submarine patrols with Catalina flying boats operating from Morocco.

Those actions were just the beginning of a remarkable career – and a life, like his father’s, dedicated to the service of his country, freedom and Western values. At the admiral’s 100th birthday in December 2021, French President Macron called him “one of the great servants of our country” and said of his life: “There are lives where the history of France can be read even better than in books.”

So when Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944, Philippe de Gaulle led a platoon of French naval infantry, fusiliers marins, in 2nd Armoured Division, fighting with them from the Channel to the Vosges mountains on the French-German border, taking part in the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg. He was wounded in action six times, but always returned to the fray.

His career in the peacetime Marine Nationale was no less varied. He flew extensively in operations against Communist forces in Indochina (today Vietnam) – he was equally at home in helicopters and piston-engine bombers as jet fighters – and again fought alongside the Royal Navy during the invasion of the Suez Canal zone in 1956.

He subsequently commanded a string of warships including the carrier Arromanches and France’s last battleship Richelieu, held numerous senior staff posts and eventually retired after nearly half a century’s service in 1989. He subsequently went into politics and served as a senator for Paris for two terms… and somehow found time to be a prolific artist, designing coins, stamps and bank notes, illustrating books and building models of ships.

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Amiral Philippe de Gaulle,” the head of the Royal Navy First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said. “He embodied a lifetime of dedication and service to France, beginning in the Free French Naval Forces, and valiantly participating in the Battle of the Atlantic and the liberation of France. He has been a living symbol of the profound bounds between our Navies. My most sincere condolences to the Marine Nationale and the people of France.”

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