Escape of Gen. Giraud, 1942

Gen. Giraud during his daily walk during imprisonment, 1940 or 41. Wikipedia photo.

On this day 75 years ago, April 17, 1942, French General Henri Giraud escaped from prison in the Nazi Königstein Fortress near Dresden, one of the largest mountain fortresses in Europe.

In 1940, Giraud was commanding in the Netherlands where his men were trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes.  He was at the front with a reconnaissance patrol when he was captured by German troops.

Giraud spent the next two years planning the escape. He spent the time learning German, memorizing a map of the area, and making ropes out of smuggled-in pieces of twine, copper wire, and bedsheets.

Just before the escape, the 63-year-old General shaved his mustache, climbed the wall, and descended the steep rock on which the fortress lay. He jumped aboard a moving train, and eventually made his way to Switzerland, from which he transferred to Vichy France.

When word of the escape spread in France, the Nazis were beside themselves, and an order to assassinate Giraud was issued, along with orders to arrest his family members.

He tried to talk Marshal Pétain out of continued collaboration, to no avail. He was then secretly contacted by the Allies, and eventually took a submarine to Gibraltar, where he met with General Eisenhower. He was flown to Algiers in November, but Vichy French forces there initially refused his command and his plea to join the Allies.

Giraud’s 1942 escape was actually his second escape from the Germans. In the First World War, he was wounded and left for dead on the battlefield before being taken prisoner and placed in a prison camp in Belgium. He escaped after two months by pretending to be a roustabout with a traveling circus, eventually returning to France via the Netherlands.

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