Operation Gustav (i)

This was the German order by Adolf Hitler for the recapture or killing of Général d’Armée Henri Honoré Giraud, a senior French prisoner of war who had escaped from the fortress of Königstein in Saxony (summer 1942).

Giraud had been captured at Wassigny on 19 May 1940 while trying to co-ordinate his 7th Army’s resistance to the ‘Sichelschnitt’ advance through the Ardennes, and was then incarcerated at Königstein near Dresden. Giraud planned his escape carefully over the following two years, learning German and memorising a map of the surrounding area.

On 17 April 1942 Giraud lowered himself down the cliff below the castle after shaving off his moustache, and then, wearing a Tyrolean hat, travelled to Schandau to meet his Special Operations Executive contact. Giraud finally reached the Swiss border and eventually slipped from Switzerland into Vichy France. Here he told Maréchal de France Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain, the Vichy French head of state, that Germany would lose the war and that Vichy France must resist. The Vichy French government refused to return Giraud to the Germans. The fact of Giraud’s escape was soon known all over France.

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the Gestapo to assassinate him, and Pierre Laval, the prime minister of Vichy France, tried to persuade him to return to Germany. Giraud supported Pétain and the Vichy French government, but refused to co-operate with the Germans.

Giraud was secretly contacted by the Allies, and by this time was already planning for the day when US troops landed in France. He agreed to support an Allied landing in French North Africa, provided that only US troops were used, and that he or another French officer would command the operation. He considered this latter condition essential to maintaining French sovereignty and authority over the Arab and Berber natives of North Africa.

Giraud designated Général de Division Charles Emmanuel Mast, commander of the Division de Casablanca in North Africa, as his representative in Algeria. (The other three Vichy French infantry divisions in North Africa were the Division d’Alger, Division de Constantine and Division d’Oran.)

At a secret meeting on 23 October with US representatives (Major General Mark W. Clark and the diplomat Robert Murphy), the ‘Torch’ invasion of French North Africa was agreed, but the Americans promised only that Giraud would be in command ‘as soon as possible’. Still in France, Giraud replied with a demand for a written commitment that he would be commander within 48 hours of the landing, and for landings in France as well as North Africa. Giraud also insisted that he could not leave France before 20 November.

Giraud was then persuaded that he had to leave Vichy France for French North Africa. On 5 November, he was collected near Toulon in ‘Minerva’ by the British submarine Seraph, loosely disguised as a US boat in an attempt to to placate Giraud’s anti-British sentiments. Seraph delivered Giraud to meet General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Gibraltar, where the boat arrived on 7 November, only a few hours before the ‘Torch’ landings.