The World at War


Emile Henri Muselier

French Admiral
Born: Marseilles 1882
Died: 1965

     Vice Admiral Muselier arrived in London by flying boat from Gibraltar on June 30, 1940. Muselier was the only male member of his family to survive the carnage of the first world war and would be the only one of fifty flag officers in the French admiralty to answer General de Gaulleís call for resistance in the second world war. He was formally named to command the Free French Naval Force and Merchant Marine on October 27, 1940. One source credits Muselier with instituting the use of the Cross of Lorraine to distinguish his ships from those of Vichy, though de Gaulle credits Muselierís assistant Captain Thierry díArgenlieu with suggesting its use as a symbol for the entire movement.

     Free French headquarters in London seethed with turmoil between right wingers and supporters of the leftist Popular Front. Each accused the other of spying for Vichy. During de Gaulleís absence from London for the Dakar expedition, the rightists gained control of the Free French security apparatus and forced Andre Labarthe, former Socialist deputy, out of the movement. Muselier interceded in with the General upon his return. The General refused to restore Labarthe but eventually sacked the head of security, a man known as, "Howard". Howard retaliated. Four letters purportedly authored by General Rozoy, air attachť at the French embassy in London and since repatriated, revealed that Muselier had tipped off Vichy to the embarkation of the Dakar expedition, promised to send the submarine Surcouf back to a Vichy controlled port and had accepted bribes to dissuade French sailors from signing up with Free France. The letters were delivered to British intelligence. Muselier was arrested by Scotland Yard on January 2, 1941 and held for a week before de Gaulle could convince the British that the letters were forged. Howard and his forger, a man known as Collin, confessed and the admiral was released. de Gaulle was convinced the episode was the work of MI5 and Muselier was convinced it was the work of de Gaulle.

     Muselier precipatated a second crisis amongst the Free French movement in mid-September, 1941. The Admiral began to chafe under the one man rule of de Gaulle telling friends in the British Admiralty that he was of the opinion that the General was suffering from meglomania. Muselier demanded the formation of an executive council of which he would be the head and de Gaulle the figurehead. The Generalís response was to form a council excluding Muselier at which point the Admiral threatened to leave the movement and take his forces with him or turn them over to British control. DeGaulle gave Muselier 24 hours to end his mutiny or be replaced at this point Churchill and Anthony Eden stepped in to mediate. Formation of the French National Committee with de Gaulle as president was announced on September 25th. Muselier was given a subordinate position on the body.

     Muselierís insubordinate ways continued. In December he was ordered to lead a small task force from Halifax, Canada to St. Pierre and Miquelon and liberate those islands from Vichy control. Muselier took it upon himself to inform the Canadians and the American embassy in Ottawa of his intentions. The Americans voice objection, having that very day concluded an agreement with Vichy for the neutralization of French possessions in the western hemisphere. Muselier proceeded to inform the U.S. ambassador that he was calling the mission off. De Gaulle again ordered the expedition to proceed and this time the Admiral obeyed. Saint Pierre and Miquelon were duly liberated on Christmas Eve 1941.

     The hero of St.Pierre returned to London on February 28, 1942 was duly honored by General de Gaulle. Then things turned sour. The General suggested Muselier lead an expedition to liberate Madagascar but asked that he first fire a close aide whom de Gaulle suspected of plotting against him. The Admiral had had enough. He attended a meeting of the French National Committee on March 3 at which he announced once again that he was resigning and taking his forces with him. DeGaulle requested Muselierís arrest but the British made no response. The Admiral continued his defiance and called for the Free French Navy to go on strike. This was too much for the British who dropped all objections to Muselierís ouster. Admiral Auboyneau assumed leadership of the Free French Navy on March 23, 1942.

     Muselier returned to the fray in early June, 1943 during negotiations for the formation of a unified French government in Algiers. General Giraud feared an outbreak of pro-Gaullist demonstrations and appointed the Admiral to post of Prefect of Police for Algiers. Giraud and de Gaulle managed to resolve their differences and Muselier faded into obscurity once more.

     After the war Muselier made a brief and unsuccessful attempt at a career in politics.

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