Looking back: De Gaulle tells American Forces to leave France

  • Published
  • By Mark Howell
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
On March 7, 1966, General Charles De Gaulle, the French President, informed the United States government the all foreign troops must leave France.

That was the end result of a number of agendas which began with the French desire to develop a self-determinate nuclear arsenal, remove France from what it considered an unequal partnership with the United Kingdom and the United States in NATO, and free it from being drawn into a conflict between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members and members of the Warsaw Pact, should the Russian forces encroach on West Germany territory.

France wished to be free to seek its own treaty with the Warsaw Pact countries. If the country remained in the NATO membership, it would be obligated to respond against any Russian aggression in Germany according to the NATO mandates. This allowed RAF Mildenhall to become home to the 513th Troop Carrier Wing on July 1, 1966.

In a series of acts from 1958 forward, De Gaulle grew more and more hostile to the United States playing a dominant role in NATO. He wrote President Eisenhower and Prime Minister McMillan that there must be a tripartite directorate with France having an equal role in NATO to the United Kingdom and the United States.

However, his real intent was to draw NATO forces into France's colonial affairs regarding their conflict with insurgents in Algeria.

When Eisenhower and McMillan refused, De Gaulle began building up the defenses of France and pulled the French Mediterranean Fleet out of NATO command on March 11, 1959.

In June 1959, De Gaulle prohibited NATO nuclear weapons from being stationed in France. His ultimate goal was two-fold. De Gaulle sought to make France independent of the United States and the United Kingdom's influence and to possess the ability to conduct autonomous negotiations with the USSR should the East Germans move into West Germany.

In coming years he removed the rest of France's Navy from the NATO command.

On Feb, 13, 1960, France became a nuclear power when it exploded a nuclear device in the Sahara desert. What concerned the western nations in the NATO alliance was the statement of the French Chief of the General Staff. He pointed out that their nuclear weapons could fire in any direction.

The obvious threat was that America could just as easily become a target. The remark was in response to the American Secretary of State Dean Rusk, when he warned France that American nuclear weapons would be pointed at France if they performed a nuclear strike beyond the agreed plans.

In March 1966, De Gaulle removed all French armed forces from NATO control and told the United States (and other NATO military members) to leave France. France remained an ally to NATO forces, but only agreed to station French troops in Germany during the Cold War.

It was because of this moment in history, on March 7, 1966, that Mildenhall became destined to play a new role in the Cold War. On April 15, 1966 RAF Mildenhall began to make preparations for the arrival of the 513th Troop Carrier Wing.

On  July 1, 1966, the 513 TCW became the parent organization for RAF Mildenhall when it began its transition from Evreux-Fauville Air Base, France with two rotational C-130 squadrons.