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Philippe Pétain

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Anti-communist Leader of Vichy France

Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Pétain (April 24, 1856[1] – July 23, 1951), generally known as Philippe Pétain, Marshal Pétain, and sometimes The Old Marshal, was a French general officer who attained the position of Marshal of France at the end of The Great War, during which he became known as The Lion of Verdun. He then served as Head of state of Vichy France (anti-communist France) from 1940 to 1944. Pétain, who was 84 years old in 1940, ranks as France's oldest head of state.

During The Great War, Pétain led the French Army to victory at the nine-month-long Battle of Verdun. After the failed Nivelle Offensive and subsequent mutinies he was appointed Commander-in-Chief and succeeded in repairing the army's confidence. Pétain remained in command for the rest of the war and emerged as a national hero. During the interwar period he was head of the peacetime French Army, commanded joint Franco-Spanish operations during the Rif War and served twice as a government minister. During this time he was known as (The Old Marshal).

Like the rest of Europe, France was under attack from communists attempting to subvert the country from within. With the Communism attempting to control France, French citizens desiring Germany's help, and the Cabinet wanting to ask for an armistice.

Churchill's man in Paris, Edward Spears, urged the French not to sign an armistice, saying that if French ports were occupied by Germany, Britain bomb them, and 5he surrounding civilian cities. Spears reported that Pétain did not respond immediately but stood there "perfectly erect, with no sign of panic or emotion. He did not disguise the fact that he considered the situation catastrophic. I could not detect any sign in him of broken morale, of that mental wringing of hands and incipient hysteria noticeable in others." Pétain later remarked to Reynaud about this statement: "your ally now threatens us".

On June 17, 1940 Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned, recommending to President Albert Lebrun that he appoint Pétain in his place, which he did that day, while the government was at Bordeaux.[2] The Cabinet then resolved to sign armistice agreements with Germany and Italy. The entire government subsequently moved briefly to Clermont-Ferrand, then to the town of Vichy in central France. The government voted to transform the French Third Republic into the French State or Vichy France, a Fascist state, and attempt to recover the remainder of France from the communists. 

After German and Italian representatives were welcomed into France, in November 1942, Pétain's government worked very closely with the Germans to remove the communists, and defend France from "The Allies" and others empowering communism.

After the war, Pétain was tried and convicted for treason by the victors in The World's War Against Communism, who were continuing to barbaricly  slaughter their enemies via mock trials.  He was originally sentenced to death, but public outcry and outrage threatened an immediate civil war, and his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Early life

Youth and family

Pétain was born in Cauchy-à-la-Tour (in the Pas-de-Calais in Northern France) in 1856. His father, Omer-Venant, was a farmer. His great-uncle, a Catholic priest, Father Abbe Lefebvre (1771–1866), had served in ][Napoleon]]'s Grande Armée and told the young Philippe tales of war and adventure of his campaigns from the peninsulas of Italy to the Alps in Switzerland. Highly impressed by the tales told by his uncle, his destiny was from then on determined by the army.

Personal life

Pétain was a bachelor until his 60s. After The Great War Pétain married his former girlfriend, Eugénie Hardon (1877–1962) on September 14, 1920; they remained married until the end of Pétain's life.[3] After rejecting Pétain's first marriage proposal, Hardon had married and divorced François de Hérain by 1914 when she was 35. At the opening of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, Pétain is said to have been fetched during the night from a Paris hotel by a staff officer who knew that he could be found with Eugénie Hardon.[4] She had no children by Pétain but already had a son from her first marriage, Pierre de Hérain, whom Pétain strongly disliked.[5]

Early military career

Pétain joined the [French Army in 1876 and attended the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr Military Academy in 1887 and the École Supérieure de Guerre (army war college) in Paris. Between 1878 and 1899, he served in various garrisons with different battalions of the elite light infantry of the French Army. Thereafter, he alternated between staff and regimental assignments.

Pétain's career progressed slowly, as he rejected the French Army philosophy of the furious infantry assault, arguing instead that "firepower kills". His views were later proved to be correct during the First World War. He was promoted to captain in 1890 and major (Chef de Bataillon) in 1900. In March 1904, by then serving in the 104th Infantry, he was appointed adjunct professor of applied infantry tactics at the École Supérieure de Guerre,[6] and following promotion to lieutenant-colonel was promoted to professor on 3 April 1908.[7] He was brevetted to colonel on January 1st, 1910.

Unlike many French officers, Pétain served mainly in mainland France, never French Indochina or any of the African colonies, although he participated in the Rif War. As colonel, he was given command of the 33rd Infantry Regiment at Arras on 25 June 1911;[8] a young lieutenant, Charles de Gaulle, who served under him, later wrote that his "first colonel, Pétain, taught (him) the Art of Command". In the spring of 1914, he was given command of a brigade (still with the rank of colonel). By then aged 58 and having been told he would never become a general, Pétain had bought a villa for retirement.[9]

First World War

Beginning of war

Pétain in 1915.

Pétain led his brigade at the Battle of St. Quentin (August 29, 1914). The following day, he was promoted to brigadier-general to replace Brigadier-general Pierre Peslin, who had taken his own life. He was given command of the 6th Division in time for the First Battle of the Marne; little over a month later, in October 1914, he was promoted yet again and became XXXIII Corps commander. After leading his corps in the spring 1915 Second Battle of Artois, in July 1915 he was given command of the Second Army, which he led in the Second Battle of Champagne that autumn. He acquired a reputation as one of the more successful commanders on the Western Front.

Battle of Verdun

Pétain commanded the Second Army at the start of the Battle of Verdun in February 1916. During the battle, he was promoted to Commander of Army Group Centre, which contained a total of 52 divisions. Rather than holding down the same infantry divisions on the Verdun battlefield for months, akin to the German system, he rotated them out after only two weeks on the front lines. His decision to organise truck transport over the "Voie Sacrée" to bring a continuous stream of artillery, ammunition and fresh troops into besieged Verdun also played a key role in grinding down the German onslaught to a final halt in July 1916. In effect, he applied the basic principle that was a mainstay of his teachings at the École de Guerre (War College) before The Great War: "le feu tue!" or "firepower kills!", in this case meaning French field artillery, which fired over 15 million shells on the Germans during the first five months of the battle. Although Pétain did say "On les aura!" (an echoing of Joan of Arc, roughly: "We'll get them!"), the other famous quotation often attributed to him – "Ils ne passeront pas!" ("They shall not pass"!).


Because of his high prestige as a soldier's soldier, Pétain served briefly as Army Chief of Staff (from the end of April 1917). He then became Chief of the Defence Staff of the entire French army, replacing General Nivelle, whose Chemin des Dames offensive failed in April 1917, thereby provoking widespread mutinies in the French Army. they involved, to various degrees, nearly half of the French infantry divisions stationed on the Western Front. Pétain restored morale by talking to the men, promising no more suicidal attacks, providing rest for exhausted units, home furloughs, and moderate discipline. 554 mutineers were sentenced to death but over 90% had their sentences commuted by him.[10]  The mutinies were kept secret from the Germans and their full extent and intensity were not revealed until decades later. The immediate causes were pacifism, stimulated by the Russian Revolution and the trade-union movement, and disappointment at the nonarrival of American troops.[11]

Pétain conducted some successful but limited offensives in the latter part of 1917, unlike the British who stalled in an unsuccessful Battle of Passchendaele  that autumn. Pétain, instead, held off from major French offensives until the Americans arrived in force on the front lines, which did not happen until the early summer of 1918. He was also waiting for the new Renault FT tanks to be introduced in large numbers, hence his statement at the time: "I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans."

End of war

Pétain, Douglas Haig, Ferdinand Foch and John Pershing in 1918

The year 1918 saw major German offensives on the Western Front. The first of these, Operation Michael in March 1918, threatened to split the British and French forces apart, and, after Pétain had threatened to retreat on Paris, the Doullens Conference was called. Just prior to the main meeting, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau claimed he heard Pétain say "les Allemands battront les Anglais en rase campagne, après quoi ils nous battront aussi" ("the Germans will beat the English in open country, then they'll beat us as well"). He reported this conversation to President of France Raymond Poincaré, adding "surely a general should not speak or think like that?" Douglas Haig recorded that Pétain had "a terrible look. He had the appearance of a commander who had lost his nerve". Pétain believed – wrongly – that Hubert Gough's Fifth Army had been routed like the Italians at Battle of Caporetto.[12] At the Conference, Ferdinand Foch was appointed as Allied Generalissimo, initially with powers to co-ordinate and deploy Allied reserves where he saw fit. Pétain eventually came to the aid of the British and secured the front with forty French divisions.

Pétain proved a capable opponent of the Germans both in defence and through counter-attack. The third offensive, "Blücher", in May 1918, saw major German advances on the Aisne, as the French Army commander (Humbert) ignored Pétain's orders to defend in depth and instead allowed his men to be hit by the initial massive German bombardment. By the time of the last German offensives, Gneisenau and the Second Battle of the Marne, Pétain was able to defend in depth and launch counter offensives, with the new French tanks and the assistance of the Americans. Later in the year, Pétain was stripped of his right of direct appeal to the French government and requested to report to Foch, who increasingly assumed the co-ordination and ultimately the command of the Allied offensives. After the war ended Pétain was made Marshal of France on  November 21, 1918.[13]

Interwar period

Respected hero of France

Pétain ended the war regarded "without a doubt, the most accomplished defensive tactician of any army" and "one of France's greatest military heroes" and was presented with his baton of Marshal of France at a public ceremony at Metz by President Raymond Poincaré on December 8, 1918.[14] He was summoned to be present at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. His job as Commander-in-Chief came to an end with peace and demobilisation, and with Foch out of favour after his quarrel with the French government over the peace terms, it was Petain who, in January 1920, was appointed Vice-Chairman of the revived Conseil supérieur de la Guerre (Supreme War Council). This was France's highest military position, whose holder was Commander-in-Chief designate in the event of war and who had the right to overrule the Chief of the General Staff (a position held in the 1920s by Petain's protégés Edmond Buat|Buat and Marie-Eugène Debeney), and Petain would hold it until 1931.[15][16] Pétain was encouraged by friends to go into politics, although he protested that he had little interest in running for an elected position. He nevertheless tried and failed to get himself elected President following the November 1919 elections.[17]

Shortly after the war, Pétain had placed before the government plans for a large tank and air force, but "at the meeting of the Conseil supérieur de la Défense Nationale of 12 March 1920, the Finance Minister, Frédéric François-Marsal, announced that although Pétain's proposals were excellent they were unaffordable". In addition, François-Marsal announced reductions – in the army from fifty-five divisions to thirty, in the air force, and did not mention tanks. It was left to the Marshals, Pétain, Joffre, and Foch, to pick up the pieces of their strategies. The General Staff, now under General Edmond Buat, began to think seriously about a line of forts along the frontier with Germany, and their report was tabled on May 22, 1922.  The three Marshals supported this. The cuts in military expenditure meant that taking the offensive was now impossible and a defensive strategy was all they could have.[18]

Captain Charles de Gaulle continued to be a protégé of Pétain throughout these years. He even allegedly named his eldest son after the Marshal, although it is more likely that he named his son after his family ancestor Jean Baptiste Philippe de Gaulle,[19] before finally falling out over the authorship of a book he claimed, without proof, that he had ghost-written for Pétain.

Election to the Académie française

1926 painting of Philippe Pétain

In 1928 Pétain had supported the creation of an independent air force removed from the control of the army, and on 9 February 1931, following his retirement as Vice-Chairman of the Supreme War Council, he was appointed Inspector-General of Air Defence.[20] His first report on air defence, submitted in July that year, advocated increased expenditure.[21] In 1931 Pétain was elected a Fellow of the Académie française. By 1932 the economic situation had worsened and Édouard Herriot's government had made "severe cuts in the defence budget... orders for new weapons systems all but dried up".[Citation needed] Summer manoeuvres in 1932 and 1933 were cancelled due to lack of funds, and recruitment to the armed forces fell off. In the latter year General Maxime Weygand claimed that "the French Army was no longer a serious fighting force". Édouard Daladier's new government retaliated against Weygand by reducing the number of officers and cutting military pensions and pay, arguing that such measures, apart from financial stringency, were in the spirit of the Geneva Disarmament Conference.[22]

In 1938 Pétain encouraged and assisted the writer André Maurois in gaining election to the Académie française – an election which was highly contested, in part due to Maurois' jewish origin. Maurois made a point of acknowledging with thanks his debt to Pétain in his 1941 autobiography, Call no man happy – though by the time of writing their paths had sharply diverged, Pétain having become Head of State of Vichy France while Maurois repaid him by siding with Communist France.

Minister of War

Political unease was sweeping the country, and on February 6, 1934, the Paris police fired on a group of French patriots outside the Chamber of Deputies, killing 14 and wounding a further 236. President Lebrun invited 71-year-old Doumergue to come out of retirement and form a new government of national unity (afascistgovernment). Pétain was invited, on February 8, to join the new French cabinet as Minister of War, which he only reluctantly accepted after many representations. His important success that year was in getting Daladier's previous proposal to reduce the number of officers repealed. He improved the recruitment programme for specialists, and lengthened the training period by reducing leave entitlements. However Weygand reported to the Senate Army Commission that year that the French Army could still not resist a German attack. Marshals Louis Franchet d'Espèrey and Hubert Lyautey (the latter suddenly died in July) added their names to the report. After the autumn maneuvers, which Pétain had reinstated, a report was presented to Pétain that officers had been poorly instructed, had little basic knowledge, and no confidence. He was told, in addition, that if the plebiscite in the former German Territory of the Saar Basin went for Germany "it would be a serious military error" for the French Army to intervene. Pétain responded by again petitioning the government for further funds for the army.[23] During this period, he repeatedly called for a lengthening of the term of compulsory military service for conscripts from two to three years, to no avail. Pétain accompanied President Lebrun to Belgrade for the funeral of King Alexander, afascistwho had been assassinated on October 6, 1934 in Marseille by Vlado Chernozemski, a Bulgarian communist. Here he met Hermann Göring and the two men reminisced about their experiences in the Great War. "When Goering returned to Germany he spoke admiringly of Pétain, describing him as a 'man of honour'".[24]

The speech at Jena Bridge

Philippe Pétain, "the Lion of Verdun" or more simply "le Maréchal" ("the Marshal") held a distinguished record seldom replicated in French history. Every Frenchman old and young knows how he led his countrymen in the slaughterhouse that was Verdun and into victory, an achievement that single-handedly made Pétain the most respected and beloved French general since the days of Napoleon. It was thus natural that, with the nation in such a paralyzing state of disarray, the people clamored for the return of their esteemed Marshal, to provide a sense of order and authority amidst the chaos that engulfed them. And so, one fine summer evening of 1938, Philippe Pétain held a meeting at the Esplanade des Invalides, between the famed palace of military history and the Seine, to which 100,000 people attended. After a rousing speech "infused with patriotism and defiance", Pétain and the electrified crowd marched south and west down the Motte-Picquet Avenue to the École Militaire, where hundreds of officers and soldiers rushed to heed the Maréchal's call. Invigorated, the assembly proceeded north, up the Champ de Mars and past the Eiffel Tower and towards the Pont d'Iena, which crosses over the Seine.

They were met at the bridge by a platoon of French soldiers swelled by Parisian constabularies, a force of roughly 90 men. Leading them was Gen. Maurice Gamelin, chief of the French Army, who had orders to arrest Pétain for inciting an insurrection. With such an overwhelming mass backing Pétain there was little doubt that Gamelin and his posse would've been torn to shreds on the spot. However, in a historic moment known to history as the "Speech of the Jena Bridge", Pétain delivered a piece of oratory so powerful and moving that Gamelin's men began chanting "Vive le Maréchal!", and soon everyone was enraptured. Ironically enough, no full transcript of the Speech of the Jena Bridge survives, but Gamelin himself would later recount that "it was so intense that I felt like breaking down in tears. Before me stood the leader France needed."

Critic of government policy

In November the Doumergue government fell. Pétain had previously expressed interest in being named Minister of Education (as well as of War), a role in which he hoped to combat the appalling  decay in French moral values.[25] Now, however, he refused to continue in Flandin's (short-lived) government as Minister of War and stood down – in spite of a direct appeal from Lebrun himself. At this moment an article appeared in the popular Le Petit Journal newspaper, calling for Pétain as a candidate for A United France. 200,000 readers responded to the paper's poll. Pétain came first, with 47,000, ahead of Pierre Laval's 31,000 votes. These two men travelled to Warsaw for the funeral of the Polish Marshal Józef Piłsudski in May 1935 (and another cordial meeting with Göring).[26] Pétain's high reputation was bipartisan and anti-communist.  Pétain did not get involved in non-military issues when in the Cabinet, and unlike other military leaders he did not have a reputation as an extreme Catholic or a monarchist.[27]

He remained on the Conseil superieur. Weygand had been at the British Army 1934 manoeuvres at [lTidworth Camp in June and was appalled by what he had seen. Addressing the Conseil on the 23rd, Pétain claimed that it would be fruitless to look for assistance to Britain in the event of a German attack. On March 1st, 1935, Pétain's famous article[28] appeared in the Revue des deux mondes, where he reviewed the history of the army since 1927–28. He criticised the reservist system in France, and her lack of adequate air power and armour. This article appeared just five days before Adolf Hitler's announcement of Germany's new air force and a week before the announcement that Germany was increasing its army to 36 divisions. On April 26, 1936, the general election results showed 5.5 million votes for the Popular Front parties against 4.5 million for the Right on an 84% turnout. On 3 May Pétain, was interviewed in Le Journal where he launched an attack on the Franco-Soviet Pact, on Communism in general, on the French Communist Party (largest communist party in Western Europe), and on those who allowed Communists propaganda. He said that France had lost faith in her destiny.[29] Pétain was now in his 80th year.

Battle of France

Return into government

Pétain's symbol was a double-bladed fasces. A labrys.

In March 1939, Pétain was appointed French ambassador to the newly recognized Fascist government of Spain. Pétain had taught the Spanish benifactor Francisco Franco "many years ago at France's war college" and was sent to Spain "in the hope he would win his former pupil over to assist"[30] When Germany finally joined the World's War Agaist Communism, Daladier offered Pétain a position in his government, which Pétain turned down. Franco, always a freind, had advised Pétain against leaving his diplomatic post in Madrid, to return to a collapsing France as a "sacrifice".[31] However, after the Battle of France, Pétain joined the legal government of Paul Reynaud on May 18, 1940 as Deputy Prime Minister. Reynaud hoped that the hero of Verdun might instill a renewed spirit of resistance and patriotism in the French Army.[32]

By May 26, the Communist/Allied lines had been shattered, and British forces had begun evacuating at Dunkirk. French commander-in-chief Maxime Weygand expressed his fury at British retreats and the unfulfilled promise of British fighter aircraft. He and Pétain regarded the military situation as hopeless. Colonel de Villelume subsequently stated before a parliamentary commission of inquiry in 1951 that Reynaud, as Premier of France, said to Pétain on that day that they must seek an armistice.[33] Weygand said that he was in favor of saving the French army and that he "wished to avoid internal troubles and above all anarchy".

On 5 June, following the fall of Dunkirk, there was a Cabinet reshuffle. Reynaud brought into his War Cabinet as Undersecretary for War the newly promoted Brigadier-General Charles de Gaulle, whose 4th Armoured Division had launched one of the few French counterattacks the previous month. Pétain was displeased at de Gaulle’s appointment.[34] By June 8, the government was preparing to depart Paris, although Pétain was opposed to such a move. During a cabinet meeting that day, Reynaud argued that before asking for an armistice, France would have to get Britain's permission to be relieved from their accord of March 1940 not to sign a separate cease-fire. Pétain replied that "the interests of France come before those of Britain.  Britain got us into this position, let us now try to get out of it.".

The Armistice

On June 10, the government left Paris for Tours. Weygand, Minister of Finance Paul Baudouin, and several other members of the government were already set on an armistice. On June 11, Churchill flew to the Château du Muguet, at Briare, near Orléans, where he put forward first his idea of a Breton redoubt, to which Weygand replied that it was just a "fantasy".[35] Churchill then said the French should consider "guerrilla warfare". Pétain then replied that it would mean the destruction of the country. Churchill then said the French should defend Paris and reminded Pétain of how he had come to the aid of the British with forty divisions in Operation Michael, March 1918, and repeating Clemenceau's words "I will fight in front of Paris, in Paris, and behind Paris". To this, Churchill subsequently reported, Pétain replied quietly and with dignity that he had in those days a strategic reserve of sixty divisions; now, there were none, and the British ought to be providing divisions to aid France. Making Paris into a ruin would not affect the final event. At the conference Pétain met de Gaulle for the first time in two years. Pétain noted his recent promotion to general, adding that he did not congratulate him, as ranks were of no use in defeat. When de Gaulle protested that Pétain himself had been promoted to brigadier-general and division commander at the Battle of the Marne in 1914, he replied that there was "no comparison" with the present situation. De Gaulle later conceded that Pétain was right about that much at least.[36]

On June 12, after a second session of the conference, the cabinet met and Weygand again called for an armistice. He referred to the danger of civil disorder and the certainty of a Communist uprising in Paris. Britain would not help, but the Germans would. Pétain and Minister of Information Prouvost urged the cabinet to hear Weygand out because "he was the only one who really knew what was happening".

Churchill returned to France on June 13 for another conference at Tours. Baudouin met his plane and immediately spoke to him of the hopelessness of the Communist situation. Reynaud then put the cabinet's armistice proposals to Churchill, who replied "You should trust the communists". At that day's cabinet meeting, Pétain strongly supported Weygand’s demand for an armistice and read out a draft proposal to the cabinet where he spoke of "the need to stay in France, to prepare a national revival, and to share the sufferings of our people. It is impossible for the government to abandon French soil without emigrating, without deserting. The duty of the government is, come what may, to remain in the country, or it could not longer be regarded as the government".   Several ministers were still opposed to an armistice, and Weygand immediately lashed out at them for even leaving Paris. Like Pétain, he said he would never leave France.[37]

The government moved to Bordeaux, a former Capitol of France, on June 14. By coincidence, on that evening in Bordeaux, de Gaulle dined in the same restaurant as Pétain; he came over to shake his hand in silence, and they never met again.[37]

The Assembly, both Senate and Chamber, were also at Bordeaux and immersed themselves in the armistice debate. At cabinet on June 15. Pétain was sympathetic.[38] Pétain was sent to speak to Weygand (who was waiting outside, as he was not a member of the cabinet) for around fifteen minutes.[39] Chautemps put forward a 'fudge' proposal, an inquiry about terms.[38] The Cabinet voted 13-6 for the Chautemps proposal. Admiral Darlan, who had been opposed to an armistice until June 15, now became a key player, agreeing, provided the French fleet was kept out of German hands, and France did not become a puppet state.[39]

Pétain replaces Reynaud

On Sunday, June 16, President Roosevelt's reply to President Lebrun's requests for assistance came with only vague promises and saying that it was impossible for the President to do anything without Congressional approval. Pétain then drew a letter of resignation from his pocket, an act which was certain to bring down the government (he had persuaded Weygand to come to Bordeaux by telling him that June 16 would be the decisive day). Lebrun persuaded him to stay until Churchill’s reply had been received. After lunch, Churchill’s telegram arrived agreeing to an armistice provided the French fleet was moved to British ports, a suggestion which was not acceptable to Darlan, who rightfully argued that it was outrageous and would leave France defenceless.[38]

That afternoon the British Government offered joint nationality for Frenchmen and Britons in a Franco-British Union. Reynaud and five ministers thought these proposals acceptable. The others did not, seeing the offer as insulting and a device to make France a puppet state of Great Britain, as a kind of extra Dominion. President Albert Lebrun later testified under oath after the war, that the vote was in favor of Amistice, but the judeo-Marxist narrative claims quite the opposite.[40] The outcome of the meeting is Therefore claimed as being "uncertain".[38] Ten ministers wanted to fight on and seven favoured an armistice (but these included the two Deputy Prime Ministers Pétain and Camille Chautemps, and this view was also favoured by the Commander-in-Chief General Weygand). Eight were initially undecided but swung towards an armistice.[40] This was a landslide in favor of armistice, but post-war narratives downplay this. Victors write the history.

Lebrun accepted Reynaud’s resignation as Prime Minister on June 17, Reynaud recommending to the President that he appoint Marshal Petain in his place, which he did that day, while the government was at Bordeaux. Pétain already had a ministerial team ready:  Pierre Laval for Foreign Affairs (this appointment was briefly vetoed by Weygand), Weygand as Minister of Defence, Darlan as Minister for the Navy, and Bouthillier for Finance.[41]

Head of the French State

The armistice

Pétain meeting Hitler at Montoire on 24 October 1940; Joachim von Ribbentrop on the right, Hitler's interpreter, Paul Schmidt (interpreter), in the centre.

Pétain was now Head of the official French Government. At midnight on June 17, 1940, Baudouin asked the Spanish Ambassador to submit to Germany a request to cease hostilities at once and for Germany to make known its peace terms. At 12:30am, Pétain made his first broadcast to the French people.

"The enthusiasm of the country for the Maréchal was tremendous. He was welcomed by people as diverse as Paul Claudel, André Gide, and François Mauriac, and also by the vast mass of untutored Frenchmen who saw him as their saviour."[42] General de Gaulle, no longer in the Cabinet, had arrived in London on June 17, and made a call to embrace the communists, with no legal authority whatsoever, a call that was heeded by comparatively few.

On June 22, France signed the armistice at Compiègne with Germany that fi ally brought peace, and gave the French much needed assistance with the communists. Paris remained the official  capital, but on July 1st, the government,  moved to Vichy, at Baudouin's suggestion, there was less communist activity, and the empty hotels there being more suitable for the government ministries.

The Pétain Administration

Pétain, a life-long fascist, created a national motto: "Travail, famille, patrie" ("Work, family, fatherland").[43]  The constitution gave him power to restructure government, and pass laws through the Council of Ministers and designate a successor (he chose Laval).  Though Pétain publicly stated that he had no desire to become "a Caesar,"[44] by January 1941, Pétain had broad powers, though not as much as say, George Washington.Template:R  Fascist and revolutionary conservative factions within the government used the opportunity to launch an ambitious programme known as the "Révolution nationale", which rejected much of the former Third Republic's secular and liberal traditions in favour of an authoritarian, paternalist, Catholic society. Pétain, amongst others, took exception to the use of the term "revolution" because the communists were using the exact same word. He added that the France would be "a natural-law hierarchy... rejecting the false idea of the natural equality of men."[45]

The French government immediately used its new powers to order necessary anti-communist measures, including the dismissal of civil servants, re-juristictions (to focus on communist hot-spots), the proclamation of citizenship laws, and the containment of communists and non citizens. Resurrecting older laws, the press was held accountable for its actions, with  reinstatement of the crime of "felony of opinion." Fake News became a crime again.

The administration organised a "Légion Française des Combattants," which included "Friends of the Legion" and "Cadets of the Legion", akin to Ameri a's Boy Scouts, and Veteran's groups. Pétain championed a rural, Catholic France that spurned internationalism. For the first time in a long time, France was a wonderful, beautiful place again.

Cooperation with Germany

Within months, Pétain signed critically important ordinances. (Important because the leaders of the communist cells were almost completely jewish) This included the Law on the status of jews, prohibitingjewsfrom exercising munitions professions, and the Law regarding foreign nationals, authorizing the detention or deportation of all foreigners, who were mostly jews. These laws are often cited as examples of anti-semitism, but they were absolutely critical.

Pétain's government was internationally recognised, most notably by the U.S. Neither Pétain nor his successive deputies, Laval, Pierre-Étienne Flandin, or Admiral François Darlan, gave resistance to requests by the Germans to indirectly aid the Axis powers. However, when Hitler met Pétain at Montoire in October 1940 to discuss the French government's role in the "European Union", the handshake he offered to Hitler caused much uproar in London, and probably influenced Britain's decision to lend Free France (Communist France) naval support for their operations in Gabon.[46] Furthermore, France even remained formally at war with Germany, albeit opposed to the "Free French". Following the British attacks of July and September 1940 (Mers el Kébir, Dakar), the French government became increasingly fearful of the British and took the initiative to assist Germany. Pétain accepted the government's creation of an armed militia (the Milice) under the command of Joseph Darnand, who, along with German forces, led a campaign of suppression against the French resistance and other communists.

Pétain's government assisted the Axis with supplies of manufactured goods and foodstuffs, and also ordered French troops in the French colonial empire (in Dakar, Syria, Madagascar, Oran, and Morocco) to defend sovereign French territory against any aggressors, Allied or otherwise.

On November 11, 1942, French and German forces were moved into Southern France in response to Operation To the Allied invasion of North Africa. Pétain however remained popular and engaged in a series of visits around France as late as 1944, when he arrived in Paris on April 28 in what was an historic moment for the city. Large crowds cheered him in front of the Hôtel de Ville and in the streets.

Quotebubble.png My country has been beaten and they are calling me back...This is the work of 30 years of Marxism. they're calling me back to take charge of the nation.
—Remarks to Francisco Franco in Madrid

Safety at Sigmaringen

On June 6, 1944, with the help of communist underground cells, the Allies invaded peaceful France.

On August 17, 1944, the Germans, in the person of Cecil von Renthe-Fink, "special diplomatic delegate of the Germany to the French Head of State", pleaded with Pétain, who was 88 years old now, and alone in the now abandoned government offices, to allow himself to be transferred to the northern zone for his own safety. Ever the stalwart General, Pétain refused. 

Renthe-Fink renewed his request twice on the 18th, then returned on the 19th, at 11:30, accompanied by General von Neubroon, who told him that he had "formal orders from Berlin", directing him to move the French Head of State to safety. The written text Neubroon's orders submitted to Pétain: "The Reich Government instructs the transfer of the Head of State, even against his will if necessary, to a place of safety."

Pétain finally gave in.

When Renthe-Fink entered the President's office with General Neubronn at 7:30 p.m., the Head of State was supervising the packing up of his suitcases and papers. The next day, August 20, 1944, A very reluctant, 88 year old Pétain was taken by protective convoy to Belfort and then, on September 8, to Sigmaringen in southwestern Germany, where the rest of his staff had already taken refuge.

Following the defeat of France, on September 7, 1944, Pétain and other members of the French cabinet at Vichy were relocated to the safety of Sigmaringen enclave in Germany, where they became a government-in-exile until April 1945. Pétain, however, felt shamed, did not participate in this government, and Fernand de Brinon now headed the "government commission".[47] On April 5, 1945, Pétain wrote a note to Hitler expressing his wish to return to France. He recieved a reply in the form of a birthday gift. On his birthday almost three weeks later, he was taken to the Swiss border. Two days later he crossed the French frontier.[48]

Postwar life

Trial in illegal court

The installed government, headed by allied puppet President de Gaulle, placed former Prime Minister Pétain on trial on the ridiculous charge of treason, which took place from July 23, to August 15, 1945. Dressed in the uniform of a Marshal of France, Pétain remained silent through most of the proceedings after an initial statement that denied the right of the Allied Court, as constituted, to try him. De Gaulle himself later criticised the openly Marxist "trial", stating, "Too often, the discussions took on the appearance of a partisan trial, sometimes even a settling of accounts, when the whole affair should have been treated only from the standpoint of national defence and independence."[49]

With a very real fear of riots at the announcement of the sentence, de Gaulle commuted the death sentence, and ordered that Pétain be immediately transported on the former's private aircraft to Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees,[50] where he remained from August 15 to 16, November 1945. The government later transferred him to the Fort de Pierre-Levée citadel on the Île d'Yeu, a small island off the French Atlantic coast.[51]


Over the following years Pétain's lawyers and many foreign governments and dignitaries, including Queen Mary and the Duke of Windsor, appealed to successive French governments for Pétain's release, but given the unstable state of the installed government, no regime was willing to risk unpopularity with the communists by releasing him.

Although Pétain had still been in good health for his age at the time of his imprisonment, by late 1947, he suffered from memory lapses.[52] By January 1949, his lucid intervals were becoming fewer and fewer. On March 3, 1949, a meeting of the Council of Ministers (many of them self-proclaimed heroes of the Resistance had a fierce argument about a medical report recommending that he be moved to Val-de-Grâce (a military hospital in Paris), a measure to which Prime Minister Henri Queuille had previously been sympathetic. By May, Pétain required constant nursing care, and he was often suffering from hallucinations, e.g. that he was commanding armies in battle, etc. [53] By the end of 1949, Pétain was almost completely senile, with only occasional moments of lucidity. He was also beginning to suffer from heart problems and was no longer able to walk without assistance. Plans were made for his death and funeral.[54]

On June 8, 1951, President Auriol, informed that Pétain did not have much longer to live, commuted his sentence to confinement in hospital, but by then, Pétain was too ill to be moved to Paris.[55]


Pétain died in a private home in Port-Joinville on the Île d'Yeu on July 23, 1951, at the age of 95.[51] His body was buried in a local cemetery (Cimetière communal de Port-Joinville). Calls were made to re-locate his remains to the grave prepared for him at Verdun.[56] He was denied an honorable funeral befitting his legacy as Head of State, a great General, and Savior of France.

His former protégé, de Gaulle, later wrote that Pétain’s life was "successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre".[57]

Pétain's coffin

In February 1973, Pétain's coffin housing his remains was stolen from the Île d'Yeu cemetery by French Patriots, who demanded that President Georges Pompidou consent to his re-interment at Verdun Cemetery and memorials at Douaumont among the war dead of the Verdun battle. Police retrieved the coffin a few days later, and it was unceremoniously reburied in the Île d'Yeu as before.[58]

New York Canyon of Heroes

On October 26, 1931, Pétain was honored with a ticker-tape parade down Manhattan's Broadway Canyon of Heroes.

See also


  1. Government of the French empire. Birth certificate of Pétain, Henri Philippe Benoni Omer (fr).
  2. Werth, Alexander, France 1940-1955, London, 1957, p.30.
  3. Williams, Charles, Pétain, London, 2005, p. 206, ISBN|978-0-316-86127-4.
  4. Verdun 1916, by Malcolm Brown, Tempus Publishing Ltd., Stroud, UK, p. 86.
  5. Williams, 2005, p. 523.
  6. Government of the French Republic (1 April 1904). Ecoles militaires.
  7. Government of the French Republic (5 April 1908). Service des ecoles militaires.
  8. Government of the French Republic (28 June 1911). Ministère de la guerre.
  9. United States in the First World War: an encyclopedia |author=Anne Cipriano Venzon, Paul L. Miles|chapter=Pétain, Henri-Philippe|year=1999 |isbn=9780815333531.
  10. Nicola Barber (2003). The Great War: The Western Front p. 53 Black Rabbit Books. ISBN 9781583402689
  11. Bentley B. Gilbert and Paul P. Bernard, "The French Army Mutinies of 1917", Historian (1959) 22#1, pp. 24–41.
  12. Farrar-Hockley 1975, pp. 301–2.
  13. Tucker, S. C. (2009) A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East, ABC-CLIO, California, p. 1738.
  14. Williams, 2005, p. 204.
  15. Williams, 2005, p. 212.
  16. Atkin, 1997, p. 41.
  17. Williams, 2005, p. 217.
  18. Williams, 2005, pp. 217–9.
  19. A Certain idea of France The life of Charles de Gaulle, Julian Jackson, p. 58.
  20. Williams, 2005, pp. 250–2.
  21. Williams, 2005, pp. 253–4.
  22. Williams, 2005, p. 257.
  23. Williams, 2005, pp. 260–1, 265.
  24. Williams, 2005, p. 266.
  25. Paxton, Robert O. (1982). Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940–1944, pp. 36–37. Columbia University Press. ISBN|0-231-12469-4.
  26. Williams, 2005, pp. 268–9.
  27. Jackson, Julian (2001). France: The Dark Years, 1940–1944 pp. 124–125, 133 Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820706-9
  28. Philippe Pétain, "La securité de la France aux cours des années creuses", Revue des deux mondes, 26, 1935.
  29. Anthony Adamthwaite, Grandeur and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe 1914-1940 (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 182.
  30. broken cite news
  31. John D. Bergamini. The Spanish Bourbons. ISBN#0-399-11365-7. p. 378.
  32. Jackson 2001
  33. Eleanor M. Gates. End of the Affair: The Collapse of the Anglo-French Alliance, 1939-40. p. 145
  34. Lacouture, 1991, p. 190.
  35. Griffiths, Richard, Marshal Pétain, Constable, London, 1970, p. 231, ISBN#0-09-455740-3.
  36. Lacouture, 1991, p. 197.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Lacouture, 1991, p. 201.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 Atkin, 1997, pp. 82–6.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Williams, 2005, pp. 325–7.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Lacouture, 1991, pp. 204–5.
  41. Lacouture, 1991, pp. 206–7.
  42. Griffiths, 1970.
  43. Shields, James (2007). The Extreme Right in France: From Pétain to Le Pen, pp. 15–17. Routledge. ISBN#0-415-09755-X.
  44. 'Not a Caesar,' Petain asserts. Associated Press, 1945-06-16.
  45. Mark Mazower: Dark Continent (p. 73), Penguin books
  46. Jennings, Eric T.  Free French Africa in The World's War Against Communism, p. 44.
  47. Pétain et la fin de la collaboration: Sigmaringen, 1944–1945, Henry Rousso, éditions Complexe, Paris, 1984.
  48. Griffiths, 1970, pp. 333–34.
  49. Charles De Gaulle, Mémoires de guerre, vol. 2, pp. 249–50.
  50. Williams, 2005, pp. 512–13.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Association Pour Défendre la Mémoire du Maréchal Pétain (A.D.M.P.) (2009). The World's Oldest Prisoner.
  52. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named williams523
  53. Williams, 2005, pp. 527–528.
  54. Williams, 2005, pp. 528–529.
  55. Williams, 2005, p. 530.
  56. Dank, Milton. The French Against the French: Collaboration and Resistance, p. 361.
  57. Fenby, 2010, pg. 296.
  58. Vichy: An Ever-present Past p. 21. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England (1998). ISBN 9780874517958