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Philippe Petain

Philippe Petain

Chief of the French State:
: In office
11 July 1940 - 19 August 1944
Preceded by: Albert Lebrun (as President of the French Republic)
Succeeded by: Charles de Gaulle (as President of the Provisional Government)
119th Prime Minister of France:
: In office
16 June 1940 - 11 July 1940
Preceded by: Paul Reynaud
Succeeded by: Pierre Laval
(as Vice-President of the Council)
Pétain remained the nominal Head of Government until 18 April 1942
Minister of War of France:
: In office
9 February 1934 - 8 November 1934
Prime Minister: Gaston Doumergue
Preceded by: Joseph Paul-Boncour
Succeeded by: Louis Maurin
Minister of State:
: In office
1 June 1935 - 7 June 1935
Prime Minister: Fernand Bouisson
Born: 24 April 1856
Cauchy-x -la-Tour, Pas-de-Calais, French Empire
Died: 23 July 1951(1951-07-23) (aged 95)
xŽle d'Yeu, Vendée, France
Political party: None
Spouse(s): Eugénie Hardon Pétain
: Military service
Allegiance: France
Service/branch: French Army
Years of service: 1876-1934
Rank: Général de division
Battles/wars: Battle of Verdun
Rif Wars, Morocco
Awards: Marshal of France
Legion of Honor
Spanish Medalla Militar

Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain 24 April 1856 - 23 July 1951), generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain (Maréchal Pétain), was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France (Chef de l'x‰tat Franx§ais), from 1940 to 1944. Pétain, who was 84 years old in 1940, ranks as France's oldest head of state.

Because of his outstanding military leadership in World War I, particularly during the Battle of Verdun, he was viewed as a national hero in France. With the imminent French defeat in June 1940, Pétain was appointed Premier of France by President Lebrun at Bordeaux, and the Cabinet resolved to make peace with Germany. The entire government subsequently moved, briefly, to Clermont-Ferrand, then to the spa town of Vichy in central France. His government voted to transform the discredited French Third Republic into the French State, an authoritarian regime. As the war progressed, the government at Vichy collaborated with the Germans, who in 1942 finally occupied the whole of metropolitan France because of the threat from North Africa. Petain's actions during World War II resulted in what many regard as a show-trial, with conviction and death sentence for treason, which was commuted to life imprisonment by his former protégé Charles de Gaulle. In modern France he is remembered as an ambiguous figure while pétainisme is a derogatory term for certain reactionary policies.

Early life

Pétain was born in Cauchy-x -la-Tour (in the Pas-de-Calais département in Northern France) in 1856. His father was a farmer. Pétain joined the French Army in 1876 and attended the St Cyr Military Academy in 1887 and the x‰cole Supérieure de Guerre (army war college) in Paris. His career progressed very 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. Unlike many French officers, he served mainly in mainland France, never Indochina or many of the African colonies, although he participated in the Rif campaign in Morocco. As colonel, he commanded the 33rd Infantry Regiment at Arras from 1911; the 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), but having been told he would never become a general, had bought a house pending retirement - he was already 58 years old.

World War I

World War 1 Picture - Philippe Pétain at the time of World War I.

Picture - Philippe Pétain at the time of World War I.

At the end of August 1914 he was quickly promoted to brigadier-general and 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 again and became XXXIII Corps commander. After leading his corps in the spring 1915 Artois Offensive, in July 1915 he was given command of the Second Army, which he led in the Champagne Offensive that autumn. He acquired a reputation as one of the more successful commanders on the Western Front.

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 organize 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 x‰cole de Guerre (War College) before World War I: "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!" (roughly: We'll get them!)-an echoing of Joan of Arc- , the other famous quotation "Ils ne passeront pas!" (They shall not pass!) often attributed to him, is actually by Robert Nivelle, who succeeded him in command of the Second Army at Verdun in May 1916. At the very end of 1916, Nivelle was promoted over Petain to replace Joseph Joffre as French Commander-in-Chief.

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 Commander-in-Chief of the French army, replacing General Nivelle, whose Chemin des Dames offensive failed in April 1917, thereby provoking widespread mutinies in the French Army. Pétain put an end to the mutinies by selective punishment of ringleaders, but also by improving the soldiers' conditions (e.g. better food and shelter, and more leaves to visit their families), and promising that men's lives would not be squandered in fruitless offensives. Pétain conducted some successful but limited offensives in the latter part of 1917, unlike the British who stalled in an unsuccessful offensive at 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 FT17 tanks to be introduced in large numbers, hence his statement at the time: "I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans."

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 he had threatened to retreat on Paris, Pétain came to the aid of the British and secured the front with forty French divisions. Petain proved a capable opponent of the Germans both in defence and through counter-attack.

The crisis led to the appointment of Ferdinand Foch as Allied Generalissimo, initially with powers to co-ordinate and deploy Allied reserves where he saw fit. The third offensive, "Blx¼cher," in May 1918, saw major German advances on the Aisne, as the French Army commander (Humbert) ignored Pétain's instructions 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.

Pétain was made Marshal of France in November 1918.

Between the wars

Pétain was a bachelor until his sixties, and famous for his womanising. Women were said to find his piercing blue eyes especially attractive. At the opening of the Battle of Verdun he is said to have been fetched during the night from a Paris hotel by a staff officer who knew which mistress he could be found with. After the war Pétain married an old lover, "a particularly beautiful woman", Mme. Eugénie Hardon (1877-1962), on 14 September 1920. Hardon was divorced from Franx§ois de Hérain in 1914; although the couple were too old to have children (she had a son, Pierre de Hérain, from her first marriage), they remained married until the end of Pétain's life. 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 made a Marshal of France at Metz by President Raymond Poincaré on 8 December 1918. He was subsequently summoned to be present at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919, and was afterwards was appointed to France’s "top military job as Vice-Chairman of the revived 'Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre'".

He was encouraged 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. Pétain had placed before the government plans for a large tank and air force but "at the meeting of the 'Conseil Supérier de la Défense Nationale' of 12 March 1920 the Finance Minister, Francois Marsal, announced that although Pétain’s proposals were excellent they were unaffordable". In addition, Marsal announced reductions - in the army from fifty-five divisions to thirty, in the air force, and didn't even 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, now began to think seriously about a line of forts along the frontier with Germany, and their report was tabled on 22 May 1922. The three Marshalls supported this. The cuts in military expenditure meant that taking the offensive was now impossible and a defensive strategy was all they could have.

Pétain was appointed Inspector-General of the Army in February 1922 and produced, in concert with the new Chief of the General Staff, General Marie-Eugéne Debeney, the new army manual entitled Provisional Instruction on the Tactical Employment of Large Units, which soon became known as 'the Bible'. On 3 September 1925 Pétain was appointed sole Commander-in-Chief of French Forces in Morocco to launch a major campaign against the Rif tribes, in concert with the Spanish Army, which was successfully concluded by the end of October. He was subsequently decorated, at Toledo, by King Alfonso XIII with the Spanish Medalla Militar.

In 1924 the National Assembly was elected on a platform of reducing the length of national service to one year, to which Pétain was almost violently opposed. In January 1926 the Chief of Staff, General Debeney, proposed to the 'Conseil' a "totally new kind of army. Only 20 infantry divisions would be maintained on a standing basis". Reserves could be called up when needed. The 'Conseil' had no option in the straightened circumstances but to agree. Pétain, of course, disapproved of the whole thing, pointing out that North Africa still had to be defended and in itself required a substantial standing army. But he recognised, after the new Army Organisation Law of 1927, that the tide was flowing against him. He would not forget that the Radical leader, x‰douard Daladier, even voted against the whole package, on the grounds that the Army was still too large.

On 5 December 1925, after the Locarno Treaty, the 'Conseil' demanded immediate action on a line of fortifications along the eastern frontier to counter the already proposed decline in manpower. A new Commission for this purpose was established, under Joseph Joffre, and called for reports. In July 1927 Pétain himself went to reconnoitre the whole area. He returned with a revised plan and the Commission then proposed two fortified regions. The Maginot Line, as it came to be called, (named after André Maginot the former Minister of War) thereafter occupied a good deal of Pétain’s attention during 1928, when he also travelled extensively, visiting military installations up and down the country. Pétain had based his strong support for the Maginot Line on his own experience of the role played by the forts during the Battle of Verdun in 1916.

Captain Charles de Gaulle continued to be a protégé of Pétain throughout these years. He even named his eldest son after the Marshal before finally falling out over the authorship of a book he had said he had ghost-written for Pétain. Pétain finally retired as Inspector-General of the Army, aged 75, in 1931, the year he was elected a Fellow of the Académie franx§aise.

In 1928 Pétain had supported the creation of an independent air force removed from the control of the army, and on 9 February 1931 he was appointed Inspector-General of Air Defence. His first report on air defence, submitted in July that year, advocated increased expenditure. By 1932 economic skies had darkened and x‰douard Herriot’s government had made "severe cuts in the defence budget.....orders for new weapons systems all but dried up". 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 Weygand claimed that "the French Army was no longer a serious fighting force". Edouard Daladier’s new government retaliated to 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.

Political unease was sweeping the country and on 6 February 1934 the Paris police fired on a group of rioters outside the Chamber of Deputies, killing fourteen and wounding a further two hundred and thiry six. President Lebrun invited 71 year old Doumergue to come out of retirement and form a new "government of national unity". Maréchal Pétain was invited, on 8 February, 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. Generals Louis Franchet d'Espx¨rey and Hubert Lyautey (the latter suddenly died in July) added their names to the report. After the Autumn manoeuvres, 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, by Maurice Gamelin, that if the plebiscite in the 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. During this period, he repeatedly called for a lengthening of the term of compulsory military service for draftees entering the military service, from two to three years, to no avail.

Pétain accompanied President Lebrun to Belgrade for the funeral of King Alexander, who had been assassinated on 6 October in Marseille by a Croatian nationalist. Here he met Hermann Gx¶ring 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'". 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 what he saw as the decay in French moral values. 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. Interestingly, at this moment an article appeared in Le Petit Journal, a popular newspaper, calling for Pétain as a candidate for a dictatorship! 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 Pilsudski in May (and another cordial meeting with Goering).

He remained on the High Military Committee. Weygand had been at the British Army 1934 manoeuvres at Tidworth in June and was appalled by what he had seen. Addressing the Committee on the 23rd, Pétain claimed that it would be fruitless to look for assistance to Britain in the event of a German attack. On 1 March 1935 Pétain’s famous article appeared in the Revue des deux mondes where he reviewed the history of the army since 1927-28. He criticised the Militia (reservist) system in France, and her lack of adequate air power and armour. This article appeared just five days before 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 26 April 1936 the General Election results showed 5.5 million votes for The Left against 4.5 million for The Right on an 84% turnout. On 3 May Pétain was interviewed in Le Journal where he launched into an attack on the Franco-Soviet Pact, on Communism in general (France had the largest Communist Party in Western Europe), and on those who allowed Communists intellectual responsibility. He said that France had lost faith in her destiny. Pétain was now in his 80th year.

Some have argued, that Pétain, as France's most senior soldier after Foch's death, should bear some responsibility for the poor state of French weaponry preparation before World War II. But this is unfair as the Marshal was only one of many military and other men on a very large committee responsible for national defence. The interwar years were lean, to say the least, and governments constantly cut military budgets. In addition, with the restrictions imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty there seemed no urgency for vast expenditure until the advent of Hitler. It is argued that whilst Pétain supported the massive use of tanks he saw them mostly as infantry support, leading to the fragmentation of the French tank force into many types of unequal value spread out between mechanized cavalry (such as the SOMUA S-35) and infantry support (mostly the Renault R35 tanks and the Char B1 bis). Modern infantry rifles and machine guns were not manufactured, with the sole exception of a light machine-rifle, the Mle 1924. The French heavy machine gun was still the Hotchkiss M1914, a capable weapon but decidedly obsolete compared to the new automatic weapons of German infantry. A modern infantry rifle was adopted in 1936 but very few of these MAS-36 rifles had been issued to the troops by 1940. A well-tested French semiautomatic rifle, the MAS 1938-39, was ready for adoption but it never reached the production stage until after World War II as the MAS 49. As to French artillery it had, basically, not been modernized since 1918. The result of all these failings is that the French Army had to face the invading enemy in 1940, with the dated weaponry of 1918. Petain had been made, briefly, Minister of War in 1934, thus ministerially responsible for French military, aviation and the Navy as well. Yet his short period of total responsibility could not reverse 15 years of inactivity and constant cutbacks. The War Ministry was hamstrung between the wars and proved unequal to the tasks before them. French aviation entered the War in 1939 without even the prototype of a bomber aeroplane capable of reaching Berlin and coming back. French industrial efforts in fighter aircraft were dispersed among several firms (Dewoitine, Morane-Saulnier and Marcel Bloch), each with its own model. On the naval front France had purposely overlooked building modern aircraft carriers and focused instead on four new conventional battleships, not unlike the German Navy.

France and World War II

World War 1 Picture - The personal emblem of Philippe Pétain was a stylized francisca, which was featured on an order of merit and was used as Vichy France's informal emblem.[20]

Picture - The personal emblem of Philippe Pétain was a stylized francisca, which was featured on an order of merit and was used as Vichy France's informal emblem.[20]

On 24 May 1940, the the invading Germans pushed back the French Army. General Maxime Weygand expressed his fury at the British retreats and the promises of British fighter airplanes that did not materialize. He and marshal Petain regarded the military situation as hopeless. Premier Paul Reynaud said, before a parliamentary commission of inquiry in December 1950, that he said to Petain on that day that they must seek an armistice. Weygand said that he was in favor of saving the French army and that he “wished to avoid internal troubles and above all anarchy”. Churchill’s man in Paris, Spears, kept up continual pressure on the French, and on 31 May he met with Pétain and threatened France with not only a blockade, but bombardment of the French ports if an armistice was agreed. 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 threat, saying "your ally now threatens us".

World War 1 Picture - Personal Standard of Philippe Pétain

Picture - Personal Standard of Philippe Pétain

On 5 June, following the fall of Dunkirk, there was a Cabinet reshuffle, and Prime Minister Reynaud brought Pétain, Weygand, and the newly-promoted Brigadier-General de Gaulle, whose 4th Armoured Division had launched one of the few French counterattacks the previous month, into his War Cabinet, hoping that the trio might instill a renewed spirit of resistance and patriotism in the French Army. On 8 June, Baudouin dined with Chautemps, and both declared that the war must end. Paris was now threatened, and the government was preparing to depart, although Petain was opposed to such a move. During a cabinet meeting that day, Reynard argued about an armistice as he was worried about England. Petain replied that "the interests of France come before those of England. England got us into this position, let us now try to get out of it".

World War 1 Picture - Pétain meeting Hitler in October 1940.

Picture - Pétain meeting Hitler in October 1940.

On 10 June, the government left Paris for Tours. Weygand, the Commander-in-Chief, now declared that “the fighting had become meaningless” and he, Baudouin, and several members of the government were already set on an armistice. On 11 June, Churchill flew to the Chateau du Muguet, at Briar, near Orleans, where he put forward first his idea of a Breton redoubt, to which Weygand replied that it was just a 'fantasy'. Churchill then said the French should consider "guerrilla warfare" until the Americans came into the war, to which several cabinet members asked "when might that be" and received no reply. Pétain then replied that it would mean the destruction of the country. Churchill then said the French should defend Paris and repeated Clemenceau’s words "I will fight in front of Paris, in Paris, and behind Paris". To this, Churchill says, Pétain replied quietly and with dignity that he had in those days a strategic reserve of sixty divisions; now there was none. Making Paris into a ruin would not affect the final event. The following day the cabinet met, and Weygand again called for an armistice. He referred to the danger of military and civil disorder and the possibility of a Communist uprising in Paris. Pétain and Minister of Information Prouvost urged the Cabinet to hear Weygand out because "he was the only one really to know what was happening".

World War 1 Picture - Pétain on French stamps of 1944

Picture - Pétain on French stamps of 1944

Churchill returned on the 13th. Paul Baudouin met his plane and immediately spoke to him of the hopelessness of French resistance. Reynard then put the cabinet’s armistice proposals to Churchill, who replied that "whatever happened, we would level no reproaches against France". At that day’s Cabinet meeting, Pétain 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.

The government moved to Bordeaux, where French Governments had fled German invasions in 1870 and 1914, on 14 June. Parliament, both Senate and Chamber, was also there and involved themselves in the armistice debate. Reynard’s ambiguous position was becoming seriously compromised. Admiral Darlan was now in the armistice camp also. Reynard now proposed his alternative compromise: Complete surrender, and the army (after laying down its arms) leave the country and continue the fight from abroad. Weygand exploded and he and Pétain both said that such a capitulation would be dishonourable. The Cabinet was now split almost evenly. Camille Chautemps then said the only way to get agreement was to ask the Germans what their terms for an armistice would be and the cabinet voted 13 - 6 in agreement. The next day 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 Congress.

After lunch, President Albert Lebrun received two telegrams from the British saying they would only agree to an armistice if the French fleet was immediately sent to British ports. In addition, the British Government offered joint nationality for Frenchmen and Englishmen 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 subservient to Great Britain, as a kind of extra Dominion. Reynaud gave up and asked President Lebrun to accept his resignation as Prime Minister and nominated Maréchal Pétain in his place.

A new Cabinet was formed in the normal way, and at midnight on the 15th Baudouin was asking the Spanish Ambassador to submit to Germany a request to cease hostilities at once and for Germany to make known its peace terms. At 12:30 am, Maréchal 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 Claudel, Gide, and Mauriac, and also by the vast mass of untutored Frenchmen who saw him as their saviour." General de Gaulle, no longer in the Cabinet, had arrived in London on the 16th and made a call for resistance from there on the 18th, with no legal authority whatsoever from his government, which was heeded by comparatively few.

Cabinet and Parliament still argued between themselves on the question of whether or not to retreat to North Africa. On 18 June, Edouard Herriot (who would later be a - discredited - prosecution witness at Pétain's trial), Jeanneney (Presidents of the two Chambers of Parliament), and Lebrun said they wanted to go. Pétain said he was not departing. On the 20th, a delegation from the two chambers came to Pétain to protest at the proposed departure of President Lebrun. The next day, they went to Lebrun himself. In the event only 26 deputies and one single senator headed for Africa, amongst them Georges Mandel, Pierre Mendx¨s France, and the former Popular Front Education Minister, Jean Zay, all of whom had Jewish backgrounds. Petain broadcast again on that day.

On 22 June, France signed an armistice with Germany that gave Germany control over the north and west of the country, including Paris and all of the Atlantic coastline, but left the rest, around two-fifths of France's prewar territory, unoccupied. Paris remained the de jure capital. On 29 June, the French Government moved to Clermont-Ferrand where the first discussions of constitutional changes were mooted with Pierre Laval having personal discussions with President Lebrun (who had in the event not departed France). On 1 July, the government, finding Clermont too cramped, moved to the spa town of Vichy, at Baudouin’s suggestion, the empty hotels there being more suitable for the government ministries.

The Chamber of Deputies and Senate, meeting together as a "Congrx¨s," had an emergency meeting on 10 July to ratify the armistice. At the same time, the draft constitutional proposals were tabled. The Presidents of both Chambers both spoke, and said constitutional reform was necessary. The Congress voted 569-80 (with 18 abstentions) to grant the Cabinet the authority to draw up a new constitution, effectively "voting the Third Republic out of existence". On the next day, Pétain formally assumed near-absolute powers as "Head of State", but adding "this is not ancient Rome and I have no wish to be Caesar".

Pétain was reactionary by temperament and education, and quickly began blaming the Third Republic and its endemic corruption for the French defeat. In its place now came the new, more authoritarian regime. The republican motto of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" was swept aside and replaced with "Travail, famille, patrie" (Work, family, fatherland). Fascistic factions and revolutionary conservative factions within the new government used the opportunity to launch an ambitious program known as the "National Revolution," which rejected much of the former Third Republic's secular and liberal traditions in favour of an authoritarian and paternalist Catholic society. Pétain, amongst others, took exception to the use of the inflammatory term "revolution" to describe an essentially conservative movement, but otherwise willingly participated in the transformation of French society from "Republic" to "State." He added that the new France would be "a social hierarchy...rejecting the false idea of the natural equality of men."

The new government immediately used its new powers to order harsh measures, including the dismissal of republican civil servants, the installation of exceptional jurisdictions, the proclamation of anti-Semitic laws, and the imprisonment of opponents and foreign refugees. It organised a "Légion Franx§aise des Combattants," which included "Friends of the Legion" and "Cadets of the Legion," groups of those who had never fought but were politically attached to the new regime. Pétain championed a rural, Catholic France that spurned internationalism. As a retired Generalissimo, he ran the country on military lines. Being compromised and dependent on Germany, he and his government collaborated with Germany and even produced a legion of volunteers to fight in Russia. Pétain's government was nevertheless internationally recognized, notably by the USA, at least until the German occupation of the rest of France.

Neither Pétain nor his successive deputies, Pierre Laval, Pierre-x‰tienne Flandin or Admiral Franx§ois Darlan, gave significant resistance to requests by the Germans to indirectly aid the Axis Powers. Yet, when Hitler met Pétain at Montoire in October 1940 to discuss the French government's role in the new European Order, the Marshal "listened to Hitler in silence. Not once did he offer a sympathetic word for Germany." Furthermore, France remained neutral as a state, albeit opposed to the British organized Free French. After the British attack on 2 July 1940 Mers el Kébir and Dakar, the French government became increasingly Anglophobic and took the initiative to collaborate with the occupiers. Pétain accepted the government's creation of a collaborationist armed militia ("Milice") under the command of Joseph Darnand, who, along with German forces, led a campaign of repression against the French resistance ("Maquis"), notably the Communist factions. The honours that Darnand acquired included SS-Major. Pétain admitted Darnand into his government as Secretary of the Maintenance of Public Order (Secrétaire d'x‰tat au Maintien de l'Ordre). In August 1944, Pétain made an attempt to distance himself from the crimes of the militia by writing Darnand a letter of reprimand for the organisation's "excesses". The latter wrote a sarcastic reply, telling Pétain that he should have "thought of this before".

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

Pétain's motives are a topic of wide conjecture. Winston Churchill had spoken to M. Reynaud during the impending fall of France, saying of Pétain, "...he had always been a defeatist, even in the last war." Pétain's own position is nevertheless well established and recorded.

On 11 November 1942, German forces invaded the unoccupied zone of Southern France in response to the Allied Operation Torch landings in North Africa and Admiral Franx§ois Darlan's agreeing to support the Allies. Although the French government nominally remained in existence, civilian administration of almost all France being under it, Pétain became nothing more than a figurehead, as the Germans had negated the pretence of an "independent" government at Vichy. Pétain however remained popular and engaged on a series of visits around France as late as 1944, when he arrived in Paris on 28 April in what the newsreels described as a "historic" moment for the city. Vast crowds cheered him in front of the Hotel de Ville and in the streets.

After Liberation of France, on 7 September 1944 Pétain and other members of the French cabinet at Vichy were relocated by the Germans to Sigmaringen Germany, where they became a government-in-exile until April 1945. Pétain, however, having been forced to leave France, refused to participate and the 'government commission' became headed by Fernand de Brinon. In a note dated 29 October 1944 Pétain forbade de Brinon to use his name in any connexion with this new government, and on 5 April 1945 Pétain wrote a note to Hitler expressing his wish to return to France. No reply ever came. However on his birthday 19 days later he was taken to the Swiss border. Two days later he crossed the French frontier.

Postwar trial and legacy

World War 1 Picture - The Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees

Picture - The Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees

de Gaulle wrote later that Pétain's decision to return to France to face his accusers in person was "certainly courageous". De Gaulle's provisional government placed Pétain on trial, which took place from 23 July to 15 August 1945, for treason. He remained silent throughout most of the proceedings, after an initial statement that denied the right of the High Court, as presently constituted, to try him. De Gaulle himself was later to criticise the trial, saying: "Too often, the discussions took on the appearance of a partisan trial, sometimes even a settling of accounts, when the whole affair should only have been treated from the point of view of national defence and independence."

At the end of his trial, the three judges proposed Pétain's acquittal on all the charges laid against him. Furthermore, their joint advice and their own votes went against the death penalty, which in the event was passed by a majority of only one jury member, that of Louis Prot, the Communist deputy for the Somme. Maréchal Pétain was condemned to death, though on account of his great age (89), the Court asked that the verdict should not be executed. De Gaulle, who was President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic at the end of the war, commuted it to life imprisonment on the grounds of Pétain's age and his World War I contributions.

Pétain was nevertheless stripped of all his military ranks and honours except that of Maréchal (because Maréchal is a distinction conferred by a special personal law passed by the French Parliament, and under the principle of separation of powers a court does not have the power to reverse a law passed by Parliament).

De Gaulle, fearing riots at the announcement of the sentence, had Pétain removed immediately, on his (de Gaulle's) own private aircraft, to Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees. where he remained from 15 August to 16 November 1945. Later he was imprisoned in the Forte de Pierre citadel on the xŽle d'Yeu, an island off the Atlantic coast, where he soon became entirely senile, and required constant nursing care. He died on xŽle d'Yeu in 1951, at the age of 95. His body is buried at a marine cemetery near the prison. Calls are sometimes made to re-inter his remains in the grave prepared for him at Verdun.

In 1973, Petain's coffin was stolen from the Ile d'Yew Cemetery by extremists who demanded that French president Georges Pompidou consent to Petain's reburial at Dontamount Cemetery among the war dead. One week later, Petain's coffin was found in a garage in Paris, and those responsible for the grave robbery were arrested. Petain was ceremoniously reburied with a Presidential wreath on his coffin, but as before, on the Ile d'Yew prison island.

Mount Pétain on the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies was named for him in 1919; summits with the names of other French generals are nearby: Foch, Cordonnier, Mangin, Castelnau and Joffre.

Lists of the successive Pétain governments until 1942

Pétain's first government, 16 June - 12 July 1940

Camille Chautemps - Vice President of the Council
Paul Baudouin - Minister of Foreign Affairs
Maxime Weygand - Minister of National Defence
Louis Colson - Minister of War
Charles Pomaret - Minister of the Interior
Yves Bouthillier - Minister of Finance and Commerce
André Février - Minister of Labour
Charles Frémicourt - Minister of Justice
Franx§ois Darlan - Minister of Military and Merchant Navy
Bertrand Pujo - Minister of Air
Albert Rivaud - Minister of National Education
Jean Ybarnegaray - Minister of French Family and Veterans
Albert Chichery - Minister of Agriculture and Supply
Albert Rivix¨re - Minister of Colonies
Ludovic-Oscar Frossard - Minister of Public Works and Transmissions


23 June - Adrien Marquet and Pierre Laval enter the Cabinet as Ministers of State
27 June 1940 - Adrien Marquet succeeds Pomaret as Minister of the Interior. André Février succeeds Frossard as Minister of Transmissions. Frossard remains Minister of Public Works. Charles Pomaret succeeds Février as Minister of Labour.

Pétain's second government, 12 July - 6 September 1940

Philippe Pétain - Head of State and President of the Council
Pierre Laval - Vice President of the Council
Paul Baudouin - Minister of Foreign Affairs
Maxime Weygand - Minister of National Defence
Louis Colson - Minister of War
Adrien Marquet - Minister of the Interior
Yves Bouthillier - Minister of Finance
René Belin - Minister of Industrial Production and Labour
Raphax«l Alibert - Minister of Justice
Franx§ois Darlan - Minister of the Navy
Bertrand Pujo - Minister of Aviation
x‰mile Miraud - Minister of Public Instruction
Pierre Caziot - Minister of Agriculture and Supply
Henry Lémery - Minister of Colonies
Jean Ybarnegaray - Minister of Youth and Family
Franx§ois Piétri - Minister of Communication

Pétain's third government, 6 September 1940 - 25 February 1941

Philippe Pétain - Head of State and President of the Council
Pierre Laval - Vice President of the Council
Paul Baudouin - Minister of Foreign Affairs
Charles Huntziger - Minister of National Defence
Marcel Peyrouton - Minister of the Interior
Yves Bouthillier - Minister of Finance
René Belin - Minister of Industrial Production and Labour
Raphax«l Alibert - Minister of Justice
Franx§ois Darlan - Minister of the Navy
Jean Bergeret - Minister of Aviation
Georges Ripert - Minister of Public Instruction and Youth
Pierre Caziot - Minister of Agriculture and Supply
Charles Platon - Minister of Colonies
Jean Berthelot - Minister of Communication


28 October 1940 - Pierre Laval succeeds Baudouin as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
13 December 1940 - Pierre Laval loses his positions. Pierre x‰tienne Flandin succeeds Laval as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Jacques Chevalier succeeds Ripert as Minister of Public Instruction and Youth. Paul Baudouin becomes Minister of Information
2 January 1941 - Paul Baudouin ceases to be Minister of Information, and the office is abolished.
27 January 1941 - Joseph Barthélemy succeeds Alibert as Minister of Justice.
10 February 1941 - Franx§ois Darlan succeeds Flandin as Minister of Foreign Affairs

Pétain's fourth government, 25 February - 12 August 1941

Philippe Pétain - Head of State and President of the Council
Franx§ois Darlan - Vice President of the Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the Interior, and Minister of the Navy
Charles Huntziger - Minister of National Defence
Yves Bouthillier - Minister of Finance and National Economy
Pierre Pucheu - Minister of Industrial Production
René Belin - Minister of Labour
Joseph Barthélemy - Minister of Justice
Jean Bergeret - Minister of Aviation
Jérx´me Carcopino - Minister of National Education and Youth
Pierre Caziot - Minister of Agriculture
Jean-Louis Achard - Minister of Supply
Charles Platon - Minister of Colonies
Jacques Chevalier - Minister of Family and Health
Jean Berthelot - Minister of Communication
Henri Moysset - Minister of Information


18 July 1941 - Pierre Pucheu succeeds Darlan as Minister of the Interior. Darlan retains his other posts. Franx§ois Lehideux succeeds Pucheu as Minister of Industrial Production.

Pétain's fifth government, 12 August 1941 - 18 April 1942

Philippe Pétain - Head of State and President of the Council
Franx§ois Darlan - Vice President of the Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of National Defence, and Minister of the Navy
Pierre Pucheu - Minister of the Interior
Yves Bouthillier - Minister of Finance and National Economy
Franx§ois Lehideux - Minister of Industrial Production
René Belin - Minister of Labour
Joseph Barthélemy - Minister of Justice
Jean Bergeret - Minister of Aviation
Jérx´me Carcopino - Minister of National Education and Youth
Pierre Caziot - Minister of Agriculture
Paul Charbin - Minister of Supply
Charles Platon - Minister of Colonies
Serge Huard - Minister of Family and Health
Jean Berthelot - Minister of Communication
Paul Marion - Minister of Information and Propaganda
Henri Moysset - Minister of State
Lucien Romier - Minister of State

French Army Mutinies (1917)
Vichy France

Further reading

Among a vast number of books and articles about Pétain, the most complete and documented biographies are:

Richard Griffiths, Pétain, Constable, London, 1970, ISBN 0-09-455740-3
Herbert R. Lottman,Philippe Pétain, 1984
Nicholas Atkin, Pétain, Longman, 1997
Charles Williams, Pétain, Little Brown (Time-Warner Book Group UK), London, 2005, p. 206, ISBN 0-316-86127-9

More aircraft.

Source: WikiPedia

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