Philippe Petain

Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain ( Cauchy-à-la-Tour , France , 24 of April of 1856 – Port-Joinville , Ile d’Yeu , France , 23 of July of 1951 ) was ageneral and French politician , member of the Academy French (until 1945) and head of State of the France of Vichy from the 11 of July of 1940 until the 25 of August of 1944 .

He participated brilliantly in World War I , a performance that earned him the name of ” Verdun’s victor ” ( French : vainqueur de la bataille de Verdun ), becoming chief of the General Staff and acquiring a great prestige in the face of society French. He was also minister of war in 1934 , ambassador to Spain in 1939 , prime minister in 1940 and later head of state of the Vichy regime in Nazi Germany occupied by France . He maintained a collaborationist policy with the Nazis, which at the end of the war brought him degradation and sentencing to death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment .


World War I

From the beginning of the war, he distinguished himself in Belgium at the head of an infantry brigade. At this time he was appointed general. His military actions were brilliant and had the particularity of avoiding at all costs the casualties, which earned him the recognition of his troops. In front of II French Army intervened in the victory of Champagne in September 1915 .

In February of 1916 he commanded the French troops in Verdun, and the victory in that battle deserves a great charisma to him, although the boldness of its troops was a decisive factor to reach the victory. His strategic vision allowed him to understand that the best soldier in the world will be defeated if he is not provisioned, evacuated in case of injuries or relieved after hard fighting. Pétain had in his army a continuous supply through the Voie-sacrée (a strategic route between Bar-le-Duc and Verdun), which had the replacement of troops, ambulances, ammunition trucks and supplies, which it would be called a system retroalimentativo wheel . Conscious of the importance of aviation in the fighting, Pétain created in 1916 the first division of air hunting to clear the sky of Verdun. From now on, in the eyes of all, he will be the “victor of Verdun.”

In 1917 General Robert Georges Nivelle took command of the French Army, while Joseph Joffre was the commander of the front of the northeast. General Petain, meanwhile, was appointed chief of the General Staff , a post created specifically for him. He was then opposed to Nivelle, whose actions contrasted with the care in the lows Pétain sought so much. In the middle of April of 1917 , in the battle of the Chemin des Dames , the French army had the number of 100 000 casualties. Although the French won, the discontent was general, causing a series of riots in numerous units. Before the serious situation, Nivelle was retired of the charge, and Pétain assumed like the new commander in chief of the French Armed Forces. Immediately he began to improve the living conditions of the soldiers, put an end to the ill-prepared offensives and condemned the riots. Only a small minority of the mutineers were shot in spite of the demands of the politicians. In October of 1917, it snatched the Chemin des Dames from the Germans, with offensives that were quite economic in losses of lives. Some refuted the mythical title of “victor of Verdun” and considered that Pétain’s reputation was mainly due to his influence on the morale of the combatants, thanks to his “human” measures and his will to avoid useless offenses, rather than his Military qualities Among them were Joffre, Foch and Clemenceau , who saw a sign of defeatism in Pétain’s extreme caution.

At the beginning of 1918 , Pétain was involved in the return of Foch, who had been separated with Nivelle. From then on, it would be in charge of the coordination of all the allied troops, where Foch would act like supreme head. In October of 1918 , Pétain prepared a great offensive that would take to the French-American troops until German territory. Scheduled for November 13, the offensive did not take place, as Clemenceau and Foch accepted the armistice proposed by Germany. After victory in the war, Pétain was elevated to the dignity of Marshal of France the 19 of November of 1918. He received the baton of marshal the 8 of December of that year, in the city of Metz .

Interwar period

In 1919 , Petain was elected a member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences . The 14 as September as 1920 , when he was 64, married with Eugénie Hardon, with which it would offspring. French troops under Petain, in collaboration with Spain (250,000 men in total), undertook a campaign in Morocco between 1925 and 1926 against the forces of Abd el-Krim , head of the ephemeral Rif Republic . The Franco-Spanish troops managed to emerge victorious, thanks in part to the use of chemical weapons . [ Citation needed ] The 20 of June of 1929 was unanimously elected member of the French Academy , which would replace the Marshal Foch .

Pétain during the government crisis of 1934 , when he was appointed Minister of War .

The 9 of February of 1934 is appointed Minister of War in the government of Gaston Doumergue , position that would occupy until the change of the cabinet the 8 of December of 1934 . It is at this time that Pétain enjoys a very high popularity. While Hitler begins the rearmament of Germany , from Paris the military budget is reduced. This short experience in a ministry spoiled him with parliamentarism , and would reject any subsequent offer. Later he presided over the Superior Council of War, where he would prevail the politics of defensive war, and would reject the propositions of offensive war, like those of the then Colonel Charles de Gaulle , who recommended the concentration of cars inside the armored divisions. The governments of the late 1920s , at the instigation of the highest military authorities, devoted great budgetary efforts to the construction of lines of defense.

The 2 of March of 1939 Pétain was named ambassador of France in Spain . On March 20 of that year he presented his credentials to General Francisco Franco , head of the Spanish State, then resident in Burgos , as the Spanish Civil War had not yet officially ended . In the name of the diplomatic rapprochement between France and Spain, Franco asked him to supervise the repatriation to Madrid of the gold reserves of the Bank of Spain and canvases of the Prado Museum that the old Spanish Republic had transferred to French protection during the war.

Spring 1940

The 17 of maypole of 1940 he was appointed deputy chairman in the government of Paul Reynaud . On 14 June, Paris was taken over and occupied by the Wehrmacht troops . The Government, the President of the Republic and the assemblies took refuge in Bordeaux . Since joining the government, Pétain has become one of the strongest advocates for an armistice with President Reynaud. On June 16, Reynaud resigned and suggested, with the support of the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies , to entrust the presidency of the Council to Marshal Pétain, an election that would be approved by President Albert Lebrun .

On June 17 , with the advice of the Chief of Staff, General Maxime Weygand , Petain announced its intention to request the armistice , which was signed on 22 of June of 1940 in Rethondes , after being approved by the Council of Ministers And by the President of the Republic. On June 29 , the Government settled in the city of Vichy , an area not occupied by the Wehrmacht . Pierre Laval is the person who had insisted more on the establishment of the government in that city, in order to avoid seeking refuge in Lyons or Toulouse , old bastions of the left. The city of Vichy had the advantages of having a very efficient telephone network and a large number of hotels, which would be requisitioned to accommodate different ministries and embassies.

On July 10 a “constitutional” law was passed in the two chambers meeting in the National Assembly in the Vichy casino . The law will give Marshal Petain all government powers and seek the promulgation of a new constitution, which would never see the light, and the French state would remain throughout Pétain’s term as a de facto provisional government . The constitutionality of this reform was questioned for many reasons, including the fact that the French Constitution can not be modified under the direct threat of an enemy. Above all, the separation of powers referred to in the Constitution of 1875 was not respected, and it seemed that the different powers rested on one person.

The Vichy regime

Counting on the reputation of the “victor of Verdun”, the collaborationist regime decided to exploit the prestige of Marshal Pétain and began to spread a cult of the personality of the new leader: photos of the Marshal are in the windows of all businesses, on the walls Of the city, in all administrative offices, as well as in all educational institutions and youth organizations. Public freedoms were suspended, as were political parties, and all unions were unified in an organization of labor corporatism, at the same time as exceptional jurisdictions appeared.

The regime of Vichy intended to realize a “National Revolution”, although its principles contradicted those of the French Revolution of 1789 . The motto of the regime was “Labor, Family, Patria” (in French: Travail, Famille, Patrie ). In his longings for the restoration of France , the Government created in a short time, under the direction of General Joseph de La Porte du Theil , fields of formation for the youths, which would later become the Quarries of the French Youth . The idea was to bring together a whole generation of French people and, through a life of formation, to instill in them the moral values ​​of the new regime. At the same time, military service was abolished. In the economic field, other means of control are put in place, such as the professional committees of organization and distribution, which had a jurisdictional power over their members and a power to distribute raw materials, which represented a capital power in the context Of generalized restrictions that the Second World War meant . Parallel to the development of a centralized power, the Marshal was dedicated to the “uprising of France”, which included repatriation of refugees, demobilization, a system of supply, maintenance of order and national unity. Pétain was the guarantor of Germany’s respect for the conventions of the armistice. Various measures were taken to organize the regime, such as the creation of a Ministry of Reconstruction, the unification of the building permit and a family policy. Smoking was prohibited in the halls and the mother’s day was established.

In October 1940 and without Berlin , laws of exclusion against Masons and Jews were precipitously enacted, which would be hardened the following year. The laws also excluded the French from the “Jewish race” (determined by the religion of their fathers) of participation in public activities and administration. Attempts were also made to limit the number of Jewish students in universities, a move that was rejected by a large part of the university community. During the period of the armistice the “French Legion of Combatants” was created, to which the “Friends of the Legion” and the “Cadets of the Legion” would be added. The Legion was founded by Xavier Vallat on August 29, 1940 and was presided over by Marshal Pétain. For the Vichy regime, the new Legion should serve as spearhead of the National Revolution and the regime itself.

Within this Legion a Legionary Order Service was established, which would be immediately dedicated to the collaboration with Berlin . Commanded by Joseph Darnand , hero of the First World War and the campaign of 1940 , this organism becomes January of 1943 in the French Militia . At the end of the war, when Vichy had finally become a regime at the service of the Germans, a part of the Militia (which has about 30,000 men) is actively involved in the struggle against the Resistance , with the public support of Marshal Pétain and Pierre Laval , its official president.

The collaboration with the Nazi Germany

Encounter between Petain and Adolf Hitler in October 1940 .

In his foreign policy, Petain, after three months of being officially neutral between the Axis and the Allies, through a radio address on 30 October 1940, favored a policy of collaboration with the Axis and, in particular, with Germany. Even depending heavily on that country, the obedience of the Vichy regime was guaranteed, retaining about two million prisoners (in concentration camps or used as a labor force). Pétain avoided supporting Hitler by entering the war with the Axis, as the Führer intended, and asked him in the interview they held in Montoire , on October 24, 1940. 1

Even so, the collaboration of the regime was especially notable in its complicity with the Holocaust : 149,000 Jews were deported, and only 10% of them returned. 1 This state collaboration had several consequences. The marshal avoided protesting against the exactions of the German invader and his French auxiliaries, as well as against annexation, contrary to the armistice convention, of Alsace – Lorraine and the Moselle River by Germany. However, Pétain condemned the “terrorist crimes” of the Resistance or Allied bombings on civilian targets, in addition to encouraging members of the Legion of French Volunteers who fought in the USSR in German uniform. When the Allies landed in North Africa the 8 of November of 1942 , Petain gave the order to fight his generals established in Algeria and Morocco , and the French troops stationed there fought three days of bloody fighting against the Anglo – Saxon troops.

The end

The dissidence of most of the French colonial empire , the German occupation of the “free zone,” the self-defense of the French fleet at Toulon on November 27 , 1942, and the dissolution of the Armistice Army made Vichy lose his last victories To the Germans. Maintaining its collaborative policy, Pétain lost much of its popularity in 1940 and the Resistance intensified despite the tightening of repression: 70,000 prisoners in the regime’s jails, whose judges issued 10,000 death sentences. 1

The 20 of August of 1944 , Marshal Petain was taken against his will to Sigmaringen ( Germany ), where the dignitaries of his regime took refuge. Far from resigning, he sent a letter to the French where he was called the “moral chief of France.” The 24 as April as 1945 he decided to cross the border with Switzerland and then delivered to the French authorities, which happened on 26 April as as 1945 .

Last years

Judicial process

The Fort du Portalet, in the Pyrenees, where Marshal Pétain was admitted in 1945.

Marshal Petain process began on 23 of July of 1945 before the Supreme Court . Defended by Jacques Isorni, Philippe Pétain declared on the first day of the trial that he had always been a discreet ally of General Charles de Gaulle , and that his responsibility concerned only France and the French who had appointed him in the government, not the court of Justice. In those circumstances, he refused to answer the questions. Following the appearance of numerous witnesses, the process ended on 15 August : he was convicted of engaging in intelligence activities with the enemy and high treason , and sentenced to death , “national degradation” and confiscation of his property. The death penalty was commuted, due to its advanced age, by the one of life imprisonment. As part of the national degradation, he was expelled from the French Academy, although his armchair was not occupied until after his death.

Imprisonment and death

Marshal Petain was admitted to the Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees , from 15 August to 16 of November of 1945 , and was later transferred to Fort de la Citadelle, on the island of Yeu . His wife also moved to the island and would be favored with the right to visit her husband daily. The health of the Marshal declined considerably in early 1951 , losing more and more lucidity. Vincent Auriol , President, seeing the end close, authorized 8 of July of 1951 his release from prison. Thus, Pétain was transferred to a private house in Port-Joinville , on the same island of Yeu, on June 29 , where he would die a few days later, on July 23 . Their remains were buried in the seafaring cemetery of Yeu. Despite his sentence, Philippe Pétain always preserved his dignity as Marshal of France , as it appeared in his death certificate.

The tomb of Marshal Pétain was decorated with flowers in 1966 and 1976 , commemorating the Battle of Verdun . During the administration of François Mitterrand , the tomb was filled with flowers for several consecutive years between 1984 and 1992 , but that practice ceased after the protest of the French Jewish community.


  1. ↑ Jump to:a b c Solar, David: «Pétain, hero or traitor?». Magazine The adventure of history . 70th anniversary of World War II, no. 2. February 2009.