Philippe Pétain

General well-loved during the First World War, was at the head of the collaborationist Vichy government from 1940 to 1944, after the Second Armistice of Compiègne.

His military career

The beginnings

Enlisted at twenty, was trained at the ‘École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr military academy where he studied not particularly excel. He had several commands, none of which on theater of operations, despite the colonial period there was need for junior officers on the various military fronts.

The teaching military tactics and innovations

Assigned to the school in 1900 shooting of Châlons, clashed with the director, promoting a doctrine focused on accuracy rather than on the volume of fire.

He was added lecturer at the school of war, this time entering in conflict with Ferdinand Foch, but despite this he was soon after appointed professor of tactical infantry from 1904 to 1907 and from 1908 to 1911.

In this role, he was one of the architects of a small revolution, overturning along with Foch setting purely defensive troops appiedate, by virtue of a theory from 1867 until tactic that bound the commands to use and very useful little bloody infantry.

In an era in which the infantry was still the most decisive weapon of relief, Pétain advocated a more aggressive forces, theorizing that only the offensive could produce victory. His other processing objected to the provision, introduced in a codification of 1901, to carry out large bayonet charges.

In 1912, at Arras, was the first commander of a newly appointed lieutenant, whose career and reputation would have smiled in a way no less significant: Charles de Gaulle.

In 1913 he became very unpopular among the upper echelons of the ‘army, expressing strong criticism of an unfortunate attack ordered by General Gallet, conducted with the bayonet against machine gun nests by the outcome bloody. Indeed described that order as a negative example of one of the tactical mistakes that you should never commit. Proposed the maneuver and mobility of troops, against the static imposed by the high command.

In July 1914, Colonel-years old, he was refused the appointment as general and pondered leaving, the outbreak of the First World War. Brigade commander, he obtained good results in Belgium, gradually climbing up to grade general corps. Earned a strong influence on the troops, showing in an innovative way, especially careful to save $ as much as possible the lives of the soldiers.


In February 1916 he was in Verdun, head of the French front in a crucial battle, and I stopped the German advance.

In addition to the heroic resistance of the Fort de Vaux and his highly decorated commander Raynal, the charisma of Petain and his strategic acumen were among the decisive factors.

They remain notable about this battle, his insights on coordination of actions of the ‘Air Force (he had strongly supported the creation of the first division of aerial hunting that would bring help from heaven) with those of logistics: the memorable “Voie Sacré “(Sacred Way) was used to make constant supplies and reinforcements to the forefront and to help the wounded, while maintaining consistently high operational capacity and morale of the troops engaged, while on the opposite side a different organization did not prevent the gradual waning of offensive potential and motivation.

From the stars to stellette

On 1 May Pétain was replaced by General Nivelle in command of the 2nd Army; Nivelle, less attentive to the protection of his troops, he was taken by the Board of War of parliament a promising commander in chief of the French armies and replaced in this function Joseph Joffre, while Petain was offered the position, which was created specifically for him, as head of the General Staff.

At dawn on April 16, 1917, under the orders of Nivelle, began the battle of the Chemin des Dames, the Second Battle of the Aisne, which soon proved to be a disastrous defeat, capable of costing 100,000 loss in its first week and 350,000 total [9] , for a gain of land altogether paltry and insignificant. The real defeat was inside, this being the main cause of the mutinies of 1917, which came to trouble the two-thirds of the French units. Strong in the confidence that the troops acknowledged, especially for distinguishing himself right in the preservation of the lives of his soldiers, Petain was urgently called to replace Nivelle, meanwhile hygienically repaired colonies in Africa it.

Not without difficulty, re-established a certain moral abated much of the discontent and restored the hierarchical loyalty, by running, despite heavy political pressure, only a portion of the shootings. But most of all, to reassure and comfort the soldiers, could the reconquest of the Chemin des Dames, obtained quickly with minimal losses and risks very contained.

Nevertheless, Petain could boast illustrious opponents in Foch, Joffre and Clemenceau, who accused him of defeatism and unwillingness to attack. Become de facto coordinator of the allied troops, however, was ignored by them just when it proposed a deadly attack on Germany, which would be within the reach of the Allies and of easy success; instead accepted the request for an armistice.

A prestigious post-war

Appointed Marshal of France at the end of the war, was elected a member of the ‘Académie des sciences morales et politiques and September 14, 1920 was finally able to marry Eugénie Hardon, whose hand had confidently asked in 1901.

Later still he fought in Morocco in 1925 – 1926, at the head of a coalition Franco-Spanish, against the Berbers of Abd el-Krim who fought against colonialism in Ref. The victory was achieved thanks to the use of chemical weapons.

Petain was unanimously elected Academy of France. He was Minister of War in 1934 under the chairmanship of Gaston Doumergue; ousted during a “reshuffle”, its popularity grew significantly and in 1935, Gustave Hervé launched a campaign to support the cry of “C’est Petain qu’il nous faut “.

Appointed chairman of the Conseil supérieur de la Guerre, a body similar to Italian Supreme Defense Council, as such endorsement this time to address strategic defensive, against de Gaulle instead proposing a strengthening of offensive potential, for example through the widespread adoption of tank; therefore argued Joffre and “his” Maginot Line.

Vichy France

On 2 March 1939 he was ambassador to Spain at the caudillo Francisco Franco, and there remained in the first months of World War II until the breakup of the front operated by the Germans in May 1940. Petain was then called home and appointed deputy prime minister under Paul Reynaud. Shortly after, on June 14, France was occupied and institutions had to take refuge in Bordeaux. Two days later Reynaud resigned, indicating Petain, a convinced supporter of the opportunity to request an armistice, his ideal successor. The President of the Republic Albert Lebrun gave him the task, greeted by Charles Maurras as a “divine surprise.” On 22 June, France signed the armistice in Rethondes.

On June 29, the town of Vichy, in non-occupied territory, was chosen as the seat of the new government. On July 10 the joint session at the casino to Petain of Vichy conferred full powers for the drafting of a new constitution. State “collaborationist” he was Prime Minister until April 18, 1942 (the day on which gave the job to Pierre Laval) driving five toilets and Head of State until 1944.

The trial

With the liberation of France Petain was deported to Germany, in Sigmaringen, and only at the end of the war, April 24, 1945, was formed at the Swiss border to stand trial.

He was accused of treason and collaboration with the enemy. He was then filed a lawsuit in some ways was characterized by glaring shortcomings of Justice, as he considered the French historian Robert Aron.

During the process Pétain claimed to have “sacrificed for France,” he said without his action, seeking the favor of Hitler, the whole trans would have ended up in the hands of the Germans, with even worse consequences for citizens.

The line of defense was not convincing and he was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Charles De Gaulle.

He was interned at age 89 in L’Ile-d’Yeu, where he died six years later, receiving – the point of death – the refusal by the French government to his request for acceptance of their remains at the Ossuary Verdun. After World War II Petain became an idol of ‘extreme French right (a role that is attributed, to a lesser extent, even today), being the point of reference not only nostalgic of his government, but also of young nationalists.


Marshals of France

Members of the Académie française

Ministers of the French Republic

French personalities of the First World War

Personality of the Vichy Regime

Presidents of the French Republic

Prime Ministers of France

Knights of the Order of the White Eagle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *