Philippe Pétain

Please add an image!
Birth Date:
Death date:
Person's maiden name:
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Pétain
General, Hero of nation, Marshal, Military person, Politician, Prime minister, Statesman
L'ile-d'yeu (Port Joinville) Communal Cemetery

Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Pétain (24 April 1856 – 23 July 1951), commonly known as Philippe Pétain ( Marshal Pétain (French: Maréchal Pétain), was a French general who attained the position of Marshal of France at the end of World War I, during which he became known as The Lion of Verdun (French: le lion de Verdun).

From 1940 to 1944, during World War II, he served as head of the collaborationist regime of Vichy France. Pétain, who was 84 years old in 1940, remains the oldest person to become the head of state of France.

During World War I, 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 le vieux Maréchal (The Old Marshal).

With the imminent Fall of France and the Cabinet wanting to ask for an armistice, on 17 June 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. The Cabinet then resolved to sign armistice agreements with Germany and Italy. The entire government subsequently moved briefly to Clermont-Ferrand, then to the spa town of Vichy in central France. The government voted to transform the French Third Republic into the French State or Vichy France, an authoritarian regime that collaborated with the Axis. After Germany and Italy occupied and disarmed France in November 1942, Pétain's government worked very closely with the Nazi German military administration.

After the war, Pétain was tried and convicted for treason. He was originally sentenced to death, but due to his age and World War I service his sentence was commuted to life in prison. His journey from military obscurity, to hero of France during World War I, to collaborationist ruler during World War II, led his successor Charles de Gaulle to write that Pétain's life was "successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre".

Early life

Pétain was born into a peasant family in Cauchy-à-la-Tour, in the Pas-de-Calais department, northern France, on 24 April 1856. He was one of five children of Omer-Venant Pétain, a farmer, and Clotilde Legrand, their only son. His father had previously lived in Paris, where he worked for photography pioneer Louis Daguerre, before returning to the family farm in Cauchy-à-la-Tour following the Revolution of 1848. One of his great-uncles, a Catholic priest, Father Abbe Lefebvre (1771–1866), served in the Grande Armée during the Napoleonic Wars.

Pétain's mother died when he was 18 months old, and he was raised by relatives after his father remarried. He attended the Catholic boarding school of Saint-Bertin in the nearby town of Saint-Omer. In 1875, with the intention of preparing for the Saint-Cyr Military Academy, Pétain enrolled in the Dominican college of Albert-le-Grand in Arcueil.

Early military career

Pétain was admitted to Saint-Cyr in 1873, beginning his career in the French Army. Between graduating in 1878 and 1899, he served in various garrisons with different battalions of the chasseurs, 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, and following promotion to lieutenant-colonel was promoted to professor on 3 April 1908. He was brevetted to colonel on 1 January 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 campaign in Morocco. As colonel, he was given command of the 33rd Infantry Regiment at Arras on 25 June 1911; 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.

First World War

Beginning of war

Pétain led his brigade at the Battle of Guise (29 August 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 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.

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 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!" (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"!) – was actually uttered 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 Pétain 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 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. He held 3400 courts martial; 554 mutineers were sentenced to death but over 90% had their sentences commuted. The mutinies were kept secret from the Germans and their full extent and intensity were not revealed until decades later. Gilbert and Bernard find multiple causes:

The immediate cause was the extreme optimism and subsequent disappointment at the Nivelle offensive in the spring of 1917. Other causes were pacifism, stimulated by the Russian Revolution and the trade-union movement, and disappointment at the nonarrival of American troops.

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 FT tanks to be introduced in large numbers, hence his statement at the time: J'attends les chars et les Américains ("I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans").

End of war

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 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 (sic) in open country, then they'll beat us as well"). He reported this conversation to President Poincaré, adding "surely a general should not speak or think like that?" Haig recorded that Pétain had "a terrible look. He had the appearance of a commander who had lost his nerve". Pétain believed – wrongly – that Gough's Fifth Army had been routed like the Italians at Caporetto. 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 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. After the war ended Pétain was made Marshal of France on 21 November 1918.

The armistice

A new Cabinet with Pétain as head of government was formed, with Henry du Moulin de Labarthète as the Cabinet Secretary. At midnight on 17 June 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 12:30 am, 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 17 June and made a call for resistance from there on 18 June, with no legal authority whatsoever, a call that 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, Édouard Herriot (who would later be a prosecution witness at Pétain's trial) and Jeanneney, the presidents of the two Chambers of Parliament, as well as Lebrun said they wanted to go. Pétain said he was not departing. On 20 June, 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 1 senator headed for Africa, amongst them those with Jewish backgrounds, Georges Mandel, Pierre Mendès France, and the former Popular Front Education Minister, Jean Zay. Pétain made a broadcast again to the French people on that day.

On 22 June, France signed an armistice at Compiègne 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 Vichy, at Baudouin's suggestion, the empty hotels there being more suitable for the government ministries.

State collaboration with Germany  

Within months, Pétain signed antisemitic ordinances. This included the Law on the status of Jews, prohibiting Jews from exercising numerous professions, and the Law regarding foreign nationals of the Jewish race, authorizing the detention of foreign Jews. Pétain's government was nevertheless internationally recognised, notably by the U.S., at least until the German occupation of the rest of France. Neither Pétain nor his successive deputies, Laval, Pierre-Étienne Flandin, or Admiral François Darlan, gave significant resistance to requests by the Germans to indirectly aid the Axis powers. When Hitler met Pétain at Montoire in October 1940 to discuss the French government's role in the new "European Order", the handshake he offered to Hitler caused much uproar in London, and probably influenced Britain's decision to lend Free France naval support for their operations in Gabon. 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 collaborate with the occupiers. Pétain accepted the government's creation of a collaborationist armed militia (the Milice) under the command of Joseph Darnand, who, along with German forces, led a campaign of repression against the French resistance ("Maquis").

Pétain admitted Darnand into his government as Secretary of the Maintenance of Public Order (Secrétaire d'État au Maintien de l'Ordre). In August 1944, Pétain tried to distance himself from the crimes of the Milice by writing Darnand a letter of reprimand for the organisation's "excesses". Darnand sarcastically replied that Pétain should have "thought of this before".

Pétain's government acquiesced to Axis demands for large 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.

Pétain's motives are a topic of wide conjecture. Winston Churchill had spoken to Reynaud during the impending fall of France, saying of Pétain, "... he had always been a defeatist, even in the last war [World War I]."

On 11 November 1942, German forces invaded the unoccupied zone of Southern France in response to Allied landings in North Africa and Admiral Darlan's agreement 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 in a series of visits around France as late as 1944, when he arrived in Paris on 28 April in what Nazi propaganda newsreels described as a "historic" moment for the city. Large crowds cheered him in front of the Hôtel de Ville and in the streets.

On 17 August 1944, the Germans, in the person of Cecil von Renthe-Fink, "special diplomatic delegate of the Führer to the French Head of State", asked Pétain to allow himself to be transferred to the northern zone. Pétain refused and asked for a written formulation of this request. 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". The written text is submitted to Pétain: "The Reich Government instructs the transfer of the Head of State, even against his will". Faced with the Marshal's continued refusal, the Germans threatened to bring in the Wehrmacht to bomb Vichy. After having requested the Swiss ambassador Walter Stucki  to bear witness to the Germans' blackmail, Pétain submitted. When Renthe-Fink entered the Marshal's office at the Hôtel du Parc 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, 20 August 1944, Pétain was taken against his will by the German army to Belfort.

Following the liberation of France, on 8 September 1944, Pétain and other members of the French cabinet at Vichy were relocated by the Germans to the Sigmaringen enclave in Germany, where they became a government-in-exile until April 1945. Pétain, however, having been forced to leave France, refused to participate in this government and Fernand de Brinon now headed the "government commission". In a note dated 29 October 1944, Pétain forbade de Brinon to use the Marshal's name in any connection 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 almost three weeks later, he was taken to the Swiss border. Two days later he crossed the French frontier.


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 Fourth Republic politics, no government was willing to risk unpopularity by releasing him. As early as June 1946, U.S. President Harry S. Truman interceded in vain for his release, even offering to provide political asylum in the U.S. A similar offer was later made by the Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco.

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. 

By January 1949, his lucid intervals were becoming fewer and fewer. On 3 March 1949, a meeting of the Council of Ministers (many of them "self-proclaimed heroes of the Resistance" in the words of biographer Charles Williams) 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, or that naked women were dancing around his room. 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.

On 8 June 1951, President Vincent Auriol, informed that Pétain did not have much longer to live, commuted his sentence to confinement in hospital; the news was kept secret until after the elections on 17 June, but by then, Pétain was too ill to be moved to Paris.

Death and burial

Pétain died in a private home in Port-Joinville on the Île d'Yeu on 23 July 1951, at the age of 95. His body was buried in a local cemetery (Cimetière communal de Port-Joinville).[31] Calls were made to re-locate his remains to the grave prepared for him at Verdun.

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

In February 1973, Pétain's coffin housing his remains was stolen from the Île d'Yeu cemetery by extremists, who demanded that President Georges Pompidou consent to its re-interment at Douaumont cemetery among the war dead of the Verdun battle. Police retrieved the coffin a few days later, and it was ceremoniously reburied with a presidential wreath in the Île d'Yeu as before.

A small museum glorifying Pétain, the Historical Museum of the Île d’Yeu, displays writings and personal items of Pétain, such as his deathbed, his clothes and his cane. The museum is not publicized and rarely opens – according to its manager, to "avoid trouble".

Personal life

Pétain was a bachelor until his sixties, and known for his womanising. After World War I Pétain married his former girlfriend, Eugénie Hardon (1877–1962) on 14 September 1920; they remained married until the end of Pétain's life. 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. She had no children by Pétain but already had a son from her first marriage, Pierre de Hérain, whom Pétain strongly disliked.

Source: wikipedia.org

No places


        Relation nameRelation typeBirth DateDeath dateDescription
        1Harry S. TrumanHarry S. TrumanFamiliar08.05.188426.12.1972
        2Dwight EisenhowerDwight EisenhowerFamiliar14.10.189028.03.1969
        3Franklin RooseveltFranklin RooseveltFamiliar30.01.188212.04.1945
        4Francisco FrancoFrancisco FrancoFamiliar04.12.189220.11.1975
        5Joachim Von RibbentropJoachim Von RibbentropFamiliar30.04.189316.10.1946
        6Charles de GaulleCharles de GaulleFamiliar22.11.189009.11.1970
        7Adolf HitlerAdolf HitlerFamiliar20.04.188930.04.1945

        No events set