From Academic Kids

Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain

Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain (April 24, 1856 - July 23, 1951), generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain, was a French soldier and leader of Vichy France. He became a French hero because of his military leadership in World War I, yet he was tried and imprisoned for treason in his old age because of his collaboration with the Germans in World War II.


Early life

Born in Cauchy-à-la-Tour (in the Pas-de-Calais département, in the north of France) in 1856. He joined the French Army in 1876 and attended the St Cyr Military Academy and the École Supérieure de Guerre (army war college) in Paris.

World War I

Pétain was a distinguished veteran of World War I, and in particular the Battle of Verdun. As a result of his brilliant defence at Verdun, he became known as the "saviour of Verdun" and hailed as a French hero. Verdun became a symbol of French determination, inspired by Pétain’s declaration: "ils ne passeront pas!" (They shall not pass!)

Due to his remarkable ability and high prestige, Pétain rose to be Commander-in-Chief of the French army during World War I; it could be argued that because of his successful defensive strategy, France survived the devastation of German invasion, thus led to the Allied victory in World War I.

Moreover, it was his advocacy of a defensive strategy that led, in large part, to the construction of the Maginot Line.

Between the wars

Pétain emerged from the war as a national hero. He was encouraged to go into politics, and although he had little interest in running for an elected position in 1934 he was appointed to the French cabinet as Minister of War. The following year he was promoted to Secretary of State.

World War II and Vichy France

In the spring of 1940 France was invaded by Nazi Germany. Marshall Pétain was then appointed as Prime Minister of France and granted extraordinary powers. The constitutionality of these actions was later challenged by de Gaulle's regime, but at the time Pétain was widely accepted as France's saviour. On June 22 he signed an armistice with Germany that gave the Nazis control over the north and west of the country, including Paris, but left the rest under an "independent" government that located its capital in the resort town of Vichy.

Again the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, constituted in "Assemblée nationale", had an emergency meeting, and voted the allowance of every power--Constitutive, Legislative, Executive and Judicial--to Marshall Pétain, so as to suspend the constitution of the Third Republic and make Pétain supreme dictator. As Pétain despised the republican form of government, mainly in the shape of the 3rd republic, which he considered to be weak and responsible for France's failure in the war, he took "Head of the State" as his only title, and abolished the positions of president and prime minister. Even though Pétain called his regime L'État français (the French State), it was never a State but only a government of fact, not of law.

As leader of this dictatorial regime, a personality cult was set up and Pétain's image was spread throughout France, portraying him as a father figure to the nation (le Maréchal = "the Marshal"). Conservative factions within his government used the opportunity as an occasion to launch an ambitious program known as the "National Revolution" in which much of the former Third Republic's secular traditions were overturned in favor of the promotion of a more traditionalist, Catholic society. Pétain immediately used its new powers to order measures of suspension of republican civil servants and to intern opponents and foreign refugees. He also adopted, as early as October 1940, Hitler-inspired laws against Jewish citizens (largely stronger laws than Mussolini's), and against "Francs-Maçons". He organized a "Legion Française des Combattants", where he included "Friends of Legion" and "Cadets of Legion" having never fought, but politically attached to serve his dictatorial regime.

Pétain never refused any of the requests, by the Germans and his successive Deputies Pierre Laval and Admiral François Darlan, to side with the Axis Powers. Pétain even took the initiative to "collaborate" with the enemy, in an official radio speech on 30 October 1940. Pétain also never resisted pressure to deport large numbers of French Jews to German death camps, and his police helped German forces to arrest Jews and resistants . He provided the Axis forces with large supplies of manufactured goods and foodstuffs, and he also ordered Vichy troops in France's colonial empire to resist Allied forces everywhere (in Dakar, Syria, Madagascar, Oran and Morocco), and to receive German forces without any resistance (in Syria, Southern France and Tunisia).

On 11 November 1942 Germany invaded the unoccupied zone in response to the Allied Operation Torch landings in North Africa. Although Vichy France nominally remained in existence, Pétain became nothing more than a figurehead, as the Nazis abandoned the pretense of an "independent" Vichy government. On September 7, 1944 he and other members of the Vichy cabinet were moved to Sigmaringen and soon after he resigned as leader.

Post-war trial

In April 1945 he was returned to France, where he was tried for collaboration (or treason), convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad in July-August 1945. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Charles de Gaulle on August 17, 1945, on the grounds of his old age. He died in prison on Île d'Yeu, an island off the coast of Brittany, in 1951.

Nowadays, in France, the word pétainisme suggests an authoritarian and reactionary ideology, a nostalgy of a rural, agricultural, traditionalist, Catholic society.


  • Henri Michel, Vichy, année 40, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1967.
  • William Langer, Our Vichy gamble, Alfred Knopf, New-York, 1947.
  • Jean-Pierre Azéma et François Bedarida,Vichy et les Français, Paris, Fayard, 1996.
  • Professeur François-Georges Dreyfus, Histoire de Vichy, Éditions de Fallois, 2004.
  • Professeur Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger, de 1940 à 1944, L.G.D.J., Paris 1963.
  • Général Albert Merglen, Novembre 1942: La grande honte, L'Harmattan, Paris 1993.

Lists of the successive Pétain governments until 1942

Pétain's First Government, 16 June - 12 July 1940


Pétain's Second Government, 12 July - 6 September 1940

Pétain's Third Government, 6 September 1940 - 25 February 1941


Pétain's Fourth Ministry, 25 February - 12 August 1941


Pétain's Fifth Government, 12 August 1941 - 18 April 1942

Preceded by:
Paul Reynaud
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by:
Pierre Laval
Preceded by:
Albert Lebrun
Head of State
Succeeded by:
Charles de Gaulle
(Chairman of the Provisional Government)
Preceded by:
Albert Lebrun and Justí Guitart i Vilardebó
Co-Prince of Andorra
with Justí Guitart i Vilardebó (1940) and Ramon Iglesias i Navarri (1942-1944)
Succeeded by:
Charles de Gaulle and Ramon Iglesias i Navarri

Template:End box

See also

Preceded by:
Ferdinand Foch
Seat 18
Académie française
Succeeded by:
André François-Poncet
de:Henri Philippe Pétain

es:Philippe Pétain fr:Philippe Pétain he:אנרי פיליפ פטאן nl:Henri Philippe Pétain ja:フィリップ・ペタン pl:Philippe Pétain zh:貝當


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