|Born||24 Apr 1856|
|Died||23 Jul 1951|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain was born in Cauchy-à-la-Tour in Pas-de-Calais département in 1856. A graduate of the Saint-Cyr Military Academy and the École Supérieure de Guerre in Paris, he fought in WW1 as an infantry officer and earned the nickname of the "savior of Verdun" for his brilliant deployment of artillery for defensive purposes. The quote "ils ne passeront pas!", or "they shall not pass!", became the symbol of the determination of Pétain and his troops at Verdun. In 1917, before the war ended, he became Commander-in-Chief of the French army. As Commander-in-Chief he was credited with raising the morale of French troops. He received the rank of Field Marshal immediately after the war ended.
During the interwar years, he contributed greatly to the construction of the Maginot Line (which would completely fail its purpose of stopping another invasion from the east when the German forces invaded France at the onset of WW2) and served in French Morocco in North Africa. He later entered politics, becoming the Minister of War in 1934, Secretary of State in 1935, and Ambassador to Spain in 1939. He became Premier of France in 1940.
After the fall of France in the beginning of WW2, Premier Pétain, who held emergency powers at the time, cooperated with Nazi Germany. He signed an armistice with Germany on 22 Jun 1940 that ceded northern France to Germany. In return, Germany allowed Pétain to remain in power over southern France. Pétain established his new capital on 2 Jul at the resort city of Vichy, therefore his authoritative government would later come to be known as Vichy-France. He was generally considered the savior of the French people at this time for negotiating an end to the hopeless fight against the German invasion. On 10 Jul he took on the title of Head of the State of France, abolishing the positions of president and prime minister, and ruled with absolute power with his prime minister Pierre Laval. His government was influenced by German leader Adolf Hitler in that anti-semetic laws were passed and the government controlled the press. Pétain and Vichy-France's anti-semetic policies were viewed favorable by some elements of Islamic subjects living in French colonies in North Africa and the Middle East, whose hatred for the Jews brought them to support their new colonial masters. In addition, Pétain was also guilty of deporting French Jews to German concentration camps. When Americans entered the North Africa theater in Nov 1942, he publicly denounced Admiral François Darlan for cooperating with American General Dwight Eisenhower. After Allied troops secured their beachheads at Normandy, Pétain and his government fled to the neutral Switzerland.
After the war, he was returned to France from Switzerland. He was conficted for collaborating with Nazi Germany and sentenced to death by firing squad. Charles de Gaulle lessened the sentence to life imprisonment on 17 Aug 1945 out of respect for Pétain's venerable age. Pétain passed away in prison on the island of Île d'Yeu in 1951.
Sources: Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia, the World at War.
Philippe Pétain Timeline
|24 Apr 1856||Philippe Pétain was born.|
|16 Jun 1940||Marshal Philippe Pétain became Prime Minister of France when Paul Reynaud's government resigned.|
|11 Jul 1940||Marshal Philippe Pétain declared himself head of state of the French Republic.|
|24 Oct 1940||Adolf Hitler met with Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval at Montoire-sur-le-Loir, France, agreeing in principle with collaboration but Pétain refused to declare war on Britain.|
|12 Dec 1940||Philippe Pétain received an invitation from Adolf Hitler to attend the ceremony in which Napoleon II's remains were to be returned from Austria to the Les Invalides cemetery in Paris, France.|
|14 Dec 1940||Philippe Pétain declined Adolf Hitler's invitation to attend the ceremony during which the remains of Napoleon II would be re-interned at the Les Invalides cemetery in Paris, France. In the same message, he also told Hitler that Pierre Laval had been dismissed from his leadership position in Vichy France, which angered Hitler.|
|22 Oct 1941||Marshal Philippe Pétain and Admiral François Darlan broadcast an appeal to the French nation calling restraint from any actions against the occupying German troops which could bring down reprisals on hostages.|
|13 Apr 1942||Philippe Pétain, under German pressure, decided to reinstate Pierre Laval whom the Germans favored.|
|26 Apr 1944||Pétain made his first and only visit to Paris, France to inspect damage from Allied bombings.|
|26 Apr 1945||Petain was arrested at the Swiss border.|
|23 Jul 1945||The trial against Marshal Philippe Pétain began at Palais de Justice, Paris, France.|
|17 Aug 1945||A death sentence on Marshal Philippe Pétain, former head of the Vichy French Government, was commuted to life imprisonment.|
|23 Jul 1951||Philippe Pétain passed away.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945