PTtain file photo [928]

Philippe Pétain

Given NamePhilippe
Born24 Apr 1856
Died23 Jul 1951


ww2dbaseHenri 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.

ww2dbaseDuring 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.

ww2dbaseAfter 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.

ww2dbaseAfter 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.

ww2dbaseSources: Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia, the World at War.

Last Major Revision: Aug 2005

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.


Philippe Pétain and Adolf Hitler, Montoire-sur-le-Loir, France, 24 Oct 1940; note Paul Schmidt and Joachim von Ribbentrop in backgroundFrench Marshal Pétain and US Ambassador Leahy, Vichy, France, 27 Apr 1942Philippe Pétain, François Darlan, and Pierre Laval, date unknown

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. irwan says:
27 Jan 2009 05:20:48 AM

good info for research
2. Anonymous says:
6 Oct 2010 01:13:47 PM

good info but no quotes
3. Katie says:
22 Feb 2012 12:29:01 PM

Sehr Gut (:
4. Austin says:
17 Jan 2013 01:30:56 PM

I am doing a research project for World War II on Henri Petain. This is a great site for important dates and events of his life! (Timeline). Thanks!
5. Anonomi says:
26 Sep 2016 10:32:36 PM

What a fall from grace... Did so much to save France in WW1, only to turn around, sieze power, and sell out to the Nazi then run and hide when USA gets near to his front door.
6. Anonymous says:
7 Feb 2022 07:56:19 AM


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Philippe Pétain and Adolf Hitler, Montoire-sur-le-Loir, France, 24 Oct 1940; note Paul Schmidt and Joachim von Ribbentrop in background
See all 3 photographs of Philippe Pétain

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"With Germany arming at breakneck speed, England lost in a pacifist dream, France corrupt and torn by dissension, America remote and indifferent... do you not tremble for your children?"

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