Henri Philippe Pétain

Pétain, Henri Philippe


Born Apr. 24, 1856, in Cauchy-la-Tour, Pas-de-Calais; died July 23, 1951, in Port-Joinville, Ile d’Yeu, Vendée. French military and political figure.

Pétain graduated from the military school at St. Cyr in 1878 and began his career as an officer. He was promoted to general in World War I. During the war he commanded an infantry brigade, an army corps, and from June 1915 to April 1916 the French Second Army, which was fighting at Verdun. In May 1916 he was placed in command of the Army Group Center. He became chief of staff in April 1917 and commander in chief of the French Army (replacing General R. Nivelle) in May 1917. He was in charge of suppressing mutiny among the soldiers in 1917.

Pétain rose to the rank of marshal in November 1918. From 1920 to 1931 he served as deputy chairman of the Supreme Military Council and simultaneously from 1922 as inspector general of the army. He commanded the French forces that crushed the Moroccan uprising for national liberation in 1925-26. Pétain was minister of war from February to November 1934 and ambassador to Franco’s Spain in 1939-40. On May 17, 1940, he became deputy prime minister, and on June 16 prime minister. He carried out a profascist defeatist line. One June 22, 1940, he signed the Compiègne Armistice with fascist Germany.

On July 10, 1940, after the government moved to Vichy, the French National Assembly placed all authority in the hands of Pétain. This signaled the end of the Third Republic. From July 1940 to August 1944, Pétain was chief of state, as well as prime minister until April 1942, of the fascist Vichy regime. He presided over the abolition of democratic freedoms, the policy of cooperation with the fascist German occupying forces, and the persecution of French patriots. He was arrested in April 1945. In August he was condemned to death by the Supreme Court. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.