Philippe Pétain was a French general who was initially hailed as a national hero during World War I but was later discredited and executed. He was born in northern France to a farming family and attended local schools before joining the French army. Following a series of World War I commands, Pétain was tasked with halting the massive German attack on Verdun. He rallied his troops and reorganized the front lines and transportation systems, transforming a situation on the verge of defeat into a successful defense. He was hailed as a national hero by the French government and military for this victory. He served as Marshal of France, Minister of War, and Secretary of State before being appointed Prime Minister of France at the outbreak of World War II. With France under attack from Germany, Pétain struck a truce with the Germans, ceding control of the majority of France to the Germans but leaving the remainder as a separate regime headed by Pétain, with its capital at Vichy. Pétain was later arrested and deported to Germany as a result of the German invasion of the unoccupied zone of France and the allied landings in France. Pétain returned to France following his liberation and was charged with treason and tried. He was later sentenced to life in solitary confinement and died in prison at the age of 95.
Childhood & Adolescence
Philippe Pétain was born Henri-Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain in Cauchy-à-la-Tour, Pas-de-Calais, Second French Empire, on April 24, 1856. Omer-Venant, his father, was a farmer.
Philippe attended a village school before enrolling in a religious secondary school. In 1876, he was admitted to Saint-Cyr military academy.
He enrolled in 1887 at Paris’s École Supérieure de Guerre, an army war college.
Career of Philippe
Philippe Pétain served in various garrisons with various Chasseurs à pied battalions until he was 58 years old. He alternated between staff and regimental assignments but never served on active duty.
He was given command of a brigade in 1914, and after demonstrating his mettle at the ‘Battle of the Marne,’ he was promoted to full general and given command of the 11th Army in 1915.
When the Germans launched a massive concentrated attack on the fortress city of Verdun in 1916, Pétain was tasked with the mission of halting them at all costs. Despite the near-hopelessness of the situation, he inspired enthusiasm in his troops and skillfully reorganized both the front and the transportation systems. As a result of their victory over the Germans, Pétain was crowned a national hero.
Subsequently, when serious mutinies broke out in the French army as a result of General Nivelle’s ill-considered offensives as French commander in chief, Pétain was named his successor. He quickly restored order upon taking command by combining strict disciplinary measures with a caring attitude toward his troops.
He was appointed Marshal of France in November 1918 and later became Vice President of the Supreme War Council.
He used his position as inspector general of the army in 1922 to reposition French military planning along defensive lines.
Pétain began his political career in 1934 as Minister of War and later served as Ambassador to Spain. Pétain was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in May 1940, following the outbreak of World War II.
He was soon appointed Prime Minister of France, succeeding Paul Reynaud, and was tasked with forming a new government that would negotiate a truce with the Germans.
In June 1940, Pétain reached an agreement with the Nazis that divided France into two zones: the north and the Atlantic coast were occupied by the German military, while the rest of the country was administered directly by Pétain, with Vichy as its capital.
Pétain later became Chief of State and began erecting an authoritarian regime after obtaining full constituent powers in the national assembly.
Pétain’s position was reduced to that of a figurehead in 1942, following the Allied landings in North Africa and the German occupation of Vichy France.
In August 1944, following France’s liberation, the Germans transferred Pétain and other French cabinet members from Vichy to Germany. He was taken to the Swiss border and crossed into France the following year.
He was tried for treason upon his return to France and sentenced to death in August 1945. Soon after, his sentence was commuted to life in solitary confinement.
He was imprisoned on the Île d’Yeu, an island off the Atlantic coast, and died there at the age of 95.
Significant Works of Philippe
He gained notoriety and respect during World War I as General of the French battalion for his successful defense of Verdun against the Germans in 1916.
He was appointed commander-in-chief of the French Army and was instrumental in reviving the French army’s morale following a series of mutinies in 1917.
Awards and Accomplishments
He was awarded the ‘Legion of Honor,’ a Napoleon Bonaparte-established French order that is the highest decoration in France.
He was also awarded the prestigious Military Medal (Spain), Spain’s highest military decoration, for his battlefield valor.
Personal History and Legacies
Pétain married an old lover, Eugénie Hardon, who had been divorced from François de Hérain, on September 14, 1920. The couple never married and remained together until Pétain’s death.
Philippe Petain died on July 23, 1951, at the age of 95, while serving his sentence on the Ile d’Yeu, an island off the Brittany coast. He was laid to rest near the prison in a Marine cemetery.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Philippe is about $18million.