Philippe Petain Facts and Biography

Philippe Petain

Philippe Petain Biography Summary: Philippe Petain (1847 – 1934) was the French military hero of the Battle of Verdun in WWI and went on to head the Vichy government of France during World War 2. Philippe Petain was a military genius and tactically brilliant, but as a Politician he was not so popular. His reputation during the First World War carried him into political power during the Second World War. Unfortunately there were too many differing opinions within the cabinet and the government, and France was forced to sign an armistice was with Germany.

Eventually the allies would prevail and liberate France and Philippe Petain would be charged with treason and spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Philippe Petain Fact Sheet: Who was Philippe Petain? The following short biography and fact sheet provides interesting facts about the life, times and history of Philippe Petain.


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Philippe Petain Fact File Biography: Lifespan: 1856 - 1951 *** Full Name: Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Petain *** Occupation: French General *** Date of Birth: Philippe Petain was born April 24th 1856 *** Place of Birth: Philippe Petain was born in in Cauchy-a-la-Tour, Pas-de-Calais, Second French Empire *** Family background: His father was Omar-Venant and a farmer. His great uncle was a catholic priest, Father Abbe Lefebvre who had served in Napoleon’s Grand Armee *** Early life and childhood: Philippe Petain grew up in the village of Cauchy-a-la-Tour *** Education: Philippe Petain began his education at a local village school ***

Philippe Petain Fact 1: Philippe Petain was born on April 24th 1856 and during the 19th century period in history when many empires across the globe collapsed, the Spanish, first and second French, Holy Roman, Mughal and Chinese but the British and Russian Empires, the United States and German Empire where on the rise.

Philippe Petain Fact 2: Philippe Petain grew up listening to his great-uncle’s stories of adventure during the Napoleonic war and his campaigns across the peninsulas of Italy to the Swiss Alps.

Philippe Petain Fact 3: From that point on Philippe’s future was pretty secure and in 1876 he joined the French Army and began attending the St Cyr Military Academy after which he went to the Ecole Superieure de Guerre in Paris.

Philippe Petain Fact 4: Philippe Petain would find himself serving in various garrisons between 1878 and 1899 as well as different battalions of the Chasseurs a pied, otherwise known as the elite light infantry of the French Army.

Philippe Petain Fact 5: Although his rise within the ranks was slow, he was promoted to captain in 1890 and by 1900 he would become a major.

Philippe Petain Fact 6: By the time Philippe Petain reached the age of fifty-eight he had come to the conclusion that he would never reach the rank of general so he purchased his retirement home.

Philippe Petain Fact 7: However, in 1914 he was at the head of his brigade at the Battle of Guise and thereafter was promoted to brigadier-general and put in command of the 6th Division just in time for October 1914’s First Battle of the Marne.

Philippe Petain Fact 8: Gradually Philippe Petain would begin to gain the reputation as one of the most effective commanders on the Western Front.

Philippe Petain Fact 9: Having been put in charge of the Second Army at the beginning of the Battle of Verdun in February of 1916 he would be in receipt of a further promotion to Commander of Army Group Centre which amounted to 52 divisions which meant anywhere between half a million to one million men.

Philippe Petain Fact 10: Unlike the German style, Petain alternated his men from the front to a rest period every two weeks which proved to be a key tactic to keeping your men fresh for battle.

Philippe Petain Fact 11: Another of his common sense decision was to organize transport to bring a continuous flow of ammunition, artillery and fresh troops to the front.

Philippe Petain Fact 12: Philippe Petain was looked upon very much as a soldiers soldier and briefly served as Army Chief of Staff before he became Commander-in-Chief replacing General Nivelle.

Philippe Petain Fact 13: As a result of General Nivelle’s failed offensive in what appeared to be a suicide mission during the Chemin des Dames, Petain was able to calm the troops and prevent and further mutinies which had been wide spread, he reassured them that there would be home furloughs and moderate discipline, he restored moral.

Philippe Petain Fact 14: Quoted as saying “I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans.” Philippe Petain was actually waiting for the American’s to arrive en masse at the front lines as well as waiting for the new Renault FT tanks to be introduced in vast numbers.

Philippe Petain Fact 15: At wars end on November 21st 1918 he was made Marshal of France. It was also said of him that “without a doubt, the most accomplished defensive tactician of any army” and “one of France’s greatest military heroes.”

Philippe Petain Fact 16: After the war Philippe Petain petitioned for the government to implement plans for improving their armed forces with a large tank and air force but he was told it was too expensive.

Philippe Petain Fact 17: On the eve of the Second World War in March of 1939, Philippe Petain became the French ambassador to Spain and in May of 1940 Germany was invading France.

Philippe Petain Fact 18: AAlthough Germany was largely overtaking France and the French army at this point was powerless and it was also felt the British were not assisting with fighter aircraft, what the British were also trying to prevent was a signing of an armistice between Germany and France because they did not want to have to bomb the French coastline if the Germans occupied it.

Philippe Petain Fact 19: Eventually the French cabinet removed to Tours as Paris was under great threat. When the move was made Churchill made his way to France to meet with the leaders and suggested that the French consider guerrilla warfare while they waited for the Americans to join the conflict, which was still a little way off.

Philippe Petain Fact 20: The French government could not come to an agreement on how to proceed forward, and eventually Reynaud resigned and Petain picked up the mantel of the Premier of France.

Philippe Petain Fact 21: France signed an armistice at Compiegne with Germany on June 22nd which effectively gave Germany complete control over the West and North of France which included Paris but would leave around two fifths of France unoccupied.

Philippe Petain Fact 22: At this point Petain formally assumed the role of Head of State and issued new constitutional acts abolishing the presidency which would give him full power to fire and appoint ministers as well as civil servants. It gave him the power to pass laws and adjourn Parliament. He was for all intents and purposes possessed of all executive, legislative and judicial powers and he reformed the French Republic to State.

Philippe Petain Fact 23: Having given France to the Germans effectively Petain became little more than a figurehead until France was later liberated and Petain would return to France from Germany to face trial for treason

Philippe Petain Fact 24: Philippe Petain was found guilty by a jury who called for a death sentence but the sentence would be commuted to life in prison purely due to Petain’s age.

Philippe Petain Fact 25: Philippe Petain died on July 23rd 1951 at the age of ninety five years old on Ile d’Yeu off the French coast.

List of Medals Awarded to Philippe Petain: *** Marshall of France *** Legion of Honor *** Military Medal (Spain) ***

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