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(1856-1951 ) Marshal,

Politician, war hero of Verdun

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Philippe Henri Pétain was a military and political leader and France´s greatest hero in World War I (1914-1918). He was later condemned as a traitor for having headed the pro-German Vichy regime after France’s defeat in World War II (1939-1945). 
     Born in Cauchy-ó-la-Tour in 1856, Pétain was educated at the Saint-Cyr military academy and the École Supérieure de Guerre (army war college) in Paris. As a general during World War I, he won fame for his successful defense of Verdun against the Germans in 1916. Later, as commander in chief, he did much to restore morale in the French army after a series of mutinies in 1917. He was made a marshal of France the following year. During the 1920s Pétain served in French Morocco. In 1934 he was minister of war, and from 1939 to 1940 he was ambassador to Spain. 
     Following the German invasion of France in 1940, Pétain – then 84 years old – was recalled to active military service as adviser to the minister of war. On June 16, 1940, hesucceeded Paul Reynaud as premier of France and soon afterward he asked the Germans for an armistice, which was concluded on June 22. On July 2, with the consent of the Germans, he established his government in Vichy in central France, and on July 10 he assumed the title of chief of state, ruling thereafter with dictatorial powers over that portion of France not directly under German control. Pétain and his prime minister, Pierre Laval, established a Fascist-oriented government that became notorious for its collaboration with German dictator Adolf Hitler. The Vichy government ruled with Germany’s approval, appointing all government officials, controlling the press, and practicing arbitrary arrests. The government also passed anti-Semitic laws and rounded up French, Spanish, and Eastern European Jews who were deported to German concentration camps.

With the German army occupying two-thirds of the country, Pétain believed he could repair the ruin caused by the invasion and obtain the release of the numerous prisoners of war only by cooperating with the Germans. In the southern part of France, left free by the armistice agreement, he set up a paternalistic regime the motto of which was “Work, Family, and Fatherland.” Reactionary by temperament and education, he allowed his government to promulgate a law dissolving the Masonic lodges and excluding Jews from certain professions.

He was, however, opposed to the policy of close Franco-German collaboration advocated by his vice premier Pierre Laval, whom he dismissed in December 1940, replacing him with Admiral François Darlan. Pétain then attempted to practice a foreign policy of neutrality and delay. He secretly sent an emissary to London, met with the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco , whom he urged to refuse free passage of Adolf Hitler’s army to North Africa, and maintained a cordial relationship with Admiral William Leahy, the U.S. ambassador to Vichy until 1942.

When, in April 1942, the Germans forced Pétain to take Laval back as premier, he himself withdrew into a purely nominal role.


     After the Allies landed in France in 1944, Pétain went toGermany and then to Switzerland. He returned to France after the war to stand trial for treason. In August 1945 he was found guilty of intelligence with the enemy and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was moved to Ile d’Yeu, an island off the coast of Brittany, where he died.

(Ack:worldatwar.net/biography, Brittanica.com)

 

 

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Here is a conundrum History poses for all those who would make Man count above events. The question in a nutshell is this: Are the opportunities a cart pulled by man, or man is the ass that circumstances drive along? Napoleon was the ‘child of circumstances’ and his life is a classic example of the conundrum that I mentioned here.
Napoleon was born to an impoverished count and a woman of strong character in Ajaccio, Corsica. The island had recently been annexed to France and the king in a bid to soften the injury of the proud islanders had instituted a scholarship. Napoleon was lucky to have taken advantage of this. At the age of ten he was enrolled in the Military school at Brienne.
‘Only the sword belt belongs to France, the edge is my own.’ Napoleon was partly right since he, with no advantages to speak of a stranger and poor could survive among the insolent and proud scions of French nobility to become a sub-lieutenant in 1785 and must owe something to his inner strength.
The outbreak of French Revolution also was god-sent as far as his career was concerned. At the age of twenty he visited his homeland where his involvement in Corsican politics ended in his banishment from the island. Thereafter his destiny was tied with France. Although he had risen in ranks he was suspected of being a supporter of Robespierre whose star was on the wane. He was a brigadier general and he was shut up in prison by the Convention.
In that age of chaos with political fortunes of many spinning out of control the crisis came when the National Guards rebelled and the people were behind them. Murat, a young cavalry officer came to his rescue and he could mass the forty big guns brought in from the suburbs in the cover of night, to break the uprising. The threat from the National Guards was over. Had it not for his military genius and his sound knowledge of the principles of artillery he could not have survived the difficult times France faced at that time.
Here we see time and time again him taking the initiative as circumstances presented themselves. All his greatest victories fought at Jena, Marengo and Austerlitz, artillery was the pen with which he carved his name on the pages of history.
It was the dictum of Napoleon,’Inspiration in war is appropriate only to the commander-in-chief, and his lieutenants must confine themselves to executing orders.’ On the fateful day before battle at Waterloo was to be joined Napoleon’s inspiration was obviously at low since there were thunderstorms and shower the night before and the great artillery expert, Comte Antoine Drouot advised him to let the ground dry out till mid-day when twelve-pounder batteries could get into position. ‘Had the action begun two hours earlier, it would have been finished by four o’clock’ in favor of Napoleon. Naturally Napoleon who built his fame on the artillery found it prudent to delay and it cost him dearly. Was hubris laughing in her sleeve for all the circumstances given to this Corsican?
This great general whose military genius was as great as those Alexander and Caesar took the soldiers from campaigns to campaign for what? They had become so battle hardened that to keep them idle was almost a crime. It took him to Moscow and then to Waterloo. Such turnings are natural just as later as in the case of Adolf Hitler.
Tailpiece:
The mass movement to overthrow the moribund Bourbon regime, which had run out of ideas to enthuse France needed a head. The mass movement was a revolution, written in blood in order to create a Republic. Danton, Marat, Robespierre and many others were its guiding lights. The Old Order was dismantled and much blood was shed on all sides. What for if it wasn’t for a Republic? When the dust was cleared what left standing was altogether different: an Empire that none of the revolutionaries could have imagined!
benny

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