Marshal Petain & The Orleans
Regime, Part One
by Raymond Speer
says: what if Marshall Petain continued the fight from Orleans? muses
Raymond Speer. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not
necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
|Calm Man Visits a Crisis
||The Year 1940
On June 14th,General
Henri Phillippe Petain (pictured) replaced Paul Reynaud as the Premier of
the Third French Republic. The eighty four year old H P Petain had won
celebrity as the commander at Verdun who had thwarted a mutiny among his men
by the allowance of vacation breaks and superior rations. He had done
nothing since, but was still praised for the good sense he had shown in the
Premier Paul Reynaud had leaped to the conclusion that Paris had to be
evacuated on June 5 when Reynaud was told that German Panzer forces were
roaming free in French territtory, unattached to their still fighting
opposition. A believer in military analysis by newspaper headline, the
Premier concluded that meant that France was finished.
supposedly commanding the defense of the capitol,announced to his civilian
superiors that British infantry, tanks and airplanes were even then
departing Paris. The British liason to the French Cabinet bitterly
retorted that there were no such forces in retreat and Weygand's reproach
was that the British were irresponsible with their military
On June 8th,
General Charles de Gaulle (pictured) did his job and prepared an order by
which France could withstand a seige by the German forces.
When de Gaulle telephoned Weygand, the senior general openly laughed at
de Gaulle as if Weygand regarded further resistence to be a joke.
Weygand said that seventy percent of French industrial capacity would be
lost to the Germans by week's end, and that North Africa was no more than
seven poorly equipped Negro divisions.
On June 9th,Petain
wrote Reynaud (pictured) and for the first time suggested asking the enemy
about an armistice.
In a meeting later that day, Petain said that everything
would have to be done anew if Paris was abandoned for any city in the South.
When Charles de Gaulle arrived in Paris on the morning of June 10, 1940, he
found that Weygand had moved his GHQ out of metro France. Premier Reynaud
was calling up his Cabinet members as individuals more like he was planning
a summer picnic than a new capitol.
The crucial moment was de Gaulle's realization that
Petain's opinion was the key to what France could do next. The cynical
Weygand had disillusioned everyone and had adjudged every military
circumstance to be absolutely against France. But only in the previous day
had Petain taken to uttering defeatist ideas aloud.
The story goes that de Gaulle fell to his knees before
Petain and prefaced his speech with an apology for all the years of
arrogance he had shown against Petain's agenda of consideration for
soldiers. De Gaulle regretted that and hoped that the senior general would
listen to him now. Further reasonable resistance was still an option and
would be in the best interests of France. "As I finished, " de Gaulle
summarized, "the Old Marshall nodded his head and told me that he had always
heard I was persuasive. Having heard me out, he had learned my reputation
On the evening of June 10, Italy abandoned neutrality and
attacked France across its border with Italy. That aggression was repulsed
by the local French command with no reference to the central French
Government. Amazingly, Petain was in the car with Reynaud and deGaulle as
the limousine drove to Orleans, the new capitol. (Weygand was in Briare, a
suburb of Orleans to the East). By dawn, as the Premier and the Marshal went
to their hotel rooms, de Gaulle was still busy organizing their
On June 11th,
Reynaud asked if Paris was going to be defended, or
whether Weygand (pictured) would let it be an Open City that would be
surrounded without a fight. Weygand's staffers answered both ways and not
until June 13 did an official answer reach General Hering ---- Premier Paul
Reynaud has decided on the Open City option.
The Open City decision was Reynaud's choice. Reynaud
believed that the French Army was at its worst in an operation requiring
expediency, and so he vetoed combat in and around Paris fearing a gigantic
butcher's bill that would gut the City forever. On all other topics, he
deferred to Marshal Petain and General de Gaulle.
An odd sideshow to history was the ill-considered British
proposal that France rescind French sovereignty and join Great Britain in a
Union Of Government. That suggestion had never been made by any Frenchmen
and was backed with no sound thinking, causing men in Orleans to conclude
the British had gone daft from desperation. De Gaulle sent Churchill and
company away without an audience with Petain. "Had the Marshall heard that
nonsense," said de Gaulle later, "it would only have disheartened him."
President Lebrun of the Third Republic signed the papers
making Petain the new Premier of France on June 14 at 10 PM, following a day
in which Reynaud's continuation in office was considered and re-considered.
Meanwhile, Weygand was ignored and replaced by Gen.
Charles de Gaulle. Weygand had wasted his last day in office planning
another retreat (that one to the provincial town of Vichy, where Weygand
preferred the hotels and mineral water there.)
On June 17th,
Marshall Petain (pictured) sat down at the microphones and announced that
France stood confident "on our own soil" and would refuse "any degregation"
that was incompatible with National Honor.
"Beloved though Paris is, we know that most of France is
still free and we owe it to our brothers and sisters in occupied zones to
maintain our national independence."
says this is my first installment in my Marshal Petain & The Orleans
Other Contemporary Stories
Raymond Speer, Guest Historian of
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