French leader Petain meets Hitler

Petain meets Hitler

The French President Marshal Petain meets Adolf Hitler at Montoire in front of Hitler's interpreter Paul Schmidt with Foreign Minister Ribbentrop at the side.

The First World War French hero Petain had taken over the French Presidency at the age of 84 and it was his administration that signed an Armistice with Germany. Petain believed that he had to come to some accommodation with Germany, in order to preserve some independence of action for what remained of the French state. In his negotiations with Hitler at the Montoire meeting Petain sought to obstruct German access to French North Africa.

Unfortunately the image of him shaking hands with Hitler came to represent a view that he was engaged in collaboration with the Nazi’s, rather than a more pragmatic co-operation. It became evidence to portray him as a traitor to France.

For more details on the meeting and the position that Petain found himself in see comment by Huntziger below, helpfully translated by Andrew Shakespeare.

Meanwhile in Britain the Blitz continued, the weekly Naval Military and Air Situation Report for the week up to 24th October recorded:

Great Britain.

46. The number of enemy aircraft operating during daylight against this, country was less than half that of the previous week and again consisted chiefly of fighter aircraft, some of which carried bombs.

47. Attacks by night were, however, only slightly lower in the aggregate than during the last period though on no night were so many raiding aircraft plotted as on the 15th-16th October. On the nights of the 20th-21st and the 22nd-23rd the major strength of attack was directed against industrial centres in the Provinces instead of London : Coventry, Birmingham and Liverpool being the chief cities involved.

48. In London, communications and public utility services appeared to be the main targets though, as before, many bombs fell some distance from any apparent objective. In contrast to the incessant attacks previously maintained at night, considerable periods of inactivity occurred during the week under review. Twenty Royal Air Force Stations were attacked, but with insignificant results, and the only serious damage sustained by the aircraft industry was to the Armstrong-Siddeley works at Coventry.

49. During the week Fighter Command flew an average of twelve sorties each night and a total of 501 patrols involving 2,142 sorties by day. … Our fighters destroyed one enemy aircraft at night and another was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.


80. Londoners are feeling the strain owing to lack of sleep and interruption of normal life, but morale remains sound. The spirit of the people as a whole remains high and there is little evidence of defeatist talk, but there is a certain amount of Communist activity.

See TNA CAB /66/13/5

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John Reese Thomas June 1, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Mr. Shakespeare’s translation is very good; however, I have a couple of quibbles. Rather than “France had been subjected,” I would translate “France had been backed into a corner.” “Conspiracy” is inaccurate for “raclée à plates coutures;” the phrase means “utter defeat.”

Editor October 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Many thanks to both Huntziger and Andrew Shakespeare.

Andrew Shakespeare October 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Since my impression is that most followers of this blog are English speakers, I thought I might assist by translating Huntziger’s post:

“At Montoire, Petain resisted Hitler! Like Franco the day before at Hendaye, he said no to Hitler! Like Franco, he therefore refused to join the war against England, alongside the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe. This entry to the war had been the sole reason for Hitler’s journey to Montoire, Hendaye and Montoire. For Hitler, therefore, these were terrible days. They explain Hitler’s defeat in the Battle of Britain.

Before meeting Hitler at Montoire, Marshal Petain had been briefed by his personal Catholic adviser, Rene Gillouin. Gillouin recommended looking deep into Hitler’s eyes. This unnerved him. Facing Petain, Hitler began to stammer and to dribble. His interpreter Schmitt confirms this. Ever after, Hitler regarded Petain as an “alte Fuchs,” an old fox.

In June 1940, one had to be a realist. France had been subjected without a feasible alternative. Petain never lied. He detested the lies that had led the French astray. Petain was the epitome of ethics.

It was the penultimate government of the Third Republic that finally recognised the conspiracy against the French army, in the face of the Panzers, the Dutch, Belgian and British armies having already capitulated. The Gaulliste, Paul Reynaud, the prime minister, had begged Roosevelt urgently to send him Curtis fighter airplanes, but Roosevelt had been unable to supply them. Reynaud therefore resigned and allowed his government to enquire after the German demands for armistice. These German conditions were severe, but were no disgrace to French honour, since the free zone of France was permitted to maintain its navy, Admiral Darlan having sworn to the British that he would not give it to the Germans. The last French government of Third Republic therefore signed the armistice. It saved France from total destruction. De Gaulle was therefore merely a universally loathed intellectual. And the French communists of the Stalinist Third International were the real collaborators with Hitler ever since the July 1939 (the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact). It was even the Gaulliste Paul Reynaud who recommended Petain to the president of the republic, Albert Lebrun, as his successor.

huntziger January 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm

A Montoire, Pétain a résisté à Hitler ! Comme Franco la veille à Hendaye, il a dit non à Hitler ! Avec Franco, il a alors refusé d’entrer en guerre contre l’Angleterre aux côtés de la Wehrmacht et de la Luftwaffe. Cette entrée en guerre était d’ailleurs le seul motif du déplacement de Hitler à Montoire-Hendaye-Montoire. Ce furent donc pour Hitler de très mauvaises journées. Elles expliquent la défaite de Hitler dans la bataille d’Angleterre.

Avant de rencontrer Hitler à Montoire, le maréchal Pétain a été briefé par son conseiller personnel catholique, René Gillouin. Gillouin lui a recommandé de regarder Hitler dans le fond des yeux “jusqu’aux moelles” ; ça l’a effectivement déstabilisé. Face à Pétain, Hitler a commencé à bafouiller. Il n’a pas pu tenir son crachoir. Son interprète Schmitt le confirme. Depuis, Hitler a traité Pétain de “alte Fuchs”, le vieux renard.

En juin 40, il s’agissait de regarder la réalité en face. La France était ratatinée sans échappatoire possible. Pétain n’a jamais menti. Il avait horreur des mensonges qui ont trompé les Français. Pétain était l’éthique même.

C’est la majorité de l’avant-dernier gouvernement de la IIIe République qui a du reconnaître la raclée à plates coutures de l’armée française face aux Panzer, les armées hollandaise, belge et anglaise ayant déjà capitulé. Le gaulliste Paul Reynaud, président du conseil, avait bien supplié Roosevelt de lui envoyer en urgence des avions de chasse Curtis. Mais Roosevelt n’a pu les fournir. Reynaud a donc démissionné et laissé son gouvernement demander à connaître des conditions allemandes de l’armistice. Ces conditions allemandes ont été sévères, mais n’ont pas porté atteinte à l’honneur de la France, puisqu’outre la zone libre la France pouvait garder sa flotte et l’amiral Darlan avait juré aux Anglais qu’il ne la donnerait pas aux Allemands. Le dernier gouvernement français de la IIIe République a donc signé l’armistice. Il a sauvé la France de l’écrabouillage total. De Gaulle n’était alors qu’un illuminé détesté de tout le monde. Et les communistes français de la IIIe international stalino-communiste collaboraient en réel avec Hitler depuis juillet 39 (pacte Ribbentrov-Molotop). C’est même le gaulliste Paul Reynaud, qui a recommandé Pétain au président de la République Albert Lebrun pour être son successeur.

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