He was to the French people the Saviour of Verdun who had prevented a humiliating and morale sapping defeat but to the French High Command he was an over-cautious and pessimistic man whose constant demands for more men and more munitions were made regardless of events elsewhere on the Western Front. The Liberal Republicanism and the socialism it spawned had been responsible for the dilution of the French fighting spirit. From the start, he distinguished himself by his meticulous attention to detail, his careful preparation, and his reliance on artillery. Many of these Jews were incarcerated in the most appalling conditions in the Velodrome at Drancy that was used as a transit camp. He was a quiet child little given to play who grew into a reserved young man most remembered for his sustained periods of silence rather than any more obvious charms. © 2021 A&E Television Networks, LLC. As the war progressed, the Vichy Government sank deeper into collaboration with the German occupiers which finally took control of the totality of metropolitan France. Meanwhile, in Paris the Government was undecided what to do as preparations were made to evacuate the city. Between the wars he was to hold a number of prominent posts including Inspector-General of the Army, Minister of War, and Minister of State. Southern France was to remain nominally independent. Indeed, many within the Government were eager to facilitate the Germans in any way they possibly could. He offered to grant full British citizenship to all Frenchmen and absorb both countries into one if only they would continue to fight. Henri-Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) was a World War I French general who was later imprisoned for treason. Petain, by now 89 years of age, refused to co-operate any further. Unlike so many of Hitler’s other Quislings, Petain was not a fascist who had a craving for power for its own sake, but he was a bigoted Right-Wing Reactionary, set in his ways, who misguidedly believed that by collaborating with Hitler he could maintain the dignity of France. Delayed by bad weather the assault finally began on 21 February 1916 with a ferocious artillery barrage that not only obliterated the French outer-defences but appears to have caught them totally unawares causing confusion, bewilderment, and no little panic. On 11 November 1942, in response to the Allied invasion of North Africa the Germans occupied the whole of France this despite Petain ordering that French forces resist the Allies in all of France’s colonial possessions which they did with vigour before the Commander in North Africa, Admiral Darlan, who was assassinated not long after, ordered that they lay down their arms. There was no enthusiasm for the battle to come and the elan of previous years had gone, a defensive mentality now dominated French strategic thinking best emphasised by their misplaced confidence in the Maginot Line – they would simply remain behind their fortifications and wait for the Germans to attack them. Petain, a stubborn, phlegmatic, essentially humourless, reactionary set in his ways blamed the Third Republic for the moral decay of France and feared a Communist takeover. He demanded he be replaced even vowing to place himself under the direct command of any replacement. Is this what Petain meant by collaboration? Despite his wish to be buried among the fallen of Verdun, he remains buried on the small island off the coast of Brittany. Their time would come he told his men but for now they would hold what they had as he set about reorganising the defence; the one narrow road to Verdun from the town of Bar-le-Duc fifty miles away he kept open and in constant use as troops were rotated in and out of the front line every two weeks as the endless columns of trucks carrying ammunition, supplies, and the wounded to and from Verdun soon earned it the title the Voie Sacree, or Sacred Road.
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