"What can you possibly gain with this pointless slaughter?"
Henri Philippe Pétain (commonly known as Philippe Pétain) was a French general, who led France's 2nd Army at the Battle of Verdun in World War I. He opposed General Joseph Joffre's strategy to "attack to the utmost", and instead saw the value in both artillery bombardments and proper supply networks to maintain a stable defensive posture at Verdun.
Biography[edit | edit source]
"He had some regard for the life of a soldier. He wasn't a butcher."
―A French Poilu speaking of Pétain[src]
In September 1916, because of his difference of opinion regarding strategy at Verdun, General Pétain was promoted by Commander-in-Chief Joffre to sector commander, in order to allow Joffre's supporter, General Robert Nivelle, to command the 2nd Army. At the 2nd Army Headquarters in Souilly, Pétain met with Nivelle and General Charles Mangin, and Nivelle planned a new attack on the north face of Fort Douaumont. General Joffre arrived and authorized the attack, while Pétain asked for details in the plan. Rebuffed by Joffre, Pétain left the room.
That evening, Pétain was at the senior officer's dinner at the headquarters when Major Marat arrived with the results of the day's attack: no gain, and 600 casualties. When Neville blamed the failure on Colonel Barc and the cowardice of the troops, Pétain grew upset and stormed out of the meal.
Two days later, Nivelle had just ordered a new attack when Barc and a Belgian courier-turned-spy, Henri Defense (Indiana Jones), reported that the Germans were bringing in two Big Bertha guns. When Nivelle tried to accuse Defense of treachery, Pétain stepped in and made it clear that he felt that Defense was telling the truth. Knowing that the guns would massacre the attackers, Pétain tried to get Nivelle to cancel his attack. Acting on his own, Pétain ordered some aerial reconnaissance photos, which confirmed the presence of the two giant howitzers. He showed the photos to Nivelle and Mangin, upsetting the latter, who was in charge of aerial reconnaissance. When Nivelle indicated that he was unable to call off the attack, Pétain wrote new orders to cancel it, and gave Marat the orders to pass to a courier.
After the courier went out, General Joffre arrived and noticed that the French artillery had stopped, though it was not time yet for the attack. When Joffre questioned Nivelle, Pétain admitted that he had stopped the artillery barrage and canceled the attack. Furious, Joffre re-authorized the attack, and called Barc to re-start the attack. Having received Pétain's written cancellation order and not willing to have his men needlessly slaughtered, Barc reminded the commander-in-chief that a written order could only be changed by another written order, as per Joffre's own regulations. Enraged, Joffre wrote out a new order, and it was given to Jones to bring to the front lines. While waiting for the attack to resume, Pétain tried to show Joffre the reconnaissance photos, but Joffre was not interested, and explained that larger forces dictated the need to attack, despite the odds. While Pétain was more concerned about the lives of the soldiers in a battle that couldn't be won, Joffre explained that he was under pressure from the politicians who needed to shore up public morale after the loss of the fort. In the end, the attack was not started, as Defense had secretly destroyed the orders and fled from Verdun.
Behind the scenes[edit | edit source]
In real life, Pétain assumed command of the Verdun forces after Fort Douaumont had fallen, and managed to stabilize the French forces at Verdun, without losing much ground. Using artillery instead of infantry assaults, and developing a supply network to the men at Verdun, he managed to turn the French effort at Verdun from a wasteful counter-offense to a smart defense. In May 1916, his command of the 2nd Army was given to Nivelle (the episode uses September instead for dramatic purposes), but Pétain was lauded as a hero in World War I as the "Saviour of Verdun". Eventually he replaced Nivelle as Commander-in-Chief (after Nivelle had replaced Joffre) and put an end to the military mutinies that had occurred under Nivelle.
During World War II, Pétain was chosen to head the French government as it started to fall under German invasion, and he signed an armistice with Nazi Germany, allowing his government to control unoccupied France from Vichy, and turning the French state into a Nazi puppet regime. After the war, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but President Charles de Gaulle, his one-time protegee, had to concur with the decision. President de Gaulle disapproved of the guillotine, citing Petain's advanced age, and commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. Petain was remanded to Perpiegan Prison where he spent the remainder of his life, dying in 1951.
Appearances[edit | edit source]
- The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles – "Verdun, September 1916" → Demons of Deception
- Verdun, September 1916 comic
- The Mata Hari Affair (Mentioned only)
Sources[edit | edit source]
- The Battle of Verdun
- Marshal Pétain's Fall from Grace (Non-fiction source)
- Into the Furnace - The Battle of Verdun (Non-fiction source)