Marshal Petain becomes premier of occupied France


Jun 16, 1940:

Marshal Petain becomes premier of occupied France

On this day in 1940, Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain, World War I hero, becomes prime minister of the Vichy government of France.

As Germany began to overrun more French territory, the French Cabinet became desperate for a solution to this crisis. Premier Paul Reynaud continued to hold out hope, refusing to ask for an armistice, especially now that France had received assurance from Britain that the two would fight as one, and that Britain would continue to fight the Germans even if France were completely overtaken. But others in the government were despondent and wanted to sue for peace. Reynaud resigned in protest. His vice premier, Henri Petain, formed a new government and asked the Germans for an armistice, in effect, surrendering.

This was an ironic position for Petain, to say the least. The man who had become a legendary war hero for successfully repelling a German attack on the French city of Verdun during the First World War was now surrendering to Hitler.

In the city of Vichy, the French Senate and Chamber of Deputies conferred on the 84-year-old general the title of “Chief of State,” making him a virtual dictator–although one controlled by Berlin. Petain believed that he could negotiate a better deal for his country–for example, obtaining the release of prisoners of war–by cooperating with, or as some would say, appeasing, the Germans.

But Petain proved to be too clever by half. While he fought against a close Franco-German military collaboration, and fired his vice premier, Pierre Laval, for advocating it, and secretly urged Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco to refuse passage of the German army to North Africa, his attempts to undermine the Axis while maintaining an official posture of neutrality did not go unnoticed by Hitler, who ordered that Laval be reinstated as vice premier. Petain acquiesced, but refused to resign in protest because of fear that France would come under direct German rule if he were not there to act as a buffer. But he soon became little more than a figurehead, despite efforts to manipulate events behind the scenes that would advance the Free French cause (then publicly denying, even denouncing, those events when they came to light).

When Paris was finally liberated by General Charles de Gaulle in 1944, Petain fled to Germany. He was brought back after the war to stand trial for his duplicity. He was sentenced to death, which was then commuted to life in solitary confinement. He died at 95 in prison. The man responsible for saving his life was de Gaulle. He and Petain had fought in the same unit in World War I and had not forgotten Petain’s bravery during that world war.


Battle of the Piave River

Jun 16, 1918:

Battle of the Piave River

On June 16, 1918, the Battle of the Piave River rages on the Italian front, marking the last major attack by the Austro-Hungarian army in Italy of World War I.

After turmoil-plagued Russia bowed out of the war effort in early 1918, Germany began to pressure its ally, Austria-Hungary, to devote more resources to combating Italy. Specifically, the Germans advocated a major new offensive along the Piave River, located just a few kilometers from such important Italian urban centers as Venice, Padua and Verona. In addition to striking on the heels of Russia’s withdrawal, the offensive was intended as a follow-up to the spectacular success of the German-aided operations at Caporetto in the autumn of 1917.

By June 1918, however, Austria-Hungary’s troops were in a radically different condition than they had been at Caporetto. Supplies were low, as was morale, while the Italians had bulked up their numbers along the Piave and received new shipments of arms from Allied munitions factories. Nevertheless, both commanders in the region–former Commander-in-Chief Conrad von Hotzendorff and Svetozar Boroevic von Bojna–favored an attack. Preparations were laid to divide their two forces and carry out the offensive in a pincer-like motion, with Conrad taking the main task of reaching the city of Verona and Boroevic attempting to cross the Piave and aim for Padua and the Adige Valley.

After some diversionary attacks, the main Austrian offensive was launched on June 15. Conrad’s 10th and 11th Armies made limited progress, and their advance was checked the following day by the forceful counterattack of the Italian 4th and 6th Armies, fortified by British and French troops. Within a week, the Austrians had suffered over 40,000 casualties. Meanwhile, Boroevic’s 5th and 6th Armies, which had crossed the Piave River along the Italian coast on June 10, gained slightly more territory–some three miles along a 15-mile front–but was also forced to give up those gains and retreat on June 19 under the Italian counterattack by the 3rd and 8th Armies. The Austrian troops stalled in their attempt to cross back over the rapid-flowing Piave, however, and the Italians were able to attack their flank; by the time they finally reached the other shore, a total of 150,000 of Boroevic’s men had been killed or wounded.

Though the cautious Italian commander in chief, General Armando Diaz, chose not to pursue the fleeing enemy troops across the river, the offensive ended in dismal failure. It was a fateful blow for Austria-Hungary’s presence on the Italian front. In the months that followed, the depleted, demoralized army ceased to exist as a cohesive force, a destruction that was completed by the Italians during the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in late October 1918, just days before the end of World War I.


Update: New Pictures Added to the Website 6-16

New Pictures have been added to the Pages:

  • Museum Artifacts and Vehicles
  • Tiger 1 Replica
  • Deutsches Panzermuseum – German Tank Museum.
  • Marder 1, 2, & 3 Tank Destroyer
  • Self-Propelled Tank Destroyers
  • Musée des Blindés – Tank Museum – France.
  • StuG III
  • Sd.Kfz. 2, 4, 6-11, 222, 231-232, 234, and 250-254
  • Video – New Video Added

A New Page has been added to the website with pictures and video – Heinkel He 115 Recovery.