Paul Reynaud

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Paul Reynaud
File:Paul Reynaud 1933.jpg
Paul Reynaud (1933)
118th Prime Minister of France
In office
21 March 1940 – 16 June 1940
President Albert Lebrun
Preceded by Édouard Daladier
Succeeded by Philippe Pétain
Deputy Prime Minister of France
In office
28 June 1953 – 12 June 1954
Preceded by Henri Queuille
Succeeded by Guy Mollet
In office
20 February 1932 – 10 May 1932
Preceded by Lucien Hubert
Succeeded by Albert Dalimier
Minister responsible for Relations with Partner States and the Far East
In office
2 July 1950 – 4 July 1950
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Jean Letourneau
Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
In office
26 July 1948 – 28 August 1948
Preceded by René Mayer
Succeeded by Christian Pineau
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
5 June 1940 – 16 June 1940
Preceded by Édouard Daladier
Succeeded by Philippe Pétain
In office
21 March 1940 – 18 May 1940
Preceded by Édouard Daladier
Succeeded by Édouard Daladier
Minister of National Defence and War
In office
18 May 1940 – 16 June 1940
Preceded by Édouard Daladier
Succeeded by Maxime Weygand
Minister of Finance
In office
1 November 1938 – 21 March 1940
Preceded by Paul Marchandeau
Succeeded by Lucien Lamoureux
In office
2 March 1930 – 4 December 1930
Preceded by Charles Dumont
Succeeded by Louis Germain-Martin
Minister of Justice
In office
12 April 1938 – 1 November 1938
Preceded by Marc Rucart
Succeeded by Paul Marchandeau
In office
20 February 1932 – 3 June 1932
Preceded by Léon Bérard
Succeeded by René Renoult
Minister of the Colonies
In office
27 February 1931 – 6 February 1932
Preceded by Théodore Steeg
Succeeded by Louis de Chappedelaine
Personal details
Born Jean Paul Reynaud
(1878-10-15)15 October 1878
Barcelonnette, France
Died 21 September 1966(1966-09-21) (aged 87)
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Political party Democratic Republican Alliance
National Centre of Independents and Peasants
Spouse(s) Jeanne Henri-Robert
Christiane Mabire
Children Colette
Alma mater HEC Paris
Religion Roman Catholicism

Paul Reynaud (French: [pɔl ʁɛjno]; 15 October 1878 – 21 September 1966) was a French politician and lawyer prominent in the interwar period, noted for his stances on economic liberalism and militant opposition to Germany. He was the penultimate Prime Minister of the Third Republic and vice-president of the Democratic Republican Alliance center-right party. After the outbreak of war and the collapse of French resistance in 1940, Reynaud persistently refused to support an armistice with Germany and resigned. After unsuccessfully attempting to flee France, he was arrested by Philippe Petain's administration. Surrendered to German custody in 1942, he was imprisoned in Germany and later Austria until liberation in 1945. Elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1946, he became a prominent figure again in French political life, serving in several cabinet positions. He favoured a United States of Europe, and participated in drafting the constitution for the Fifth Republic, but resigned from government in 1962 after disagreement with President de Gaulle over changes to the electoral system.

Early life and politics

Reynaud was born in Barcelonnette, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. His father had made a fortune in the textile industry, enabling Reynaud to study law at the Sorbonne. He entered politics and was elected to the French Chamber of Deputies from 1919 to 1924, representing Basses-Alpes, and again from 1928, representing a Paris district. Although he was first elected as part of the conservative "Blue Horizon" bloc in 1919, Reynaud shortly thereafter switched his allegiance to the centre-right Democratic Republican Alliance party, later becoming its vice-president.

In the 1920s, Reynaud developed a reputation for laxity on German reparations, at a time when many in the French government backed harsher terms for Germany. In the 1930s during the Great Depression, particularly after 1933, Reynaud's stance hardened against the Germans at a time when all nations were struggling economically. Reynaud backed a strong alliance with the United Kingdom and, unlike many others on the French Right, better relations with the Soviet Union as a counterweight against the Germans.[1]:517

Reynaud held several cabinet posts in the early 1930s, but he clashed with members of his party after 1932 over French foreign and defense policy. He was not given another cabinet position until 1938. Like Winston Churchill, Reynaud was a maverick in his party and often alone in his calls for rearmament and resistance to German aggrandizement. Reynaud was a supporter of Charles de Gaulle's theories of mechanized warfare in contrast to the static defense doctrines that were in vogue among many of his countrymen, symbolized by the Maginot Line. He strongly opposed appeasement in the run-up to the Second World War. He also clashed with his party on economic policy, backing the devaluation of the franc as a solution to France's economic woes. Pierre Étienne Flandin, the leader of the Democratic Republican Alliance, agreed with several of Reynaud's key policy stances, particularly on Reynaud's defence of economic liberalism.

Return to government

Reynaud returned to the cabinet in 1938 as Minister of Finance under Édouard Daladier. The Sudeten Crisis, which began not long after Reynaud was named Minister of Justice, again revealed the divide between Reynaud and the rest of the Alliance Démocratique; Reynaud adamantly opposed abandoning the Czechs to the Germans, while Flandin felt that allowing Germany to expand eastward would inevitably lead to a conflict with the Soviets that would weaken both. Reynaud publicly made his case, and in response Flandin pamphleted Paris in order to pressure the government to agree to Hitler's demands.[1]:519 Reynaud subsequently left his party to become an independent. Reynaud still had Daladier's support, however, whose politique de fermeté ("policy of firmness") was very similar to Reynaud's notion of deterrence.

Reynaud, however, had always wanted the Finance ministry. He endorsed radically liberal economic policies in order to draw France's economy out of stagnation, centered on a massive program of deregulation, including the elimination of the forty-hour work week.[1]:503 The notion of deregulation was very popular among France's businessmen, and Reynaud believed that it was the best way for France to regain investors' confidence again and escape the stagnation its economy had fallen into. The collapse of Léon Blum's government in 1938 was a response to Blum's attempt to expand the regulatory powers of the French government; there was therefore considerable support in the French government for an alternative approach like Reynaud's.

Paul Marchandeau, Daladier's first choice for finance minister, offered a limited program of economic reform that was not to Daladier's satisfaction; Reynaud and Marchandeau swapped portfolios, and Reynaud went ahead with his radical liberalization reforms. Reynaud's reforms were successfully implemented, and the government stood down a one-day strike in opposition. Reynaud addressed France's business community, arguing that "We live in a capitalist system. For it to function we must obey its laws. These are the laws of profits, individual risk, free markets, and growth by competition."[1]:504

Reynaud's reforms proved remarkably successful; a massive austerity program was implemented (although armament measures were not cut) and France's coffers expanded from 37 billion francs in September 1938 to 48 billion francs at the outbreak of war a year later. More importantly, France's industrial productivity jumped from 76 to 100 (base=1929) from October 1938 to May 1939.[1]:505 At the outbreak of war, however, Reynaud was not bullish on France's economy; he felt that the massive increase in spending that a war entailed would stamp out France's recovery.

The French Right was ambivalent about the war in late 1939 and early 1940, feeling that the greater threat was from the Soviets.[1]:522–523 The Winter War put these problems into stark relief; Daladier refused to send aid to the Finns while war with Germany continued. News of the Soviet-Finnish armistice in March 1940 prompted Flandin and Pierre Laval to hold secret sessions of the legislature that denounced Daladier's actions; the government fell on 19 March. The government named Reynaud Prime Minister of France two days later.

Prime minister, resignation, and arrest

Although Reynaud was increasingly popular, the Chamber of Deputies elected Reynaud premier by only a single vote with most of his own party abstaining; over half of the votes for Reynaud came from the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) party. With so much support from the left – and the opposition from many parties on the right – Reynaud's government was especially unstable; many on the Right demanded that Reynaud attack not Germany, but the Soviet Union.[1]:524 The Chamber also forced Daladier, whom Reynaud held personally responsible for France's weakness, to be Reynaud's Minister of National Defense and War. One of Reynaud's first acts was to sign a declaration with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that neither of the two countries would sign a separate peace.

Reynaud abandoned any notion of a "long war strategy" based on attrition. Aiming at diverting German attentions from France, Reynaud entertained suggestions to expand the war to the Balkans or northern Europe; he was instrumental in launching the allied campaign in Norway, though it ended in failure. Britain's decision to withdraw on 26 April prompted Reynaud to travel to London to lobby the British personally to stand and fight in Norway.[1]:533

The Battle of France began less than two months after Reynaud came to office. France was badly mauled by the initial attack in early May 1940, and Paris was threatened. On 15 May, five days after the invasion began, Reynaud contacted Churchill and famously remarked, "We have been defeated... we are beaten; we have lost the battle.... The front is broken near Sedan." Indeed, such was the situation regarding equipment and morale that Reynaud received a postcard found on the body of an officer who had committed suicide in Le Mans. It stated: "I am killing myself Mr President to let you know that all my men were brave, but one cannot send men to fight tanks with rifles."[2]

Charles de Gaulle, whom Reynaud had long supported and one of the few French commanders to have fought the Germans successfully in 1940, was promoted to brigadier general and named undersecretary of war.[3] On 18 May Reynaud removed commander-in-chief Maurice Gamelin in favour of Maxime Weygand.

France's situation grew increasingly desperate; Paris fell to the Nazis on 14 June, and the government was now ensconced in Bordeaux. Reynaud accepted Marshal Philippe Pétain, an aged veteran of the First World War, as Minister of State. There was increasing pressure on Reynaud to seek an armistice with Germany, not least from his mistress, the Comtesse Hélène de Portes, a Fascist sympathizer who continually attempted to interfere in the affairs of state.[4] Reynaud refused to be a party to such an undertaking, being strongly supported in his resistance notably by Georges Mandel, and was among the few in the cabinet to support accepting the British proposal on 16 June to unite France and the United Kingdom to avoid surrender. Discouraged by the cabinet's hostile reaction to the proposal and its preference for an armistice, and believing that his ministers no longer supported him,[5] Reynaud resigned that evening. Pétain became the leader of the new government (the last one of the Third Republic), and signed the armistice on 22 June.


Reynaud and de Portes left Bordeaux, driving southeast ahead of the advancing German armies, intending to stop at Reynaud's holiday home on the Riviera before fleeing to North Africa. On 28 June, with Reynaud at the wheel, their car left the road and hit a tree at Frontignan, near Sète; de Portes was all but decapitated, while Reynaud escaped with relatively minor injuries.[4] Hospitalized at Montpellier, Reynaud was arrested on his discharge on Pétain's orders and imprisoned at Fort du Portalet.[6] Pétain decided against having Reynaud charged during the Riom Trial of 1942, but surrendered him to the Germans instead, who removed him firstly to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, thence Itter Castle near Wörgl, Austria, where he remained with other high profile French prisoners until liberated by Allied troops on 7 May 1945.[7] Major Josef Gangl, a Wehrmacht officer who had gone over to the anti-Nazi Austrian resistance, was killed by a sniper's bullet while trying to move Reynaud out of harm's way during the Battle for Castle Itter on May 5, 1945.[8]

While hospitalized at Montpellier, Reynaud allegedly told Bill Bullitt, American ambassador, 'I have lost my country, my honour, and my love'.[9]

Postwar life

After the war, Reynaud was elected in 1946 as a member of the Chamber of Deputies. He was appointed to several cabinet positions in the postwar period and remained a prominent figure in French politics. His attempts to form governments in 1952 and 1953 in the turbulent politics of the French Fourth Republic were failures.

Reynaud supported the idea of a United States of Europe, along with a number of prominent contemporaries. Reynaud presided over the consultative committee that drafted the constitution of France's (current) Fifth Republic. In 1962, he denounced his old friend de Gaulle's attempt to eliminate the electoral college system in favour of direct vote. Reynaud left office the same year; he died on 21 September 1966 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, leaving a number of writings.

Private life

By his first marriage in 1912, to Jeanne Henri-Robert, he was the father of a daughter, Collette; the marriage ended in divorce in 1913. Reynaud married Christiane Mabire (who was previously one of his office assistants) in 1949 at the age of 71, and fathered two sons and a daughter.

Reynaud's government, 21 March – 16 June 1940

Three French cabinet ministers, Édouard Daladier, Georges Monnet and Paul Reynaud c.1940


  • 10 May 1940 – Louis Marin and Jean Ybarnegaray enter the Cabinet as Ministers of State
  • 18 May 1940 – Philippe Pétain enters the Cabinet as Minister of State. Reynaud succeeds Daladier as Minister of National Defense and War. Daladier succeeds Reynaud as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Georges Mandel succeeds Roy as Minister of the Interior. Louis Rollin succeeds Mandel as Minister of Colonies. Léon Baréty succeeds Rollin as Minister of Commerce and Industry.
  • 5 June 1940 – Reynaud succeeds Daladier as Minister of Foreign Affairs, remaining also Minister of National Defense and War. Yves Bouthillier succeeds Lamoureux as Minister of Finance. Yvon Delbos succeeds Sarraut as Minister of National Education. Ludovic-Oscar Frossard succeeds Monzie as Minister of Public Works. Jean Prouvost succeeds Frossard as Minister of Information. Georges Pernot succeeds Héraud as Health Minister, with the new title of Minister of French Family. Albert Chichery succeeds Baréty as Minister of Commerce and Industry.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Imlay, Talbot C. "Paul Reynaud and France's Response to Nazi Germany, 1938–1940," French Historical Studies 26.3 (2003)
  2. Regan, Geoffrey. Military Anecdotes - The End of The Line (1992) p.159 ISBN 0-85112-519-0
  4. 4.0 4.1 Pelayo, D. (2009) L'accident de Paul Reynaud. l'Agglorieuse
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  7. Barber, Noel (1976). The Week France Fell. p. 299.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Sepp Gangl-Straße in Wörgl •".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Moss, N. (2003). 19 Weeks. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York. ISBN 0-618-10471-2.


  • Noel Barber, The Week France Fell (1976)
  • Paul Reynaud, In the Thick of the Fight, 1930–1945 (1955)
  • Roland de Margerie, Journal, 1939-1940, Paris, Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, 2010, 416 p. (ISBN 978-2246770411)

External links