Weygand, General Maxime, 1867-1965

Weygand was not French by birth— indeed his paternity is a mystery, though it is widely suggested that he was an illegitimate son of Leopold II of Belgium—but was trained at St Cyr Military Academy and chosen by Foch at the outbreak of World War I to be his Chief of Staff. Foch’s success guaranteed his own and between the wars he rose to the highest ranks of the French Army. Age, however, enforced his retirement before 1939 but he was recalled in the August of that year to command French forces in the Lebanon and Syria. On 19 May with the home front collapsing and GAMELIN’s incompetence demonstrated for all to see, he was brought back to France to take over as Supreme Allied Commander. Despite his age, he remained vigorous and incisive and began at once an attempt to create a new front (‘the Weygand Line’) south of the Somme. But the French 1st Army and the British Expeditionary Force had already been isolated, and the rest of the French army was not of the best quality. The Weygand Line, against which the German forces turned on 5 June, did not hold and by 12 June Weygand had decided that they must be asked for an armistice, which PETAIN signed on 22 June.

Weygand was then made Delegate General in French North Africa and Commander of local French forces, which stood outside the armistice arrangements. So resolutely anti-Axis was the spirit in which he exercised command that, at German insistence, he was relieved in November 1941 and a year later, on the German occupation of the Vichy zone, he was arrested and imprisoned in Germany. Re-arrested on his return to France in May 1945, he was tried for treason in 1948 but acquitted. The charge was unfounded. Weygand was tainted by the defeat of 1940 but in no way responsible for it, and demonstrated throughout his life profound devotion to his adopted country.

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