January 21

This Day in History

World War II

Jan 21, 1867:

General Weygand is born

On this day, French Gen. Maxime Weygand is born in Belgium. He was one of the commanders who accepted the German surrender at the close of World War I only to advise the French government to surrender to the Germans early in World War II.

Although born in Belgium (his actual ancestry is uncertain), Weygand was educated in France and graduated from the Saint-Cyr training school for officers in 1888 with honors. He taught at a cavalry school where, in 1914, he won the respect of Gen. Ferdinand Foch, who made Weygand his chief of staff during the World War I.

Weygand held a variety of positions between the wars, including a post as adviser to the Polish army in 1920, and a stint as inspector general of the French army. He retired from active service in 1935, at age 68.

When the Germans invaded France in May 1940, Weygand was recalled into service to take command of the Allied troops in France-after the Germans were already overrunning much of the country. As the British Expeditionary Force was pushed to the Channel by the Germans and then finally pushed out of France, things looked increasingly desperate for the French.

Britain attempted to keep hope alive--Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered more British troops into France and British bombers continued to attack German lines of communication. But despite the British reinforcements and encouragement, Weygand ordered the French military governor of Paris to ensure that the French capital remained an open city-in other words, there was to be no armed resistance to the Germans. Orders to this effect meant that Weygand was pushing for an armistice, a capitulation--the enemy would be allowed to pass through unchallenged. Weygand addressed his cabinet with his assessment of the situation: "A cessation of hostilities is compulsory." France capitulated.

Weygand served in the new German-loyal Vichy government as minister of defense, delegate general to French Africa, and governor-general of Algeria. He was dismissed in December 1941 and sent to Cannes to retire on a pension. He tried to get back into the fray in 1942 by flying to Algiers when the Allies invaded North Africa, but he was caught by the Germans and transported to Austria, where he sat imprisoned in an Austrian castle. Upon the surrender of Germany, he was released by U.S. troops of liberation but then rearrested on orders of Gen. Charles de Gaulle and charged with enemy collaboration. Weygand was "rehabilitated" within three years and pardoned for his concession to the Germans. De Gaulle was forced to admit that by the time Weygand took command of the army in France, "It was too late, without any doubt, to win the battle of France."

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