chapter  4
‘A Masterpiece of Tactics’: The Battle of Malmaison
Pages 29

Pétain took control of the French Army at a time when it was at its most fragile and his response to this crisis took two main paths; he instituted wholesale changes to the way in which the French army treated its soldiers and began to recast the operational and tactical methods of the army. As part of the latter process, he accelerated the transformation that had been occurring since Joffre’s tenure as commander-in-chief; from an army dependent on men for its effectiveness, to one more dependent on material. In relation to morale, his reputation for caring for the soldiers under his command gave him a standing with the troops that most of the other senior commanders had simply lost.2 However, his reputation alone was insufficient to quell the widespread unrest and a series of measures were taken to address many of the issues that had fanned this unrest. These included keeping disciplinary action against mutineers comparatively mild, with Pétain personally approving any executions, and organising leave in a way that enabled troops to actually get some rest from the front (the permissions system), as well as addressing the issue of rations, the subject of many bitter complaints by the troops.3 In relation to material, Pétain began a rearmament programme that would see a considerable increase in the numbers of tanks, heavy artillery and aircraft available to the French Army in the coming year.4