Reynaud was soon a major political figure in the Third French Republic. Beginning in the 1930s, he was named to the cabinet eight times, three of them in the Ministry of Finance. A maverick on many issues, as early as 1935 he supported the reformist ideas of the army's Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Gaulle for the organization of a powerful armored force to confront the Germans.
As minister of justice from April 1938 in the government of Édouard Daladier, Reynaud opposed the Munich Agreement but then accepted the post of minister of finance. When Daladier was forced to resign as premier for failing to prosecute the war vigorously, Reynaud became the premier on 20 March 1940. He was saddled with having his political rival Daladier as his defense minister, but he proposed aggressive action against the Germans, including plans to intervene in Norway. He and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain also discussed means of aiding the Finns in their war against the Soviet Union.
Following the German invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940, Reynaud tried to rally the French nation, announcing in a radio address, "The situation is grave; it is not desperate. The Maginot Line is thereÊ.Ê.Ê. intact, robust, unbreakable." He also sought to strengthen the government by bringing into it Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain and General Maxime Weygand. Reynaud pledged to continue the fight, but by the end of May, with the military situation fast deteriorating, he met with British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill and warned that he might be unable to keep his pledge not to negotiate a separate armistice. The government fled to Bordeaux in southwest France, and defeatists in the cabinet gained strength. Reynaud favored continuing the fight, if necessary overseas. When Churchill proposed a merger of France and Britain, he agreed, but this union was disavowed by a majority of the cabinet. On 16 June 1940, Reynaud resigned. Arrested by the Vichy government in August, he was held until November 1942, when he was handed over to the Germans. He was taken to Germany and remained a prisoner until he was liberated at the end of the war.
Reynaud returned to France and became a leading politician in the Fourth Republic from 1946. He headed the committee drafting the French constitution that ended the Fourth Republic and began the Fifth. Reynaud supported Charles de Gaulle until 1962. He was also an early advocate of the unification of Europe. He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, on 21 September 1966.
Joseph C. Greaney
Barber, Noel. The Week France Fell. New York: Stein and Day, 1976.; May, Ernest R. Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.; Reynaud, Paul. In the Thick of the Fight: The Testimony of Paul Reynaud. Trans. James D. Lambert. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951.; Shirer, William L. The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.