Édouard Daladier

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Édouard Daladier (18 June 1884 – 10 October 1970) was a French Radical-Socialist (centre-left) politician who was Prime Minister in 1933 and 1934, and again in 1938-40.

Daladier was born in the sleepy town of Carpentras in Provence. During World War I he fought on the Western Front, and was decorated with the Military Cross.


After the war, in 1919, he was elected to the French Chamber of Deputies for Orange, Vaucluse, and became a leading figure in the Radical Party. He was in government at the time of the anti-Parliamentary riots, following a series of sensational scandals, in the centre of Paris on 6th February 1934.[1]

Munich Agreement

Daladier was one of the signatories, for France, with Neville Chamberlain, Mussolini and Hitler, to the Munich Agreement in 1938, which transferred the ethnically-German Sudetenland from the artificial state of Czechoslovakia to Germany, the counties concerned having been until 1919 Austrian Crown Lands.

Rearmament & the UK

Daladier as Minister of War in 1936, and as a socialist, was opposed to the arms manufacturers, the so-called 'Merchants of Death'. Addressing the Chamber of Deputies on July 17th on the Nationalization of Armaments Bill, he said: "All nations are unanimous in their objections to war becoming a source of private profit. By putting an end to the scandal in our country the French Government wishes to set an example which, it sincerely hopes, will be followed." The Bill was voted for almost without opposition on 11 August 1936.[2]

Despite Munich, Daladier was like so many French politicians "anti-Boche". The French army had been neglected overall during the inter-war period, including under Daladier's Ministry. The keystone of France's foreign policy since the formation of the Blum government was 'co-operation with England'. In a speech at the Paris Vélodrome d'Hiver on November 27th Leon Blum declared the French army to be the strongest in Europe. However, just 20 days later Daladier admitted that the standing army of France was only half the size of the German army. M. Delbos, on December 4th, now solemnly declared that Britain and Belgium could count on the immediate assistance of all France's armed forces. At the end of 1936 Anthony Eden guaranteed France and Belgium against unprovoked aggression.[3]

In January 1939, Daladier let the Deuxième Bureau manufacture the "Dutch War Scare". French intelligence fed false information to the British MI6 that Germany was about to invade the Netherlands with the aim of using Dutch air fields to launch a bombing campaign to raze British cities to the ground. As France was the only nation in Western Europe with an army strong enough to perceivably save the Netherlands, the "Dutch War Scare" led the British to make anxious inquiries in Paris to ask the French to intervene if the Netherlands were indeed invaded. In response, Daladier stated that if the British wanted the French to do something for their security, it was only fair for the British do something for French security. On 6 February 1939, Chamberlain, in a speech to the House of Commons, finally made the "continental commitment" as he told the House: "The solidarity that unites France and Britain is such that any threat to the vital interests of France must bring about the co-operation of Great Britain". On 13 February 1939, staff talks between the British Imperial General Staff and the French General Staff were opened.[4]


As head of government in 1939, Daladier expanded the French welfare state.

Daladier supported Chamberlain's policy of creating a "peace front" that was meant to deter Germany from aggression but was unhappy with the British "guarantee" of Poland, which Chamberlain had announced to the House of Commons on 31 March 1939.[5]> France had been allied to Poland since 1921, but Daladier had been bitter by the German-Polish Nonaggression Pact of 1934 and the Polish invasion and annexation of part of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Like other French leaders, he regarded the Sanation regime ruling Poland as a fickle and unreliable friend of France.[6] The rise in French industrial output and the greater financial stability in 1939 as a result of Reynaud's reforms led Daladier to view the possibility of war with the Reich more favourably than had been the case in 1938.[7] By September 1939, France's aircraft production was equal to Germany's, and 170 American planes were arriving per month.[8]

After the outbreak of the German-Polish conflict on 1 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany three days later (at different times of the day, France being reluctant). The Chamber voted the declaration of war on Germany only by implication: it was when it agreed unanimously to the opening of military credits amounting to 500 million francs. Yet Bonnet[9], on September 2nd, made an attempt to stop the British Government from declaring war. He had been in constant communication with Count Ciano, and the Italian Government were proposing an arbitration conference for September 5th.[10] Bonnet was prepared to attend the conference without demanding a German withdrawal from Polish territory. Following the British formal declaration of war the next day, Daladier removed Bonnet from the Foreign Office (he remained, however, as Minister of Justice). Outside the Cabinet the opposition to the war was more outspoken. After the conquest of Poland, Flandin said to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies: "Is it really worth going on with this?"[11]

During the Phoney War, France's failure to aid Finland against the Soviet Union's invasion during the Winter War led to Daladier's resignation as Premier on 21 March 1940, and his replacement by "England's Man", Paul Reynaud. Daladier remained Minister of Defence until 19 May, when Reynaud also took over that portfolio personally.


Between the world wars Daladier held many government positions:

  • Minister of Colonies 1924-5.
  • Minister of War 1925.
  • Minister of Public Instruction & Fine Arts 1925 & 1926.
  • Minister of Public Works 1930, 1931 & 1932.
  • Minister of War 1932-1934.
  • Premier from 28 Jan to 23 Oct 1933, and again briefly: 28 Jan to 7 Feb 1934.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs 1934.
  • Vice-President of the Council 1936-1937.
  • Minister of War & National Defence 1936 - 19 May 1940
  • Vice-President of the Council 1938.
  • Premier 1938 - 21 March 1940.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs 1939-1940.

Post war

Charged with others for taking France into an unwinnable war with the deaths of tens of thousands, Daladier was tried for treason by the French State government during the Riom Trial and imprisoned first in Fort du Portalet, then in Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally in Itter Castle. After the war Daladier resumed his political career as a member of the French Chamber of Deputies from 1946 to 1958.


  1. Werth, Alexander, The Destiny of France, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1937, chapter iii, "The Sixth of February and after".
  2. Werth, 1937, p.345-6.
  3. Werth, 1937, p.403-4 & notes.
  4. Overy, Richard, & Wheatcroft, Andrew, The Road To War, Macmillan, London, 2009 p.181-2
  5. Overy & Wheatcroft, 2009, 182
  6. Overy & Wheatcroft, 2009, p.182"
  7. Overy & Wheatcroft, 2009, p.183/
  8. Overy & Wheatcroft 2009, p. 184-185.
  9. In April 1938, after the fall of the second Blum government, Georges Bonnet was appointed Foreign Minister under Daladier.
  10. Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945 by an editorial board, Series D, vol.vii, USA Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 1956, p.509-510.
  11. Werth, 1942, p.347-8.