French president Emmanuel Macron sparked outrage today by paying tribute to his country’s most infamous Nazi collaborator.

The head of state said Philippe Petain was “a great soldier” during the First World War, and simply made some bad choices during the Second World War.

Petain led a Nazi puppet government of France after the country surrendered to the Germans in 1940.

During this time he supporting the German war effort and helping in the Holocaust by allowing thousands of French Jews to be deported to concentration camps.

Speaking during a walkabout in Charleville-Mezieres, in the eastern Ardennes department, Macron said: “I don’t take shortcuts, and I don’t hide any page in history.

“Marshal Petain was, during the First World War, also a great soldier.”

Macron added: “There, that’s a reality of our country.

“It’s also the case that political life is, like human nature, sometimes more complex than we would like to believe.

“You can be a great soldier in the First World War, and have taken catastrophic choices in the Second.”

Paris writer Maxime Cochard led a chorus of outrage on Twitter, writing: “Macron dares to affirm that Marshal Petain was, during the First World War, also a great soldier.”

But his comments drew fire from the opposition as well as Jewish leaders on a still painful chapter in France’s history.

“The only thing we will remember about Petain is that he was convicted, in the name of the French people, of national indignity during his trial in 1945,” said Mr Kalifat said.

“Petain is a traitor and an anti-Semite,” tweeted Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far-left France Unbowed party, echoing a flurry of angry postings.