Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

If Not Haig, Then Who?


Chris_Baker
 Share

Recommended Posts

This, of course, is an entirely theoretical debate.

Douglas Haig was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British armies in France and Flanders in late 1915, replacing Sir John French. There are those who continue to argue the 'butcher theory', and that Haig was the wrong man. One of the usual counter-arguments is that he was the best man for the job because there was no better alternative.

Do you believe that? If not, who would you have appointed to this critical position? Don't just vote; tell us all why you voted the way you did.

Let us assume that Douglas Haig was not available. This poll is about the best alternative, not whether Haig was the best man for the job.

The list of options includes those men who were Army commanders or had been in the most senior jobs. Later possibilities like Byng, Gough, Horne, Monash, Currie do not appear as they would probably have been considered too junior in late 1915. Men from the Indian Army who were running the campaign in Mesopotamia have not been included. Finally, I can only propose 10 choices, or the software doesn't like it.

And once again please try to concentrate on the discussion rather than attacking others for their own opinions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My vote goes to :- SMITH-DORRIEN, GENERAL SIR HORACE LOCKWOOD.

(1) He was a Sherwood Forester.

(2) In command of the II Corps from August 1914 and the Second Army from December 1914 to April 1915. Fighting along with the rest of the BEF against overwhelming odds in August 1914,he managed his command ably in defensive battles at Mons and Le Cateau. In the latter engagement Smith-Dorrien was forced into the unenviable decision to fight with exhausted troops and open flanks against a numerically superior enemy force. To retreat , though not contrary to orders, would have probably have turned the British withdrawal into a rout, possibly resulting in the destruction of the BEF. Heavy fighting in unprepared positions against three German Divisions of Von Kluck's corps resulted in over 8,ooo British casualties but delayed the enemy advance long enough to permit resumption of the withdrawal.

While in command of the Second Army he again led the troops well during the German attack at Second Ypres in April 1915. Repeatedly ordered into costly and seemingly senseless counter attacks, Smith-Dorrien halted the attacks on his own iniative and recommended the partial abandoment of badly exposed sectors of the Ypres salient. General Sir John French used this as an excuse to relieve Smith-Dorrien of his command. His replacement General Sir Herbert Plumer assessed the situation in much the same manner as had his predecessor and this was done.

Source :- A.j Smithers, The Man who Disobeyed.

He would have earned the grateful thanks of many thousands of British and Commonwealth Troops including my Father, who served in that " Bloody Salient" if he had abandoned Ypres altogether and fought on better ground the other side.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can anyone illuminate us with the exact situation regarding seniority in the British Army at the time of French's demise ? Was Haig the strict next in the pecking order and/or had he also built up unstoppable support with the King , Ministers etc . I also recall that his wife was a lady in waiting to the Queen.

Smith-Dorrien and Plumer look the better soldiers with the benefit of hindsight although S-D I suppose was still under a considerable cloud re. Le Cateau as presented in French's book "1914"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ian

Plumer's seniority as a Lt Gen in 1914 was 4 Nov 08, while Haig's was 31 Aug 10. But Haig had the plum job of Aldershot Command and was therefore in coming man in the eyes of his superiors.

The problem that Smith-Dorrien had was that he and French personally loathed one another. Having been sacked, albeit unjustly in many people's eyes, in May 1915, it would have been difficult to bring him back that December since it would have been a real slap in the face for French, whom the authorities wanted to let down as lightly as possible. Hence making him Viscount French and giving him command of Home Forces.

Charles

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem that Smith-Dorrien had was that he and French personally loathed one another. Having been sacked, albeit unjustly in many people's eyes, in May 1915, it would have been difficult to bring him back that December since it would have been a real slap in the face for French, whom the authorities wanted to let down as lightly as possible. Hence making him Viscount French and giving him command of Home Forces.

Charles, I have both heard this and read it before. (Please don't ask me for sources, I can only say it was obviously not a revisionist)

The point being that I accept what you say absolutely. However, what a way to run an army!!

Barrie Dobson

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you said it all Chris "he was the best man for the job because there was no better alternative", as Curie had not yet arrived to save Europe!

The Colonial

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Chris

With respect you are at it again! I have already expressed my opinion of such excersises in the thread "Best Division in the British Army". I will just repeat that I consider responses which can only be subjective as a waste of good forum space.

If you want to stimuate discussion let the discussion inform. For example how about a discussion on the conduct of the Battle of Cambrai ?

Regards

Jim Gordon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would have to support Chris and believe that this is certainly a legitimate subject for discussion. The interpersonal relationships of these senior commanders had a profound affect on the course of the war and the normal jockeying for position happened then just as it does now. Haig seems to have been particularly adept at these sort of activities.

I recall that French accepted a quite large loan from Haig at some point which could be viewed as improper behaviour on both their behalves. That said French dug himself a very large hole and Haig was well positioned to ensure that he gained the benefit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With respect you are at it again! ..... I will just repeat that I consider responses which can only be subjective as a waste of good forum space.

Well, it's my forum space and I like it... :lol:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would vote for any private soldier available as long as he could read and write for the following reasons.

1. He couldn't possibly have done a worse job.

2. He would probably have had some consideration for his men.

3. His first hand experience may have come in handy. (i.e. Less likely to get his officers send men out to check whether the wire was cut and then ignore the findings if he didn't like what he was told!)

4. Would not have known personally any other of the General Staff and therefore would have no had no loyalties, favourites, etc. or even be in debt to any of them.

As the General Staff of the time were the product of a deeply flawed system there is little doubt that they would probably all have been as bad as each other. It all comes down to the class system in the end whether we like it or not and things haven't changed that much since 1918.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He couldn't possibly have done a worse job.

The British Army on the Western Front was the largest single organisation ever created by the nation. It defeated the enemy, hitherto the best Army in the world. Under Haig's command.

I don't understand the 'worse job' bit. I presume you mean 'He couldn't possibly have incurred as many casualties, yet still won the war'? Well, I do not believe it was in Haig's remit to win the war and minimise casualties.

My own opinion is that reckless casualties were suffered early on, in the countless attacks and early raids that could not possibly have succeeded. (Just go to www.1914-1918.net, in the Western Front battles listing, and check out the 'Battle analysis specials' in 1914 and 1915, if you want evidence).

The learning curve was just not fast enough, I say. The lessons learned at Neuve Chapelle were all but ignored at Aubers and Festubert. The mighty lessons learned at Loos were all but ignored at the Somme. Much of this time was under French's command, of course.

The adoption of improved technique and assimilation of learning I believe did accelerate after the Somme. Under Haig.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John Keegan appeared at the Cheltenham Literary festival about four years ago, promoting his one-volume history of the war. I asked him if he felt that the British Generals of WW1 could have fought the war in any other fashion, given the period and the resources available to them.

The reply was 'probably not'.

Simon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Barrie

No it doesn't hurt. My point was that one opinion is just as good as any other, and mere speculation does little to forward the reason for this forum being in existence i.e. the dissemination of information regarding the Great War. Maybe I am wrong. Neverthless I think it is a very worthwhile forum and the whole 1914-1918 Web site a credit to the Administrator.

Regards

Jim Gordon (Chris this very message is a waste of space)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The adoption of improved technique and assimilation of learning I believe did accelerate after the Somme. Under Haig.

Chris, I made a similar comment on the other Haig debate. However after nearly two years of fighting and years of service supposedly studying the art of warfare it's fair to assume that any Commander with the slightest trace of ability would have learnt enough to have some idea of how to fight a battle BEFORE July the 1st 1916!!!

Also, surely it is the duty and hopefully wish of any Commander to keep casualties to a minimum, especially so in a war of attrition.

The war was won in spite of not because of Field Marshall Haig.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wanted to learn more to see where this discussion might end. I found this artilcle that might stimulate some comments:

http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/comment/haig1.html

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...