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Remembered Today:

Haig`s Possible Replacements


PhilB
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I`m not suggesting that Haig should have been replaced but it was seriously considered and allegedly not proceeded with because no suitable candidate was deemed available. Bearing in mind Haig`s record in December 1915, what was it about Plumer, Rawlinson, Allenby, Monash et al (and their records) that made them unsuitable? And, if Haig had, like Grierson, died in harness, who would have been the likely successor at various times?

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I'm not sure I understand this part: "Bearing in mind Haig's record in December 1915". Replacing him at that point was not seriously contemplated, so the question of suitability or otherwise of other candidates did not arise. Could you clarify?

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Have to agree with Chris, - what disqualified the others was that there was no vacancy. Now if a long range gun or a lucky bomber had created one that's another matter.

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I'm not sure I understand this part: "Bearing in mind Haig's record in December 1915". Replacing him at that point was not seriously contemplated, so the question of suitability or otherwise of other candidates did not arise. Could you clarify?

Certainly. Bear in mind Haig`s record when he was selected from the (few) available candidates, and considered suitable for the CinC`s job, so as to make a fair comparison with those who were considered (and rejected) later as his replacement.

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Hello all

I think that what Phil means is that when Haig was chosen to replace French in Dec 1915, his record to that date was not particularly good and that, if Haig had been replaced two years later, some of the generals Phil mentions had a more established track record and hence, on paper at least, were at least as well qualified as Haig had been when he was made C-in-C. (NB I wrote this paragraph before Phil's second post appeared.)

The circumstances in Dec 1917 were very different from those in Dec 1915. The British Army was considerably bigger and much more complex; the political situation both in the UK and within the alliance was equally complex.

In Dec 1915 there was no real practical alternative to Haig to succeed French, and Haig himself coveted the job and, to some extent, engineered the change. In Dec 1917 there was no such desire among his subordinates to replace Haig, nor apparently among lower ranks.

One point which is often overlooked in this discussion - especially for those who advance the candidacy of Monash - is what happened in 1917 when the French promoted a relatively junior general over the heads of many others to become their C-in-C. That was a mistake which nearly had fatal consequences for France.

Churchill summed up the position well: "He (Haig) may have been - indeed he almost certainly was - unequal to the scale of events, but no-one else was perceived as his equal or superior."

Ron

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You put it well, Ron. It was Churchill`s summary that prompted my query. Did WSC ever explain what the generals lacked as potential CinCs? And if DH had been run over by the proverbial bus, who would have had the biggest say as to his successor? And who does that make the favourite?

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I'm not convinced at all of Churchill's statement, indeed , it seems to me that he (Haig) turned out to be quite equal to it. Generalship in WW1 was quite unlike that of any war we had ever fought. On the Western Front, it was a coalition war where the French effectively took the lead both on the political and military front. Whoever had been C in C BEF would have had a difficult time. For a large proportion of the war, the BEF was fighting particular battles in support of the French. This required of the C in C BEF, not just military skills, but also political skills on both fronts . Haig was adept to survive both. He had the right mix of both.

TR

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Hi

There appears to be two questions - 1. why did he get the job and 2. and who would have replaced him if he had fallen off his horse (for example) and broken his neck.

1. I don't know enough about it.

2. The BEF is like any other large organisation if something happened to Haig the whole thing would just have been kept running by 100s of other capable people until a new head had been appointed. After several years of war that person would quite possibly have possessed more up to date and relevant skills than Haig himself did when he got the job. Over to you guys to bring up some names.

I will stick my neck out and make a couple of general comments.

Firstly I am not anti British, I was born there in the 50s when my NZ parents were over there studying, I go there every couple of years and several members of my family live there, but I have lived most of my life in NZ and Australia.

This arguement which comes up "no one capable of replacing Haig" is a British argument, from British thinking. It comes from Haig being the right person - that is well connected and well known, combined with embedded conservatism, defference to authority and a resistance to change. Due to the closer connection between the Colonies and Britian at that time this thinking is also found in their forces, especially as many of their officers are or have been part of the British system. It is a case of "better the devil you know than the devil you don't". So there probably were people in the army capable of replacing Haig, but they would not get a chance to show their skills unless Haig was out of the way.

I note Churchill said "no one was perceived as his equal" which is not the same thing as saying no one could replace him; and of course "perceived" by whom, Churchill and the people in charge?

Looking back on this situation from today, this sort of thinking is quite common in Britian even now in every day life, and on the GWF even detractors of Haig seem to struggle with the concept of who would replace him. I am sure as soon as some one puts a potential replacement on this site there will be a many reasons advanced why they would be unsuitable, which is not the same thing as saying they couldn't do the job.

In contrast; I would say that this type of thinking is almost dead in Australia and NZ and because of that most people over here today find it incomprehensible that he wasn't replaced, even if our grand parents didn't.

Finally I wonder if those who advance the "no one was suitable to replace him" line reflect on the fact that this in itself is an indictment of Haigs BEF. What they seem to be saying is that the BEF wasn't a learning organisation at this level, that after several years of war there was no succession plan, no one had been groomed for the role. Life was less certain in those days, apart from the war people did have a lower life expectancy and died of complaints easily cured today. Haig was not a young man, it seems strange no one had thought ahead to cover this possibility.

So somewhere must be a moldering old file - Potential Replacements for D Haig.

James

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Haig got the job because he was the commander of the 1st Army, he had a great track record and was the obvious heir apparent. He had so much support that Sir John was forced to retire to make room for him. Perhaps we should be asking why Sir John was brought back from disgrace to lead the BEF to France. Personally, I think that whoever led the BEF in 1914 was doomed to failure and perhaps Sir John made his greatest contribution to victory by being the fall guy for the lack of preparation. At different times, Plumer and Robertson could have had the job but either refused it or did not seek it. They did not want to lead, presumably they felt they could not do as good a job as Haig. He himself, felt that he could do the job, he wanted to do it. That would be only one of the pre-requisites for doing it well. The notion that the King or the British cabinet would have considered appointing a CiC from the Dominions is laughable. There were dozens of British officers who would have been considered before that.

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Perhaps: but the guy they got to look into the possibilities was South African....and he came up with the answer that Haig was the best man for the job. If LG could have found anyone...but he could not. The next question is why the alternatives were considered not up to it - and that's a thesis or two worth I reckon.

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Guest Rundberg

Personally I have no problem with Haig as C-in-C after French, especially without Grierson as a possibility. But I do have a problem with the concept sometimes more or less pronounced that there wasn´t any other possibilities.

An army, even if "only" of the size of the Contemptibles, wasn´t a one man show and I find it hard to believe that the standard of all the generals "behind" Haig was in a totaly other (meaning lower...) division. If that had been the case I think that german had been the main language in England by 1918.... :whistle:

Is there anyone that think that England would have been doomed if e.g. Plumer had been forced to take over for any reason?

Regards,

Chris

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How Haig became the replacement is well documented. He was in the right place as a commander in the field, and his political efforts behind the scenes are also well documented. It is hard to see, even in hindsight that anyone could have done better. Had he later taken that fatal fall; I suspect that Plumer would probably have been drafted. He had the command in one of the critical areas, and had proved competent. I can't see that Robertson would ever have been moved straight from a desk job to command the armies in the field. I'm a little hazy, but don't think he ever held direct command over any significant force, which would surely have been a disqualification.

Keith

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At different times, Plumer and Robertson could have had the job but either refused it or did not seek it.

This is the accepted wisdom - but what is it based on? Did Plumer or Robertson, for instance, actually say or write it?

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the parallels with my hero of WW II, Bomber Harris, are striking, methinks.

As John Terraine puts it the first duty of a general is to WIN.

In the Great War The Allies, including the British Army under Haig, WON.

In the WW II The Allies, including the British Forces, with Harris as AOC in C Bomber Command, WON

QED but of course it is not as simple as that.

PS I have found nothing in my material on Robertson to suggest that he either wanted the job, or not.

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As John Terraine puts it the first duty of a general is to WIN.

I`m sure John Terraine (or Grumpy) would not claim that was his only duty however. He needs to win with minimum loss to the nation in all aspects. It`s not good enough to say, or imply that "He won, therefore he is beyond criticism".

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Apr 12 2010, 11:07 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I`m sure John Terraine (or Grumpy) would not claim that was his only duty however. He needs to win with minimum loss to the nation in all aspects. It`s not good enough to say, or imply that "He won, therefore he is beyond criticism".

That is a purely personal notion. Many successful generals have suffered very heavy casualties. Wellington, Napoleon, Nelson( admiral but you get my point), Grant and Lee are the first few who leap to mind.

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IMO, Heavy casualties are not necessarily an indication of bad generalship but neither is winning necessarily a complete justification for them.

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Surely the combination most readily accepted is heavy casualties in gaining a swift and conclusive victory, thereby sparing future casualties. But then the Great War was unlike previous European wars.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Apr 12 2010, 09:41 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
This is the accepted wisdom - but what is it based on? Did Plumer or Robertson, for instance, actually say or write it?

For all the machinations have a look at Geoffery Powell's " Plumer". Efforts were made by LLoyd George to replace Robertson and Haig with many offers and combinations of offers, replacements, swaps and so on. Plumer and Allenby were strongly favoured to replace Haig and Plumer was actually offered Robertson's job but refused it.

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For all the machinations have a look at Geoffery Powell's " Plumer". Efforts were made by LLoyd George to replace Robertson and Haig with many offers and combinations of offers, replacements, swaps and so on. Plumer and Allenby were strongly favoured to replace Haig and Plumer was actually offered Robertson's job but refused it.

Quite amazing that anyone thought Allenby could do Haig's job! Completely temperamentally unsuited, IMHO.

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Quite amazing that anyone thought Allenby could do Haig's job! Completely temperamentally unsuited, IMHO.

At the time, Allenby had been successful in Palestine, Ll G's favoured battle scene. Throughout the war, the Welsh Wizard had argued strongly for British efforts to be concentrated in Middle East against the Turks, convinced that defeat of the Turks would have forced the Central Powers to accept defeat. A successful general in the theatre could not fail to attract his plaudits. For a fairly full estimate of Ll G's direction of the war, Robertson is highly recommended.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Apr 12 2010, 11:07 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I`m sure John Terraine (or Grumpy) would not claim that was his only duty however. He needs to win with minimum loss to the nation in all aspects. It`s not good enough to say, or imply that "He won, therefore he is beyond criticism".

As if I would

[never thought I would be in the same sentence as John Terraine. Think I'll call it a day having achieved pinnacle of fame].

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But then the Great War was unlike previous European wars.

Or (so far) any subsequent one.

I wonder if anyone could name me a commander of a force of any size, up against another force of simialr size and ability (thus removing people such as Clive) who didn't suffer heavy casualties (relative to the size of the forces at his command) in winning a war? I'd think John Churchill, Wellington (already mentioned) and various others would stand alongside Haig.

For myself I can think of very few (Wolfe, but he won a battle, not necessarily a war).

Personally, I'm with Mr Gunner here, too - heavy casualties to win a war might mean smaller casualties in prolonging the war. Bit like (and this is possibly a poor analogy) having a tooth out. Take it out swiftly and it hurts - but it's over.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Apr 12 2010, 09:41 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
This is the accepted wisdom - but what is it based on? Did Plumer or Robertson, for instance, actually say or write it?

I had to poke around to find this. P. 71, Robertson's, " Soldiers and Statesmen", Vol 1.

" Mr. Asquith and a Conservative member of the Government asked for my opinion as to the selection of a General to take Sir John's place, and both were good enough to refer to myself as a possible successor. Sir John, also , recommended that I should fill the vacancy. I felt however, that Sir Douglas Haig's qualifications were superior to mine, he having held, next to Sir John, the most important command at the front since the commencement of the war. "

Straight from the horse's mouth. No one was in a better position to judge Haig's abilities.

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