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Remembered Today:

Haig vs French


andigger
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I realize Haig is one of the more controversial figures on the Forum, but I was just reading through some interesting pages in a book that portrayed him as almost a back stabber toward Sir John after Loos. To be specific it is in Alan Clark's (another name which draws some ire) Donkeys.

'French does not get on with the French... It is most important at the present time to have someone to put the British case and cooperate with the French..." presumably Haig is recommending himself.

To the King, "the time to have removed French was after the retreat.... the last battle, his onstinacy and conceit, showed his incapacity and ... I therefore thought strongly that, for the sake of the Empire, French ought to be removed." And then, "I personally am ready to do my duty, in any capacity."

In this regard was Haig an opportunist or realist? Honestly I know very little about him, so my question is at face value.

Thanks, Andy

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In this regard was Haig an opportunist or realist?

Andy

I suspect it was a bit of both. Haig had pressed hard to get reinforcements bought closer to the line prior to the Battle of Loos, at least according to Charteris' account (he was pro-Haig in his book 'At GHQ'). French's intransigence on this issue has to be seen in the light of the ongoing dysfunctional behaviour in his GHQ. The problems between Sir Archibald Murray, Sir Henry Wilson and Macdonogh really came to the fore in the Retreat and again at First Ypres. So it could be argued that Haig would have had a realistic view that Sir John French was not really up to it. French seemed to be a great motivator of the troops but this is not sufficient when in overall command.

I think the French (the man) versus French (the nation) issue is a distraction. It is true that he had major problems with Lanrezac. But so did Joffre. From Spears' account, once Lanrezac was relieved Sir John was quite congenial. The bigger problem seemed to be with French's reliance on Sir Henry Wilson. Not because Sir Henry was a Francophile, which he was (something that could have been a great asset as it was for Spears), but because his enthusiastic interpretations could not be counter-balanced by French, whose knowledge of French (the language) was probably slightly better than mine - dismal.

Haig was undoubtedly an opportunist as well. In 'Trial by Fire', Gardner describes the lengths Haig went to in covering up his mistake of abandoning Smith-Dorrien at Le Cateau. Haig seems to have tried to make SD out to be the villain of the piece, perhaps building on the animosity that existed between French and SD. Haig used his contacts with the King and other influential figures to ensure that his reputation emerged unscathed. He constantly sent edited highlights of his diary to the King, which no doubt placed Haig in a favourable light for the opportunity to step into French's cavalry boots. Charteris, who published his diary accounts and notes after the war, constantly refers to the likelihood that Haig would be a much better C-in-C than Haig right from day one. So Haig had supporters who fanned his ambition.

Robert

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Haig would be a much better C-in-C than Haig

Too early in the morning. Replace second instance of 'Haig' with 'French'.

Robert

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A couple of thoughts. Nobody with a General's commission is beyond ego or beyond working to advance his interest. The key to consideration is was Haig's interest merely Haig or was it he believed he was crucial to the cause of victory.

That is the question - nobody at that level - is without the desire to win and dominate ... it's part of the make up of a successful officer ... but it is always balanced by the desire and need to serve (King and Country - the "cause") It is in the balance of these things we look for flaws.

So was Haig trying to make Haig CoC because he wanted it or because he thought he was the solution to a vexing problem of command and coordination? The anwer is not easy ... and often to mixed to tell ... John Churchill was a great example ... Douglas MacArthur is another ... We wish all CoCs to be like Eisenhower or Lee. That is seemingly incredibly skilled, dedicated, diplmatic and thrust (against their wishes) into over-all command ... all leading to a successful effort (well, Lee's was over before he began and thus was successful in getting the war as far as it went) ... but it is not so.

Andy - I would look at Haig's post war life and his letters to his wife. I believe he was committed and believed only he could lead the balance of offensive / diplomatic war in a modern age with politicians and plutocrats (couldn't resist the aliteration) to find victory. Okay, that said, I also believe he had no idea of the war's true nature (no one did) and tried to figure it out as he went ... (don't we all) ...

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Alan Clark was not even close to being an objective source. One thing Haig's reputation has going for it today is the complete bias of Clark & Denis WInter in Haig's Command, a real calumny.

We have another thread on the worst WF general, French is very close to the top.

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Regarding the topic, I find this extract from pages 526 and 527 of The Boer War by Thomas Packenham (ISBN 0 349 10466 2) interesting.

Did Haig, French and Kitchener change that much in twelve years?

" Colonel Douglais Haig, the commander directly responsible, under the overall direction of General French, for this section of the cordon, did not regard Smuts or his commando as giants. 'Brutes' and 'ruffians' were the words he used. The news of the smash-up suffered by C Squadron of the 17th Lancers reached him at Tarkastad, fourteen miles from Elands River Poort. It was 4.30 p.m. Haig galloped that fourteen miles in an hour and a quarter, splashing down the water-logged track. He was appalled by what he saw. 'The brutes had used explosive bullets.' Four of the six officers were dead, and Sandeman and Lord Vivian were wounded - Lord Vivian, whose sister Haig was to marry.

Haig, newly appointed CO of the 17th Lancers, as well as director of five different columns, had sent the regiment round the mountains in the train from Stormberg, to head Smuts off. He had sat with Sandeman during a break in the appalling weather of the previous day and picknicked off a hamper of delicacies, sent from England, out on that fatal kopje. He did not blame poor Sandeman for what had happened now. The tactical weakness of C Squadron's camp at Modderfontein was that it was commanded by high ground on the west side of the valley. Smuts capture of this high ground, combined with his men's use of captured khaki uniforms, had enabled the commando to storm the camp from the rear.

How was Haig to deal with such 'ruffians'? The week before, he had written a jaunty letter home, describing the execution of colonial rebels at Colesberg: 'The authorities are all for blood I hear! This will have a good effect. There were 3 men shot at Colesburg [sic] when I was there. I did not care to go and see the spectacle but all the local Dutch magnates had to attend and a roll was called to see they were present. -I am told the sight was most impressive and everything went off well. -Just think what amusement old Baxter and even Hobday would have if they were now in this country! By the way I wired Gilbey for some more claret and champagne.'

Now that champagne tasted bitter enough, as Haig saw the smashed and mangled bodies of Lieutenant Sheridan and the other young officers of the 17th Lancers. He renewed his orders (they were French's and Kitchener's, too): all Boer prisoners caught wearing British uniforms were to be shot on the spot.

For the next four weeks, the guerrilla war in the mountains of the eastern Cape Colony centred on a personal duel between Haig and Smuts, between two well matched, though differently armed, opponents, each intensely professional, each relentless drivers of men.

From Haig's point of view, the loss of seventy cavalrymen, humiliating as it was, did not alter the main issue: whether he could catch the fox - or at least drive

it back over the river out of the Cape farmyards. For this fox-hunt French had

given him three packs - that is, three columns totalling roughly two thousand men. The excitement of the chase raised everyone's spirits. 'From my point of view,' Haig said earlier (it was at a time when Kitchener 'used to get a fit of the funks' and think De Wet was going to invade the Colony), 'nothing would have pleased me and my column better than a good hunt after De Wet... the next best fox is Kritzinger.' Now it was Smuts who had slipped over the river on 3 September - unchallenged, owing to K's bungling. Haig and French were exasperated by the way Kitchener interfered in the work of the columns. On the night of the 3rd, Kitchener had excelled himself. He wired to Major-General Fitzroy Hart, the Natal fire-eater, now serving as a humble column commander, telling him to take his men from guarding the ford at Kiba Drift and march them off to attack the Boers a few miles to the north of the Orange. Enter Smuts and his Two Hundred crossing Kiba Drift. (French's furious comment: 'What is the use in us doing our best to clear the Colony, if, the moment we drive Boers out at one corner, Lord K. drives them in another?').

This fiasco was all the more galling, as French's FID (Field Intelligence Department) was now pouring out telegrams full of information, much of which, events would show, was surprisingly accurate. "

Regards

Richard

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Thanks all for the replies.....

I think the basic consensus is that for better AND worse Haig was just demonstrating the 'skills' that made him a general. Maybe this quote sums it up, " ....I am determined to be thoroughly loyal and do m y duty as a subordinate should.... though neither of them (French or Murray) is at all fitted for the appointment which he now holds at this moment of crisis."

Paul... and others - I have read several posts that dismiss Clark as a reasonable historian. What other authors/books are recommended for both the British actions of 1915 and the Lions vs Donkeys debate?

Thanks, Andy

ps... Robert at 6.30 this AM I read, re-read, and re-read your line trying to figure out the Haig/Haig line. It was too early for me to realize your next post corrected the mistake. :D

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Debate and argue away, but Haig was still the wrong man for the job. "the best ally the Germans had" (?) Definitely. Throughout his entire sertvice he was an officer who viewed the 'problems' through dated eyes, tactics and attitudes.

Incapable of original military thopught or adapting to the "new" warfare he blundered, blundered, then blundered a bit more. Always finding a scapegoat, always finding a "battlefield condition" excuse, Haig conned the Government, the King and the public. "Great on paper but lacking in reality" sum up both his communication AND leadership skills.

I began burning "Haig fund" of the black spot in poppies in 1976.

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