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Lt General Sir Richard Haking: A Heartless Donkey Who Blamed His Failings on the Officers and Men Serving Under Him?


alandouglasbower

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Since researching the WW1 military service of family members, I've twice come across criticism of Lt General Sir Richard Haking, blaming the men under him for his poor planning and command after two military disasters; the battles of Loos and Fromelles.

 

Below is my transcription of a letter from Colonel C. Stewart to Major A. F. Becke sent in 1925, as Becke was helping put together the official History of the war. I found the letter attached to the Divisional War Diary. Sorry for any mistakes and USA autocorrections. Colonel Stewart was G.S.O.I. for the 24th Division  during the Battle of Loos.

 

                                                                                                            Downlands,

                                                                                                            Sway

                                                                                                            Hampshire

                                                                                                            3. 8. 1925

 

My dear Becke,

 

I enclose herewith the copy of the official report on the 24th September at Loos I mentioned; and also some notes made by me at the time in a very rough diary. Will you please return both when done with? The diary is very incomplete, but it is difficult for a busy S.O. to keep anything like a full diary, and he trusts officially to the War Diary.

 

I do not want to find excuses for anyone; we all did our best, and I know personally the Divisional Commander and his staff in this operation worked under the greatest difficulties. We had little real information of the situation all through; none of the actual locality (we had visited a different portion of the front before). Nearly all the information which was supplied was altogether wrong and misleading, being quite unduly optimistic. The idea given was that the Germans had been heavily defeated and were retiring everywhere, and the reserve corps was to confirm success. There was no idea of meeting organized resistance. We all had little or no rest for 48 hours.

 

2. The whole idea underlying the tactical handling of the Reserve Corps was to my idea unsound, as far as the 21st and 24th Divisions were concerned. I had it from XI Corps Commander himself in the period spent in the billeting area when concentrating in France. It was that these two divisions would be in reserve in a big operation at Loos on the idea that not having been previously engaged in this way, they would go into action for the first time full of espirit and elan, and being ignorant of the effects of fire and the intensity of it, would go forward irresistably and do great things. There was an average I think of one regular officer per Battalion who had been collected at home from recovered casualties. I and Kay had both been wounded in still open warfare on the Aisne and 1st Battle of Ypres, and I think from that latter experience were not well acquainted with what trench warfare attacks entailed. In any case the situation was believed to be that the Germans had been driven from their entrenchments and open warfare was being resumed. Such an attack had been rehearsed under the eye of the Corps Commander by the division in the back area.

 

3. The account gives very little real idea of the congestion of the battlefield. On the 25th the Division Headquarters when summoned up in advance by XI Corps had a great difficulty getting through. In one place on the main road up to Vermelles, we were blocked by a Cavalry Division moving across the road, who also blocked all the ammunition supply of divisions fighting, the wounded etc. – and created great confusion. It was hours before we could ascertain what had become of the 73rd Infantry Brigade. The 71st and 72nd took hours to get up at all.

 

4. The great criticisms on the whole operations are I think:

 

(1)  The faulty and quite inaccurate information as to the situation sent out by superior authority. As I say everyone was led to believe it was a victory everywhere. There can have been no real justification of this. Everything was hushed to confirm success.

(2)  The almost total absence of artillery support. It appeared to be regarded as unnecessary owing to the defeat of the Germans. When the Division was told its artillery was returned to it on the night of the 25/26th, we did not know where the batteries actually were in the 2 corps. The infantry advanced unsupported by artillery. You cannot move half trained batteries on a trench warfare battlefield miles suddenly in the night into action to render efficient support at dawn to infantry they have not been in touch with.

(3)  The supply arrangements were altogether wanting. The removal of cookers and water carts from brigade charge was lamentable.

 

You will see that the 24th Division (72nd Brigade) was in touch all along with one battalion of the 1st Division. The 1st Division as it transpired was not in touch itself with this (their right flank) Battalion when they thought that the 24th Division had not started at 11:00 a.m. on the 26th, it had, and their own Battalion advanced at that hour with the 24th Division, while the rest of the 1st Division did not start at that hour. This Division I believe had had a bad doing on the 23rd or 24th.

 

The attack was originally ordered by XI Corps for I think 3:30 p.m. on the 25th, when the troops had not arrived on the ground near Vermelles, it was delayed, and delayed  owing to the difficulties of the advance, till 11:00 a.m. on the 26th, when the men were tired and hungry.

 

You know well the difficulty of staging such an attack, especially with inexperienced troops unacquainted with the ground. I think staff officers or guides should have been arranged by the XI Corps Headquarters to assist them. Divisional Headquarters had no opportunity to arrange anything of this kind. We were summoned up on the 25th and immediately on arrival had orders dictated to us in detail for an attack which was already obviously not feasible as the troops were not present. These orders were dictated by the Corps Commander.

 

As I told you, officers and men were shot down in the front line, having reached their objective, trying to tear away uncut German wire with their hands – without artillery support. Franks, the G.O.C.., 1st Army told me afterwards there were no guns that could reach this wire (S.W. of Hulluch) except long guns occupied elsewhere. He was in ignorance of this attack as G.O.C., R.A.

 

(Franks commanded I Group, H.A.R. allotted to IV Corps)

 

I hope I don’t seem to cavil too much against superior authority; but I was proud and cherished the 24th Division, and its name was blackened in dispatches, to my idea absolutely wrongly. The loss of life was lamentable, and the oldest and most experienced of troops might have failed. I saw plenty of attacks later – very many. I never saw one worse prepared than this, bar one, at Fromelles near Neuve Chapelle in 1916, also run by the XI Corps again without proper artillery preparation. Also, again an attack where all details were ordered direct from Corps H.Q. for new and untrained and inexperienced divisions.

 

To be perfectly honest, I feel the Corps were responsible more than anyone else for this lamentable attack being such a failure.

 

I do not say this from any personal motive. But Sir John Ramsay is dead, Kay is killed, I think Mitford is dead, Kenney is dead. Cunningham, my G.S.O. I fancy was killed later, and I am about the only representative left of Divisional Headquarters. The blame for failure was unfairly and ungenerously put on the Division officially in dispatches, and never publicly corrected, though it was in an official letter from G.H.Q. by General Robertson to the G.O.C. I think it is only fair and right that now the official history of the war is being written that as far as I am able, I should do what I can to ensure justice being done to many gallant officers and men who fell in their duty then and later.

 

Also I’d like to repeat that between 3:00 p.m. and about 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. on the 26th I rode up and back along all the line of the 21st and 24th Divisions while they were coming back under fairly heavy shell fire, and I saw no case of panic or fear. Men had their arms, and had no officers and N.C.O.s. They were tired out, hungry and thirsty, and though suffering a fair number of casualties as they walked back, never hustled and obeyed my orders at the time to reoccupy trenches, although they drifted away again more after food and water than anything else when I had gone. This at a time when I found a battery further in rear through which I passed under no heavier shell fire, deserted by all save the battery commander. The latter had had his O.P. cut and come back and found his gunners gone to cover. On my advice he continued to walk up and down among his guns with the idea his men would return when they saw him, which they eventually did.

 

I also consider strongly there was a tendency among certain commanders when an operation for which they were responsible did not succeed, to attribute blame direct to units or officers under their command, when the true circumstances did not justify this being specially done. I think this was a case in point, and the 21st and 24th Divisions were offered up as a sacrifice to public opinion in a manner they in no way merited. I am glad to think that this tendency was restricted to only a few.

 

If there is any point on which I can help you, please let me know.

 

Your sincerely, COSMO STEWART.

 

 

For the disaster that was the Battle of Fromelles, Haking was quick to blame the 61st Division. Please see 61st-Division-in-WW1-UNIVERSITY-OF-BIRMINGHAM.pdf

 

I've come across references to Major Christie-Miller criticizing Haking in a similar fashion in a number of publications, but have not been able to view the source material. Has anyone made the following papers available online? Colonel Sir Geoffrey Christie-Miller. Christie –Miller papers. IWM 80/32/1

 

 

 

 

Edited by alandouglasbower
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If you haven't seen it, THIS is a very fair study of the man

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Certainly worth a read.

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Thanks Steven Broomfield.

 

I picked up the book, Lt Gen Sir Richard Haking, XI Corps Commander 1915-18: A Study in Corps Command, by Michael Senior, when I was researching the battle of Fromelles. My Great Grandfather, Sergeant James Walton, served in the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry of the 61st Division. At this time I gave Haking the benefit of the doubt, but the more I have read the war diaries about the Battles of Loos and Fromelles, and read comments from well decorated officers that served under him, the more I question his military tactics and his integrity as a man. Many officers that served under him seemed to despise him, and thought he needlessly wasted lives.

 

Haking was always ready to blame the units and officers under him, so I think it is only fair that his own actions should be closely analyzed. I don't have a final conclusion, but I'm interested in learning as much as possible.

 

Alan

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7 hours ago, Steven Broomfield said:

If you haven't seen it, THIS is a very fair study of the man


The review by the gent giving it a 1 star rating doesn't hold back.

Derek.

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3 hours ago, Derek Black said:


The review by the gent giving it a 1 star rating doesn't hold back.

Derek.

the review actually made a better read than i imagine the book does! 

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I read it and found it very interesting and thoughtful (not to say thought-provoking)

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I just started Paul Cobb's book on Fromelles so this analysis comes right on time. 

Thanks!! 

 

M.

 

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I guess it will now be added to the list!

H

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7 minutes ago, hazelclark said:

I guess it will now be added to the list!

H

Cobb or Senior??? 

Tell us what you think... I'll consider putting it on Ze List... 

 

M.

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Well don’t hold your breath.  Am still wading through “To Play A Giants Part” which I am finding extremely challenging.  I keep questioning Perry’s deductions from sources actually quoted in the book. There is much more information than I need, so may very well start skipping some of the battle stuff and trying to understand his conclusions regarding the overall conduct of the battle and the political intrigues.

Hazel

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My comment is that an aspiring historian does not make a mark by saying "all the previous folks were right, I have nothing extra or different to say, move along...". Rather, he makes a mark by saying that everyone else was wrong, and here is the real story...  This is pretty much a given, and should be understood when reading all these modern "revisionist" histories.

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Yes and I am just beginning to understand how many conclusions can be drawn from the same information.

H

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1 hour ago, Wexflyer said:

My comment is that an aspiring historian does not make a mark by saying "all the previous folks were right, I have nothing extra or different to say, move along...". Rather, he makes a mark by saying that everyone else was wrong, and here is the real story...  This is pretty much a given, and should be understood when reading all these modern "revisionist" histories.

Problem is - how do we know when we`ve got to the "right" version? Or is that an ever moving target?:(

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50 minutes ago, hazelclark said:

Yes and I am just beginning to understand how many conclusions can be drawn from the same information.

H

 

Precisely! Which is why the best histories are those which provide enough information to enable one to draw one's own conclusions.....

Just now, PhilB said:

Problem is - how do we know when we`ve got to the "right" version? Or is that an ever moving target?:(

 


Same answer as for Hazel!

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13 hours ago, Wexflyer said:

 

Precisely! Which is why the best histories are those which provide enough information to enable one to draw one's own conclusions.....

And any historian who does not so present is, ipso facto, second rate?

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To be scrupulously fair, blaming one's superiors for the failure of attacks is not unknown. Sassoon's "The General" and the Australians' criticism of Hamilton and others re Gallipoli, and Gough in France, are cases in point.

 

I once heard a very eminent historian, now sadly no longer with us, describe Haking ans the kind of man who, when told to jump, would ask "How high?" on the way up.

 

Ron

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One report says:-

 

"According to Andy Simpson, in the Edwardian period “he established a reputation as a sound tactical thinker”. His book Company Training (1913) was partly inspired by Haig’s 1909 Field Service Regulations.[3] The book espoused the pre-war belief that morale and leadership were the most important factor in winning a battle. He also argued that the attacker would have the advantage over the defender, even if numerically inferior, and deprecated the idea that modern weapons had made defence superior to attack."

 

Might this have influenced Haking`s handling of troops at Loos and Fromelles? 

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An interesting read from Edmonds re Loo's and the Reserves with regard to Haking's role. To be fair to the man, the fighting between Haig and French regarding the Reserves puts Haking on the back foot, where was he to go and at what time. In no way am I sticking up for the man, however!! there is an element of as Ron says, Jump, how high??

loos reserves copy.pdf

Edited by stiletto_33853
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15 hours ago, hazelclark said:

Yes and I am just beginning to understand how many conclusions can be drawn from the same information.

H

 

14 hours ago, PhilB said:

Problem is - how do we know when we`ve got to the "right" version? Or is that an ever moving target?:(

 

I guess it's a bit like with statistics... our teacher at RMA told us that eventually, you can prove anything you want with statistics... it's just a matter or interpretation. The same is certainly true for history. Depending on one's own knowledge, things we read and that stuck with us or teachings received, one will interpret the sources differently. 

And so the "right" version keeps on changing because of our view of things.

The only thing that we can be sure about are the facts. But they are slowly eluding us as the years go by. 

It's quite a philosophical discussion to be had one day... but I think we might need a drink or two ... 

Meanwhile... happy readings!!

 

Marilyne

 

PS: just seen while typing: thank you Stiletto for this article !! 

Edited by Marilyne
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Stiletto, thanks for the PDF. It puts some of the decisions made in a wider context. From the war diaries it is obvious the men of the 21st and 24th Divisions were ill prepared for the battle field and totally exhausted by the time they reached the front lines.

Edited by alandouglasbower
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The original copy of the letter:

 

 

CGStewart1.jpg

CGStewart2.jpg

CGStewart3.jpg

CGStewart4.jpg

CGStewart5.jpg

CGStewart6.jpg

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21 hours ago, alandouglasbower said:

Stiletto, thanks for the PDF. It puts some of the decisions made in a wider context. From the war diaries it is obvious the men of the 21st and 24th Divisions were ill prepared for the battle field and totally exhausted by the time they reached the front lines.

I think that this would have been the case whoever was appointed to command XI Corps. They were "green" Third New Army divisions which had only recently arrived in France, and were rushed up to the front and thrown straight into the fighting.

 

I am no particular defender of Haking, but he does get the blame for matters which were largely out of his control. He was thought good enough to retain command of a Corps for the rest of the war, and was one of two selected Corps commanders to be sent to Italy. I am not sure that Plumer would have accepted him if he had been thought inadequate in the role.

 

Ron

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Alan,

Glad that you found the Edmonds take on the Reserves useful. You have to take everything in the wider context to get to the crux of the matter, i.e. for Fromelles which you also comment about. The 1st Army received a message from GHQ "The Commander in Chief wishes the special operation to be carried out as soon as possible, weather permitting, provided always that General Sir Charles Monro is satisfied that the conditions are favourable, and that the resources at his disposal, including ammunition, are adequate both for preparation and execution of the enterprise." (WO95/165-2 pg 78)

On Sunday July 16th in the same document there is a memorandum of a visit from GHQ to the 1st Army at Chocques held at 1.30pm present were Sir Herbert Plumer, Sir Richard Haking, General Barrow & General Harington

"I pointed out that the C-in-C did not wish the infantry attack to take place unless it was considered the artillery preparation had been adequate and that the commanders were satisfied that they had sufficient artillery and sufficient ammunition not only to make the success of the attack assured but to enable the troops to retain and consolidate the trenches gained, so far as it was humanly possible foresee.

A discussion followed on these points. General Haking stated that he was quite satisfied with the resources at his disposal.

Some conversation on detail afterwards between Generals Monro, Plumer and Haking, in which both General Barrow and General Harington took part, at the conclusion of which Sir Charles Monro assured me that he was satisfied that the operation could take place."

 

However in Haking's after action report I would agree that he has blamed the troops for some of the failures, maybe a little less harsh than could have been said though.

"With two trained Divisions the position would have been a gift after the artillery bombardment; with these two new Divisions there was a good chance of success but they did not quite attain it."

 

Andy

 

 

Edited by stiletto_33853
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