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specster

Haig at the Somme

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specster
11 hours ago, phil andrade said:

Both Burnside and Haig were told to attack : Burnside by his political bosses in Washington who had grown impatient with his notoriously slow predecessor ; Haig was duty bound to attack as part of a coalition effort at concerted offensive.  Both had misgivings : Burnside because the propitious moment had passed ; Haig because he realised that the requisite heavy artillery would not be available for a month or two. The one wanted to attack earlier, but was prevented from doing so by bureaucratic bungling in Washington ; the other suggested waiting until the resources and training of his army were better suited to the task, and was under pressure to attack earlier. Burnside’s defeat at Fredericksburg was unequivocal and immediately apparent ; the outcome of the Somme was not clear cut, and remains controversial more than a century later, as many posts on this  forum will attest.

 

Phil

As to Burnside, I am sure no matter how much he was goaded by Lincoln or Halleck he was given the command of the AOP and it was his game which he could have stopped at any time.  Politicians could make life difficult for a General but when it came to field decisions it was absolutely hands off. The plan went to hell by Washington fumbling with delivery of the pontoon bridges.  Once that happened, and the element of surprise was entirely lost, he could have called an end to it but he didnt.  Just to be on the field in an offensive posture was odd in that day in December.  The delay was 2 weeks or more and the Confederates took the high ground, brought in tons of artillery and waited.  Any competent general would have called a stop before the river crossing.  Burnside called for the attack up hill, in winter against a heavily entrench enemy.  In spite of pleas from his subordinates he kept sending those men to their deaths.  As I recall he didnt call for an end to the slaughter,  Hooker did it on his own on the morning of the second day of the attack.  He continued to screw up after that -  in the "Mud March" and then in Bermuda 100s.  Then he was let go - quietly.  Haig could have stopped the carnage as well - no matter what the goading was from politicians.  Do you think lack of artillery was the issue?  The Germans had bunkers beyond the comprehension of the Bristish - 6 level steel reinforced concrete with amazing amenities.  I dont think artillery was the issue at all.  The British had sent a 1.7 million barrage of shells prior to the attack.  Training was likely an issue but I think tactics were more of an issue.  The French had basically the same weapons and faced the same enemy on July 1 and met their objectives with manageable casualties. 

War is hell no doubt and there will be losses but commanders have a responsibility to not needlessly waste the lives of their soldiers.

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specster
16 hours ago, Steven Broomfield said:

 

Well, he may have read about the American Civil War (although Mick suggests he might have made an error there), but had he read anything about the Somme, he would know the answer to his question - 'no'.

 

As Keith pointed out later in the thread, the OP has been on the Forum since 2014 so has had the chance to do some research before.

 

My view is that this looks like a classic troll. If it's not, I will apologise, but the question seems designed to inflame.

 

Such a shame dear old GAC is no longer here to rise to the bait.

Thank you all for monkey piling on me.  "Im new to the site, bear with me went in one ear and out the other"  I joined in 2014 so???   What does that have to do with anything...I joined several war sites in a short period of time....I didnt spend any time here - never posted.  I should have studied more?  Read more books?  Do you have total recall of 1000 page books you read 20 years ago? 

 

Classic troll ----really 

 

Sites like this -  on WW1,  American Civil War,  Submarines, whatever military issue which is somewhat obscure to the public....Too many people treat it like THEIR exclusive club and when someone tries to come in you band together for any reason you can dig up -  See. "Joined in 2014".  You dudes should step back and look in a mirror

 

 

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michaeldr

has Haig ever reprimanded or court marshaled for his negligence at the start of the Battle of the Somme?

 

Churchill submitted a paper to the Cabinet on 1st August 1916

[see https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/the-battle-of-the-somme/churchill-memoranda/ ]

in which he analysed the ground gained, the lack of strategic advantage in the territory obtained, the amount of munitions used, British casualties and the number of men fighting. Churchill concluded, “In personnel the results of the operation have been disastrous; in terrain they have been absolutely barren…therefore, the British offensive per se has been a great failure.”

 

In this however, Churchill did not get the support of his fellow politicians; even LG told Robertson that DH was “playing absolutely the right game” (relayed by Robertson to DH)

 

Without the political will, the effort to challenge the waste of men and materiel failed at this point.

There was also some doubt expressed at this time, as to whether or not there was any mechanism in place to allow the politicians to interfere.

 

 

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ilkley remembers
2 hours ago, specster said:

Thank you all for monkey piling on me.  "Im new to the site, bear with me went in one ear and out the other"  I joined in 2014 so???   What does that have to do with anything...I joined several war sites in a short period of time....I didnt spend any time here - never posted.  I should have studied more?  Read more books?  Do you have total recall of 1000 page books you read 20 years ago? 

 

Quite right Specster why should you be disparaged for asking a reasonably worded question. I suppose the problem is that anyone who makes a comment about Douglas Haig on GWF does tend to invite a rather swift response.

 

I can't comment about Burnsde but as far as I am aware Haig was never officially censured over his actions on The Somme, although, he was subject to some criticism during the campaign, notably by Churchill and Viscount Rothermere amongst others. Haig of course had powerful friends particularly in Royal circles and amongst the upper echelons of the Tory party who, it has been argued, protected him  from opprobrium. 

 

Hopes this helps and, perhaps, will help elicit replies, no doubt more erudite than mine, that address your question. 

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nigelcave

Let us put it this way: Haig was not censured/court martialed by the British; nor were any of the other C-in-Cs, so far as I can recall, of either side on the Western Front (and possibly any other front) though a number were, effectively, sacked or kicked upstairs or transferred or retired; or a combination of two or more.

 

As indicated by others, the topic of Haig and the Somme has been discussed almost ad nauseam on the Forum and usually reached a point where people (more or less) agreed to disagree, though I am sure that lots of people who read the posts and contributed felt they had been 'educated' in the course of the debate; a certain number, it seemed to me, retired to their tent in a huff. So if people have been a bit blunt, there is a reason: 'battle fatigue', as it were.

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phil andrade
Posted (edited)

There have been some horribly sniffy and snotty responses to the OP here.

 

Thank Goodness, there have also been some decent attempts to offer a fair response.

 

Specster, despite the dreadful slaughter at the base of Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, there was a significant success in the sector where Meade attacked, wasn’t there ?  Not enough to offset unredeeming overall defeat, but a significant side of the battle that deserves more attention than it gets.

 

Burnside was out of his depth in high command : he admitted so, himself. He was popular with his soldiers, and remained so.  He beat Longstreet when circumstances were reversed at Knoxville nearly one year later. I don’t know where I’m going with this...perhaps I’d better stop talking about the American Civil War and focus on Haig.

 

Coalition war defined his role on the Somme.  He was the junior partner in the Entente offensive that had been planned in December 1915, and the subsequent German offensive at Verdun rather increased the pressure on him to conform to his role. The Russians were attacking ; the Italians were attacking ; the French were struggling at Verdun but were still intent on pressing ahead in Picardy....was Haig in a position to allow his misgivings to undermine an agreed Allied strategy ?

 

I like michaeldr’s allusion to Churchill’s memorandum to the Cabinet, reviewing the misleading claims that had been made about the Somme fighting in July.  F.E. Smith did much to help Churchill here.  I’m convinced that Churchill was right. Haig blurted out that “ Winston’s head has gone from taking drugs ! “....a classic example of how a military caste can block its ears to unwelcome comments from maverick outsiders.

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade

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michaeldr
14 minutes ago, nigelcave said:

 not censured/court martialed by the British; nor were any of the other C-in-Cs

 

That's not full story 
The two investigations set up by the Special Commissions (Dardanelles and Mesopotamia) Act 1916 were probably the closest the British came 'censure/court martial'

Why wasn't DH held to account by the same standard?

Probably because the political element was lacking. 
[In the case of the Dardanelles Commission the political knives were certainly out to get WSC (seen at that time as a dangerous turn-coat ex-Tory)] 

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nigelcave

Of course the major difference between the Dardanelles/Gallipoli and the Somme was that the former was a campaign that had ended with the evacuation, whereas the Somme was part of the 'campaign' on the Western Front that had not yet concluded and had years to go. So far as I can tell, such commissions have only been convoked when the objective in hand had come to an end, one way or the other.

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michaeldr

So after the conclusion of the Somme campaign in November 1916, why was there no reckoning?

The writing was on the wall by the 1st August and by 18th November no great break through had been gained

Nor had the so called 'attrition' been in the Allies favour

 

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nigelcave

Yes, but that is not the point I was making: commissions do not sit (to my knowledge and with the type of composition, scale and the scope of the Dardanelles Commission) until the whole particular campaign was over, partly, I suppose, because the final outcome is unresolved. The Somme offensive has to be seen in the light, I think, of what was going on elsewhere on the WF - for example Verdun; and the 'conclusion' of the Somme, like many other major offensives, has no'tidy' ending - e.g. the British, the French and the Germans all have different terminal dates for what the British describe as the Battle of the Somme. Gallipoli did: the allied evacuation marked a clear termination of that campaign.

 

In addition, and given Jack Sheldon's book Fighting the Somme, things were pretty desperate on the German side by the end of the battle: take, for example, the situation on the French left flank, north of Peronne, in what turned out to be the 'official' closing days of the Somme. One could reasonably argue, for example, that the Somme offensive only truly ended with the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in the spring of 1917, which produced a fundamental change of scenario on the WF.

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Robert Dunlop
4 hours ago, specster said:

Thank you all for monkey piling on me.

specster, please accept apologies for some of the reactions. Over the years, there have been some very difficult 'conversations' about these issues, hence some of the comments that have been posted. It is not your fault at all so please hang in there.

 

Robert

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David Filsell

Specster

MacArther was not dismissed for a cock up but - arguably - because he was felt a threat to the presidency and government of the USA .

I think you need to understand the annoyance and boredom many of us with a serious interest in the Great War feel about half-witted criticism that arises -drawn largely from  dated and second rate sources .

Not least Haig commanded the largest Corporation Britain has ever created - everything from logistics to the fighting - from the medical to the burial. In the final stages of the war the army he commanded made a greater advance, took more prisoners and guns than the French and American Armies combined.

 

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squirrel

 Bear in mind also that the battles of the Somme in 1916 were not at a time and place of Haig’s choosing as has been alluded to in some of the foregoing posts.

Artillery, ammunition and other equipment was not available in the quantities Haig wished for and the New Armies were not sufficiently trained. There was also a shortage of experienced officers at junior level both in combat units and at staff level. The battles were fought at the behest of the French in a coalition. Given these factors it is perhaps not a surprise that the results were not those that might have been anticipated or expected.

 

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Robert Dunlop
21 minutes ago, nigelcave said:

In addition, and given Jack Sheldon's book Fighting the Somme, things were pretty desperate on the German side by the end of the battle...

Jack elaborates on this further in his book The German Army at Cambrai.

 

Robert

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phil andrade
Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, michaeldr said:

So after the conclusion of the Somme campaign in November 1916, why was there no reckoning?

The writing was on the wall by the 1st August and by 18th November no great break through had been gained

Nor had the so called 'attrition' been in the Allies favour

 

 

Nigel Cave stole my thunder here.

 

Forgive the use of that over used phrase “ the big picture”, but it suits here.

 

The closing stages of the Somme fighting coincided with heavy German defeats at Verdun : on the Eastern Front the Brusilov Offensive had come close to destroying the Austro Hungarian armies ; the Italians were getting into their stride and were willing to ply their strength in the forthcoming year ; the great naval battle at Jutland had left British maritime supremacy intact, the blockade was hurting...all things considered, this was a crisis for the Central Powers, and it’s no coincidence that the German War Loan failed for the first time.

 

On the Somme itself, the attritional exchange had turned significantly from the grim balance that Churchill had correctly discerned in July : the French had inflicted disproportionate damage on the Germans, and the British and Dominion troops had started to demonstrate a qualitative improvement that boded ill for the hard pressed Germans.

 

This doesn’t change my view that Churchill had been remarkably discerning in his analysis : and I still feel a sense of outrage at Haig’s comments about his memorandum.....but Winston himself acknowledged the achievements of Haig and his men in the ensuing weeks and months. This contrasts strongly with the vituperative and relentless criticisms made by Lloyd George.

 

Haig was no Burnside, and the Somme was no Fredericksburg .

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade

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Ghazala
10 hours ago, specster said:

its amazing how often Presentism rears its ugly head in better forums where there is no lack of highly educated, highly informed people. 

 

Oh dear.

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Muerrisch

The OP asked:

 was Haig ever reprimanded or court marshaled for his negligence at the start of the Battle of the Somme?  

 

Can we concentrate on this please?

 

The question presupposes negligence on or about 1st July 1916.

 

Never mind events after that date [give or take a day or two]. Is the supposed negligence because he allowed the battle to begin? If so, it is nonsensical because, as has been alluded to upstream, the Somme was a coalition battle. 

 

Rather than chunter about events in N America many years earlier, can we have [if we must] informed contributions on possible negligence at the start of the battle. Negligence usually involves not doing something that should have been done.

 

 

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David Filsell

The original question has been answered pretty fully in one word. No. the asides have been interesting and largely relevant  

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Muerrisch
6 minutes ago, David Filsell said:

The original question has been answered pretty fully in one word. No. the asides have been interesting and largely relevant  

 

There has been, as far as I can see, no discussion of negligence on or about 1st July.

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keithmroberts

There is danger of this getting out of hand.

 

Firstly - the inquest into battles such as Fredericksburg is irrelevant so far as this forum is concerned. We are not here to discuss the American Civil War.  The original poster asked about Haig's "negligence". I'm unclear where that has come from.  There is ample evidence that he authorised the attack in response to political pressure from London and Paris. The correspondence and available records show clearly that he interested himself closely into the detailed planning  for the initial attack.  He might well have been misguided, there can be a debate over the impact of the Somme on the eventual outcome of the war, but the suggestion of negligence, which has understandably  aroused some ire, is clearly just plain daft.

 

Whether the British were right to agree to attack, or to sustain the battle through the following months is a legitimate discussion, but I'm afraid that in my view the problems with this thread originate entirely with the original post. The answer to that is simple and straightforward. There was no negligence. The evidence  makes that clear. Whether judgements were sound or not in 1916 can be argued, but there was no question of disciplinary action because the commander in the Field was acting to the best of his ability and judgement in accordance with the directions that he had from the British government and the urgent demands of our French allies.

 

Keith Roberts

A personal view.

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Muerrisch

Well said sir!

 

 

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David Filsell

Keith,

No argument from me.

regards

David

 

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specster
17 hours ago, ilkley remembers said:

Quite right Specster why should you be disparaged for asking a reasonably worded question. I suppose the problem is that anyone who makes a comment about Douglas Haig on GWF does tend to invite a rather swift response.

 

I can't comment about Burnsde but as far as I am aware Haig was never officially censured over his actions on The Somme, although, he was subject to some criticism during the campaign, notably by Churchill and Viscount Rothermere amongst others. Haig of course had powerful friends particularly in Royal circles and amongst the upper echelons of the Tory party who, it has been argued, protected him  from opprobrium. 

 

Hopes this helps and, perhaps, will help elicit replies, no doubt more erudite than mine, that address your question. 

 

Thank you for your support. When others were saying if Haig screwed up at the Somme why was he promoted thereafter.  At that point it occurred to me it was likely because he was part of an Oligarchy, in which no person was ever at fault.  I know Haig was from humble beginnings but he climbed that ladder fairly high.  Britain was on the cusp of Monarchy and Democratic Monarchy - point - no matter what Haig did he was not going to be censured, disciplined by his own class in that day and age

 

 

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phil andrade

Haig was born to great wealth : a family of distillers whose name is still to the fore in the world of whisky.

 

I think you are mistaken as to the immunity to censure that such privilege entailed.  There was a reckoning made with Haig’s predecessor, Sir John French, who was regarded as culpable for his failure to deploy reserves sufficiently close to the front at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 : he was sacked ....and it was Haig himself who did much to bring this about.  

 

I did refer earlier to a “ military caste” that afforded a degree of mutual support to its members : that was clearly in existence then, as it is now : such a thing  exists throughout various strata.  That didn’t provide immunity from allegations of culpability , and failing generals were sacked or censured....more so in the French and British armies than in the others, I daresay. 

 

Haig was meticulous in his planning for the Battle of the Somme.  The immense loss of British life that occurred on the first day was not attributable to negligence on his part, even if some of his precepts were flawed.

 

Phil

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Skipman
Posted (edited)

Morning Specster. If you haven't already read this (or modern version if you can get it), it is well worth reading this to get an idea of the politics of the day, and an insight into the pressures he was under.

 

The Private Papers of Douglas Haig

 

Mike

Edited by Skipman

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