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Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig: A2 Coursework


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Jonathan Saunders

Thanks Bryn – although my understanding was that Swinton believed the tanks should have been used in a close and concentrated formation to punch a hole through a part of the German line for the infantry/cavalry to exploit and not deployed across a length of the battlefield and against enemy strong points. Perhaps I have my thoughts muddled so obviously something for me to look more closely at a later date.

I do concede Rawlinson’s decided how tanks were involved but Haig would have been the mediator and given his final sanction.

Sigs

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The "well-bred horse" quotation came from a book-review by H**g in 1926:

"I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse - the well-bred horse - as you have ever done in the past."

Tom

Tom

Where did the review appear? I already said it was a review of 'Paris, or The Future of War' by Basil Liddell Hart (renowned military writer) but where did the review appear?

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Grovelling apologies Bryn - I didn't realise you had given a more expansive quote earlier. Comes of trying to catch up on a thread by just reading the last bits, I suppose.

Where did the review appear? No idea I'm afraid!

Tom

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  • 1 month later...

Well, you did ask me to post the coursework when completed, but here's a small taster. My word count is limited to approximately 2,500 words, and the examiner can penalise me if I exceed 3,000. Given the fact that entire books have been written on this subject, my task will not be to fill the word requirement, but to keep within the word limit.

The following is my introduction, which intends to outline the problem and present my course of action. Bear in mind that this is considered a 'lengthy' version (the word count is 357, whilst the word limit circulated at around 250!)

For your scrutiny...

Characters of great controversy in history often prompt two, diametrically opposed schools of thought concerning their place in the history books, with little or no room for a middle ground, and Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig is no exception. As Commander-in-Chief of the BEF on the Western Front from 1915-1918, he is associated with strategic and tactical cunning (the Hundred Days offensive), heroic defence (Mons, Le Cateau) and the most infamous and controversial battles on the Western Front (the Somme, Passchendaele).

Historical opinion has been divided on Haig ever since the conclusion of the Great War. The British Prime Minister from 1916-1922, David Lloyd-George infamously stated that Haig’s brilliance rose “only as high as his army boots”.

However, the opposing school interprets Haig in a very different light. John Terraine, author of Douglas Haig: The Educated Solider maintains that the Field Marshal was a “great captain” in “the mould of Lord Marlborough or the Duke of Wellington”, who achieved victory against a superior force in situations that necessitated attrition, before delivering the coup de grace in the final months of 1918. This essay intends to examine both schools of historiography acutely and objectively, as well as drawing on primary documentation (soldier’s testimony, Haig’s despatches, and opinions of fellow officers).

Many questions are regularly asked concerning this chapter in our nation’s history - such as, whether Haig had any plausible alternatives on July 1st 1916, whether he was in the position to relinquish his offensive, his relations with his French counterparts, his fiery relationship with David Lloyd-George, his relationship with his own subordinates (French, Rawlinson, Plumer, Gough, Byng) and also some concerning the structure of his command and it’s effect upon the ordinary “Tommy” in the British Army (such as the nature of Haig’s relationship with the common soldier of the BEF).

The above topics will be discussed in the following coursework essay, from which I intend to reach a final decision on Sir Douglas Haig. ‘Guilty as charged’ or a man whose tactical outlook logically reflected (and changed to suit) the situation at the time?

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Here is a post that I made on another forum (Click here) on the same subject (Haig).

Once again, it is for your scrutiny...

Wherever there's a criticism of British Generalship, Haig's name never appears to be far behind. Haig is so often viewed in the mould of the "Blackadder" portrayal, where Geoffrey Palmer casually sweeps toy soldiers from his battle map and deposits them on the floor! Without even reading any material on this man, the public is given a comical perception and willingly accepts it! It is a myth that Haig spent the war isolated from his men in a grandiose chateau miles behind the lines - his headquarters was a modest country house in Montreuil (sp?). During the BEF's battles of 1914, Haig was lucky to escape in one piece. Several times he rode up to the front, and once he was caught in the crossfire. In reality, Haig's image was far from the myth of the cold, callous bungler.

Rawlinson, French, Hamilton, Gough - none of them have ever been mentioned in the same capacity as Haig, and none have them have ever attracted such controversy from the pages of history. In 1998, the Daily Express launched an unsuccessful campaign to remove Haig's statue from the Cenotaph at Whitehall.

Haig was not indifferent to battle casualties, and he certainly did not find it easy to command an army whose size had never before been seen. The main reason why he opposed the continuation of the war into 1919 was because he knew that the burden of combat would fall largely on British troops.

Monash was certainly an excellent General (and his ANZACS were excellent soldiers), whose tactics marked the progression from trench warfare to a 'fire and movement' style of battle. However, as Commander-in-Chief, a large responsibility for the Allied counter-attacks of 1918 inevitably fell upon Haig. The Allied line had not been broken, and the storming of the St. Quentin canal, the breaking of the Hindenburg line - all were part of the greatest Allied offensive of the war, and the greatest series of victories in the long and distinguished history of the British Army. The much-maligned army, the army condemned as 'lions led by donkeys' became the most professional, coherant and distinguished force at the war's end.

I am not blind to Haig's shortcomings, nor his strategic errors, and I seek neither to eulogise, nor condemn him. Haig's mistake on the Somme was allowing for a 'mixed' or 'compromised' plan to go ahead, as opposed a combination of his (and Rawlinson's) ideas. Where the infantry offensive was quick and sharp (as Haig had envisioned), successes did come. This was particularly evident in the dawn attack of the 14th July, which showed just what the Kitchener Armies were capable of. I agree with John Terraine, who states that Haig's greatest mistake was the dismissal of General Plumer after his outstanding success at Messines Ridge.

Did Haig make mistakes? Yes. Do I seek to lionise him? No. Do I take him seriously as a man who ultimately pioneered the war's technological advances to bring a final victory to the Allies on the Western Front? Yes.

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Here is a post that I made on another forum (Click here) on the same subject (Haig).

Once again, it is for your scrutiny...

It is a myth that Haig spent the war isolated from his men in a grandiose chateau miles behind the lines - his headquarters was a modest country house in Montreuil (sp?). During the BEF's battles of 1914, Haig was lucky to escape in one piece. Several times he rode up to the front, and once he was caught in the crossfire. In reality, Haig's image was far from the myth of the cold, callous bungler.

Matt,

the full post demonstrates you are making a good start and have an open mind on this complex issue. Good man!

On the question of Montrueil, it is a small walled town in the Pas de Calais, on the river Canche. It was commandeered almost entirely for use as the BEF's GHQ. Haig lived in a small chateau just outside the town.

So yes, there is a chateau involved, and yes, it was well behind the lines. However, these bald facts are used to fuel many famous myths. Haig was a tough character and kept a spartan routine at Montrueil. He was not a brandy guzzling, cigar smoking toff concerned principally with his own comfort, and as C-in-C it was not his role to be in the front line - nor anywhere near it. He had to be at the centre of the communications network (such as it was), ready to co-ordinate the work of his Army Commanders. Montreuil was as good a place as any to do that, although he did relocate to forward HQs during major battles, as during the Somme.

It is true that Haig's near permanent absence from the lines themselves fostered a fundamental lack of familiarity with the conditions in which battles were fought. This was a serious problem further down the chain of command, as Army and Corps commanders (and their staff) could be ignorant of the conditions at the front. This had important consequences for the realism of their orders.

The most famous example of this is the (possibly apocryphal) quotation from Kiggell, when viewing the Passchendaele battlefield for the first time: 'MyGod, did we really send men to fight in that?'

So it is true to think of a certain distance between 'The Generals' (above divsional level) and the front, but it was the distance in terms of appreciation of conditions, rather than pure geography, that cause the problems.

As a Corps commander, Haig was certainly 'in harm's way' on many occasions. However, conditions in 1914 and 15 were rather different than thos evolved by mid 1916 on the Somme front, and mid-late 1917 around Ypres. I am not satisfied that he had any accurate conception of what the men were facing by then.

Regards,

Ste

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Ste, thank you for your advice. That post was prompted by a rather derisive remark about British Generalship made at those forums. I do often become a little too strident in defence than the evidence may permit, but I try to make my position as clear as possible. There are many myths that circulate about the British Generals of the Great War, and the aim of my paper is to investigate and pass judgement on them in a clear manner. Somehow our "toffish", "bungling", "callous" and "uncaring" Generals managed to achieve victory!

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