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Alan Lines

Lions led by donkeys?

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shinglma
Then you've got the arty-farty lefties

Though peculiarly the founder of the Donkeys school was a rightie.

:huh:

Mike

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ressmex

This addition to this thread may be late (very) but i was amazed by the views of some members here almost suggesting that the population was uninterested in thier ancestors and what had happened to them in the Great War or that we were all part of a contrived brainwashing programme by the education system and the war poets to make us believe Haig and his cronies were butchers sorry donkeys, I have never read or heard any vetran state that the Great War was a fun filled holliday usually the very oppsite with the terror and horror remaining with them through-out thier lives, I leave this thread with one question for the revisionists. If they were not donkeys why did the casualty figures through-out the conflict not reduce as the conflict progressed instead of increasing. Lions led by donkeys stlill stands as a discription of the majority of senior commanders of the Great War.

TOM

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truthergw

You have expressed an opinion on several questions here. To address one of them, the reason the casualty figures did not go down could be that the killing power of the weapons available to both sides increased as the war progressed. There is also the question of manpower. The size of the British Army grew enormously. A lot more soldiers exposed to much more deadly weapons more or less guarantees increased casualty count.

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Chris_Baker
Lions led by donkeys stlill stands as a discription of the majority of senior commanders of the Great War.

I personally think this is complete tosh, but let's begin a proper discussion here. I don't want emotion, hearsay or fiction, just facts and evidence. Beginning with the men who commanded British Armies during the war on the Western Front from August 1918 onward. Please explain which are donkeys and why. Don't drift off into what they did before August 1918 or after November 1918.

As a reminder,

Henry Horne

Herbert Plumer

Julian Byng

Henry Rawlinson

William Birdwood

We can expand this to others and other periods later on.

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charlesmessenger

Tom

And following up Tom Rutherford's very good point, the conduct of the war at operational level became ever more sophisticated as the war went on. The plethora of new weapons - trench mortars, gas, combat aircraft, tanks, armoured cars, to name but a few - meant that the orchestra became ever larger and getting the individual 'instruments' to play in tune became increasingly complex. By the time of the Last Hundred Days, which brought about ultimate victory to the surprise of many who were certain that the war would continue well in 1919, senior commanders had got the grips with this problem. They were faced, however, by an opponent whose combat troops were not prepared to throw in the towel and the fact that the technology of the day was not up to significantly increasing the pace of battle. For example, compare the speed of tanks in 1918 with those in 1939 or the fact that radio communications were only in their infancy during WW1.

You might also like to compare the loss in junior leaders (officers and NCOs) in Normandy in 1944 with those in France durung the Hundred Days. You will find that they are remarkably similar. Did this make senior commanders in the latter phases of WW2 donkeys as well?

Charles M

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Terry_Reeves

I have to agree with the last three posts. The evidence is overwhelming, if anyone cares to take the time to look the available documents. Let me give just one example. Last month I read a file at the NA entitled "History of Tank and Aeroplane Co-operation 1 July 1918 - November 1918. This document outlined the the advances made in these essentially new technologies. Things were not perfect of course, but it was the willingness to co-operate that was impressive, to put all arms co-operation into practice that was very noticeable. The author by the way was the OC 8 Squadron RAF, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who came to fame in WW2.

TR

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ressmex

I state what I believe, but to critisize me for this and attempt to tie me into only discussing events post August 1918 is a bit off as no one can dispute the successes of the last 100 days. To date I personally have read nothing that would change my mind about Haig and his generals. but I would point out my intention even writing in this thread was to point out that the nation was not subject to a brain washing programme through the education system to make us believe all the nasty stuff about Haig and that the nation was and is not interested in what happened to thier ancestors or that the war poets made us think bad things about Haig (willywombat) and if any of this is revisionist then I'll just stick with the donkey theory.

TOM

ps

"He was as stubborn as a donkey, as unthinking as a donkey, as inarticulate as a donkey. So Haig was in fact the worst donkey on the British side of the war. He didn't ever go up to the front line. He didn't go into the trenches and dirty his boots. Haig had no comprehension of what he was sending his men into. A great commander knows exactly what he is sending his men into, as later commanders, like Montgomery, did. "

"Haig's attitude to technology was virtually nil. He didn't understand technology. The horse was always what mattered to him."

(Dr John Laffin, an Australian historian)

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Terry_Reeves

Flagstare

You are quite entitled to your opinion, but you may wish to research further than John Laffin, and I don't mean that in any disrespectful way.

TR

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Fred W

I feel sure that I have either read, or heard somewhere, that the phrase was originally used to describe French troops in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. To have used it again in WW1, is this not plaigarism?

Can ayone confirm the above?

Fred

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ressmex
Flagstare

You are quite entitled to your opinion, but you may wish to research further than John Laffin, and I don't mean that in any disrespectful way.

TR

Terry

try this one, from an article by Geoffrey Miller,

By now, the artillery was running out of ammunition and the shells were burying themselves in the liquid mud and expending themselves in a fountain of water and a cloud of steam. Yet even now Haig went on with the battle, even though the rain and bitter cold had set in. On October the 12th. Haig ordered still another attack, this was fated to fail as miserably as the others, with men struggling up to their knees and waists in the dreadful stinking mud.

It was not until November that the Canadians, under General Currie, who refused to advance until conditions had improved, were able to take the ruins of Passchendaele village. Prior and Wilson pointed out that the most that could be hoped for as a result of the capture of the Village was to place Haig's forces in a salient and they wrote: "So although the operations proposed by Currie made more sense than those which had just preceded them, their overall purpose was not sensible at all."

Haig now allowed the battle to end, having incurred 275,000 casualties, of whom about 70,000 were killed, (25) for very little gain. The original objectives of the battle had not been realised.

as in most cases (tom)

TOM

and from a nationalist friend of mine " Haig was the greatest Scots general - he killed the most Englishmen."

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Guest mruk

Periodisation is integral to any research or writing of the past. To tie this down, however, to the very narrow confines of a hundred days without no reference to either context or aftermath, provides not only a disservice for those interested, but also shows a singular lack of awareness and insight into other events of the period under question. In other words, the writer is telling the reader absolutely nothing. I am not a military historian, and lean more towards the social and cultural, so perhaps there is a slight bias, but the above is something I've generally come to expect from the John Bourne-Gary Sheffield school of thought, and that of the unthinking and uncritical approach to what is actually common sense imitating 'revisionism'. Pro-war or a soft and conservative approach to the Great War does not make for a revisionist argument if pro-pacifist or post-war poetry and literature is either blatantly ignored or given short shrift in the intro. Accomplished writer or not, it's just another history with a few added lines--and, no doubt, a very dour and dismal account at that.

Cheers,

Dave

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armourersergeant
A great commander knows exactly what he is sending his men into, as later commanders, like Montgomery, did. "

"Haig's attitude to technology was virtually nil. He didn't understand technology. The horse was always what mattered to him."

(Dr John Laffin, an Australian historian)

Montgomery, ignored intelliegence for Arnhiem and sent 1st Airborne into the mess that was that battle!

During Haigs reign, he over saw the introduction of the the tank. Inquired as to its use in anphib landings. The use of artillery, air and tank and infantry in co-operation and final victory over the enemy. Not that bad for someone who may not have understood it all, but was perhaps not too stupid to ignore some of the advice he got. He was keen to sponsor the promotion of Monash to corps command, again not a reactionary thing for an old style commander.

I have many resivations about Haig but these facts can not be ignored.

regards

Arm

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armourersergeant
"He was as stubborn as a donkey, as unthinking as a donkey, as inarticulate as a donkey. So Haig was in fact the worst donkey on the British side of the war. He didn't ever go up to the front line. He didn't go into the trenches and dirty his boots. Haig had no comprehension of what he was sending his men into. A great commander knows exactly what he is sending his men into, as later commanders, like Montgomery, did. "

"Haig's attitude to technology was virtually nil. He didn't understand technology. The horse was always what mattered to him."

(Dr John Laffin, an Australian historian)

I have re-read this and have to say. well I can not. If it is his comparision to compare Monty and Haig then when in WW2 did Monty go in the front line? Haig did serve as a young officer in action, as did Monty. But both men were of a higher rank in the appropriate wars to not be near the front line. I find those words almost insulting as if he is accusing Haig not of stupidity but cowardice. What Monty learnt he learnt from the mistakes made by Haig and others, that is how we all learn.

regards

Arm

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ejcmartin

I am no military historian by any means, but I often wonder about the whole lions led by donkeys issue. In the Great War Britain and her allies faced the strength of the German Imperial Army on the Western Front. After four years and immense casualites they managed to finally defeat Germany. Twenty plus years later Soviet Russia faced the greatest might of Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front. How may years and how many casualties did she suffer before ultimate victory? Victory was no easy task in either case.

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Kate Wills

Exactly.

Many of the people who knock the British General Staff seem to ignore the fact that a massive elite army was determined to thwart them at all costs.

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Crunchy

Hi Flagstare,

I would not quote John Laffin as an authority on any debate regarding the Great War. IMO, Laffin is a very poor historian. Most of his historical claims and opinion are based on assertions that cannot be sustained by the facts. Those who have read in some breadth and depth about the war do not take Laffin seriously. He falls more into the category of mythologist.

Laffin makes much claim of being a combat soldier who fought on the Kokoda Trail to substantiate his credibility as a military historian. Reading his service record, on line through the NAA, indicates this is not true. He spent six weeks in Port Moresby from 4 Dec 1942 to 17 Jan 1943, when the battlefront was on the northern coast around Gona and Buna, and the rest of his service was in Australia. He claims in Who's Who to be a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, yet his name is not on the registry of graduates. He was discharged in 1945 in the confirmed rank of Sgt. I would like to see confirmation, from the University that conferred it, that he was actually granted a Doctorate, as his writings show little evidence of erudite historical research.

In response to Laffin's assertion that Haig was not interested in technology. Other historians, who are prepared to quote primary sources rather than make unsubstantiated claims, offer a different view.

Terrian in The Smoke and the Fire. Myths and Anti-Myths of War 1861 -1945 p150 quotes Haig's dairy of the 5th and 7th April 1916 which indicates, that without even seeing the tank, Haig was anticipating "the surprise and demoralizing effect which they seem likely to produce." On 11 August 1916 Haig writes that he was "looking forward to obtaining decisive results from the use of these Tanks at an early date."

Officers from Haig"s staff attended the first trials of the tank in February 1916. Haig was impressed by their reports and immediately included them in his battle plans. He was distressed to learn that this was premature, neither the tanks nor their crews would be ready to take part in the opening of the battle on 1st July. See John Terraine The Great War p119. Haig employed them as soon as they were available to him in September 1915. While others were not impressed with the tank, on 19 September 1916, four days after the use of tanks for the first time, Haig sent his Deputy Chief of Staff to London to press the War Office for 1000 tanks despite their limitations and breakdowns. See John Terraine The Smoke and the Fire p150

David Stevenson, in his 1914- 1918. The History of the First World War, whom some on this forum regard as the best one volume history of the war, writes on p189 "Swinton (who headed a new Tank Detachment created in February 1916) enjoyed Haig's enthusiastic support once the latter heard about the project. Indeed, Swinton found the enthusiasm excessive: he would have preferred to wait until a mass attack could be unleashed without warning. All the same, neither Haig's use of tanks nor his use of gas at Loos suggest that he was blindly resistant to new technologies."

Cyril Falls, who can hardly be called a revisionist, in The Great War 1914- 1918 p205 actually addresses the issue that some officers opposed Haig employing the tanks at the Somme as he had only 49 available to him; that he should have waited until they were available in sufficient numbers. Falls goes on to ask "how long should he have waited as there were only 48 tanks available six months later at Arras. Falls adds that some experts hold that Haig was justified in using them for the experience gained. This experience showed up the limitations of the Mk I and led to the jump in development to the improved Mk IV.

Terraine quotes others regarding Haig's opinion of machine guns. General E.K.G Sixsmith in his book Douglas Haig says that as far back as 1898 Haig gave up two days of his embarkation leave on his way to the Sudan to look at the Enfield factory and study the manufacture and mechanics of machine guns. Duff Cooper, in his biography, quotes a letter from Haig to Sir Evelyn Wood from the Sudan saying: "we felt the want of machine guns." On 6 November 1914 Haig wrote a letter to his nephew in the 3rd County of London Yeomanry in which Haig advised him "Meantime train your machine guns. It will repay you."

These are hardly the actions or words of an officer who was not interested in technology.

You seem to decry the "revisionist" historians. Why is that?

Regards

Chris

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Crunchy
Don't drift off into what they did before August 1918 or after November 1918.

Chris,

i think you mean August 1914.

Regards

chris

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Chris_Baker

No, I meant August 1918. My whole point being, as someone mentioned above, that the men named could not be said to be donkeys during the period in question. So, that's the Army commanders. Now, sticking to the same period, what about the Corps commanders?

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Guest mruk

As I said above [Chris], it's common sense imitating revisionism, with most [military] histories plodding along as relentless as the war, and stating the blinkin' obvious without offering any explantion as to why the direction changed, or why there was a shift in military policy and strategy. I think we all accept that advances were made in technology and tactics, but it's not enough to just state that, it also needs to be set within the broader framework of why these changes were needed or took effect in the first place. This also includes a clear and concise approach to the 'Lions Led By Donkeys' debate, and a willingness by 'revisionists' of the 'right' to accept that there is a broad consensus in favour of the argument. I think many have forgotten the very basics of the discipline--mainly in pursuit of a career as a 'celebrity-historian' on the lecture circuit. Something's got to suffer, and usually it's the quality or standard of history that is being written and produced.

Regards,

Dave

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Chris_Baker

I agree with that. But you can't just say "the Generals were donkeys" or even "the majority of them were", without some facts to back it up. Someone needs to name names, and times or events, with the evidence as to why the man should be called a donkey. I am offering here a tiny baby step along the way to doing that.

Seems no one can name anyone as a donkey in the last 100 Days. Does that mean that a majority of Generals in the British army had developed from being donkeys at an earlier time? Good on them, then. They must have been fast learners, mustn't they? Or had they never been donkeys in the first place?

Perhaps it's time for me to open up my timeslot a little. How about from January 1918 onward?

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Guest mruk

That is precisely my point Chris. I'm glad you suggested we open the debate, but seeing as I am neither a tactician nor strategist, and deplore 'great men' histories, any contribution on my part will be largely restricted to the theoretical. I look forward to the 'learning process' and what other members have to offer, and though I'm sure the differences within and between those for and against will not be resolved, I'm equally sure there must be a compromise somewhere.

Regards,

Dave

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Alan Tucker

As a sixties child and later a History teacher of 33 years I was indoctrinated into the 'lions led by donkeys' position. Oh What Lovely War, Black Adder, TV documentaries, general histories, the war poets etc etc all seemed to point in one direction. I was not aware of the emergence of the revisionist school of historians for a long time. But two years I retired and began to specialise in the Great War with some extensive reading, visits to the Western Front and attendance at specialist talks.

It has always been true that each generation writes its own history and the revisionist historians have firstly analysed the flaws in the old perspective (easy to do with Alan Clark's book for instance or Lloyd George's self-serving memoirs),then reinterpreted the existing evidence but, and this is the crucial point, explored new ways to looking at command during the Great War at all levels. No-one can seriously deny that the learning curve was a crucial reason for success in 1918. In the 1960s the Somme was a disaster but, on the basis of new research, we now know the damage done to the German army at that time. Every decision has now been pored over. Nick Lloyd's recent book on Loos, for example, has convinced me that the failure in bringing up the reserves, is a very simplistic excuse for failure on that occasion. Even at a common sense level to call every general a 'donkey' was too broadbrush to be true. Some generals were better than others, some were better in some contexts than others (Allenby), some were not very good. The debate about Haig will continue. He does deserve criticism for the final phase of 3rd Ypres but he was also the 'architect of victory'. Sadly because the popular mind still thinks 'July 1st 1916' and 'Passchendaele mud' he will not get the credit he deserves when the 90th anniversaries of Amiens, Albert, breaking the Hindenburg Line etc, come up next year.

I also think that we now have a clearer understanding (assisted by the first Gulf War and Iraq) that the Great War was a coalition war and a lot of British casualties were a consequence of our need to keep France in the war - e.g. prolonged Arras because of Nivelle's failure.

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Jonathan Saunders
Perhaps it's time for me to open up my timeslot a little. How about from January 1918 onward?

I guess it depends on individual definition of donkey but I will put forward Gough in the Michael offensive - for headline reasons http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...32&hl=gough

Regards,

Jon S

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Jonathan Saunders

The issue with the defined period is that by 1918 most of the incompetent Generals had been sent home but that doesn’t mean to say “donkeys” didn’t exist or were not promoted under Haig – Hunter-Bunter being the obvious example.

You could argue the “volunteer” Company officers of 1918 were far more experienced and better qualified to pursue war than their regular counterparts of 1914. Haig’s involvement in the practical learning process these officers went through would only have been indirect – in fact if he had a direct involvement IMHO, then it was that the volunteer officers learnt from the errors made under his command. I don’t know what credit should be given to Haig because others learnt from errors that he ultimately had responsibility for.

Also by 1918 Company Commanders were appointed by Bttn Commanders on merit. In turn Bttn Commanders were being appointed by the Brigadier-Generals, the Brigadier-Generals by the Major-Generals and so on. This was largely based on a meritocracy.

Haig may have identified credentials in Monash but he also was fallible to bad judgements of character, Charteris for one, over-promoting Gough being another. He also conducted an unfortunate influence over Rawlinson.

Haig was certainly no technophobe. He embraced technology but it would have been more difficult for him to resist technology. War is the most dynamic process that exists. Technology was going to develop and become available whether Haig liked it or not. Regarding tanks, then I find it strange that Haig went against the opinions of all of those that had been close to the development of the tank when he decided to introduce it in September 1916. To all intense purposes the tank failed on that date as predicted by the “experts”. The fact Haig subsequently ordered 1000 tanks leaves me with a cynical view as much as anything else.

So were there “donkeys”? You bet there was. Did they exist in 1918 in any great number. Thankfully, no. Was this because Haig had a perceptive talent for “outing” them, I think probably not. I think by 1918 the entire officer Corps was more professional in how to pursue war on the Western Front as a result of the previous 3/4 years of warfare – and that those who were not up to the job had been dugout on the basis of their own failings. I think it would have been the same if, say Smith-Dorrien had been C-in-C, or Plumer. It may have even happened sooner.

Regards,

Jon S

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