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Alan Lines

Lions led by donkeys?

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Ozzie

As someone, from Oz, raised on the Lions led by Donkeys theory, and also someone whose knowledge of the War is on the bottom rung of the ladder, compared to others who have posted, I must say that Jon has said in the above post what I have come to believe over the time I have been on this forum.

Starting with Stopford and Anthill on Gallipolli and Murray in the East, you could say that they were Donkeys, but thankfully, they had been removed, and this made way for good commanders Eg, . Allenby in the East.

Two leading men, albiet Ozzies, that did learn from their own mistakes, and who also were prepared to go that one step further, were Monash and Chauvel. They learnt to read the battlefield, use what was necessary, in the most economical way, and embrace all the knowledge available to them, to achieve their objectives. Their record speaks for itself.

For me, the jury is still out, regarding Haig.

Kim

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IanA

I really should not be contributing to this thread. I came to an interest in the war through literary and musical channels, then by the avid reading of personal histories and the records of specific battalions and batteries. For the past ten years I have visited the battlefields of the Western Front as often as I could. Only lately have I begun reading about the doings of the exalted ones. I have no military experience but guess that I might have risen to corporal (temp., acting, unpaid).

I cannot believe that the 'donkeys' were mentally deficient. Any of the critics here passed through Staff College? What percentage of your year might you class as 'remedial'? Entry was by competitive examination and even soldiers as capable as Henry Wilson failed, several times. It strikes me that you had to possess a rather sharp mind to even get on the course.

Why, then, refer to them as 'Donkeys'? Can they have been in the pay of the Germans? Were they being deliberately obtuse? Did they enjoy sending large bodies of men to their deaths? Or is it that we simply cannot see the world of 1914 as they were able to see it? My primary area of expertise is the performance of baroque muisc and I am acutely aware that we may use reproductions or original instruments, play at old pitch, read up all the treatises on ornamentation, play from the most carefully prepared scores in an ideal accoustic but we will never be able to listen with 18th century ears. The past is a different country.

I am currently reading the biography of Henry Wilson written by C.E. Callwell and am fascinated. I knew that Wilson had a reputation for being too pro-French (the country, not the F.M.) but I was unaware that the smooth mobilisation which took place in 1914 was entirely his doing and that he had to fight very hard to get it done in time, dragging a truculent navy along with him. The vision, intellect and organisation skills of the man are more than evident yet he sincerely believed towards the end of 1914 that the war would be over by Christmas. He talks, in September 1914, of Kitchener's "ridiculous and preposterous army" and states that "..under no circumstances could these mobs take the field for 2 years". I struggle to understand such apparent dichotomy and stand in awe of the souls for whom it is all so clear.

Incidentally, many people are convinced that the continuation of 3rd Ypres was 'a bad thing'. Can I ask whether any credence is given to the theory that Haig was forced to maintain a difficult offensive in order to keep the Germans fully occupied so that they wouldn't find out about the French mutinies? Henry Williamson was of the opinion that the German army could have walked through with brass bands playing but, due to Passchendaele, they never found out. It is interesting that, even after Haig and Lloyd George had fallen out and various 'frocks' would have given their eye teeth to replace Haig, they were never able to find a better man. Surely this speaks volumes?

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armourersergeant
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.

Jon S

Haig I believe did not 'recruit' Hunter Bunter and after 1st July his corps was rarely in a position of importance. He, HW, used his political clout to stay where nhe was, however he was very good as a host to visiting dignantries. If the Donkeys were sent home, who sent home the corps commanders? Haig one assumes. Admittedly Gough was a political 'send home' adn in my opinion not justified for the march problems, though I do believe he was over promoted. That all said I have said previously Gough was robbed of the 100 days to regain his reputation, as Rawlinson and others were. I often wonder what Gough's rep would be if he had seen out the end of the war.

regards

Arm

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Jonathan Saunders
Haig I believe did not 'recruit' Hunter Bunter ...

Dear Arm,

Arguably no one played the political game more than, or was better at playing it, than Haig - if he didnt want Hunter-Bunter Haig was the man to make sure he wasnt involved in 1st July. Yet following Gallipoli Haig was happy to accept Hunter-Bunter on the Western Front in the promoted rank of Corps Commander. I would be very surprised if Haig did not know Hunter-Bunter well enough to form an opinion as to whether he was capable or incapable of commanding a Corps. I think it could be argued that Haig gave Hunter-Bunter the most difficult task of all on 1st July. It is true that Haig had a generally dismissive, (and extremely ignorent in most cases but not with Hunter-Bunter), view of anyone who had served at Gallipoli but it would appear, to me at least, that Haig placed an enormous amount of faith in Hunter-Bunter prior to 1st July.

Can you outline what Gough personally did extremely well in March/April 1918. Regarding Gough's reputation had he been in situ during the last 100 Days: Rawlinson's reputation in history has not received the recognition that I think it deserves despite his handling of Fourth Army in the Last 100 Days. Why would Gough's have been any different?

Regards,

Jon

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truthergw

I am glad to see someone concur with my belief that Haig was a very able, politically astute officer. He did not fall out of the sky onto the Western Front. He had been around. Senior posts in India and at home, Staff College etc. Advancement in the prewar army was not often given to the socially or politically inept. I suspect that Lady Haig was much more active in this area of his career than is generally acknowledged. He trusted her implicitly and I feel he was well content to let her run the Blighty side while he got on with the war. Much of his duties were political and he was expected to perform them well. His estimate of an officer's worth would include how much of a threat he was to Haig's position and plans as well as how loyal that officer would be to Haig personally.

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A.A.Savery
My primary area of expertise is the performance of baroque muisc and I am acutely aware that we may use reproductions or original instruments, play at old pitch, read up all the treatises on ornamentation, play from the most carefully prepared scores in an ideal accoustic but we will never be able to listen with 18th century ears. The past is a different country.

Extremely well put Ian; written in a language I can understand.

I know who's side I'm on!

Tony

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Take on me

A great many questions have been posed in this thread. Earlier today I refrained, decided I would answer these questions no longer, but maybe I can try and add something new. First things first, I do believe that the public perception of a historical event or a personality can be warped. Many people believe in conspiracy theories and myths or versions of events that are inaccurate. For instance the French revolution is often seen as a bloody event when a group of utopian Frenchmen decided to storm the Bastille and execute the monarch, and a good many innocent nobles with a guillotine. Perhaps other Pals disagree but this is, in my view, the popular British perception of these events. It is certainly the version that Prime Minister Thatcher sought to remind President Mitterand of when she presented him with a copy of A Tale of Two Cities upon the bicentennial of the Revolution in 1789. (EDIT: I am not wishing to make any political point here at all)

Thus I have little difficulty in believing that the public perception of events such as the First World War can be simplistic, inaccurate and in some ways simply incorrect. This is created by decades of criticism from figures on the left wing of politics (the authors of Oh What a Lovely War, for instance) and on the right (Alan Clark and even William Hague who once compared the Prime Minister to a WW1 general, moreover the event of another war that was not only cheaper (for the UK) in terms of human life but that also appeared to make the most noble of WW1's aims such as 'War to end War' entirely futile also helped to make WW1 and its leaders appear 'donkeys.

'Revisionist' historians have sought to redress the balance in many aspects of the war. It certainly does not focus upon the military side of the conflict, although the majority of the work that forum Pals read is military in nature. Margaret Macmillan's Peacemakers which assesses the componant parts of the much criticised Treaty of Versailles, or David Stevenson's 1914-1918 can also be seen as 'revisionist' because they look at the war from a new angle. Not in terms of old cliches such as Lions led by Donkeys but in terms of the cold facts of policy, economics etc.

Historians critical of the British High Command such as Prior and Wilson may also be seen as 'revisionist' because they address the issues of the battlefield in a sensible way, asking what went wrong and why instead of relying on old cliches such as 'lions led by donkeys.' These were real battles, and had real objectives, there is no reason why they cannot be analysed like any other historic event in terms of causes, events and consequences. Those who want to continue to read John Laffin may do so, but they must accept that his lack of any pretence to objectivity and polemical attack upon the WW1 generals has very little value as history. We can be critical of the generals in many ways, but lets make the criticism sensible.

Perhaps it is all really an issue of culture. Haig fought an unpleasant war, given the technological parity of the day his strategy of attrition (though at times appalingly conducted) did wear down the German Army. It was not a very inteligent way to make war but given the fact that he had armies of men, not Abrams tanks and Cruise missiles there was some logic to it. He was trained in the Victorian age where the deaths were seen to be justified by the victory. Given the murderous conditions of the Western Front it cannmot seem surprising that generals ordered to win the war were, how shall I put it 'cold hearted' according to our understanding, at the prospect of casualties. However twentieth century Britain was a far more democratic Britain and the population looked upon those fields of headstones with horror. What, at the time, seemed dire necessity appeared to be excessive now. The way those soldiers went forth, as one to meet their deaths, as one evokes horror in the liberal consciousness. As one Pal has pointed out later on in the century it would be the armies of the USSR that would take the losses of a Second World War, during the First it would be France, Russia and Britain combined who wore down the German Army. However there has not been, to my understanding, so much criticism of the Soviet High Command in Russia for, I think two reasons, 1. during WW2 the USSR was invaded 2. the USSR was no democracy and thus could expect its people to die, for want of a better expression 'like cattle'. In liberal countries such sentiments revolt, thus the generals of WW1 face criticism. However at the time the losses were considered to be acceptable.

I hope that is not too confused,

Regards,

Jon

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Crunchy

I am often bemused by people who have no experience or little understanding of large scale military operations who are so ready to call the generals of the Great War “Donkeys’. Indeed, there are many who have never served in the military who are so ready to pass such judgement. I must admit that, as a teenager, this was the image I had and have subsequently realised the issue is not as simple as that.

I have a couple of questions to ask those on this thread who have indicated that they support the view that the Great War generals are “Donkeys”

Would you have done any better had you been placed in the same position, with the same level of experience and facing the same conundrum as they were?

If so, pray tell us, how would you have gone about producing better results? I am looking for the details of how you would have ensured that the casualties would have been minimized both in the attack and in fighting off German counter attacks. How would you have ensured the German defences were nullified? Give us your plan for success on the Somme or at Third Ypres. If you wouldn't have made the offensives there, then where you would made them and how you would have ensured the decisive breakthrough was made? How would you have ensured an early defeat of the German Army?

I await your replies with much interest.

Interestingly, to the best of my knowledge, not one of the proponents of the “Donkey School” has ever proposed a better solution. Why? I would suggest because they don’t have one and nor do they really understand the complexities of the issues they are so willingly to expound upon. Ah, it is so easy to criticise.

BTW, I am not suggesting that the Great War generals always got it right, clearly they didn't. Obviously, several performed poorly and others demonstrated a failure to learn quickly, but to brand them all "Donkeys" is overly trite. War is a difficult, complex and bloody business that is far removed from the norms of everyday life, particularly when it's vastly different to all previous experience or expectations and there is no room to manoeuvre to a position of advantage.

Add to this the enormous expansion of the British Army between 1914 and 1916 and the inability to fill the newly created formation headquarters with experienced and trained officers. Many who were catapulted in these positions had no experience and little training for their new role, they had to learn on the job. To the best of my knowledge, Army level formation Headquarters did not exist in the British Army prior to the war. While I am not a supporter of Gough, he started the war as a Brigade commander and two years later was an Army commander - three steps up in military formations - a hugh jump in responsibilities and complexity of logistics and operations. How many of us would have handled that with a high level of competence?

Regards

Chris

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Steven Broomfield

I've read this with interest, and I think Crunchy's last comment is worth considering: the massive expansion in size of the Armies in France.

Arm will agree with me in saying that 'minor' commanders like Br Gen G H Gater, CMG, DSO* provide an excellent example. In August 1914, Gater was a public servant, working as Deputy Director of Education for Nottinghamshire County Council. In December 1917 he was a Brigadier general, aged 31, after experience at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Gater performed an excellent job, despite having no known previous military experience (no-one is sure whether he was in the Corps at Winchester).

There were dozens of Gaters by 1917/18, because, quite simply, the Old Army had been unable to produce them because the men who would normally have been expected to become the commanders (the psc's) were dead by 1915. Surely it's to the credit of the forces led by haig that men such as gater were not only allowed, but actually encouraged (by training manuals, 'feedback' on battle experience, and by courses in France and at home) to develop into a position where he could utilise his experience to its best advantage.

How was haig expected to perform like a super man without a Staff Corps and Minor Commanders to support him? Until the middle to latter part of the war there were few men like Gater with the required experience: the experience of fighting a modern war against a modern enemy under conditions no-one envisaged (or probably could have envisaged).

I also agree with ianA - the past is another country and our attitudes to death, to the social structure and hierachy are very, very different to our fathers', let alone our grandfathers'.

Finally, I believe I'm right in saying that even Lloyd george couldn't find a replacement for Haig, so whom elese do we suggest could have done a better job? As I recall Peter Simkins saying once - "We did win the bl**dy war"!

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Jonathan Saunders
I am often bemused by people who have no experience or little understanding of large scale military operations who are so ready to call the generals of the Great War “Donkeys’. Indeed, there are many who have never served in the military who are so ready to pass such judgement. I must admit that, as a teenager, this was the image I had and have subsequently realised the issue is not as simple as that.

Hi Chris – trust your well.

In the absence of any other response I am happy to respond to some of your points from my position, which does not absolve Haig from all his errors on the basis that "we won in the end, so he must have been doing it right", as seems to be a favoured answer put forward in support of Haig.

I am not sure that “donkey” is an appropriate term to describe any of the Great War Generals but that is not to say that by virtue of being elevated to General rank that Generals avoided being inept, tactically wanting, more concerned with covering their backs than the care and welfare of those they commanded etc. Id rather be more accurate and descriptive if I thought someone inept but for the sake of this post I will use the word “donkey” in the context of its Great War usage.

You ask “What would you have done better” but I dont think that is a reasonable question to ask. Surely the argument is concerned with did Great War Generals learn from their experiences and how did they improve, and IMHO, some did not at all, some took two steps forward and one backwards, and others proved themselves natural and gifted military leaders. I see nothing wrong with wanting to extricate the wood from the chaff.

However to try and answer your question retrospectively, if I wanted to improve on the task facing Haig in the summer of 1916 then I would like to think I would have done several things differently to improve the results. First of all lets be clear that the Somme battle(s) simply had to be fought, without question, and we needed to relieve the pressure on the French. As has been said many times before it is not that the Somme was fought, but how it was fought.

How could we have possibly produced better results? Well very briefly, it took me about 20 seconds to think of a small handful of things wrong with the Somme:

i) Achievable objectives. Rawlinson wanted bite and hold based on the experiences of 1915, but Haig insisted on unrealistic (IMHO) objectives against some of teh strongest parts of teh German Front Line.

ii) There was no apparent structure or uniformity to Counter Battery work.

iii) Gommecourt was a disasterous location for a feint.

iv) Hunter-Bunter allowed to blow the mine at 7:20 then “blooding” his troops at 7:30.

v) Ensuring I was receiving accurate intelligence reports.

vi) I think one area that could have been improved significantly was a change in the command strategy to one that fostered officers/men on the ground to act according to the prevailing circumstances as they developed.

There is another point - identifying your task. I would argue that Haig did not have to defeat the German army but had to defeat the morale of the German army in conjunction with the destruction of the German Home Front by the Royal Navy. To try and slog it out with the Germans toe-to-toe was to gamble losing a war that was significantly more difficult to lose than win from the starting position you had been given. That isnt to say that we should have just sat there - there was nothing wrong with the strategy of attrition but it had to be attrition whereby you inflicted significantly higher rates of casualties on your enemy than you were suffering yourself.

You commented on the difficulties experienced by Generals faced with a very different war to their previous experiences. Is that really an acceptable excuse? There is plenty of evidence of officers of all ranks and ORs that used their wits (often without the benefit of much more than an elementary education let alone Staff College) that succeeded in becoming very competent practitioners of war. Admittedly Generals may have been faced with a bigger picture but everything is relative and so why should it be so vastly different for an Army or Corps or Divisional Commander to achieve competence?

Likewise to say that the Command improved as the Somme battle continued simply isnt good enough, IMHO. By 1st July 1916 the war had been in progress for nearly two years - there were plenty of lessons to take from the battles of 1915, yet the same type of basic mistakes and lack of iniative was still being found in the higher eschelons of Command.

I sympathise with your view that Gough had a rapid rise but others, notably, Monash and Currie, had an even more rapid rise and performed admirably (noted that Monash made mistakes but generally he did learn from them). But you are right that it wasn’t Gough’s fault that he was promoted beyond his capabilities, that fault lay with Haig who continued to support Gough when it was apparent that Gough was out of his depth. That alone doesn’t make Haig a donkey but Haig did make many errors, arguably too many, and it is right that we should discuss them reasonably, and critique Haig accordingly.

You may have a point with the “no experience or little understanding” line but surely it is about quality of the argument put forward and it is that issue rather than “no experience” that should be the focus of the counter-critique, otherwise we might as well dismiss all historians who have not been at the cutting edge of warfare and where would that leave us … Julian Thompson, probably, and would that really be an improvement or would we all be be-moaning the "establishment" view? And as I am constantly reminded when I see another former officer-turned military historian in print or tv, a military background is no guarantee of aptitude for the job of military historian, IMHO.

Regards,

Jon S

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loganshort

Alan Tucker is correct. My generation (born in the 50's) were taught that WW1 was a foolish war and was senseless slaughter, as opposed to WW2. This theory was backed up by the War poets. However, the War poets stirred my imagination. The film, "Oh What a lovely War" served to confirm my basic education up till then but kept my interest in the war alive. Only recent books giving a more in depth look at the war have assisted me in revising my previous simplified education.

Does anyone have a % figure based on the ratio between soldiers serving and soldiers killed in comparison with each major country? Britain had the lowest casualties but how does the ratio compare with the others?

There will always be donkeys in every walk of life but not all of the French, German, Russian, British, Italian and other country's Generals were. As has already been said. "We Won!"

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Chris_Baker
i) Achievable objectives. Rawlinson wanted bite and hold based on the experiences of 1915, but Haig insisted on unrealistic (IMHO) objectives against some of teh strongest parts of teh German Front Line.

ii) There was no apparent structure or uniformity to Counter Battery work.

iii) Gommecourt was a disasterous location for a feint.

iv) Hunter-Bunter allowed to blow the mine at 7:20 then "blooding" his troops at 7:30.

v) Ensuring I was receiving accurate intelligence reports.

vi) I think one area that could have been improved significantly was a change in the command strategy to one that fostered officers/men on the ground to act according to the prevailing circumstances as they developed.

Easy in retrospect, Jon. I would argue impossible at the time, given the information available and the doctrine from prior training and experience.

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Jonathan Saunders
Easy in retrospect, Jon. I would argue impossible at the time, given the information available and the doctrine from prior training and experience.

Chris - very easy in retrospect, which is why I was careful to use the word, and why i said the original question was not a reasonable one to ask. But I felt the post in general was worthy of a reply.

I admit there are grey areas surrounding the gathering of intelligence prior to 7:30am, 1 July, but intelligence - knowing the strength of your enemy - has always been a crucial element of warfare. If Haig failed in this regard, especially when intelligence gathering was deemed so important by his Command, then I think it reasonable to hold Haig responsible on this task, all mitigating factors accepted. When forming one's view it doesnt help that the evening preceeding the attack Haig wrote to his wife about being helped by a superior power, or that in the northern part of the battlefield many of the same mistakes were repeated on 3rd July with the same catastrophic consequences.

I am not sure the other points were so impossible to avoid/correct.

Regards,

Jon

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armourersergeant
Arguably no one played the political game more than, or was better at playing it, than Haig - if he didnt want Hunter-Bunter Haig was the man to make sure he wasnt involved in 1st July. Yet following Gallipoli Haig was happy to accept Hunter-Bunter on the Western Front in the promoted rank of Corps Commander. I would be very surprised if Haig did not know Hunter-Bunter well enough to form an opinion as to whether he was capable or incapable of commanding a Corps. I think it could be argued that Haig gave Hunter-Bunter the most difficult task of all on 1st July. It is true that Haig had a generally dismissive, (and extremely ignorent in most cases but not with Hunter-Bunter), view of anyone who had served at Gallipoli but it would appear, to me at least, that Haig placed an enormous amount of faith in Hunter-Bunter prior to 1st July.

Can you outline what Gough personally did extremely well in March/April 1918. Regarding Gough's reputation had he been in situ during the last 100 Days: Rawlinson's reputation in history has not received the recognition that I think it deserves despite his handling of Fourth Army in the Last 100 Days. Why would Gough's have been any different?

Regards,

Jon

I am not sure Haig did choose HW to command a coprs, however he did not move him out of an erea of important command, he may have felt that, failure or not, his Gallipoli experiences may help him in the coming attack. He was of course wrong. Was HW abilities know to be good or bad in 1916?, what was the word on the street, all I know and read is post war about him. Howeve after July he was never given a serious post again.

As for political game. Of course Haig played a good whisper game, he however played it in MO with the King, not with the politicals. His real political inflience went when Kitchnenre died and Asquith was removed. HW was howeve actually a PM and had much influence.

I do not say that Gough did excellent, but that his efforts were not perhaps worse than any other commander at that time, he had much ground and too few men. I feel his Army did better than Byng, all things considered.

I think you are wrong about Rawlinson. what would be anyones rep on him had he not had the 100 days? He may have been hampered by Haig and other factors, however much of this can be argued better by the 100 days. If you take this away you are really left with the Somme!!!

No doubt we can pick this up in a few months time!!!

Arm

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armourersergeant
Arm will agree with me in saying that 'minor' commanders like Br Gen G H Gater, CMG, DSO* provide an excellent example. In August 1914, Gater was a public servant, working as Deputy Director of Education for Nottinghamshire County Council. In December 1917 he was a Brigadier general, aged 31, after experience at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Gater performed an excellent job, despite having no known previous military experience (no-one is sure whether he was in the Corps at Winchester).

Finally, I believe I'm right in saying that even Lloyd george couldn't find a replacement for Haig, so whom elese do we suggest could have done a better job? As I recall Peter Simkins saying once - "We did win the bl**dy war"!

Stephen, I find it hard to beleive that you managed not to speak up for so long!!!

As for Gater a good example of a man joining, learning the best ways, being promoted to his capbilities. Whilst certainly not alone he was a very good exception to the rule. However Professional or amateur by 1918 I think we can say a three year or ten year officer at battalion or brigade level probably had as good a grasp of war and how to fight it. it is a good example of the real by now expereinced men coming through there learning curve in 1918. Haig was I recall anxious, according to an article in the times by Edmonds (not always reliable) that haig operated an 'open' policy of getting the younger men through into the jobs that this war had made a young mans war.

That a replacement could not be found for Hiag does not of course make him good, just for many reasons not replacable. Haig could of course be awful, yet still the best we have. I do find this arguement often quoted but to me not a reason to assume Haig was good.

regards

Arm

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Crunchy

Hi Jon,

Thank you for your reply. I'm well. Hope you are too. I have rather a busy schedule at the moment. Will reply soonest.

Regards

Chris

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armourersergeant
i) Achievable objectives. Rawlinson wanted bite and hold based on the experiences of 1915, but Haig insisted on unrealistic (IMHO) objectives against some of teh strongest parts of teh German Front Line.

ii) There was no apparent structure or uniformity to Counter Battery work.

iii) Gommecourt was a disasterous location for a feint.

iv) Hunter-Bunter allowed to blow the mine at 7:20 then “blooding” his troops at 7:30.

v) Ensuring I was receiving accurate intelligence reports.

vi) I think one area that could have been improved significantly was a change in the command strategy to one that fostered officers/men on the ground to act according to the prevailing circumstances as they developed.

1..Whilst I agree that bite and hold should have been used. was it not Haigs instructions to attack and punch a hole in the line. why bite and hold when you expect the Germans to have suffered so badly under the barrage you have laid down! Hindsight tells us BAH would have worked better, alas!

2..Was this not still in learning process, can you have a system when you do not really have a system, if you see what I mean.

3..Agreed.

4..Was it planned for the mine to blow at 7.20?

5..Not easy to get, often I am sure getting conflicting intel.

6..Did this not happen after the Somme, where it was realised that officers had to be able to think for themselves more, use there inititive. Previousl;y war had been so close or so short a battle that decisions were not always required in the 'heat' On 3rd July Rawling used his initiative to take a protion of the line with 21st div. later maxwell used his inititive on the Somme. I am sure there were others.

regards

Arm

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Jonathan Saunders
I am not sure Haig did choose HW to command a coprs, however he did not move him out of an erea of important command, he may have felt that, failure or not, his Gallipoli experiences may help him in the coming attack. He was of course wrong. Was HW abilities know to be good or bad in 1916?, what was the word on the street, all I know and read is post war about him. Howeve after July he was never given a serious post again.

But the point remains Haig was happy to accept Hunter-Bunter as a Corps Commander and gave him a most difficult part of the Line to secure. This was despite Haig's generally unfavourable opinion and considered unsuitably of anyone that had fought at Gallipoli, which for some completely unfathomable reason Haig didn't think constituted a real war like he was waging on the Western Front. Don't forget this important task was entrusted by Haig to Hunter-Bunter after the latter had been sent home from Gallipoli suffering from stress and exhaustion. I find it difficult not to believe that Haig had moved in the same social circles as Hunter-Bunter and must have known him, and of him, well enough to form an opinion as to whether Hunter-Bunter was the man for the job (a quick google suggests Hunter-Bunter did not come across as the most gifted person academically). At best, IMHO, it remains another example of Haig's potential for poor judgement of character. Finally Hunter-Bunter was Haig's liaison man with V/Ad. Bacon during the discussions about an amphibious landing in conjunction with Third Ypres – Hunter-Bunter’s qualifications being the debacle he was responsible for with 29 Div at Gallipoli.

As for political game. Of course Haig played a good whisper game, he however played it in MO with the King, not with the politicals. His real political inflience went when Kitchnenre died and Asquith was removed. HW was howeve actually a PM and had much influence.

Haig didnt like politicians that is true but I think he played a far better political game than you credit him for. He had no problems with Haldane don't forget, and Haig was able to play the Press when he wanted too. His "friendship" with the King seems to have been the cherry on Haig's political plate ie. it made Haig virtually untouchable in the society and corridors of power that prevailed. Ok you can exclude L-G from end of 1917, but that doesn't mean that Haig enjoyed no friendship or sympathy within Parliament, in fact his relations with L-G had started well and despite what Churchill later wrote, his relationship with Haig when Minister of Munitions in 1917 does not appear to have been fraught.

I do not say that Gough did excellent, but that his efforts were not perhaps worse than any other commander at that time, he had much ground and too few men. I feel his Army did better than Byng, all things considered.

I think you are wrong about Rawlinson. what would be anyones rep on him had he not had the 100 days? He may have been hampered by Haig and other factors, however much of this can be argued better by the 100 days. If you take this away you are really left with the Somme!!!

This is where we differ. You come from the view that no one could have done any better than Gough whereas my direction is that no one could have done any worse than Gough. I have read of no great or even reasonable contribution made by Gough to the achievements of Fifth Army in March/April 1918. My reading, and I am thinking mainly of Travers and Kitchen, suggests that Gough's command was one of chaos and confusion with an Army commander hopelessly out of his depth (and not for the first time), in which I have to say Haig was complicit - no understanding of new German offensive tactics as experienced at Cambrai and no concept of how to deploy an elastic defence.

I think outside us anoraks Rawlinson's contribution to the Last 100 Days is largely forgotten and was forgotten almost immediately after the event. His name would barely reach the richter scale if a conversation took place amongst the general public (ie not us anoraks) regarding the Battle of the Somme let alone "victory". Considering the importance of his role and achievement Rawlinson has practically no public profile what-so-ever. The point I was trying to make is if Gough has any sort of public profile today it is because he was sacked and the next King forgave him and told him you did well afterall. That is, rather sadly, Gough's public identity as I see it. If Gough had been allowed to continue his command into the Last 100 Days, then IMHO, Gough would, as with Rawlinson, be largely forgotten.

There will surely be no quiet evenings at Charlotte's in a few months time - I expect as usual I will be buying the beers.

Regards,

Jon S

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Jonathan Saunders
1..Whilst I agree that bite and hold should have been used. was it not Haigs instructions to attack and punch a hole in the line. why bite and hold when you expect the Germans to have suffered so badly under the barrage you have laid down! Hindsight tells us BAH would have worked better, alas!

2..Was this not still in learning process, can you have a system when you do not really have a system, if you see what I mean.

3..Agreed.

4..Was it planned for the mine to blow at 7.20?

5..Not easy to get, often I am sure getting conflicting intel.

6..Did this not happen after the Somme, where it was realised that officers had to be able to think for themselves more, use there inititive. Previousl;y war had been so close or so short a battle that decisions were not always required in the 'heat' On 3rd July Rawling used his initiative to take a protion of the line with 21st div. later maxwell used his inititive on the Somme. I am sure there were others.

regards

Arm

1..Not hindsight but 1915 tells us BaH would have worked better, IMHO. But of course you are indirectly raising another important topic here. The ambiguity in Haig's "instructions". Was it attritional or was it a break-through. This is actually one of the problems I have with Haig's command - the same ambiguities are repeated at Third Ypres and arguably at Cambrai in 1917 and March 1918.

2..Yes it was in the learning process but Haig devolved C.B. work to his Corps Commanders, with varying degrees of success and failure, whilst he muddled himself in Rawlinson's plans. My opinion is that Haig would have done better to muddle less with Rawlinson's plans and apply himself to what the guns were doing. Afterall at that moment the forthcoming Somme offensive, and possibly Haig's future and his reputation, hinged on what the artillery achieved during that last week of June. In the northern part of the battlefield it is regrettable it achieved very little.

3..Bill would have been pretty unhappy if you hadnt agreed with me!

4..As I recall it was a compromise to which Haig acquiescenced. Hunter-Bunter wanted it blown earlier, Rawlinson obviously wanted it blown at 7:30. But I would need to check re Hunter-Bunter.

5..Agreed that once the battle commenced intelligence was going to be fraught but I am thinking more leading up to the offensive.

6..I think there were individuals that thought for themselves "and damn the brasshats" as I recall one of the more intuitive Bttn COs writing in a letter but I don't think this was widespread policy. I think it certainly took place in March 1918 but that was out of the chaos and shambles of Gough's command - it was a case of use your wits and initiative or perish. I think it was also present in the Last 100 Days, but my understanding is by August 1918 the Army Commanders were pulling the strings and not Haig. But my point is that Haig did not foster a policy of thinking outside the box - generally speaking, his personality and dour command, as handed down through GHQ, frustrated progress in this regard.

Arm - its all about opinions and interpretation. These are, as with the earlier post, my opinions and my interpretation. I am not saying Im right but I am happy to add them to the debate.

Regards,

Jon S

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charlesmessenger

You may have a point with the “no experience or little understanding” line but surely it is about quality of the argument put forward and it is that issue rather than “no experience” that should be the focus of the counter-critique, otherwise we might as well dismiss all historians who have not been at the cutting edge of warfare and where would that leave us … Julian Thompson, probably, and would that really be an improvement or would we all be be-moaning the "establishment" view? And as I am constantly reminded when I see another former officer-turned military historian in print or tv, a military background is no guarantee of aptitude for the job of military historian, IMHO.

Regards,

Jon S

Jon

Speaking as a former soldier turned military historian, I agree that there is no guarantee that those historians with a military background necessarily have what it takes. On the other hand, to have been involved in the planning and conduct of operations, not even in a 'hot' war like the Falklands, does give one appreciation of what makes a good commander and a good staff, as well as the problems they face. Not least of these is that so often planning for an operation is done under pressure of time, with those involved often very tired but still having to think straight. My view is that some historians without this background, but certainly not all by any means, sometimes fail to fully appreciate the unique prtessures that a soldier faces in war.

Going back to 1918, I am deep in a study of Amiens, the start of the 100 days. I am deeply impressed by the quality of commanders and staff during the preparatory period. With only ten days to do it in, the whole of the Canadian Corps had to be moved to the Somme, together with tanks and additional artillery, and British divisions switched back from supporting the French, the whole done under an elaborate deception plan so that the Germans did not find out. That this was successful and the start line was crossed on time on 8 August is truly impressive and surely demonstrates how much the BEF had learnt.

As for Gough, he may have had his faults, the main one of being too much of a thruster, but it is worth pointing out that the Fifth Army only took over an additional 20 miles of French front in January 1918 and there simply was not the time to prepare the defences as they should have been laid out. Furthermore, it was the politicans who demanded a scapegoat for the March 1918 debacle and Gough was obviously the one who had to be sacked, something which the men who had been under his command became very bitter about.

Charles M

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PhilB
On the other hand, to have been involved in the planning and conduct of operations, not even in a 'hot' war like the Falklands, does give one appreciation of what makes a good commander. My view is that some historians without this background, but certainly not all by any means, sometimes fail to fully appreciate the unique pressures that a soldier faces in war.

Charles M

On even another hand, might ex-military historians naturally give too much benefit of the doubt to the military commander as they assume to appreciate his "unique pressures"? After all, he doesn`t have the unique pressure of going over the top or sitting being shelled, which must be at least equally as stressful? Phil B

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Jonathan Saunders
Speaking as a former soldier turned military historian...

Hi Charles,

These are very fair points you make concerning a military background helping to fully understand battlefield conditions and pressures of command and I am very respective of this factor and have been for as long as I can remember. Although in seeking the truth "we" have to be aware that ex-soldiers-turned-military-historians can be more susceptible to fitting answers to support the establishment view. It goes without saying that I am not thinking of you in this regard!

Neither do I think those pressures of command exonerate a battlefield commander from making repeated errors or displaying an ineptitude in the responsibilty given to him. In most cases this responsibility has been coveted by the officer in question, who has put himself in line for it.

Believe me I would expect to take a pummelling from you in open debate - I would expect the same from Mr B, who along with Terry Reeves played a bigger part than they are aware of in my settling on the Great War as the period to study. But ... ... I just cant agree with your sentiments towards Gough. Putting Third Ypres aside, in March 1918 Gough not only sent back misleading information to GHQ concerning the gravity of Fifth Army's position, so delaying reinforcement by three French divisions, he gave contradictory orders, placed five of his available eight divisions in the Forward Zone with a no withdrawal order, picked poor positions to defend and displayed no understanding of an elastic defence. On the other-hand parts of Fifth Army were led at the local level to a very high standard and I have nothing but admiration for them, just not for Gough, who badly let them down, IMHO.

Best regards,

Jon S

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Chris Noble

Hi Pals.

Very interesting discussion, just like to take it back a bit.

A 'Scape Goat'?

Major-General E.J. Montague-Stuart-Wortley for the failure of the attacks of the 46th Division at Gommecourt?

Your opinions Pals, and was, he, as i believe, the only Divisional Commander to be 'made accountable' for his actions on the first day of the Somme offensive.

The Division due to the constant need for the preparation of the offensive were tired and exhausted. The trenches were in a quagmire, hardly an ideal situation to launch an attack on well prepared and well defended German Front line at Gommecourt Wood.

Any opinions?

Regards, Chris.

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Jonathan Saunders
Any opinions?

The inclusion of Gommecourt as the location for the feint was a major error by Haig. Montague-Stuart-Wortley was indeed a scape-goat. This has been discussed before and it may well be worth doing at search for what has been written previously.

Regards,

Jon S

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Chris Noble

Hi Jon.

Thanks for the pointer, will do.

Regards, Chris.

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