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Western Front tactics in 1917


Mat McLachlan
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No, I was saying Haig didn't gain any points on the smart scale for his vision--not you :D

Paul

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Paul Hederer said:
...were the Somme and Ypres launched as attritional battles, or were they attempted breakthroughs that degenerated into such?

Paul, there are slight differences between the Somme and Third Ypres. With regards to the latter, the intent of the first day is clearly indicated on the map in this thread:

 

You can see the dotted red line marking the limit of the furthest objective line set by Gough, and agreed by Haig, for July 31st. Reaching this objective line would not have been a 'breakthrough'. It was known that there were additional defensive lines, which were clearly marked on the battlemaps at that time. Day one would not have pierced all of the German defensive positions, and would not therefore have constituted a breakthrough. Haig set Third Ypres in a broader strategic framework. The clearing of the coast was the ultimate stated goal but this was to be achieved by a series of intermediate objectives. These are indicated in purple on the map above.

The Somme was planned in much the same way. There was a higher level goal whose achievement would have required a breakthrough to fulfill, just as clearing the coast on day one would have required a breakthrough. The detailed planning by Rawlinson, however, focused primarily on the capture of the German first line and ground up to but not including the second line. This did not constitute a breakthrough, given that there was an embryonic third line as well. As with Third Ypres, plans were in place to exploit a collapse of the German army, but this should not be confused with the breakthrough style of attack advocated by Nivelle for example.

The one major difference between the Somme and Third Ypres is that Haig was committed to continuing Third Ypres as an attritional battle if the German army did not collapse. IMHO, this commitment was less clear with the Somme. He did mention the possibility of shifting the point of attack if there was no success on the Somme. This was partly due to the fact that he always had an eye on the operation to clear the coast. In the lead up to the Somme, Haig had been concerned about launching a major British offensive too early. Although he recognised the importance of wearing down the German reserves, he was not so wedded to this that he eagerly fell into line with Joffre's earnest desires. Joffre wanted the British army to get going far earlier, for reasons that you are very familiar with. Haig's resistance to this caused considerable friction. Once the Somme was underway, and the early success on day one had been achieved, then Haig maintained pressure on the German army virtually right through until the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. Many people do not realise that the pressure was continued after the close down of the Battle of the Somme.

Robert

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Robert,

Thanks for the great summary. In relation to Haig, his goals (as you mentioned about the Somme) seem less than clear. I seem to be getting two pictures of him. The first is of a visionary who recognized early the nature of the war and doggedly pursused an attritional strategy. The second is of a slightly less imaginative commander who may have really believed he was going to "the Green Fields Beyond," and the attrition he inflicted was simply a byproduct of his stubborn attempts to make it through.

As enigmatic a figure as Falkenhayn is, at least he was fairly clear on his views of any attempted breakthrough on the Westren Front!

Paul

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Thank you, salesie. Your response falls into two parts. The first part relates to the 'end-result'. In this instance, you define the end-result in terms of the correctness of two sets of assessments, one set from Charteris/Haig and one set from Macdonogh. You said that the latter was correct; the former was not.

Throughout this discussion, I have not suggested that Charteris' assessments were correct. I have neither ignored nor forgotten the additional details that you have posted about his reports. As mentioned earlier, it will be important to look at the primary source material relating to Charteris' department. This approach, however, is not relevant to our discussion because, for the purpose of clarifying the heart of this debate, I am comfortable with your premise that Charteris' assessments were wrong.

What I have consistently done is separate what Charteris wrote in his assessments and what Haig actually did. Supposing that Macdonogh was correct and Charteris was not, I have focused on the end-result of how Haig planned and executed Third Ypres. You appear to disagree with this approach, stating that the 'how' is not relevant. FWIIW, I believe the 'how' is relevant because it best reveals what Haig 'believed', ie what he was prepared to stake his reputation on as C-in-C. The contrast with Nivelle and his approach to ending the war in 1917 clearly illustrates this, IMHO.

Previously, you have suggested that Haig would/should have planned and/or executed Third Ypres differently had he believed Macdonogh's assessment. This touches on the whole issue of how a C-in-C, and any other commander, should interpret Intelligence assessments with respect to tactical and operational planning. You can make the judgement, in hindsight, that Chateris was wrong and that Macdonogh was right. Intelligence assessments must be factored into the planning and execution of a battle or campaign. The assessments must not dictate the plan. My point has been that the plan for Third Ypres did not align with Charteris' assessments. Furthermore, Haig continued high level planning for 1918, for example through this meetings with Pershing and the planning for training (and hopefully integrating) the American forces that were beginning to reach France in 1917.

You speculated on the significance of Haig's earlier commendation of Macdonogh, versus the reference in his October diary entry. You first noted that "it's a pity Haig didn't remember how good he thought Macdonogh was back in 1914". This could be interpreted to mean that Haig should have accepted Macdonogh's the whole content of each and every report as being correct. This brings us to the issue of the semantics. Was Haig's October 1917 reference about the whole of Macdonogh's assessments being incorrect (which is what I take from your description of the 'end-results', ie that one set of assessments was completely wrong; the other was completely correct)? Or was Haig focusing on specific issues? This distinction is crucial.

Thank you for the additional quote relating to October 16. Unfortunately, it does not clear up this point. To be clear, it does note that there were several "statements" that Haig disagreed with. This does not mean that he disagreed with all of Macdonogh's report.

We have one explicit statement that Haig was concerned about. Given the difference in the two sources that we used for this specific issue, it highlights the importance of further detailed analysis. The specific issue related to whether or not the German High Command was concerned about the problems that were evident to Charteris. Your response to Crown Prince Rupprecht's quote could suggest that you think that the German High Command was not concerned. You are quite right that Haig and Charteris were not party to Rupprecht's thoughts or diary entries. Rupprecht was, however, expressing the same basic concern that was visible to Charteris and to Haig, who could make this same judgement independently of Charteris based on what his Army Commanders were reporting and what was happening on the ground. In other words, the military commanders on both sides were interpreting the same expressions of strain in the German forces defending Passchendaele Ridge. I agree that these perspectives were local to the this campaign. That is my whole point, with respect to how the campaign was being fought.

If the German High Command were 'anxious', then part of Macdonogh's report was wrong. This does not negate his whole report. So far, there is no evidence that Haig had made this jump. If he thought that only part of the report was wrong, then your point that "by definition Haig must have believed GHQ's assessment that a collapse in German manpower to be very close indeed" is suggesting a leap too far. Even if this were true, and I see no indication that it was, it does not then follow that Haig was executing Third Ypres against this assumption.

Robert

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Robert, Ruprecht's assessments that you quoted would seem to bear out the fact that Charteris was right not wrong - but, of course, we know this to be untrue. We also know that both assessments were based on men in active fronts and thus painted a false picture of the overall situation. What I can't understand, Robert, is why a few posts ago, when citing the retreat to the Aisne and the German withdrawal in 1917 as proof of Haig's use of pre-war rides, you said that narrow views when Haig was a corps commander were to be expected but when C-in-C he would take a wider view from his better knowledge of the overall picture - yet in your last post you say, "In other words, the military commanders on both sides were interpreting the same expressions of strain in the German forces defending Passchendaele Ridge. I agree that these perspectives were local to this campaign. That is my whole point, with respect to how the campaign was being fought." What happened to Haig's wider view at 3rd Ypres when C-in-C? Did he decide to stick it on the shelf for this offensive - or believe that Charteris' reports reflected the whole picture? Seems like a contradiction on your part, Robert - wider view when it suits your earlier point and a narrow view to suit this one?

Also, you seem to forget that the "battle" for Charteris' head, that the belief in his incompetence as GHQ intelligence chief, held by virtually everyone except Haig, had been going on since 1916, and that even Haig couldn't "save" him when it was discovered in December 1917 that he'd refused to put the arrival of three extra German reserve divisions into his assessments for Cambrai.

However, lets move on. You say you've always separated what Charteris wrote in his assessments to what Haig actually did - you forget to mention that you also separate what Haig actually said from what your own analysis says he did.

Here's a letter from Haig to Robertson of 13 August 1917:

"In this Army we are convinced we can beat the enemy provided units are kept up to strength in men and material. Our opinion is based on actual facts viz: the poor state of German troops, high standard of efficiency of our own, power of our artillery to dominate enemy guns, etc. etc.. An occasional glance at our daily intelligence summaries would convince even the most sceptical of the truth of what I write. Moreover I have been in the field now for three years and know what I am writing about." Source; Robertson Papers, loc. cit., 1/23/44.

It would seem that Haig holds the "proof" of his beliefs to be in GHQ's intelligence summaries (Macdonogh certainly didn't deliver daily reports to Haig but Charteris did) and that his own experiences of the last three years tell him this to be so - but I suppose Haig cannot be telling the truth here because according to your analysis Haig never meant what he said.

Robert, the bottom line of your assertions is - despite the several examples given of what Haig said about his belief that German manpower collapse would occur in late 1917 (at three conferences, two with his commanders and one with the war cabinet, plus two diary entries and him stating on two occasions that we must not make the same mistake as the Germans did at 1st Ypres), that your own analysis of the planning for 3rd Ypres makes it clear that Haig did not plan the offensive with this in mind. You are saying, Robert, that Haig's actions did not concur with what he said - that his words belied his true beliefs.

Why would this be so? Was Haig a liar, was he a con-man, was he just politically expedient to secure extra resources, was he a rah-rah merchant, was he confused, was he incompetent? Or perhaps he was obsessed by secrecy, didn't want the War Cabinet, his own commanders or his diary to know the truth of what he was planning in case a German spy was around? The whole scenario seems ludicrous to me, Robert - why would he plan against his stated beliefs?

It seems to me that you are asking us to believe that your own analysis of the planning for 3rd Ypres, done some 90 years after the event, is far more reliable in the context of Haig's beliefs and intent than the contemporaneous evidence of Haig's own words. Asking us to believe that your own analysis, based first and foremost on tactical and operational planning and brushing off Haig's own words by the use of semantics, is far better evidence to prove his intent. Has it ever occurred to you that Haig, whether rightly or wrongly, saw his plans as being "in tune" with his stated beliefs and that you may have missed something? Because, it seems to me, that given the evidence then either your analysis is flawed (it flies in the face of what Haig said) or the conclusions you draw from it are.

Perhaps if you looked at the whole planning and execution of 3rd Ypres again, but this time with Haig's stated beliefs to the forefront of your mind (as Haig would have done when planning) you may discover what you've missed and maybe the built-in breakthrough contingency plans will take on a new significance?

Cheers-salesie.

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salesie, there is only one major point that I want to re-highlight for now.

Ruprecht's assessments that you quoted would seem to bear out the fact that Charteris was right not wrong - but, of course, we know this to be untrue.
With respect, this was not the point that I raised. The issue was not whether Charteris was right or wrong. The issue was whether Macdonogh made a mistake. Not in respect of his whole report. Only with respect to Haig's quote about Macdonogh's view that the German High Command was not experiencing anxiety about the performance of the German army defending Passchendaele Ridge. Rupprecht's quote was offered as one example from an Army Group Commander who reported to Ludendorff.

Robert

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What happened to Haig's wider view at 3rd Ypres when C-in-C? Did he decide to stick it on the shelf for this offensive - or believe that Charteris' reports reflected the whole picture? Seems like a contradiction on your part, Robert - wider view when it suits your earlier point and a narrow view to suit this one?
No, salesie, this is not correct. I have consistently argued that Haig's wider view (best illustrated graphically by the small area of the Western Front that was engaged - even Haig's huge artillery maps that covered all of the British-held Western Front would have daily reminded him - meant that Third Ypres was primarily executed as a local campaign, not a 'war-winning in 1917' one.

you forget to mention that you also separate what Haig actually said from what your own analysis says he did.
I did not forget. I have consistently sought to analyse what Haig did, and then look at what he said in that light. Otherwise, there is the problem of trying to reconcile the different things that he said during the period in question.

Thank you for contributing the quote from Haig to Robertson of 13 August 1917. The key theme, which is repeated in the quote, is the need to "[keep] up to strength in men and material." The remainder of the quote reinforces Haig's view that the British Army was getting the better of its counterparts but does not, in and of itself, argue that the war would end in 1917. Haig wanted more guns and more men to keep up the pressure on the Germans. This theme was at the forefront of his discussion with the War Cabinet.

I suppose Haig cannot be telling the truth here because according to your analysis Haig never meant what he said. You are saying, Robert, that Haig's actions did not concur with what he said - that his words belied his true beliefs.
Neither of your conclusions represent what I have been saying. Even without analysing what Haig did, if we only rely on what he said then there are problems explaining inconsistencies. This was illustrated by your explanation of how Haig's Army Commanders interpreted his briefing to them in June 1917.

Robert

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Was Haig a liar, was he a con-man, was he just politically expedient to secure extra resources, was he a rah-rah merchant, was he confused, was he incompetent? Or perhaps he was obsessed by secrecy, didn't want the War Cabinet, his own commanders or his diary to know the truth of what he was planning in case a German spy was around? The whole scenario seems ludicrous to me
salesie, the scenario you describe is ludicrous. You can drop this scenario because it bears no relation to what I am proposing. I fully respect that you hold different views on this particular point under discussion. I humbly ask that you do the same. It is perfectly proper to suggest that what I have presented could be interpreted in this way. I do not, however, hold such simplistic views of Haig, and you know this.

Robert

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salesie, there is only one major point that I want to re-highlight for now.With respect, this was not the point that I raised. The issue was not whether Charteris was right or wrong. The issue was whether Macdonogh made a mistake. Not in respect of his whole report. Only with respect to Haig's quote about Macdonogh's view that the German High Command was not experiencing anxiety about the performance of the German army defending Passchendaele Ridge. Rupprecht's quote was offered as one example from an Army Group Commander who reported to Ludendorff.

Robert

I know, Robert - but the point is about narrow and wide views of the situation. Why would Macdonogh as DMI include a specific statement about Passchendaele ridge? And more to the point, if he had done how on earth could "tainted" Catholic sources make it so wrong?

Play semantics all you like, Robert, with Haig's diary entry of 15th October 1917, but the fact is, Macdonogh's WP49 (dated 31st August 1917) was not about 3rd Ypres specifically but about the full picture, and Haig, not being a stupid man, would know this. So how could any interpretation of his diary entry bring it down to such a narrow focus except to prove an erroneous point?

Cheers-salesie.

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salesie, the scenario you describe is ludicrous. You can drop this scenario because it bears no relation to what I am proposing. I fully respect that you hold different views on this particular point under discussion. I humbly ask that you do the same. It is perfectly proper to suggest that what I have presented could be interpreted in this way. I do not, however, hold such simplistic views of Haig, and you know this.

Robert

Robert, this has to end, we're both in danger of disappearing up our own arses.

Once again you break up one of my posts to isolate specific sections from the whole in order to make a point about each one. Whether done accidentally or not, this only succeeds in avoiding the main point of my whole post i.e. each paragraph is a progression from the previous one, leading to my main point (the last two paragraphs) - in other words, the sum is greater than its parts.

I will repeat my last two paragraphs:

"It seems to me that you are asking us to believe that your own analysis of the planning for 3rd Ypres, done some 90 years after the event, is far more reliable in the context of Haig's beliefs and intent than the contemporaneous evidence of Haig's own words. Asking us to believe that your own analysis, based first and foremost on tactical and operational planning and brushing off Haig's own words by the use of semantics, is far better evidence to prove his intent. Has it ever occurred to you that Haig, whether rightly or wrongly, saw his plans as being "in tune" with his stated beliefs and that you may have missed something? Because, it seems to me, that given the evidence then either your analysis is flawed (it flies in the face of what Haig said) or the conclusions you draw from it are.

Perhaps if you looked at the whole planning and execution of 3rd Ypres again, but this time with Haig's stated beliefs to the forefront of your mind (as Haig would have done when planning) you may discover what you've missed and maybe the built-in breakthrough contingency plans will take on a new significance?"

As someone said a good few posts ago, it’s well past the time for a conclusion to the thread, and I agree.

My aim has been to neither praise nor denigrate Haig - but to point out my belief that the "revisionist faithful" paint just as false an image of the Generals of WW1 as do the "ee-aw brigade", and that this false image is painted in exactly the same way i.e. by playing semantics with the known facts and thus bringing forth supposition to "prove" their narrow points. On the one hand the casualties are the focus of attention to prove the "lions led by donkeys scenario", and on the other hand, detailed tactical and operational analysis is used to "prove" Haig was the "architect of victory" despite his very few but understandable faults.

I have tried to point out what I see as the inherent flaws in both ways of thinking by broadening the debate and introducing the concept of omnipotent total-war. I've stated my case as fully as I can - whether I've succeeded or not is down to any individual who's been following this thread to decide. Call it post-revisionism if you like, call it bo**ocks if you like - but I rest my case.

Cheers-salesie.

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Does anyone have access to the primary sources on the planning of 3rd Ypres and the operational order that GHQ issued for the campaign prior to 31 July? It seems to me that these will give us a good insight into the campaign objectives and the rationale behind the battle.

Regards

Chris

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Chris,

Some of the primary sources that affect the planning are in the AWM. I made some notes about four years ago. These may interest you.

AWM 45 and AWM 51.

AWM 45 32/23 conference notes.

AWM 45 35/20 Joffre’s early plan (which may have influenced Haig).

AWM 51 has some correspondence between GHQ and army commanders.

Apart from them, I don't think I have any references for sources before September, 1917. But I will look through my notebooks relating to WO files.

best regards,

Chris Henschke

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Chris,

Many thanks for these references. Very much appreciated. I will chase them up in the next few weeks, once I get my head above water.

Hope all is well in SA and I look forward to seeing you when you are next over this way.

Best wishes

Chris

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I got back from a regimental reunion in Bournemouth last night and when I wasn’t drinking (too much) and reminiscing about times enjoyed and, alas, will never return, I managed to get through a fair portion of Walter Reid’s eminently readable “Douglas Haig: Architect of Victory.”

In posting #559 Robert asked “Does Walter Reid cite any specific examples of Haig’s over-optimism with respect to Third Ypres”? Well the short answer to that is yes but before I answer Robert’s question in a little more detail, I would like to make one or two general comments on Reid’s book.

I really don’t know what I expected when I first picked it up. You might have come to the conclusion from my earlier postings that it was something really new and indeed it is but not quite in the sense I’d anticipated. You might remember that Salesie and I discussed Reid’s “psychological approach” or at least I did ( in a very superficial way) and Salesie “washed his hands” on the whole affair, claiming, he didn’t want to get involved in something as murky as that. He was probably right!

I’m not sure what I expected. Having said that I assumed the author would at least have referred to some extant psychological models to support his point of view. He doesn’t. What he does though is to study Haig’s behaviour during his time as CinC and draws a number of conclusions that he claims others have missed.

He begins by claiming that Haig possessed “quirks of character.” He goes on to point out that the “most significant of these …from a military respect was a capacity to be carried away by accesses (sic) of optimism which blinded him from time to time to reality” He argues that this “characteristic” has not been “understood or appreciated” by other historians and argues that Haig’s “rigorous self control, his repression of all emotion has disguised the fact that he was, underneath everything, essentially a romantic, a cavalier who dreamed in victories wreathed in drama”.

Paul Hederer seems to be suggesting something similar when he says in #580 that “I seem to be getting two pictures of him. The first is of a visionary who recognized early the nature of the war and doggedly pursued an attritional strategy. The second is of a slightly less imaginative commander who may have really believed he was going to “the Green Fields Beyond,” and the attrition he inflicted was simply a by product of his stubborn attempts to make it through”.

Anyway, to come back to Robert’s query, there are a number of references that seem to be appropriate:

1. Reid begins the chapter on Third Ypres by suggesting that Haig “has been characterised, above all, as an unimaginative tactician, stubborn and even stupid, doggedly persisting in a discredited and blinkered commitment to attrition. He was not stupid and far from committed to attrition and Third Ypres, the only phase of The Great War that was wholly his concept was imaginative. However, he goes on to argue that “it failed because it was too bold and too imaginative, that it was fatally flawed because it rested on a determined belief that Germany was about to crack”.

2. On the 19th August Haig, “his confidence reinforced by Charteris or elsewhere, told his Army Commanders ‘our armies’ efforts this year has brought final victory near…..if we can keep up the effort, final victory may be won in December”.

3. "On the whole optimism greatly exceeded pessimism and characterised and flawed his conduct of the battle”.

4. Following the success at Broodseinde, Haig’s optimism "led him to claim that having achieved an advance of three and a half miles in seven and a half weeks, the momentum gained led him to contemplate a further advance of the same distance in ten days followed by a drive of 45 miles to the Belgian Coast".

5. Both at The Somme and Third Ypres, Haig “ managed to convince himself that Germany was nearer collapse than was the case and the true criticism of Haig at Passchendaele is that he allowed himself to be carried away by the prospect of immediate victory".

6. He “pressed on in expectation of a dramatic victory which was never remotely available. Haig was ready to dream. In 1916 and again in 1917 the underlying reason for unjustified persistence lay in the fact that the cavalier in the man was dominant”.

I hope this answers your request Robert.

I’d like to end this posting with a question of my own. Charteris has always been criticised for leading Haig astray by feeding him inaccurate intelligence data. Many have suggested that he was giving Haig exactly what he wanted to hear. Just suppose though that Charteris had spelt it out exactly as it was. Would Haig have listened, would he have acted any differently ? I ask this question in the light of Reid's comments regarding Haig's personality and psychological make up.

Kind regards,

Harry

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Welcome back, Harry, I trust the hangover has faded and the jaw-ache eased? Both discomforts being an extremely worthwhile price to pay for the company of old mates.

As for your question - would Haig have listened if Charteris had told it as it was? There is, of course, no definitive answer but I think a little speculation is well in order. In my opinion, the answer is no, he wouldn't have listened simply because Charteris would not have continued as Haig's intelligence chief if he hadn't told him what he wanted to hear.

Both Haig and Charteris hailed from the same "club" - they were personal friends, and Haig himself appointed Charteris as his head of Intelligence, indeed he'd been on Haig's personal staff since 1908, and both had belonged to the same Masonic lodge in India. And Haig would not see the bare facts forming intelligence reports, but he would see both Charteris' and Macdonough's sometimes wildly differing interpretions of those facts - Marshall-Cornwall (and he's not alone in this view) clearly states that Charteris' assessments were wildly optimistic and that he virtually ignored anything negative; that his reports were misleading. But there is no evidence to show that Haig ever considered in a technical way why this disparity, between Charteris and Macdonogh's reports, had come about (despite Haig "praising Macdonogh's work in 1914).

I know that Haig, when defending Charteris to Lord Derby, said that he made allowances for Charteris' overly optimistic nature - but that seems at odds with Haig's own belief in June 1917 that victory was probable that year, indeed Charteris was a little surprised that Haig unequivocally told the War Cabinet that German manpower/morale was within six months of collapse. This optimistic opinion of the state of the German army was at odds with Macdonogh's reports. In my opinion, Haig favoured Charteris' assessment because it agreed with his own opinion - in other words Charteris knew what Haig wanted to hear and duly obliged, and Haig appointed him, and kept him on his staff so long, because he knew that Charteris would be only be too happy to tell him what he wanted to hear.

Charteris' successor as GHQ Intelligence chief, Brig-Gen Edgar Cox, actually claimed that Haig sought Charteris' opinion even after Charteris had been transferred to be 2ic transport in December 1917. Source; Marshall-Cornwall memoirs.

Also, don't forget the religious undertones - both Haig and Charteris were staunch Scot's Presbyterian (as well as Masons). Haig's "tainted by Catholicism" diary entry of October 1917 has already been discussed in detail, but Charteris wrote to his wife, November 1917, "My chief opponents are the Roman Catholic people, who are really very half-hearted about the whole war and have never forgiven DH unjustly for being Presbyterian. However as you will see in the papers the Army is not without its defenders in the Press and even in Parliament, and I have hope that L G's incompetency may be exposed very soon now . . . There is no secret of who are attacking DH. They are Lord French a jealous and incompetent old fool; Winston Churchill seeking his own glory and with no judgement to control a vivid imagination; Henry Wilson a military blackleg and a quite incompetent soldier, who is an Irishman and an intriguer. Macdonogh takes a hand against both D H and me, he is a Roman Catholic and a pessimist of the deepest die." Source; Charteris Private Papers 17 November 1917. (from a pschological viewpoint, perhaps a touch of paranoia on Charteris' part?).

It seems to me, Harry, that both Haig and Charteris were truly members of the same "club" - and Haig only "got rid" of him when the pressure from London became so great it became a matter of You or Him.

Cheers-salesie.

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Harry, thank you very much. I have to travel again so it will be difficult to post a detailed reply in the next few days. Sadly, source books cannot travel as well. One further question, if I may. Does Reid explicitly define what he meant when he wrote that Third Ypres 'failed'?

Robert

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Welcome back, Harry, I trust the hangover has faded and the jaw-ache eased? Both discomforts being an extremely worthwhile price to pay for the company of old mates.

And Haig would not see the bare facts forming intelligence reports, but he would see both Charteris' and Macdonough's sometimes wildly differing interpretions of those facts - Marshall-Cornwall (and he's not alone in this view) clearly states that Charteris' assessments were wildly optimistic and that he virtually ignored anything negative; that his reports were misleading. But there is no evidence to show that Haig ever considered in a technical way why this disparity, between Charteris and Macdonogh's reports, had come about (despite Haig "praising Macdonogh's work in 1914).

I know that Haig, when defending Charteris to Lord Derby, said that - but that seems at odds with Haig's own belief in June 1917 that victory was probable that year, indeed Charteris was a little surprised that Haig unequivocally told the War Cabinet that German manpower/morale was within six months of collapse. This optimistic opinion of the state of the German army was at odds with Macdonogh's reports. In my opinion, Haig favoured Charteris' assessment because it agreed with his own opinion - in other words Charteris knew what Haig wanted to hear and duly obliged, and

Charteris' successor as GHQ Intelligence chief, Brig-Gen Edgar Cox, actually claimed that Haig sought Charteris' opinion even after Charteris had been transferred to be 2ic transport in December 1917. Source; Marshall-Cornwall memoirs.

Also, don't forget the religious undertones -(as well as Masons). Haig's "tainted by Catholicism" diary entry of October 1917 has already been discussed in detail, but Charteris wrote to his wife, November 1917, "My chief opponents are the Roman Catholic people, who are really very half-hearted about the whole war and have never forgiven DH unjustly for being Presbyterian. However as you will see in the papers the Army is not without its defenders in the Press and even in Parliament, and I have hope that L G's incompetency may be exposed very soon now . . . There is no secret of who are attacking DH. They are Lord French a jealous and incompetent old fool; Winston Churchill seeking his own glory and with no judgement to control a vivid imagination; Henry Wilson a military blackleg and a quite incompetent soldier, who is an Irishman and an intriguer. Macdonogh takes a hand against both D H and me, he is a Roman Catholic and a pessimist of the deepest die." Source; Charteris Private Papers 17 November 1917. (from a pschological viewpoint, perhaps a touch of paranoia on Charteris' part?).

It seems to me, Harry, that both Haig and Charteris were truly members of the same "club" - and Haig only "got rid" of him when the pressure from London became so great it became a matter of You or Him. rather that what "he" would have done

Cheers-salesie.

Thank you Salesie for your warm welcome and an interesting answer to the question I posed.

I'm sure you're right. I've always felt that in situations like this, inevitably I suppose, one runs the risk of transferring one's own personality and attitudes to that of the subject and ends up saying what we would do in similar circumstances rather than explaining why the subject took a particular course of action.

You ask, "would Haig have listened if Charteris had told it as it was? There is, of course, no definitive answer but.....in my opinion, the answer is no, he wouldn't have listened simply because Charteris would not have continued as Haig's intelligence chief if he hadn't told him what he wanted to hear". Perhaps you're right but a little further on you point out that: "Both Haig and Charteris hailed from the same "club" - they were personal friends, and Haig himself appointed Charteris as his head of Intelligence, indeed he'd been on Haig's personal staff since 1908, and both had belonged to the same Masonic lodge in India".[/b] It's obvious I think that they enjoyed a close relationship and very often the existence of someone one trusts ( even if he knew that his intelligence data wasn't always as objective as it might have been ), someone who Haig felt comfortable with and gave him the personal support he needed in times of crisis might well have been the reason he retained him as long as he did.

Your point that Haig appointed him, and kept him on his staff so long, because he knew that Charteris would be only be too happy to tell him what he wanted to hear" is an opinion I've come across a number of times in my reading. It reinforces the point I've made above and suggests that in a real sense Haig was supremely confident, that he didn't really need an intelligence chief at all, that all he required was a "sounding board" , someone who knew him so well that he could mime the thoughts and opinions of his chief. Was Haig that egotistical ? His comment to Lord Derby that you quote suggests that he might have been. The statement that "he made allowances for Charteris' overly optimistic nature" again suggests that Charteris provided Haig with some other form of support that he found indispensable at that time.

I think that one can argue along similar lines vis a vis "the religious undertones" that you mention. Charteris' comments to his wife in the letter of Nov 1917 suggests, as you say, "a touch of paranoia" but I would go further and suggest that this was also true of Haig. Earlier I suggested that Haig was something of an egotist, perhaps there was also more than a touch of religious bigotry in his make up.

There is one thing we can certainly agree on. Haig was certainly a complex, and in many ways, a magnificent CinC.

On a different thread, you posed the question: "who was the archiect of victory" and, quite rightly IMHO concluded that no one person or institution can seriously claim that accolade. Haig himself though was in no doubt that it was the scale of what The British Army had achieved on The Western Front that brought victory in November 1918. As he so succinctly put it, "In three months of epic fighting the British Armies in France have brought to a sudden and dramatic end the great wearing out fight of the past four years.....Thereafter the enemy was capable of neither accepting nor refusing battle. The utter confusion of his troops, the state of his railways, congested with abandoned trains, the capture of huge quantities of rolling stock and materiel, all showed that our attack had been decisive. This record is proof also of the overwhelmingly decisive part played by The British Army on the Western Front in bringing the enemy to his final defeat".

Kind regards,

Harry

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Harry, you're absolutely right when you say that my response to your question could be interpreted two ways i.e. that Haig would not have listened to Charteris if not telling him what he wanted to hear - OR - because of their close relationship, being members of the same "club", then he may well have listened if Charteris told it as it was. Unfortunately, that is always the problem with hypothetical questions; speculation becomes rife and tends to snowball out of control. Which, in my opinion, is the problem with much of what has been written on this subject (published work as well as on this forum) - too much "what if", too much playing semantics with the contemporaneous evidence, too much tactical/operational analysis that ignores the end-result, too much focus on Western Front military operations and too little understanding of total-war, too much speculation presented as fact.

All of this, of course, is perfectly understandable; we humans, instinctively, tend to search for "more", to look for patterns that aren't on the face of it there - apparently it's all part of our survival instincts, it goes way back to our hunter/gatherer days. Not to mention, of course, that following an orthodox line does not make reputations nor does it sell books - controversy can, and does, make fortunes. Anyway, enough cynical talk - it's more fun, sometimes, to speculate.

I'd now like to say a few words about your last paragraph. Haig's words you quoted have a solid ring of truth about them i.e., "In three months of epic fighting the British Armies in France have brought to a sudden and dramatic end the great wearing out fight of the past four years.....Thereafter the enemy was capable of neither accepting nor refusing battle. The utter confusion of his troops, the state of his railways, congested with abandoned trains, the capture of huge quantities of rolling stock and materiel, all showed that our attack had been decisive." But I would say these words are narrowly focused in many ways - they hide the whole truth.

I do not wish to diminish the role of the BEF in the war, and would say that in the "hundred days" campaign, given what had gone before, the BEF demonstrated courage and a determination to win that is unsurpassed in the annals of not just the British army but of any army that has ever taken the field. The men and their commanders deserve many plaudits. However, I would say they played an important part in the final victory but not, as you say, an overwhelmingly decisive part. True, without the BEF no victory - but without the Naval campaign no victory; without the propaganda/subversion campaign maybe an eventual victory but certainly not in 1918; without the democratically elected politicians, making it possible for the allies to fight a total-war to the bitter end, no victory.

No purely military victory in the field is possible in total-war; no sweeping manoeuvre, no brilliant tactical innovation will secure victory - all it can do is maintain maximum military pressure until the collective will-to-win of its enemy is destroyed by all the "weapons" deployed in total-war. Added to the list in Haig's quote should be, hundreds of thousands of desertions from the German army, hundreds of thousands of men refusing to be conscripted or return to the front after recovering from wounds, a near collapse of German war-material production, armed gangs roaming German streets, huge political upheaval in Germany etc. Germany imploded; to use Bloch's words, its fate "lay in the uncertain hands of famine and social strife". The Kaiser and his petty princelings did not flee from allied troops sweeping into Germany they fled from their own people.

Cheers-salesie.

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I'd now like to say a few words about your last paragraph. I do not wish to diminish the role of the BEF in the war, and would say that in the "hundred days" campaign the BEF demonstrated courage and a determination to win, given what had gone before, unsurpassed in the annals of not just the British army but of any army that has ever taken the field. The men and their commanders deserve many plaudits.

Absolutely !

However, I would say they played an important part in the final victory but not, as you say, an overwhelmingly decisive part. True, without the BEF no victory - but without the Naval campaign no victory; without the propaganda/subversion campaign maybe an eventual victory but certainly not in 1918; without the democratically elected politicians, making it possible for the allies to fight a total-war to the bitter end, no victory.

Again, total agreement. Indeed I've tried to echo your emphasis on this point not only here on this thread but on others as well. We agree utterly on the concept of total war and the means by which a war of that type CAN ONLY BE WON.

No purely military victory in the field is possible in total-war; no sweeping manoeuvre, no brilliant tactical innovation will secure victory - all it can do is maintain maximum military pressure until the collective will-to-win of its enemy is destroyed by all the "weapons" deployed in total-war. Added to the list in Haig's quote should be, hundreds of thousands of desertions from the German army, hundreds of thousands of men refusing to be conscripted or return to the front after recovering from wounds, a near collapse of German war-material production, armed gangs roaming German streets, huge political upheaval in Germany etc. Germany imploded; to use Bloch's words, its fate "lay in the uncertain hands of famine and social strife". The Kaiser and his petty princelings did not flee from allied troops sweeping into Germany they fled from their own people.

Very succinctly expressed if I may say so.

Kind regards,

Harry

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You may say so, Harry - and thanks.

Talking about succinct, have you seen the thread in Chit-Chat? Sum up the Great War in six words.

Here's my bit of fun contribution: "Kaiser Bill - scotched - by Haig's bottle."

Cheers-salesie.

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You may say so, Harry - and thanks.

Talking about succinct, have you seen the thread in Chit-Chat? Sum up the Great War in six words.

Here's my bit of fun contribution: "Kaiser Bill - scotched - by Haig's bottle."

Cheers-salesie.

No, it sounds a bit like the postings on Skindles Club and I opted out of that. Mind you I did so a month too soon. Yesterday I opened a thread on "bonding"and placed it on the "Others" site. Someone, an ex RSM mentioned that at Combermere Barracks, Windsor, my first Household Cavalry home, the soldiers no longer lived in barrack rooms but in single person en-suite accommodation and that these could only be inspected if written prior warning was given to the soldier who lived there ! I also mentioned that the discipline we knew has been replaced by a pattern that reflects modern day mores etc. The rank associated messes have been replaced by a "club" for all ranks and interactions are on a first name basis. I can remember, quite clearly what my squadron or regimental warrent officers would have said if I had referred to them as Tom or Mike !!!!!! Drill sergeants have apparently had their wings clipped too. The can no longer "tickle someone" with their pace stick and they have to warn the soldier that they are about to touch them before they can remove a bit of fluff or a hair from their uniform.

My question was, I thought, quite sensible. In two world wars British soldiers, during their basic training were "bonded" so that in times of crisis they would support each other. In other words it was a posting that was looking at team building in the military sense. My question was, how is this done today given these changes?

Anyway, it vanished from the Forum almost as soon as it appeared. I thought it had been "pulled" but I received a PM an hour or so later from Pete 1052 alerting me to the fact that it had been moved to Skindles Club and realising I couldn't access it he attached the responses that at that time had been posted.

Incidentally I thought your posting was great. Have just had a pre dinner scotch. I think now I'll have to go and have another.

Kind regards,

Harry

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Harry, you're absolutely right when you say that my response to your question could be interpreted two ways i.e. that Haig would not have listened to Charteris if not telling him what he wanted to hear - OR - because of their close relationship, being members of the same "club", then he may well have listened if Charteris told it as it was.

Hello Salesie.

I have just read through the last half dozen postings and would like to add something to that part of my recent contribution that you have responded to (above). You're correct in that I was, in part anyway, suggesting that the close relationship that existed between Haig and Charteris might well have led DH to listen more attentively to Charteris if he had genuinely told it as it was. However, I have to apologise for the lack of clarity in my original post because I was suggesting something more than that. Let me explain.

I'm not wholly convinced that Haig relied, very much, on Charteris in a professional, intelligence sharing way. The remark to Lord Derby, which you quoted, seems to reflect this. In my post I suggested that their relationship was far more important to Haig than that and that Charteris offered him something that no other person on the scene could offer: trust and a friendship that went back many years. One reads about the "loneliness of command" so the existence and close proximity of someone who was, in some ways a mirror image of himself, must have fulfilled another and extremely important supportive role especially during those regular periods of conflict with his political masters in London or during major battles. In other words, the importance of Charteris to Haig was not his intelligence work, it was something far more subtle and personal.

Kind regards,

Harry

Been scotched many a time myself, Harry - but not by Haig's. Was there ever a General called Johnny Walker-Black-Label?

Cheers-salesie.

No, I don't think so. My taste is less well developed than yours and I'm prepared to bet that there was a General Bells somewhere out there

Harry

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Harry, thank you very much. I have to travel again so it will be difficult to post a detailed reply in the next few days. Sadly, source books cannot travel as well. One further question, if I may. Does Reid explicitly define what he meant when he wrote that Third Ypres 'failed'?

Robert

Hello Robert,

Only in a general sense, nothing particularly specific. The objectives of Third Ypres were pretty clearly spelt out so the fact that a number of these were not achieved is the basis, I think, for Reid's statement. For example, "the objective of pushing through to the coast in a dash of combined operations" was, according to Reid, "never remotely possible." This statement was, of course, made with the benefit of hindsight and is used by him to support the thesis that "on the whole, optimism greatly exceeded pessimism and characterised and flawed his conduct of the battle" but that's the sort of 'general detail' he focuses on to back up his arguments.

He argued, that the choice of Gough to play a "pivotal role" in the 31st July attack was a great mistake, and quotes Terraine who called it "Haig's greatest and most fatal error". He goes on to suggest that Gough did not understand the strategic purpose of the battle, that the quality of Gough's 5th Army Staff was "poor" and that communication both within 5th Army and between Haig and Gough was also bad. Reid suggests that these weaknesses were of real significance from the ouset, that Gough planned a frontal attack on Ostend and Zeebrugge whereaqs DH envisaged the severing of the German lines of communication and only then, a frontal attack. Reid also identifies the failure to occupy the Gheluvelt Ridge as a contribuing factor. In other words, he criticised Haig for allowing Gough to "do what he wanted, for being inconsistent and for"veering from considered realism to over-optimism".

Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that Reid sees the capture of the Passchendaele Ridge by the Canadians on 6th November as a "minor achievement" considering the massive losses and the extensive objectives that had initially been on the agenda. I hesitated to use that term considering the magnificent and tragic efforts put in by so many allied troops but because of the question you asked Robert it seems to me that this was the only basis on which Reid could argue that Third Ypres had been a failure. As he puts it himself in his book: "both at The Somme and Third Ypres, Haig managed to convince himself that Germany was nearer to cpllapse than was the case...he allowed himself to be carried away by the prospect of immediate victory. He pressed on in expectation of a dramatic victory which was never remotely available".

In my opinion this is what Reid was talking about when he talks about the failure of Third Ypres.

I hope this answers your query.

Kind regards,

Harry

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