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Western Front tactics in 1917


Mat McLachlan
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I think you're right to an extent, Harry, that we all appreciate the support of at least one close friend especially at times of great stress, but I can't help feeling that this "reliance" this "need" for support can be given much more importance than it warrants. After all, Haig did continue as C-in-C without Charteris, and it could be argued that Haig's "finest hour" came some eight months after Charteris' departure. Is the "need" for trust and friendship, going back many years, lessened in those who achieve high office? Is the lack of a "need" to rely on others not an essential character-trait for high command?

As I said earlier, there is no definitive answer to this, we are dealing with the inner workings of the mind, and, in my opinion, we are in to very murky water indeed. However, in the mind or not, friendship and trust are one thing but power and influence are quite another. In my opinion, Charteris was in his position purely because he could be relied upon to provide his chief with the "evidence" to support his chief's own opinions - and their friendship and mutual trust would continue as long as this relationship existed, but when the pressure became too great, friendship and trust became much less important. Pretty much as in medieval times i.e. when Barons raised their standards in "revolution" they were careful to "blame" the King's advisors, it was the only way to bridle the King's power without appearing treasonable - and when the King realised he couldn't win he "allowed" his advisors to carry the can in order to preserve the aura of his own "divine power" (bearing in mind that in those days the advisors would not dare to oppose their King's own thoughts).

Here's part of a letter from Lord Derby, a supporter of Haig's and trying to direct Lloyd George's wrath away from the C-in-C, "...I can believe that you realise he may exaggerate and give unduly optimistic opinions, and that you will endeavour to make allowance for this failing, but at the same time it is hardly possible for you to avoid being influenced to some extent by his opinions, though probably unconsciously so...'Much as I dislike giving you an instruction which I know to be repugnant to you, I look upon you as a National asset and I cannot allow your loyalty to a subordinate to affect your position..." Source; 1 Derby Papers, loc. cit., letter from Derby to Haig, 11 December 1917.

In other words, the subordinate officer has to be sacrificed in order to preserve the position of the National asset.

Here's part of a letter Haig wrote to his wife three days later, 14th December 1917, ..."It is over a year ago since Derby and the War Office have set their faces against poor Charteris. And although he has done his work admirably and his Intelligence branch is in excellent order, I feel that it would be wrong of me to keep an officer at this time who seems really to have upset so many people and have put those who ought to work in friendliness with him against him..." Source; Haig Papers, loc. cit., 3115/149

No mention of friendship or trust here (though maybe it is intimated) - just saying that Charteris' work is admirable and his department in good order but it would be wrong to keep him. Does the "King's need" to preserve an aura of power not override his "need" for friendship?

Friendship and trust may be paramount at our level, Harry, but what price does it truly have in the rarefied atmosphere of high command?

Cheers-salesie.

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I think you're right to an extent, Harry, that we all appreciate the support of at least one close friend especially at times of great stress, but I can't help feeling that this "reliance" this "need" for support can be given much more importance than it warrants. After all, Haig did continue as C-in-C without Charteris, and it could be argued that Haig's "finest hour" came some eight months after Charteris' departure. Is the "need" for trust and friendship, going back many years, lessened in those who achieve high office?

Yes but even after Charteris had been removed from his position he remained at GHQ as deputy Inspector general of Transportation and as Reid points out, "Haig continued to rely on him". He says nothing about the form that this "reliance" took, but as Maslow has made clear human beings have particular needs and he said nothing about these needs diminishing as one climbs the professional ladder. Of course as CinC, Haig is a fine example of someone who has achieved a high level of 'self accualisation' but that doesn't mean he no longer required the sort of "lower level" needs: friendship and support for example that I referred to in my earlier post. I think I should emphasise at this point that the suggestions I'm advancing here have nothing to do with Walter Reid

Is the lack of a "need" to rely on others not an essential character-trait for high command?

I have to admit that it's the human relationships angle that I find most interesting. Here you post a really interesting question. I always thought though that the higher one went on the career ladder the more he was called upon to utilise effectively the contributions of those below him. These contributions might be skills appropriate to the aim of the organisation or they might be the sort of contribution and encouragement that I think Charteris was able to offer his friend and Commander in Chief. Rather than needing less from others as one achieves high command it can very easily be argued that one needs more.

As I said earlier, there is no definitive answer to this, we are dealing with the inner workings of the mind, and, in my opinion, we are in to very murky water indeed. However, in the mind or not, friendship and trust are one thing but power and influence are quite another. In my opinion, Charteris was in his position purely because he could be relied upon to provide his chief with the "evidence" to support his chief's own opinions - and their friendship and mutual trust would continue as long as this relationship existed.

Too simple I feel, but as you quite rightly point out we'll never know. It's interesting though to speculate, isn't it.

Here's part of a letter from Lord Derby, a supporter of Haig's and trying to direct Lloyd George's wrath away from the C-in-C, "...I can believe that you realise he may exaggerate and give unduly optimistic opinions, and that you will endeavour to make allowance for this failing, but at the same time it is hardly possible for you to avoid being influenced to some extent by his opinions, though probably unconsciously so...'Much as I dislike giving you an instruction which I know to be repugnant to you, I look upon you as a National asset and I cannot allow your loyalty to a subordinate to affect your position..." Source; 1 Derby Papers, loc. cit., letter from Derby to Haig, 11 December 1917.

Interesting but Lord Derby was viewing things from the outside. All he could see was an intelligence officer who wasn't particularly good at his job. Haig wasn't likely to admit that Charteris was a "crutch" who gave him so much more. To Lord Derby and others it was just another example of Haig's "loyalty to his subordinates". Lord Derby would be influenced by the clamour to have Charteris removed and this was mainly based on his intelligence work.

In other words, the subordinate officer has to be sacrificed in order to preserve the position of the National asset.

It would appear that this was the case but perhaps it was a decision taken on evidence that only focused on part of the story.

Here's part of a letter Haig wrote to his wife three days later, 14th December 1917, ..."It is over a year ago since Derby and the War Office have set their faces against poor Charteris. And although he has done his work admirably and his Intelligence branch is in excellent order, I feel that it would be wrong of me to keep an officer at this time who seems really to have upset so many people and have put those who ought to work in friendliness with him against him..." Source; Haig Papers, loc. cit., 3115/149

But he remained at GHQ and Haig "continued to rely on him" !

No mention of friendship or trust here (though maybe it is intimated) - just saying that Charteris' work is admirable and his department in good order but it would be wrong to keep him. Does the "King's need" to preserve an aura of power not override his "need" for friendship?

Haig was a proud man. Perhaps he saw his need for support as a sign of weakness and didn't want to admit it even to his own wife. Who knows?

Friendship and trust may be paramount at our level, Harry, but what price does it truly have in the rarefied atmosphere of high command?

That is the $64,000 dollar question my friend and I've tried to answer it above.

Incidentally are we the only two guys participating now or perhaps we're boring everyone !!!!

Kind regards,

Harry

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Harry, we really are getting into deep and murky waters. Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is one of many attempts by man to understand man, driven, it seems to me, by a belief that everything about human nature must ultimately be capable of being explained in a logical and methodical manner. It is part of the search for the Holy Grail of psychology i.e. that one relatively simple theoretical model will apply to all, pretty much the same as Newton's three, on the face of it simple laws of motion explain the physical movement of objects. In my opinion, this search is part of human nature itself, as I said earlier humans "need" to look for "more", they "need" to look for patterns that on the face of it don't exist, it is part of our survival instincts.

Of course, as Maslow (not alone) points out our needs are relative i.e. a man will forget about his hunger if his oxygen supply is cut off, he will search for oxygen before food - he will prioritise to his most fundamental need to stay alive. Maslow also points out that lower needs must be satisfied before we become concerned with our higher needs, and, conversely, if we achieve our higher needs but our lower order satisfactions are then swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs.

There would seem to be a contradiction in Maslow's model i.e. according to the basic model we only prioritise downwards, our lower needs need to be satisfied before we look upwards to our higher needs and we forget about these higher needs when our lower needs are no longer satisfied. But we all know that this is nonsense, we all know of someone who made "sacrifices" to "get to the top" e.g. we all know of those who forgo the security of family life in return for business success, and, conversely, we all know of those who willingly give up high office to "spend more time with their family" (not all are telling lies) and, of course, we all know of those who had the ambition to see beyond their sqaulid existence and lifted themselves to achieve beyond their means - the fact is we can all prioritise upwards or downwards, except, of course, for our most basic need of all; the need to breathe.

This is why I said earlier, "After all, Haig did continue as C-in-C without Charteris, and it could be argued that Haig's "finest hour" came some eight months after Charteris' departure. Is the "need" for trust and friendship, going back many years, lessened in those who achieve high office?" and then asked, "Is the lack of a "need" to rely on others not an essential character-trait for high command? Does the "King's need" to preserve an aura of power not override his "need" for friendship?" i.e. if Haig had truly seen Charteris as a friend and an essential prop, when his lower need "prop" was removed then, according to Maslow's basic model, how could he have carried on satisfying his highest need of all; self-actualisation? The answer, of course, is prioritisation; his friendship with Charteris, whether real or as a means to an end, was in the final analysis not a need but a convenience (probably for both of them).

As you've probably gathered, Harry, I'm no fan of models when applied to human nature, I see them as tools used by management consultants to get rich; after all, if they know so much about human nature and how it applies so neatly to management practices, how come they're telling anyone who will pay them their "secrets" and not managing themselves and getting rich? The problem with scripts when applied to human nature, no matter how logical they may seem, is that most humans don't know the "script" and sometimes act illogically (illogically according to the script that is, but not to them).

Cheers-salesie.

PS. After Charteris was replaced he very rarely spent any time at Haig's HQ, the record shows only six meetings, four of these six in London, over the next eleven months; his influence would therefore have been minimal. Perhaps Charteris' successor felt marginalised because he wasn't telling Haig what he wanted to hear? (and Charteris was still attempting to boost Haig's morale from afar?)

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Hello Salesie,

I think you and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I have to say though that IMHO any analysis that tries to understand why a person acted in a particular way without dipping a toe into "deep and murky waters" will inevitably be flawed. It's for that reason that I applaud Walter Reid and enjoyed his book. He added something new and I believe important: a genuine attempt to consider the way Haig's personality and character influenced the decisions he made.

Kind regards,

Harry

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We will have to agree to disagree, Harry - I just think the phsycological angle is inherently flawed because it is inevitably pure supposition (and that is one of the main reasons I believe false pictures are painted by both "sides").

Cheers-salesie.

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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.
Harry, now that I am back, here is a belated response to your question. The first and most fundamental point is that no intelligence can be/could have been guaranteed to be 100% 'exactly as it was'. This would have held irrespective of whether the source was Charteris, Macdonogh, or any other. A military commander must weigh up the significance of intelligence reports, factoring in the levels of uncertainty. The final plan of action has to be based, however, on the commander's judgement of the military situation. Thus, on 31st July 1917, the operations of the British Fifth and Second Armies, as well as the significant French contribution, were not planned as an all-out breakthrough offensive. There were a series of objectives' lines, with consolidation occuring at each. In other words, whatever we may think about Charteris saying what Haig wanted to hear, the way that the battle started was not consistent with an operation against a defeated enemy.

As we have seen in previous posts, Charteris' role came to the fore once the battle was opened. As soon as the attack was launched, his team set about gathering precise information about how the Germans reacted. This information was collated together, circulated widely, and formed the basis for the next major assault. Again, previous posts in this thread have illustrated how the same process was carried out further down the command chain. Intelligence officers were tasked with interrogating prisoners and establishing where/when the German counter-attacks would form up and attack from.

FWIIW, I do not think Haig would have changed the approach adopted by Gough had Chateris said something different. Having looked at the details of many operations orders, it is very clear that a systematic attack was planned that assumed active resistance from the enemy in the first instance, but made some minor allowances for a total collapse of the German forces in the local area. The vast bulk of the resources and planning for 31st July went into the step-wise wave attacks designed to capture the first of the German defensive lines in the area. This is precisely what I would have expected if Charteris had 'spelt it out exactly as it was'.

Robert

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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.
Harry, I would totally endorse your comments. I believe this was especially true in 1917. The responsibilities were enormous, the breadth of issues was vast, and the political environment was problematic. Spears describes the latter in his book 'Prelude to Victory', with all the manoeuvrings that went on behind Haig's back magnifying the loneliness. Having been the CEO responsible for change management in a 1,000 person organisation, I cannot begin to comprehend what it took to oversee the British Army between 1916 to 1918.

Robert

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Harry, I would totally endorse your comments. I believe this was especially true in 1917. The responsibilities were enormous, the breadth of issues was vast, and the political environment was problematic. Spears describes the latter in his book 'Prelude to Victory', with all the manoeuvrings that went on behind Haig's back magnifying the loneliness. Having been the CEO responsible for change management in a 1,000 person organisation, I cannot begin to comprehend what it took to oversee the British Army between 1916 to 1918.

Robert

Thank you Robert,

I've made it pretty obvious on numerous postings on The Forum that I admire the quality of Salesie's postings and that I agree with many of the points he makes. In particular, I admire his thoroughness of research and his ability to argue his point. However, I have to admit that on this particular occasion we found very little common ground. His arguments that:" the need for trust and friendship, going back many years, (is) lessened in those who achieve high office ? and that the lack of a need to rely on others (is) an essential character-trait for high command"? are arguments that I find difficult to accept. They suggest that a person can alter his character and personality at will, that those with aspirations for high office, can fundamentally modify the 'sort of person they are' to fit any particular situation.

In rejecting this argument I would go as far as to say that the sort of "support" referred to here, increases (rather than diminishes) the higher a person goes on the career ladder. I admire Haig immensely. He was a fine commander, perhaps the only one who could have tolerated the enormous pressures of the time and emerged victorious but he was first and foremost a human being and as Reid points out in a slightly different context, "it is only by seeing what lay under the iron-cladding of his self discipline that one) can.... understand the whole man."

As I said in an earlier posting "any analysis that tries to understand why a person acted in a particular way without dipping a toe into 'deep and murky waters' will inevitably be flawed".

Kind regards,

Harry

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FWIIW, I do not think Haig would have changed the approach adopted by Gough had Chateris said something different.

Robert

I agree entirely. It is precisely for this reason that I have argued that the importance of Charteris lay in other, immensely important, directions. He may or he may not have given Haig intelligence data that he found useful prior and during the battles of The Somme and Third Ypres but in my mind that is relatively unimportant. Haig had access to many sources of information on which to base his decisions. IMHO, what is of the highest significance as far as Charteris is concerned were the "more personal and subtle" elements of support he offered Haid in periods of crisis.

Kind regards,

Harry

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Harry, whilst "looking around" at other issues I came across this: http://www.firstworldwar.bham.ac.uk/review...%20in%20War.doc - thought it may help you with your psychological research. Although a book review, it points to relevant psychological theories as well as to a book about psychology and leadership (though, I find the review author's summing up very narrow with his focus on tactics which strongly implies that Haig was the "architect of victory" because of the tactical lessons he learnt).

Also, perhaps the following may be helpful: "Probably the most interesting previous research, for the purpose of this paper, is the one done by Grabinsky in 1987. His profile of the successful entrepreneur is somewhat different from the studies reviewed before. Grabinsky´s profile of the entrepreneur depicts him or her as a restless, non-conformist person, a little crazy for the rest of the people, obsessive, exploiter of himself and of his workers, with “flexible” ethics, specially with respect to his relationship with the government, with great intuition. He or she is also disciplined, a leader, with a capacity for organizing and with very good physical condition. (Grabinsky, 1987)." The whole paper can be found here: http://www.cem.itesm.mx/dacs/publicaciones...aracteris2.html

Cheers-salesie.

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I find the review author's summing up very narrow with his focus on tactics which strongly implies that Haig was the "architect of victory" because of the tactical lessons he learnt).

Probably the most interesting previous research, for the purpose of this paper, is the one done by Grabinsky in 1987. His profile of the successful entrepreneur is somewhat different from the studies reviewed before.

Hello Salesie,

Thank you for the references. I can see why you would find Peter Hodgkinson’s analysis somewhat “narrow”. His emphasis on the military dimension alone would “offend” anyone who understands the concept of total war and sees success on The Western Front as only one of several contributing factors of victory. Despite that I enjoyed reading it. The second article was also interesting. Grabinsky's profile of a successful entrepreneur was enlightening. However, in my opinion, the model has one weakness. It focuses on many of the positive elements of personality and character that sets this type of person apart but in failing to mention any "human weaknesses", of the type I mention below, it suggests that those who lead great armies or manage great corporations etc. are in some way "super-human" in that they are totally different to the rest of us.

My main concern though is that in spite of my efforts to do otherwise, I might have given the wrong impression in previous postings. I am not tempted to do any serious research into Haig’s mental make up. Like you I agree that deep psychological analysis can often complicate an issue rather than offer a real measure of clarification.

I spelt out, in an earlier posting, my feelings regarding Haig. He was an incredible man in many ways and a fine CinC, certainly the best person available at that time to hold that position. But he wasn’t perfect. How could he be? He was a human being.

It is this aspect of Haig his “humanness” that Walter Reid attempts to highlight in his book “Architect of Victory,” and like him I feel that one can do this without wrestling with concepts and theories like Festinger’s “cognitive dissonace.”

After a careful study of Haig, Reid draws attention to what he describes as some “quirks of character”. This was not intended as a criticism, it was simply an indication that in some important ways the great man was human like the rest of us and that it would have been a miracle if these traits didn’t from time to time appear on the surface. As he put it himself, it is “(O)nly by seeing what lay under the iron cladding of his self discipline (that) one can understand the whole man.” I suppose that, if pushed, Reid would agree that Haig possessed many of the traits Grabinsky lists in his "entrepreneurial profile." But he would then argue, I think, that Haig also possessed some "weaknesses" common to all of us.

In my case, like a lot of us who are interested in The Great War, I was puzzled by the nature of the Haig – Charteris relationship. Why would a man of Haig’s stature, a man who could retain his sanity and stability in the face of such pressure and enormous losses, accommodate for so long a colleague who was as professionally inept as Charteris appears to have been? It occurred to me that there had to have been an excellent reason for Haig’s loyalty to his friend and, of course, that was the key: their longstanding friendship. Haig needed Charteris, not in a professional sense perhaps, intelligence data was readily available to him from a variety of sources as Robert pointed out in one of his recent postings, but in a much more personal and human way. Charteris was someone he could talk to, someone who would listen, someone who was just there for him when the doubts invaded his mind, as they surely did, at times of great peril.

For it to have been otherwise suggests that Haig was a superman and that I can’t accept.

Kind regards,

Harry.

Cheers-salesie.

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Hello Salesie,

Last night I was reading snippets from"Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters" edited by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne. On p. 18 I came across the following comment: 'Charteris who served on Haig's staff, noted that Haig, "although he gave no perceptible sign.....was prey to grave anxiety." It goes on to point out that " He had no illusions about the strength of the enemy and unlike many other British senior officers and politicians, Haig anticipated a long war. He knew how tremendous were the issues which were at stake and was very properly conscious of the weight of responsibility that rested on his shoulders. This is part of the heavy burden of High Command."

This is precisely what I have been talking about and to my mind anyway nothing could be more natural than to have a long-time friend on hand to give him the support he needed.

Kind regards,

Harry

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Harry, been away for a few days (up in the Orkneys on a rush job).

Not sure myself that Haig's relationship with Charteris was all that close from a friendship point of view. Kiggell was also "dismissed" the same time as Charteris and Haig wrote to him, "I wish you most heartily the best of good luck for this New Year and I can never thank you sufficiently for all you have done to help in the year that has gone. I am sorry to see that my recommendation to promote you to general has not been accepted by the War Office." Source; Kiggell Papers, loc. cit., II/14/1, letter from Haig to Kiggell, 1 January 1918.

Charteris received no such tribute from Haig. This, of course, is not "proof" of Haig's true regards for Charteris, but it does beg the question; perhaps Charteris was, after all, simply a "convenience" in Haig's eyes, in that he was willing to tell him what he wanted to here?

Dr Michael Occleshaw, in his book, Armour Against Fate, British Military Intelligence in the First World War (Page 347), gives us his opinion on the importance of Haig's optimism and his relationship with his staff: "Like every other commander of every other army to fight in the war, Haig had been set the task of bringing the enemy to his knees by destroying his armies in battle. Neither Haig nor any of his contemporaries could achieve this unless there was a considerable disparity between the contending armies in numbers, weapons or morale. The successes the Germans achieved against the weaker members of the allied nations, the Serbians, Roumanians and, ultimately, the Rus-sians, were all the fruits of such disparities and these disparities did not exist on the Western front. A commander faced with an insoluble problem of this nature needed optimism to be able to continue to face it and try to overcome it. If Haig was to go on, he had to have the confidence that he could bring about the defeat of the enemy and, Charteris notwithstanding, he had resolved the question of how he was going to do this in his own mind well before he accepted the command of the BEF. His theory was in many respects typical of the GSM (General Staff mentality), especially in the way in which it pushed the question of the cost in human life into the background. It was a theory which Haig's staff supported and carried out rather than directed and controlled."

You're right, of course, that Haig wouldn't be human if he didn't suffer spells of anxiety - but I'm still not convinced that Charteris was his true confidant on such occasions; it would seem that Kiggell was more of a "friend"?

Cheers-salesie.

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You're right, of course, that Haig wouldn't be human if he didn't suffer spells of anxiety - but I'm still not convinced that Charteris was his true confidant on such occasions; it would seem that Kiggell was more of a "friend"?

Hello Salesie,

Welcome back.

Have you come to this conclusion on the basis of one letter ?

Harry

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Hello Salesie,

Welcome back.

Have you come to this conclusion on the basis of one letter?

Harry

Not really, Harry - I've never been fully convinced about the "need" for friendship, especially at the level Haig achieved. I've always seen such relationships as being matters of convenience rather than true friendships (as many so-called friendships are at all levels) - that's not to say that I believe Haig was incapable of such feelings, I just can't see how Charteris fits the bill.

Sure, he was on Haig's staff for ten years and they almost certainly "understood" each other, but as we've already seen Haig did not fight too hard at all to retain Charteris when the pressure intensified, and seemed happy to let Lord Derby deflect Lloyd George's wrath away from himself by "allowing" the dismissal of both Charteris and Kiggell. Yet, of the two he only saw fit to write to the latter wishing him future good fortune and thanking him for his efforts, and he never recommended Charteris for promotion as he had done with Kiggell. I find that strange if Charteris were a true friend - but it could just be that both Haig and Charteris "understood" each other enough to dispense with such "niceties", who truly knows?

One thing is pretty clear, though, it seems that Charteris was happy to take the fall for his chief (provided his name wasn't publicly blackened) i.e. no criticism of Haig post-war and in a letter to his wife, Charteris wrote; "The War Cabinet attribute to me however, far greater power and influence than I really possess and are frightened. It will make no real difference to me. I will get another similar job, I expect, somewhere, and I have told them all that if any attempt is made publicly to associate my name in any way with any reverse at Cambrai then I will hit back and damned hard. Provided no such attempt is made I am quite content....I was only attacked as a means of getting at D H and by some of my rivals at the WO who joined in the hunt. But I am not really worried about it. I have always done my best and it has been good on many occasions. Nothing else matters as regards myself." Source; Charteris Private Papers, letter from Charteris to his wife 11th December 1917.

Perhaps their friendship was one of "convenience" for both men - and Charteris was honest enough with himself to know he'd climbed as far as he could, and had only risen as far as he did because of Haig's patronage?

Once again, Harry, I'm afraid there is more than one way of looking at this. Firstly, did they "understand" each other enough to dispense with the "niceties" i.e. they were truly great friends? Or, secondly, did Charteris understand he had only achieved his relatively high office because he'd been "useful" to Haig i.e. that their relationship was simply a "marriage of convenience" that both parties were happy with until the convenience became dangerous (to Haig)? And, thirdly, was Kiggell Haig's true confidant and friend i.e. Haig wished him luck for the future and apologised that his recommendation for Kiggell's promotion had not been endorsed by the War Office (they had known each other for some time, and Haig had appointed him his CGS, higher than Charteris)?

Has Kiggell's influence on Haig been missed by history by focusing too much on Charteris?

Cheers-salesie.

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Once again, Harry, I'm afraid there is more than one way of looking at this.

I certainly can't argue with that. I think we've perhaps taken this as far as we can. Thank you for your excellent responses.

Kind regards,

Harry

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  • 6 months later...
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.
Chris, I now have access. So far I have only studied Fifth Army's War Diary for 1917, specifically June and July of that year. Next on the list is the material from GHQ, and then II Corps.

Robert

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  • 2 weeks later...

The first recorded notification to II Corps of the planned attack at Third Ypres was on 6th June 1917. Information was presented at a Fifth Army meeting by General Gough to all Corps Commanders. Date for the attack and other details still had to be worked out at that time.

I have yet to study the GHQ records. Hopefully this Saturday.

Robert

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  • 4 weeks later...
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

Welcome back, Chris - hope you didn't get too rusty with all the rain we've had over here?

The following will not shed any light on the specific operational objectives for 3rd Ypres per se, but may just give an insight into Haig's strategic thinking that underpinned the planning for the battle:

Between May 1st to June 30th 1917 it seems there was an increase in optimism on GHQ's part that victory in the field is getting closer i.e.

Haig - not too optimistic in early May: "The enemy has already weakened appreciably; but a long time is required to wear down such great numbers of troops composed of fine fighting material and he is still fighting with such energy and determination that the situation is not yet ripe for the decisive blow." Source: OAD 428, 'The Present Situation and Future Plans', 1 May 1917, cited in J. Terraine, The Road to Passchendaele, London, 1977, p. 85.

Charteris - report in June: "...no reason to anticipate that Russia will make a separate peace. It is a fair deduction that, given a continuance of circumstances as they stand at present and given a continuation of the effort of the Allies, then Germany may well be forced to conclude peace on our terms before the end of the year." Source: Ia/35273, 'Note on the Strategical Situation with Special Reference to the Present Condition of German Resources and Probable German Operations', 11 June 1917, PRO TI73/829.

Haig again - more optimistic in June: "According to reports, the endurance of the German nation is being tested so severely that discontent there has already assumed formidable proportions. The German Government, helped by the long disciplinary training of the people, is still able to control this discontent; but every fresh defeat of the German armies, combined with a growing realisation of the failure of the submarine campaign, increases the difficult of doing so, and further defeats in the field may have unexpectedly great results, which may come with unexpected suddenness. The German Army too, shows unmistakable signs of deterioration in many ways and the cumulative effect of further defeats may at any time yield greater results in the field than we can rely on gaining." Source: OAD 478, 'Present Situation and Future Plans', 12 June 1917, PRO WO106/312.

Harrington - on Haig's memo late June: "Sir Douglas Haig warned us in a memorandum on 30th June shortly after Messines that the fundamental object of the operations was the defeat of the German Army and that this could not be achieved in a single battle and that we must make preparations for 'very hard fighting lasting perhaps for weeks' and that we must arrange to deliver a series of organised attacks on a large scale and on broad frontages.'" Source: Major-General Sir C. Harington, Plumer of Messines, London, 1935, p. 109.

Cheers-salesie.

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Salesie,

Many thanks for these quotes. They are very interesting, particularly the last one.

It seems to me that Haig clearly recognised the difficulty of defeating the German Army and that any option to achieve that end would involve hard fighting over an extended period until one side was worn down to the extent they lost heart and gave way - an issue that you have highlighted as a hallmark of total war. Thus, the wearing down of the German Army seems to have been one of the objectives of 3rd Ypres.

IMO the choice of the area for mounting the offensive was strategically sound as it threatened areas important to the Germans; success in capturing the railway junction at Roulers and the ports along the Belgium coast would be a severe setback for the Germans strategically. It would also start to turn the German right flank, to what extent that could have been exploited is anyone's guess. An offensive in such a sensitive area would also serve the purpose of drawing the German Army and their reserves into a determined defence of such vital ground and which in turn would lead to a wearing down battle and hopefully a decline in that Army's capability and morale. Thus in choosing Ypres several strategic gains could attained in the event of a successful offensive.

Haig must have had considerable confidence in the British Army as such a strategy can be a two edged sword when the opposing forces are equally strong. Nonetheless, it seems to me that unless the German Army was defeated in the field the war would continue for several years, and defeating the German Army involved wearing it down more quickly than the Allies were worn down. There were no options for a war ending victory in a single decisive battle or campaign.

As for the rain - GAC showed me a chart on the rainfall in the Ypres area over the last 100 odd years - 1917 had an abnormally high rainfall compared to the average; this had a major impact on the British offensive in August. Perhaps he can put the chart on this thread? For us visiting the UK it was quite a novelty and we enjoyed what little we did see. :D

Cheers

Chris

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Chris, for the past couple of years, with all the rain we've been having, I've been using WD40 instead of deodorant, which has the added advantage of lubricating the joints - I've been thinking about having grease-nipples fitted but WD40 is OK for now.

Back to 1917, (no WD40 back then) - As you already know, I believe that no purely military victory in the field is possible in total-war, no matter what tactics/operational initiatives are employed by any side, that only long-term strategic initiatives bring about victory by destroying one-side or the other's collective will and/or ability to wage war. And that this takes time - that the "military learning curve" in WW1 was not one-sided, that both sides learnt from each other equally and thus forced an inevitable four-year stalemate, which only ended when these other, strategic, forces eventually made their presence felt - that Germany collapsed politically, economically and socially in the summer of 1918 and, as both a cause and an effect, the morale/collective will-to-win of its people and army collapsed along with it.

That said, I also believe that military pressure is an essential "ally" to these other forces in bringing about ultimate victory - attrition being the most important military aspect in total-war (the moral dimensions of this are for another thread; battle had been joined and the war needed to be fought to a final conclusion. It is, in some historical respects, a pity that WW1 was not fought to such a conclusion - but as I say, that discussion is for another thread).

I also believe that Haig understood this to a large degree - I believe he understood virtually from the beginning that manpower would be the deciding factor i.e. Charteris tells us that, even as a "lowly" Corps' Commander, Haig ordered his intelligence department to study German manpower losses:

"At the Council of War on August 5th [1914] he [Haig] had pointed out that since Great Britain and Germany were fighting for their existence the war would inevitably be a prolonged struggle, and would require the development of the full force of the British Empire to achieve success. The Battle of the Aisne, which enabled him to gauge the fighting qualities of the German troops, confirmed his belief that man-power would ultimately decide the war, and he directed his staff to begin the study of the man-power which the German nation could effectively employ in the field...these studies of German army man-power commenced during these early months at I Corps headquarters, and were developed at each successive stage of Haig's progress in the war, and he rarely allowed more than a day or two to pass without himself inquiring into the developments of this investigation." Source: Charteris, Field Marshal Haig, page 110.

Also, in August 1917, Haig was in no doubt as to his men's superior fighting ability, as part of a letter by him to Robertson shows:

"...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., I/23/44

You are right, Chris, the strategic implications of an offensive at Ypres in 1917 were clearly attractive and desirable (not forgetting the taking of the Hun's eyes off of the ailing French Army) - but I also believe that a war-winning victory was also one of those attractions for Haig; that he believed the German Army would collapse in mid to late 1917 if pushed hard enough.

Cheers-salesie.

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Chris, this is an interesting transcript taken from II Corps War Diary. It details the heavy artillery allocations made by Fifth Army in early July:

post-1473-1225273730.gif

Robert

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Chris, at the end of every month, GHQ published a detailed list of where all BEF artillery was attached. I will look this out for the end of July, ie the date on which Third Ypres kicked off.

Robert

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