Gcse study Materials gcse assignment: Haig

Download 132.51 Kb.
Size132.51 Kb.

GCSE Study Materials

GCSE Assignment: Haig

1. Why is the Battle of the Somme regarded as such a great military tragedy?

(10 marks)
2. Study Source a. (page 9). Do you agree with this interpretation of the importance of the Battle of the Somme? Use the source and knowledge from your studies to explain your answer.

(5 marks)
3. John Keegan, a modern military historian, suggests that Haig was an ‘efficient and highly skilled soldier who did much to lead Britain to victory in the First World War’.

Is there sufficient evidence in Sources a. to h. (page 9–12) to support this interpretation? Use the sources and your knowledge to explain your answer.

(10 marks

The First World War
The Western Front

On 3 August 1914, the German army invaded Belgium. Britain declared war the next day. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) went to France.

For the first two months, the armies fought each other in a ‘war of movement’. The German army came within 30 miles of Paris, then it was defeated at the Battle of the Marne (6–10 September 1914) and pushed back.

Towards the end of September, the Germans dug the first trenches of the war. By November 1914 the line of trenches stretched from Switzerland to the English Channel. The advance of the British and French armies was stopped.

In 1915 the British government – at Winston Churchill’s suggestion – tried to open a ‘second front’ at Gallipoli, in Turkey. It was a bloody disaster. The Allies realised they would have to slog it out on the Western Front.
Conditions in the Trenches

For the soldiers, conditions were terrible. Rain and cold were constant problems. Artillery fire destroyed the drains, so the battlefields became quagmires of mud – often, men drowned in the mud. Sanitary arrangements were unsatisfactory, and disease killed as many men as the enemy. The hundreds of human corpses made disease (and flies) inevitable, and trench rats grew fat on human flesh. And thousands of casualties. Antibiotics had not yet been discovered, and – in the dirt – even a small wound often led to blood poisoning, gangrene and death. Perhaps worse was to recover, profoundly disabled or mutlilated.

The War of Attrition

Both sides realised that they would have to ‘wear down’ the enemy. The war became a deadly stalemate. Any attempt to break through the enemy’s line resulted in slaughter. Men defended with machine guns, and used trains to rush extra soldiers to trouble spots. They advanced on foot, with rifles. At the Second Battle of Ypres (the battle when the Germans first used poison gas) the French lost 70,000 men. In the Artois offensive (May to October 1915) the French lost 100,000 men.

Then, in February 1916, the Germans launched a huge attack on Verdun. The battle lasted 10 months. In all, 280,000 Germans and 315,000 French died in the fighting; the French called the road to Verdun the voie sacrée (holy way), because so many men went down it to their deaths.
Although horrific, British casualties were in comparison relatively light. French commanders, led by General Joffre, began to pressurise the British command to take a bigger part in the war, and particularly to do something to relieve the pressure on Verdun.

That 'something' was the Battle of the Somme.


1. Find FOUR reasons the British came to fight the Battle of the Somme.

2. List the factors which made the First World War particularly unpleasant for the soldiers.

The film All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque. Although about German soldiers, it offers insights into how ordinary soldiers felt.

For the soldiers, the war was, in the words of one observer: ‘mud, sleet, ice, mud, noise, jagged steel, horror piled on reeking horror’.

The Battle of the Somme
Tragedy: ‘a sad, lamentable event; one causing or involving death and unhappiness’ (Webster’s Universal Dictionary)
Dawn on the Somme

... I, that on my familiar hill

Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

William Noel Hodgson (written the day before the battle of the Somme).

Hodgson volunteered for the Devonshires in Sept. 1914, aged 21.   He was killed on 1 July 1916 by a German machine gun while taking ammunition to his men in newly captured trenches near Mametz.


On 1st July 1916, Haig and Joffre planned a joint attack on the German lines near Bapaume (although Haig would have preferred to fight further north). The action was designed to relieve some of the strain on Verdun. Haig was quite hopeful that it would break through the German lines and bring the Allies victory.

This 1916 cartoon from the Daily Mirror – entitled ‘The Somme Punch’ – shows the Somme as the Kaiser’s nose.

Artillery Bombardment

The attack was preceded by an eight-day artillery bombardment, in which 1537 British guns fired 1,723,873 rounds. The sound of the bombardment could be heard in England. The aim of the bombardment was two-fold: firstly to kill the German soldiers and reduce them to shell-shocked chaos, secondly to destroy the German barbed wire. But the shells were not powerful enough to break down into the German dug-outs (which were up to 9 metres deep), and the shrapnel shells, which consisted merely of cases filled with ball-bearings, did not destroy any of the wire, but simply made it more tangled and impassable.

1st July

Mines (tunnels) had been dug under the German trenches and packed with explosives. At 7.28 am these were detonated just before the British attack, giving the Germans 2 minutes warning.

Then, at 7.30 am, whistles were blown and the men went ‘over the top’. Each man carried a gas mask, groundsheet, field dressings, trench spade, 150 rounds of ammunition and extras such as sandbags or barbed wire – up to 80 pounds of equipment.

Thinking that the Germans had been destroyed by the bombardment, and fearing that their inexperienced soldiers would become disorganised in a rush attack, the generals had ordered the men to walk, in straight lines, across No Man’s Land.

They were slaughtered. ‘They went down in their hundreds. You didn’t have to aim, we just fired into them,’ wrote one German machine-gunner. One British battalion was unable to advance because it could not climb over the bodies of the dead and wounded blocking the way. The British officers, ordered to carry only a pistol, and leading their troops by example, were easily marked out and shot – the result was chaos.

At this point a British commander decided to detonate a mine which had failed to explode, burying his own men under a hail of rock and soil.

Some British units captured enemy positions, but in the afternoon the Germans counter-attacked and recaptured most of the land they had lost.

British casualties on the first day were 20,000 dead and more than 35,000 wounded – ‘probably more than any army in any war on a single day’. The British soldiers at the Somme were not conscripts – they were volunteers, who had flocked to join up in response to Kitchener’s ‘Your country needs you’ poster. In the First World War, men from the same town served together in the same regiment; now they were killed together. Friends and brothers died side by side, and villages lost all their young men in the same battle.

Despite the setback of the first day, Haig – in his HQ in the château at Valvion, 50 miles behind the lines – was still confident. He continued the attacks for 4 more months. He made a major attack, following the same plan, and with the same results, in September.

By August, questions were beginning to be asked – Lloyd George lost confidence in Haig. At home, there was grief and horror. A propaganda film – designed to encourage support for the war by showing the public what the men were going through – backfired alarmingly. One wounded soldier had to be led hysterical from the cinema, and one woman, after a stunned silence, shrieked out: ‘They’re dying!’ The film had to be hastily withdrawn.

At the front, also, morale began to fall. Soldiers were shot for ‘cowardice’. The British troops reached the limit of their endurance.

Only on 18 November, as winter set in, did the battle grind to a halt. Bapaume had not been captured. Only 6 miles of ground had been taken. The final casualties were: British 415,000, French 195,000, Germans perhaps 600,000.


1. Read ‘The Battle of the Somme’. List of all the things you might claim to be ‘tragic’ – ie:

  • examples of bad leadership

  • examples of human suffering

  • examples of failure.

You should be able to find at least a dozen.

2. ‘Generalise’ your points, to distinguish between the general point and the specific evidence. Draw up a two-column table, listing ‘Tragedies’ in one column, and ‘Evidence’ in the other.

This map shows Haig’s plan – the army would break through the enemy lines, then the cavalry would sweep on past Bapaume.

The historian JM Bourne writes: ‘Rarely can so much effort have been expended to such little effect… Once the artillery failed, the infantry was doomed.’

Blackadder Goes Forth: Goodbyee gives a vivid impression of the slaughter involved in going ‘over the top’. The phrase is still used today to describe something excessively stupid.

Tanks were used for the first time at the battle of the Somme. However, they had serious problems, and did not bring the hoped-for breakthrough.

Did You Know?

Lloyd George called the battle of the Somme: ‘The most gigantic, tenacious, grim, futile and bloody fight ever waged in the history or war’.


Do the assignment:
Why is the Battle of the Somme regarded as such a great military tragedy?
This is a simple ‘why’ essay.
Write the essay as a series of paragraphs, assigning a point to each paragraph. For each point, give evidence of the tragedy. Don’t forget to explain why this was a tragedy, remembering to say how great a tragedy it was, and linking it to other points.

Source Documents on the Battle of the Somme
1. High Hopes

i) Friday, June 30: The weather report is favourable for tomorrow. With God’s help, I feel hopeful. The men are in splendid spirits. The wire has never been so well cut, nor the Artillery preparation so thorough.

Haig, Diary
ii) If the success of any operation were entirely dependent on the preparations made before Zero Hour, then the Somme should have been a complete success.

Memories of Captain RJ Trounshell, Princess Victoria’s Fusiliers

2. The Futility of the Bombardment

i) [Lt. George is in the trench, peering through a pair of binoculars across No Man's Land. There is a deafening noise from the artillery bombardment.]

Blackadder: Oh, God, why do they bother?

George: Well, it's to kill Jerry, isn't it, Sir?

Blackadder: Yes, but Jerry is safe underground in concrete bunkers. We've shot off over a million cannon shells and what's the result? One dachshund with a slight limp!

Black-Adder, Series 4, Episode 4
ii) Our artillery hadn’t made any impact on those barbed-wire entanglements. The result was we never got anywhere near the Germans. Our lads were mown down. They were just simply slaughtered. You were either tied down by the shelling or the machine-guns and yet we kept at it, making no impact on the Germans at all. And those young officers, going ahead, they were picked off like flies. We tried to go over and it was just impossible. We were mown down.

Memories of Corporal WH Shaw, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

3. Blackadder on the Insanity of ‘Going over the Top’

i) In Blackadder Goes Forth: Captain Cook, Edmund Blackadder spends the entire episode trying to avoid taking part in an attack.

Blackadder: My instincts lead me to deduce that we are at last about to go over the top. [peers over the top of the trench with a periscope]

George: Great Scott sir, you mean, you mean the moment's finally arrived for us to give Harry Hun a darned good British style thrashing, six of the best, trousers down?

Blackadder: If you mean, "Are we all going to get killed?" Yes. Clearly, Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.

George: Right! Bravo-issimo! Well let's make a start eh, up and over to glory, last one in Berlin's a rotten egg.

Blackadder: Give me your helmet, lieutenant.

[George hands his helmet to Blackadder, who throws it up into the sky. Immediately heavy machine-gun fire is heard. He catches the helmet, which now has over 20 holes in it, and gives it back to George.]

Black-Adder- Series 4, Episode 1
ii) And in the final episode of the series, Blackadder tries to avoid the ‘Big Push’ by feigning madness.

Blackadder: Hello; the Somme Public Baths -- no running, shouting, or piddling in the shallow end. Ah, Captain Darling. Tomorrow at dawn. Oh, excellent. See you later, then. Bye. (hangs up) Gentlemen, our long wait is nearly at an end. Tomorrow morning, General Insanity Melchett invites you to a mass slaughter. We're going over the top.

George: (follows Edmund in) Oh, now, come on, Cap! It may be a bit risky (tries to speak in a rousing Cockney dialect, but fails miserably), but it sure is bloomin'ell worth it, gov'nor!

Blackadder: How could it possibly be worth it? We've been sitting here since Christmas 1914, during which millions of men have died, and we've advanced no further than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping…
iii) The men are lined up waiting to go over the top. Everyone puts a foot forward)

Baldrick: I have a plan, sir.

Voice: On the signal, company will advance!

Blackadder: Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?

(whistle blows)

Blackadder: Good luck, everyone. (blows his whistle)

(Everyone yells as they go over the top. German guns fire before they're even off the ladders. The scene changes to slow motion, and explosions happen all around them. [An echoed piano slowly plays the Blackadder theme.] The smoke and flying earth begins to obscure vision as the view changes to the battlefield moments later: empty and silent with barbed wire, guns and bodies strewn across it. [A bass drum beats slowly.] That view in turn changes to the same field as it is today: overgrown with grasses and flowers, peaceful, with chirping birds.)

Black-Adder- Series 4, Episode 6

4. Charging the Machine-guns

i) I were in the first row and the first one I saw were my chum, Clem Cunnington. I don’t think we’d gone 20 yards when he got it straight through the chest. Machin-gun bullets. He went down, I went down. We got it in the same burst. I got it through the shoulder. I hardly noticed it at the time. I were so wild when I saw that Clem were finished.

I got up and picked up my rifle and got through the wire into their trench and straight in front there was this dugout – full of jerries, and one big fellow was on the steps facing me. I had the Mills bomb [a hand grenade]. Couldn’t use my arm. I pulled the pin with my teeth and flung it down and I were shouting at them, I were that wild, ‘There you are! Share that between you!’ Then I were off. It was hand to hand! I went round one traverse and there was one – face-to-face. I couldn’t fire one-handed, but I could use the bayonet. It was him or me – and I went first! Jab! Just like that. It were my job. And from there I went on. Oh, I were wild! Seeing Clem like that!

We\were climbing out of the trench, making for th second line, and that’s where they got me again just as I were climbing out, through the fingers this time, on the same arm. I still managed to get on. I kept up with the lads nearly to the second line. Then I got another one. It went through my tin hat and down and straight through my foot. Well, that finished it!

Memories of Private Ernest Deighton, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
ii) When the whistle went, I threw my rifle on top of the trench and clambered out of it, grabbed the rifle and started going forward. There were shell-holes everywhere. I must have fallen half-a-dozen times before I got to the first line, and there were lads falling all over the place. You didn’t know whether they were just tripping up, like me, or whether they were going down with bullets in them. Lucas went down. He was killed before he even got to the first trench.

We had two brothers named Moxham and one of them was with us and, looking across, we see his brother coming to the opposite lip of the crater. We all shouted, ‘Come on, come on! Don’t stand there! That bloomin’ machine-gun’ll come round. He’ll catch you!’ But he just stood there a moment too long – and it did get him! He was killed there. Of course his brother didn’t know what to do with himself.

Memories of Private Roy Bealing, Wiltshire Regiment
iii) I’d just jumped into a trench between two men, Gomer Evans and Dick Darling, and as I jumped in there was this terrific crash. I didn’t know any more until I woke up a few minutes later, and there was old Gomer Evans, he’d got the top of his nut blown off, and Dick Darling, he’d got it in the back. His kidney’s blown out. We had to bury both of them.

Memories of Corporal Horace Smith, Rifle Brigade

iv) The biggest mistake that was made in training was that we were never told what to do in case of failure. All that time we’d gone backwards and forwards, training, doing it over and over again like clockwork and then when we had to advance, when it came to the bit, we didn’t know what to do!

Memories of Sergeant Jim Myers, Machine Gun Corps

5. Horror at the Slaughter – Eyewitness Comments

i) My memory was seared with the picture of the French and British attacking together on the Somme on July 1st 1916, the British rigid and slow, advancing as at a military parade in lines which were torn and ripped by the German guns, while the French tactical formations, quick and elastic, secured their objectives with trifling loss. It had been a terrible spectacle. As a display of bravery it was magnificent. As an example of tactics its very memory made me shudder.

General Spears, Prelude to Victory (
ii) Whatever was gained, it wasn’t worth the price the men had to paid to gain that advantage. It was no advantage to anybody. It was just sheer bloody murder. That’s the only words you can use for it.

Memories of Corporal Harry Shaw, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

iii) There was a terrible smell. It was so awful it nearly poisoned you. A smell of rotten felsh. The old German front line was covered with bodies – they were seven and eight deep and they had all gone black. These people had been lying since the First of July. Wicked it was! Bodies all over the place. I’ll never forget it. I was only eighteen, but I thought, ‘There’s something wrong here!’

Memories of Corporal Joe Hayles, Rifle Brigade

6. Communities Destroyed

i) My Dear Murray

Up till now, I have made it a rule to write to the next of kin of any of our men who have fallen out here, but in the present circumstances it is beyond me to continue this practice. I have no course open to me but to ask you to send this letter to the Glasgow papers for publication. I should like to express to all the relatives of those who have died, my sincerest sympathy with them in their present sorrow.

It may be some consolation to know that the battalion walked into actionas steadily as if it had been on the Parade ground, and I cannot adequately express my feeling of admiration for the spirit, gallantry, and daring with which all faced their terrible task.

Sgt. David S Morton, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion
ii) Kitchener had agreed that those who ‘joined together’ should ‘serve together’. And on the Somme they died together. In the industrial north of England, on Tyneside and in Ulster whole communities were plunged into mourning. The 10th West Yorks lost 22 officers and 688 men, the Accrington Pals 21 officers and 585 men, the 4th Tyneside Scottish 19 officers and 610 men. Their sacrifice was to little effect.

JM Bourne, Britain and the Great War (1989)

7. Doubts About Haig’s Tactics

i) The heavy losses entailed by the fighting at the Somme were making their efforts felt at home, and sorrow, suffering and anxiety were undoubtedly weakening the resolve of some people. Murmurs were heard in the country. Mr Lloyd George, always sensitive to the breath of public opinion, was already feeling a lack of confidence in Haig and was no longer giving him his wholehearted support. Talk of finding another Chief was in the air, and suggestions were seriously made that we should fight our main battles in some other theatre of war than against the Germans.

General Sir Hubert Gough, The Fifth Army (1931)

Gough commanded the Fifth Army under Haig in the battle of the Somme.

ii) In late July, Churchill circulated a paper round the government ministers criticising Haig’s tactics and achievements:
We have not advanced 3 miles in the direct line at any point. We have only penetrated to that depth on a front of 8,000 to 10,000 yards. Penetration upon to narrow a front is quite useless for the purpose of breaking the line. In personnel the results of the operation have been disastrous; in terrain they have been absolutely barren… from every point of view the British offensive has been a great failure.

A paper circulated round members of the Cabinet by Churchill, late July.

Churchill had asked for a command in the army in 1915, which Haig had refused to give him, so there may be an element of sour grapes. In his Diary for 9 August 1916, Haig wrote: ‘I expect Winston’s judgement is impaired from taking drugs’.
iii) Soon after, Haig got a letter from his Chief of Staff in London, General Sir William Robertson, warning him of the developments:
The powers that be are beginning to get a little uneasy in regard to the situation. The casualties are mounting up. They will persist in asking whether I think a loss of say 300,000 men will lead to really great results.

Robertson to Haig, 29 July 1916

iv) Haig responded by outlining what he thought to be the achievements of the campaign.
Proof given to the world that the Allies are capable of making and maintaining a vigorous offensive and of driving the enemy’s best troops from the strongest positions has shaken the faith of the Germans. Also impressed on the world, England’s strength and determination, and the fighting power of the British race… The maintenance of a strong offensive pressure will eventually in the enemy’s complete overthrow.

Haig to Robertson, 1 August 1916

Haig also had a word with his friend the King, and all talk of overruling him was ended.
8. Falling Morale at the Front

i) The morale of the British and Empire troops, so high in the early summer, had descended to a low point. Before the Somme the supreme punishment in the Australian forces was to be sent home in disgrace; henceforth imprisonment had to be introduced. In October there were cases of desertion to the enemy among British troops, and the Germans had even been informed of an oncoming attack. The first officer to be tried and shot for desertion was ordered and executed in December. ‘No one’, a corps commander protested, ‘who has not visited the front can really know that state of exhaustion to which the men are reduced.’

Paul Guinn, British Strategy and Politics 1914 to 1918 (1965)
ii) We were between the devil and the deep blue sea. If you go forward, you’ll likely be shot, if you go back you’ll be court-martialled and shot, so what the hell do you do? It was hell, it was impossible, utterly impossible. The only possible way to take High Wood was if the Germans ran short of ammunition. They couldn’t take it against machine-gunners, just ridiculous. We always blamed the people up above. We had a saying in the Army, ‘The higher, the fewer’. They meant the higher the rank, the fewer the brains.

Memories of Private W Hay, Royal Scots Battalion

'Good-morning; good-morning!' the General said

When we met him last week on our way to the line.

Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,

And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

'He's a cheery old car,' grunted Harry to Jack

As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Siegfried Sassoon

Haig and The Somme

Haig was unperturbed by the losses on the Somme, despite Churchill’s criticism, even though he lost the support of Lloyd George. Haig had the confidence of the king, and there was no-one to replace him. Even so, he felt the need to defend himself. In December he reported to the Cabinet what he claimed the battle had achieved:

Source a

The Effects of the Battle of the Somme, according to General Haig

A considerable portion of the German soldiers are now practically beaten men, ready to surrender if they could, thoroughly tired of the war and expecting nothing but defeat. It is true that the amount of ground we have gained is not great. That s nothing. We have proved our ability to force the enemy out of strong defensive positions and to defeat him. The German casualties have been greater than ours.

Part of a report written in December 1916, sent by Haig to the British Cabinet about the aftermath of the Battle of the Somme.

To a degree, Haig was correct. There is evidence that the German soldiers were disheartened by the Battle of the Somme. Also – although they did not give ground at the time – when the battle had finished the German commanders pulled back to a more easily-defendable position: ‘the Hindenburg Line’. It can be argued that, although not defeated at the Battle of the Somme, the Germans from that moment on knew they could not win the war.

Joan Plowright’s play Oh! What a Lovely War, made into a film in 1969, satirises the playful way people went to war, and the horror it became. It portrays Haig as joyfully selling tickets to the slaughter. EKG Sixsmith comments: 'the play may be good entertainment, but it cannot be regarded as even a good caricature of Haig'.

After the Disaster

In January 1917, it seemed as though Haig had learned from his mistakes – he wrote to the French General Nivelle to tell him that he would never again get trapped in a long battle as he had at the Somme. It was not to be – in the summer of 1917 the French troops mutinied: if the Germans attacked the French army the whole line would collapse. To protect the French, Haig launched an attack at Passchendaele. It lasted 5 months (July to November 1917); if anything, it was worse than the Somme. But Haig was getting wiser – he let Gough, the commander of the British Fourth Army, take the blame for the losses and, after the battle was ended, sacked him in disgrace.

In March 1918, the German army launched an all-out offensive, using a new strategy – called Blitzkreig – in a last-ditch attempt to win the war before the Americans came to Europe. At first it was a success. The British Army, which bore most of the attack, lost 160,000 casualties in 16 days, the French lost 77,000. On 24th March 1918 the French General Pétain warned Haig that he was about to abandon the front and retreat.

Haig knew that this would lose the war. He telegraphed the British government in London to insist that ‘General Foch be given supreme control [because] I knew that Foch was a man of great courage’ – Haig gave away his command to save the war. Then he sent his famous Order of the Day (11th April 1918) commanding his army to ‘hold on where it stood’.

He made the correct decision. Foch did not retreat. The German advance was halted. Then, in August, Foch announced that ‘the moment has come to attack’.

On 8 August 1918, the British attacked again across the fields of the Somme. But this time, their attack was a surprise. And it was successful. In September Allied forces broke the Hindenburg Line, and on 11th November 1918, the Germans asked for a ceasefire: the ‘Armistice’.

Verdicts on Haig

Haig had won, as he had said he could, but did he deserve any credit? Since the war, many writers have criticised Haig for his tactics, for the great loss of men and, above all, for his defeat at the Battle of the Somme. Others, mainly military men, have declared that he did as well as could be expected, and that only a man of great determination and character could have seen the matter through.

After the war, Haig was given £100,000 and made an Earl, but he was given no important job to do. He spent the rest of life raising money for the men wounded in the war.

British soldiers capture two wounded German prisoners at the Somme. Does this picture prove Haig’s claim that ‘the German soldiers are now practically beaten men’?


Study Source A. How valid is this interpretation of the importance of the Battle of the Somme? Use the source and knowledge from your studies to explain your answer.

Did You Know?

At the beginning of the war Haig said: ‘The machine gun is a much overrated weapon.

Haig believed that cavalry would win the Battle of the Somme, and was angry when Rawlinson did not send them into battle.
Towards the end of 1916, Haig issued orders that more officers should be executed for cowardice to strengthen the 'fighting spirit' of his troops.

Source b:

A View of Haig

This poster shows a caricature of Haig, with the words: ‘Your Country Needs Me… like a hole in the head – which is what most of you are going to get’. It is taken from the book General Haig’s Private War.


Read Sources a to h.

John Keegan, a modern military historian, suggests that Haig was an 'efficient and highly skilled soldier who did much to lead Britain to victory in the First World War'.  

Is there sufficient evidence in Sources A to H to support this interpretation?   Use the sources and your knowledge to explain your answer.
Source c: Haig’s own views on the Somme and trench warfare

i) The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.

Written by Haig in June 1916, before the Battle of the Somme.
ii) The men are in splendid spirits. Several have said that they have never before been so instructed and informed of the nature of the operation before them. The barbed wire has never been so well cut nor the artillery preparation so thorough. All the commanders are full of confidence.

Written by Haig on 30th June, 1916, the day before the attack began.

Question: how does this compare to the memories of men who were there? Why might Haig have got the impression that all the men were confident and felt well-prepared?
iii) Very successful attack this morning… All went like clockwork… The battle is going very well for us and already the Germans are surrendering freely. The enemy is so short of men that he is collecting them from all parts of the line. Our troops are in wonderful spirits and confidence.

Written by Haig on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Question: how does this compare to your knowledge of how the battle went? How do you explain this statement from Haig?
Source d: Field Marshall Haig as a military commander

Silent, humourless and reserved, Haig was also shrewd and ambitious and had great self-confidence. Perhaps his greatest failing was his constant, often misplaced, optimism, which seemed to stem from his belief that he had been chosen by God to serve his country. It was probably this inability to recognise defeat that led to his continuing attacks on the Somme and Passchendaele.

Written by the modern historian, Anthony Livesey, Great Battles of World War I (1989).

Note: this is an appalling piece of writing – notice how the writer drives on through a series of questionable claims and ‘possiblys’ to his utterly questionable conclusion.

Source e: The Prime Minister’s view of what happened on the Western Front

The tale of these battles… is the story of the million who would rather die than call themselves cowards – even to themselves – and also of the two or three individuals who would rather the million perish than they as leaders should admit – even to themselves – that they were blunderers. Ought I to have vetoed it? Ought I not to have resigned than allow this slaughter of brave men? I have always felt there are solid grounds for criticism in that respect. My only justification is that Haig promised not to press the attack if it became clear that he could not attain his objectives by continuing the offensive.

Lloyd George, War Memoirs (published after the War)

Livesey (Source D) claimed that it was Haig’s ‘misplaced optimism’ and ‘inability to recognise defeat’ that kept him going; what does Lloyd George suggest kept Haig attacking? The Battle lasted 4 months; Lloyd George could have dismissed Haig; what do you think of the excuse he gives for not doing so?
Source f: Was Haig right to press on with the Battle of the Somme?

As to whether it were wise or foolish to give battle on the Somme, there can surely be only one opinion. To have refused to fight then and there would have meant the abandonment of Verdun to its fate and the breakdown of co-operation with the French.

From the biography of Haig, officially authorised by Haig’s family, by Duff Cooper, Haig (1935)

Question: do you agree that Haig had no alternative but to fight on the Somme? And if he HAD to fight, did he HAVE to sacrifice so many men?

Source g: A modern assessment of Haig – was he totally at fault?

Blaming Haig the individual for the failings of the British war effort is putting too much of a burden of guilt on one man. Haig was the product of his time, of his upbringing, education, training and previous, military experience. One argument goes that he was, ultimately, victorious and, even if he had been replaced, would there have been anyone better for the job? Even on the Somme a German officer called the battlefield ‘the muddy grave of the German army’. This was the same battle in which Haig’s mistakes contributed to the half a million casualties suffered by the Allies.

From an article in the magazine Hindsight, by S Warburton (April 1998)

Question: Warburton argues that Haig’s actions were simply ‘a product of his education and experience’, and that he won in the end – does that make the millions of casualties alright, then?

Source h: A modern satire on the war

The comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth continually portrayed Haig as a fool and a murderer. In this scene, Blackadder tried to persuade Haig to get him out of the Big Push, while Haig (played by Geoffrey Palmer) plays war games with toy soldiers:

Blackadder: (winds the telephone) Hello? Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, please.

(Haig picks up and is looking over a model of the battlefield.)

Blackadder: Hello, Sir Douglas.

Haig: Good lord! Blacky! (knocks down an entire line of model soldiers)

Blackadder: Yes, sir.

Haig: I haven't seen you since... (knocks down the second line of model soldiers on the same side)

Blackadder: '92, sir -- Mboto Gorge. And do you remember...?

Haig: My god, yes. You saved my damn life that day, Blacky.

Blackadder: Well, exactly, sir. And do you remember then that you said that if I was ever in real trouble and I really needed a favour that I was to call you and you'd do everything you could to help me?

Haig: (sweeps the fallen soldier models into a dustpan) Yes, yes, I do, and I stick by it. You know me -- not a man to change my mind.

Blackadder: No -- we've noticed that.

Haig: So what do you want? Spit it out, man. (hurls the dead platoon over his shoulder)

Blackadder: Well, you see, sir, it's the Big Push today, and I'm not all that keen to go over the top.

Black-Adder- Series 4, Episode 6

Question: this is utter fiction. Blackadder never existed, Mboto Gorge never happened. In real life Haig would have court-martialled Blackadder for even making the call. So can this scene be of ANY use to an historian?

Source Documents on Haig

1. Haig Unperturbed

Sir Douglas Haig was undismayed by the events of 1 July. His response to the casualty figures – provisionally estimated at 40,000 – was that they were to be expected. He reserved his concern for the ‘cowardly’ performance of VIII Corps. Above all he continued the battle.

JM Bourne, Britain and the Great War (1989)
2. German Woes after the Battle of the Somme

i) The German army had been fought to a standstill and was utterly worn out.

General Ludendorff, War Memoirs (1920)
ii) The Somme was the muddy grave of the German field army, and of the faith in the infallibility of the German leaders.

A German psychologist

iii) No commander could have given the Germans back the trained soldiery which had been destroyed.

A German military writer.

3. Had Haig Learned Any Lessons?

i) You propose that strong attacks shall be made by our respective armies with the object not only of drawing in and using up the enemy’s reserves, but of gaining such tactical successes as will open the way for decisive action… I have already agreed to launch such an attack as you describe, but not to an indefinite continuation of the battle to use up the enemy’s reserves. Such continuation might result in a prolonged struggle, like that on the SOMME this year, and would be contrary to our agreement that we must seek a definite and rapid decision.

Haig to Nivelle, 6 January 1917
ii) At the present time I think our action should take the form of 1. Winter ‘sports’ or raids continued into the Spring. 2. Wearing out fight similar to 1 but on a larger scale at many points along the whole front.

Haig, Diary (14 January 1916)

iii) The C-in-C was lodged in the Chateau de Valvion, roughly equidistant from the headquarters of Rawlinson and Gough. The correct position for a C-in-C at such a time is not easy to decide… Haig was learning. The following year he found that a properly equipped train made a more satisfactory Advanced GHQ when battle was in progress.

John Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire (1980)

iv) Haig believed firmly in the principle of leaving decisions to ‘the man on the spot’. Consequently, though Haig drew attention to the German probing methods at Verdun, when Rawlinson settled for linear attack, Haig did not feel that he could override him. Later in the war, he would not be so diffident.

John Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire (1980)

4. The Order of the Day

Victory will belong to the side that holds out the longest. There is no other course open but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man. There must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.

Haig, Order of the Day (11 April 1918)
5. Criticisms of Haig

i) He was a painstaking professional soldier with a sound intelligence of secondary quality. He had the courage and stubbornness of his race. But he did not possess the necessary breadth of vision or imagination to plan a great campaign against some of the ablest generals of the war. I never met a man in a high position who seemed to me so utterly devoid of imagination.

Lloyd George, War Memoirs (1928)
ii) No man did more to take away from Haig all credit for victory in the war than Lloyd George. Haig’s great weight of responsibility must have been vastly increased by the knowledge that Lloyd George mistrusted his military opinion and ability… But Haig was not deflected from his purpose. Only a man of outstanding integrity and great strength of character would have remained and done what he did. He continued to follow the strategy which he considered to be right. The events of 1918 proved it was right. It was doubtful whether anyone else could have done it so well.

The disparaging remark about Haig’s lack of imagination was written in Lloyd George’s Memoirs with hindsight after Haig’s death. [At their first meeting, Lloyd George had written:] ‘I have the feeling that everything that the trained thought of a great soldier can accomplish, is being done’. It was the Somme which altered Lloyd George’s opinion of Haig.

EKG Sixsmith, Douglas Haig (1976)
iii) As an executive commander there has hardly been a finer defensive general; in contrast, among those who have gained fame as offensive generals none perhaps have made worse errors… His mind was dominated by the instinct of method, where he failed was in the instinct of surprise – originality of conception, fertility of resource, receptivity in ideas. In his qualities and defects he was the very embodiment of the national character and the army tradition.

Liddell Hart, Reputations (1928)

From a book of essays about the great leaders of World War One.
iv) In all the British offensives the British casualties were never less than 3 to 2, and often nearly double the corresponding German losses… The campaign of 1916 on the Western Front was from beginning to end a welter of slaughter.

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis

Haig commented that it was French pressure which forced him to keep fighting on the Western Front in 1916–1917, and wrote about the battle of Passchendaele in 1917: ‘It is impossible for Winston to know how the possibility of the French army breaking up in 1917 compelled me to go on attacking. Pétain pressed me not to leave the Germans alone for a week, on account of the awful state of the French troops.
v) His stubbornness in the offensive all but ruined us on the Somme.

Fuller, Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier

Fuller had harsh things to say about most commanders. EKG Sixsmith comments: ‘Fuller had a brilliant perception of what it would have been better to do’.
vi) The whole planning of the Somme campaign was ham-fisted and clumsy. The fault for the failure of most of the strategic planning must fall on Haig. Because the plan failed, Haig must be held responsible. The main fault with Haig and his Chief of Staff in London, General Sir William Robertson, was that although they had got the reasoning of war right, ie that it must be decided on the Western Front, they also felt that they must have some spectacular victory to prove how right they were.

Perhaps the fault lay in the idea hat the British still regarded was as an extension of a game of rugger… an attitude which proved totally ineffectual against the cold German professionalism that manifested itself in the form of accurate shell, machine gun and rifle fire. Haig promised victory and failed.

PW Turner and RH Haigh, Not for Glory (1969)

7. Apologists for Haig

i) The differences on military policy, which during the last two years of the war caused friction between Haig and Lloyd George, were such as are likely to arise in time of crisis between professional soldiers and the elected representatives of a democracy. Haig’s views on strategy were sound… to decide that all the generals were wrong and that the truth lay with the civilians would indeed be a sad conclusion. Greatness of character is something different from greatness of mind or of intellect. In moral stature, Haig was a giant. It may be easy to find in history a man more brilliant, it would be hard to find a better man.

Duff Cooper, Haig (1946)

Duff Cooper was one of the military men whose opinions he thought better than the civilians’ – in the 1930s had been First Lord of the Admiralty in the navy.

ii) Few soldiers have been less understood and more misrepresented than Douglas Haig.

Duff Cooper and John Terraine have cleverly championed his reputation as a humane commander. The legend of his lack of imagination and callous brutality, however, still exist.

One of the faults of Haig’s nature was that he trusted too completely some of his immediate subordinates. The cost was high, but it would have been higher still had the agony been prolonged. Haig’s foresight, energy and resolve were among the main factors which contributed to the Allied victory in 1918.

General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, Haig as Military Commander (1973)

Marshall-Cornwall had served Haig as a junior officer during the battle of the Somme, and said that he had witnessed first hand the effect of the bad advice and information given to Haig.
iii) Haig had a fine appearance, and a stern devotion to duty. Though he had no more idea that others how to win the war, he was sure that he could win it. Divine help would make up for any deficiencies on his part. This unshakeable confidence, and the support of the king, enabled Haig to survive a long record of failure and to emerge in the end victorious… A later generation may feel that Haig should have stood on the defensive and waited for the tanks. The French would not have tolerated this. The British public would have been still more indignant. Haig had to do what he did and, though he did not succeed, no one better was found to take his place.

AJP Taylor, The First World War (1963)

8. Blackadder on Haig

From episode 1 of Blackadder Goes Forth, the series reserved some of its most telling satire for Haig and the futility of his tactics:

i) Blackadder: My instincts lead me to deduce that we are at last about to go over the top. [peers over the top of the trench with a periscope]

George: Great Scott sir, you mean, you mean the moment's finally arrived for us to give Harry Hun a darned good British style thrashing, six of the best, trousers down?

Blackadder: If you mean, "Are we all going to get killed?" Yes. Clearly, Field Marshal Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.

Melchett: Good man. Now, Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field. [they gather around a model of the battlefield]

Blackadder: Now, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking slowly towards the enemy sir?

Darling: How can you possibly know that Blackadder? It's classified information.

Blackadder: It's the same plan that we used last time, and the seventeen times before that.

Melchett: E-E-Exactly! And that is what so brilliant about it! We will catch the watchful Hun totally off guard! Doing precisely what we have done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time! There is however one small problem.

Blackadder: That everyone always gets slaughtered the first ten seconds.

Melchett: That's right! And Field Marshal Haig is worried that this may be depressing the men a tadge. So, he's looking to find a way to cheer them up.

Blackadder: Well, his resignation and suicide would seem the obvious solution.

Black-Adder- Series 4, Episode 1

iii) Darling: What the General means, Blackadder, is: There's a leak. In short: A German spy is giving away every one of our battle plans.

Melchett: You look surprised, Blackadder.

Blackadder: I certainly am, sir. I didn't realise we had any battle plans.

Melchett: Well, of course we have! How else do you think the battles are directed?

Blackadder: Our battles are directed, sir?

Melchett: Well, of course they are, Blackadder -- directed according to the Grand Plan.

Blackadder: Would that be the plan to continue with total slaughter until everyone's dead except Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise, Alan?

Melchett: Great Scott! (stands) Even you know it! Guard! Guard! Bolt all the doors; hammer large pieces of crooked wood against all the windows! This security leak is far worse than we'd imagined!

Black-Adder- Series 4, Episode 5

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2020
send message

    Main page