Lloyd George’s Haig: A Planomaniac



David Lloyd George,    Validity of the Record,   First Thoughts on Haig,   

Lloyd George clashes with Haig,   Passing the Buck,   Haig as a General,   Haig the Planomaniac,   

The Environment of Illusion,   Haig the Man,   Haig in 1918,   The Basic Beef,   Reviews



David Lloyd George, War Memoirs 

(London , 1933-6)



David Lloyd George (1863-1945) was born in Manchester, but brought up in North Wales.   He trained as a solicitor, and became MP for Caernarvon in 1890.   He is famous as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1908-15) who brought in old-age pensions (1908) and health and unemployment insurance (1911).


He opposed the Boer War of 1899-1902.   During the First World War, he first worked in the cabinet of Prime Minister Asquith.   As Minister of Munitions (from June 1915) he sorted out the ‘scandal of the shells’ that had prevented British industry supplying the army with sufficient guns and ammunition.   However, in 1916 he fell out with Asquith and took over as Prime Minister of a coalition government.  


In 1933-8, Lloyd George published – in six successive volumes – his War Memoirs.   The first 600 pages deal with the period 1914-1916, concentrating mainly on his impressions of the politicians of the time and their conduct of the war, and including 200 pages on his work at the Ministry of Munitions.   The remaining 1,400 pages of the War Memoirs deal with the war in great detail.



David Lloyd George

The Validity of the Record


The War Memoirs are well-written, by a consummate politician and vote-winner who had by that time become the highest paid political journalist in the world.   They might therefore be expected to be full of memorable phrases and winning arguments.   They make easy reading and have the ring of ‘the naked truth about War as I saw it from the conning tower at Downing Street ’.   Lloyd George claimed, not to be writing a History, but to be contributing to history ‘as a witness giving evidence on what he remembers of these tremendous transactions’ (page viii).


But was he a reliable witness?   In Chapter LXXXIX, Lloyd George makes comment on how he wrote the War Memoirs, comparing them favourably to Haig’s Diaries:


In writing my book I had no diary to help my memory.   I certainly had no time or inclination amidst the labour and anxiety of the War for sitting down every evening to write for the enlightenment of posterity the tale of my accomplishments during the day…   Nor have I written these Memoirs on the strength of recollections blurred by the march of years or touched up by the vanity of repetitive boasts swelling in size and deepening in colour at each repetition...   Fortunately, I had access to the most careful official Diary of current events – and of the discussions that led to them – which has ever been penned: Sir Maurice Hankey’s Minutes of War Cabinets, Imperials Cabinets and Inter-Allied Conferences…   My Memoirs are almost entirely based on this mass of contemporaneous documents.   When I draw on my personal memory I invariably check and correct by reference to this written evidence.  (pp.2012-3)


Lloyd George states that he was grateful to Haig’s Diaries (which substantially criticised him) because they had forced him to ‘search out more thoroughly the incidents and influences’, but he had not discovered any errors and ‘I therefore did not modify or re-cast the draft I had already written except that I re-examined with great care any statement of facts which seemed to be challenged by Haig’s notes’ (page 2013).   


We have to remember that Lloyd George’s War Memoirs, were written 15 years after the event, and that they were designed to justify and glorify Lloyd George’s reputation as a war leader Peter Simkins, Honorary Professor in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, calls them 'the self-serving War Memoirs of David Lloyd George'.    In his article: "The Lloyd George War Memoirs : A Study in the Politics of Memory" in the Journal of Modern History 60 (1988), George W. Egerton acknowledges that ‘for LG, the principle intent of the memoirs was… the recording and vindication of his wartime leadership’ - so nobody would ever claim that the War Memoirs were unbiased!


However, Egerton also gives evidence of the meticulous care with which Lloyd George wrote his War Memoirs.   Lloyd George decided to publish the Memoirs in 1922, when General Frederick Maurice published a book called Intrigues of War, in which he accused Lloyd George of lying to Parliament about the strength of the army in 1918.   Consequently, Lloyd George employed Major-General ED Swinton as a research assistant (1922-25), and also set his principle secretaries, AJ Sylvester (1922-25) and Malcolm Thompson (1925-) to interview colleagues, organise and index his papers, and to research the Cabinet records.   Sylvester was a particularly experienced helper, for he had been in the Cabinet secretariat during the war, and had taken some of the Cabinet minutes himself.   For almost a decade, Lloyd George had his secretaries keep him up to date about what people were saying about his war leadership, and he himself took particular interest in the growing debate about the war - in his War Memoirs, he says that his bookshelves ‘groaned under the burden of war autobiographies.


When he started writing the War Memoirs in 1931, Lloyd George further called on the help of Basil Liddell Hart, the war historian, and of Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretary.   Their help on the project makes the War Memoirs assuredly reliable factually.   Liddell Hart is arguably the best-respected of all historians of the Great War, and, through Hankey, Lloyd George had unrestricted access to the Cabinet Records.   Also, Hankey vetted the Memoirs by sending each chapter to the relevant government departments to be checked, not only for potentially damaging revelations, but also for factual errors.   To a degree, therefore, the whole civil service was drafted in to check Lloyd George's book.


Lloyd George's script WAS censored.   Hankey deleted passages he thought would harm the national interest.   Lloyd George also had to submit his script to the Prime Minister and the King (and he had some furious arguments about whether he would be allowed to published what he wanted).   When he was Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin came under great pressure to censor the book.   Since, however, these were people were Lloyd George's enemies, their restraining influence renders the War Memoirs more reliable, not less.

Lloyd George’s tenure as Prime Minister brought him into constant contact with Haig, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army.   The index entry on Haig, which mentions him only 24 times before 1916, occupies 4 columns for the period 1916-1918.   The War Memoirs are the considered reflections of the man who, perhaps more than any other, knew how Haig conducted the war, and they form Lloyd George’s official statement on Haig.  



Validity of the record


First Thoughts on Haig  


Haig’s first appearance of any moment in Lloyd George’s War Memoirs is in 1916, when Lloyd George visited Haig at the start of the battle of the Somme.   The visit seems to have had a significant effect on Haig, and might even be represented as a ‘Damascus experience’ as far as his opinion of generals went.   In the War Memoirs, Haig describes a meeting with Joffre and Haig.   The sound of shell-fire was so loud that they could hardly carry on a conversation.   All around, squadrons of cavalry were clattering proudly to the front:


When I asked what they were for, Sir Douglas Haig explained that they were brought up as near the front line as possible, so as to be ready to charge through the gap which was to be made by the Guards in the coming attack…   When I ventured to express to Generals Joffre and Haig my doubts as to whether cavalry could ever operate successfully on a front bristling for miles behind the enemy line with barbed wire and machine-guns, both Generals fell ecstatically on me, and Joffre in particular explained that he expected the French cavalry to ride through the broken German lines on his front the following morning….

   The conversation gave me an idea of the exaltation produced in brave men by a battle.   They were quite incapable of looking beyond and around or even through the struggle just in front of them. (p. 323)


It is a brilliant, understated, character assassination by ridicule.   The reader’s first meeting with Haig presents him as a blind fool.   But there are also accusations of exaggeration/ wishful-thinking that Lloyd George would make against Haig again:  


The whole mind of the western strategists was concentrated on one or other of the hamlets along the Somme.   They exaggerated the effect of every slight advance, and worked themselves into a belief that the Germans were so pulverised by these attacks that they had not the men, the guns, nor the spirit to fight anywhere much longer…   This is no exaggeration of their illusions.’ (p.322)


The result of this myopia was: ‘we suffered enormous losses’ (p.323).   Unfortunately, Lloyd George was not at this time Prime Minister, and this is all we read about the Battle of the Somme in the War Memoirs.



First Thoughts on Haig

Lloyd George clashes with Haig


In a sense, it might have been expected that Lloyd George would clash with Haig during the war – the welfare-oriented politician, ever mindful of votes and voters, with the single-minded soldier, determined to win the war, who stated openly that the British public should get used to high casualty rates.   As early as 1916, after the disaster at the Somme , there was a move in Cabinet to get Haig dismissed.   Haig and Lloyd George clashed again over Nivelle’s Plan (presented to Lloyd George in December 1916), over Unity of Command (which Lloyd George wanted and which Haig opposed), and over Haig’s demand for a decisive offensive in Flanders (the battle of Passchendaele, which Lloyd George tried unsuccessfully to prevent, and which Haig insisted on prosecuting long after the attempt had clearly failed).


There are echoes in the War Memoirs of the resentment that built up during those clashes.  


Writing about the failure of the Nivelle Plan, Lloyd George reflects:


Who and what was responsible for the delay that wrecked the chances of success?   It was largely due to the workings of a divided command.   This was my first effort to establish Unity of Command.   It was resisted so viciously by Haig and Robertson [Chief of the Imperial General Staff] that the delays caused by the time spent in allaying suspicions and adjusting differences destroyed the effectiveness of the plan.  (p.891)


Lloyd George is at pains to deny that he had any personal spleen against Haig.   But why then did he feel the need to mention it; it was at least a factor of which he was aware?   And it is clear in the War Memoirs that Lloyd George DID harbour a personal resentment against Haig.   Writing about Haig’s published Diaries, Lloyd George comments:


It is rather remarkable that amongst all the meticulous entries covering sometimes events of great historical interest, sometimes incidents of the most trivial character… there should have been no word of recognition in these voluminous Diaries of the fact that the thousands of great guns, the scores of thousands of machine-guns, and the scores of millions of shells, which enabled him to fight his great battles, were attributable to the organisation created by a person to whom he makes constant reference of a derogatory character.’  (p.2021)


It is clear that Lloyd George resented Haig’s criticisms of him in the Diaries, and that he particularly resented him for not acknowledging his work at the Ministry of Munitions.   Nevertheless, Lloyd George claims:


I want to emphasise once more that my differences with great Generals were not due to any personal or political motives.   I had no personal quarrel with either Lord Haig or Sir William Robertson…

   He [Haig] preferred Asquith’s method of dealing with Generals to mine…   He [Asquith] exercised no close supervision over the doings of his Ministers or Generals.   His easy-going temperament suited both [Haig and Robertson] much better than mine…!   No wonder that both Haig and Robertson preferred him and his methods.  (pp.2013-4)


Lloyd George’s explanation of his clash with Haig is easily inferred, and it amounts to this: that he [Lloyd George] was not a sloppy PM as Asquith had been.   He was a PM determined to run and supervise his government properly.   And Haig was an arrogant commander who resented what he wrongly perceived as an unwarranted intrusion into his work.   Lloyd George’s exasperation is clear:


I am not arraigning the professional soldier, but only the supercilious folly miles behind the shell area which stigmatised all civilian aid in the construction or direction of the war machine as unwarranted interference by ignorant amateurs. (p.470)



Lloyd George clashes with Haig

Passing the Buck  


It must not be forgotten that Lloyd George had another, most potent, reason to attack Haig.   Lloyd George was writing after a war in which millions of young men had been killed or wounded.   Who was to bear the responsibility for those deaths – especially if there was a suspicion that the war had been wrongly-prosecuted and those deaths might have been avoided?   Whether he liked it or not, Lloyd George had been the head of the government that conscripted those young men to their deaths, and it is clear from the War Memoirs that he was anxious to avoid the accusation that he had caused those deaths.


On a number of occasions in the War Memoirs, Lloyd George is at pains to point out that he tried to stop the attacks that led to so many lives being lost:


The wasteful prolongation of the Somme campaign after it had become clear that a break through the German lines was unattainable was another case where the Government might have intervened…   I strongly urged Mr Asquith and Sir William Robertson that the useless slaughter ought to be stopped.  (p.2036)


Lloyd George devotes two chapters (Chapter. LXIII, parts 3 & 4) to describing the lengths to which he went trying to prevent the Passchendaele campaign, and the page headings give the flavour of his narrative: ‘Sceptics in the Cabinet’, ‘My Objections to Plan’, ‘Haig expects no heavy losses’, ‘Difficulty of opposing experts’, ‘How we were misled’, ‘Decision not to veto offensive’, ‘My most painful regret’.


Lloyd George also wonders out loud on a number of occasions whether he should have dismissed Haig.   But it had been part of the agreement with the leaders of the Conservative Party when they joined the Coalition government that there would be no change in Command (p.1409).   Lloyd George was aware that to dismiss the Commander-in-Chief would have created a stir in public confidence and anyway it was generally felt that – however bad Haig was – there was no General obviously better than he (pp.1366-7).  


In the War Memoirs, on a number of occasions, Lloyd George also asks the question: ‘Ought we to have interfered in the realm of strategy?’  (p.2033).   Generally, his answer is along the lines of: ‘What can you do when the experts assure you that it will work?’   Talking about his reservations about the Passchendaele attack, Lloyd George writes:


Ought I to have vetoed it?...   Ought I not to have resigned than acquiesce in this slaughter of brave men?   I have always felt there are solid grounds for criticism in that respect.   My sole 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.  (p.2036-7)


But Lloyd George also lays the blame squarely at the door of Haig, who, he says, misled the Cabinet.   During the battle of Passchendaele, Gough, Commander of the Fifth Army, asked Haig to stop the attacks:


It must seem incredible to those who have no experience of the tyrannical repression imposed on honest men by professional etiquette, that Gough’s entreaty to the Commander-in-Chief that he should break off the attack was never reported to the War Cabinet…   Robertson… and Sir Douglas Haig had given a promise to the Cabinet that they would break off the attacks as soon as it became clear that victory was unattainable…  

   I know now that all the Generals engaged in this battle were opposed to its continuance, and were convinced that its objectives were unattainable   Sir Douglas Haig alone retained his faith in the merits and ultimate triumph of his project…  

   There were two courses open to Haig.   One was to go to the Cabinet and admit that the campaign was a complete failure…   The other course was to persevere stubbornly with his attacks, knowing that at the worst he would gain some ground, with a chance that one day the enemy morale might break…   We still went on hammering, making some apparent, but no real progress except in the dispatches from the front.   These rang out peal after peal of triumph. (pp. 1310-2)


Again, responding to accusations that the Army had not been given sufficient men to resist the German Spring Offensive in 1918, Haig roundly blames Haig.    Far from failing to supply men for the fighting, the government had in 1917 sent MORE men to the front than the army had asked for.   However:


For the massacre of brave men that won just four miles of indefensible mud the Government were not prepared by any warnings or prediction given to us by the military leaders. (p.1469)



Passing the Buck

Haig as a General  


Lloyd George openly denies that Haig was fit for the job:


During the critical days of the War, when it was important not to undermine public confidence in the Commander-in-Chief of our own Army, I made no public attack on his personal fitness for so immense a responsibility, but I never concealed from myself or my colleagues that I thought Sir Douglas Haig was intellectually and temperamentally unequal to the command of an Army of millions fighting battles on fields which were invisible to any Commander.  (p.2014)


Lloyd George was critical of the structures and ethos of the entire Army.   It was not just the General but the generals who were to blame.   ‘Their brains were cluttered with useless lumber’ (p.2038), ‘they knew nothing except by hearsay about the actual fighting of a battle under modern conditions’ (ibid.), they ‘muddled the problem of munitions’ (p.2039), ‘they did not see that the machine-gun and the hand-grenade would practically take the place of the rifle’ and they failed to solve the problems of transport or see the value of the tank (ibid.), ‘there was a rigidity and restrictiveness about the methods employed which allowed no play for initiative, imagination and inventiveness’ (p.2040), and ‘independent thinking is not encouraged in a professional Army… obedience is the supreme virtue’ (p.2041):


In the grand Army that fought the World War the ablest brains did not climb to the top of the stairs and they did not reach a height where politicians could even see them.   Seniority and Society were the dominant factors in Army promotion.   Deportment counted a great deal.   Brains came a bad fourth…   To be a good average is safer than to be gifted above your fellows… The one man of genius among them he [Haig] gibed at as a blatherer…   (p.2041)


For Lloyd George, Haig not only shared, he exemplified, all the bad things he felt about army generals.   Haig, for Lloyd George, was a man out of his depth:


He was a second-rate Commander in unparalleled and unforeseen circumstances…   He was not endowed with any of the elements of imagination and vision which determine the line of demarcation between genius and ordinary.   And he certainly had none of that personal magnetism which has enabled great leaders of men to inspire multitudes with courage, faith and a spirit of sacrifice…

   He was incapable of planning vast campaigns on the scale demanded on so immense a battlefield…   When he had to fight battles in quagmires he had never seen and over an area extending to a hundred miles which he never did or could personally inspect, he was lost. (p.2014)


Joffre, Haig and Robertson had much in common…   Patriotism, integrity, industry, study and some grain of experience were essentials of their high responsibility, but by no means the only attributes that leadership in such an immense undertaking demanded.   There ought to have been initiative, resource, pliability, vision, imagination, aptitude to learn from experience, courage and skill to profit by, and not to persist in mistakes.   In all these respects these men had grave deficiencies, and the world is suffering today from the results of their shortcomings. (870-1)


The result, the reader is told, were campaigns devoid of imagination or even an element of surprise:


The Germans were accustomed to the heavy-footed and clattering movements of Joffre and Haig – the long laborious and noisy preparations, whose rumble you could hear for leagues with a favourable wind.   They knew that not a shot would be fired until the last shell had been pinnacled in the last dump, and the last duckboard had been nailed in the last line of approach.   That always meant that… the Germans had ample warning and time to make their counter preparations. (p.890)


For Lloyd George, Haig distinguished himself by his failure to appreciate the new methods and implications of warfare that the First World War brought in.   We have already seen how Lloyd George portrayed Haig as a man wedded to the old-fashioned cavalry charge.   But Haig is also accused of botching the introduction of the tank:


The decision of the army chiefs to launch the first handful of [tanks] on a comparatively local operation… has always appeared to me to have been a foolish blunder…   I saw the Prime Minister and begged him to intervene authoritatively.   [The answer was:] ‘Haig wants them.’   So the great secret was sold for the battered ruin of a little hamlet on the Somme , which was not worth capturing. (p.385)


Lloyd George reports that soon after this victory the Army Council cancelled its order for an extra 1000 tanks, adding: ‘I at once countermanded this cancellation, and took steps to ensure that production should continue.’ (p.385)


Lloyd George accuses Haig of lack of insight into the implications of the War.   ‘[Haig] did not possess that eye within a eye, which is imagination’ (p.2015).   When in 1917 he asked Haig for a judgement on the impact of Russia’s withdrawal from the war. 


When the promised document arrived it seemed to me more concerned with convincing the Cabinet of the importance of prosecuting the Passchendaele offensive and of guaranteeing to the Commander-in-Chief an unfailing supply of men to fill up casualties than it was with the problem which I submitted to him. (p.1242)


And despite the fact that 1917 had marked the collapse of Russia, the French mutiny and the entry of America into the war:


Haig and Robertson went on as if there had been no alteration in the fundamental facts that determined strategy.  (p.1453)



Haig as a General

Haig the ‘Planomaniac’  


Haig is presented as a man who tried to make up in blind doggedness what he lacked in flair:


[in April 1917] The stubborn mind of Haig was transfixed on the Somme.   When a change of terrain was suggested it took him a long time to extricate his mental top boots from the Somme mud.   He always moved slowly and heavily when rapid and agile movement was essential. (p.891)


Haig was constitutionally incapable of changing plans he had once prepared and set his mind on carrying through. (p.1425)


Lloyd George’s Haig was, therefore, a ‘planomaniac’.   Lacking real initiative, he substituted for his lack of imagination a stubborn, unyielding insistence on the agreed plan:


The more Joffre, Nivelle and Haig were criticised and opposed, the more fierce became their appetite for their cherished plans.   They ignored difficulties, they concealed and suppressed disagreeable facts, even from themselves…   When the craving is upon him the planomaniac is blind. (p.901)


Haig was a man obsessed by an idea – the belief that the British Army could win the war in Flanders (at Passchendaele).   He pursued it despite the fact that it was obviously failing, not only throughout 1917, but Lloyd George tells us that he was STILL trying to persuade Allies to reopen Passchendaele in early 1918, just before German attack:


Haig urged a concentrated offensive on a great scale with a view to driving the enemy out of Flanders and outflanking him in that direction.   The disastrous and costly failure of that plan only stimulated him to justify his project by a resumption of his attacks in the spring of 1918.   (p.1657-8; see also the quote from the French Official History on page 1613)



Haig the Planomaniac

The Environment of Illusion  


Lloyd George’s generals made their plans, far behind the lines, in an atmosphere of ignorance and illusion.


Haig ordered many bloody battles in this War.   He only took part in two, the retreat from Mons and the first Battle of Ypres.   And both these battles were fought under the old conditions of open warfare.   He never even saw the ground on which his greatest battles were fought, either before or during the fight.  (p.2038)


To ignorance, add self-deception.   Criticising Haig’s appointments, Lloyd George openly accuses him of surrounding himself with ‘yes-men’:  


It seemed to me that Haig was governed in his choice of men far too much by his desire to have around him those who were personally agreeable to himself, and who would not clash with his dictatorial temper by suggesting any difference of opinion. (p.1722)


Considerations of friendship, of social amenity and of easy acquiescence in council largely determined his appointments to positions of vital responsibility.   GHQ must be a happy family of men whose relations were not disturbed by the clash of independent intelligences…   His unfortunate selection was partly due to lack of discernment and partly attributable to his inability to hold his own in a conflict of ideas…   Haig could not hold his own in conference with soldiers or statesmen who could explain their ideas clearly and fluently.   He therefore distrusted them and preferred men who had no ideas to set in competition with his own.   He liked conventional soldiers with a soldierly deportment.   A soldier who fulfilled the description of “an officer and a gentleman” fulfilled his requirements.  (p.2017)


A mass of conflicting gossip and rumours came to the Intelligence Branch from every quarter, often from prisoners trying to deceive or anxious to please.   When it was sifted and weighed, human nature being what it is, a bias developed in the direction of the reports that supported the thesis known to have been already formed by the High Command.   The subordinate who declines to sacrifice judgement to a mistaken conception of loyalty is rarely acceptable except to the really great.  (p.825)


Lloyd George quotes a spectacular example of this, which he uses to reinforce his assertion:


[Before the battle of Passchendaele] the Tanks Corps Staff prepared maps to show how a bombardment which obliterated the drainage would inevitably lead to a series of pools, and they located the exact spots where the waters would gather.   The only reply was a peremptory order that they were to “Send no more of these ridiculous maps”.   Maps must conform to plans and not plans to maps.   Facts that interfered with plans were impertinencies. (p.1296)


Lloyd George lists a number of further occasions when failure was due to ‘the refusal to accept unpalatable warnings – that is, warnings which do not fit into the plans of headquarters’ (p. 831), and details a number of failures caused by Haig’s constant willingness to accept reports which overestimated the damage done to the German's morale by his attacks (see, for instance, page 1228).  


Reflecting on Haig’s Memorandum of late 1917, Lloyd George reinforces this image of a man living in a world of self-deception:  


[It] is a fair illustration of the state of morbid exaltation into which Haig had worked himself… above all comprehension of the grim facts…   He takes no account of the immense losses sustained in his own army in picked men and experienced officers, and the exhaustion and resentment created in the survivors by this delirium of unbridled authority which had tortured them almost to the limits of human endurance…   The concoctions of Haig’s Intelligence Staff had clearly gone to Haig’s head, and he was therefore not in a state of mind to give us sober advice.  (pp.1422-3)


But Lloyd George adds to this a more sinister inference – that of a man corrupted by power.   Contrasting the optimistic reports produced in 1917 by Ludendorff and Haig – both of whom claimed they were emphatically breaking the enemy – Lloyd George writes:


Neither Haig nor Ludendorff were consciously bragging.   They both sincerely believed that their appreciations were well founded in irrefutable facts.   Such is the intoxication produced by the unlimited power whose slightest expression carries death or mutilation to myriads.  (p.1243)



Environment of Illusion

Haig the Man 


Lloyd George’s Haig is not just inadequate as a general, he is inadequate as a man.   It is a myth, claims Lloyd George, that Haig was loved by his men:  


To talk about the admiration, trust and affection felt by the men in the trenches for their leaders is utter nonsense…   They hardly ever caught a glimpse of their Commanders except when a vision of burnished brass flew past in a motor car.   That is all they saw of the men who spoke the word that sent them to fight in the drowning mud…    The men in the trenches never spoke of Gough or Haig.   To them these exalted personages were “GHQ”, “Fifth Army”, or more often, “the brass hats”.   The press messages, when they were read in the lines, were a cause of scoffing merriment.   The legend of the men’s faith in their leaders only flourished in the warmth and comfort of the home front; it never struck root in the trenches. (p.1409)


Lloyd George’s Haig is slow of mind (p.2017), an underhanded intriguer and a backstabber (p.2018), a man who blamed others for his own failures (p.2019) and who claimed the successes of others (p.2023).   Haig is often praised for agreeing, in 1918, to subordinate his authority to the command of Foch in the Unified Command – Lloyd George asserts that, far from accepting this, Haig was jealous of Foch (p.1669) and he produces evidence that Haig opposed the General Reserve and unified command.  


Lloyd George saved a chapter at the end of the War Memoirs for his comments about Haig’s Diaries, which had criticised Lloyd George and his conduct of the war.   Lloyd George expresses disappointment at the extracts:


The extracts are… remarkably sterile and undistinguished.   If this represents the best which Mr Duff Cooper [the editor] could find, what must be the quality of the rest? (p.2011)


For Lloyd George, the presence of a Diary confirmed him in his judgement of Haig:


There is a kind of Diary kept by persons who have an absorbing interest in their own personality and career and who record each day at eventide their own daily achievements, utterances, meditations and contacts…   It is a sustained egoism which is almost a disease, and its jottings ought therefore to be scrutinised carefully and treated with suspicion as materials for a reliable history of the times.’  (p.2012)


Lloyd George’s Haig is a man so self-absorbed that, when he was crossed, he sulked – at the expense of thousands of men’s lives.   Reflecting upon the fact that – although Haig knew very well in January 1918 that the Germans were massing to attack on the Third and Fifth Armies – he did not take steps to reinforce them (see pages 1704-5), Lloyd George deduces:


Haig’s action is unaccountable.   History can recall many cases of men in great positions who have been known to do inexplicable things in a great emergency…   It is difficult to find any favourable explanation for Haig’s extraordinary behaviour towards the Fifth Army…   [Haig had been forbidden to continue his Passchendaele campaign and] constitutionally stubborn men such as Haig are apt to carry resentment so far into the realm of reluctance as to thwart and defeat the odious command and to punish with failure those who issued it. (pp.1706-7)



Haig the Man

Haig in 1918  


If there is one argument produced in favour of Haig, it is that – in the end – he won the war.   His famous ‘backs to the wall’ memorandum is sometimes evoked as the inspiration which turned the battle.   The 1918 campaign is produced by apologists for Haig as the one thing you cannot take away from him.  


Lloyd George would do so.   For him, Haig did not win the victory of 1918 – Foch did (and who was responsible for the appointment of Foch as Supreme Commander but Lloyd George!).   Consequently:


In [the attacks of August 1918] Haig earned high credit.   He was fulfilling a role for which he was admirably adapted; that of a second in command to a strategist of unchallenged genius.   Foch was responsible for the general plan of attack on the whole front.   Haig, Petain and Pershing worked out the details. (p. 1876)


Nevertheless, far from being glorious, according to Lloyd George, Haig’s command in 1918 was flawed.   Haig showed no confidence, and in January 1918, he was very pessimistic about the prospects.   He judged that the Americans would not be ready and that “if the enemy attacked in force the situation would be very serious by the autumn.”  


This indeed was a come-down from the exalted attitudes in which he had dwelt in October 1917.   He then thought that the German Army was so demoralised [that the British Army could defeat it by itself]…   There is no way of explaining why this second and contrary idea should displace his first and previous idea, except by supposing that in neither case was there any clear or accurate thinking. (p.1636)


And when the Germans launched their Spring offensive, this lack of confidence turned into open defeatism – Lloyd George quotes a letter of 25 March 1918, in Haig’s own hand, in which Haig states that he expects to have to fall back to the Channel ports (as the BEF did in WWII).   This was only 4 days after the attack began on 21 March (see page 1739).   Haig was suggesting the same strategy again at the end of April (see page 1770).    


The judgement of the High Commands on military prospects was never reliable.   Our military leaders swung from the extreme of optimism to the opposite extreme of pessimism,   Neither of these two moods had any justification in the actualities of the situation. (p.1867)


Haig won the Battle of Amiens, but failed to press the victory (much to the relief of the Germans – see page 1869) and was still pessimistic about the chances of victory on 19 October 1918 !



Haig in 1918

The Basic Beef  


Lloyd George claims in his War Memoirs that he disagreed with Haig’s whole strategy:

I felt that the fatal error which had been committed in the present war had been continually to attack where the enemy was strongest. (p.1302)


The principle… was that of hammering on the strongest bastion in the enemy’s fortress, hurling millions of shells and hundreds of thousands of men at this formidable stronghold whilst the weakest parts of the enemy’s ramparts were neglected.   In it there was “neither device nor wisdom”.

   Whenever I invited an examination by the CIGS or Haig of methods for getting at the enemy on his weakest rather than on his strongest side, I was put off with military axioms about “the decisive front”… (p.1405)


In this extract, we can see a hint of the basic beef that Lloyd George had against Haig.   It is a comment to which he returns again and again throughout the book, for example:


It is claimed that the battle of the  Somme destroyed the old German Army by killing off its best officers and men.   It killed off far more of our best and of the French best…   Over 400,000 of our men fell in this bullheaded fight and the slaughter amongst our young officers was appalling.  (p.321)


Millions of the picked young men of the nation were placed at their [the Generals’] disposal.   More than half of these millions were either killed or wounded, too often in the prosecution of doubtful plans or mishandled enterprises.   Generals demanded more millions not only to fill up gaps thus caused but to increase further the numbers under their direction.  (p.2033)


Haig’s strategy led to the deaths of millions of young men and, whether out of outrage, or from a desire to pass the blame, this is the basis of Lloyd George’s criticism of Haig, and it forms the basis of his final comment of all:


No amount of circumspection can prevent war leading to the death of multitudes of brave men, but now that Generals are not partaking in the personal hazards of a fight, they ought to take greater personal risks in satisfying themselves as to the feasibility of their plans and as to whether the objectives they wish to attain are worth the sacrifice entailed, and whether there is no better way of achieving the same result at less cost of gallant lives.  (p.2043)







The Basic Beef

Reviews of Lloyd George’s War Memoirs  


After their publication, Lloyd George’s War Memoirs aroused a flurry of indignation from a number of war generals, as you might expect.   Frederick Maurice led the criticisms, which included a number of hostile reviews in the newspapers; these, however, merely increased sales.   Also, a number of politicians were furious - Winston Churchill published reviews of the War Memoirs which betray an amused sarcasm:


This book is quite characteristic of its author. It has native pith and eloquence; but there is no straining at literary effort. There is no terse compression. There is little, if any, structure, and chronology is a jumble. Mr. Lloyd George has made no attempt to court popularity or conciliate contemporary opinion. His judgments are almost invariably severe and occasionally unduly patronizing, but always searching and worth to be weighed.


The generals were stupid and ruthless at the expense of the soldiers. The admirals were timid and some of them defeatist. The Tory politicians were hide-bound and, with the exception of Arthur Balfour, a poor lot. The Liberals were more intelligent but even less effective. The Allied commanders and statesmen receive merciless and shrewdly administered castigation. Joffre and Briand share the fate of Haig, Robertson and Asquith… The one triumphantly successful leader in the Great War is supremely conscious of the infirmities and shortcomings of his collaborators… On the whole, the men were small, dwarfed by the superhuman scale of events. The Great War was a people’s war, decided by avalanches and tides.


The lay reader will note that the decisive victory gained by the Allies was a hideous muddle conducted throughout by fools or knaves, but that, luckily, things were just as bad or even worse on the other side. And so, thank God, we won. The professional soldiers will be left to consider what lessons can be learned from this merciless indictment of the national heroes: Haig, Robertson and Jellicoe.

Abstracts in Finest Hour 46/47, on http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=521


Two historians, Harold Temperley and Harold Laski, published newspaper articles attacking Lloyd George as an historian.   Laski wrote:


He still thinks of history as primarily made by men who can with a given end once, if they have the necessary capacities, secure its triumph…   The vast impalpable forces in the grip of which men so largely are do not appear to concern him.

New Statesman, 3 October 1936


However, most historians (including the famous historians AJP Taylor and RCK Ensor) have been very impressed with the historical accuracy of the War Memoirs.   The American historian of the war, Sidney Bradshaw Fay, not only applauded Lloyd George’s accuracy, but declared himself convinced.   


In a way, Lloyd George was TOO successful.   He did so much damage to his political enemies that they took steps to stop anyone like Lloyd George ever doing the same again.   Government ministers were made to return their Cabinet papers, and the Cabinet records were sealed until the 1960s.   Consequently, for many years, the account in Lloyd George's Memoirs were the ONLY access historians had to the Cabinet Records of the war, and this helped to make Lloyd George's War Memoirs for more than 70 years perhaps the abiding interpretation of Haig and the First World War.