Source Documents on Haig
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.
Bourne, Britain and the Great War (1989)
German army had been fought to a standstill and was utterly worn out.
Ludendorff, War Memoirs (1920)
Somme was the muddy grave of the German field army, and of the faith in the
infallibility of the German leaders.
commander could have given the Germans back the trained soldiery which had
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.
Nivelle, 6 January 1917
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.
(14 January 1916)
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.
Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire (1980)
believed firmly in the principle of leaving decisions to ‘the man on the
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.
Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire (1980)
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.
of the Day (11 April 1918)
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
George, War Memoirs (1928)
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.
Hart, Reputations (1928)
book of essays about the great leaders of World War One.
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.
Churchill, The World Crisis
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.
stubbornness in the offensive all but ruined us on the Somme.
of an Unconventional Soldier
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’.
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.
the fault lay in the idea that the British still regarded war 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.
and RH Haigh, Not for Glory (1969)
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.
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.
Sixsmith, Douglas Haig (1976)
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.
Cooper, Haig (1936)
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
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.
Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, Haig as Military Commander (1973)
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.
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.
Taylor, The First World War (1963)
World War One examples, while trying to introduce some element of balance to
the argument, still do not give sufficient weight to the work of recent
historians like Sheffield, Griffith and Strachan who have done so much to
question the 'all British generals were idiots' line. The fact is
that British tactics developed considerably during the war. 'Bite
and Hold' (developed in 1917) became the basis of British attacks in both
world wars - El Alamein (in the Second World War) is a classic battle in that regard, with
percentage casualties on a World War I scale. The creeping
barrage, again used in both world wars, was developed during the Somme which
supposedly consisted of men repeatedly being thrown uselessly 'over the
point which many (but not all) student textbooks fail to stress is the sheer
difficulty of winning a war involving mass armies and technologically-advanced
powers. The idea that if only we had sacked Haig and got somebody
clever we'd have won the war quickly with minimal losses is nonsense - we're
talking the German Army here, not the Band of Hope. It took
millions of Russian dead in World War II to stop them - in battles more costly
than the Somme or Passchendaele.
to this website (2002)
Hone is a modern historian and
teacher - Head of History and
Politics, Bury Grammar School, Lancashire.
episode 1 of Blackadder Goes Forth, the series reserved some of its
most telling satire for Haig and the futility of his tactics:
My instincts lead me to deduce that we are at last about to
over the top. [peers over the top of the trench with a periscope]
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,
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.
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]
Now, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and
walking slowly towards the enemy sir?
How can you possibly know that Blackadder? It's classified information.
It's the same plan that we used last time, and the seventeen times before
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.
That everyone always gets slaughtered the first ten seconds.
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.
Well, his resignation and suicide would seem the obvious solution.
Series 4, Episode 1
What the General means, Blackadder, is: There's a leak. In short: A German spy
is giving away every one of our battle plans.
You look surprised, Blackadder.
I certainly am, sir. I didn't realise we had any battle plans.
Well, of course we have! How else do you think the battles are directed?
Our battles are directed, sir?
Well, of course they are, Blackadder -- directed according to the Grand Plan.
Would that be the plan to continue with total slaughter until everyone's dead
except Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise, Alan?
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!
Series 4, Episode 5