Douglas Haig (1861 - 1928) MP

‹ Back to Haig surname

Is your surname Haig?

Research the Haig family

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Share

Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Death: Died
Managed by: Nathan Truit Dunn
Last Updated:

About Douglas Haig

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC

From Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Haig,_1st_Earl_Haig

(19 June 1861 – 29 January 1928) was a British senior officer during World War I. He commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from 1915 to the end of the War. He was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the battle with the highest casualties in British military history, the Third Battle of Ypres and the Hundred Days Offensive which led to the armistice in 1918.

Although a popular commander during the immediate post-war years, with his funeral becoming a day of national mourning, Haig has since the 1960s become an object of criticism for his leadership during the First World War. Some dub him "Butcher Haig" for the two million British casualties under his command, and regard him as representing the very concept of class based incompetent commanders, claiming that he was unable to grasp modern tactics and technologies.

However, many veterans praised Haig's leadership, and since the 1980s academic historians have argued that British forces under his command did in fact adopt new tactics and technologies, that the high casualties suffered were a function of the military realities of the time and that Haig's critics give insufficient emphasis to the leading role played by the British forces in the Allied victory of 1918.

Early life

Haig was born in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, the son of John Haig, who was head of the family's successful Haig & Haig whisky distillery. Haig attended Clifton College and unusually for a British officer at that time attended university, studying at Brasenose College, Oxford, 1880–1883 where he studied Political Economy, Ancient History and French Literature. He left without a degree, partially due to sickness, and perhaps also as he would otherwise have been too old to enrol for officer training in the Royal Military College in Sandhurst in 1883, from which he graduated the following year. However, Haig did pass his exams at Oxford. He was commissioned into the 7th (Queen's Own) Hussars the following year (1885) and promoted to lieutenant shortly afterwards.

Personal life

Haig married Dorothy (1879–1939), a daughter of Hussey Vivian, 3rd Baron Vivian, and a lady-in-waiting at the court of King Edward VII, on 11 July 1905.[6] His wife became Lady Haig in 1909 and the Countess Haig when her husband was granted an earldom in 1919.

The couple had four children:

Alexandra Henrietta Louisa Haig (9 March 1907—1997); Lady Alexandra Haig from 1919 until marriage; Baroness Dacre of Glanton from marriage in 1954

Victoria Doris Rachel Haig (7 November 1908—1993); Lady Victoria Haig from 1919; Lady Victoria Montagu-Douglas-Scott from marriage in 1929 (divorced 1951)

George Alexander Eugene Douglas Haig (15 March 1918—10 July 2009); Viscount Dawick from 1919; 2nd Earl Haig from 1928

Lady Irene Violet Freesia Janet Augustia Haig (7 October 1919—2001); Baroness Astor of Hever from marriage in 1971

Career

Haig first saw overseas service in India, in 1887, where he was appointed the regiment's adjutant in 1888, giving Haig his first administrative experience.

In 1896 he was granted a special nomination to the Staff College, Camberley, a common practice in the day for promising candidates, despite being colour-blind. He completed the course, leaving in 1897.

He saw his first active service in Kitchener's Omdurman Campaign in 1898, where he was attached to the cavalry forces of the Egyptian Army, acting as Chief of Staff to brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Robert George Broadwood.

He served in the Boer War in further administrative positions with the cavalry, acting first as the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General in 1899. Haig was employed briefly as Chief Staff Officer to Major-General John French during the Colesberg operations, then as Assistant Adjutant General of the Cavalry Division. He was mentioned in despatches four times. His service in South Africa gained him prominence and the attention of French and Kitchener, both of whom would have important roles in World War I.

In 1901, he became the commanding officer of the 17th Lancers, which he commanded until 1903. He was appointed Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VII in 1902, remaining in this position until 1904. After leaving the 17th Lancers, Haig returned to India after Lord Kitchener was appointed Commander-in-Chief, India, and became Inspector-General of Cavalry. He was present at the Rawalpindi Parade 1905 to honour the Prince and Princess of Wales visit to India. Haig's war service had earned him belated but rapid promotion: having been a captain until the relatively advanced age of thirty-eight, within five years in 1904 he had become the youngest major-general in the British Army at that time.

Haig returned to Britain in 1906 as the Director of Military Training on the General Staff at the War Office. During this time, Haig assisted Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane in his reforms of the British Army, which was intended to prepare the army for a future European war. He took up the post of Director of Staff Duties in the War Office in 1907. A second return to India came in 1909, when he was appointed as Chief of the Indian General Staff. He was appointed GOC Aldershot Command from 1912 to 1914 and Aide-de-Camp to King George V in 1914.

In the Army Manoeuvres of 1912 he was decisively beaten by Sir James Grierson despite having the odds in his favour. On the outbreak of the First World War, Grierson was appointed commander of II Corps (alongside Haig as commander of I Corps) but died suddenly of natural causes before having a chance to command in battle.

World War I

1914

Upon the outbreak of war in August 1914, Haig helped organise the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), commanded by Field Marshal Sir John French. As planned, Haig's Aldershot command was formed into I Corps, giving him command of half of the BEF.

Tensions quickly exploded between Haig and French. Haig and Lord Kitchener, who was now Secretary of State for War, clashed with French over the positioning of the BEF. French argued to the war council that it should be positioned in Belgium,[citation needed] where he had confidence in the country's many fortresses, while Haig and Kitchener proposed that the BEF would be better positioned to counter-attack in Amiens, stating that the BEF would have to abandon its positions in Belgium once the poorly-equipped Belgian Army collapsed, forcing the BEF into retreat with the loss of much of its supplies. During a royal inspection of Aldershot, Haig had told King George V that he had "grave doubts" about French's military competence.

The BEF landed in France on 14 August and advanced into Belgium, where French intended to meet General Lanrezac's French Fifth Army at Charleroi. During the advance the BEF experienced their first encounter with the Germans at Mons on 23 August. During the battle the BEF were forced to withdraw, causing Lanzerac to order a retreat exposing the BEF's right flank.

The retreats of I and II Corps had to be conducted separately because of the Mormal Forest. Both corps were supposed to meet at Le Cateau but I Corps under Haig were stopped at Landrecies, leaving a large gap between the two corps. Haig's reactions to his corps' skirmish with German forces at Landrecies caused him to send an exaggerated report to French, which caused French to panic. The following day 26 August, Horace Smith-Dorrien's II Corps engaged the enemy in the Battle of Le Cateau, which was unsupported by Haig. This battle slowed the German army's advance. On 25 August the French commander Joseph Joffre ordered his forces to retreat to the Marne, which compelled the BEF to further withdraw. The retreat caused Sir John French to question the competence of his Allies resulting in further indecision and led to his decision to withdraw the BEF south of the Seine. On 1 September Lord Kitchener intervened by personally visiting French and ordering him to re-enter the battle and coordinate with Joffre's forces. The battle to defend Paris began on 5 September and became known as the first Battle of the Marne. The BEF did not participate in the battle until 9 September. The following day the battle ended when the German advance was defeated. The Germans abandoned the Schlieffen Plan and they were forced to withdraw to the Aisne.

Following the defensive successes at Battle of Mons and Ypres (1st Battle of Ypres), Haig was promoted to full general. In December 1914 the I Corps were expanded into the British First Army and Haig was given command.

1915

In December 1915, Haig replaced French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, with French returning to Britain. Haig had been conspiring towards the removal of French as commander of the BEF and had told King George V that French was "a source of great weakness to the army and no one had confidence in him any more".

1916

From 1 July to 18 November 1916, Haig directed the British portion of a major Anglo-French offensive, the British offensive at the Somme. The time and place of the battle had been decided by the French, who were attempting to relieve the pressure on the French Army at Verdun. The French insisted that Haig continue the offensive on the Somme and their insistence continued throughout the duration of the battle, even after the French went on the offensive at Verdun in October 1916. The forces under his command sustained an estimated 420,000 casualties while pushing the German front line back 12 km (7 miles). The campaign also resulted in heavy casualties to the German Army that it could ill afford. Haig's tactics in these battles were considered controversial by many, including the then Secretary of State for War Lloyd George, who felt that he incurred unnecessarily large casualties for little tactical gain. However, Lloyd George was unable to intervene in strategy, as General Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff had been given direct right of access to the Cabinet, in order to bypass Lloyd George's predecessor Kitchener.

1917

On 1 January 1917, Haig was made a field marshal. The King (George V) wrote him a handwritten note ending: "I hope you will look upon this as a New Year's gift from myself and the country". However, Lloyd George, who had become Prime Minister in December 1916, infuriated Haig and Robertson by placing Britain's forces under the command of the new French Commander-in-Chief Robert Nivelle at a stormy conference at Calais. The failure of the Nivelle Offensive in April 1917 (which Haig had been required to support with a British offensive by Allenby's Third Army at Arras), and subsequent French mutiny and political crisis, discredited Lloyd George's plans for Anglo-French co-operation for the time being.

During the second half of 1917 Haig conducted another major offensive at Passchendaele (the 3rd Battle of Ypres). Haig had two objectives and one issue in mind when he set out the battle plans. The first of his objectives was to commit a large contingent the German Army to Belgian Flanders, away from the Aisne sector in France, where the aforementioned mutiny was worst, in order to give the French time to recover. The second objective was that he had hoped to break through and liberate the North Sea coast of Belgium from which German U-Boats were operating. The British Admiralty led by Jellicoe believed that the U-Boat threat could jeopardise Britain's ability to continue fighting into 1918. In addition to his two immediate objectives, Haig was also worried that the Russian Revolution would result in Russia and Germany making peace and forming an alliance. If this happened the million or so German troops located on the Eastern Front would be transferred to the west by late 1917 or early 1918. This would have certainly motivated him in his eagerness to secure a decisive victory.

Unfortunately, like the Somme Offensive the previous year, Passchendaele resulted in huge casualties for very little territorial gain, although at the same time inflicting enormous losses on the Germans, which contributed to their ultimate defeat. When he asked the Canadian Corps commander Arthur Currie to capture Passchendaele Ridge during the final month of the battle, Currie flatly replied "It's suicidal. I will not waste 16,000 good soldiers on such a hopeless objective". After Passchendaele was captured the number of casualties were almost exactly what Currie had predicted. Although Lloyd George was unhappy about Haig's strategic operations he was unable to do anything about it, as it was considered unthinkable for politicians to overrule the generals' professional monopoly over strategy during war.

The final months of 1917 also saw a tank breakthrough at Cambrai, whose gains (after the church bells had been rung in England in celebration) were retaken within days by the Germans using their new 'sturmtruppen' tactics. The uninspiring results on the Western Front in 1917 were thrown into unwelcome contrast by Allenby's capture of Jerusalem in December 1917, a propaganda coup from a campaign which Haig and Robertson had regarded as a waste of resources (Allenby had in fact been sent out to the Middle East after his failure at Arras earlier in the year). By the end of 1917 Lloyd George felt able to begin to assert his authority over the generals. Haig was required to dismiss his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Launcelot Kiggell, and his intelligence chief, Brigadier-General Charteris, whose overly-optimistic estimates of German losses had been a source of inspiration during Haig's offensives. Robertson had arrived at Haig's Headquarters with orders (signed by the Secretary of State for War) for these officers' dismissal in his pocket in case Haig refused to do as he was asked. Early in 1918 Robertson was himself forced to resign over his reluctance to accept that the newly set-up Supreme Allied War Council at Versailles should have power to dictate to the British CIGS (Lloyd George had also secured the dismissal of the other service chief, First Sea Lord Admiral Jellicoe). Haig's predecessor Sir John French was invited to give the Cabinet a "second opinion" of Haig's strategy, although in the event he had few positive suggestions to make and seemed to the Cabinet Secretary Maurice Hankey to be full of "hatred, envy and malice". The Cabinet Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts was sent to France to take discreet soundings among the Army Commanders to see whether any of them were willing to replace Haig - none of them were. Lloyd George was later to be accused (in the famous Maurice Debate in the House of Commons) of hoarding troops in the UK at this time to make it harder for Haig to launch offensives, thus allegedly contributing to the debacle of March 1918.

1918

In 1918, Germany's Western Front armies were reinforced to a strength of almost 200 divisions by the release of troops from the Eastern Front, and launched major offensives in the west, enjoying great initial success, albeit with greater superiority of men and guns than Haig had ever had for his own offensives. The first of these, Michael on 21 March 1918, almost destroyed Gough's Fifth Army, and threatened to split the British forces apart from the French Armies; Haig, whose own reserves had been massed in the north because of the danger of a German breakthrough reaching the Channel Ports through which his armies were supplied, accused the French Commander-in-Chief, Pétain, of being "in a blue funk" as he threatened to retreat on Paris, and was at last forced to accept the appointment of a Frenchman, Ferdinand Foch as Allied Generalissimo (Supreme Commander), with power to commit reserves of all nationalities wherever he saw fit. During the second German offensive, Georgette in Flanders, Haig issued his famous order that his men must carry on fighting "With Our Backs to the Wall and believing in the Justice of our Cause". Ironically these two German offensives swept over the very ground (the Somme and Passchendaele respectively) which Haig's own offensives had gained at such cost in previous years. A third major German offensive against the French on the Aisne in May overwhelmed a British corps which had been sent there to refit after Michael.

By the summer, the German offensives were losing momentum, and in July and August the Germans were defeated, by Franco-American forces at the Second Battle of the Marne, and by Rawlinson's Fourth Army at Amiens. The latter victory, at which tanks were extensively used, was described by General Erich Ludendorff as "The Black Day of the German Army" after mass surrenders of German troops. Haig's forces had much success between then and the end of the war, storming the Hindenburg Line in October and advancing into Belgium, almost as far as Brussels. There is some dispute over how much direct operational control Haig maintained at this time, Tim Travers in particular arguing that he allowed his Army Commanders (Plumer, Byng, Horne, Birdwood and Rawlinson) a very free hand, whilst at the same time Ferdinand Foch, whose role had initially been confined to advice and deployment of reserves, was exerting ever-greater influence over strategy. However, the forces under Haig's command achieved impressive results: whereas the French, American and Belgian armies combined captured 196,700 prisoners-of-war and 3,775 German guns between 18 July and the end of the war, Haig's forces, with a smaller army than the French, engaged the main mass of the German Army and captured 188,700 prisoners and 2,840 guns - around half of these prisoners were captured by British cavalry. The military historian, Gary Sheffield, called this, the so-called Hundred Days Offensive, 'by far the greatest military victory in British history'.

Executions during WW1

As commander-in-chief, one of Haig's responsibilities was to give the final signature to the death warrants of British and Commonwealth (but not Australian - these who went to the Governor-General of Australia) soldiers who had been first sentenced to death by Field General Court Martial.

Despite "assertions" that these were "kangaroo courts", they in fact had strict rules of procedure and a duty to uncover the facts. Unlike a General Court Martial in peacetime, there was no legally qualified Judge-Advocate to advise the court, but from the start of 1916 a "Court Martial Officer" - usually an officer with legal experience in civilian life - was often present to do so. The accused was entitled to object to the composition of the panel (eg. if one of the officers was connected with the case or enjoyed a poor relationship with the accused) and to present his case, defended by an officer (a "Prisoner's Friend") if he chose. However, the courts were expicitly intended to be "speedy" and were sometimes encouraged by higher authority to make an example of certain offences, and in practice the leniency of the court and the ability of the accused to defend himself varied widely. 89% of courts martial returned a guilty verdict, the vast majority of cases being for less serious offences such as drunkenness and insubordination.

A death sentence had to be passed unanimously, and confirmed in writing by various generals as the verdict passed up the chain of command. Of the 3,080 men sentenced to death, 346 men were actually executed, the vast majority of these (266) for desertion, the next largest reasons for execution being murder (37 - these men would probably have been hanged under civilian law at the time) and cowardice. It was felt at the time that - precisely because most soldiers in combat were afraid - an example needed to be made of men who deserted. Front line soldiers also sometimes felt that those who left their mates "in the lurch" by deserting "deserved to be shot". By contrast, of 393 men sentenced to death for falling asleep on sentry duty in all theatres, only 2 were actually executed (sentries were usually posted in pairs and these two were both found sleeping, suggesting collusion).

At the time Posttraumatic stress disorder (known at the time as "shell shock") was beginning to be recognised and was admissible in defence. One historian has claimed that "in no case was a soldier whom the medical staff certified as suffering from shell shock actually executed" and that "there appear to have been very few cases where men who alleged shell shock, but whose claim was denied, were actually executed". However, another historian has pointed out that there was a great deal of chance in whether a soldier's claim of shell shock would be taken seriously, and gives examples of soldiers being given cursory medical examinations or none.

Such trauma was still poorly understood at that time. After a long campaign, including previous refusals by the Major Government and again in 1998, these decisions were reversed in 2006 by the British Government and all men given pardons and recognised as victims of World War I. However, their sentences were not overturned as it was impossible after this length of time to reexamine the evidence in every case.

It has been pointed out that we do not have figures for men who were shot on the spot by officers and NCOs for "cowardice in the face of the enemy". Although soldiers sometimes told lurid tales of men who refused to fight being shot by Military Police, no reliable first hand accounts exist of this happening.

Promotion of army dentistry during WW1

During the war, Haig suffered from toothache and sent for a Parisian dentist. Consequently, within months the army had hired a dozen dentists and, by the end of the war, there were 831. This led to the formation of the Royal Army Dental Corps in 1921.

Later life

After the war, Haig was created The 1st Earl Haig (with a subsidiary viscountcy and a subsidiary barony) and received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. Lord Haig was Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces in Great Britain. After ceasing active service, he devoted the rest of his life to the welfare of ex-servicemen, travelling throughout the British Empire to promote their interests. He was instrumental in setting up the Haig Fund for the financial assistance of ex-servicemen and the Haig Homes charity to ensure they were properly housed; both continue to provide help many years after they were created. An avid golf enthusiast, Haig was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St. Andrews, 1920-21. He was involved in the creation of the Royal British Legion, which he was president of until his death and was chairman of the United Services Fund from 1921 until his death.

He maintained ties with the British Army after his retirement; he was honorary colonel of the 17th/21st Lancers (having been honorary colonel of the 17th Lancers from 1912), Royal Horse Guards, The London Scottish and the King's Own Scottish Borderers. He was also Lord Rector and, eventually, Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. In 1922 he became the first Chancellor of St Andrews to visit University College Dundee which was then a part of the University. This visit was made with his successor as Rector, J. M. Barrie and saw the official opening of University College's new playing fields.

Haig's funeral

Field Marshal Lord Haig died, aged 66, on 29 January 1928 and was given a state funeral on 3 February. "Great crowds lined the streets ... come to do honour to the chief who had sent thousands to the last sacrifice when duty called for it, but whom his war-worn soldiers loved as their truest advocate and friend." The gun-carriage that carried the Unknown Warrior to his grave and, in active service, had borne the gun that fired the first British shot in World War I took the field marshal's body from St Columba's Church, Pont Street, London, where it had been lying in state, to Westminster Abbey. Three royal princes followed the gun-carriage and the pall-bearers included two Marshals of France (Foch and Pétain). The cortege was accompanied by five guards of honour at the slow march, with reversed arms and muffled drums: two officers and fifty other ranks from each branch of the British armed forces (Royal Navy, the Irish Guards, and the Royal Air Force); 50 men of the 1st French Army Corps; and 16 men from the Belgian Regiment of Grenadiers. After the service at the Abbey, the procession re-formed to escort the body to Waterloo Station for the journey to Edinburgh where it lay in state for three days at St Giles Cathedral. He was buried at Dryburgh Abbey in the Scottish borders, his grave marked by a simple standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission white headstone. The Earl Haig Memorial, an equestrian statue in Whitehall commissioned by Parliament, and sculpted by Alfred Frank Hardiman, aroused considerable controversy, and was not unveiled until just before Armistice Day in 1937.

Reputation

Post-war opinion

After the war Haig was praised by the American General John Pershing, who remarked that Haig was "the man who won the war". He was also publicly lauded as the leader of a victorious army. His funeral in 1928 was a huge state occasion. However, after his death he was increasingly criticised for issuing orders which led to excessive casualties of British troops under his command, particularly on the Western Front, earning him the nickname "Butcher of the Somme". Haig's critics include many younger officers who served in the First World War.

The assault on Haig's decisions began with the memoirs of the politicians. Winston Churchill, whose World Crisis was written during Haig's lifetime, likened him to a surgeon who had to act dispassionately for the long-term good of the patient, no matter how messy were the short-term means, although in another passage he accused him of blocking enemy machine-gun fire with "the breasts of brave men".

Lloyd George pulled fewer punches in his War Memoirs, published in 1936 when Haig was dead and Lloyd George no longer a major political player. In Chapter 89 he poured scorn on Haig's recently-published diaries (clearly "carefully edited" by Duff Cooper), and described Haig as "intellectually and temperamentally unequal to his task", and "second-rate" (compared to Foch, p. 2014) although "above the average for his profession—perhaps more in industry than intelligence". He attributed his own "distrust of his capacity to fill such an immense position" to Haig's lack of a clear grasp even of the Western Front (likening him to "the blind King of Bohemia at Crecy"), let alone the needs of other fronts, and his inability, given his preference for being surrounded by courteous "gentlemen", to select good advisers. He also criticised Haig for lacking the personal magnetism of a great commander, for his intrigues against his predecessor Sir John French, his willingness to scapegoat Hubert Gough for the defeat of March 1918 (although he had actually defended him, and the alternative would probably have been Haig's own dismissal to boot), and his claims to have subsequently accepted the appointment of Foch as Allied Generalissimo, a move to which Lloyd George claimed Haig in fact to have been opposed. On another occasion he is said to have described Haig as "brilliant—to the top of his boots". Lloyd George's biographer John Grigg (2002) attributes his vitriol to a guilty conscience that he had not intervened to put a stop to the Passchendaele Offensive.

B.H. Liddell Hart, military historian who had been wounded during World War I, went from admirer to skeptic to unremitting critic. He wrote in his diary: He (Haig) was a man of supreme egoism and utter lack of scruple —who, to his overweening ambition, sacrificed hundreds of thousands of men. A man who betrayed even his most devoted assistants as well as the Government which he served. A man who gained his ends by trickery of a kind that was not merely immoral but criminal.

Other historians One of Haig's defenders was the military historian John Terraine, who published a biography of Haig (The Educated Soldier) in 1963, in which Haig was portrayed as a "Great Captain" of the calibre of the Duke of Marlborough or the Duke of Wellington. Terraine, taking his cue from Haig's "Final Despatch" of 1918, also argued that Haig pursued the only possible strategy given the situation the armies were in: that of attrition which wore down the German army and delivered the coup de grâce of 1918. Gary Sheffield stated that although Terraine's arguments about Haig have been much attacked over forty years, Terraine's thesis "has yet to be demolished".

Australian historian Les Carlyon argues that while Haig was slow to adapt to the correct use of artillery in sufficient quantities to support infantry attacks and was generally sceptical that the science of such doctrine had much place in military theory, he was fully supportive of excellent corps and field commanders such as Herbert Plumer, Arthur Currie and John Monash, who seem to best grasp and exercise these concepts especially later in the war. Carlyon also points out that there is a case to answer for his support of more dubious commanders such as Ian Hamilton, Aylmer Hunter-Weston and Hubert Gough.

Tactical Developments

Haig's critics, such as Alan Clark and Gerard De Groot, argued that Haig failed to appreciate the critical science of artillery or supporting arms, and that he was "unimaginative". Paul Fussell, a literary historian in The Great War and Modern Memory, writes that "although one doesn't want to be too hard on Haig ... who has been well calumniated already ... it must be said that it now appears was that one thing the war was testing was the usefulness of the earnest Scottish character in a situation demanding the military equivalent of wit and invention. Haig had none. He was stubborn, self-righteous, inflexible, intolerant—especially of the French—and quite humourless ... Indeed, one powerful legacy of Haig's performance is the conviction among the imaginative and intelligent today of the unredeemable defectiveness of all civil and military leaders. Haig could be said to have established the paradigm."

Military historian Brian Bond argues this was not the case. Haig, although not familiar with technological advances, encouraged their use. Bond also refutes claims that Haig was a traditionalist and focused only on Cavalry tactics. Bond points out that the Cavalry represented less than three percent of the British Army by September 1916, whilst the British Army was the most mechanised force in the world by 1918, supported by the world's largest air force. The British Tank Corps was the world's first such force and some 22,000 men served in it during the war. The Royal Artillery grew by 520 percent and the engineers who implemented combined arms tactics grew by 2,212 percent. Bond argues this hardly demonstrates a lack of imagination. Yet some historians, most notably John Keegan, refuse to accept the British Army undertook a 'learning curve' of any sort; despite this example, Bourne explains that there "is little disagreement among scholars about nature of the military transformation". Popular "media opinion" failed to grasp that under Haig, the British Army adopted a very modern style of war in 1918, something that was very different from 1914, 1916, or even 1917.

There is no consensus on the speed of the learning curve. Canadian historian Tim Travers remains an influential critic in this regard. In his view, there is no one 'villain' but the pre-war regular army. Travers blames the management of early campaigns on the ethos of the pre-war officer corps. Travers argues that this was based on privilege, with a hierarchy that was based on self-preservation and maintaining individual reputations. As a consequence the army was poorly positioned to adapt quickly. Travers claims that initiative was discouraged, making advancement in a learning curve slow. Travers points to the ethos of the army as being initially pro-human and anti-technological. The offensive spirit of the infantry, quality of the soldier, rapid rifle fire and the idea of the soldier being the most important aspect of the battlefield prevailed. The lessons of the Russo-Japanese War and the power of artillery were ignored, which caused tactical mistakes that would prove costly in the first half of the war. The tactics that Haig pursued (a breakthrough battle deep into enemy territory) were beyond the mobility and range of artillery, which contributed to operational failures and heavy losses. Travers also criticised Haig and enemy commanders for (in Travers' opinion) seeing battle as perfectly organised and something that could be planned perfectly, and ignoring the concept of fog of war and confusion in battle. Travers argues that top-down command became impossible in the chaos of battle and lower levels of command were relied upon. Owing to the lack of attention at this level in the early years of the war, a command vacuum was created in which GHQ became a spectator.

Some historians, like Bourne and Bond, regard this as too harsh. Haig belonged to the lower officer corps of the pre-war army, yet he progressed along with other commanders from battalion, brigade, division and corps commanders of the Edwardian era to the army group and commanders-in-chief of the First World War. The advances in operational methods, technology and tactical doctrine were implemented by these officers, Haig among them. Bourne and Bond argue that it is difficult to reconcile the commanders of 1918 with the dogma-ridden, unprofessional, unreflecting institution depicted by Tim Travers. They argue that he does not take into account the year 1918, when the officer corps succeeded in integrating infantry, artillery, armour and aircraft in a war-winning operational method, something that would have been impossible had these Edwardian officers been hostile to change in operational methodology and technological terms.

Casualties

Whilst Haig is often criticised for the high casualties in his offensives, it is argued by some historians that this was largely a function of the size of the battles as his forces were engaging the main body of the German Army on the Western Front, and that no realistic alternative existed. Although total deaths in the Second World War were far higher than in the First, British deaths were lower because Britain was fighting mainly peripheral campaigns in the Mediterranean for much of the Second World War, involving relatively few British troops, whilst most of the land fighting took place between Germany and the USSR. When British forces engaged in a major battle in Normandy in 1944, total losses were fewer than on the Somme in 1916 as Normandy was around half the length and less than half the size, but casualties per unit per week were broadly similar.

Total British WW1 deaths seemed especially severe as they fell among certain groups such as Pal's Battalions (volunteers who enlisted together and were allowed to serve together - and were often killed together), or the alleged "Lost Generation" of public school and university educated junior officers. In fact British deaths, although heavy compared to other British wars, were only around half those of France or Germany as a proportion of population.

Alleged Falsification of Records

De Groot and Denis Winter have accused Haig of being self-obsessed, surrounding himself with sycophants and the petty-minded, devious and disloyal. Winter accused Haig of falsifying his diary in order to mislead historians and archivists as to his thoughts and intentions, which in turn would protect his reputation long after his death. Dr John Bourne refutes these accusations. Bourne writes: "Winter's perceived conspiracy would appear to be one of the least successful in history. The falsification of his diary seems equally inept, given the frequency with which its contents are held against the author's competence, integrity and humanity, not least by Winter himself." Both Bourne and Bond point out that the critics of Haig ignore the fact that the war was won in 1918. Winter avoids the decisive operations in 1918, denying there was any military victory that year.

Haig in popular culture

Haig appeared as himself in the films Under Four Flags (1918) and Remembrance (1927).

Journalism and popular history

Haig has commonly been portrayed as an inept commander who exhibited callous disregard for the lives of his soldiers, repeatedly ordering tens of thousands of them to supposedly useless deaths during battles such as Passchendaele. Sometimes the criticism is not so much of Haig personally, as of the generation of British generals which he is deemed to represent: a view aired by writers such as John Laffin (British Butchers and Bunglers of World War One) and John Mosier (Myth of the Great War). Alan Clark's book The Donkeys (1961) led to the popularisation of the controversial phrase 'lions led by donkeys' which was used to describe British generalship. Clark attributed this remark to the German generals Max Hoffman and Erich Ludendorff, but later admitted that he lied about the phrase.

Norman Stone describes Haig as the greatest of Scottish generals, since he killed the highest numbers of English soldiers at any front in history, perhaps a slightly facetious point as Scotland in fact suffered one of the highest proportionate losses of any Allied nation (Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War).

Drama and literature

Haig was played by Sir John Mills in Richard Attenborough's 1969 film, Oh! What a Lovely War, in which he is portrayed as being indifferent to the fate of the troops under his command, his goal being to wear the Germans down even at the cost of enormous losses and to prevail since the Allies will have the last 10,000 men left.

In the 1989 BBC comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth, Haig, played by Geoffrey Palmer, makes a single appearance in the final episode. A particularly cutting reference was made to the limited gains made during the 1915–1917 offensives, Blackadder says: "Haig is about to make yet another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches close[r] to Berlin". Haig is also portrayed sweeping up model soldiers from a large map with a dustpan and brush, and tossing them casually over his shoulder.

Haig was one of the chief inspirations for the character of Herbert Curzon in C. S. Forester's novel The General, a sharp satire of the mentality of old-school British officers in the Great War.

Legacy

Earl Haig Secondary School in Willowdale, Ontario, was named after Lord Haig in 1928.

Club Atlético Douglas Haig, a football club from Argentina, was also named after him.

view all

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC's Timeline

1861
June 19, 1861
Edinburgh, Scotland
1907
March 9, 1907
Age 45
1908
November 7, 1908
Age 47
1918
March 15, 1918
Age 56
1919
October 7, 1919
Age 58
1928
January 29, 1928
Age 66
????