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Son of John Haig and Rachel Mackerras Haig
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Historical records matching Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC
About Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC
Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC
(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.
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.
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. 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
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
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, 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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "Douglas Haig" redirects here. See also Douglas Haig (disambiguation). The Earl Haig Douglas Haig.jpg Field Marshal Douglas Haig Nickname(s) "Master of the Field" "the Butcher of the Somme" 'Butcher' Haig. Born 19 June 1861 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh Died 29 January 1928 (aged 66) 21 Prince's Gate, London Allegiance United Kingdom Service/branch British Army Years of service 1884–1920 Rank Field Marshal Battles/wars Mahdist War Second Boer War First World War Awards Knight of the Order of the Thistle Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath Member of the Order of Merit Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC (19 June 1861 – 29 January 1928) was a British senior officer during the First World War. 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 one of 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 he had gained a reputation 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. Biographer J. P. Harris writes that “it seems impossible to make a case for Haig as one of history’s great generals … (or for) most of the war even a good one ... the British Army could have achieved equally good, or better, results … at a somewhat lower cost … (and) after years predicting the imminent collapse of German military morale, when … it was finally happening he failed to recognise it ….”. Military History magazine in 2007 called him, "World War I's Worst General." Called "Butcher Haig" for the two million British casualties under his command, he became the model of class-based incompetent commanders unable to grasp modern tactics and technology. The Canadian War Museum comments, " His epic but costly offensives at the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) have become nearly synonymous with the carnage and futility of First World War battles."
Major-General Sir John Davidson, one of Haig's biographers, praised Haig's leadership and since the 1980s some historians have argued that the public hatred in which Haig's name had come to be held, failed to recognise the adoption of new tactics and technologies by forces under his command, the important role played by British forces in the Allied victory of 1918 and that high casualties were a consequence of the tactical and strategic realities of the time.
Contents [hide] 1 Early life 2 Career 2.1 Junior officer 2.2 Sudan War, 1898 2.3 Boer War, 1899–1902 2.4 Inspector-General of Cavalry, India 2.5 Marriage and children 2.6 War Office 2.7 Chief of Staff, India 2.8 Aldershot 3 First World War 3.1 1914 3.1.1 Outbreak of War 3.1.2 Mons to the Marne 3.1.3 First Battle of Ypres 3.2 1915 3.2.1 Spring offensives 3.2.2 Loos 3.2.3 Haig replaces French 3.3 1916 3.3.1 Prelude to the Somme 3.4 1917 3.4.1 Cambrai 3.4.2 Aftermath of Cambrai 3.5 1918 3.5.1 Political manoeuvres 3.5.2 German Michael offensive 3.5.3 Doullens 3.5.4 German Georgette offensive 3.5.5 German Bluecher offensive 3.5.6 The Turn of the Tide and the Hundred Days 3.6 Executions during the First World War 3.7 Promotion of army dentistry during the First World War 4 Later life 5 Funeral 6 Reputation 6.1 Post-war opinion 6.2 Other historians 6.2.1 Tactical developments 6.2.2 Casualties 6.2.3 Alleged falsification of records 7 Haig in popular culture 7.1 Journalism and popular history 7.2 Drama and literature 8 Honours 9 Honorary Degrees 9.1 Freedom of the City 10 Legacy 11 See also 12 References 13 External links Early life
As a Hussar at age 23 in 1885 Haig was born in a house on Charlotte Square, Edinburgh but technically it was addressed as 19 Hope Street, the side street to the south-west (a plaque exists). He was not an aristocrat by birth, or even landed gentry. His father John Haig—an irascible alcoholic—was middle class ("in trade"), and as head of the family's successful Haig & Haig whisky distillery had an income of £10,000 per year, an enormous amount at the time. His mother (Rachel) was from a gentry family fallen on straitened circumstances. Haig attended Clifton College. Both of Haig's parents died by the time he was eighteen.
After a tour of the United States with his brother, Haig attended university, studying Political Economy, Ancient History and French Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford, 1880–1883. He devoted much of his time to socialising – he was a member of the Bullingdon Club – and equestrian sports. He was one of the best young horsemen at Oxford and quickly found his way into the University polo team. Although he passed his exams (a requirement for university applicants to Sandhurst), he was not eligible for a degree as he had missed a term's residence due to sickness, and if he had stayed for longer he would have been above the then age limit (23) to begin officer training in the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, which he entered in January 1884. Because he had been to university Haig was considerably older than most of his class at Sandhurst, and was Senior Under-Officer, was awarded the Anson Sword, and passed out first in the order of merit. He was commissioned as a lieutenant into the 7th (Queen's Own) Hussars on 7 February 1885.
Plaque marking Earl Haig's birthplace, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh Career Junior officer Haig played polo for England on a tour of the United States (August 1886); he remained a polo enthusiast all his life. Upon the reorganization of the Hurlingham Polo Committee in May 1914, Haig was elected Chairman, and he worthily filled that office until 1922, together with that of President of the Army Polo Committee. He was also the Founder of the Indian Polo Association. then saw overseas service in India (sent out November 1886), where he was appointed the regiment's adjutant in 1888. He was something of a disciplinarian, but also impressed his superiors by his skill at sorting out paperwork and analysing recent training exercises. He was promoted to captain on 23 January 1891.
Haig left India in November 1892 to prepare for the entrance exam for the Staff College, Camberley, which he sat in June 1893. Although he was placed in the top 28 candidates (the number of places awarded by exam) he was not awarded a place as he had narrowly failed the compulsory mathematics paper. He concealed this failure for the rest of his life and later (circa 1910) recommended dropping the mathematics paper as a requirement. The Adjutant-General Sir Redvers Buller refused to award Haig one of the four nominated places, citing his colour blindness, despite Haig having his eyesight rechecked by a German oculist and despite Haig's glowing testimonials from various senior officers, some of them lobbied by Haig and his sister. Haig's colour blindness would probably not have been an issue if he had passed the mathematics paper and it appears Buller wanted an excuse to give a place to an infantry officer.
Haig returned briefly to India (taking time on his way to write a forty-page report on French cavalry manoeuvres in Touraine) as second-in-command of the squadron which he had himself commanded in 1892, then returned to the United Kingdom as Aide-de-camp to Sir Keith Fraser, Inspector General of Cavalry. Fraser was one of those who had lobbied for Haig to enter the Staff College, and he was finally nominated in late 1894, a common practice in the day for promising candidates. While waiting to take up his place, he travelled to Germany to report on cavalry manoeuvres there, and also served as staff officer to Colonel John French (whom he had met in November 1891 whilst French was Commanding Officer of the 19th Hussars) on manoeuvres. The careers of French and Haig were to be entwined for the next twenty-five years, and Haig helped French write the cavalry drillbook, published 1896.
As at Sandhurst, Haig worked hard at the Staff College, Camberley (which he entered early in 1896), and was not popular with his peer group – they chose Allenby as Master of the Drag Hunt, despite Haig being the better rider. Haig impressed the Chief Instructor, Lt-Col G. F. R. Henderson, and completed the course, leaving in 1897. Some writers (e.g. Travers 1987) have criticised Camberley for its old-fashioned curriculum, which especially influenced Haig, as he was an absorber of doctrine rather than an original thinker. Haig was taught that victory must come from defeating the main enemy army in battle, and that as in Napoleonic warfare, attrition (the "wearing out fight") was merely a prelude to the commitment of reserves for a decisive battlefield victory; traces of this thought can be seen at Loos and the Somme. Great emphasis was placed on morale and mobility, and on Murat's cavalry pursuit after Napoleon's Jena campaign of 1806. Although the American Civil War was studied, the emphasis was on Stonewall Jackson's mobile campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, rather than on the more attritional nature of that war.
Sudan War, 1898 In early January Haig was picked by Evelyn Wood (now Adjutant-General) as one of three recent staff college graduates requested by Kitchener for the Sudan Campaign. He may have been picked to keep an eye on Kitchener, as Wood invited him to write to him frankly and in confidence. Haig needed little encouragement to (privately) criticise his superiors – he was especially critical of Kitchener's dictatorial habits. Kitchener's force was Anglo-Egyptian, and Haig was required to formally join the Egyptian Army, most of whose officers were British. The plan had been for him to train and take command of an Egyptian cavalry squadron, but this did not happen as Kitchener did not want a command reshuffle with combat imminent. Unlike many British officers, Haig believed that the Egyptians could make good soldiers if properly trained and led. Still without a formal position but accompanying the cavalry, Haig saw his first action in a skirmish south of Atbara (21 March), and in his report to Wood commented on the lack of British machine guns – despite persistent mythology that he did not appreciate machine guns, Haig had in fact made a special trip to Enfield to study the Maxim Gun, and throughout the campaign commented on its worth. Four days later he was made staff officer of brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Broadwood's cavalry brigade. Haig distinguished himself at his second action, the Battle of Nukheila (6 April) – where he supervised the redeployment of squadrons to protect the rear and then launch a flank attack, as Broadwood was busy in the front line. He was present at the Battle of Atbara (8 April), after which he criticised Kitchener for launching a frontal attack without taking the Dervishes in flank as well. After Atbara Kitchener was given reinforcements and Haig received a squadron of his own, which he commanded at Omdurman (in reserve during the battle, then on a flank march into the town afterwards). He was promoted to brevet major on 15 November 1898.
Boer War, 1899–1902 Haig returned to UK, hoping for a position at the War Office, but was instead appointed (May 1899) brigade major to the 1st Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot. Haig had recently lent £2,500 (in a formal contract with interest) to the Brigade Commander John French to cover his losses from South African mining speculations, so that French, regarded as a talented cavalry commander, did not have to resign his commission. Haig was promoted to the substantive rank of Major on 26 June 1899. Haig was soon appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General (September 1899) and then Assistant Adjutant General (i.e. chief staff officer) of French's brigade-sized force as it was sent off to the Boer War. He took part in French's first battle, Elandslaagte (18 October, near Ladysmith). French and Haig were ordered to leave Ladysmith as the four-month siege began, to take charge of the new Cavalry Division arriving from Britain – the two men escaped on the last train to leave Ladysmith (2 November 1899), lying down as it passed through enemy fire. As in the Sudan, Haig continued to be sceptical of the importance of artillery, basing his opinions on interviews with enemy prisoners. After Major-General French's Colesberg Operations to protect Cape Colony, Roberts, newly arrived as Commander-in-Chief, appointed his protégé Colonel the Earl of Errol, over French's protests, to the job of Assistant Adjutant General of the Cavalry Division, with Haig, who had been promised the job (and the local rank of lieutenant-colonel), as his deputy. Cavalry played a leading role in this stage of the war, including the relief of Kimberley (15 February 1900), which featured a spectacular British cavalry charge at Klip Drift. Haig was briefly (21 February 1900) given command of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, then made AAG to the Cavalry Division at last after Errol was moved to a different job. French's Division took part in the capture of Bloemfontein (13 March 1900) and then Pretoria (5 June 1900). Haig privately criticised Roberts for losses to horses (exhaustion and lack of feeding) and men (typhoid) and thought him a "silly old man".
After Roberts had won the conventional war, Kitchener was left in charge of fighting the Boers, who had taken to guerrilla warfare. The Cavalry Division was disbanded (November 1900) and French, with Haig still his chief of staff, was put in charge of an all-arms force policing the Johannesburg area, later trying to capture the Boer leader de Wet around Bloemfontein. In January 1901 Haig was given a column of 2,500 men with the local rank of brigadier-general, patrolling Cape Colony, and chasing Commandant Kritzinger. As was standard policy at that time, Haig's actions included burning farms (homesteads, crops and livestock included) as part of the well known British scorched earth policy as well as rounding up Boer women and children into concentration camps. Throughout the war Haig's sister Henrietta had been lobbying Evelyn Wood for her brother to have command of a cavalry regiment of his own when the war was over. French, probably not wanting to part with a valuable assistant, recommended Herbert Lawrence for the vacant command of the 17th Lancers, but Roberts, now Commander-in-Chief in the UK, overruled him and gave it to Haig (May 1901). Lawrence left the army in disgust at being passed over, although he later returned and was chief of staff to the BEF in 1918. As the 17th Lancers were in South Africa at the time Haig was able to combine that command with that of his own column.
As the war drew to a close Haig had to locate and escort the Boer leader Jan Christiaan Smuts to the peace negotiations at Vereeninging. Haig was mentioned in despatches four times for his service in South Africa (31 March 1900), and appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in November 1900. He was also promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant colonel on 17 July 1901.
Inspector-General of Cavalry, India Haig, now reverting to his substantive rank of lieutenant-colonel, continued as the commanding officer of the 17th Lancers until 1903. The regiment was supposed to stay in South Africa but in the end returned home sooner than planned. Haig was appointed Inspector-General of Cavalry in India (he would have preferred command of the cavalry brigade at Aldershot, where French was now GOC), but had first to spend a year on garrison duty at Edinburgh until the previous incumbent completed his term. Haig was appointed Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VII in 1902, remaining in this position until 1904.
Haig's war service had earned him belated but rapid promotion: having been a captain until the relatively advanced age of thirty-seven, by 1904 he had become the youngest major-general in the British Army at that time. He was present at the Rawalpindi Parade 1905 to honour the Prince and Princess of Wales' visit to India. At this time a great deal of the energies of the most senior British generals were taken up with the question of whether cavalry should still be trained to charge with sword and lance (the view of French and Haig) as well as using horses for mobility then fighting dismounted with firearms. Lord Roberts, now Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, warned Kitchener (now Commander-in-Chief, India) to be "very firm with Haig" on this issue (in the event Kitchener was soon distracted, from 1904, by his quarrel with the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who eventually resigned), and wrote that Haig was a "clever, able fellow" who had great influence over Sir John French.
Marriage and children On leave from India, Haig married Dorothy Maud Vivian (1879–1939) on 11 July 1905 after a whirlwind courtship (she had spotted him for the first time when he was playing polo at Hurlingham two years earlier). She was a daughter of Hussey Crespigny Vivian and Louisa Duff.
The couple had four children:
Alexandra Henrietta Louisa Haig (9 March 1907 – 1997); First married to Rear-Admiral Clarence Dinsmore Howard-Johnston, by whom she had had three children. She secondly married in 1954 historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was created Baron Dacre of Glanton. Victoria Doris Rachel Haig (7 November 1908 – 1993) George Alexander Eugene Douglas Haig (15 March 1918 – 10 July 2009) Lady Irene Violet Freesia Janet Augustia Haig (7 October 1919 – 2001); wife of Gavin Astor Haig had used his leave in 1905 to lobby for a job at the War Office, but the proposal was rejected by H. O. Arnold-Forster the Secretary of State for War as too blatantly relying on royal influence.
War Office The Boer War had exposed Britain's lack of a general staff and modern reserve army. In the new Liberal Government (December 1905), Richard Haldane, Secretary of State for War, implemented the Esher recommendations accepted in principle by the outgoing Conservative government. In August 1906 Haig was appointed Director of Military Training on the General Staff at the War Office. Haldane later wrote that Haig had "a first rate general staff mind" and "gave invaluable advice" Haig in turn would later dedicate a volume of his despatches to Haldane, who by then had been hounded out of office for alleged pro-German sympathies in 1915. Although both men later claimed that the reforms had been to prepare Britain for continental war, they did not create a continental-sized army and it would be truer to say that they created a small professional army within a budget, with conscription politically impossible despite Lord Roberts' campaigning.
The reforms reorganised the militia, yeomanry and volunteers into the new Territorial Army. Haig was intolerant of what he regarded as old-fashioned opinion and not good at negotiating with strangers. The militia (actually older than the regular army, with many socially important officers) were the last to agree, and had to be turned into a Special Reserve by Act of Parliament. Haig had wanted a reserve of 900,000 men, but Haldane settled for a more realistic 300,000.
Haig's skills at administration and organising training and inspections were better employed in setting up an Expeditionary Force of 120,000 men (6 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry – the force which would be deployed to France in 1914) in 1907. As an intimate of Haldane Haig was able to ensure high priority for cavalry, less for artillery, contrary to the advice of Lord Roberts (now retired as Commander-in-Chief) whose views were no longer very welcome because his campaign for conscription had made life hard for Haldane. Haig's records of his time supervising artillery exercises show little interest in technical matters (aim, range, accuracy etc.).
In November 1907 Haig was moved sideways to Director of Staff Duties. He required commanders to take the staff officers assigned to them (rather than choose their own by patronage) and also assigned staff officers to the new Territorial Army. He supervised publication of "Field Service Regulations", which was later very useful in expanding the BEF in WW1, although it still stressed the importance of cavalry charging with sword and lance as well as fighting dismounted. At this time he was also completing a separate work, "Cavalry Studies" (on which topic Haig's admiring biographer James Marshall-Cornwall later wrote that he was "not … among the prophets"), and devoting much time to cavalry exercises. He was also involved in setting up the Imperial General Staff (larger colonies were to have local sections of the General Staff, with trained staff officers), for which his work was praised by Haldane.
Chief of Staff, India By 1909 it seemed likely to Haldane and Haig that an Anglo-German War loomed and Haig was at first reluctant to accept appointment as Chief of the General Staff in India. He passed the Director of Staff Duties job to his loyal follower Brigadier-General Kiggell (later Chief of Staff BEF), to whom he wrote with "advice" every fortnight. Haig, who had been knighted for his work at the War Office, was promoted to lieutenant-general in November 1910. In India he had hoped to develop the Indian General Staff as part of the greater Imperial General Staff, and to organise despatch of Indian troops to a future European War (his plan for mobilising the Indian army to send to Europe in the event of war was vetoed by Viceroy Lord Hardinge – in the event an Indian Corps would serve on the Western Front, and Indian troops were used in the Middle East.
Aldershot Haig left India in December 1911, and took up an appointment as General Officer Commanding Aldershot Command (1st & 2nd Divisions and 1st Cavalry Brigade) in March 1912.
In the Army Manoeuvres of 1912 he was decisively beaten by Sir James Grierson despite having the odds in his favour, because of Grierson's superior use of air reconnaissance. At dinner afterwards Haig abandoned his prepared text, and although he wrote that his remarks were "well received" Charteris recorded that they were "unintelligible and unbearably dull" and that the visiting dignitaries fell asleep. Haig's poor public speaking skills aside, the manoeuvres were thought to have shown the reformed army efficient.
First World War 1914 Outbreak of War
Map of the Western Front in 1914. During the Curragh Mutiny (March 1914) Haig urged caution on his chief of staff John Gough, whose brother Hubert Gough (then a cavalry brigadier, later GOC Fifth Army in WW1) was threatening to resign rather than coerce Ulstermen into a semi-independent Ireland. Haig stressed that the army's duty was to keep the peace and urged his officers not to dabble in politics. Sir John French was forced to resign as CIGS, after having made the error of putting in writing a promise that officers would not be required to coerce Ulster; Haig respected Hubert Gough's principled stand but felt French had allowed himself to be used as a political tool by H. H. Asquith.
Upon the outbreak of war in August 1914, Haig helped organize 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. In a letter to Haldane (4 August), Haig predicted that the war would last for months if not years; Haig wanted Haldane to return to the War Office (Asquith had been holding the job since the resignation of Seeley during the Curragh Affair – it was given to Kitchener) and delay sending the BEF to France until the Territorial Army had been mobilised and incorporated.
Haig attended the War Council (5 August), at which it was decided that it was too dangerous to mobilise forward at Maubeuge, as British mobilisation was running three days behind that of France and Germany (i.e. the BEF might be overrun by the Germans as it formed up). There were no other contingency plans – Haig and Kitchener proposed that the BEF would be better positioned to counter-attack in Amiens. Sir John French (who was keen to fight as he had been advised by Henry Wilson that the war would be brief, who had confidence in Belgium's many fortresses, and who appeared to think that the Dutch were already in the war on the Allied side – they would in fact remain neutral throughout) suggested landing at Antwerp, which was vetoed by Winston Churchill as the Royal Navy could not guarantee safe passage. A critical biographer writes that Haig was "more clear-sighted than many of his colleagues".
In his much-criticised memoirs, "1914", French later claimed that Haig had wanted to postpone sending the BEF, which may be partly true, in view of what he had written to Haldane the day before. Haig was so angry at this claim, that he asked Cabinet Secretary Maurice Hankey to correct French's "inaccuracies". However Haig also rewrote his diary from this period, possibly to show himself in a better light and French in a poor one. The original manuscript diary for early August does not survive but there is no positive evidence that it was destroyed and it has been pointed out that it is just as likely that the typed version, was prepared from dictation or notes now lost. Hankey's notes of the meeting, record that Haig suggested delaying or sending smaller forces but was willing to send forces if France was in danger of defeat or if the French wanted them (which they did). Haig predicted that the war would last several years and that an army of a million men, trained by officers and NCOs withdrawn from the BEF, would be needed.
Haig was appointed Aide-de-Camp to King George V in 1914. During a royal inspection of Aldershot (11 August), Haig told the King that he had "grave doubts" about the evenness of French's temper and military knowledge. He later claimed that these doubts had gone back to the Boer War but there appears to have been an element of later embellishment about this: Haig had in fact praised French in the Boer War (he had criticised Kitchener, Roberts and others) and had welcomed his appointment as CIGS in 1911.
Mons to the Marne
Haig with Major-General C. C. Monro (commanding 2nd Division), Brigadier-General J. E. Gough (Haig's Chief of Staff), and Major General Sir Edward Perceval (commander of 2nd Division's artillery) in a street in France, 1914. Haig crossed over to Le Havre. The BEF landed in France on 14 August and advanced into Belgium, where French took up positions on the left of General Lanrezac's French Fifth Army at Charleroi. Haig was irritated by Sir John French (influenced by Henry Wilson into putting his faith in a French thrust up from the Ardennes) who was only concerned with the three German corps in front of the BEF at Mons and who ignored intelligence reports of German forces streaming westwards from Brussels, threatening an encirclement from the British left. Although II Corps fought off the German attack at Mons on 23 August (the first British encounter with the Germans) the BEF was forced to withdraw after Lanzerac ordered a retreat exposing their right flank as well.
The retreats of I and II Corps had to be conducted separately because of the Mormal Forest. The two 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 (during which Haig led his staff into the street, revolvers drawn, promising to "sell our lives dearly") 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. However, a critical biographer writes that too much has been made of the "moment of panic" at Landrecies, and that the 200-mile (320 km) retreat, over a period of 13 days, is a tribute to the "steady and competent leadership" of Haig and Smith-Dorrien.
On 25 August the French commander Joseph Joffre ordered his forces to retreat to the Marne, which compelled the BEF to further withdraw. Haig was irritated by the high-handed behaviour of the French, seizing roads which they had promised for British use and refusing to promise to cover the British right flank. He complained privately of French unreliability and lack of fighting competence, a complaint which he would keep up for the next four years. He wrote to his wife that he wished the British were operating independently from Antwerp, a proposal which he had rejected as "reckless", when Sir John French had made it at the War Council on 4 August.
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 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. Haig had wanted to rest his corps but was happy to resume the offensive when ordered. He drove on his subordinates, including Ivor Maxse, when he thought them lacking in "fighting spirit". Although Sir John French praised Haig's leadership of his corps, Haig was privately contemptuous of French's overconfidence prior to Mons and excessive caution thereafter.
First Battle of Ypres On 15 October, later than proposed after two weeks of friction between British and French generals, Haig's I Corps was moved to Ypres in Flanders as part of the "Race to the Sea". In the belief that the German northern flank was weak, Haig was ordered to march on Ghent, Bruges and Courtrai in western Belgium but the new German Chief of Staff Falkenhayn was trying to do the opposite and roll up the Allied northern flank. I Corps marched headlong into a thrust westward by fresh German forces and the result was the First Battle of Ypres. German forces, equipped with 250 heavy guns (a large number for this early stage in the war), outnumbered I Corps by two to one and came close to success. At one point Haig mounted his white horse to encourage his men, who were retreating around Gheluvelt, although in the event the town had just been recaptured by a battalion of the Worcesters before Haig's ride. Haig cemented his reputation at this battle and Ypres remained a symbolic piece of ground in later years. Haig was also influenced by the fact that the Germans had called off their offensive when they were on the verge of success, and he drew the lesson that attacks needed to be kept up so long as there was any chance of success.
After a fortnight of intense fighting I Corps had been reduced from 18,000 men to just under 3,000 effectives by 12 November. After six days of bickering between British and French generals, I Corps was relieved by French troops; Haig being very suspicious of the pro-French sympathies of Henry Wilson. Following the success of the First Battle of Ypres, French, who had been ordered by his doctor to rest to relieve the strain on his heart, recommended Haig for immediate promotion to General. Haig travelled to London on French's behalf (23 November) to consult Kitchener about the plan to expand the BEF and reorganise it into two armies.
At this point it was thought that the war would end once the Germans were defeated by the Russians at Lodz and the difficulties of attacking on the Western Front were not yet appreciated. A failed attack by Smith-Dorrien's II Corps on Messines–Wytschaete (14–15 December) was blamed on poor GHQ staff work, and on 18 December, Haig met French, who said he wanted to sack the BEF chief of staff Murray, whose performance had been unsatisfactory throughout the campaign and promote his deputy Henry Wilson. Haig thought that Wilson, besides being too pro-French, had "no military knowledge" and recommended Quarter-Master General "Wully" Robertson for the vacancy. This was also the view of Lord Kitchener, so Robertson received the promotion. Haig received promotion to general on 16 November 1914.
1915 Spring offensives
French, Joffre and Haig (left to right) visit the front line during 1915. Like French, Haig wanted to push along the North Sea Coast to Ostend and Zeebrugge but Joffre did not want the British acting so independently. Germany had recently sent eight infantry divisions to the Eastern Front, with twelve newly raised divisions, reducing their net strength in the west from 106 divisions at the time of First Ypres to 98, so French and Joffre, thinking that the war would be won by the summer, agreed that a French offensive in Artois and Champagne, should be accompanied by a British offensive at Neuve-Chapelle to be conducted by Haig, as he trusted him more than Smith-Dorrien, after the latter's failure at Messines in December. At Neuve Chapelle, Haig wanted a quick bombardment and his subordinate Henry Rawlinson (GOC IV Corps), a longer and more methodical one. Shortage of shells meant that only a thirty-five-minute bombardment was possible but the small front of the attack gave it the concentration to succeed.
Haig displayed great interest in the potential of aircraft and met with Major Trenchard of the Royal Flying Corps (16 February) to organise photographic air reconnaissance and a map of German lines was obtained; aircraft were also beginning to be used for artillery spotting—signalling to British batteries by Morse—observing enemy troop movements and bombing German rear areas. Four divisions attacked at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on 10 March and penetrated to a depth of 1,600 yards (1,500 m) but no progress was made on subsequent days, as the Germans were able to bring in reinforcements. Casualties were around 12,000 on each side. The Official History later claimed that Neuve Chapelle was to show the French, the attacking ability of British troops and that it was the first time the German line had been broken. Rawlinson had wanted to end the offensive after the first day and Haig felt that reserves should have been committed quicker. On Rawlinson's suggestion Haig came close to sacking Major-General Joey Davies (GOC 8th Division) until it was found that Davies had followed Rawlinson's orders; Haig reprimanded Rawlinson but thought him too valuable to sack. This may have made Rawlinson reluctant to stand up to Haig thereafter.
French and Joffre still expected victory by July. Whilst the Germans attacked Smith-Dorrien at the Second Battle of Ypres (April), new Allied offensives were planned by the French at Vimy and by Haig at Aubers Ridge (9 May). It was believed on the British side that the lessons of Neuve Chapelle had been learned—reserves were ready to exploit and mortars were ready to support attackers who had advanced beyond artillery cover —–and that this time success would be complete not partial. The attack was less successful than Neuve Chapelle as the forty-minute bombardment (only 516 field guns and 121 heavy guns) was over a wider front and against stronger defences; Haig was still focussed on winning a decisive victory by capturing key ground, rather than amassing firepower to inflict maximum damage on the Germans. Attacks at (Festubert, 15–25 May) as a diversion, gained 1,100 yards (1,000 m) over a front of 4,400 yards (4,000 m), with 16,000 British casualties to around 6,600 German losses. Sir John French was satisfied that the attacks had served to take pressure off the French at their request but Haig still felt that German reserves were being exhausted, bringing victory nearer.
Lack of shells at these offensives was, along with Admiral Fisher's resignation over the failed Dardanelles Campaign, a cause of the fall of the Liberal Government (19 May). Haig did not approve of the Northcliffe press attacks on Kitchener, whom he thought a powerful military voice against the folly of civilians like Churchill (despite the fact the Kitchener had played a role in planning the Gallipoli expedition and was an opponent of the strong General Staff which Haig wanted to see). French had been leaking information about the shell shortage to Charles à Court Repington of The Times, whom Haig detested and which he likened to "carrying on with a whore" (possibly a deliberately chosen analogy in view of French's womanising). French also communicated with Conservative leaders and to David Lloyd George who now became Minister of Munitions in the new coalition government.
Haig was asked by Clive Wigram (one of the King's press staff) to smooth relations between French and Kitchener. At Robertson's suggestion, Haig received Kitchener at his HQ (8 July – despite French's attempt to block the meeting), where they shared their concerns about French. The two men met again in London (14 July), whilst Haig was receiving his GCB (awarded on French's recommendation after Neuve Chapelle) from the King, who also complained to him about French. Over lunch with the King and Kitchener, Haig remarked that the best time to sack French would have been after the retreat to the Marne; it was agreed that the men would correspond in confidence and in response to the King's joke that this was inviting Haig to "sneak" like a schoolboy, Kitchener replied that "we are past schoolboy's age".
Haig had long thought French petty, jealous, unbalanced ("like a bottle of soda water … incapable of thinking … and coming to a reasoned decision"), overly quick to meddle in party politics and easily manipulated by Henry Wilson. Haig was increasingly irritated by French's changes of orders and mercurial changes of mood as to the length of the war, which French now expected to last into 1916. Haig still thought Germany might collapse by November, although at the same time he was sending a memo to the War Office recommending that the BEF, now numbering 25 divisions, be equipped with the maximum number of heavy guns, ready for a huge decisive battle, 36 divisions strong in 1916.
Loos The war was not going well – besides the failure at Cape Helles (landing 25 April), Bulgaria had joined the Central Powers (Serbia was soon overrun) and Italian attacks on the Isonzo had made negligible progress. Allied attacks in the west were needed to take pressure off the Russians, who were being flung out of Poland (Fall of Warsaw, 5 August). The original plan was to attack in July. At Joffre's insistence the offensive was planned next to the French Tenth Army at Loos.
Haig inspected the Loos area (24 June) and expressed dissatisfaction with the ground (slag heaps and pit head towers which made good observation points for the Germans). French later did the same and agreed. French and Haig would have preferred to renew the attack at Aubers Ridge. Joffre was not pleased and called another conference (11 July) to urge a British attack on Loos. Haig pushed for Aubers Ridge again (22 July) – French at first agreed until dissuaded by Foch (29 July), who felt that only a British attack at Loos would pull in enough German reserves to allow the French to take Vimy Ridge. French wrote to Joffre saying he was willing to go along with these plans for the sake of Anglo-French cooperation, but then wrote to Joffre again (10 August) suggesting an artillery bombardment with only limited British infantry attacks. This was not what Joffre wanted. Kitchener, who had been invited to tour the French army (16–19 August) listened sympathetically to Joffre's suggestion that in future Joffre should set the size, dates and objectives of British offensives, although he only agreed for the Loos attack for the moment. Kitchener met with Haig first and then with French. It is unclear exactly why Kitchener and then Haig agreed to go along with Joffre's wishes – possibly the disastrous plight of the Russians, but it may be that a promise that poison gas could be used may have persuaded Haig. Having got their own way, the French then postponed the attack as they picked new attacking ground in Champagne and arranged for extra shelling at Vimy, in both cases because of the very reasons – German-held villages and other obstructions – to which the British generals had objected.
Only 850 guns (110 of them heavy) were available, too few for concentrated bombardment over a frontage far wider than at Neuve Chapelle (in 1915 the Germans had 10,500 guns of which 3,350 were heavy, whilst the British had only around 1,500, not to mention the shortage of ammunition). There was also argument over the placement of the reserve, XI Corps (Haking) with the 21st and 24th dvisions (inexperienced New Army divisions), which Haig wanted close to the front. Despite not originally wanting the offensive, Haig had persuaded himself that decisive victory was possible, and it may be that French wanted to keep control of the reserve to stop them being thrown into battle needlessly. French tried in vain to forbid Haig to discuss his plans with Kitchener (on the grounds that Kitchener might leak them to politicians). Battle began (25 September) after Haig ordered the release of chlorine gas (he had an aide, Alan Fletcher, light a cigarette to test the wind).
The attack failed in the north against the Hohenzollern Redoubt but broke through the German first line in the centre (Loos and Hill 70). The reserves were tired after night marches, to reach the front in secrecy and were not available until 2 pm, but were thrown into battle without success on the second day, although it is not clear that they would have accomplished much if available on the first day, as Haig had wanted.
Haig replaces French The reserves now became a stick with which to beat French, who by now was talking of making peace before "England was ruined". Haig wrote a detailed letter to Kitchener (29 Sep) claiming "complete" (sic) success on the first day and complaining that the reserves had not been placed as close to the front as agreed (this turned out to be untrue) and that French had not released control of them when requested (he had but delays in communications and traffic control had meant that they were not available until 2 pm). French protested that time for the commitment of reserves had been on the second day; when told of this by Robertson (2 Oct) Haig thought this evidence of French's "unreasoning brain". Haig strengthened his case by reports that captured enemy officers had been astonished at the British failure to exploit the attack and by complaining about the government's foot-dragging at introducing conscription and the commitment of troops to sideshows like Salonika and Suvla Bay (6 August), at a time when the Germans were calling up their 1918 Class early.
The failure of Loos was debated in the British press. Kitchener demanded a formal report (6 October) and Lord Haldane (a former Cabinet Minister) was sent to France to interview French and Haig. French in turn demanded a report from Haig, in particular his claim to have penetrated the German lines (16 Oct). Haig claimed in his diary that a proposal that he be sent to report on the Gallipoli bridgehead, was shelved because of the imminence of French's removal. Lord Stamfordham, the King's Secretary, telephoned Robertson to ask his opinion of French and Robertson conferred with Haig—who was pushing for Robertson to be appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff—before giving his opinion. The King also discussed the matter with Haig over dinner on a visit to the front (24 October). Haig again told him that French should have been sacked in August 1914. Four days later the King, whilst inspecting troops, was injured when thrown by one of Haig's horses and had to be evacuated to England on a stretcher, which caused Haig some embarrassment. French was reduced to having his orders releasing the reserves published in The Times (2 November), along with an article by Repington blaming Haig. Haig demanded a correction of French's "inaccuracies" about the availability of the reserve, whereupon French ordered Haig to cease all correspondence on this matter, although he offered to let Haig see the covering letter he was sending to London in his report but French's fate was sealed. Haig met with the Prime Minister Asquith (23 November) and Bonar Law (Conservative Leader) the next day. Rumours were rife that French was to be sacked, another reason given for sacking him, was that his shortcomings would become more pronounced with the expansion of the BEF, which would number sixty divisions within two years. Matters had been delayed as Kitchener was away on an inspection tour of the Mediterranean and French was sick in bed. Kitchener returned to London (3 Dec) and at a meeting with Haig that day, told him that he was to recommend to Asquith that Haig replace French.
Haig's appointment as Commander-in-Chief BEF was announced on 10 December and almost simultaneously Robertson became Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London, reporting directly to the Cabinet rather than to the War Secretary. Haig and Robertson hoped that this would be the start of a new and more professional management of the war. Monro was promoted to GOC First Army in Haig's place, not Rawlinson whom Haig would have preferred and for reasons of seniority Haig was forced to accept the weak-willed Lancelot Kiggell, not Butler as chief of staff BEF in succession to Robertson. Haig and French, who seemed ill and short of breath, had a final handover meeting (18 Dec, the day before the formal change of command), at which Haig agreed that Churchill—recently resigned from the Cabinet and vetoed from command of a brigade—should be given command of a battalion.
1916 Prelude to the Somme For the first time (2 January) Haig attended church service with George Duncan, who was to have great influence over him. Haig saw himself as God's servant and was keen to have clergymen sent out whose sermons would remind the men that the war dead were martyrs in a just cause.
Robertson and Kitchener (who thought that an offensive starting in March, could bring decisive victory by August and peace by November) wanted to concentrate on the Western Front, unlike many in the Cabinet who preferred Salonika or Mesopotamia. Haig and Robertson were aware that Britain would have to take on more of the offensive burden, as France was beginning to run out of men (and perhaps could not last more than another year at the same level of effort) but thought that the Germans might retreat in the west to shorten their line, so they could concentrate on beating the Russians, who unlike France and Britain might accept a compromise peace. Haig thought that the Germans had already had plenty of "wearing out", that a decisive victory was possible in 1916 and urged Robertson (9 Jan) to recruit more cavalry. Haig's preference was to regain control of the Belgian coast by attacking in Flanders, to bring the coast and the naval bases at Bruges, Zeebrugge and Ostend (a view also held by the Cabinet and Admiralty since 1914) into Allied hands and where the Germans would also suffer great loss if they were reluctant to retreat.
Lloyd George visited Haig at GHQ and afterwards wrote to Haig, to say that he had been impressed by his "grip" and by the "trained thought of a great soldier". Subsequent relations between the two men were not to be so cordial. Haig thought Lloyd George "shifty and unreliable". Haig and Kiggell met Joffre and his chief of staff de Castelnau at Chantilly (14 February). Haig thought that politicians and the public might misunderstand a long period of attrition and thought that only a fortnight of "wearing out", not three months as Joffre had originally wanted, would be needed before the decisive offensive. Arguments continued over the British taking over more front line from the French. Haig had thought that the German troops reported near Verdun were a feint prior to an attack on the British but the Verdun Offensive began on 21 February.
Haig decided that Verdun had "worn down" the Germans enough and that a decisive victory was possible at once. The Cabinet were less optimistic and Kitchener (like Rawlinson) was also somewhat doubtful and would have preferred smaller and purely attritional attacks but sided with Robertson in telling the Cabinet that the Somme offensive should go ahead. Haig attended a Cabinet meeting in London (15 April) where the politicians were more concerned with the political crisis over the introduction of conscription, which could bring down the government and Haig recorded that Asquith attended the meeting dressed for golf and clearly keen to get away for the weekend.
Memorandum from Haig to the Adjutant General, Lieutenant General Sir Nevil Macready, asking his opinion on possible dates for launching the Somme offensive, 22 May 1916 The French had already insisted on an Anglo-French attack at the Somme, where British and French troops were adjacent, to relieve the pressure on the French Army at Verdun, although the French component of the attack was gradually reduced as reinforcements went to Verdun. Haig wanted to delay until 15 August, to allow for more training and more artillery to be available. When told of this Joffre shouted at Haig that "the French Army would cease to exist" and had to be calmed down with "liberal doses of 1840 brandy". The British refused to agree to French demands for a joint Anglo-French offensive from the Salonika bridgehead. Eventually, perhaps influenced by reports of French troop disturbances at Verdun, Haig agreed to attack on 29 June (later put back until 1 July). This was just in time, as it later turned out that Petain at Verdun was warning the French government that the "game was up" unless the British attacked.
The government was concerned at the volume of shipping space being used for fodder and wanted to cut the number of cavalry divisions. Haig opposed this, believing that cavalry would still be needed to exploit the imminent victory. The Cabinet were mistaken, as most of the fodder was for the horses, donkeys and mules, which the BEF used to move supplies and heavy equipment. Discussing this matter with the King, who thought the war would last until the end of 1917, Haig told him that Germany would collapse by the end of 1916. This round of planning ended with a sharp exchange of letters with the Cabinet, Haig rebuked them for interfering in military matters and declared that "I am responsible for the efficiency of the Armies in France". Lloyd George thought Haig's letter "perfectly insolent" and that the government "had the right to investigate any matter connected with the war that they pleased".
Stretcher bearers recovering wounded during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge, September 1916. Photo by Ernest Brooks. From 1 July to 18 November 1916, Haig directed the British portion of the Battle of the Somme. The French wanted Haig to persist with the offensive and insisted throughout the battle, even after the French went on the offensive at Verdun in October 1916. Although too much shrapnel was used in initial the bombardment for 1 July, Haig was not entirely to blame for this: as early as Jan 1915 Haig had been impressed by evidence of the effectiveness of High Explosive shells and had demanded as many of them as possible from van Donop (Head of Ordnance in Britain).
Portrait of Haig at General Headquarters, France, by Sir William Orpen, May 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". Lloyd George, who had become Prime Minister in December 1916, infuriated Haig and Robertson by placing the BEF 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 the Third and First armies at Arras) and the 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 an offensive at Passchendaele (the 3rd Battle of Ypres). Haig hoped to break through and liberate the North Sea coast of Belgium from which German U-Boats were operating, provided that there was assistance from the French, support from Britain and that Russia stayed in the war.
The Admiralty led by John Jellicoe believed that the U-Boat threat could jeopardise Britain's ability to continue fighting into 1918. Another objective was to commit German resources to Belgian Flanders, away from the Aisne sector in France, where the French mutiny had been worst, in order to give the French Army time to recover. In addition to his 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. If this occurred, a decisive victory would be much more difficult to obtain.
The Third Battle of Ypres caused the British far fewer casualties than the Battle of the Somme and the substantial success of the occupation of the ridges around Ypres, the first stage of the offensive strategy and inflicted comparable losses on the Germans, who were far less capable of replacing losses and which which contributed to their defeat in 1918. 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" and then did as he was told.
Cambrai By the end of 1917, Lloyd George felt able to assert authority over the generals and at the end of the year was able to sack the First Sea Lord Admiral Jellicoe. Over the objections of Haig and Robertson, an inter-Allied Supreme War Council was set up. En route to a meeting in Paris to discuss this (1 November), Lloyd George told Wilson, Smuts and Hankey that he was toying with the idea of sending Haig to command the British and French forces in Italy. At the meeting (4 November), Lloyd George accused Haig of encouraging press attacks on him. Haig was making similar complaints about Lloyd George, whom he privately compared to the Germans accusing the Allies of atrocities, of which they were guilty. Haig volunteered to write to J. A. Spender, pro-Asquith editor of the Westminster Gazette but Lloyd George begged him not to. Haig wrote "I gave LG a good talking-to on several of the questions that he raised, and felt I got the best of the arguments", a view which does not reflect the later reputations of Haig and Lloyd George.
At the Versailles meeting, when the Supreme War Council was inaugurated (11 November), Lloyd George attributed the success of the Central Powers to unity and scoffed at recent Allied "victories", saying he wished "it had not been necessary to win so many of them". His speech angered several leading politicians, Carson repudiated it and Derby assured Haig of his backing. Haig thought that Lloyd George's political position was weak and he would not last another six weeks (this was a false prediction, although Lloyd George did not have full freedom of action in a coalition government, his personal drive and appeal to certain sections of the public made him indispensable as Prime Minister). Haig and Petain objected to a common command, arguing that coalitions work better when one power is dominant, which was no longer the case, now that British military power had increased relative to that of France.
Lloyd George got his wish to send British forces to Italy, after the Italian defeat at Caporetto in November. Plumer was moved to Italy with five divisions and heavy artillery, which made renewal of the Ypres offensive impossible. Haig knew that manpower was scarce in the BEF and at home and wrote to Robertson (28 October) that an offensive at Cambrai would stem the flow of reinforcements to Italy; Robertson delayed the despatch of two divisions.
Plans for a III Corps attack at Cambrai had been proposed as far back as May. Haig had informed the War Office (5 June) that "events have proved the utility of Tanks" and had initially (18 July) approved preparations as a deception measure from Passchendaele and approved the operation more formally (13 October) as the First Battle of Passchendaele was being fought. The plan was to trap German troops between the River Sensee and Canal du Nord, with the cavalry to seize the St Quentin Canal crossings, then exploit north-east. The first day objective was the high ground around Bourlon Wood and Haig was to review progress after 48 hours.
The Third Army attacked at Cambrai (6.20 am on 20 November) with six infantry and five cavalry divisions, 1,000 guns (using a surprise predicted barrage rather than a preliminary bombardment) and nine tank battalions of 496 tanks (325 combat, 98 support) on unbroken ground, an area held by two German divisions. On the first day the British penetrated 5 miles (8.0 km) on a 6 miles (9.7 km) front with only 4,000 casualties, limited on the first day by blown bridges and the shortness of the November day. The 51st (Highland) Division was held up at Flesquieres village, which fell the following day. Haig's intelligence chief Brigadier-General Charteris, told him that the Germans would not be able to reinforce for 48 hours and James Marshall-Cornwall, then a junior intelligence officer, later an admiring biographer of Haig, alleged that Charteris refused to have reported fresh German divisions shown on the situation map as he did not want to weaken Haig's resolution.
Haig visited the battlefield (21 November), inspecting the fighting at Bourlon Wood through his binoculars. He thought the attacks "feeble and uncoordinated" and was disappointed at the lack of grip by corps and division commanders and encountering 1st Cavalry Division, which had been ordered to fall back, resisted the temptation to countermand the order. At around 9 pm he decided to continue the attack on Bourlon Wood, a decision which has been much criticised but which made good military sense at the time and was supported by Byng, although the political need for a clear victory may also have been a factor. The offensive continued but with diminishing returns. Bourlon Wood fell on 23 November but German counter-attacks had begun. Haig arrived at a Third Army planning meeting (26 November) and ordered further attacks the following day but then had to bow to Byng deciding to go onto the defensive, having achieved a salient 4 miles (6.4 km) deep and 9 miles (14 km) wide. Haig complained that the lack of an extra two divisions had prevented a breakthrough, a view described by one biographer as "self-deception, pure and simple".
Some of the gains (after the church bells had been rung in England in celebration) were retaken after 30 November, when the Germans made their first counter-offensive against the British since 1914, using new sturmtruppen tactics. GHQ intelligence had failed to piece together warnings, especially those from 55th Division. British casualties had mounted to over 40,000 by 3 December, with German losses somewhat less. Baker-Carr, commanding 1st Tank Brigade, later claimed that Kiggell had proposed cutting the number of tank battalions by 50 percent, as Cambrai was "a splendid show but not one that can ever be repeated". This was not Haig's view. One biographer argues that the initial success at Cambrai helped to save Haig's job but another view is that the ultimate disappointment did more damage to Haig's political credibility than Passchendaele.
Aftermath of Cambrai Reviewing recent operations at an Army Commanders Conference (7 Dec) at Doullens, Haig commented how six months earlier, before Messines, the British had expected offensives from Russia, Italy and France and had instead been left carrying the burden. Lloyd George (6 December) was particularly angry at the embarrassing Cambrai reverse, at the hands of "a few" German divisions, after Haig had insisted for the last two years that his offensives were weakening them. When told of this, Haig wrote to Robertson that Lloyd George should either sack him or else cease his "carping criticism". Haig's support amongst the Army, the public and many politicians made this impossible and a plan that Haig be "promoted" to a sinecure, as generalissimo of British forces (similar to what had been done to Joffre at the end of 1916) was scotched when Lord Derby threatened resignation. Asked to provide a statement to the House of Commons, Haig quoted Byng's telephone report to GHQ that the counter-attack had been "in no sense a surprise" (in fact this was contradicted by evidence from GHQ) and attributed the German success to "one cause and one alone … lack of training on the part of junior officers and NCOs and men", a verdict supported by the court of enquiry which, at Derby's instigation, Haig ordered, although the enquiry also criticised "higher commanders" for failing to enforce defensive doctrine. There were also enquiries by a War Office Committee and by General Smuts on behalf of the War Cabinet.
In a later report to Robertson (24 Dec) Haig accepted the blame, stating that the troops had been tired as a result of the attack on Bourlon Wood which he had ordered. Esher had warned Haig (28 October) that Rawlinson was criticising Charteris (known as "the Principal Boy"), and reported that he had told Rawlinson that Charteris had "no influence" over Haig and his information had never let him down. Derby warned Haig (7 December) to sack Charteris, as the War Cabinet and General Staff were displeased at his exaggerated claims of German weakness. Haig took responsibil
Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC's Timeline
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