Was Earl Douglas Haig The Butcher Of The Somme Essay

On the day after the debacle, stating that the enemy “has undoubtedly been shaken and has few reserves in hand,” he discussed with subordinates methods for continuing the offensive.

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On several occasions mounted troops were brought up in anticipation of the breakout that, of course, never occurred.

Critics of Haig are remorseless on this point—the man was so confident in his outdated ideas that he never allowed actual battlefield experience to challenge them.

His fantasies of cavalry charges across open country were matched by his insistence on sending infantry against the enemy in neat ranks at a slow walk, the better to maintain control.

Andrew Jackson had demonstrated the flaw in this method of attack during the War of 1812, and the American Civil War had truly driven the point home on a dozen different occasions.

Then–BEF commander Sir John French was exhausted, demoralized and lacked confidence in himself and that of his immediate subordinates.

He was replaced by Haig, who was, in the words of Winston Churchill, “first officer of the British Army.Visiting the Somme battlefield in northern France is largely a matter of going from one Commonwealth Graves Commission cemetery to another.The graveyards are everywhere, some of them very small, comprising only a handful of white Portland marble stones, many bearing the inscription, A Soldier of the Great War / Known unto God.He was as sure of himself at the head of the British army as a country gentleman on the soil which his ancestors had trod for generations and to whose cultivation he had devoted his life.” The “country gentleman” meme is especially apt in Haig’s case.The man had a thing for horses, which is understandable in one who had been a cavalry officer during the infancy of the internal combustion engine.But Douglas Haig may be the great exception to this rule.First, because he still has defenders who—in spite of those many graveyards and inconclusive, costly battles—would claim he was not in fact an unsuccessful commander.One sees so many of these cemeteries and so many stones—along with the vast memorial at Thievpal bearing the names of some 70,000 British soldiers whose bodies were never recovered—that after a few hours of it, you feel numb. The magnitude of the battle still stuns the imagination.The Somme was an epic of both slaughter and futility; a profligate waste of men and materiel such as the world had never seen.By then, Haig’s army had suffered more than 400,000 casualties. They are artists of a kind, blending in one person intelligence, intuition, courage, calculation and many other traits that allow them to see what others cannot and to act when the time is right.For the British, in the grave judgment of noted military historian John Keegan, “the battle was the greatest tragedy…of their national military history” and “marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered.” But Haig was not finished yet. For students of military history, the question of what makes great commanders is inexhaustibly fascinating.


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