Douglas Haig – “Butcher of the Somme”

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The First World War started when Austro-Hungary attacked Serbia. This triggered alliances and ententes to come to attention. Germany defended Austro- Hungary and Russia defended Serbia, France defended Russia and Britain defended France.

That one declaration of war caused a chain reaction of countries and a tangle of European politics. Trench Warfare was where the War was fought and was an abomination to send men to War and eventually over the front line. Field Marshall Douglas Haig was the commander in charge of planning the Britain’s attack, when they supported the French whilst they were attacked.Field Marshall Douglas Haig was born in 1861, making him 54 at the time when he was appointed for leadership.

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Haig has gone down in history as the Butcher of the Somme, for sending thousands of British troops over the front line to perish and threw away their lives in futile attacks. War affects everyone in different ways. Emotionally and psychologically; soldiers witnessing so much bloodshed or the loss of loved ones, events that people may never recover from. Militarily; the loss of huge numbers of troops and trench warfare, tried and failed.

Politically; mass democracy and a second war mentioned by Winston Churchill. Economically; economy’s ruined, anger at conditions and European map redrawn. In some ways these consequences were opposed by better and brighter things, but not forgotten. Emotional/social included women getting independence and the vote, better medical care and many more jobs available.

Militarily, the technology was improved vastly, machine guns and artillery were proven effective and methods were tried and failed, so war plans were rethought. Politically there were not many things that were not bad consequences and Economically, U.S.A became more powerful and businesses grew all over Europe and the U. S. The British Government attempted to make trench warfare seem a lot less bad than it actually was, due to the need for new troops, as a persuasion tactic, to ease relatives and assurances for country. One of their methods was censorship. Censorship was where letters/telegrams would be gone through and anything that portrayed the war to be gruesome was striked out.

For Example:’Dear Gertie,I have been in this trench for days now, and each day all I hear is silence, deadly silence. The smell of death, mud, body waste and gunpowder haunts me, worsening slowly but surely. Bombs go off and aeroplanes fly overhead. You can not begin to know how I feel, emotions run through my head; fear, horror, determination, grief.

Parkins, my best friend, got caught in an above the trench combat, I rose long enough to blood, blood everywhere. I see men get injured and murdered daily, I stomp through sludgy mud, and I receive bad news. My love, I wish you well, do not listen to the government, it is all lies.’This would be the type of letter sent and this would be the one received;’Dear Gertie,I have been in this trench.

You can not begin to know how I feel, emotions run through my head; determination. My love I wish you well.’Although the government thought this would work to get more troops, if I was a family member receiving a letter like the one above, with all the strike-outs, I would not feel very reassured but I would suspect something was very wrong!Haig’s plan was that the British artillery to fire non-stop at the German line for a week before the main attack. This would destroy the barbed wire fences, the Germans frontline trenches and defences.

Aircrafts will fly overhead and report on German movements and defences. After this, the British troops would walk across no-mans land unopposed and take the German trenches. This plan went completely wrong because the bombs thrown at the German came to little or no avail and completely failed at destroying German trenches.When the bombing ceased, the Germans would expect an attack.

The barbed wire was not destroyed and the Germans hid 30 feet underground in bunkers when shot at or bombed. The tanks could not go over trenches or very rough terrain and limited visual context for aircrafts due to low clouds. The walking troops were sitting ducks for the enemy’s machine guns and artillery to shoot at. To add to this, the German trenches were stationed on higher ground so they could see the British artillery’s movements and prepare themselves and the troops were slow-advancing targets.

Haig was right to attack because: There was always a chance it would work? Number of Germans reduced Advance on the German trenches Helped France for France to help them Moved forward 20km? Needed support before Verdin got finishedHaig was wrong to attack because:  Lost 100’s of 1000’s of troops? Not thought through properly? Did not know exactly what was happening? Did not know what the front line was like Lost support of British publicThis speech is arguing that Douglas Haig is not the ‘Butcher of the Somme’, but only did what he thought was best:”Field Marshall Douglas Haig was a man of great intelligence, educated at Oxford and Sand Hurst, a man of great passion and love for his family and a man wrongfully accused of being a butcher.

Haig had a long, successful military-led career behind him, but was faced with impossible decisions when introduced to a new type of warfare and was expected to jump straight in and get the decisions right first time. He proved his love and devotion for his family by ensuring they did not suffer during the food shortages.Higher authority was confirmed when Haig did not have to sleep in the trenches and it was important he did not die, because he was the leader, so he only fought in two ordered battles.

The fact that he risked his life to fight in two shows dedication in comparison to other militia leaders who did not fight at all. On September 18th 1914, Haig’s diary entry read; ‘I visited some of the wounded. The ambulance personnel have been overworked. Dressings are very short. Horse ambulance wagons no use; light motors most necessary. This shows his sheer devotion, and kind-heartedness, to his wounded troops, by visiting them and nursing them and giving the ambulance crew a bit of a break.Douglas Haig stated that the machine gun was overrated not because they were new, but because he preferred aircraft artillery. In 1907, he said; ‘Success in battle depends mainly on morale and determination.

Showing he was determined to succeed and help the French with the Germans, and that he would do what it takes. It has been said that Haig was a bit of a ‘technophobic’, but it has been suggested by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne, that Haig was not a ‘technophobe’, but just preferred air power.Douglas Haig was also a man who could admit the government had made a mistake, however minor it was, by recognising that the war was unlikely to be over by Christmas. He also reported overlooking a trench mortar that could fire a bomb of 21b weight.

Showing his commitment and dependence on his weaponry. Haig took a fair while to get the first lot of troops over the front line, which showed compassion and just how difficult the decisions were for Douglas Haig to make about his troops attack and defence systems.Field Marshall Douglas Haig was not ‘Butcher of the Somme’, he only did what he thought was right and even warned the country to prepare themselves for severe losses to enable victory.This speech is arguing that Douglas Haig was and is the ‘Butcher of the Somme’:”Field Marshall Douglas Haig may have been a doting husband and well-educated militia, but he was 54 years old and lazy.

Of the many battles he ordered, he fought in a single two. Haig said himself that he had 3 motives that he was abiding by:

  • to relieve pressures on the French Army at Verdin, who were close to collapse,
  • to help the allies, the French by distracting German troops and to wear down the strength of the enemy forces. It appeared that his idea of wearing down the enemy forces was 1.
  • to let his troops get shot at.

Also highly criticised is the cost of the way he pushed the Germans from French soil, without suggesting alternative methods. His aims meant he acted sloppily and disregarded the lives of the troops.

Haig’s lack of positivity showed right from the very beginning when he stated that the country must be prepared for heavy losses to enable victory, inflicting a lot of ‘doom and gloom’ on the audience.Haig was not bothered about his men, to a higher extent than ‘keeping it at a professional level’, as proved when his men lived in muddy, smelly, bloody trenches that smelt of death and he lived comfortably dining richly every evening. This seemed selfish rather than a confirmation of higher authority and the fact that he took army food supplies to send to his wife and children, further proves my case. On September 18th Haig’s diary said about him visiting the wounded and stating the ambulance crew have been overworked.

In comparison to the biography section by Gerard de Groot, about the living conditions, this entry opposes his ‘selfish’ nature and makes him seem more bothered about his troops. It is highly possible that he knew that one day someone might see his diary, and Gerard de Groot is more likely to be willing to criticise than Haig himself; does this mean that Haig gave himself a more saintly image?Douglas Haig stated in 1916 that the machine gun was a much overrated weapon. The machine gun was a fairly new and popular invention, but Haig seemed to use them unwillingly. He lived in the past too much, adding to the likeliness of losing because the Germans were fairly up-to-date with technology.

In 1907, Haig said; ‘Success in battle depends mainly on morale and determination.’ Haig was almost too determined to succeed, so determined that he was willing to send thousands of troops simultaneously to their deaths.Private George Coppard survived the Battle of the Somme and said that hundreds of men died on the barbed wire as on the ground. This could be that the troops were forced to get to the enemies trenches, and many died trying to do what Haig ordered them too.

Lieutenant J.A Raws and David Lloyd George both decided in their war memories that Haig used old methods and troops were killed due to the stupidity of those in authority. Field Marshall Douglas Haig and Rawlinson were both reported to have lessons to learn and unlearning previous battle plans, as their brains were cluttered with useless lumber. When troops went over the front line, thousands were killed to ‘move Haig’s drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin’, as stated from a lieutenant.

It is possibly true that Field Marshall Douglas Haig managed to push the most powerful army in the world off French soil, but he failed to understand the best way to use artillery. The British got the Germans off French soil but at the cost of hundreds of thousands of men’s lives and for Haig to only become ‘Butcher of the Somme.'”In conclusion, I think Field Marshall Douglas Haig was the wrong leader for the First World War because he was stuck in the wrong time period, with the wrong methods and type of warfare going on. I think he deserves his nickname for murdering thousands of men indirectly, but I do not think we can blame him singularly as Rawlinson was in the wrong too.

War memories, accounts, biographies, diaries and facts have all been put forward, but I think it all could have happened differently with a different leader. The incredibly horrible events of the Holocaust could have possibly been prevented by this one man, so I could never think he did not deserve his reputation.Extension: The Sources given and peoples opinions of Haig will have changed over time because of many reasons. Source A will be because Haig is going to be biased towards him and make himself look good and source B because there would be a certain amount of spite involved because of the loss of lives.

Sources C & D because of biased opinions and sources E, F & G might not have been exactly reliable because they would not have liked Haig for nearly getting them killed and/or friends/associates/family being killed because of him.Overall, self-opinions, being biased and against Haig and amounts of spite would have affected the reliability of sources. People’s opinions may also have been affected because The Great War was supposed to be a war to end all wars, but World War Two followed shortly after, causing people to blame the militia leadership of WW1. If the sources were written before WW2, there would have been a better chance it was reliable than afterwards where their brains are clouded with more war.

My last point is that if World War 1 had not ended the way it had due to Douglas Haig, then the Treaty of Versailles would not have been agreed about Germany without Germany present. Then there may have been a chance that Hitler would not have formed his ‘Nazi’ group and the events of the holocaust may have been prevented from happening in the near future. Haig was one of the triggers towards the pain and torture caused during the holocaust by Adolf Hitler and the rise of him.

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Douglas Haig – “Butcher of the Somme”. (2017, Nov 07). Retrieved from

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