Haig Fully Deserves His Reputation as ‘Bungler and Butcher of the Somme’

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Haig, a divisive figure of both World War One and the twentieth century, elicits differing viewpoints. Some view him as a nationalistic champion, while others question his effectiveness as a leader. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that he led 60,000 soldiers to their deaths in the early stages of the Somme battle – a startling fact made even more disconcerting when considering the minimal gains in territory achieved.

The reputation of Haig as the ‘Bungler and Butcher of the Somme’ stems from his apparent lack of concern for the lives lost. This is why he gained a reputation as a butcher. One source that supports this notion states, “The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill from higher commanders, no matter how good the training of officers and men, and no matter how superior the arms and ammunition, victories cannot be achieved without sacrificing lives.”

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According to Sir Douglas Haig, the nation should be prepared to witness extensive lists of casualties, as he stated before the battle of the Somme. This remark suggests that Haig was indifferent towards the lives of his soldiers and implies that he was willing to sacrifice them despite any advantages held by the allied armies.

Despite objections, some argue that Haig’s detached approach to his men was necessary for his job’s success. This detachment allowed him to be effective in his role. It also suggests that Haig showed bravery by acknowledging and preparing the nation for the inevitable losses of war. It would be unrealistic to expect a commander to believe that only a few lives would be lost in battle. If measuring a general’s competence based on the number of lives lost by soldiers, it is unlikely any general could be considered successful. Additionally, Britain did not suffer disproportionately high casualties compared to other participating armies.

The number of lives Haig was referring to can be questioned, but the battle of the Somme saw 60,000 casualties in just a few hours. Haig did not receive the desired number of men for the offensive. Trench warfare from 1914-18 showed that regardless of training and equipment, soldiers were vulnerable and faced heavy casualties when attacking well-protected opposing forces with earthworks, barbed wire, and rapid-fire weapons. John Keegan defends the actual number of casualties as an undeniable truth of war. However, it is debatable whether his figures accurately represent the casualties and deaths in the battle of Somme. Some admire Haig’s bravery for accepting responsibility for lives lost.

Another source suggests that he was both a butcher and a bungler. The source reports, “The morning attack went exceedingly well, without any issues. Our battle is going favorably as the Germans are surrendering willingly. The enemy is facing severe manpower shortages and is recruiting soldiers from various parts of the front line. Our troops remain in high spirits and have unwavering confidence.”

“This source is from Haig’s report on the first day attack and implies several things. One implication is that Haig is portrayed as a butcher, as he appears unaffected by the substantial number of casualties encountered on that day.”

The passage suggests that Haig prioritized achieving the main objectives of the battle over minimizing casualties. He was willing to accept a high number of casualties in order to accomplish his goals, such as gaining territory, diverting German troops from Verdun, and inflicting significant losses on the enemy. However, this implies that Haig’s sources of information may not have been entirely accurate. Consequently, doubts arise about his leadership abilities due to unreliable communication channels. This problem could have been resolved if Haig had personally witnessed the events by being physically present on the front line.

Although it would have been challenging for him to lead the entire western front from the front line, his absence does not absolve him of being considered a bungler. Commanding a large army spread across different areas and coordinating their actions requires a highly skilled commander, indicating that incorrect information was likely being conveyed to him. Furthermore, another source supports the claim that he was both a butcher and a bungler by stating that Haig had the stubbornness and thoughtlessness akin to that of a donkey.

The guiding principle of the commander was to kill more Germans than the Germans could kill his men, believing that this would eventually lead to victory in the war. This strategy is extremely brutal and can be considered as a massacre. The Battle of the Somme was a clear example of criminal negligence, as there was no possibility of achieving a breakthrough but he still sent his men to their deaths.

According to John Laffin’s book ‘British Butchers and Bunglers of the World War’, Haig is depicted as a combination of both a butcher and a bungler. The book accuses him of knowingly sacrificing soldiers’ lives, even though he was aware that the chances of success were minimal. Additionally, Haig is criticized for implementing an ineffective strategy, earning him the label of a bungler.

It should be acknowledged that this source may have a bias because of the book’s title, which suggests that the author is overly critical. Haig, the author, penned this in 1926, ten years after the Battle of the Somme. He conveyed his belief that even with the introduction of airplanes and tanks as new instruments of warfare, horses would still retain significant importance in future conflicts. Haig asserted that both men and horses are indispensable elements and foresaw well-bred horses maintaining their usefulness just as they had done in earlier eras.

This source indicates that Haig’s leadership was ineffective, as it was written a decade after the Somme. The significance of this is that it illustrates Haig’s lack of learning from the experiences during the battle. While it is understandable that mistakes were made by Haig due to significant shifts in warfare during the initial years of World War One, one would anticipate a competent commander to have gained knowledge from his own errors and those made by others after such an extended period.

Despite Haig’s writings, it seems that he failed to grasp any lessons, portraying him as an inept individual unwilling to acknowledge the diminishing value of cavalry. This stubbornness highlights his inability to adapt and solidifies his reputation as a bungler.

According to this source, it appears that Haig did not possess the necessary adaptability, a crucial trait for an effective commander. In 1915, Haig expressed his belief that “The way to capture machine guns is by grit and determination,” which suggests a flawed strategy. This is evident in the outcome of the Battle of the Somme, where countless soldiers were mowed down by machine guns.

Moreover, his disregard for human life is evident, suggesting that he was possibly a butcher. He showed no concern for potential casualties as long as the machine guns were captured. Numerous German soldiers are currently defeated and prepared to surrender, exhausted from the war and anticipating nothing but defeat. Despite the insignificance of the territory we have acquired, its importance is negligible.

During December 1916, Haig wrote a report about the aftermath of the battle of the Somme. In this report, he claims their success in driving out the enemy from strong defensive positions and emphasizes that German casualties were higher than theirs. However, noticeably missing from Haig’s account are any mentions of their own soldiers’ losses or injuries suffered. This exclusion has resulted in criticism, with some people labeling Haig as a butcher.

The main focus of the text is to emphasize the positive aspects. This quality can be beneficial for a leader as it can uplift the morale of their followers. While the strategic significance of the battle of Somme might not be high, it had a profound impact on morale and boosted confidence in the Western Powers.

The German troops had accomplished a feat that showed promise for the future. However, their confidence in victory had diminished. Many experienced and reliable officers and soldiers were no longer present, and their absence was evident given the need to deploy numerous inadequately trained young soldiers due to the heavy losses suffered.

In spite of not being a complete disaster, the battle of the Somme did achieve certain outcomes. Specifically, it resulted in the elimination of the German’s highly skilled soldiers, who were then replaced by inexperienced ones. Moreover, the morale of the German troops dropped significantly. However, I believe that Haig’s primary objective was not to gain territory.

In my opinion, the label “butcher and bungler” attributed to Haig is a result of his attempts to expand territory. Nevertheless, I think it is unfair to classify anyone, including Haig, in such a manner. While casualties are inevitable during warfare, I firmly believe that regardless of the war’s advancement, the loss of lives can never be rationalized. Overall, my perception of Haig tends towards him being considered a “bungler.”

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Haig Fully Deserves His Reputation as ‘Bungler and Butcher of the Somme’. (2017, Nov 11). Retrieved from


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