Haig was an efficient and highly skilled soldier who did much to lead Britain to victory in the First World War Essay
John Keegan, a modern military historian, suggests that Haig was an ‘efficient and highly skilled soldier who did much to lead Britain to victory in the First World War’. Is there sufficient evidence in Sources C to L to support this interpretation? Use the sources and your own knowledge to explain your answer. When the Great War broke out in 1914, it took Europe by surprise. Britain was totally unprepared for the kind of war that broke out in Europe. There is some blame to be laid here, but I believe it cannot be fairly laid on the generals as this was not their agenda.
Much of the bloodshed of the Great War, from the British point of view, stems from the lack of preparedness. The Army was very small and had the means to fight a continental war were missing – especially artillery shells. For the same reason, the munitions industry was very small and when the army expanded, the industry to support and arm the soldiers did not exist. This was not the fault of the generals although at some points the blame was squarely pointed at Haig. I do not think that he was the one to blame, because not only could no-one else have done any better, but there was not the means to do better than he did.
Source D depicts that Haig was a selfish man, he was arrogant and he believed that he was ‘the best for the job’. The comment at the bottom shows that he already knew that people would die; this is not the attitude to have when going into a war, especially one of this magnitude. The words “your country” leads me to believe that he was just playing a game. He did not think about the lives he had in his hands and just placed them where ever he felt like, regardless of what he thought might happen, whether they were to sacrifice themselves for another platoon or company, or whether they were actually going to play a vital role in the war effort.
The quote marks around the “needs me”, lead me to believe that Haig was at least involved around the poster, this also implies that he was an arrogant man, and that he believed that without him, the country would not survive. This proves that Haig was an efficient and highly skilled soldier, as Britain would not accept any less in their fight for, eventually, their survival. Source E assists the fact that the commanding officers, the men who effectively ran the army, weren’t given the time needed to train and grow accustomed to their roles.
No training, however good, will enable victories to be won”, this makes the training seem pointless and that the best option would be to send them straight into the trenches and get them battle hardy, as the only thing that would win the war would be experienced soldiers and the sacrifice of human lives. The two could not go hand in hand and if the experienced soldiers were killed, all that was left were the volunteers, the men who had never served military service before and who, by 1916, made up the majority of the BEF.
When the old British Regular Army was practically destroyed in 1914-15, Britain was left with a poorly trained, amateur army because there were no senior officers left to guide the recruits who only had basic training. ‘On the job’ training in battle was costly in casualties and took time. The ‘learning curve’ of the young generals of Britain and France stayed consistent and only rose during the Somme battles of 1916. Some of this was due to the shortages of men, especially well-trained men, and equipment described earlier.
It is also possible that the surviving Generals were too old in 1914 and 1915 but Britain had to use the generals they had left, the ones with some experience of command, of logistics, of warfare. Only later in the war, as the armies expanded, could younger, fresher, better commanding men be found and brought up to replace the positions that the older generation had left. Although Haig was of the older generation of soldiers in the British Army, having joined Sandhurst in 1883, he was the most experienced, effective and efficient General that the British Army had at the time.
Source J suggests that Haig just wanted to ‘move his drinks cabinet a few feet closer to Berlin’, Captain Phillip Neame recalls that Haig was usually a surprising visitor to the trenches, “Haig took no notice” of the shells, as if he wasn’t scared of them, which showed that Haig thought he was in no danger, confidence was high despite the shells coming close, this could show the Captain that he was ‘invincible’ from the shells, a sign of arrogance. However he slowed down and asked questions about whether “camouflage from the air” would work, he was using the soldier’s thoughts and opinions to help them do their job effectively.
This is why John Keegan is correct in his opinion. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Haig, he had his critics, not only modern historians, but the soldiers at the time. Source G, the Memoirs of David Lloyd George (DLG), characterizes Haig as a blunderer. Someone who would rather let “millions perish, than that they as leaders should admit that they were blunderers”. Haig promised that he would not press the attack if it became clear that he could not attain his objectives by continuing the offensive, but millions upon millions of soldiers died?
Even DLG admits he has “always felt there are solid grounds for criticism”, the man who allowed all this to happen. This is a reason why Haig is not an efficient, highly skilled soldier. If he was, then he could have seen that his tactics were not working, and that millions of deaths did not have to be used to learn from the mistakes of sending those millions of soldiers to their graves. Haig’s greatest failing aspect of his ambitious, reserved, self-confident personality is outlined in Source F.
He often had misplaced optimism, which possibly stemed from his belief that he was chosen by God to lead his country. He was unable to see defeat, even when it was staring him in the face. This was probably the reason he continued the onslaught upon the Somme and Passchendale, despite thousands and thousands of deaths on the first day of the Somme. He didn’t know when to concede defeat or when to take the initiative to gain an advantage on the battle field. A great example of this is the failure to send re-enforcements to Schwaben Redoubt on the 1st July 1916.
This is another reason why John Keegan is wrong in his opinion that Haig was a highly skilled soldier. Soldiers from both sides of no man’s land described it as the ‘muddy grave of the field army’, this is why our Generals should not be blamed, we weren’t the one’s that failed to achieve their objectives, we succeeded and we gained victory, this is why that when Haig died in 1928 of a heart attack aged 66, tens of thousands of old soldiers turned out to see his coffin pass and more than 30,000 veterans followed it to the burial.
He deserves a kinder, fairer judgement than posterity has granted him till now, and he is the one that led us to victory and this is why I believe that John Keegan is correct in his idea that Sir Douglas Haig was an ‘efficient and highly skilled soldier’.