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Britain's Greatest GeneralBritain's Greatest General


Steven Broomfield
25 January 2011, 1.52pm

Nothing perjorative in using

Nothing perjorative in using the nickname "Butcher" Haig in your biography ...

T. Rutherford
25 January 2011, 2.15pm

When did the compiler of this

When did the compiler of this biography last look at a history of the Great War or Haig?

Jim Grundy
25 January 2011, 2.32pm

Haig commanded the British

Haig commanded the British Army when it achieved its greatest victories, those over the German army on the Western Front during the Great War. It was the only time in our history where the British engaged the main enemy in the main theatre of war and defeated it. That claim cannot be made for Marlborough or Wellington, let alone the likes of Montgomery (only an army commander anyway). And that achievement did not happen in spite of Haig. His role was vital and the slanders against his name by lesser men, not least by David Lloyd George, have for too long clouded many perspectives on the man and his army.

Peter Hart
25 January 2011, 2.43pm

The insulting comments above

The insulting comments above in the text and the nickname of butcher are simply biased gutter-press tosh and whoever is responsible should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Peter Hart

Dave Moutter
25 January 2011, 4.24pm

The alleged chaining of

The alleged chaining of troops to machine guns is a black mark on his fine record.
He couldn't play the bugle,either.
Top man.Right place,right time.

25 January 2011, 5.44pm

The British Army turned

The British Army turned itself into a war winning organisation with Haig in the driving seat - it seems that it is a moot point as to whether that was Haig's achievement or whether he merely failed to impede the process. Being in charge of the winning side when the cannons fall silent is a major plus, on the minus side he connived at displacing his predecessor, seems to have been unwise in the choice of some of his subordinates, did great damage to the army by persisting in 3rd Ypres and reacted rather unevenly to the March Offensive. Some have suggested that he was less than pro-active in the conduct of the counter-offensives of the last 100 days. B- at best I would say. Plumer would deserve to be rated higher and he doesn't even make the list.

Brian Curragh
25 January 2011, 6.24pm

Plumer was not tested to the

Plumer was not tested to the same level and declined the opportunity to take on the role of CIGS - it was Haig who led the B.E.F. to ultimate victory.

Keith Roberts
25 January 2011, 7.46pm

"Butcher Haig". Nothing

"Butcher Haig". Nothing biased in the presentation then.
Haig commanded Britain's largest ever force in the field. He made errors, and he helped his forces to learn from them. His leadership in the last 18 months of the Great War was crucial to victory. Plumer was good, but Haig held the line, and unleashed his subordinate commanders when it counted. he got the big decisions right. Surely he has to stand with only Wellington and Marlborough from earlier times as one of the truly great commanders.

Pete Knight
25 January 2011, 8.16pm

I would like to add my

I would like to add my displeasure at reading the disparaging remarks above, intimating that Haig was nicknamed a butcher.This does nothing for the advancement of rational history. This incorrect subtitle should be removed unless the author can demonstrate a contemporary source where this is actually quoted.

Chris Baker
26 January 2011, 10.17am

I am surprised that at our

I am surprised that at our National Army Museum would publish such tosh on its website.

Charles Messenger
26 January 2011, 11.06am

Butcher could be applied to

Butcher could be applied to any WW1 general of any nationality on the Western Front, such was the nature of the war fought there. Haig's greatest achievement was to mould an army, which by late summer 1918 had become the most effective of any, especially in its understanding of combined arms. And this was in spite of the tribulations it had undergone up to that point. Of course he had his faults and made mistakes, but his qualities and achievements outshone these.

Ian Abernethy
26 January 2011, 1.24pm

A poor summary which reflects

A poor summary which reflects no credit at all on the N.A.M.

Lynsey Shaw
26 January 2011, 1.31pm

I would like to echo what has

I would like to echo what has been said by the other contributors. This piece is almost a-historical. There are historians out there striving to squash myths and common stereotypes about the war and this piece lowers the tone and completely rejects a well-established and carefully constructed historiography. Academics has moved on from smearing Haig's name, why can't the NAM?

Keith Jackson
26 January 2011, 8.52pm

One thing that has not been

One thing that has not been said in this summary is that some of the battles during which Haig commanded were neither at places or times of his choosing and which he opposed - the Somme being the prime example. Haig, as with all British commanders to the present day, answered to the politicians and ultimately had to fight where he was told to fight. I find the lack of depth in the summary most surprising with the NAM as the source.

John Norris
27 January 2011, 5.14am

I see the revisionists are

I see the revisionists are out in force. That does not make them right, or Haig even respectable as a 'great general'.

The crosses on the graves still stand in mute reproach. I would sooner honour the service of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission than Haig!

One may praise him for his determination to pursue the bloody stalemate on the Western Front. That kind of 'determination' is a limited quality in a commanding general, especially one who was out of his depth. The higher leadership of the Army were still paying for his mistakes in the second war.

George A. Webster
27 January 2011, 10.59am

@John Norris: You'll find

@John Norris:

You'll find that the true 'revisionists' were those led by the raudulent and self-serving Liddell Hart, and included such luminaries of military history as Alan Clark, John Laffin and Denis Winter. The school of thought which you attempt to disparage as 'revisionist' is that which began an evidentially based return of Haig's reputation to that which would be recognised by his contemporaries who actually fought the war in which he commanded.

As to "the crosses on the graves [which] still stand in mute reproach", I think you'll find that the Germans had rather more to do with providing the British occupants of these than Haig. You'll also find that there are rather more German, French and Russian graves than British. In seeking to blame Haig for the cost of the Great War to Britain you are playing Lloy George's game. Developments in firepower and the advent of mass citizen armies meant that politicians had to be very sure indeed that the inevitable high price in lives was worth paying before they took their people to war. Once the political decision to go to war had been taken, it was no use the politicians who took it wringing their hands at the ensuing cost in a period before other battlefield technologies in the form of radio communications, reliable mechanised armour and APC's and air power could begin to take something of the edge of the devastating capabilities of the advances in artillery and smallarms firepower. If they deemed the cost of winning the Great War as being too high, the politicians could have ended it at any time they chose. They did not do so. Instead, men like Lloyd George claimed credit and portrayed themselves as 'the man who won the war', whilst blaming men like Haig for the cost in doing so. In this they were aided and abetted by military pundits on the make like Liddell Hart, whom Lloy George employed specifically to stick it to Haig and the generals in his memoirs. Commentators like John Norris continue to propagate these myths.

Jim Grundy
27 January 2011, 11.01am

"I see the revisionists are

"I see the revisionists are out in force". Actually, I would suggest that is a complete misnomer and rather more accurately refers to those who denigrated Haig's reputation after his death and continue to do so. Contemporary opinion - inconvenient thing that - seems to be at odds with the more modern 'revisionist' view.

"The crosses on the graves still stand in mute reproach": is it ever possible to go beyond this type of cliche?.

Pete Knight
27 January 2011, 3.21pm

Am I a revisionist? The

Am I a revisionist? The original so called revisionists as mentioned above with the help of the Lloyd Georges and Liddell Harts of this world who bent the truth and assailed Haigs reputation is the truth you choose to believe Mr Norris. You strangely however seek to rebuff a new Generation of "truth seekers" preferring to believe the established truth. I am pro Haig, I am a revisionist and I have an open mind to researching and discovering the truth. I am prepared to accept, that what I once believed is possibly not all fact.
As for The crosses on the graves still stand in mute reproach. Was it not Lloyd George who held much needed reserves back, mostly for his own political ego. Understrength battalions fighting a war of that magnitude what sort of a man would even comprehend such a thing?

John Norris
28 January 2011, 9.16pm

I wrote "The crosses on the

I wrote "The crosses on the graves still stand in mute reproach". That may be a cliche, Mr Grundy, but like many such it is also _true_. Mr Webster argues "Commentators like John Norris continue to propagate these myths." The crosses are not mythical; each one represents a man who was killed before his time. Or was that a myth too?

George A. Webster
29 January 2011, 1.46pm

Sophistry is the last resort

Sophistry is the last resort of those with no factual basis for their arguments, Mr Norris. No-one except you has connected the crosses of the cemeteries in France to the myths of the Great War. What was clearly expressed was that uninformed pundits such as yourself continue to propagate the myths put in place by the likes of Lloyd George and Liddell Hart - ie that the kudos for winning the war was the politician Lloyd George's, whereas the cost of achieving that is unenquiringly placed at the door of incompetent generals. As every nation engaged in that war sustained enormous casualties - most grossly in excess of those of the British and Empire forces - then the logical conclusion of arguments like your is that every C-in-C of every nation in '14 - '18 was a 'butcher'. Some of us prefer to go beyond Lloyd George's propaganda and recognise that war between the developed nations in this era was always going to be extremely costly for all participants because developments in firepower were still in the process of being balanced by advances in other battlefield technologies, such as, inter alia, radio communication, motorisation and armour. Your knowledge base on this is clearly so wilfully low that I am increasingly convinced of the futility of trying to debate your views with you on a factual basis. Your regressively uncomprehrending view of Haig and his achievement as C-inC is best summed up, I think, by the irrelevant and fatuous 'Butcher' Haig reference you make to him on the NAM's Allenby listing.

Peter Hart
29 January 2011, 3.05pm

It has been repeatedly

It has been repeatedly pointed out that there is no contemporary source for the Nickname 'Butcher' Haig which is a late fifties sixties construct. His nickname during the war was 'The Chief', possibly also 'Dougie' or 'DH'. You have managed to correct a factual mistake on the Montgomery page why can't you do so here? Can it be that the NAM is instituttionally baised against Haig? If so I trust you are not in receipt of public funds?

Pete Knight
29 January 2011, 11.39pm

Mr Norris I refer to your

Mr Norris I refer to your last comment.Sentimentality is not history Mr Norris, please try and be more mature in your approach.

Graham Morley
30 January 2011, 4.17pm

It has to be Haig! In his

It has to be Haig! In his school report it would have read 'could have done better' but in comparison to all the others, he goes to the top of the class.

Richard hardy
30 January 2011, 8.13pm

Haig the leader of lions but

Haig the leader of lions but an ass of a man, His leadership of the BEF was bought by his friendship of the king and he only remained in power as the prime minister refused to remove him from his postion.
His persistance in sending men to their deaths despite the fact that tens of thousands had tried and failed to take the same postion over and over again goes to prove he had no idea of how to fight a war, Haigh had little respect for the men under his command and treated them as cannon fodder , it was his persistance in failing nay refusing to realise that throwing thousands of men against machince guns and fortified positions was fruitless.
His reckless runing of the war cost the live's of 100,s of thousands of youg men including my grandfarther.
He was a killing general and he did not mind who's soldiers got kill their's our OUR'S.

Jim Grundy
31 January 2011, 12.45pm

The loss of loved family

The loss of loved family members does not qualify anyone as a judge of the merits of a military commander. Were that the case, there will be few people in this country not qualified as such. But significantly more in France, Germany, Russia.... However, did Haig start the war? No. And was he fighting Zulus? Again, no.

To adopt the position that modern, industrialised societies can engage in mass warfare and, in such a conflict it is possible that an outcome of which can be little more than a minor wound to the odd dog of Germanic origin is simply not to live in the real world. War costs lives. If you are prepared to accept it as a means of solving world problems then death on a scale that no sane individual can come to terms with is inevitable.

As for the charge, that Haig sent men to their deaths, changing neither strategy or tactics during 1914 and 1918 then I invite them to back that up. In constructing your answer, please mention the formation of the Machine Gun Corps, the Tank Corps, the Royal Air Force, mines, the development of the creeping and box barrages, aerial photographic reconnaissance, the impact fuse, sound ranging, flash spotting and unregistered artillery fire plans, to name a few as examples of how nothing changed. And once you've done that, remind us how it was with such idiots for opponents how on earth did the Germans lose.

Pete Knight
31 January 2011, 2.03pm

@ Richard Hardy. There seems

@ Richard Hardy. There seems to be slight flaw in your argument. It is well documented that Lloyd George, the Prime Minister tried desperately to undermine Haig and have him removed even subverted him to French command. He certainly did not "refuse" to remove Haig, the simple fact that had Lloyd George a single contender equal to Haig or better than Haig, he would have seized the opportunity to remove Haig. Your alternative argument is that Lloyd George was complicit in the futile deaths for "refusing" to remove Haig. You can't have it both ways Mr Hardy.As an aside I sympathise with the loss of your grandfather. I lost 4 family members in the Great War. My Grandfather holder of the MM died after the war as a result of wounds received. We all have similar stories to tell but it adds nothing to academic debate.

Jack Spraggon
31 January 2011, 2.40pm

Jim Grundy #3. I would not

Jim Grundy #3. I would not greatly differ with your views on Douglas Haig, but would just like to point out that Marlborough did indeed (and repeatedly) defeat the main enemy in the main theatre of war. Indeed it could be argued that the France of Louis XIV was a greater military superpower at the time than Germany was in 1916-18.

George A. Webster
31 January 2011, 4.59pm

I think that we may safely

I think that we may safely now ignore the unsubstantiated rants of Messrs Norris and Hardy, which are predicated on long discredited allegations made by those with axes to grind (eg Lloyd George) or who were on the make (Liddell Hart).

Moving on to Mr Spraggon's comments. I would argue that Imperial Germany in 1914 -18 posed a threat as a military superpower which was at the very least the equal of anything which Louis XIV's France represented against British interests. That threat in 1914 was in the shape of the Kaiserreich's possession of a modern, and ever expanding, High Seas Fleet. The possibility of Germany seizing France's Channel and Atlantic seaboard ports posed a direct threat to Britain and her Empire's very lifeblood in the shape of her dominance of the trade routes through unchallenged naval power. Britain could no longer afford to hold a position of 'splendid isolation' as she had done as recently as less than fifty years earlier during the Franco Prussian War.

I agree entirely with Mr Spraggon's point about Marlborough's successful engagements against a main continental army in the main theatre of war. However, in the context of Haig, the late John Terraine famously pointed out that, "“The toughest assignment in modern British military history has been high command in war against the main body of a main continental enemy. Only three British officers have undertaken such a task and brought it to a successful conclusion: the Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington and Field-Marshal Lord Haig.” To that I would add, however, that Douglas Haig commanded an army and operations on a scale which had never been experienced by the British Army before, and nor has it since. At Waterloo, Wellington commanded 67,000 men – of whom just 24,000 were British. Haig, by contrast, commanded an army of almost 2 million men by the end of the First World War, whilst at the same time overseeing a vast support infrastructure of railways, roads, shipping, canals, agriculture and factories, with the whole set-up between the frontline trenches and the Channel ports being akin to a large metropolis. The series of victories achieved by Haig's armies in the second half of 1918 are unparalelled in scale British military endeavour before or since. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing in the annals of British military history before or since to meaningfully measure Haig’s command in the First World War against. Another historian, Sir Arthur Bryant, summed up the uniquness of Haig's achievement some fifty years ago:

"In the realm of public opinion, few things can be more important today than to make it at long last clear what Haig and, above all, Haig’s army, accomplished for Britain and the world, and to remind a new generation that their fathers, and father’s fathers, who perished on the blood-drenched downs of the Somme and in the foul slime of Passchendaele, did not die in vain. The magnitude of that achievement was even greater, I believe, than Britain’s single-handed stand in 1940-41; and it nearly all, as I see it, turned on Haig."

And in 1953, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Viscount Trenchard wrote:

"I feel one day in years to come - it may be fifty or even a hundred years - history will relate what the world owes to Haig."

Men such as Terraine, Bryant, and Trenchard had an intimate knowledge of the facts relating to the unique nature of the achievement of Haig and his armies, and set out their reasoning in their writings. Their conclusions, therefore, provide a coherent rebuttal of the wild and unsubstantiated accusations which a tiny minority have contributed to this discussion. That, Gentlemen, is why Douglas Haig - uniquely amongst the many fine British commanders listed in this poll - deserves the accolade of the highest number of votes.

31 January 2011, 10.29pm

I notice that there is a lot

I notice that there is a lot of chat along the lines that there was nobody available who could have done a better job - this doesn't seem to amount to an argument for Haig's place as a great general merely for his status as the least worst option at the time and certainly no justification at all for him being the greatest general Britain has ever produced. So he led the largest army Britain has ever put in the field and didn't lose, hurrah for Haig! But then until 1918 he did not have to face an enemy on the offensive and in the meantime during 1916 and 1917 it seems to me that he came close to running the army into the ground on the Somme, at Arras and Passchendaele. Perhaps someone could explain how a fixation with attrition counts as great generalship rather than demographic accountancy?

Asad U Khwaja
1 February 2011, 8.17am

I do not agree with those who

I do not agree with those who support FM Haig's claim for the 'top spot' here. It is claimed that he fought/engaged the enemy in 'major theatre/s' of the First World War; but history tells us that these 'engagements' were very expensive indeed and often, not effective or conclusive victories-- especially when compared to great landmarks such as for example Blenheim, or Waterloo. How can we forget these achievements and elevate the sheer bloody carnage of WW 1 above them?

William Philpott
1 February 2011, 9.23am

Douglas Haig’s 1928 Times

Douglas Haig’s 1928 Times obituary dubbed him ‘Master of the Field’. He was it asserted, ‘the greatest soldier that the Empire possessed…who shouldered the heaviest military burden that any Briton has ever borne’. It further cautioned, ‘It would be useless…to endeavour to compare the qualities of Marlborough or Wellington with those of Haig. It is sufficient to say that he, like them, showed himself able to use most effectively the means at his disposal, and deserves to take his place with them in the roll of fame.’ His wartime popularity with his troops endured until his death: his state funeral was attended by as great a crowd as Princess Diana’s. Nevertheless, Lord Esher records that the word ‘butcher’ was used to describe Douglas Haig in a Cabinet meeting in July 1916. He does not record by whom, but one hopes not the responsible War Minister Lloyd George. In his War Memoirs Lloyd George never went so far, although one only has to review the sub-headings under ‘Haig’ in the index to perceive the negative impression of his commander-in-chief he was trying to convey, the legacy of their difficult wartime relationship and Lloyd George’s anguish at the loss of British youth he indirectly presided over.

The casual use here of the a-historical term ‘butcher’, which after a second world war became sociological shorthand for the apparent deficiencies of the upper class commanders of the first but was never in common use to describe Haig himself, rather discounts the practical issues of fighting modern industrialised war – tactical, operational, technological, logistical, and motivational – with which Douglas Haig and other professional military leaders grappled. Fighting and winning such a grim, attritional conflict was a process of trial and error, and Haig will forever be castigated for the serious error of 1 July 1916 and the trial which resulted. As his obituary noted of the Somme offensive, ‘In the judgement of history it may be that the country will recognise the wisdom and discount the cost.’ It may never do the latter, but it is high time it acknowledged the former. The war was also a process of effort and achievement, both of which Haig and the citizen army which he led sustained for three years until the strongest army of the time was beaten. Without Haig that might still have been the case, but whoever commanded it was ‘citizens led by soldiers’ not ‘lions led by donkeys’ who achieved Britain’s greatest military triumph. Their leader for all his faults deserves listing among Britain’s greatest commanders.

Dave Stowe
1 February 2011, 8.50pm

William Philpott's attempt to

William Philpott's attempt to change the nature of the discourse into "Haig the People's Champion" is as transparent as Tony Blair's championing of Princess Diana as the "People's Princess." Haig was as distant from the citizen army he commanded as Princess Di was from the common people. The funeral of both is a weak analogy which neither allows for the bias of reporting nor those who had attended purely for the spectacle and as spectators. Was Douglas Haig held in such high esteem as William Philpott would prefer us to believe? I think not. Not based on the reasons he offers above. Talk about myth-building!

George A. Webster
2 February 2011, 12.47am

@ 'David' on post # 29

@ 'David' on post # 29 writes:

"I notice that there is a lot of chat along the lines that there was nobody available who could have done a better job - this doesn't seem to amount to an argument for Haig's place as a great general merely for his status as the least worst option at the time and certainly no justification at all for him being the greatest general Britain has ever produced."

I don't see any 'chat' on this page along those lines, in this discussion, David - which post no's do they appear on? You also assert that Haig "came close to running the army into the ground on the Somme, at Arras and Passchendaele." Perhaps you can explain how, if it was virtually run into the ground at the Somme, the British Army in France was able to fight Arras? And how, if it was run into the ground at Arras, it was able to fight Third Ypres? And how, if it was run into the ground at Third Ypres, it was able to hold the German offensives of Spring 1918, turn the German assault and achieve the series of successes of the 'Hundred Days' - successes on an unprecedented scale in British military history? Leading directly on from this, you might also explain what you think the outcome of the German offensives of 1918 might have been had their armies in the West NOT been worn down through attrition in 1916/17 prior to being reinforced from the East in early 1918? The Allied holding of the tide of 1918 and the turning of it to victory were a consequence of wearing down the German armies during the preceding two years. Testimony to the success of the Allied strategy during that wearing out period is to be found in the contemporary accounts of the German High Command at the end of the Verdun, Somme, and Third Ypres campaigns. Modern industrial war at the state of technological development in which it stood in 1916 - 18, with the disparity between advances firepower capabilities and other nascent battlefield technologies, could not be fought to victory without attrition between continental European opponents of approximately equal capabilities. Contemporary politicians who later argued otherwise were being dishonest. Finally, I'm afraid that whilst your quip about great generalship and demographic accountancy might have seemed like a clever sound bite when you wrote it, it is so specious and wide of the mark as to merit no response - no wonder you're the only contributor to this discussion not prepared to give your full name!

I am entirely grateful to Dr Philpott for directing us to an early conflation of Haig with 'Butcher' ; Esher's 22 July 1916 note of Wully Robertson's report of someone amongst the London political elite using the term, most probably at a War Cabinet meeting after the unrepresentative casualty reports of the first fortnight of the Somme had come in, deserves mention if only for its revelation that the use of such a term was news to the arch gatherer of political intelligence, Esher. In other words, as Dr Philpott indicates, the term was never in common usage and certainly not as a contemporary 'nickname' for Haig. Here is an example of contemporary evidence for Haig's 'nickname' - it comes from Sergeant Wilfred Williams, MM, and was written on 31 January 1928. It was published in the Times two days later - 83 years ago today:

Sir, - I have no doubt your pages will today, and perhaps for some days to come, contain references and testimonies to the great and noble Earl Haig. Yet I ask you to find room for a humble tribute from one of the rank and file. Enlisting in the Worcestershire Regiment immediately War broke out, at the age of 16 1/2, I left the Army in May, 1919, with the rank of sergeant. I claim, therefore, to be in a position to speak with authority and sure knowledge of what "Tommy" said and thought. At Ypres, Arras, the Somme, Cambrai, "the March retreat," and again in the great final advance Tommy invariably thought of "Douggie" - "Douggie" knows what he is doing. On two occasions have I been cheered up on seeing his quiet, resolute face as he watched us "coming out." He was not only our leader and commander-in-chief, but our friend. In conclusion, may I make a suggestion - namely, that at the moment his body is laid to rest the country , nay, the Empire, should observe a two-minutes' silence as on Armistice Day? This would enable every one to pay a last tribute to our great soldier, great gentleman, and "the Army's friend."

Yours faithfully,

Wilfred C. J. Williams

Oakdene, Harden-road, Leamore, Walsall.

Dr Philpott's resume of Haig's obituary and the huge numbers of the public who turned out to mourn Haig underscores the fact that the true revisionists were those who, as discussed in earlier posts, sought to place the blame for the cost of winning the war on Haig after his death. Those historians who have uncovered the archival evidence to refute most of these attacks are simply returning Haig's reputation to one which would have been recognised by his contemporaries.

As Dr Philpott also points out, the strongest army of the time was beaten in large part through the efforts of Haig's citizen army. That could not have been achieved if, as some of the uninformed still counterfactually argue, Haig had "run his army into the ground" at the Somme and Third Ypres prior to the year of victory. Britain's greatest military triumph was achieved by her citizen armies under the command of a man who had been recognised as a thorough professional over the previous two decades by such shrewd judges of character as Haldane and Esher. Both men had witnessed Haig's role in the reformations and modernisations which had given Britain the small but professional army which had played a vital part in buying the Allies valuable time at the start of the long road to victory in 1914.

Jim Grundy
2 February 2011, 10.35am

#32. Of course, how silly of

#32. Of course, how silly of me. To think I managed to miss the obvious fact that the conflation of two funerals 79 years apart demolishes - at a stroke - the evidence presented by various posters here that the British Army under Haig's leadership achieved anything. Suppose the Germans must have been defeated, not by the allied offensives of 1918 and the years of attrition that preceeded them, but by the inevitable distraction caused by their being sub-contracted to make the respective catering arrangements.

2 February 2011, 11.24am

What a lot of complete

What a lot of complete nonsense has been written in too much of the above.

The First World War was a disastrous one for Britain and all countries concerned, with entire chunks of a generation scythed away on the battlefield. Haig may not have had anyone able to succeed him, but the fact remains that the British Army was led by people who were unable to provide the creative innovation that would have spun us out of the mire of the static trench-warfare where soldiers fought and died in their thousands over mere yards of land.

It is a disgrace that should shame us at the same time as we should remain forever in admiration for the extraordinary courage of our soldiers in the very worst of wartime conditions.

Haig cannot be our greatest General - Slim achieved far more, and brought more innovation to turn old thinking upside down, and Wellington....look at the Peninsular. As for Clive, he helped create the Britain's Indian Empire. Haig's war lost us ours in the long run.

Dave Stowe
2 February 2011, 12.40pm

@ #33 and #34. Simply

@ #33 and #34. Simply comparing the two events is not irrefutable evidence that Haig was revered as man or soldier. Attendance at a funeral is no indicator of the esteem in which the deceased was held. It would be wrong to think so. Nor is it archival evidence. It just shows that two funerals were well attended.
William Philpott is wrong to pursue this line of 'rehabilitation'. #33 and #34 are wrong to follow it.

Patrick W Anderson
2 February 2011, 1.01pm

Douglas Haig was a Soldier

Douglas Haig was a Soldier through and through and told the Generals in charge of the Battle of Loos in 1915 that it was the wrong location for a battle with coal "bings " around but his senior commanders then would not listen to his knowledge . Douglas Haig is the Greatest General in British history and he was also involved in the formation of the Royal British Legion Scotland. A famous Scottish Soldier .

Dave Stowe
2 February 2011, 1.10pm

"Perhaps you can explain how,

"Perhaps you can explain how, if it was virtually run into the ground at the Somme, the British Army in France was able to fight Arras? And how, if it was run into the ground at Arras, it was able to fight Third Ypres? And how, if it was run into the ground at Third Ypres, it was able to hold the German offensives of Spring 1918, turn the German assault and achieve the series of successes of the 'Hundred Days' - successes on an unprecedented scale in British military history?"

@ 33. If you are looking for an explanation, I think the forcible conscription of men between 1916 and 1918 may have had something to do with it, don't you?

George A. Webster
2 February 2011, 4.05pm

I cannot speak for other

I cannot speak for other contributors to this discussion, but I am not prepared to respond further to those hiding behind anonymity, or who do not give their full name. It is a good internet maxim which say 'do not feed the troll.' It is noteworthy, I think, that those making the most specious attacks on Haig's achievement fall into this category. Something which I hope the NAM moderators will keep an eye on. I'm happy to engage and debate with sensible criticism from informed individuals who do not conceal their identity.

Dave Stowe
2 February 2011, 4.06pm

@ 20. George A. Webster.

@ 20. George A. Webster. "Sophistry is the last resort of those with no factual basis for their arguments..."

At least we agree on something

@ 21. Peter Hart. "It has been repeatedly pointed out that there is no contemporary source for the Nickname 'Butcher' Haig which is a late fifties sixties construct. His nickname during the war was 'The Chief', possibly also 'Dougie' or 'DH'."

Are these the only names by which 'Dougie' was known by or spoken of?

@ 21. Peter Hart."Can it be that the NAM is instituttionally baised against Haig? If so I trust you are not in receipt of public funds?"

I trust the the organisation you represent is not biased in favour? Worry not! There'll be another bandwagon along soon.

@ 25. Jim Grundy. "The loss of loved family members does not qualify anyone as a judge of the merits of a military commander."

Really? So what you are saying is that military commanders are beyond reproach where mistakes have been made and that trained historians always get it right? I think the folly of your argument here and that of others in defence of Haig would suggest otherwise.

@ 28. George A. Webster. "At Waterloo, Wellington commanded 67,000 men – of whom just 24,000 were British. Haig, by contrast, commanded an army of almost 2 million men by the end of the First World War..."

Of which Haig lost at least 25 per cent of his army. Some would argue the figures are higher.

@ 28. George A. Webster. "Men such as Terraine, Bryant, and Trenchard had an intimate knowledge of the facts relating to the unique nature of the achievement of Haig and his armies, and set out their reasoning in their writings. Their conclusions, therefore, provide a coherent rebuttal of the wild and unsubstantiated accusations which a tiny minority have contributed to this discussion."

Wasn't Terraine's work largely based on secondary source material? Wishful thinking and opinion is hardly the stuff of rebuttal in the three examples you give

3 February 2011, 2.10pm

I see we have some

I see we have some contributors to this discussion who are labouring under a misapprehension. They seem to believe that a war can be waged and battles fought without incurring casualties. That is not true. It never has been nor will it ever be. In a war, people get killed and wounded. Secondly. there seems to be some belief that a commander's job is to keep casualties to a minimum. That is not so. The commander's task is to achieve an object. It is his job to calculate the number of casualties that will result and ensure that he has sufficient manpower to cover that cost. In the interests of morale and efficiency, it is incumbent on the commander to employ tactics which are as economical of resources, including manpower, as possible. Any criticism of the number of casualties should be accompanied by a plan that would have acheived at least the same result with less casualties.

John Norris
3 February 2011, 7.48pm

What an unpleasant discussion

What an unpleasant discussion some of this has been.

If anyone really wishes to defend the butchery over which Haig and his associates presided, they are free to do so. I maintain that the butchery on the Western Front - or to give it a name some of its advocates prefer, a deliberate practice of mass "attrition" - was not an expression of good generalship, whether in the historical period of the Great War or another.

Haig did indeed hold, and exercised, great responsibilities. But a consequence in the next war was a reluctance to court similar casualties through 'attrition'. People who had seen knew exactly what that would involve. I trust _no-one_ to whom we would entrust the lives of our current servicemen and women would make the kinds of choices that Field-Marshal Earl Haig made in that process.

Peter Hart
4 February 2011, 4.47pm

I accept the implied apology

I accept the implied apology from John Norris for his deliberate generation of heated and at times unpleasant discussion provoked in the first place by his unwarranted assertions on Haig and John's slavish adherance to a cult of sentimentality which totally fails to recongise the brutal nature of continental war. I am sure he is thinking of the contributions under multiple alliases from a well known (and much-banned) internet troll which have attacked the reasoned contributions above by the likes of Dr Bill Philpott (author of Bloody Victory), well known military historian Charles Messenger and George Webster who is studing a PHD on Haig under Jerry de Groot at At Andrews University...

6 February 2011, 12.56pm

Mr Norris, with respect you

Mr Norris, with respect you seem to be under the misapprehension that Haig could choose to avoid attrition. The only way to do that was not to fight. Was attrition not the same strategy that Joffre employed in 1915 and 1916? Was attrition not the same strategy that Falkenhayn chose for Verdun? Why do you think they did so? When Nivelle decided on an attempt at breakthrough on the Chemin des Dames in 1917; when Gough decided to attempt a breakthrough at Ypres in 1917; and when Ludendorff did the same in spring 1918, they were all bloody failures with similar rates of loss to the attritional battles. To conclude that they all made the same wrong choices because they were brainless butchers is to reveal a deep misunderstanding of the nature of warfare in 1914-1918.

Jack Sheldon
11 February 2011, 12.31pm

For what it is worth, the

For what it is worth, the nickname bestowed on FM Haig by 'Arminius', the German post war writer of Great War biographical sketches was 'Der Bulle', which not only translates as 'Bull', but also 'Tough Man' and A states specifically that Foch's role and Haig's 'Bullenkraft' were directly reponsible for the swift crippling of the German armies in 1918. In his German obituary, written by that first class German cavalryman, General der Kavallerie von Poseck, we find this; 'We German soldiers, especially the cavalrymen, lower our swords in respect for our departed wartime opponent'. Haig was later summed up by Generalmajor Friedrich Franz Feeser in a very perceptive pen portrait as, 'A great soldier, outstanding, head and shoulders above the majority of British generals'.

11 February 2011, 12.37pm

I'm not sure that pointing

I'm not sure that pointing out that Haig adopted the same strategies as Joffre and Falkenhayn makes a strong case for his greatness - on the contrary it would seem to argue for him being pretty run of the mill. Surely a truly great general would have , in that hateful phrase, 'thought out of the box' and come up with the equivalent of the withdrawal to the Lines of Torres Vedras or the march to Blenheim. Joffre and Falkenhayn got sacked for failing to come up with the goods and one does wonder whether had Haig gone the same way at any point prior to August 1918 anyone would now be bothering to make a case for him being Britain's Greatest General.

11 February 2011, 1.45pm

David, had there been an

David, had there been an opportunity for some major, radical, sweeping strategic move on the Western Front as you suggest, I am sure that one of the commanders of the world's greatest armies or their staffs would have thought of it. Both sides faced a 400 mile long entrenched line with no flank to turn. What great march or manoeuvre would have made an iota of difference? The more radical strategic moves got us into Gallipoli, Salonika and Palestine - and a great deal of good that did the world. You are quite right to state that Joffre and Falkenhayn were removed - but then neither they nor their successors led their armies to ultimate victory, as did Haig.

11 February 2011, 7.12pm

Felix, it would seem that the

Felix, it would seem that the commanders of the world's greatest armies and their staffs took twenty years to come up with Blitzkrieg as a radical way of breaking the impasse. Haig was I think fortunate in two things - he was not in the top slot at the beginning and was therefore not removed like French and Joffre when initial expectations were disappointed neither was he removed when his offensives failed as Nivelle and Falkenhayn were. It could so easily have been different and my point was that Haig judged by the results of the Somme and Third Ypres would not be rated at all highly and merely sticking it out to the end because your political masters can't find a replacement is no claim to greatness.

John Norris
11 February 2011, 9.48pm

Mr Hart, I neither implied

Mr Hart, I neither implied nor intended any apology to you. As I said, this has been a less than pleasant discussion at times, something you seem to want to demonstrate.

I admit I have been quite shocked by the support that has been in evidence for Haig and others' policy of deliberate attrition. With respect, and considering at least the longer view, it is hard to see that as a success. Discussions of strategy during the Second World War referred to the casualties to Britain and the Empire in the Great War, and their deterrent effect in the second war.

The argument that there was 'no alternative' to encouraging such attrition may be attractive to some, but I do not believe it well founded. The effects of the blockade of the Central Powers were increasingly marked, and brought their economies to the point of collapse by 1918.

Even if, for the sake of this discussion, one were to accept the attritional nature of the warfare on the Western Front, that does not mean the tactics actually used by Haig and others were necessary - or successful. Offensive followed offensive, with casualties mounting and paltry gains of territory often measured in yards. References to the 'the big push' gained capitals rather than any real validity. They just butchered more and more people, as our war graves and cemeteries record to this day. The fields of crosses do not lie. That is not sentimentality, just fact.

Finally, I would remind us all that the vote seeks to identify Britain's greatest general. Whatever Haig achieved by his methods, it certainly wasn't much of a claim to that. The Great War was a disaster for Britain and the Empire; those responsible for that do not exclude Douglas Haig.

George A. Webster
13 February 2011, 6.35pm

Further to what Felix says,

Further to what Felix says, when march and manoeuvre became possible in 1918, Haig showed his mettle. As Charles Messenger convincingly argued in his eponymous book, the day we won the war was the commencement of 'The Hundred Days' on 8 August 1918. But the day which ensured that the promise and momentum of that opening day did not become stymied against well dug-in German positions along the line Roye -Chaulnes, was 15 August. On that day Haig visited Foch at his HQ at Sarcus, where he not only insisted that he was responsible for the handling of British forces, but forcibly desisted from Foch's requirement that the inevitably costly British assaults against the Roye - Chaulnes line go ahead. Foch gave way to Haig. Haig had been transferring forces to the north to reinforce his First and Third armies between the Ancre and the Scarpe. As a result, he would unlock the stymied front to the south by a brilliantly executed thrust in the north. As one historian has put it, "it was one of the great military manoeuvres of the war." This strategic manoeuvre ensured that the Battle of Amiens on 8 August was indeed the opening of the greatest series of victories in the history of the British Army.

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