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'Lions led by Donkeys' - Is this a fair assessment of British generals in the Great War?

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'Lions led by Donkeys' - Is this a fair assessment of British generals in the Great War? Ever since the first world war the quote 'lions led by donkeys' has been used to describe the British army, and refers to the brave troops as 'lions' that are being led by stupid 'donkey' generals. It came about as much of the public and soldiers opinions stated that the generals were incompetents who led their men to the death regardless of whether the battle they were fighting was a lost cause. The quote originated from the German troops, who respectfully commented on the British soldiers' bravery and upon how their lives where so carelessly wasted by their 'idiot' generals; many modern books, films and tv shows, for example hilarious 'Blackadder Goes Forth', still echo this belief. Is this however a just assessment of the British generals of World War 1? This portrait of moronic, heartless generals was rather popular and actually stemmed from many very real facts. Evidently, the main reason for these opinions is the alarmingly great number of casualties that each battle produced; the worst such example would be the Battle of the Somme that had raged from the 1st of July 1916, when over 19 000 British soldiers were killed and around 57 000 were wounded during the first day alone. ...read more.


Another method that was used was the infamous 'creeping barrage' that proved very effective upon many occasions, and using aircraft together with other techniques in order to determine the enemy's whereabouts. New effective tactics and weapons only came into full use in 1917, but continued to play an important role. It is true that some generals, such as Haig, were over confident at the start of the war, relying too much upon the power that they attributed to their artillery and becoming practically blind towards the negative reports streaming in from the trenches. However, perhaps these generals' optimistic faith was what helped keep the people's morale up, and what helped them to continue aiding the war effort through till the end. This arrogance though also caused several of the leaders to underestimate their opponents - and the machine gun, which only worked to cause more unnecesary casualties. Also, a lot of the 'slaughter' was simply unavoidable as the British army was just unacustomed to fighting in 'new-age' circumstances or using new techniques and methods, so it is really no surprise that for the first portion of the war the British tactics were mainly limited to firing at the enemy before sending the infantry 'over the top' at an almost egotistical walking pace as if expecting no opposition - this is one of the occurances that would justify the 'donkey' alias. ...read more.


Also, not all the battles fought were failures; for instance, the 'Hundred Days', the last of the war that caused the Germans to call for a cease fire, was a spectacular final achievement for the allies. The First World War omitted countless lives on all sides, and though the generals were indeed responsible for a portion of that loss they ultimately achieved their goal by winning the war - therefore, they musn't have been complete 'donkeys'. It is wrong that these men were reffered to as beasts - if not for them, if not for leaders, there would have been no strategy at all and the entire conflict would surely have been won by the Germans. In order to fight effectively there must be strategy, for there to be strategy there must be order, for there to be order there must be leadership; whoever the leaders are must be able to make difficult decisions and choices of literally life and death. Mistakes cannot be avoided, but they are important to learn from and to better the strategies from. The soldiers of the First World War were indeed lions; but their generals were far from donkeys. ...read more.

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