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Explain how well Haigs background and military experience had prepared him for command of the BEF in December 1915

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History coursework- General Haig Q1 Explain how well Haigs background and military experience had prepared him for command of the BEF in December 1915 General Haig is one of the most important men in world war history, made famous for his tactics of the battle of the Somme, where thousands of soldiers died, apparently needlessly. In this question, I will be looking into Haig's life, and how it shaped him into the army leader in 1915. Haig was born in 1862, the youngest of eleven children, to a rich family that had made their money out of whiskey. His father died when Douglas Haig was in his teens, so his mother played a crucial role in his upbringing. The death of his father and being the youngest of eleven children may have seemed quite hard for the young Douglas, and his childhood possibly influenced his later life. From an early age, Haig had a fascination with horses, and when he climbed up in the army ranks, he often spoke of how vital he saw horses regarding war. This was definitely influenced with his upbringing, and he would always be seen on horseback through his early years. From the age of eight Haig went to private schools, firstly in Edinburgh, then at the high class Clifton school in Bristol, From 1880-1883 he attended Brasenose College in Oxford, and enjoyed an active social life. His continued love for horses was shown, as he played Polo for the college. It may have been that while on a continental trip at university that he developed his interest in joining the armed forces. He went to Sandhurst royal military school in 1884, and passed impressively in under a year, holding the Anson memorial sword as Senior under-officer. In February 1885, after military training at Sandhurst, Haig joined the 7th (Queen's Own) Hussars. This was an �lite part of the army, offering the best future prospects. ...read more.


The largest explosion ever was obviously going to be followed by a mass attack, and the timing of the attack was not at all well thought out. It may not have been Haigs fault that the Germans did not die. He had little or no intelligence telling him that the soldiers were alive underground, as weather didn't allow spy plains to be used. However, he put such massive faith in a bombardment that could, and would so easily not work. I believe that this again shows that Haig really didn't think about what could happen if the attack didn't go right, and thought it would be a complete success. The fact that the Germans didn't die meant that when the allied troops attacked, the Germans mowed them down- as I said before they could predict an attack. This was also because of Haig's rigid tactics- he told all of the soldiers to walk in a straight line towards the German trenches. This would possibly have worked had most the Germans been killed, but as they hadn't the British were slaughtered. Haig would quickly have known that the artillery bombardment had not worked, and could easily have changed his tactics, after all, if his troops had of ran, they may have got to the trenches before the Germans made their way out of the deep tunnels, then the whole battle could have been totally different. However Haig would not budge, and I think that this again shows how poor a leader Haig was, that he would allow such slaughter to happen, and that he had such great faith in his own ideas, that he would not change them even though they were failing. His stubborn streak helped no one. In addition, Haig did not understand trench warfare, and how to capture an enemy front line. He had fought in many wars where the British had fought inadequate opposition with cavalry and won. ...read more.


It can be argued that few knew more than Haig, but his military background suggests otherwise, as he was raised in divisions that told him how good the cavalry was. It is easy to understand why people hated Haig and called him a butcher: after all he was in charge of the entire army, and as the main general, he was the focus of all the blame- everyone knew who and what he was, and so it was natural to put the blame onto him, and quite honestly a lot of it may have been justified. His stubborn, na�ve approach to the Somme cost him dearly, but calling him a butcher is very harsh. It is almost impossible fort Haig to want all his men to die. He is not an evil dictator, just an army general who got a massive battle wrong. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a job he was inadequate for. He had no knowledge of modern trench warfare, and would never give in. But his is not entirely Haigs fault, as he had no idea what being the leader of the army was about. Many historians take swipes at Haig, but this seems justified. They did not know Haig, and those who did spoke of his anguish at the death toll. His heart may have been in the right place, but he did not have the credentials to take such a high job, despite his credentials. I conclude that I think that calling Haig the butcher of the Somme was overly harsh, as those that knew him are likely to give more accurate accounts of what Haig was like as a person. Yes Haig was the wrong person for the Somme, but so would most people be. However he was not a butcher. It is easy to find an easy scapegoat for the British death rate, but perhaps some historians should look further and realise that Haig did not hire himself, and that deep down he probably cared deeply for the troops he commanded in the horrific battle of the Somme. ...read more.

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