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General Haig: Butcher of the Somme

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Introduction

Field Marshall Haig: Butcher of the Somme? No-one expected the First World War to last very long. This belief was shared between both sides. The Germans planned to sweep through Belgium and capture Paris. They were thwarted however by the French Army and were pushed back and a front-line was established. This did not change much for the next three years. In 1916, General Haig formed a plan to break this stalemate and the battle that took place is now known as the Battle of the Somme. Despite plenty of careful planning many losses were sustained by all parties. The Total Allied Forces had 623,907 casualties, 419,654 of them were British, while the Germans lost 465,000 men. This was a huge number of casualties and historians have debated about General Haig's role in this. Did General Haig attempt to achieve something at the Battle of the Somme, or was he a butcher who sent thousands of men to their deaths? One of the arguments against Haig is how much he cared for his men. Source A written by Haig in 1916, just a day before the battle, talks of sacrifice and its importance in war. He warns that 'the nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists' and you can't win a war without 'the sacrifice of men's lives'. At first Haig's tone indicates that he doesn't care much for the men fighting the war. ...read more.

Middle

Source H comes from Lloyd George's war memoirs and I believe he deliberately changed his opinion to cover up his mistake in supporting the battle. He wouldn't want to seem foolish in supporting the battle, and now in the 1930's when the facts had come out and everyone was discussing the failures of the war he would prefer it if the public thought that he had made the correct decisions. Source D comes from the book called 'British Butchers and Bunglers of World War'. The first line reads: 'Haig was stubborn as a donkey and unthinking as a donkey'. The title suggests that this the book is going to be biased against the generals in the war and there is hardly any evaluation of what happened. Because of this, I don't think this Source is useful to a historian trying to study a balanced argument about the Battle of the Somme. Source E comes from a German account of the First World War. It is important when studying something to look at both sides of the argument. so Source E should be useful to a historian. Many British accounts say that the Battle of the Somme didn't achieve much strategically. The account by the Germans talks about the consequences the Battle had on the army's morale. A German would be better placed to talk about the effects on the country, and this Source provides an opinion from a different viewpoint. ...read more.

Conclusion

Source d says that Haig's stubbornness let the Allies down, but hear the general says that it was because Haig 'never wavered' from his purpose that the Allies were successful. Source G by the Prime Minister is also in support of General Haig and praises him on the 'skill with which plans were made'. This contradicts Sources C and D who claim that Haig's strategy was foolish and negligent. Source H written by the same person is contradictory to his previous account and claims the whole attack was a failure. I think it would be silly to say that Haig was a traitor and deliberately sent thousands of men to their deaths. But you could question his tactics. You could say there were some things that Haig didn't know. For example, he was not to know that the Germans would be so well entrenched and therefore survive the 7-day assault. This was also a very different type of war to previous ones, and no one had any experience in trench warfare. My conclusion is that Haig did care for his men in battle but cared more about protecting his country. It would be unfair to call Haig incompetent as this was a completely different kind of war and he did not have any experience in fighting this type of war. Let's also not forget that he succeeded in his goal of pushing the Germans back. The Battle of the Somme was a tragedy for all involved and therefore Field Marshall Haig was not the Butcher of the Somme. Adam Green ...read more.

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