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Haig: Butcher or Serious Commander?

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COURSEWORK ASSIGNMENT 2 - "Haig: Butcher or Serious Commander?" Richard Ward Q1.) The message given by the Daily Express in the cartoon dated 2 July 1916 is that the British Army had delivered a hammer blow to the German line, portrayed by a fist and the face of Kaiser Wilhelm. The headline omits the fact that 60,000 British casualties had been the price of an offensive that did not achieve its goal. It is quite probable that the Daily Express would have spun the story whatever the outcome, as it was a popular newspaper that was encouraging men to enlist in the BEF and needed to persuade the British public that it was a favourable situation on the Western Front. In reality, the offensive merely pierced the German lines in a few places; in most places the wire was too thick to be cut by shells or crossed by infantry. The message that the first day of the Somme had been a huge success, given by the Daily Express is false although it was probably not given to deliberately mislead the British public as neither the cartoonist or the editor would have known the truth. Q2.) Middlebrook's account of the Somme states that 'there were some deficiencies', that there was 'a shortage of heavy guns' and that 'many shells failed to explode'. Coppard's account of 2 June describes 'hundreds of dead' and that there were 'no gaps' in the line. ...read more.


They cannot be taken out of context, as they are relative to the size of the offensive. The objective of the Somme was to break through the German lines, and this unarguably was not achieved. The offensive was a failure in the sense it did not achieve its objective. The question asked though is whether these three sources prove this. In my estimation, they do not. They support the failure, but do not and cannot prove it as they are either imbalanced or out of context. Ludendorff is not accurate in his estimation of the situation and Lloyd George, although to all intents and purposes not misleading, does not give the whole picture. The sources support, but do not prove the failure of the battle of the Somme. Q5.) Firstly, it is necessary to define the term 'butcher'. In this context, a butcher is a military commander prepared to accept heavy casualties relative to low gain. They do not send soldiers out to gain a sado-masochistic high, or because they are insane. A butcher is someone not prepared to let the prospect of heavy losses affect their plans. Secondly, is a 'serious' commander one that always succeeds? I would suggest not, as a serious commander is surely one that makes balanced judgements and plans sensibly for the battle. Haig made mistakes in his plans (especially for the Somme offensive), and men died under his command, but he cannot be judged on the basis of one day, or even one battle. ...read more.


None of the previous sources mention the Hundred Days and Sheffield's point is quite right. Haig was the commander that helped orchestrate the 'greatest series of victories in British military history'. Source K rounds things off. Not commenting on any specific occasions, it is balanced and makes the valid point that 'if the criterion of a successful General is to win wars, Haig must be viewed as a success'. Sheffield's statement regarding the Hundred Days is completely justified, and this is all too quickly forgotten by critics. Warner's extract, source K, hits the nail on the head in criticising those who are quite ready to slam Haig for being responsible for the losses of the Somme without suggesting alternatives that he had. The point at which any argument becomes a personal attack, for example commenting on Haig's Christian virtues, as opposed to a professional judgement is the point at which the said argument begins to lose value. The average volunteer soldier recruited by Kitchener entered the BEF on the grounds that he was fighting for right, on the side of Britain and the Allies. Whether this involved belief in a God is irrelevant. Soldiers willingly died sacrificially to save their fellow soldiers, and this was the strength of the BEF throughout the war. Haig was a butcher, British blood stained his proverbial apron. However this must not lead to a blind alley whereby he cannot be taken seriously as a commander. The terms 'butcher' and 'serious commander' do not cancel each other out, and Haig cannot be judged solely on the events of July 1 1916. ...read more.

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