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How far was Haig responsible for the failings of the British war effort on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917?

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Introduction

How far was Haig responsible for the failings of the British war effort on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917? Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War is one of the most widely known and most controversial figures of the Great War. Since his death in 1928, his name has instantly sparked a debate as to whether the failings of the British Army were down to him. Some people believe he is entirely responsible, calling him 'an unfeeling butcher' who refused to share the true horrors of the war, disregarded huge casualty lists and was an incompetent technophobe. However, people can also argue that as a human, he was inevitably going to make mistakes and his tactics must have worked, as he led the army to an eventual victory in 1918. Haig's family and contemporaries defended him constantly, claiming he was a 'great military leader'. There is no doubt that Haig was an experienced leader; he passed Royal Military College in under a year and became a Captain at the age of 36. He spent time as a Staff Officer in the Sudan and became a Brigade Major to the 1st Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot, in the Boer War in South Africa. On his return, he was awarded the CB and became a brevet Colonel in 1902. Undoubtedly, his training and upbringing shaped him as a person, and would have had a huge influence on his actions and the decisions he made during the war. ...read more.

Middle

Passchendaele was finally taken on November 6th, after 3 months. The British had learnt from the attack that mobile war and heavy artillery were essential, but in the eyes of David Lloyd George, Haig was a failure. What Lloyd George failed to notice was how Haig let the army to overcome the torrential conditions of the battlefield. Only the British army would have managed this, giving strong evidence of Haig's leadership skills. When Haig was buried in 1928, the majority of people branded him a "hero". However, historians still had mixed views about his personality. Paddy Griffith was a strong supporter of Haig, claiming he was in touch with his men, whereas people like John Laffin criticise him for being "a stubborn donkey." As a general, Haig knew that the strengths and weaknesses of his character would be exploited greatly and he would be under constant scrutiny. One of the major criticisms made of Haig was that he refused to share the horrors of the trenches, "while Haig slept in a cosy bed... his men lived in noisy, muddy trenches." Haig's military training and upbringing had taught him to be detached from his men, to make losses more bearable. The fact that he didn't visit casualties on the front line can also be criticised, however Haig's son claims that it was not down to his ignorance but because "it was his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty clearing stations because these visits made him physically ill." ...read more.

Conclusion

He did experiment with different tactics such as the creeping barrage and mining tunnels. Also, after the notable success of the tanks on the Somme, Haig ordered a large number of these, showing he was able to adapt to new technologies. Haig prolonged the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele longer than many people think he should have done, sending men over the top to die. However, due to the poor communications in the trenches, Haig was lead to believe that the Germans were weakening and it would not be long before they collapsed under the pressure, even though this was not entirely true. These battles made eventual victory in 1918 possible. Although Haig may be described as "cold" and "remote" this is down to his military and religious upbringing. He was taught to never give up, and as he believed he was put as a general by the control of God, he felt it was his duty to lead the army to success. The only way he could do this was by perseverance. After the war, Haig was praised and supported for his actions, which lead the army to success. Haig was stubborn, determined and insensitive enough to deal with the casualties. If he became too attached, it would cloud his judgement and make him unable to continue with his duties, as casualties were inevitable. Haig cannot be entirely blamed for the failings, as one man cannot be held responsible for the actions of a huge army consisting of thousands of men. Overall, I think some of the criticisms made of Haig are fair, but many of them are made without seeing the whole picture. ...read more.

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