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How much were generals such as Douglas Haig to blame for the huge number of casualties in WW1?

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Hamish Livingstone Saturday 2nd February 2002 How much were generals such as Douglas Haig to blame for the huge number of casualties in WW1? In WW1 39.1% of British Empire forces mobilized were made casualties. 52.3% of total allied forces were made casualties. Of course, in war you cannot expect there to be no casualties, but casualties on this scale is astounding and there must be some reason for it. The classical way of blame for it lies with the generals, and the old saying - lions led by donkeys - but I am going to try and establish just how much the men at the top could be blamed. I will examine Sir Douglas Haig to see how pardonable his huge casualties were. He was the general in charge of the battle of the Somme, which many would call a military disaster as Haig's tactics resulted in an unacceptable number of high casualties, and only a 12km gain, without a significant breakthrough. However, it may not be entirely Haig's fault indirectly. It was almost certainly his fault directly. ...read more.


As the industrial revolution was in full swing, it was now possible to mass-produce shells in huge quantities. But when he came to use this tactic at the Somme, two things were amiss with the shells. Firstly to many of them were just shrapnel and did not remove the barbed wire, which was one of the shells fundamental purposes. And secondly, the shells that were high explosive and capable of removing the wire, were faulty due to their hurried production, and often did not explode, or worse exploded in their own shells. This could have been prevented with more careful and lengthy planning and preparation. In Haig's war education, he was often told not to be afraid of attack, and that attacking was the way to win. Unfortunately, by the time the fist world war came, the technology and weaponry advances were so great, that it was in fact now far easier to defend than attack. Thus giving the Germans the advantage, as all they needed to do was stay put, whereas the Allied objective was to push the Germans back, so attack was necessary. ...read more.


There are those historians who see Haig as a great commander. He did after all, if you look at it in black and white, win the battle of the Somme, as he made the greatest advance, and more troops were lost on the Germans side than the British/French. It is true that there were many times when he was deprived of accurate intelligence, and did in fact lead many successful battles in 1918, which led up to the Allied victory later that year. Also there is the claim that Haig's actions were affected by the French demands for imminent action on the western front. However, my conclusion is that public school boy generals like Haig have to take a substantial amount of the blame for the immeasurable number of casualties in WW1. After all, it is lives that we are talking about, and you cannot just shrug it off and try to lay the blame elsewhere when you are directly responsible. A certain amount of blame can also be laid on intelligence officers and subordinate officers. But I think the majority of the blame must be laid on the Generals who failed to adapt to modern warfare. ...read more.

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