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'Lions led by donkeys.' How valid is this interpretation of the leadership of Douglas Haig on the Western Front, 1916-1918?'

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'Lions led by donkeys.' How valid is this interpretation of the leadership of Douglas Haig on the Western Front, 1916-1918?' Introduction The well-known statement from World War I the allied troops were like "Lions led by donkeys" is related to the bravery and fearlessness that the soldiers fought with whilst being instructed to do not so clever things. Field Marshall Douglas Haig is a popular choice to fill the role of "donkey". Opinion has varied since WWI and his reputation as a callous general has been questioned by some and acknowledged by others. The Somme was a battle many used to downsize Haig as the casualties and tactics used were horrific. In this essay I will look at the level of truth that can be found in the phrase "Lions led by donkeys" and look specifically at the role Haig had. I will look at different sources and interpretations written by historians in reference to Haig and allied generals and soldiers and politicians, to gauge how accurate the statement is. I think that from the evidence I find I will find a change as years go on and the overall view will be that the statement is both true and false. Some of the time poor tactics were used and others the tactics were good. ...read more.


Sir James Edmonds takes in further in saying that Haig's intellectual abilities were "below the average stupidity". He is portrayed by both of these authoritative figures as a man who is not only a bad tactical advisor and planner but also lacking in pure mental ability. Others thought it was the problem of commanding such a large army that left Haig clueless. Tim Travers says, "they were overwhelmed by the size of the army". In Defence of Haig I will begin by explaining that there are some historians who defend Haig and one of the strongest is the historian John Terraine, the author of "Haig: The Educated Soldier". He and others argue that Britain fought the war as well as can be expected under the circumstances. He believes the war of attrition was unavoidable and that caused the things to happen in Battles such as the Somme. Another historian, named Gary Sheffield, who sees Haig in a more positive light, also praised Haig. He explains how Haig was "judged purely on results, of coping with profound changes in warfare, of evolving an effective weapon system, of actually winning the war, the BEF emerges as an innovative and highly adaptable force." This shows they did well considering circumstances. ...read more.


The Somme battle was another source of ammo to attack Haig as his leadership along with other Generals led to a massacre of thousands of British troops in such a short time. The tactics Haig and his generals employed were ignorant if not stupid to the ability of the German enemy. This battle find truth in the statement as the British soldiers were not being ordered to attack the enemy safely of cleverly in any way. Although Haig's acclaimed lack of military talent he fought in two wars previous to the First World War where he found himself fighting a completely different style of fighting. The change from fighting a highly inferior army and the tactics he watched his superiors use and succeed in using were all he had to go by when faced by an equal if not superior army of the Germans. He felt reluctant to embrace new tactics and abandon tactics he had seen work. Despite his lack in knowledge of fighting the type of war he was thrust into, he managed to adapt and learn from mistakes over the years. By the end of the war this statement had no validity as he had seen many successes with the British Expeditionary Force. So I have shown you that there is both truth and untruth in the statement "Lions led by donkeys" in interpreting the leadership of Douglas Haig on the Western Front. James Payne ...read more.

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