Haig and the other British generals were incompetent leaders. How valid is this interpretation of British generals like Haig in World War One?

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How valid is this interpretation of British generals like Haig in World War One?

The First World War was a horrific war that started on 28th July 1914 and lasted until 11th November 1918. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 41 million; there were over 18 million deaths and 23 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The two sides who fought were the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. France and Belgium were the meeting point of these sides and so most of the fighting took place in the two countries across the Western Front. Both sides dug trenches which were overcrowded, wet and 2muddy and became the final resting place for millions of young men. Amongst the worst of the battles was the Somme which began on July 1st 1916 and lasted until November 1916 where around 60,000 men were lost on the first day alone.  One of the common views of the relationship between senior officers and their men in WW1 is summed up by the phrase: 'lions led by donkeys’ as they were ‘incompetent’ and serious mistakes were made that cost many lives. However, the victories of 1918 demonstrated that they learnt from those mistakes and were actually ‘competent leaders’.

During World War One, Haig was called a ‘butcher’ as he said that the nation must be taught to bear loses and the public should be prepared to see heavy casualty lists. He also said that losing one-tenth of Britain’s men in three years wasn’t a big price to pay. The generals made many stupid mistakes, for example Rawlinson didn’t tell Haig or any other generals that the soldiers were getting tangled in the barbed wire and ordered staff to recall and destroy notes issued as guidance for attack. This is made worse by the fact that Haig didn’t take responsibility for many of his mistakes and, as said in Source B1, “Haig and other British Generals must be blamed for wilful blunders and wicked butchery.” as “they knew what they were doing”. One of Haig’s mistakes was the miscalculation that the British bombardments before the attack would destroy every German in the area covered.  Also, many of the generals couldn’t keep up with technology and the latest strategies as they were ‘the product of a system which obstructed enterprise’. The aircrafts they used were extremely weak and were useless for the purposes of war. The generals were also ‘stupid’ as Rawlinson brushed many ideas aside and used a 4-row attack when 2/3 rows were enough - this helped ensure heavy casualties. The considerably high casualty lists and the stupid mistakes made by generals such as Haig and Rawlinson has meant that some people believe “there can never been forgiveness for their sheer incompetence”. This source was written by John Laffin, a military historian writing in his history book ‘British Butchers and Bunglers of World War 1’. It is a secondary source written in 2003, so it has the benefit of hindsight.This source is quite reliable as it was written by an Australian military historian and journalist, and, although he doesn’t have a history degree, it would’ve been well researched and it’s the war from the soldiers’ viewpoint - therefore, it presents the experience of war in a truthful and blunt way.  Laffin was born in Mosman, Sydney and both of his parents served during World War One. His father served as an infantry officer and his mother was a nurse. His parents also served in Gallipoli and France and his wife was a Red Cross nurse. This may affect the reliability as Laffin is more likely to have a biased viewpoint towards the war as his parents have a first hand experience, therefore he would’ve been brought up hearing their experiences and opinions. As well as this, Laffin travelled extensively in Europe, especially in the Western Front areas of World War I and in the Middle East, so he would’ve seen where the battles took place which could have a big influence on his opinions on WWI and whether the generals were incompetent or competent. Although Source B1 is useful and valid as it presents the war from soldiers’ points of view, it doesn’t mention that as the war progressed, so did the weapons and the way they fought (as mentioned in Source B9), it also doesn’t mention how the generals had no experience in warfare — therefore, they might not have been able to do any better than they did.

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One of the worst battles in World War 1 was the Battle of The Somme. In the spring of 1916, the Germans launched a huge attack on the French fortress of Verdun. The French defended the fortress for 5 months, which resulted in heavy losses. The British planned to help by launching an attack further North by the river Somme which was meant to draw the German troops away from Verdun. In the Somme, 20,000 men died and around 60,000 injured on the first day alone. Another mistake was that they spent 6 months planning and insisted that ...

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