“Haig was an uncaring general who sacrificed the lives of his soldiers for no good reason”
How far do these sources support these views
Source A tells us that Haig did not care about his men and is willing to sacrifice lives in order to win. The source itself was written by Haig in June 1916, a month before the battle of the Somme, and was intended to be seen by the general public.
“ The nation must be taught to bear losses”
This makes it look like Haig doesn’t care about his mens’ well being and seems to be telling people to “toughen up” and “live with it”. Personally, I don’t think Haig meant it to sound like that. I think he meant for it to explain that in war, men do die no matter how precautious you are.
“No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.”
This sentence seems to tell us that Haig was ready to let people die in their thousands, if not millions, in order to win the war and also tells us that Haig believed that it was the only way to win. I feel that the purpose of the source was to explain to the public that the only way to win is to sacrifice lives. He is being realistic but harsh.this source leads uus to believe that Haig was a butcher, even though he was being realistic when he wrote it.
Source B was written by Haig in his journal during July 1916. The first extract was written the day before the attack on the Somme began and the second extract was written the day the attack started. It was not meant for public eyes.
“The men are in splendid spirits”
This sentence tells us that the higher commanders were in good spirits and he had been informed that the men in the trenches themselves were also very confident.
“Several have said that they have never before been so instructed and informed of the nature of the operation before them.”
This sentence tells us what some of the commanding officers have told him. We must remember that the commanding officers weren’t in the trenches and could be saying good things just to get in Haig’s good books.
“Very Successful attack this morning. All went like clockwork. The battle is going very well for us and already the Germans are surrendering freely. The enemy is so short of men that he is collecting them from all parts of the line. Our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of confidence.”
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This proves that Haig was informed that they had a successful start to the battle and that his men were confident of victory. As we already know, this wasn’t the case. The battle was actually going very badly (over 100,000 men had died on that first day alone) and I doubt that there was much confidence. This also proves that Haig was being misinformed on the progress of the battle. This source proves that Haig was misinformed about how the battle was going and couldn’t really be blamed for what had happened.
Source C is from an interview with Private George Coppard, years after the battle of the Somme. Its purpose was to inform people what it was like to be an ordinary soldier during the battle.
“Hundreds of dead were strung out on the Barbed wire like wreckage washed up on a high water mark as on the ground.”
This sentence tells us that Haig’s idea that the barbed wire surrounding the German’s trenches would be cut in half by the artillery fire was completely incorrect.
“ Quite as many died on the wire as on the ground. It was clear that there were no gaps in the wire at the time of the attack The Germans must have been reinforcing the wire for months. It was so thick that daylight could barely be seen through it. How did the planners imagine that Tommies would get through the wire? Who told them that the artillery fire would pound such wire to pieces? Any Tommy could have told them that shellfire lifts wire up and drops it down, often in a worse tangle than before.”
This shows that the men had been informed of the plan and were well aware of its objectives. It also shows us that the troops thought that the planners were idiots who didn’t know what the ordinary men were up against, which does seem to be correct when you look at the plan and what actually happened.
This source makes Haig seem like a bad leader, as he didn’t know what would happen to the barbed wire after heavy artillery fire.
Source D is a still from the TV series “Blackadder goes forth”. It shows two army officers discussing an imminent attack on the Germans.
“ My instincts lead me to believe me that we are at last about to go over the top”
This sentence tells us that the scene is set just before the men are about to climb out of the trenches and attack the Germans.
“Great Scott, Sir! You mean that the moment finally arrived for us to give Harry Hun a darn good British style thrashing, six of the best, trousers down?”
This sentence proves that one of the officers is in splendid spirits, which can be linked with Source B, where Haig noted that his men were in high spirits.
“You mean, are we all going to get killed? Yes. Clearly Field Marshall Haig is about to make yet another giant effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.”
This line tells us that the other officer is not very confident about what is going to happen. He thinks that they will all die and that hardly any ground will be gained. He points out that he believes that no ground will be gained. This source tells us that history sees Haig as a butcher who would sacrifice many lives for the sake of a few inches of gained ground.
Source E is from a British magazine published in February 1917, seven months after the attack on the Somme began. It is set at an army training camp, where an attack behind the lines is about to be practised.
“Major-General: I want you to understand that there is a difference between a rehearsal and the real thing. There are three essential differences: first, the absence of the enemy. Now (Turning to the Regimental Sergeant-Major) what is the second difference?
Sergeant-Major: The absence of the General, Sir.”
This tells us that the men were being trained to fight in trench warfare and that the higher commanders didn’t have to do any real fighting. This source tells us that Haig did not go and inspect the trenches or anything like that, which is stupid as he does not know what the conditions will be like.
Source F is from a recently published book called “British butchers and Bunglers of World War One”.
“Haig was as stubborn as a donkey and as unthinking as a donkey”
This sentence tells us that the person who wrote this book believes Haig to have been too stubborn during the war and didn’t think about what else he could have done.
“The principle that guided him was if he could kill more Germans than the Germans could kill his men, he would win the war. That is an appalling kind of strategy. It is not a strategy, its slaughter. The Somme was criminal negligence. He knew he had no chance of a breakthrough but still sent more men to their deaths.”
This tells us that Haig’s strategy was to weaken the German army in any way he could, even if it mean sending thousands of his own men to their deaths. It also shows us that the author believes Haig to be a butcher. this source definitely portrays Haig as a butcher.
Source G is taken from the “German Official History of the First World War”, which was published in the 1930’s.
“If the battle of the Somme had no great importance in the strategic sense, its consequences were nonetheless great, particularly as regards morale”
This proves that the morale of the German army took a severe beating during the battle of the Somme, and also provided the British with extra confidence.
“It gave the Western Powers confidence. Their armies had accomplished an achievement that gave good promise for the future. The confidence of the German troops in victory was no longer as great as before. A great part of the best, most experienced and most reliable officers and men were no longer in their places. This was the more marked as the heavy losses had made it necessary to send to the front a great number of young soldiers whose training was poor.”
This further emphasises the effect on morale the Somme had and also points out that a lot of the best German men had been killed, meaning that the Germans had to use younger and less experienced men at the front. This source portrays Haig as a clever general.
A British general wrote source H in 1973. He fought in both world wars.
“ Germany’s spirit of resistance was broken, mainly by the courage and resolution of Haig’s armies, which had complete confidence in the leadership of their Commander. They were inspired by his determination, for he never wavered from his purpose of breaking down the powers of resistance of the enemy, both morally and physically. Had Haig not had the moral courage to shoulder the main burden of the struggle in the Somme battles of 1916, French resistance would have crumbled. Haig was one of the main architects of the Allied victory.”
This proves that the confidence of the British soldiers was high because of the determination of Haig. The general goes on to say that Haig was “one of the main architects of the allied victory”. I feel that the confidence of the men would have improved, as their leader seemed so determined to win. This source tells us that Haig was a good general who would share the hardships his troops were facing.
Source I was taken from a letter written by Lloyd George to Haig on September 21st 1916.
“I can say that the heartening news of the last few days has confirmed our hopes that the tide has definitely turned in our favour. I congratulate you most warmly on the skill with which your plans were laid”
This tells us that Lloyd George felt that the Somme was the turning point of the war and that he thought that Haig had done a good job in planning the whole attack. This source tells us that Haig did a good job.
Source J was taken from Lloyd George’s war memoirs from the 1930’s.
“”When the Battle of the Somme was being fought, I travelled the front from Verdun to Ypres. I drove through squadrons of cavalry. I expressed my doubts to General Haig as to whether cavalry could ever operate successfully on a front bristling for miles with barbed wire and machine guns.
It was not responsible for the failure of the German effort to capture Verdun. This offensive was already a failure. It is claimed that the Somme destroyed the old German army by killing its best officers and men. It killed off far more of our best. Had it not been for the Germans in provoking a quarrel with America, the Somme would not have saved us from a stalemate.”
This tells us that Lloyd George thought that the Somme was a failure an that the battle killed off more of Britain’s best men than it did the German’s best. He also says that Germany only lost the war because they provoked a quarrel with America. This source tells us that Haig made a massive military blunder in the Somme.
I believe that even though most of the sources tell us that Haig was a butcher, I believe that the three most reliable ones are sources B, G and H, and these all portray Haig as being a great general. Therefore, my judgement on Haig’s decisions are greatly influenced by these sources, meaning that I also believe that Haig cared about his men and that he mde the right decision in attacking the Germans at the Somme.