Some people have the view that British generals like Haig were incompetent leaders. How far do your sources support or contradict this interpretation?

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Some people have the view that British generals like Haig were incompetent leaders. How far do your sources support or contradict this interpretation.

The First World War was a horrific war that started on the 28 July 1914 and lasted until the 11 November 1918. The two sides who fought in the War were The Triple Entente and The Triple Alliance.  France and Belgium was the meeting point of these sides. And so most of the fighting that Britain was involved in took place in these two countries – across the Western Front. In order to protect them and have some private planning time, both sides dug trenches; however the trenches were overcrowded, wet and muddy, they also became the final resting place for millions of young men. These once simple shelters had transformed into complex defensive systems by 1915. Trench-foot was a common disease due to the muddy conditions; feet turned gangrenous and in many cases led to amputation. The soldiers were never alone in the trenches; many creatures also made the trenches their home. These creatures were to play a big role in the health of the fighting soldiers as they were all carriers of disease and infections and they ate the dead human bodies. Creatures include rats, mice and lice. Infantry charged replaced the cavalry charge; the main tactic used was going ‘over the top’ however defenders swept the advancing attackers with machine gun fire, and even when the attackers captured forward positions it was impossible for them to keep them. Also, artillery became more powerful compared to the old inaccurate guns that were once used.  Weapons included the Bayonet, Lee Enfield rifle, hand grenades and the eight bullets a second machine gun. Tanks were another weapon used to crush barbed wire and spray the enemy with machine gunfire. However the tanks were still not developed enough; they moved very slowly and they were not most broke before reaching the German’s trenches.

The Battle of the Somme was the biggest disaster in the whole of the First World War. The initial plan was an attack on the enemy by the French with British support, however the tables turned and Germany attacked Verdun.  An offensive was launched around the River Somme to divert attention away from Verdun where the French were close to surrender.  Sir Douglas Haig was appointed leader of this offensive. Haig was born in Edinburgh on 19 June 1861 into a wealthy family who owned a whisky business. He studied at Oxford University and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He then served as a cavalry officer for nine years, mainly in India. He also took part in the Sudan campaign (1897 - 1898) and the Boer War (1899 - 1902). The objective of the offensive was to gain territory, to ease the violence of the French and to kill as many German people as possible. The initial plan was a twelve hour bombardment which meant that thousands of Germans would be killed; barbed wire and machine gun positions would also be destroyed.  On the first day of July 1916 at 7:28 am the offensive started with the explosion of 5 mines placed under German territory. At 7:30 am, thousands of soldiers were ordered b Haig and other leaders to walk up to the German frontline. The place that the infantry walked enable the German time to set up their machine guns and within hours around 60,000 soldiers were hit – a third of them killed. However Haig and the leaders did not change their tactics until the end of the war.

An historical interpretation is when an event id described from different points of view. Evidence (e.g. secondary research), personal interpretation of an event and opinion all play a big role of a historical interpretation. A historical interpretation can also change with the time because new evidence always comes to light.  The Battle of the Somme is one of the events that have been interpreted. Many historians argue that the Battle of the Somme was a disaster because leaders like Haig used the wrong tactics and out-of-date methods like the infantry charge which resulted in many casualties. These leaders believed that if they did it often enough and with enough men then they would wear the Germans down and eventually break through, which did happen but it cost too many lives.   However other historians will interpret the event differently and say that so many lives were lost due to the weaponry used(the shells that were intended at the German lines were made by inexperienced munitions workers and only a third of them went off.), the German tactics and inexperienced soldiers and leaders like Haig were not to blame.

Interpretations about leaders like Haig have unsurprisingly changed overtime.  Criticisms of leaders like Haig began to appear during the war. In July 1916, Haig was criticised by many including Winston Churchill and resentment was apparent between Prime Minister Lloyd George and Haig. At the same time everyone wanted to portray an image of leaders like Haig as an inspiring, and good commander who was a good role model for his troops.  By the 1920s people wanted to forget all that happened and move on. For ten years, all the evidence seemed to support leaders like Haig, after the British did win the war. However historians began to claim that there was a government cover-up in favour of generals like Haig and by the end of the 1920s attitudes began to drastically change. Books were beginning to criticise leaders like Haig and blaming them for the horror and pointlessness of the war. By 1930s people began to realise that the First World War was not the ‘war end all wars’ as promised.

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The first interpretation “leaders like Haig are incompetent” is shown in source B1. This is a source written by John Laffin, a military historian that researched the war from soldiers’ viewpoint. This source clearly expresses that generals like Haig are to be blamed for large amount of soldiers that died and that these leaders should never be forgiven for the disaster. Laffin earned his living by taking people on tours around the battlefield this makes him trustworthy because he would have to teach people the right information in order to make the tour successful. The source was written in 2003 ...

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