'Good-morning; good-morning!' the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
Haig and The Somme
Haig was unperturbed by the losses on the Somme,
despite Churchill’s criticism, and even though he lost the support of Lloyd
George. Haig had the
confidence of the king, and there was no-one to replace him.
Even so, he felt the need to defend himself.
In December he reported to the Cabinet what he claimed the battle
T o a degree, Haig
was correct. There is
evidence that the German soldiers were disheartened by the Battle of the
Somme. Also –
although they did not give ground at the time – when the battle had
finished the German commanders pulled back to a more easily-defendable
position: ‘the Hindenburg Line’.
o a degree, Haig was correct. There is evidence that the German soldiers were disheartened by the Battle of the Somme. Also – although they did not give ground at the time – when the battle had finished the German commanders pulled back to a more easily-defendable position: ‘the Hindenburg Line’.
can be argued that, although not defeated at the Battle of the Somme, the
Germans from that moment on knew they could not win the war.
Generals in general...
John Terraine (summary)
Lions led by Donkeys? - Learning Curve exercise
Comments on Haig:
Shot at Dawn - a collection of anti-Haig statements.
Interpretations of Haig - a historiography
Butcher of the Somme? - a school assignment full of ideas and information.
Mud Blood and Poppycock - quotes from G Corrigan (2004)
Dr Dan Todman - analyses tactics, arguing there was a 'learning curve' for the British Army.
Douglas Scott, Field Marshal's grandson, defends his grandfather's posthumous reputation.
British soldiers with two German prisoners at the Somme. Does this picture prove Haig’s claim that ‘the German soldiers are now practically beaten men’?
After the Disaster
In January 1917, it seemed as though Haig had learned from his mistakes – he wrote to the French General Nivelle to tell him that he would never again get trapped in a long battle as he had at the Somme. It was not to be – in the summer of 1917 the French troops mutinied: if the Germans attacked the French army the whole line would collapse. To protect the French, Haig launched an attack at Passchendaele. It lasted 5 months (July to November 1917); if anything, it was worse than the Somme. But Haig was getting wiser – he let Gough, the commander of the British Fourth Army, take the blame for the losses and, after the battle was ended, removed him from his command.
In March 1918, the
German army launched an all-out offensive, using a new strategy – which
Blitzkrieg – in a last-ditch attempt to win the war before the
Americans came to Europe. At
first it was a success. The
British Army, which bore most of the attack, lost 160,000 casualties in 16
days, the French lost 77,000. On
24th March 1918 the French General Pétain warned Haig that he
was about to abandon the front and retreat.
Haig knew that this
would lose the war. He
telegraphed the British government in London to insist that ‘General
Foch be given supreme control [because] I knew that Foch was a man of
great courage’ – Haig gave away his command to save the war.
Then he sent his famous Order of the Day (11th
April 1918) commanding his army to ‘hold on where it stood’.
He made the correct
decision. Foch did not
retreat. The German
advance was halted. Then,
in August, Foch announced that ‘the moment has come to attack’.
On 8 August 1918,
the British attacked again across the fields of the Somme.
But this time, their attack was a surprise.
And it was successful. In
September Allied forces broke the Hindenburg Line, and on 11th
November 1918, the Germans asked for a ceasefire: the ‘Armistice’.
Tanks were used for the first time at
the battle of the Somme. However,
they had serious problems, and did not bring the hoped-for breakthrough.
Haig had won, as he
had said he could, but did he deserve any credit?
Many writers -
including those writing just after the war - have criticised Haig for
his tactics, for the great loss of men and, above all, for his defeat at
the Battle of the Somme.
military men and recent historians, have defended him,
saying that he did as well as could be expected, and
that only a man of great determination and character could have seen the
After the war, Haig
was given £100,000 and made an Earl, but he was given no important job to
do. He spent the rest
of life raising money for the men wounded in the war.
It portrays Haig as joyfully selling tickets to the slaughter.
EKG Sixsmith comments: 'the play may be good entertainment, but it cannot be regarded as even a good caricature of Haig'.