Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig

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Douglas Haig in 1919

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig KT GCB OM GCVO KCIE ADC (born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 19 June 1861, died in London on 29 January 1928) was a British Army general in World War I.

He was the senior commander of the British forces in France from 1915 until the end of the war. Most notably, he led them during the Battle of the Somme, the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), the Spring Offensive and the final Hundred Days Offensive.

Historians have often argued over whether Haig was a good general. In the years after the war, he was popular. After his death, some historians and politicians wrote books criticising Haig. They argued he made mistakes that led to a lot of casualties among British troops, especially at the Somme and Passchendaele; he has been nicknamed 'Butcher Haig' or 'the Butcher of the Somme'. David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister during the later years of the war, also did not agree with Haig.[1] One of the best known books criticising Haig was Alan Clark's book The Donkeys (1961). This is known as the 'lions led by donkeys' view: the idea that Britain had great soldiers but bad generals.[2]

All the same, some veterans, and academic historians have argued that Haig was a great general.[3] For example, John Bourne notes that Haig helped the army use new weapons and technology.[4] John Terraine argues that while the British Army lost a lot of men, this is not surprising given the size of the fighting, and other countries lost far more.[5] Likewise, Gordon Corrigan argues that as a percentage of the population, Britain lost half as many people in the war as France and Germany.[6]

References[change | change source]

  1. Travers, Tim 1987. The killing ground: the British Army, the Western Front and the emergence of modern war 1900–1918. Allen & Unwin, London.
  2. Corrigan 2002, p213.
  3. Todman D. 2005 The Great War: myth and memory. London. pp73–120
  4. Bond 2009, p. 4.
  5. Terraine 1980, p. 45
  6. Corrigan 2002, p. 55.