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Field Marshal Douglas Haig: ‘The Butcher of the Somme’

A) Study Sources A and B


How far does source A prove that Haig did not care about lives of his
men?

By the summer of the 1916, there had been stalemate on the western front
for more than a year. Both sides were struggling to break the deadlock. At
the end of 1915, Field Marshal Haig was appointed as Commander-in
chief of the British forces on the Western Front.

In February 1916, Germany began a campaign against the French at


Verdun. Five months passed, 700,000 men had become casualties, and the
French were only just hanging on. The British decided they had to relieve
the pressure on the French. The British high command, led by Field
Marshal Haig began a major attack along the line of the River Somme; he
hoped to lure the Germans away from Verdun. He wanted to help the
French who were under heavy attack from Germans there. On the first
day of July 1916, the battle of the Somme started and British troops went
over the top. The battle lasted for five months and the allies lost 620,000
men most of them were British. The Germans line had not been broken.
What this battle achieved was a few miles and the pressure on Verdun had
been lifted.

There has been much disagreement about Haig and the battle of the
Somme. For instance, after the war Haig was often criticised for issuing
orders, which led to excessive casualties of British troops under his
command, particularly on the Western Front. This earned him the
nickname "Butcher of the Somme". Haig's critics included many younger
officers who served in the First World War. Haig himself never actually
visited the main front, though in his dispatches he described the appalling
conditions of the Somme accurately.

Source A is a piece of text written by Haig just before the battle of the
Somme (July 1916 to Nov 1916), It explains that in Haig's opinion the
nation has to accept the losses of warfare, “the nation must be taught to
bear losses”. He believes that however well an army is trained, and led,
they will have to bear sacrifices, “No amount of skill on the part of the
higher commander, no training, however good, on part of the officers and
men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable
victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives”. This is true but
not to the extent of the Somme, where the allies alone lost a massive
620,000 men.

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Haig wrote this extract a month before the first attack suggesting that he
knew there was going to be a large amount of casualties. This also
implies that he hadn't made much of an effort to change the tactics and
save the lives of men but lazily chose to prepare the nation to heavy
losses. Source A can be used as proof, to say that Haig doesn’t care about
his soldiers lives.

On the other hand, source B shows Haig does care about his men’s lives.
He is happy about the training and instruction of his soldiers and their
confidence. He describes the attack as successful, “All went like
clockwork”, but the problem with this is, that he was miles away from the
front line. He was only hearing from his officers about the battle.
Therefore, he couldn’t be aware of what exactly was happening.

B) Study Source B and C


Which of these two sources do you trust more?

Source C could be more reliable than B, because source C is an interview


with George Coppard, who actually fought in the world war. He saw
everything with his own eyes unlike source B where Haig said what he
heard, not what he had seen himself “several have said that they have
never before been so instructed and informed of nature of operation
before them”. Some parts of the source are obviously not true "Very
successful attack this morning". What kind of success is that this? Tens of
thousands of soldiers were killed.

Source C is an eyewitness, so it should be more reliable than B however,


the problem with source C, is that this source may not be 100% reliable,
as this soldier (George Coppard) could not possibly see all the front line
which was miles long and perhaps put his own personal opinion on his
report. In some ways, Source B can be trusted as well, as Haig received
information from people like Coppard. Source B and C are completely in
contrast, because the officers who collected information for Haig could
have tried to bring positive news. The interview with Coppard was many
years after the war, so he could have only remembered the bad events,
because people remember bad news more than good news or he maybe
influenced by other people opinions and picked the negative points and
ignored the positive ones. I think Haig wrote what he heard form his
chain of command and source C is slightly unreliable because it is written
years after the battle so is probably not entirely accurate.

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C) Study sources D and E.
These two sources are not about Haig and the battle of the Somme. How
far do you agree that they have no use for the historian studying Haig and
the battle of the Somme?

Both of these sources (D and E) were written as comedy,


Source D is from the TV series 'Blackadder Goes Forth' it shows two
officers discussing an imminent attack on the Germans.
I think this source is less useful because it was not written at the
time. Although it was not written about the Somme it does talk about
the strategy Haig used at the Somme and suggests that it was
inevitable that lots of people would die, "Are we all going to get
killed? Yes." This highlights the fact that Haig did not change his
strategy because they are talking before a battle and know that many
will die.

Source E is a cartoon from a British magazine published in February


1917, it is more relevant because it was written at the time of the war, so
automatically we know that source E is going to bias source D. As source
D is a comedy film it can’t be trusted, it’s made to make people laugh,
“My instincts lead me to believe that we are at last about to go over the
top”. Source D shows Haig is more interested in himself than his men’s
lives, “Field Marshal Haig is about to make another giant effort to move
his drink cabinet six inches closer to Berlin” which reflects popular
opinion and there is no mention of the Somme. It does however; keep the
memories of the battle alive in younger generations, who may not have
heard much about the battle.

Source E does not mention either Haig or the Somme but it shows British
soldiers and tells us about the battle. It says that generals
were never present at battles, only during practice, so it criticizes the
Generals for being absent, “absence of the General” as this source is in
1917, therefore we know it is criticizes Haig, as he never visited the
Somme during the battle. Overall, I think they both sum up views of
people. We can say that both sources are about Haig, source D clearly
mentions Haig and the Somme, and source E indirectly criticizes Haig.
They criticized Haig indirectly because he was a military General at the
time and an important man with much power and this could have made
problems for the magazine publisher.

D) Study Sources F, G and H.


Do sources G and H prove that Source F is wrong?

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Source F is a piece of text from a book called, “British Butchers and
Bungles of World War”, which suggests that Haig was “unthinking” and
“stubborn”. The author of the book criticizes Haig’s strategy, “it is not a
strategy at all it’s slaughter”. Source F is one person’s opinion, as it is a
book and the author wants to make his book attractive and interesting by
exaggerating and using extreme words, “stubborn”. Also the author has
used an attractive title to attract people’s attention. This source can’t be
100% reliable as it is one person ideas and the other two sources (G&H)
are in contrast with source F. Source F is strongly against Haig and is
probably over exaggerating quite a lot, "He knew he had no chance of a
breakthrough but still sent men to their deaths". Would Haig really have
sent men to their deaths if he knew there was no chance of a breakthrough
even if he was as “stubborn” and “unthinking” as is suggested?

Source G is a piece of text from the German official History of the first
WW, which was published in the 1930s. You would expect source G to be
fill with bias against the allies as it is from the German Official History of
WW1, but it does not seems to be, it even seems to be mildly praising the
allied attacks, "Their armies had accomplished an achievement that gave
good promise for the future". The fact that this source is not as bias as
would be expected makes it very easy to trust, as the Germans have no
motive to lie about the things they have
said. This source suggests that the battle of the Somme had many
advantages as well as being poor in sense of strategy and horrific in terms
of loss of life, “If the battle of the Somme had no great importance in the
strategy sense it’s consequence were nevertheless great, particularly as
regards morale”. Unlike source F source, G mentions some important
achievements of the battle of the Somme. This source is important,
because it is from the enemy point of view and describes the impacts of
the battle on the German, “the confidence of the German troops in victory
was no longer as before”.
Battle of the Somme was also successful in killing German experience
officers, “a great part of the best, most experienced and most reliable
officers were no longer on their places”.

Source H is a piece of text written by a British general in 1973. He fought


in both World Wars. He describes Haig one of the “main architects” of the
allied victory and he links the German defeat to Haig, “Germany’s spirit
of resistance was broken, mainly by the courage and resolution of Haig’s
army. This general suggests that the Battle of the Somme broke German
morale “both morally and physically”. He says if the battle of the Somme
had not started then the French resistance would have, “crumbled”.

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These two sources (G&H) are describing Haig and battle of the Somme
positively and suggest that source F is wrong. However they can’t prove
that F is wrong as source G also mentions some negative points of the
Somme,” Somme had no great importance in the strategic sense”.
Something we must remember when studying source H is that it was
written a long time after the war and is by a general, not an ordinary
soldier and he may have known Haig and be bias towards him. In
conclusion, I think that sources G and H are much more reliable than
source F and are therefore more likely to be true.

E) Study source I and J


Why do you think that sources I and J differ about the battle of the
Somme?

Source I and J, both were written by David Lloyd George, but on


different dates. Source I was written in 1916, and J was written in 1930.
These two sources are completely different.
Lloyd wrote source I to Haig, congratulating him on his performance, “I
can congratulate you most warmly on the skill your plans were laid”. He
is happy about the plan and attacks. George visited the Somme at the time
of the war and he made positive comments about Haig in 1916. Probably
because of his position, as he was secretary for war at the time of Somme.
Or maybe he wanted to show a united front (against his enemy) and to the
British people. There were many reasons why he wrote this, if he made
negative comments about the Somme and Haig he would have
demoralised the British people and improved German morale.

Source J is very different from source I as it was written in the 1930’s and
at that time the public was criticising Hague for his poor tactics and
performance during the war. Lloyd George spoke from a knowledgeable
viewpoint. He had all the information about Haigs tactics and how those
tactics affected the outcome of the Somme. In addition, public opinion
had changed in the years since the war and Haigs reputation was now
poor.

F) Study all sources.


“Haig was an uncaring general who sacrificed the lives of his soldiers for
no good reason.”
How far do these sources support this view?

It is difficult to understand how kind of person Haig was, was he an


“uncaring general”? Or was he an “architects of the allied victory”? There

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are ten sources about Haig; some of these sources are suggesting that
Haig was a successful commander and some suggests that he was an
“uncaring general” with poor tactic, who killed hundreds of thousand of
the allied soldiers for a few miles, and calling him “butcher”. The sources
that are negative about Haig and support the idea that he was an
“uncaring general” are A, C, D, E, F and J. I think all these sources claim
that Haig sacrificed his men for no good reason. Some of these sources
are criticizing Haig directly and some indirect. Like in source, E there is
neither mention of the Somme nor Haig, but still this source can be used
as negative point about him.

According to source A Haig is an “uncaring general”. This source shows


that Haig is a cold-blooded person, he doesn’t care about his men’s lives,
“the nation must be prepared to see heavy casualties list”. Source C is
also amongst the sources that support the idea that Haig was an “uncaring
general”. George Coppard is rejecting the idea that the “barbed wire has
never so well cut”. He is saying, “hundreds of dead were strung on n the
bared wire”. I chose source D as negative source about Haig. Although, it
is a comedy film which is made to make people laugh by exaggerating
and using funny words, but it is based on the true history.

Source E is a cartoon from British magazine and it’s also criticizing Haig
from being absence from the battle field. One of the main reasons that
people call him an “uncaring general” is because he never visited the
battle field during the Somme and doesn’t knew what is happening. Haig
was relying on other to bring him the news. Source F is one of the worse
sources, which describes Haig as a “stubborn” and “donkey”. This source
describes the Somme as “criminal negligence”. This source suggests that
the battle of the Somme was slaughter not “strategy”. Haig knew that his
tactics are not working but carried on, “He knew he had no chance of
breakthrough but still sent men to their deaths”. Source J suggests that
Haig really was an “uncaring general”. Lloyd George wrote in his War
memorial in1930s, “I expressed my doubts to General Haig as to whether
cavalry could ever operate successfully on a front bristling for mile with
barbed wire and machine guns”. Lloyd says that Haig was an ignoring
person he did what he wanted. These sources are suggesting that Haig
was an “uncaring general”, but they cannot prove that he was “uncaring”.

On the other hand, some of the sources do not in any way agree with the
statement. The sources that suggest that Haig was not, an” uncaring
general” are B, G, H and I. In source B, we see a different view from
Haig. He is happy about his men’s confident, “All the commanders are in
full of confidence”. This source suggests that he is not an” uncaring

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general” because he is talking about his soldiers’ morale and structure,
“the men are in splendid spirits”. In the next paragraph, which was
written after the first day of the attack, he is also delighted about how the
plans gone, “all went clockwork” and he is again talking about the
confidence of his soldiers, “our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of
confidence”, therefore this source is a positive source about Haig.

Source G is nearly a balanced source, which is describing the Somme’s


strategy very poor, but its consequences were great, especially as morale.
This source is describing the Somme successful in destroying the German
experienced officers. I thought this source is a reliable source, because it
is from the German official history book and it’s saying that the battle of
the Somme demoralised the German troops, “the confidence of the
German troops in victory was no longer as great as before” and gave the
western powers confidence, “It gave the western powers confidence”.
Therefore, this source rejects the idea that Haig, “sacrificed the lives of
his soldiers for no good reason”.

Source H is one of the sources that link the defeat of Germany to the
Somme and Haig, “Germany’s spirit of resistance was broken, mainly by
the courage and resolution of Haig’s armies”. This source strongly
disagrees with sentence that says Haig, “sacrificed the lives of his soldiers
for no good reason”. Source H contains nothing but praise for Haig, it
comments on his "determination" and how his armies had "complete
confidence in the leadership of their commander" It also says that had it
not been for him, the "French resistance would have crumbled".

Source I also goes against the statement. It praises "the skill with which"
Haig's plans were made. This source could be more reliable than some
other sources, because it was written a short time after the Somme. On
the other hand some people says it is not that important to judge Haig
using this source, because Lloyd George was the secretary for the war at
the time and some says maybe be he wasn’t well aware of the huge
casualties but little gain. Or maybe Lloyd wanted to have a united front
against their enemy. If we just consider the source I itself, this reject that
Haig, “sacrificed the lives of his soldiers for no good reason”.

In conclusion, the majority of the sources support the statement "Haig


was an uncaring general who sacrificed the lives of his soldiers for no
good reason”, this is a statement which is believed by many people. I feel
that after studying all the sources at hand that this statement is both true
and false. To a certain extent, I believe that there are some things that
Haig could have done better. Others would say he was completely useless

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and didn't do anything right in the whole time he was in charge, but some
people would say he was great and probably the best “architect of the
allied victory”. It is hard to decide whether Haig was a “Hero” or
“butcher” reading these sources. The extra reading I did about Haig and
Somme I can say that Haig was not an “uncaring general”, but he hade
some mistakes on his career. I also blame the people around him who
gave him wrong information and one of Haig’s major mistakes was that
he never visited the Somme during the war.