Field Marshall Haig: “The butcher of the Somme?” Essay

a) I believe that sources A and B show that he doesn’t care about the lives of his mean. In source A, an account written by Haig June 1916, he says, “The nation must be taught to bear losses. ” I think that this shows he is not bothered about how many men he kills; it is all down to business. He feels he needs to keep his job and the only way to do this is to carry on piling men over the top to their peril to fight the Germans. He also says, “… no training, however good, on the part of the officers and the men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. In part, this quote is true, but in other parts it is not.

I feel that if Haig was to wait for reinforcements of armed power and tanks, then our military forces would have been stronger. However, many see it from Haig’s point of view that the great offensive had to go ahead. The pressure on Verdun was too great for the French resistance, Haig was told he had to act and that he had to act quickly otherwise Verdun would have been taken and France would have been put out of the war. Haig soon realized that it clearly was not going to work, she should have given up, but no!

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Haig carried on piling men over the top insisting that Britain should expect to see heavy casualty lists. Source B, two accounts from Haig, one before the attack and one is an extract from his report on the first day of the attack. The first paragraph shows Haig had no understanding about the tension and fear on the frontline, he never realized what he was doing was going to cause so much grief and pain. All he was concerned about was winning the battle, end8ing the war, and most importantly to him was keeping his job.

The second extract is further proof that he had no idea what as going on at the frontline, he quotes, “Very successful attack this morning. All went like clockwork. ” Many would say that the second sentence of this quote was true as he did say that many lives would be lost and he was right in this aspect because approximately 120,000 British lives and about 80,000 French lives, totaling to 200,000 lives were taken on the very first day. Most people would sit and wonder why Haig called it a “… ery successful attack… ”

But if people sit and study the facts, some would realize that this was the only thing he could do. There were high expectations of Haig, he was under a lot of pressure from the Government, the public, the army and the British press, somethi8ng spectacular had to happen and it had to occur quickly. When the battle was planned, Haig’s aims were to break out of the trenches, secure Verdun by relieving pressure on the French, and hopefully end the war completely – however, this did not happen! ) Once I have read sources B and C, I feel as if source C is the most reliable as it is a primary source and it is from someone who was actually there experiencing the torture. Whereas we know that source B is all Haig’s accounts and experiences, I have researched into Haig and found out that during the battle, more often than likely Haig would be anything up to 50 miles away, only when both sides were tired and there was not much action going on would Haig ever visit the frontline.

Haig also comments on the fact that it was a “Very successful attack… “, but source C says, “Hundreds of dead were strung on the barbed wire… These two quotes contradict each other, they are both opposites but because Haig never actually went to the frontline on a bad day, I would say that source C is probably going to be the more accurate one. George Coppard (source C) also says, “How did the planners imagine that Tommies would get through the wire? ” This was one of Haig’s many ideas, unfortunately for him this was also one of his worst. Haig never realized what was going on with the wire so he continued to order Tommies to fire at it – throwing it up into the air and bringing it back down again “… often in a much worse tangle than before. ” )

I agree that sources D and E are not very useful when studying the Battle of the Somme but I do feel that they could give some background information on how Haig reacted individually towards the war. I don’t feel that these sources are very reliable because soon after the war, there was a lot of resentment towards Haig and there still was by many people in 1988 (which is when Blackadder was made). Many people believed that he was the butcher of the Somme. This means that when the program was made it may well have had some things going against Haig, e. g. “… another giant effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches close to Berlin. This source shows anger towards Haig, many people thought that Haig thought he was playing a game, and that rather than aiming to win the war and keep casualties low, all he was interested in doing was move his “… drinks cabinet six inches close to Berlin”. Source E provides us what I said abou8t the absence of the General on the front line.

The source shows a Major-General saying that there are three differences about practice and the real thing, he says the first thing in practice there is no enemy, he then turn to the Regimental Sergeant-Major saying “what is the second difference? . The Sergeant-Major replies by saying, “The absence of the General, Sir. ” This shows us that some of the soldiers believed that Haig should have been on the front line; however it is wrong for us to say all soldiers believed this as this is only the case for whoever drew the cartoon. This source was created during the war (1917); this could mean that people just had some resentment towards Haig. I believe that if someone was to draw a cartoon on the Somme now it would have a completely different context.

I think it would show how well we done in the war, it may even praise Haig a little bit. d) Once I have studies sources F, G and H, I believe that sources G and H do prove source F to be wrong. Source F is an extract from a recent book called, ‘British Butchers and Bunglers of the World War’. This title contributes a great deal when trying to work out why the source is as downgrading towards Haig as it is. I believe that the book finds someone who has made a few mistakes in some peoples eyes and then magnified the problem to such an extent that they can then print it in a book.

They would have just picked out the bad points against Haig; I don’t think it would be fair if someone assessed Haig purely on this source. We can see (once having read Sources G and H) that Haig was not all bad according to both a book called German Official History of the First World War and a British General who fought in both world wars. Sources G and H try and back up Haig although he did make a few mistakes, and point out that there were some good things that he accomplished. Source G says, “… o great importance in the strategic sense, its consequences nevertheless were great, particularly as regards to morale. ”

This tells us that although the battle would not achieve anything in the sense of gaining land or breaking out of the trenches it would however more than likely raise morale in the British and lower it in the Germans. From my own knowledge, I know that this did occur, the Germans morale was lowered and many of their most experienced troops were killed making them relegate to pushing out more and more inexperienced privates.

Source H (an account written by a British General in 1973) says, “Germany’s spirit of resistance was broken, mainly by the courage and resolution of Haig’s army”. This backs up what I said earlier about how we can not stereotype everyone hating Haig just because sources D and E go against him. Source H shows us that there were and still are people who believe Haig was right in ordering more men over the top everyday. “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. Thus quote tells us that had Haig not continued to push men to their peril just to kill more Germans, then the French resistance would more than likely have broken down, thus putting them out of the war.

Had this happened to the Allies, then the Allies would have lost. Rightfully so source F goes against Haig saying, “He knew he had no chance e of a breakthrough but still sent men to their deaths” Because from my own knowledge I know that Haig always believed that he was going to breakthrough, so I feel that there is sufficient evidence for Haig sending men to their deaths. ) After studying sources I and J, I think that these sources do show a difference. Source I is soon after Lloyd George visiting the battlefield, he had to say something good to make sure that British morale was maintained, however once the war was over he said in his War Memoirs that “This offensive was already a failure. ” Now that the war was over he could express views on the battle, unfortunately although the battle achieved some of its aims he believes it could have been handled in a more accurate way. He also commented on how we lost more valuable officers than the Germans did.

I feel that during the war he was just trying to cover himself by saying that he thinks everything is going well as he doesn’t want British people thinking he has made a mistake employing Haig. But in the 1930s after the wart and soon before the Second World War, Lloyd George came clean about his feelings on the way that Haig fought and controlled the battle. So overall these sources are different be cause Lloyd George had to say different things during and after the war because I think that if he had told Britain the truth during the war then the British morale would most certainly have decreased. ) “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 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.

When looking at source A, we can see that Haig knew what was going to happen and he tried to get the nation to accept what was going to happen and that they must expect to see large numbers of casualties. The question we are left to answer is whether Haig did have any effect on the outcome of the war. Looking at source B, we can see Haig’s account of what is going on during the battle. These are two extracts written by Haig; one before the attack and one is a report on the days attack. Here we are told what Haig thought of the situation, “Very successful attack this morning. He says this in good confidence followed by, “All went like clockwork. ” We know for a fact that the first day of battle was the most amount of casualties ever seen by Britain at one time. This battle lost the lives of 620,000 British and French men; many are left to wonder how Haig could say it all went like clockwork. The fact of the matter is that according to what Haig said in his statement of 1916 (Source A) it did all go to plan. Haig managed to hit the Germans hard and as expected lost the lives of many men, but he did say, “The nation must be taught to bear losses. Source C is the complete opposites of B; it is the experience of a Private that actually fought in the battle. He says that hundreds of dead soldiers were “… strung out on the barbed wire… ” This gives us the view of someone who was actually part of the terror – he was not up to 50 miles away as Haig was most of the time. This person stood up and told the world what the Somme was really like, he says that many wondered how Haig could even imagine that Tommies would get through the barbed wire.

So far we have a balanced argument, we have the view of a Private and the view of the General (Haig) to consider, but we still can’t make a decision on whether Haig was an uncaring General. Source D is a still from Blackadder, a program made in 1988, but the people who directed it still held some resentment towards Haig. Many people would have wanted to get revenge on Haig for what he had done for so little land. So the extract shows the officer being surprised at Haig wanting to make another attack, and then realizes that it might all be down to wanting to “… ove his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin. ” Source E is written only a year after the battle, it is showing the views of soldiers before they were sent to the front line. When studying World War One, most people are shocked to find that the Generals were often 50 miles away from the front line and this is exactly what the cartoon is trying to show, It shows us that because Haig is to far away it could mean that he doesn’t care about his soldiers and army, all he wants to do is gain as much land as possible and make I look as if the attack is going well so that he can keep his job.

Moving on to source F, we look at an extract from a book called, ‘British Butchers and Bunglers of World Wars’, this means that whoever wrote the book was probably against Haig and though he was a butcher or he might even had liked Haig, but thought he was a good source to put into a book like that because Haig had so many people against him and so many things that people could criticize him for. The next source (source G) is a good source to have because it comes straight from the Germans themselves.

This is good because they knew what went on with their troops after the battle so that we don’t have to guess. As I have mentioned before, one of the top objectives for Haig was to break German morale, and according to this source he did just that. “The confidence of the German troops in victory was no longer as great as before. ” Source H is again a very reliable source, it is an extract written by a British soldier who fought in both the World Wars and could therefore decipher which had the better tactics.

He believes that Haig had the great courage to “… shoulder the main burden of the struggle in the Somme battles of 1916,” and that if he hadn’t then the French resistance would have crumbled and put them out of the war. If the French were put out of the war then the Allies too would have eventually lost the war, as Germany would occupy most of France – leaving them in a far superior position. This source, therefore gains more favor for Haig not being the butcher of the Somme. Source I is Lloyd George (Secretary for War) writing to Haig on September 1916.

I believe that Lloyd George was influenced to write good things because had his letter been bad and was intercepted by the press, British morale could have been destroyed. I believe that source J is evidence towards my beliefs because in Lloyd Georges War Memoirs, (wrote in 1930 after the war) he talks about his disbelief in Haig. Think that at the time he did not have the courage to stand up and admit he was wrong in appointing Haig. He also comments that he only feels that the Somme saved the Allies because the Germans had the stupidity to quarrel with the Americans and bring them into the war.

In conclusion to my essay I feel there are both points for and against Haig being the ‘Butcher of the Somme’ Haig’s aims were to reduce German morale and raise British morale, to break out of the trenches, relieve pressure on the French at Verdun and most of all to try and bring the war to an end. Well what he did was kill many of Germany’s most experienced soldiers meaning that the German morale was disturbed, because of this the British felt they had a better chance of winning now thus meaning a morale boost.

As for relieving pressure on the French, this was probably Haig’s biggest achievement because had he not done this then the Germans would have taken over Verdun and then most of France – leading to a 90% chance of the Allies in with a running chance of winning and he also weakened the Germans. My personal view is that Haig led to the winning of the war and that he was not a butcher of but there will always be people who will disagree, but the question we are left with that no one can answer is:- Did, what Haig achieve warrant the death of so many Allied troops?

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