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How Far Did General Haig Deserve to Be Known as Butcher of the Somme

By alexgreen12345 Feb 27, 2013 906 Words
How far does General Haig deserve to be known as ‘The Butcher of the Somme’? The Battle of the Somme was the most costly battle in terms of casualties every in the history of British Military. A decisive breakthrough was needed by the allies after 2 years of stalemate on the Western Front however after the first day of fighting at the Somme, it became very clear that the artillery bombardment had fail to smash German defences and barbed wire and so there were 60000 casualties on the 1/7/1916. General Haig had the authority to stop the battle; however he didn’t resulting in huge losses over the next 4 months at the Somme. He prolonged the battle unnecessarily when failure became obvious and therefore deserves his name as ‘butcher of the Somme.’ Some historians believe he doesn’t deserve this name because he was just doing his job as a general and death is an inevitable part of war and loss of men is a consequence of any decision made by Haig. There had been stalemate on the western front for 2 years and the Germans were still on French soil. An attack was needed in an attempt to push the Germans out of France and bring the war to a close. Haig had the right intentions in trying to do this and this is one of the reasons he launched such a large battle. The French were under considerable pressure at Verdun and so one of the reasons was to attract German soldiers and guns north to the Somme from Verdun, therefore relieving the pressure. If Haig had called off the offensive at the beginning of July he would have thrown away this advantage. In one article it states how ‘the only real achievement of the Anglo-French armies on 1 July 1916 was to relieve pressure on Verdun.’ (DSP) This shows how the battle did draw German soldiers north and it made the difference in that the Germans did not capture the city of Verdun. It can be argued also that the Battle of Somme broke German morale and key infantry and experienced officers were lost at the Somme too. The Germans suffered approximately 500000 casualties in total and it did make a significant contribution to wearing down Germany’s ability to fight as the odds were becoming more favourable towards the Allies. One source from the German official history of the war says ‘The heavy loss of life affected Germany much more heavily than the allies. There was a terrible death roll of the men fully-trained in peace time and the finest soldiers, the replacement of whom was impossible’ (DSP) This shows how the battle was costly for the Germans and that it had a big impact in that German morale increased and also many soldiers had been lost. Haig’s plan was to achieve a decisive breakthrough and then exploit it with calvery. A war of attrition was not the plan and after it did turn into this sort of war, Haig attempted a breakthrough through the use of tanks for the first time in September 1916 and this surprised the Germans and did make gains. It also boosted British morale significantly after the heavy losses. One source states how’ there was a steady grinding capture of territory and a destruction of enemy forces’ when tanks were first introduced suggesting that they came very close to breaking the stalemate however it was the weather conditions that meant the battle had to be called off by Haig. However, I believe there is more evidence for Haig deserving the name as ‘the Butcher of the Somme’ which outweighs why he doesn’t. In total there were 419654 British casualties and generations of young men wiped out. Haig had the power to prevent the huge loss but didn’t and prolonged an unnecessary battle. The main reason I believe in huge loss of life was incompetent planning and poor tactics from the outset. Haig overestimated the ability of the artillery to destroy the German defences. The Germans had stretched barbed wire like a band of over 30 metres which was impossible to penetrate and German dugouts were deep underground and fortified with concrete. The masses of shells the British had been provided were often of poor quality, therefore not powerful enough to destroy the German trenches. Furthermore, it was very predictable when the allies would attack as the artillery bombardment suddenly ceased signifying to the Germans that an attack was imminent. There had been no developments yet of tactics such as the creeping barrage and after the bombardment, there was enough time for the Germans to come out of their dug outs and set up the machine guns. Shells had failed to penetrate the barbed wire and often just made it more in a tangle than before and so the allies were funnelled to where there was a gap. However, they were also ordered to walk across no man’s land with unloaded rifles and they became sitting targets for German gunners. There were about 57000 casualties on the first day as a result. This source states’ hundreds of dead were strong out like wreckage washed up to a high water mark. Quite as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish caught in the net.’ This shows how many people had been killed, ordered to their deaths by Haig.

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