The issue of Douglas Haig’s role as a general on the Western Front, during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, has been thoroughly questioned by many historians to date. Through different views and opinions, Haig’s skills have been both heavily celebrated and criticised. Therefore he has been viewed as both ‘Butcher of the Somme’ and the ‘Architect of Victory’, much evidence supporting both arguments. However the majority of people seem to favour the idea of Haig being a merciless leader, which is completely understandable. For instance, the Battle of the Somme hugely affected almost every person in Britain, many losing family members. For them, it would have been easy to blame the British losses solely on General Haig, and many did just that. However many people saw him as a highly gifted soldier and leader, and there was a good side to Haig, for example, he did manage to eventually wear down the German army, and played a part in the result of World War 1. Therefore this controversial issue will perhaps be continually debated.
The Battle of the Somme was a largely Scottish battle, with three Scottish divisions participating. This also applied to Douglas Haig, who was born in Edinburgh and was commander in chief. He was blamed for the enormous slaughter of the Battle of the Somme, during which there were around 60,000 British casualties on just the first day, a third of which were killed. This alone is evidence enough for a lot of people of Haig’s failures as a general. However, many of the flaws in Haig’s leading of the Battle of the Somme stemmed from the fact that he was commanding a group of sixty divisions, when the usual number was just six. This shows the extreme circumstances under which Douglas Haig was commanding at the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme was a significant event in history; this is mainly due to the absurd amount of deaths, even though they were ‘no larger than were to be expected’, however some people find fault in the fact that Haig kept the army fighting even when he became aware of the continuous height of casualty figures. Just like any general, Haig strove for success, however he had a major fault: he was extremely optimistic, and constantly believed that the German army was close to surrendering, therefore believing that a win was also close. This positive personality is shown by a quote which Douglas Haig himself said at the beginning of the war, ‘The situation is never so good or so bad as first reports indicate’. However, even though he felt that his army was fully capable of defeating the Germans, he wasn’t correct, in fact, Haig’s army didn’t have the huge amount of soldiers, which the German army were able to take advantage of this clearly shows that his targets were impossibly to achieve, he was just too ambitious. Haig was also heavily criticised for the ridiculous length of the battle, this was simply because it could have been ended much sooner than it was, and this would have even prevented Britain in constantly finding fault in Haig’s leadership skills. The main reason that Haig even allowed the battle to continue because he wished to straighten his trenches, as this would have had a great effect on his army’s attacks. However Haig was also criticised for allowing the British army to fight in the appalling weather at the time of the Somme, although technically he cannot take the entire blame for this decision as the idea actually came from the French army officer.
Haig was certainly one to override his army commanders, although this is understandable, as if he found their advice questionable then he had to trust himself to make the correct decision alone. However at the beginning of the battle of the Somme, Haig was overruled himself, by the governments of Britain and France, they asked Haig to attack the German army at that point in time, but Haig didn’t agree this was because he felt that his armies weren’t ready; however his argument wasn’t effective,...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document