Did General Haig deserve to be the Butcher of the Somme?
1 July 1916, Battle of Somme started, fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place on either side of the River Somme in France, and it ended on 18 November 1916. The battle caused millions of deaths and injuries between both sides. The war changed peoples’ thinking towards war. From a great adventure, to a bloody event. General Douglas Haig was one of the commanders from the British army in the Battle of Somme, the battle with one of the highest casualties in British military history.
Some people called him “Butcher Haig” or “Butcher of the Somme” after his death in 1928, because he sent thousands of British soldiers to their death.
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But does he deserve the title? Or was he just doing his job and was there any misunderstanding in the battle? I will talk about the evidences and explain why many people view both sides and if he deserves the title or not. The offensive (Britain & France) conceived the idea as a battle of attrition, attacking the Germans, the aim being to drain the German forces of reserves, although territorial gain was a secondary aim.
On the first day of the battle of the Somme, Commander Haig’s army (The fourth army of Britain) lost 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 men were killed, for only one day. The French had a “complete success” which collapsed the German Defenders in south of the Albert–Bapaume road. South bank of the German defense was made incapable of resisting another attack. They retreated to the north bank which abandonment of Fricourt was ordered. The German army went to the north bank and inflicted a huge defeat on the British infantry, which killed so many Britain soldiers.
A lot of people called Douglas Haig the Butcher of the Somme. Here are some pieces of evidence to support this point of view. “The biggest murderer of the lot was Haig. I’m very bitter; always have been and always will be and everybody else that knew him. He lived almost 50 kilometers behind the line and that’s about as near as he got. I don’t think he knew what a trench was like. And they made him an Earl and gave him £100,000. I know what I’d have given him” (Fred Pearson, commenting on Haig in a local newspaper in 1966) Pearson was a private on the Western Front.
This suggests where Haig’s position was and the opinion of the soldier in the Front line. It also tells us that General Haig received a large amount of money and an Earl given by the loyal afterward. And although there were a lot of murderer (Commanders in charge) during the war time, but Haig led a large amount of the British army to death as they called him the BIGGEST murderer. This source was written years after the war in a local newspaper called Pro Venanic.
It can be trusted because it was written by a person who was in the battle who experienced what the war was like and what Haig was doing. “We were completely exhausted. ” Haig wrote, “If the war lasted, our army defeat seemed certain. ” He really believed that he had won the battle. Although the Germans had lost 680,000 men during the war and had retreated 10 kilometers back from their trenches. They human cost of the Britain and French were also very high. Especially on the first day of the battle, which lost a massive number of casualties in the war history?
Which made the people bitter and angry especially the anger from the men in the Front line, seeing Haig standing kilometers behind them, thinking that he was being a coward, and the ones who lost their family and relatives on the 1st of July? P. Smith was also a private in the 1st Border regiment fighting on the Somme. He was one of them who called Haig a Butcher. He wrote this in his diary, “It was pure bloody murder. Douglas Haig should have been hung, drawn and quartered for what he did on the Somme. The cream of the British manhood was shattered in less than six hours.”
From this quote, we can see that this person who is angry at what Haig did in the war. He wrote this on July 1916, which was the first month of the battle of the Somme. Given that over 50 thousands soldiers died on the first day, Haig as the leader of the team, P. Smith wrote, “…Haig should have been hung, drawn and quarried for what he did on the Somme…” in his own diary, since the diary was only written for himself to read, he wrote down all his feelings towards the war as a soldier and this source is reliable, because no one would tell a lie in their own private diary, and he was actually there at the battle of the Somme and he saw thousands of friends and family killed.
The source supports the point that Douglas Haig is the Butcher of the battle of the Somme. “Haig was a second –rate Commander in unparalleled and unforeseen circumstances. He was not endowed with any of the elements of imagination and vision… And he certainly had none of that personal magnetism which has enabled great leaders of men to inspire multitudes with courage, faith and a spirit of sacrifice… He was incapable of planning vast campaigns on the scale demanded on so immense a battlefield.”
This was written by David Lloyd George, British Prime Minster during the First World War, writing in his War Memoirs (1935). It gives us an idea of General Haig’s planning of war and he was incapable to be a great leader as immense a battlefield. He also describes Haig as a “second rate commander” because of the high death count at the Somme. This source is reliable because given the fact that it was written by a Prime Minister of Britain during WW1. “I want you to understand that there is a difference between a rehearsal and the real thing.
There are three essential differences: first, the absence of the enemy. Now turning to the Regimental Sergeant- Major what is the second difference? ” Sergeant Major. ” The absence of the General, Sir. ” This source was written in a cartoon from the British satirical magazine Punch (February 1917) the purpose was to make fun of the generals as we can see in the cartoon. This source is very useful for us knowing more about General Haig at the time, in the cartoon, the major general is addressing the men before an attack behind the lines.
This is also reliable, because it was written in 1917, which was after the battle of the Somme. And it gives out information about Haig and his team. John Laffin, an author in modern days, wrote in his history book, British Butchers and Bunglers of World War One (2003), “Haig and other British generals must be blamed… for willful blunders and wicked butchery. However stupid they might have been, however much they were the product of a system which obstructed enterprise, they knew what they were doing.
There can never be forgiven. ” Although Laffin earned his living taking people on battlefield tours and researched the war entirely from the soldiers’ standpoint, however he wasn’t in the battle, as he didn’t see what really happened and what Haig was doing at the time, he knew and heard all the things in the history by others. So this source can be either reliable or not and it might not be so fair to Haig saying that he is a butcher. On the other hand, the second interpretation is that Haig was just doing his job as a general.
Different people have their different evidences for that. “The truth is that those ruddy-cheeked, bristling-mustached, heavy- jawed, frequently inarticulate generals rose to challenge after challenge, absorbed weapon after weapon into their battle-systems, and adapted themselves to constant change with astonishing success. But no one cared to make a legend out of that. ” This was written by a historian named John Terraine in his Study of the Somme. “The Smoke and the Fire” in 1980.
“The truth is that those ruddy-cheeked, bristling-mustached, heavy- jawed, frequently inarticulate generals rose to challenge after challenge…” Terraine was talking about Haig, although Haig made a lot of success during the war, no one realized it and no one cares about it to make a legend out of that. This might be supporting the point that he was just doing his job and he made a great success in the war. A Lieutenant in the Yorkshire Light Infantry who was gassed on the Somme and invalided back to Britain, writing in a letter to the Daily Express (21st December 1916, “During the first half of the war, our leadership was flawless – perfect.
There was an obvious genius for pure generalship which has made Sir Douglas Haig fit to rank with any general of past or modern times. ” This source says that Haig was a flawless leader and a genius. The writer says that Haig led his team and Britain to victory and he is the hero of us. “Which has made Sir Douglas Haig fit to rank with any general of past or modern times? ” This quote tells us that Haig was one of the best Britain leaders who had quite a lot of support from the locals. This source is also reliable because it was written in December 1916, right after the war ended.
The author knew what happened, although he didn’t really saw what happened in the trench. Here is a photograph showing crowds welcoming Sir Haig home from France. It was taken on 12th April 1919, a few months after the war ended. This gives us an idea that a lot of people welcoming him back and they didn’t blame him of such a massive number of death in total. They treated him as a hero of Britain who led his army to victory and saved Britain. However, this might not be such reliable as the other evidences. A photograph cannot represent the whole thing.
And the photo might not be real, or it was just created by the government to raise the support to Haig. A video is more reliable then a photo because we can see the start to the end. A photo is just a capture of one single moment. There might be some other things happened in the past or later. “Blaming Haig the individual for the failings of the British war effort is putting too much of a burden of guilt on one man. Haig was the product of his time, of his upbringing, education, and training and previous military experience.
One argument goes that he was, ultimately, victorious and, even if he had been replaced would there have been anyone better for the job? Even on the Somme a German officer called the battlefield ‘the muddy grave of the German army’. ” This source was written by S. Warburton, in an article in the history magazine, “Hindsight”, which takes a fresh look at historical issues. The magazine was published in 1998, many years after the Battle of Somme. This source suggests reasons Haig are not a butcher and we shouldn’t blame him too much.
“One argument goes that he was, ultimately, victorious and, even if he had been replaced would there have been anyone better for the job? ” He says that Haig is a great commander at the war that no other can replace him for doing a better job. He tried his best and put a lot of effort on the planning and war, so that Britain had its victory at last. This source was written in 1998. Although the author might not be seeing the war time, it is reliable and it can be trusted that Haig was doing a great job during the war.
There are more and more evidences to support both sides of opinion. They have their own point of view that we can’t say that they are right or wrong. In my own opinion, I think that General Haig deserves the title the Butcher of the Somme. He sent 50,000 Britain to death just for one day. He didn’t know what a war is like. His plan failed. Although it was the experts’ idea, but he should consider it was a good plan or not before actually doing it. He really believed that he won the battle, but in fact he did not.
The Germans lost 680,000 men in the war, but at the same time, the deaths of Britain and French in total had the same amount of people died of the German empire. Haig refused requests for extra hospital trains to be made available before the attack beg. His outdated tactics led to the war being even more prolonged and unintentionally prevented a victory over the Germans. He had no idea what a real war is. He thought he was successful, but he was not. He wasn’t prepared for war, used people who were inexperienced soldiers at all.
July 1 was one of the most deaths in war in the war history. He repeated the mistakes opposite of what was said organized. He is the Butcher of the Somme, I think. Overall, there is still a debate between he is a butcher or he was just doing his job. No matter which side wins, there were still a large number of people died in the Battle of the Somme. A lot of people lost their homes, and lost their family. Although it was General Douglas Haig, who sent them to their death, there might be some misunderstanding in between.