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General Douglas Haig Assignment

Douglas Haig, a wealthy Scot and a good friend of George V was also a famous General who led Britain to Victory in the First World War. In the past 85 years historians have portrayed him in many different ways as being both good and bad. Sources C to L vary widely in support of the historian John Keegan’s interpretation, which is ‘General Haig was an efficient and highly skilled soldier who did much to lead Britain to victory in the First World War. ‘ I will now examine and evaluate all the sources in order to draw a conclusion as to whether or not the above statement is correct.

Having examined the first of these sources, source C; I noticed that it is one of the most balanced sources. The source begins by praising General Haig, referring to him as ‘One of the Great Men of the Twentieth Century’. We also learn that the soldiers seemed satisfied with him as a leader – ‘when the old soldiers were alive I never heard a word of criticism from them’. The writer of this source does accept that only now, through the passing of time, people are criticising him. ‘In more recent time more pour scorn on my father’.

This is due to the initial relief of the war now being over and people are looking into exactly what happened in more depth in the hope of finding an answer as to why such a large number of men died. Despite this quote I do believe this source supports Keegan’s statement. This source cannot really be deemed reliable due to it being written by Earl Haig, son of Sir Douglas Haig. It could therefore be biased, as Earl Haig is indebted to his father, for amongst other things, his title.

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The phrases ‘It was high time my father was given credit’ leads me to believe that they had a close friendly relationship and wanted to praise one another. Source F is another balanced source that points out both the positive and negative qualities of Haig. The writer, a ‘Modern Historian’ talks about Haig as having ‘great self confidence’ and being ‘ambitious’. The historian does also mention that Haig believed he had been ‘chosen by God’ which is correct as he believed he had been sent on a mission from God and had tremendous self-belief. This was unfortunately, not a good thing as it undermined confidence towards Haig as a leader.

Haig is said to be ‘unable to recognise defeat’ which is true although he wanted the attack to go the same way as it did at Neuve-Chapelle, where initial progress was rapid, quickly breaking through a section of the German line taking just four hours to secure the village. He believed if he could continue the attack in this way he would eventually break the German front line. Haig also believed in self-sacrifice that may have been why he sent thousands of men over the top continuously, to their deaths, where on the first day alone at the battle of the Somme 20,000 men died.

Yet Haig did not even consider trying a different approach. He insisted on bombarding the enemy trenches with heavy artillery and continued to send men over the top. I think that source F has more assumptions against Keegan’s interpretation overall than there are to support it. I would also say that this source is reliable, being written by a British historian for “Great Battles of World War I’ a book which specialises in the battles of World War I and would gain nothing from lying or has any reason to be biased. Source J, a ‘German tribute to Sir D. Haig’ is very supportive of Haig.

The writer of the newspaper writes ‘Haig is one of the most able Generals’ which agrees with Keegan’s statement and is correct in saying he is of ‘Scottish descent’. Haig had indeed been raised in a wealthy Scottish family. The source includes many truthful and praiseworthy comments towards Haig such as ‘He is a serious and persistent worker’, which is also very true, as, despite suffering heavy casualties and advancing very little, he persevered and eventually was victorious with the allies winning the war. This source does therefore support Keegan’s statement. It does however also have its limitations.

After several positive and praiseworthy comments towards Haig the writer says ‘Eagerness to attack not proved equal to the German art of defence will certainly make all of Germany satisfied. ‘ So after a great build up of praise towards Haig the writer tells of how the best British General’s attack couldn’t break through the German defences. Although this is correct Britain, at the battle of the Somme, did very much towards weakening the German army and held them up long enough to save Verdun and for the Americans to join the war where the British eventually forced the Germans to retreat.

This, however, was also due to the German army having to withdraw men from Verdun to resist the Russians on the eastern front. I believe the reason the article was written was to attempt to give the German people hope that the war was going their way. For this reason I believe the source is biased and not very reliable but supports Keegan’s statement. Source H is one of the more supporting sources of Keegan’s interpretation of Haig and tells why he was ‘right’ to go to war at The Somme.

The writer, Duff Cooper, describes how Haig had no other option, as refusing to fight would have meant ‘Abandonment at Verdun’ and ‘breakdown of co-operation with the French’. The Somme took place to relieve the French at Verdun as they were suffering greatly and if the battle had gone on any longer the French would almost certainly have lost. The British attack at the Somme did achieve its goal and refusal to the French, not to attack could have led to Britain and France no longer seeing eye to eye and not co-operating with each other.

The Battle of the Somme was, however, planned before the Germans attacked at Verdun so General Haig was prepared to go ahead with the attack whether the French would be attacked at Verdun or not! With the French in the difficult situation they were currently in, it would have been quite unlikely that their co-operation with the British would have broken down, as without British help they would have had no real support to fall back on. Being an autobiographical source and the writer being asked to write it by Haig’s family would suggest that the source might be biased and the writer given instructions as to what he should write.

I form the impression that the extract is trying to justify some of the ‘arguable mistakes’ that Haig made. The two sources, which display the most un-supporting views of Haig as a military leader, are sources D and G. The poster in source D makes a mockery of the original poster, which, was used in the war as a very strong propaganda message to persuade people to join the British army in World War I. This poster was of John Kitchener with a caption that read ‘Your Country Needs You’.

The poster in the source would have, if it was displayed at the time of the war, convinced people not to join as the caption read ‘Your Country Needs Me, like a hole in the head, which is what most of you are going to get. ‘ This source suggests that Haig is incompetent as a leader and that he would lead men to their deaths. Although in my opinion quite harsh on Haig as many people were in fact needed to die to win a war of attrition, the source is historically correct, but again, could not be taken seriously being written after the time of the war for more of an entertainment value.

In Source G Haig is portrayed as a liar by the Prime Minister Lloyd George. Lloyd George tries to justify his actions of why he had ‘Ought not to have resigned’ rather than ‘allow this slaughter of brave men’ by saying Haig ‘Promised’ not to attack if ‘It became clear that he could not attain his objectives by continuing the offensive’. Haig did have reason to believe that what he was saying was truthful, as he had obtained the information from his head of intelligence, ‘John Charter’.

However Haig relied too much on these faulty reports obtained from already defeated German soldiers who, being captured, would be likely to make things out worse than they actually were. Haig’s intelligence obtained was often edited, so Haig was receiving the information he wanted to hear. If Haig had gone to the front line more often he would undoubtedly have gained a better idea of what was happening and would not have needed to rely on edited information. It was known that Lloyd George despised Haig and often had a ‘pop’ at him, even once calling him ‘Brilliant to the top of his boots’.

Lloyd George also humiliated Haig and made things even more difficult for him when he put him under the French command of Nivelle. I do therefore think that this source is biased and this must be taken in to account when coming to a conclusion. Source H is about Haig’s own view of the Somme and trench warfare and is split into three sections. In the first section Haig tries to say that men must die to win the war and that nothing he or anybody else does, can stop this.

He continues to say it is not his fault that men are dying and that ‘the nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill… will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s life’ Here Haig is not supporting Keegan’s interpretation of his self, but is correct in saying this as in a war situation people must expect that lives will be lost. In the next section of the source Haig tells the men that they have never before been so well ‘informed and instructed’, which supports Keegan’s interpretation.

Unfortunately, as in source G, Haig relied on faulty intelligence reports in order to tell how the pre battle bombardment was going, saying the barbed wire was cut, which couldn’t have been more untrue. This is the same for the final section of the source where the intelligence reports all seem to have a ‘positive spin’ on them saying it ‘all went like clockwork’ although 20,000 British soldiers died on the first day! Despite this, this section of the source supports Keegan’s interpretation. The last two sources that I looked at were source K and source L, both of which were balanced.

Source K looks at whether Haig was totally at fault and explains that by doing this you are ‘Putting to much of a burden of guilt on one man’. Haig is portrayed as ‘The product of his time’ and that he was ‘Ultimately Victorious’ which is true. The historian also acknowledges that there probably would have been no one better for the job ‘even if he had been replaced’, which is also a true statement, as at the time there was nobody or general alive that had the character to take the responsibility for the future of Great Britain and the deaths of thousands of men.

Source K tells of a German officer saying that the battlefield of the Somme was ‘The Muddy grave of the German army’ the same battlefield where ‘numerous mistakes … contributed to the half a million casualties suffered by the Allies. ‘ This means that despite Haig’s mistakes many Germans did in fact die. After analysing this source the positive values outweigh the negatives, so I do believe that it supports Keegan’s interpretation Source L is a Time Watch video about General Douglas Haig that included several different historians views about him and his role in the Allies victory.

This source includes some of the other sources in the coursework booklet and talks about many of the mistakes Haig made as commander in Chief, such as his false intelligence reports and his decision to press on despite the high death rates. Despite the video being slightly confusing at times, with many different historians speaking all with slightly different views, at the end of the video it was said that Haig acknowledged that there would be heavy casualties and that this was unavoidable.

After a lot of debating one historian in particular says that true support for Haig will not be acknowledged until some fifty years to come but Haig should be given the credit he is due, which means that this source ultimately supports Keegan’s interpretation. In conclusion, many of the sources that I have studied are against Haig as a military leader, more than that are for Haig and Support Keegan’s statement. Despite this I do not believe the majority of these sources can be thought of as reliable as they are either biased or written for another purpose than to inform.

Therefore they cannot be deemed useful. The most useful sources of all and the fairest to Haig, from what I already know, are sources K and L. These sources give a balanced and fair view of Haig and indicate that although he made some big mistakes he was well educated, highly trained and ultimately he did what needed to be done. I believe that Haig did the best that he could do under the circumstances and with what he had to hand so on balance, Keegan’s interpretation is supported by the most useful and reliable sources.

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