Was Haig the butcher of the Somme

In 1915 the war didn’t make any progress, each side had made hundreds of attacks and thousands of soldiers had been killed. The British thought about how their countries soldiers were being led into battle, so in 1915 December the 10th a new commander of the British forces was appointed 54 year old man named Field Marshall Haig. He had a good successful career. He had been in the boar war, where the British had been poorly equipped. As Haig wasn’t so used to the new age of fighting. He had some difficulty adjusting to it.

With each side in trenches and people not used to trench warfare, no one knew had to cope with them, or win a war like this. So all the others went back on the idea of designing battle plans with trenches. They were going to fight a war of attrition and wear the enemy out. February 1916 Germany set out for another attack. They sent soldiers to attack the French forts in and around the town of Verdun, they sent thousands again and again. They were expecting to wear down the morale and strength of the French. It took 5 months, with 700,000 men killed in action, but the French were still hanging on by a thread.

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They needed help, so the British decided to help the French relieve the Germans from Verdun. Haig began a huge attack along the side of the river, The Somme. Haig thought that this would hopefully relieve the Germans away and would strengthen the hopes of the French soldiers fighting there. He was also told that the Germans were low in their numbers and their morale was low too. Artillery bombardment took place for a week and on the 1st of July 1916, the order for the troops was given, for them to go over the top. Five months later the pressure on Verdun had been nearly erased.

At the Somme only a few square kilometres of blood and distorted ground had been gained and an awful lot of men killed. There were huge blizzards in November 18th, 1916, which covered the area in snow. Haig decided to call of the attack. It was one of the most horrendous battles in the war. It came out that there was more British men murdered in the battle than ever before. This earned Haig a title ”The butcher of the Somme” This is because he didn’t need to send the men into battle if he didn’t understand the new ways of war. Plus that that many died, to gain almost nothing at all.

In this war it was like he had sent the soldiers to war casually, as if he had knew that his loss would be worth something no matter how severe the losses were. To test how true this was, it is necessary to judge the opinions given about Haig. In 1916 when the battle began, Haig said that no matter how good the training was, no matter whom went to war, men would still die. He also said that people should expect that and expect to see a heavy casualty list. He also said that the men were in such good moods and high spirits that the men were enjoying it and liked being so well instructed and so well informed about what they had to do.

He said that the barbed wire had never been cut so well, the artillery had never been so well prepared . All the commanders were fully confident. These are from sources 1 and 2. Source % is one of the soldier’s views who were out on the field, it is from an interview with Private George Coppard. It says ” hundreds of dead were strung out” (on the barbed wire) ”Like a wreckage washed up to a high water mark” But if Haig mention that the quote in source 2, ”The barbed wire had never been cut so well cut” then this isn’t so reliable from Haig because he was far away from the action unlike Private George Coppard.

The information I source 5suggest that the Germans must have been stacking up the wire, with reinforcements for months, quote, ”it was so thick daylight could hardly be seen through it” George goes onto describe how any solider would know that their weapons couldn’t break it up and that it was impossible for any solider to get through it. He also said that the shells dropped would of made more of a mess in the barbed wire than before. General Haig never visited the front line.

From source 6 written in 1988 of a biography of Haig by Gerard De Groot it states, quote, ‘While Haig slept in a cosy bed in a quiet country chateau and dinned on the best food available. His men lived in muddy, noisy, trenches sharing their bully beef and biscuits with the big bloated rats. It apparently did not bother Haig that this war was so much more comfortable than that of the men he commanded” this is proof of how much the soldiers knew of the state that he was living in, a good life away from the field and how he wouldn’t of known of the conditions out on the field. That’s why he made foolish accusations about how he was going to attack the Germans.

The Germans had dug deep trenches so it was hard for the British and French to attack the Germans or make any progress. From what source 3 shows it makes out that Haig showed so much ignorance for the mistakes and the unexpected loss of soldiers that were made on the first day of battle. If there were at least 60,000 British dead and many German prisoners were taken and 1 Canadian battalion lost, 700 out of 850 men, then where is the progress in that, as stated in source 3, Haig attacked, the first day on the 1st of July 1916, ”Very successful attack this morning…

All went like clockwork… The battle is going very well for us already, the Germans are surrendering freely. The enemy is so short of men that I am collecting them from all parts of the line. Our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of confidence. ” This shows the ignorance of Haig in the fact of death, losing and the suffering of the soldiers. How can you rely on Haig’s suggestions and views on the war, when he wasn’t even on the front line. The more reliable sources, are the sources that come from the soldiers. Which are like the sources, 5+6,

The letter in source 7 describes how a captain’s friend had to write a letter to the captain’s sister, which described his death, which he states to be a quick and painless death. Which I think to be a complete lie, because from other sources, the soldiers were said to be slaughtered. The letter describes that he was happy and having a laugh and a joke, they went over the top and they were doing well until they reached the German trench lines, where they slackened of, seeing this her brother heroically jumped forward with a bomb I his hand and was immediately shot through the head…

This was a quick death and to the relative a nicer way to die with no pain. A letter from a lieutenant just before his death describes thoroughly, ”My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood and partly spattered with a friends brains, it is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? ” (This shows that the soldiers wanted people to know what they were going through) ”The horror was indescribable … I want to tell you so that it may be on record, that I honestly believe that Goldie (a mate) and many others were murdered through the stupidity of those in authority”

This was back up; to show that Haig wasn’t doing his job properly. Haig says in source 4, ”We attacked whenever possible, because a defensive policy involves the loss of initiative”. He also says, ”The object of all war is victory and a defensive attitude can never bring this about” Which can mean he wouldn’t care what happened to his soldiers as long as they were victorious he didn’t care if the soldiers died and how, he wouldn’t change his strategy to save life’s. Winning was al that he cared for. Quote, ”In the course of the struggle, losses are bound to be heavy on both sides, for in this price of victory is paid.

There is no way of avoiding this… but our total losses in this war have been no larger than we have expected. ” Even the politician thought of Haig being this way. From source 9, Winston Churchill MP in august 1916, Tells you that Haig was getting our British men murdered. But political member of parliament, were the people who put Haig in power and supported him in his decisions. But not Winston Churchill and lord Landsdowne. They knew that Haig was wrong in what he did, quote, by Churchill, ”I view with the utmost pain, this terrible killing of our troops.

We have not gained in a months fighting as much grand as we were expected to gain in the first two hours” Churchill’s point is that our British men died for nothing at all. He also states that there is no way for the British troops to be killed in this way which suggests that Haigs planning was wrong. Lord Lansdowne agrees with this statement because he states, ”We are slowly but surely killing of the best of the Male population of these islands. Can we afford to go on paying the same sort of gain. Both men are thinking the same thing about Haig. The next thing I need to do is to look at the historian’s views.

Anthony Livesey and Phillip Warner who sources I am going to use. Historians get their information from write-ups death records, dead soldier’s diaries, speeches, interviews and secondary source read-ups. All of these are used in research as methods to collect information. Both historians research the same subject, so it is fair that both historians reach a similar conclusion. Livesey thought as Haig of being, ”Shrewd and ambitious and had a great self confidence” This quotation describes how Livesey viewed Haig. Livesey’s book was not about Haig, it was a source from a book that evolved him.

Phillip Warner says, ”If the test of a successful general is whether or not he wins wars, then Haig must be judged a success. The cost of victory was appalling but Haig’s military methods were in line with the ideas of the time” This quotation suggests that Haig may have been successful in his tactics before but he wasn’t he wasn’t successful in keeping the soldiers from dying in big numbers. The difference between these two is that one historian Warner’s describes Haig as a personal as his personal life, researching Haig may of made Warner’s more sympathetic towards Haig.

Livesey’s book is about the war and this may look like Livesey is only viewing Haig for his topics and of how he felt about what he did. Each book dates, 1989 and the other 1991, these years are very close so they may have used the same books. Neither of them would have fought in the war. These sources give an impression that the books were meant for adult reading so the audience would have been the same. Like from Livesey’s source, ”Perhaps his greatest failing was his constant often-misplaced optimism… ” And Warner’s source is similar in language.

The thoughts and views of Haigs titled depends on the opinions of who’s reading. Depending if the person is rich or poor. The only information we get is from Liveseys book, which is about battles, death, blood and murder of the troops. Warner’s book is about his family’s sympathy. Together they are both balanced views. The fact is that there is no answer to ”Was Haig the butcher of the Somme” because it depends on who is reading it, what your own personal issues are, experiences. People’s opinions on what the people in command should have done.

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