Haig; A Great Captain

by Gervase Phillips
(Revised, 9/99)
  © Gervase Phillips, 1999
Haig: A Great Captain
In the final 100 days of the Great War the BEF engaged, and defeated, 99 of the 197 German Divisions in the West. The British captured 188700 prisoners, almost 50% of the total taken by all the Allied armies in France in this period. (1) The scale of Haig's victories moved the Allied Generalissimo, Marshall Foch, to write;
Never at any time in history has the British Army achieved greater results in attack than in this unbroken offensive...The victory was indeed complete, thanks to the Commanders of the Armies, Corps and Divisions and above all to the unselfishness, to the wise, loyal and energetic policy of their Commander-in-Chief, who made easy a great combination and sanctioned a prolonged gigantic effort. (2)

One would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the price paid for this victory over the preceding four years. One's natural feelings of revulsion at the scale of the bloodletting lead inevitably to the belief that there must have been an alternative. Yet the sombre truth is that between two essentially evenly matched adversaries, there was no other route to victory.

Most historians now reject the viability of an 'Eastern' approach for a variety of reasons, not least of which is logistical. As John MacClay, the Shipping Controller, pointed out to Lloyd-George, by 1917 shipping a mere two Divisions from France to another theatre would have caused a 5% drop in British imports. (3) Lloyd George's fantasies apart, there is no evidence that an indirect approach through the Balkans or Italy would have had any noticeable effect on Germany's ability to wage war, but would have left France dangerously vulnerable. Haig perceived correctly that victory could only be won on the Western Front.(4)

This arena did present major problems in the conduct of military operations. The tiny, all-volunteer, British army had begun the war manifestly unprepared for the magnitude of the conflict. Thus, in the early years of the war the brunt of the fighting was borne, at tremendous cost, by the French and Russian armies. Britain's contribution was on a relatively small-scale. In 1915 political considerations forced the BEF, then under the command of Sir John French, to undertake a series of offensive operations on the Western Front for which they had neither the appropriate manpower nor, crucially, the necessary munitions. The difficulties experienced in 1915 owed as much to pre-war government parsimony as they did to military inefficiency. It took time to increase the size of the army, first through volunteerism later through conscription, and to organise British industry to supply the army with the munitions it required.

It would be two years before the British could intervene in strength in the West and even then resources were drawn off for employment in secondary theatres. In France, Haig, who took command of the BEF in late 1915, had little or no room for manoeuvre because of the continuous front line and he had to deal with the inherent difficulties of coalition warfare. Yet Haig's most obvious achievements in the face of these difficulties have simply been ignored by the majority of his critics. Starting the war as a Corps Commander, in an Expeditionary force of just six Divisions, he finished the conflict as the victorious Commander-in-Chief of an Expeditionary Force 59 Divisions strong, that had, for the preceding two years, engaged the main body of the German Army. His army was well supplied in the field, his wounded swiftly evacuated and well cared for. He presided over the integration of entirely new weapons technologies, chemical, aerial and armoured, into the BEF's tactical system.(5) Above all Haig maintained the faith and loyalty of his subordinates; "the figure of Haig looms ever larger as that of the man who foresaw more accurately than most, who endured longer than most and who inspired most confidence amongst his fellows," wrote his biographer, Duff Cooper, whilst Charles Carrington described Haig as "the one man whom all trusted."(6) By the most obvious criterion for judging Generals, Haig was successful, he won. As the junior strategic partner to France, Britain's military forces fully played their role in preventing Allied defeat and ultimately achieving victory; "in Northern France British Divisions held on with extraordinary tenacity to that strategically important sector of the front which formed together with Verdun the two firm poles of the Western Front as a whole, and every German offensive from 1914 to 1918 came to a standstill exhausted between these poles."(7)

Much of the assault on Haig's reputation is based on half-truths and distortion. Those who criticise him for being out of touch with conditions at the front, or unable to respond quickly to changing circumstances, overlook the problem of battlefield communications that faced all commanders of the First World War. Tens of thousands of men were committed to action on battlefields stretching over many miles, but with practically no reliable means of controlling them once they gone into combat. The essential problem was neatly summarised by Charles Carrington;

Tactics in World War 1 were frustrated by the mechanical failure in communications. Society still lived in the railway and telegraph age. The automobile, the airplane, the radio transmitter were still rudimentary with the consequence that a planned battle always ended in chaos. It was impossible for a general to rearrange his forces in the middle of an action as Marlborough had done at Blenheim. Generalship became practicable again with the invention of the portable radio, the 'walkie-talkie' , which gave the generals of 1942 powers of control over divisions that they had not been able to exert over companies as majors or captains in 1916. (8)

The employment of cavalry is another example where Haig's detractors have, perhaps, been a little too hasty in the criticisms. Although terribly vulnerable on the modern battlefield, cavalry remained the only available arm of exploitation and Haig maintained a small force of cavalry in France, representing just 2.5% of the BEF by 1916. Haig never intended that his cavalry "charge" into battle. British cavalry was trained to fight both mounted and dismounted and made many experiments in co-operating with other arms, infantry, tanks and even aircraft. Haig encouraged such experiments and he has been credited with fostering the concept of "an all-arms strike force [which] clearly pointed the way to the future of mobile warfare."(9) Twice, in covering the retreats of 1914 and 1918, British mounted forces more than justified their presence in France. During the '100 Days' offensive that ended the war the depleted Cavalry Corps attached to Rawlinson's Fourth Army took over 3000 prisoners, overrunning both machine guns and artillery pieces in the process.(10)

Haig himself was an early patron of the tank, appreciating its value as a life saving infantry support weapon.(11) The limitations of the new weapon, its slow speed, unreliability and vulnerability to enemy fire, were painfully obvious during its first actions, and it says much for Haig's prescience that he continued to encourage the growth of armoured forces despite these problems. Despite extravagant claims by J.F.C.Fuller, Basil Liddell Hart and even recent historians such as Tim Travers, the primitive tank of the '14-'18 war was never going to be a war-winning weapon.(12) It did become a useful adjutant to both infantry and artillery and within that role its development is indicative of the dominance that Haig's BEF established on the 'Technological Battlefield.' British and Dominion troops learned from their own experiences in combat, analysing operations carefully and adapting in consequence. (13) From 1916 onwards the development of offensive tactics in the BEF certainly kept pace with the French and, in many respects, surpassed that of the Germans. The platoon training manual SS 143 of February 1917 has been described as "a storm trooper's handbook."(14) Combined-arms assaults, infiltration, creeping barrages, barrage fire by heavy MGs all became hallmarks of Haig's BEF in action. The BEF was also prepared to learn from the experience of others, for example translating and disseminating the influential works of leading French tacticians such as Andre Laffargue and Commandant Lachevre. By 1917 Haig's army had acquired a battlefield skill that has rarely been equalled. (15)

His staff, mostly wounded or decorated veterans of the trenches, worked tirelessly to ensure that British operations in France were a logistical triumph. Haig himself, no "Chateau General" led a peripatetic existence, particularly in 1917 and 1918, when he situated his H.Q. in a train, foreshadowing the mobile commands of W.W.II. (16) He was always kept closely informed of conditions at the front by experienced liaison officers. Many of Haig's Generals themselves were frequent visitors to the front line, over 200 becoming casualties during the course of the war.(17) Thus the notions that the BEF's High Command was ignorant of conditions at the Front, or ignored reports, bear little relation to reality. One Staff Officer, Clement Armitage, noted Haig's willingness to cancel attacks on the basis of unfavourable prognosis, and described accusations that Haig was deliberately callous with men's lives as "wicked slander."(18)

Haig's hands were often tied by the demands of coalition warfare, most strikingly during the Somme offensive of 1916, which opened so disastrously, on ground not of Haig's choosing. Yet the events of 1st July have been allowed to dominate the historiography of this battle to such an extent that its true significance has been distorted. Charles Carrington spent the day observing the assault by the London Scottish against Gommecourt and the counter-attack of the Prussian Guard six hours later. He was, therefore, more qualified than most to comment on the opening of the Somme offensive, and his judgement carries much authority;

To isolate 1 July, to treat it as a single decisive event, deprives it of all sense or meaning. If the first round, fought on that day went against us, the second round, fought on 13 July by the same troops, went entirely in our favour …. In fact 1 July was not the crisis of the battle, but an unsuccessful opening move. The British artillery programme did not fulfil expectations, but such are the chances of war. Until the intense final bombardment, immediately before zero, no one could know whether it had been sufficient to cut the wire and make the enemy keep their heads down. It proved insufficient in many places; the crust had not been cracked, but merely punctured. Haig, though 'checked', did not even consider the possibility of 'checkmate' and nor did his millions of infantrymen…. How can a general, with communications severed, with his men scattered all over the map, with half his trusted subordinates killed or wounded or simply out-of-touch and lost, reduce confusion to order and impose a new plan in a few hours? Certainly Napoleon could not do it after Leipzig or Waterloo. Yet by 3 July, Haig and Rawlinson [GOC, Fourth Army] had decided on a plan for renewing the battle in the centre, and had set to work on reorganisation. (19)

The overall strategic situation facing the Allies in early 1916 has been encapsulated by the Belgian General Robert van Overstraten;

The situation of the Entente was quite different to that of Germany. 'To force an adversary to make peace, one must conquer his territory, destroy his arms, break his will,' has been proclaimed by Clausewitz. Far from occupying the enemy's territory the Allies had been deeply invaded. Their armies, more numerous that the German, were up against a fortified barrier which neutralised them, and compelled to subordinate all manoeuvre to a frontal attack which devoured them. Only on the Western Front could the decision fall. Yet it was the most solidly organised, the best furnished with guns and men; and the conclusion drawn from the experience was that a break-through was impossible if a great material and moral superiority could not be counted on throughout the whole operation. Even in the month of July, to the 160 heterogeneous Allied divisions, of which a score of the British had improvised cadres and inexpert artillery, the Germans could oppose 125 homogenous divisions, superior material, infantry better trained, unity of command and the advantage of making war in enemy country... The war to be waged on the Western Front was therefore still of the 'equal forces' type. (20)

Yet the Somme campaign would see those 'improvised cadres' of the BEF's citizen-soldiers grow in skill and confidence, whilst, in a bloody contest of attack and counter-attack the old German Imperial Army was destroyed. In all 97 German Divisions were drawn into the fighting over the course of four and a half months. Some were withdrawn and then, of necessity, sent back into the cauldron. It was on the Somme that, as Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria lamented, "what still remained of the old first-class peace trained German infantry [was] expended on the battlefield." (21) As the British and French bludgeoned their way forward, the Germans fought desperately to regain every yard of lost trench. Seventy-eight German counter-attacks were counted in the first two weeks of September alone, many of them repeat assaults on positions from which they had already been bloodily repulsed. German losses on the Somme are generally estimated at between 500,000 and 660,000. Allied (French and British) losses in the same battle are placed in the region of 630,000.(22) The Germans, having already been through the horrors of Verdun and the Brusilov offensives, could afford such losses far less than the British, for whom the Somme was the first major offensive of the war. The damage inflicted on the German army was not just physical but psychological. When Thiepval fell, a German soldier commented;  "...it was absolutely crushing... every German soldier from the highest general to the meanest private had the feeling that now Germany had lost the first great battle." (23)

In 1928, the German Reichsarchive produced a series of monographs on the Somme, which passed this verdict on the battle;

It would be a mistake to measure the results of the battle of the Somme by mere local gain of ground. Besides the strategic objectives, the British and French followed out a definite plan of exhausting the power of the defenders by the employment of great masses of artillery in constantly repeated attacks. Although ... the casualties of the Entente were numerically greater than ours ... this grave loss of blood affected Germany very much more heavily. Quite apart from the facts that its very loss narrowed down the limited possibilities of replacing it, and that the war industries drew off into their service able-bodied men in a constantly increasing measure, the battle of attrition gnawed terribly into the vitals of the defenders. The enormous tension on all fronts compelled the Supreme Command to leave troops in the line until they had expended the last atom of their energy, and to send divisions time after time into the same battle. In the circumstances, it was unavoidable that the demoralizing influences of the defensive battle affected the soldier more deeply than was proper in the interests of the maintenance of his fighting spirit and his sense of duty. Still more serious was it that, as the demand for self-sacrifice greatly surpassed what could be expected of the average man, the fighting largely fell on the shoulders of the best of the troops, and not least the officer. The consequences of this were a frightful death-roll of the finest and most highly trained soldiers, whose replacement was impossible. It was in this that the root of the tragedy of the battle lies. (24)

Even as the battle was being fought, this erosion of the fighting quality of the German army was being noted. Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria recorded in his diary that "the old experienced officers and men decrease steadily in numbers, and the reinforcements incorporated in masses have not enjoyed the same soldierly instruction and training, and physically are mostly inferior."(25) More recently Holger Hewig has echoed the same themes of damage to morale and the loss of irreplaceable veterans, noting that not only did the Somme witness "the first instances of blatant fragging..." in the German army, but also that it had "lost its last small-unit leaders: it would never be the same instrument again."(26)

Charles Carrington concluded that the Somme was

where the British army fought it out with the German army, and established their superiority, inflicting casualties which Germany could ill afford. The result is patent. In August the German government dismissed Falkenhayn, their Chief-of-Staff, who had failed in attack at Verdun and failed in defence on the Somme … In September, their worse month for casualties, the new leaders, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, conceded defeat by planning a strategic withdrawal, though, with their usual tenacity they clung to their positions until the winter gave them a short respite before retreating. The German Army was never to fight so well again, but the British Army went on to fight better. (27)

The pressure applied by both Haig's BEF and the French on the Somme was, thus, a vital part of the process of wearing down the German army, the process of 'destroying its arms' and 'breaking its will,' the process, in short, which was the prerequisite of ultimate victory.

1917 saw Haig determined to maintain this crushing pressure. The Spring offensives undertaken by the BEF, including the successful seizures of the Vimy and Messines Ridges and the attack at Arras, were designed to draw German reserves away from the French front where Robert Nivelle planned to undertake a major offensive. The failure of this offensive meant that the BEF's attack at Arras had to be prolonged beyond the time frame that had originally been planned, and this inevitably resulted in further casualties. Yet the early stages of this offensive demonstrated exactly how much progress the BEF had made in developing its battlefield tactics. A comparison between the opening phases of Arras and the Somme demonstrates clearly that Haig's offensives were not simply repeats of the same techniques, but that the BEF became increasingly potent as the war progressed. During the first 24 days of the Somme offensive, the BEF captured 11,119 prisoners and 56 artillery pieces. During the first 24 days of the Arras offensive the BEF captured 18,128 prisoners and 230 artillery pieces. The Arras offensive also initially drew in, and wore out, more German Divisions than had the Somme. During the first 24 days on the Somme, 16 German Divisions were engaged, 8 of which were subsequently withdrawn into reserve. During the first 24 days at Arras, 32 German Divisions were engaged, 16 of which were then withdrawn into reserve. Of particular significance was the improvement in the artillery arm. Not only were the BEF's gunners perfecting their own techniques in counter-battery work, wire-cutting, barrage fire and the breaking up of enemy counter-attacks, but they were finally being supplied with munitions in appropriate quantities. Again, a comparison with the Somme is telling. In the first 24 days of the 1916 offensive, the BEF's artillery had fired 4,500,000 rounds. At Arras they were able to fire 6,466,239 rounds in the same number of days. (28)

However the failure of the Nivelle offensives placed Haig in a difficult situation. Whilst the French Army began its slow recovery from a series of serious mutinies, the Allies could not afford to let the Germans gain the initiative. The possibility of a French collapse made it imperative that Haig, in Birdwood's phrase, "rivet the German army to the soil of Flanders," where, with no Hindenburg line to retreat to, they had to fight.(29) Haig's alleged determination to fight a 'breakthrough' battle instead of a more limited series of 'bite and hold' actions has been the most recent criticism of his conduct of operations.(30) This criticism actually has a long pedigree, being predicated ultimately on the British Official Historian, James Edmond's, belief that breakthrough was impractical, due to cavalry's supposed uselessness. It was the sapper Edmonds who first popularised the notion that the war should have been fought as a siege, and it is strange that his ideas have been accepted with so little scrutiny by some historians.(31) Certainly the issue was hotly debated by contemporaries. In 1921, an experienced Gunner officer, Lt-Col H.Rowan-Robinson, pointed to the limitations inherent in the 'bite and hold' approach, observing that infantry often failed to capture enemy artillery in 'bite and hold' operations even when the gunlines were undefended, because they could not move beyond their objectives. Furthermore he pointed out how quickly the Germans came to recognise limited objective attacks, and simply met set-pieces with set-pieces of their own, taking a heavy toll on attacking troops as they consolidated their positions, and refusing to allow reserves to be drawn towards feints.(32) This is not to argue that the pursuit of the 'limited objective' was not, in the final analysis, the most profitable strategy. However the choices facing commanders in World War 1 were far more complicated than a simple dichotomy between 'exploitation' and 'limited objective' might suggest. There was no easy solution to the aberrant conditions of the Western Front . The French General Mangin expressed the dreadful truth "Quoi qu'on fasse, on perd beaucoup de monde", ('Whatever you do, you lose a lot of men'). (33)

In the event, the battle of Passchendaele developed into another grim test of endurance, costing the Allies between 244,000 and 324,000, depending on whose figures you believe. German casualties are equally contentious. the lowest estimates are around 200,000, the highest twice that.(34)

The casualty debate may never be solved, but it is certain that the Germans now experienced what Rupprecht's Chief of Staff, Von Kuhl, referred to as "their greatest martyrdom."

Haig has been much criticised for prolonging the battle into the winter, as he sought to clear German artillery observers from the high ground. Yet vindication comes from the German Officials History; "The Offensive had protected the French against fresh German attacks, and thereby procured them time to re-consolidate their badly shattered troops." Von Kuhl's final judgement was "...Haig was correct: even if he had not broken through the Flanders front he had weakened the German strength to a point where the damage could not be made good. The German sword had become blunted." (35)

Even with reinforcements from the Eastern Front, the German Army was denied victory in the last gamble of the 1918 offensives. The early success of these offensives proved entirely illusory. Desperate as the fighting had been, Franco-British forces had finally blunted the assault. During the battles of March-April 1918, Haig's army of 59 Divisions had met 109 German Divisions in the field and had fought them to a standstill once more. At the cost of 250,000 men, Ludendorff ultimately achieved little more than saddling his own army with an extended front line, and vastly diminished resources with which to hold it. The turn of the tide came with the successful French counter-attacks during the Second Battle of the Marne in July 1918. As the German army reeled before the French attacks, the German generals von Lossberg and Groener acknowledged that Ludendorff had "overestimated the internal cohesion of our Army" and had now been forced to surrender the initiative to the Allies.(36) During the Allied offensive which followed, Haig's strategy was vindicated by a series of stunning triumphs; the battles of Amiens (22000 prisoners, 400 captured guns), Albert (34000 prisoners, 100 guns), the Scarpe (16000 prisoners, 200 guns), Havrincourt (12000 prisoners, 100 guns), Hindenburg Line (35000 prisoners, 280 guns), the Selle (20000 prisoners, 475 guns), and the Sambre Crossing (19000 prisoners, 450 guns). (37) Haig's contribution to victory in 1918 was summed up by C.R.M.F.Cruttwell, "he showed a vision and a calculated resolution in taking chances worthy of a great captain."(38)

The hard fighting that accompanied the crossing of the Selle in mid-October resulted in an uncharacteristic bout of pessimism affecting Haig. He worried about the casualties that would follow from further fighting, and from the logistical problems caused by the rapidity of the Allied advance. (39) Yet the mood was temporary, for the senior officers around Haig were altogether more optimistic about the pursuit of the shattered German army. Rawlinson, whose Fourth Army was now spear-heading the Allied advance, thought that a brief pause, of about a week, would be all that was necessary, (just as there had been a brief halt in early October before the crossing of the Selle) , to allow for repairs to roads and for supplies to be brought up. The BEF's veteran Quartermaster General, Lieutenant-General T.E.Clerk, was similarly confident, believing he could supply 40 active British and Dominion Divisions on the German frontier for a winter campaign. (40) Foch, the Allies' tireless and audacious Commander-in-Chief, was the most buoyant of all. On 31 October he informed the heads of the Allied governments that

during more than three months the Germans had been steadily beaten in France and Belgium and forced continuously to retreat. They had lost over 260,000 prisoners and 4,000 guns. The military situation of their country was seriously disorganised, whereas we were in a position to keep up the fighting all winter, if need be, and along the whole 250 mile front. We could go readily go on fighting until the enemy was destroyed, if that became necessary. (41)

There can be no doubting the totality of German military defeat. Besides the German army's massive casualties, between 750,000 and one million of its soldiers simply abandoned their units as discipline collapsed. The huge number of 'shirkers' demonstrated the helplessness of German command. Wilhelm Deist has observed that "the military instrument for the conduct of war, the army, was in the process of disintegration."(42) General Groner, who replaced Ludendorff as First Quarter-Master-General, noted that "the formations at the base were corrupted through and through, and even the Army in the field showed signs of disintegration. Corps in a state of dissolution and hordes of deserters, to the number of many thousands, were storming the railways at Liege and Namur."

Besides the moral collapse of the German Army, it was also in a strategically impossible situation. Even those units that maintained the will to fight could no longer be properly supplied due to the chronic shortage of lorries and horses and the chaotic situation of the railway network. German forces were being compressed into a narrower and narrower space, driven eastwards by the BEF and the Belgians, whilst French and American forces pushed northwards, threatening to cut off German communications for the greater part of the Western Front. At the same time the French under de Castelnau in Lorraine were preparing a fresh offensive into the Rhineland. There was absolutely no question of the German Army making an orderly retreat to the Rhine, its defeat was manifest. As one German Colonel expressed it ; "We collapsed in August, 1918, and on the battlefield, not in consequence of the revolution in the homeland which followed the collapse. We were beaten for purely military reasons, it was not the homeland but the fighting forces of our opponents which brought our Armies to ruin."(43) This was the reality recognised by those delegates who passed through the front line under a white flag to request an armistice. The Secretary-of-State, Erzberger, pleaded for an immediate suspension of Allied military operations because "nothing but the cessation of Allied attacks would make it possible to re-establish discipline in the German Army…" Major-General von Winterfeldt and Minister-Plenipotentiary Count Oberndorff emphasised the inability of the German Army to undertake any further orderly withdrawal or resume fighting, stressing that "the Germany Army was beset by unimaginable difficulties: exhaustion among the troops who have been fighting without pause for four months; the consequent relaxation of discipline; the blocking of roads and railways, which paralyzed all movement…" (44) Victory, achieved at an enormous and tragic cost, had finally been won on the battlefield.

Had there been another route to victory? The Western Front was the decisive theatre of operations and victory could not have been won elsewhere. Germany could not have been beaten on the exposed beachheads of Gallipoli, in the malarial swamps of Salonika or through the icy mountain passages of the Austrian-Italian Front. Could the naval blockade alone have brought Imperial Germany to its knees, without the fighting of long and bloody battles of attrition? Such a suggestion is superficially attractive but inherently unlikely. It has gained currency because some German historians have been anxious to deflect attention away from the failure of the German military and because some inter-war British historians, notably Liddell Hart, were anxious that Britain should avoid making a major commitment of land forces to a Continental war again. Yet little real evidence is ever put forward to support the case. Liddell Hart, for example, provided no analysis of the blockade's effects on German society or of the specific strains it placed on the German economy.(45) In fact many of Germany's economic problems stemmed more from governmental mishandling of the war-time economy than from the blockade. As Hewig has commented "mismanagement and lack of pre-war planning contributed significantly to the vissitudes of the national food supply."(46) Imperial Germany, it should be remembered, had imposed highly punitive peace settlements on its defeated Eastern Front adversaries. The Treaty of Bucharest, 7 May 1917, had reduced Romania to a puppet state, whose financial institutions were in German hands, whose railways were run by German officers and whose oil and "surplus" agricultural produce were delivered straight to Germany. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 3 March 1918, cost Russia 301,000 square miles of territory, 32% of her population, a third of her railways, 73% of her iron, 89% of her coal production and over 5000 factories, mills, distilleries and refineries.(47) The effectiveness of the blockade must be measured not just against Germany's resources in 1914, but against those which Germany acquired during the course of the war. The blockade, and the suffering it caused amongst German civilians, undoubtedly damaged Germany's war effort, but it is deeply implausible that the blockade alone could have brought victory, without the military defeat of the German army.

Despite the set-backs and frustrations of four years of war, the poor staff work of 1915, the appalling tragedy of 1 July 1916, the dramatic reversal of fortune at Cambrai, the fate of 5th Army in its under-manned and ill-prepared defences on March 21, 1918, it was Haig's BEF that ultimately bore the brunt of the fighting in the campaign that ended in Allied victory. This fact is most clearly illustrated in the number of German prisoners taken, and German artillery pieces captured, during the final '100 Days' campaign, 18 July to 11 November 1918.(48)

Army  Prisoners Captured     Guns Captured   
British Expeditionary Force   188, 700  2840
French  139,000  1880
American  43,200  1421
Belgian  14,500  474

The Australian historians Robin Wilson and Trevor Prior, whilst critical of Haig's conduct of operations in 1917, have argued that

the battles fought by Britain's Fourth Army between July and November 1918 are a demonstration of superior employment of weaponry and manpower at a time when a right relationship between the two was crucial to success. That is, although late in the day and with their manpower dangerously depleted, the liberal states alone proved able both to bring forth ample supplies of the most appropriate weapons and to employ them in a thoroughly appropriate fashion. Their opponents, when the initiative had lain with them earlier in the year had proved capable of no such demonstration. (49)

Most of Haig's critics choose simply to ignore the battles of the '100 Days,' and concentrate instead on the events of 1916 and 1917 without any attempt to place them in the broader context of the war's history. Yet, as Haig explained in his final despatch, the victory of 1918 can only be understood if "...the long succession of battles commenced on the Somme in 1916 and ended in [1918]...are viewed as forming part of one great and continuous engagement."(50) To preside over such a titanic struggle, to bear that awesome burden of responsibility, to never falter in the belief that ultimately victory would come took a man of exceptional character. Few of Haig's own countrymen now recognise this, but the unfailingly brave and resourceful foe he vanquished were quick to acknowledge it. An inter-war German study, entitled "Great Commanders of the World War," gave Haig a simple sobriquet, "Master of the Field." (51) His enemies it seems were in no doubt that Haig's name belongs amongst "The Great Captains" of History.


(1) See Douglas Orgill, "The Sambre Crossing," in Purnell's History of the First World War, Vol.7, p.3099.

(2) Quoted in John Terraine, Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier (London, 1992), xviii

(3) David French, The Strategy of the Lloyd-George Coalition, 1916-1918 (London,, 1995), pp.155-156.

(4) For a brief overview of the Eastern Strategy, see Trevor Wilson, The Myriad Faces of War (Cambridge, 1986), pp.104-107.

(5) John Bourne, Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 (London, 1989), pp.173-174.

(6) Duff Cooper, Haig, Vol.II, (London, 1936) p.435. Charles Carrington, "Kitchener's Army: The Somme and After," The Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, Vol.122 (1977) p.20.

(7) Max Werner, The Military Strength of the Powers (London, 1939), translated by Edward Fitzgerald, p.245.

(8). Carrington, op.cit., p.20.

(9) Stephen Badsey, "Cavalry and the Development of Breakthrough Doctrine," in Paddy Griffith (ed.), British Fighting Methods in the Great War (Portland, 1996) pp.154-155. See also H.B.Robson, "Horses in War: A Reappraisal of the Cavalry," Army Quarterly, Vol.78, pp.232-237.

(10) Sir Archibald Montgomery, The Story of the Fourth Army in the Battles of the 100 Days (London, 1920) p.276.

(11) See 'Glendower' "Haig and Tanks", The Army Quarterly, Vol..146, pp.197-202.

(12) See J.P.Harris, Men, Ideas and Tanks (Manchester, 1995) for the best recent analysis of the development of British armoured forces.

(13) See, for example, S.S.158 Notes on Recent Operations on the Front of First, Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies, (GHQ, France, May 1917).

(14) Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army's Art of Attack 1916-18 (New Haven, 1994), p 194. See also Shelford Bidwell & Dominick Graham, Fire-Power: British Army Weapons and Theories of War 1904-1945 (London, 1982) and G.S.Hutchinson, Machine Guns: Their History and Tactical Employment (London, 1938).

(15)Griffith, pp.177-200. Andre Laffargue, C.D.S.333, Impressions and Reflections of a Company Commander, (London, 1915), S.S.113 Notes on the Attack by Commandant Lachevre (GHQ, France, 1916).

(16) John Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire: Myths and Anti-Myths of War, 1861-1945 (London, 1992), pp.173-180.

(17) Details of most (but not all) British General Officer Casualties can be found in Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks, Bloody Red Tabs (London, 1995).

(18) Quoted in Sir James Marshal-Cornwall, Haig as Military Commander (London,, 1973), p.293.

(19) Carrington, op.cit., pp.18-19.

(20) Robert van Overstraten, quoted in "Notes on Foreign War Books," Army Quarterly, Vol.16, pp.168-169.

(21) Quoted in Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire, p.124.

(22) J.Baynes, "The Somme; The Last Phase", Purnell's History of the First World War, Vol. 4, pp.1685-1695; T.Wilson and R.Prior, "Summing Up The Somme", History Today (November 1991), pp.37-43.

(23) Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire, p.123.

(24) Nord I Theil, (Reichsarchive, Berlin, 1928). Quoted in "Notes on Foreign War Books," The Army Quarterly, Vol.16, p.151

(25) The War Diary of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, The Army Quarterly, Vol.18 (1929), p.293

(26) Holger H.Herwig, The First World War, Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1914 (London, 1997), pp.203-204.

(27) Carrington, op.cit., p.19

(28) Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War (HMSO, London, 1922), pp.640-641. For the development of British artillery during the war see Alan Brooke, "The Evolution of Artillery in the Great War," Pts 1-4, The Journal of the Royal Artillery, Vols 51-53 (1924-26).

(29) See French, op.cit, pp .94-123, Marshal-Cornwall, op.cit, p 292, Donald Schurman, "Passchendaele: The Final Phase," in Purnell's History of the First World War, Vol.6, p 2362 and E.K.Sixsmith, Douglas Haig, (London,, 1976), pp 132-143, p.191.

(30) See, for example, Robin Wilson & Trevor Prior, Passchendaele The Untold Story, (London, 1996).

(31) See the comments of Stephen Badsey, op.cit, p.141.

(32) Lt-Col. H.Rowan-Robinson, "The Limited Objective," Army Quarterly, Vol.II (1921), pp 119-27.

(33) Quoted in John Terraine, White Heat: The New Warfare 1914-18 (London, 1982) p.209.

(34) E.K.G.Sixsmith, Douglas Haig (London, 1976), p.116,; Rod Paschall, The Defeat of Imperial Germany 1917-1918, (New York, 1994), p 79 .

(35) Quoted in Terraine, "Passchendaele," in Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association, Vol.37, Spring 1993, p.10, and The Western Front , (London, 1970), p.176.

(36) Hewig, op.cit., pp.418-420.

(37) Terraine, Haig The Educated Soldier, pp.446-482, xvii-xviii

(38) C.R.M.F.Cruttwell, The Role of British Strategy in the Great War (Cambridge, 1936), p.90.

(39) Robert Blake (ed), The Private Papers of Douglas Haig (London, 1952), pp.332-334.

(40) J.P.Harris, Amiens to Armistice: The BEF in the Hundred Days' Campaign, (London, 1998), pp.290-291.

(41) The Memoirs of Marshall Foch (London, 1931), p.541.

(42) Wilhelm Deist, "The Military Collapse of the German Empire: The Reality Behind the Stab-in-the-Back Myth", War in History, Vol.3 (1996), pp.186-207.

(43) Quoted in "The German Defeat in 1918: How Ludendorff tried to Exonerate the Army", Army Quarterly, Vol.41 (1940) , pp.276-277.

(44) Foch, Memoirs, pp.548-554.

(45) See Hew Strachan, "'The Real War': Liddell Hart, Cruttwell, and Falls," in Brian Bond (ed), The First World War and British Military History (Oxford, 1991), p.48

(46) Herwig, op.cit., p.285

(47) John Wheeler-Bennett, Hindenburg: The Wooden Titan, (London, 1967), pp.132-3

(48) J.Edmonds, A Short History of World War 1, (Oxford, 1951), p.425.

(49) Robin Wilson and Trevor Prior, "What Manner of Victory? Reflections on the Termination of the First World War," Revue Internationale D'Historie Militair, Vol.72 (1990), p.96.

(50) Douglas Haig, 'Final Despatch,' 21st March 1919 in J.H.Boraston (ed.) Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches (London,, 1919).

(51) Great Commanders of the World War, issued by Deutschen Gesellschaft Fur Wehrpolitik und Wehrwissenschaften. Quoted in Terraine, "Haig in 1918: A Strategic Survey," The Army Quarterly, vol. 97 , p. 2.

Created: 23 March 1996, 07:57:18 Last Updated: 28 September 1999, 07:57:18