In this essay I will be trying to answer the following question: ‘do you think General Haig was to blame for so many deaths in the battle of the Somme? ’ Haig became General of the Army on the 10th of December 1915 at the age of 54. At the time, he appeared to be the best man for the job as he had led and won successful battles in his past. In 1916, he launched an attack. His attack took place near the Somme River, against the Germans. He won, but was it worth losing 420,000 people’s lives for the sake of a small piece of land? He certainly thought so.
As a result of this, he earned himself the nickname ‘Butcher of the Somme’. There are reasons why he is to blame, and why he isn’t. I hope to cover both sides and conclude with my opinion. The following reasons all support the idea that Haig was to blame. First of all, Haig had planned the Battle of the Somme to be one of the most important of the many battles of World War 1. He had planned it to obliterate the German Line, and clear a path for the British to invade Germany and win the war. He even admitted this in the lead up to the battle.
This meant that he was clueless of what could and what eventually did happen. Secondly, he was very over-confident. Commanders were told, by him, that the 7 day heavy artillery bombardment would kill all of the German defence. So there was no need to run, why run when you could walk? The bombardment turned out to be very unsuccessful; it didn’t manage to cut the barbed wire correctly. Furthermore, the Germans who had just hidden underground all that time simply returned to their trenches, which were pretty much in the same state as they had been left, and shot down the British who were advancing at walking pace.
This showed that not only was Haig over-confident, but he was also prepared to stand-by as people quite literally walked to their deaths. Thirdly, despite the huge catastrophe on the first day of the attacks, which left 60,000 British injured 20,000 of these killed, plus the clear fact that German lines were in perfect condition, showing there was no breakthrough, Haig continued the attacks until November when he was ordered to stop them by a new prime minister. By now, the British army had obtained a piece of land 20 miles wide and 7 miles deep at the cost of approximately 420,000.
This showed that Haig was stubborn and only stopped using his plan when he was forced to by somebody else. Here are a few more reasons why Haig is to blame: In that battle more troops died than in any other battle occurring before. This showed he made a really bad judgement on this occasion. He never visited the front line as a General. This meant he never got a chance to witness the devastation himself or else he surely would have called of the attacks. The massive shell bombardment let the Germans know they were coming. This showed that Haig did not put enough thought into being stealthy.
He believed the way to overcome machine guns was by having determination. This was not true as virtually every wave of determined soldiers sent out ended up being mowed down by German machine guns. Haig said that the machine gun was a ‘much overrated weapon’. This was wrong as well as it was this weapon which caused most of the British deaths. The following reasons are ones that support the idea of Haig not being to blame. On the 10th of December 1915, as we know, Haig took command of the British army. By now, the war was at a dead-lock, the Allied troops (which included Britain), and the Germans were well ‘dug-in’ to their trenches.
General Haig now faced a challenge, this challenge was, ‘How could the dead-lock on be broken? ’ Haig decided that with enough soldiers and firepower, a ‘breakthrough’ was certain. The allied forces marched 10 miles in the months from July to November and lost 600,000. Trench warfare was a new kind of warfare and nobody fully understood it, which meant that no one really knew how to beat it either. This meant Haig had no other way of overcoming it too. Haig hit the Germans with the largest shell attack in history to wear them down. This showed that he was making a great effort to try and beat the Germans.
Also, the losses of life on both sides were virtually the same by the end of the battle. This showed that although Haig’s decisions led to many British deaths, they also led to many German deaths too, which meant that he didn’t really do much wrong. It was quite clear that Haig’s interests were the same as those of the British, and in the end who won the war? The allies did. Also, in the November of 1916, the German commander Erich Ludendorff said that his soldiers were ‘fought to a standstill’. This showed that Haig had disrupted the Germans, his plan must have worked, even if not fully.
And, had he not commanded an attack on the Germans in July of 1916, then the French army at another battle in Verdun would have been slaughtered, and that might have caused the whole of the French army to be destroyed. As a result, the French army stayed standing and there wasn’t a full breakdown of the allied forces. Here are a few more reasons why Haig is not to blame: Haig was forced to attack to keep the support of the French. The French were a strong army and Haig could not afford to lose them as they were important in the war against the Germans.
Many of the British shells fired at the Germans trenches had failed to explode and so the damage was limited. This was not his fault as he could not predict whether they would explode or not as he fired them. Also, the German planes saw that the British were building up forces in their front line. This was not his fault as he could not really prevent them from seeing that. So, was General Haig to blame for so many deaths at the battle of the Somme? The answer to that question in my opinion is yes, he was to blame for so many deaths at the Battle of the Somme.
My reasons for this are that it was his plan that sent people to their deaths, he was the leader. Also, he was stubborn and continued using his plan even though it was clearly killing people. What you could say though is despite him being to blame for so many deaths, he did win the battle in the end, and the opposition did lose virtually the same amount so, my final conclusion is that General Douglas Haig was to blame for so many deaths at the battle of the Somme but, in the view of a true leader, it was worth it as he did come out victorious, despite the number of deaths.