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Does Field Marshal Haig Was “The Butcher of the Somme”? Essay

Field Marshal Douglas Haig was a British senior officer in World War One and commanded in the Battle of the Somme, which was arguably one of the bloodiest battles in British military history. Haig gained the title of the butcher of the Somme after the end of World War One, due to the indescribable amount of casualties and deaths that took place. One could say that Haig deserves the title because of the huge loss of life, his bad planning and repetition of bad tactics and the fact that he was completely out of touch with his soldiers. Some say he doesn’t because he was arguably the best the British had, no one knew how to fight in trench warfare and he pushed what was arguably the world’s most powerful army off of French soil.

One could argue that General Haig does deserve his title because of the fact that he sent thousands of men to their deaths and continued to do so even though his repeated tactics seemed to be having little or no impact. For instance 60,000 soldiers died in the first day alone. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died yet only a few square kilometres of land had been gained. This was because Haig ordered his men to walk across no mans land, at which they were faced with heavy machine gun fire.

The pals battalions were inexperienced yet they were still told to walk in straight lines across no mans land.It can be argued that Haig was too risky and did not have the welfare of his men in mind at all. He continued to bombard the German barbed wire with artillery even though this just lifted the wire up into the air, letting it land in a more tangled state than before, rather than cutting it. The repetition of these tactics may lead us to believe that Haig really didn’t care about the multitude of men he sent to death, and it was his ignorance that lead to loss of life on such a massive scale, which leads us to believe that Haig was the Butcher of the Somme.

Haig is also criticised of his bad planning and poor leadership. Haig lifted the artillery bombardments 5 minutes before the soldiers were to go over the top, giving Germans a warning and time to set up their machine guns. This is an example of poor planning as it shows us how Haig did not take many things into consideration and underrated the strength of the German trenches. He also overestimated his artillery “The barbed wire has never been so well cut, nor the artillery preparation so thorough”, reads an extract from haig’s diary. This shows his poor planning as he had too much faith in his artillery, of which 1/3 were duds and did not explode. His bad planning such as his lifting of artillery bombardments and the fact that he overrated his aretillery all show his poor leadership; therefore he does deserve his title.

Haig was also completely out of touch with the men he was commanding. Haig never once set foot on the battlefield while he was commanding, “While Haig slept in a cosy bed… and dined on the best food available, his men lived in muddy, noisy trenches sharing their bully beef and buiscuits with rats”. Haig could no have possibly really been empathetic with what was going on at the somme, as he was completely out of touch with the men he commanded. He was completely separate from the battle, which can be proven by his account of the battle; “The barbed wire has never been so well cut… the commanders are full of confidence.”

This completely contradicts the accounts written by soldiers themselves who had actually seen the events; ” Our artillery hadn’t made any impact on those barbed-wire entanglements. Our lads were mown down. And those young officers, going ahead, they were picked off like flies. We tried to go over and it was just impossible. We were mown down.” This was written by Corporal WH Shaw, and shows the vast difference between haig’s account of the battle and what really happened. This proves that Haig was completely out of touch with the men he commanded and this is one of the arguable reasons that so many men were massacred at the Somme.

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