1/29/2012

How accurate is it to describe Field Marshall Haig as the Butcher of the Somme?

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The Battle of the Somme begun on the morning of July 1st 116 after a week of heavy shell fire. The battle was being directed by Field Marshall Haig in the Somme, in France during WW1 or the Great War.


The battle lasted from July 1st to November 18th and was on of the bloodiest battles of the war, it resulted in the more deaths than ever before for the smallest gain. The battle took place to pressure the Germans into withdrawing men from Verdun, where the French were taking heavy losses and were under great pressure from the German attack. Due to the shape of the trenches attacking at the Somme heading Southeast would not only help relieve pressure from Verdun but also cut off a large area that had been taken by the Germans.


Haig planned troops along the trenches from Beaumont Hamel (North) to Fricourt (South), a stretch of trenches 1 miles long to attack the Germans lines and to take all the high grounds and towns that the Germans held.


The attack started with an 8 day, 4hr bombardment of the German lines, this attack was so loud it could be heard in England. The bombardment was aimed at killing and destroying all or as much of the German defences and troops as possible as well as destroying the barbed wire in no-mans land and creating small craters for British troops to use as shelters. Haig then expected the British forces to walk across no-mans lands with little or no resistance from the Germans and then easily capture the German trench and defences.


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However the battle was not as easy as that, firstly the German troops had dug deep caves and shelters up to 60ft underground so hardly any troops were killed by the British 8 day bombardment. Secondly the barbed wire that was in no-mans land had not been destroyed, simply just blown up into the air and then fell straight back down, even more tangled and dangerous.


So with barbed wire in no-mans land, an unaffected German army equipped with machine guns and in a high position made this battle seem impossible to win. But Haig was not apparent to these problems and thought nothing of machine guns. He said, “The machine gun is a much overrated weapon” and “The way to capture machine guns is by grit and determination”. The battle went ahead as planned, the troops walked across no-mans land and were easily killed by the Germans. It was these attitudes to machine guns and his ignorance of the problems an the battlefield that sent 60,000 men to their deaths on the first day, and that gave Haig the nickname “the butcher of the Somme”.


The battle went on through the summer and the British did capture most of the high ground held by the Germans but did not complete all their objectives it was then on a snow covered battle field that Haig called an halt to the attack. It was November 18th and over 1,50,000 deaths on both sides for a British gain of 6 miles. It was the fact that there were so many deaths for such little gain that gave Haig the title of “the butcher of the Somme”.


However although there were so many deaths Haig had achieved what he had set out to do. He had captured the high ground that the Germans held and had lifted the pressure off Verdun. So was Haig successful in his plans?


Although Haig came under extreme criticism no one has given any other alternative methods. He had also achieved most of his objectives and eventually his tactics of wearing down the enemy did win the war.


In my opinion Haig does and does not deserve the title “the butcher of the Somme”. Yes he did send thousands and thousands of men to their deaths but he achieved his objectives and won the war. I think Haig had the right idea about his plans, attacking at the Somme was the right thing to do but perhaps if he had paid more attention to the concerns of his troops and had done something about the machine guns and barbed wire the battle may have been more successful in the terms of losses.


So yes it probably is quite accurate to give Haig the title as “butcher of the Somme” but only if you know all the facts and reasons for it.





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