How far does Source A prove that Haig did not care about the lives of his men?
I think source A completely suggests that Field Marshal Sir General Haig did not care about the lives of his men because after one day of fighting the Germans on the 1st of July 1916 in the Battle of the Somme, over 57,000 British troops had been killed. The British only gained 750m. The next day Haig still continued with the same tactic even though a large amount of the army had lost their lives the day before. After suffering such heavy losses Haig still sent men out to their death every day.
In source A Haig himself writes, “The nation must be taught to bear losses”. In every war there are losses but by writing this Haig gave no indications of just how many men he thought the nation would loose. I think Haig didn’t care how many men were killed as long as his main objective to relieve pressure on the attack of Verdun was completed.
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“No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victory to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives.” In the two books the World of War and Modern World History, both books suggest that one of Haig’s chief subordinates Sir Henry Rawlinson was against the idea of a large offensive even before the Battle of the Somme begin. Rawlinson suggested that the British should concentrate its operations on the Western Front by launching a series of small discreet attacks. Inexperienced British troops would gain experience from these attacks while they could use the British industrial strength, which was now fully mobilised, to beat the Germans. Instead Haig went against the suggestion by launching a great offensive followed by a massive tightly controlled infantry attack.
“No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders”. I think Haig’s deputy Rawlinson did have a lot of skill. He had good tactical idea but Haig choose not to use them. “no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men”. Rawlinson suggested small attacks to give the British troops experience. “no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great will enable victories to be won. From the Modern World History book it says, “Many of the shells supplied to the allied gunners were of poor quality. There was certainly a vast bombardment but many shells were not powerful enough to destroy the defensives or simply failed to go off”. “The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists”. I think this is giving the same meaning as the first sentence in source a “The nation must be prepared to see heavy causality lists”.
Haig had used the same tactic at another battle where he had been General. The Battle of Neuve Chappelle, which happened during 1915. The method used was to continuously bombard the enemy with shells for weeks. The barbwire would be cut then the British would attack using infantry. The method failed at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle but Haig used it again at the Battle of the Somme but on a much bigger scale risking more lives. Using a method of attack that has failed shouldn’t have been tried if it was going to risk so many men’s lives. Haig had been involved in other wars before the 1900’s when there wasn’t any planes or tanks available. When they were available for Haig to choose he decided not to use them and instead use older tactics.
In Source F a modern historian has written, “The principal that guided him was if he could kill more Germans than the Germans could kill his men then he would inevitably at some time win the war”. This to me does not sound like the opinion of a General who cared about his men. Haig was more interested in winning a battle of attrition.
In Source B Haig writes about the troops before the attack and he says how everyone is so confidant. “The men are in splendid spirits”. He also says how well the barbwire was cut.
The second extract in Source B is again written by Haig giving us the report after the first day of the battle. “Very successful attack…the battle is going very well…The Germans are surrendering freely”.
From what we know the battle wasn’t very successful and is known as one of the worst British battles. If the attack had started at midnight on the 1st July and carried on for 24 hours that would mean that 2375 British troops would die every hour and 1 soldier would die every 1 second. The battle didn’t go on for 24 hours though so the losses per hour would have been greater.
Haig ordered his men to walk across no-man’s land because he thought that there wouldn’t be “even a rat alive” in the German trench. The Germans who had burrowed 12 meters underground were unaffected by the shelling and as the British were walking across and getting tangled in the masses of barbwire the Germans simply used a machine gun. This disaster could have been avoided if they had just run across.
The tactics of the battle were good in theory but each one failed in some way.
* There would be a huge military bombardment and mines would devastate the Germans positions. The bombardment didn’t devastate any of German positions.
* The Germans barbwire would be cut. The barbwire wasn’t cut. It was simply thrown up into the air and it landed in a tangled mess.
* The British troops would be able to walk across no-man’s land. The British troops got caught in the tangled barbwire and were mowed down by the German machine guns.
* The British would carry heavy packs and trench repairing kit. Each solider carried 66lb of kit, which was half the men’s body weight. It was difficult to get out of the trench, move fast or even to get down or stand up quickly.
These tactics sounded good but there were lots of faults. The Germans knew about the attack and were ready for it. Haig overestimated the ability of the artillery. The German’s trenches were on higher grounds then the English’s trenches so the Germans had a good view of anyone attacking. The German trenches had been there since 1914 and the German soldiers had not been idle. They had prepared the trenches well for the attack and fortified them with concrete. The Germans had barbwire stretching 30 meters wide all over the western front.