Sir Dou­glas Haig

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts - Peter Hart is the oral his­to­rian at the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum. His books in­clude Voices from the Front: An Oral His­tory of the Great War (Pro­file, 2015)

Gen­eral Sir Dou­glas Haig was com­man­der of the Bri­tish 1st Army. That al­ready made him one of Bri­tain’s most se­nior soldiers, yet in De­cem­ber 1915 he had been pro­moted again, ap­pointed to com­mand the Bri­tish Army on the west­ern front. Mean­while Gen­eral Sir Dou­glas Haig, com­man­der in chief of the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force, was fac­ing a time of great re­spon­si­bil­ity. Plan­ning had be­gun for a mas­sive of­fen­sive to be launched along­side the French in the Somme area of the west­ern front. The Al­lied plans had al­ready been dis­rupted by the sur­prise Ger­man at­tack on the French at Ver­dun in Fe­bru­ary 1916. Now Haig was check­ing with his po­lit­i­cal masters that they were in­deed con­tent for the at­tack to go ahead as planned. On 14 April he met the sec­re­tary of state for war, Lord Kitch­ener, and the chief of im­pe­rial gen­eral staff, Gen­eral Sir Wil­liam Robert­son, at the War Of­fice in Lon­don. I asked them def­i­nitely: “Did His Majesty’s gov­ern­ment ap­prove of my com­bin­ing with the French in a gen­eral of­fen­sive dur­ing the sum­mer?” They both agreed that all the cabi­net had come to the con­clu­sion that the war could only be ended by fight­ing, and sev­eral were most anx­ious for a def­i­nite vic­tory over Ger­man arms. In mak­ing his plans, Haig was keen to ex­ploit the po­ten­tial of a new weapon de­vel­oped in great se­crecy – the tank. I was told that 150 would be pro­vided by 31 July. I said that was too late. Fifty were ur­gently re­quired. Swin­ton is to see what can be done, and will also prac­tise and train ‘Tanks’ and crews over ob­sta­cles and wire sim­i­lar to the ground over which the at­tack will be made. I gave him a trench map as a guide and im­pressed on him the ne­ces­sity for think­ing over the sys­tem of lead­er­ship and con­trol of a group of ‘Tanks’. In the end Haig would be thwarted and, in fact, none at all would be made avail­able until mid-Septem­ber. His men would at­tack on 1 July with­out the ben­e­fit of sup­port from the new tanks. DIS­COVER MORE WEB­SITE Read pre­vi­ous in­stal­ments of

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