Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source1
A letter sent to the editors of the main British newspapers by Sir Douglas Haig, May 1916
(Catalogue ref: WO 256/10)
  • Sir Douglas Haig was the Commander-in-Chief of all British forces by 1916. He had been promoted several times during 1914 and 1915 for his leadership and competence.
  • Haig's reputation suffered very badly as a result of the Battle of the Somme. He was blamed for the heavy losses during the battle. He was also accused of not caring about the casualties.
  • Defenders of Haig point out that few people made these criticisms at the time of the war.
  • They also point out that British losses at the Somme were not excessively high compared to the losses suffered by German, Austrian, Russian or French forces. All of these countries had fought major land wars in Europe in the previous 100 years and knew that war led to heavy casualties. In contrast, most of Britain's wars had been in its empire or at sea, where casualties were usually relatively small.
  • The Somme was the first time in history that a British army took the leading role in the main area of a European war against the main enemy. The German army was probably the best in the world and Haig realised that attacking it would lead to heavy losses.
  • This document shows that Haig was a competent planner. It also shows that he realised that the British people would be shocked.
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