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Did General Haig really say that?

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exnihilo
850320.  Mon Sep 26, 2011 6:00 am Reply with quote

I'm sure clack already knows this, but a student of mine recently wrote the same thing in an essay, so I'd like to point out that the PM was not a Mr George, he had long since added the Lloyd part to his surname.

 
Sadurian Mike
850377.  Mon Sep 26, 2011 10:08 am Reply with quote

bobwilson wrote:
Notwithstanding the above posts and much historical debate - I would still describe Haig as having the intelligence of a donkey. As CB says his method of confronting a novel situation was to throw massed troops against it. It's exactly the same mindset that Dubya employed (bomb the bastards). It worked in the past so it'll work now.

Conflicts are resolved by the use of imagination - not simply resorting to what worked last time.

I'm assuming your main reference is the Battle of the Somme, as that is the one that most people think of as the 'typical' Great War battle. A few points then:

1. The Somme was fought to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, and to stop them from being knocked out of the war. That meant that it had to be started sooner rather than later, as the French were in real danger of collapse.

2. The vast majority of British and Commonwealth troops deployed were new recruits, the old veterans of the BEF largely being wiped out in 1914 and 15. This means that they could not be relied upon to perform complex manoeuvres under fire, even if their (also new) officers had had the ability to order them. New troops would also be more likely to 'go to ground' if allowed to dash from cover to cover.

3. The plan to cut the enemy barbed wire with artillery was sound in theory. An 18pdr (the standard British field piece) HE shell was easily capable of uprooting and cutting wire, and the heavier guns would obviously have an even better chance. Unfortunately, many shells supplied to the artillery were duds (a huge increase in production by semi-skilled workers meant an almost inevitable loss of quality), and so the wire was not cut as planned.

4. The Great War did not have radio communication in the trenches, and field telephones were unreliable where the wires were exposed to shelling. They were also bulky and so were not usually taken forward in the first waves of an attack. Communication was largely by runner, which was both slow and often fatal. This meant that local breakthroughs or difficulties could not be communicated to the unit HQ for reinforcements or additional artillery support.

5. Many mid- and high- ranking officers were still of the old school, and not able to take the initiative. They feared to make (what used to be career-breaking) decisions without consulting their own commander, and so delays in frontline communication were exacerbated. Most junior officers were newly trained and unable or unwilling to make battlefield decisions.

6. The German trenchlines were much better than the Allied ones. This was largely a result of strategy - the Allies planned to push the Germans back and were therefore trying to retain mobility, whereas the Germans had chosen to hold the ground they had won to force an advantageous peace settlement. The bombardments designed to crush the German trenches were therefore only partially successful.

However, the above limitations were recognised once the results of the first day's fighting were reported back. Not only did Haig not want to continue in the same manner (he was over-ruled by Joffre, the French overall Allied commander), but the British and Commonwealth began to implement the lessons they had learned.

Officers lacking initiative were removed and replaced by those willing to take advantage of local situations, more field telephones were made available, and new patterns of using supporting artillery (the 'creeping' and 'box' barrages) were introduced.

Far from just throwing men at the enemy, Haig was reluctant to continue a widespread general advance until new tactics had been perfected, but was over-ruled. It can be said that the Somme marked a turning point in the British Army's way of fighting, from a colonial army to a modern one using all-arms cooperation and delegated tactical responsibility.

However, the image of the mindless slaughter and 'lions led by donkeys' is so ingrained in our mindset that it is difficult for the true nature of the Great War to be heard.

 
bobwilson
850809.  Tue Sep 27, 2011 6:04 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm assuming your main reference is the Battle of the Somme, as that is the one that most people think of as the 'typical' Great War battle.


Actually, no - and I take your point that in some cases Haig was overruled by Joffre. But 3rd Ypres (or Passchendaele) was Haig through and through.

 
Sadurian Mike
850935.  Wed Sep 28, 2011 6:48 am Reply with quote

Passchendaele was, once again, a battle fought to relieve pressure on the French (this time during their mutiny). It was designed and planned from the start as a battle of attrition, to wear out the German Army which was thought to be on the verge of collapse through loss of manpower at the time.

Haig's plans took into account the possible casualties and gave the option of halting if they became excessive. Rather than the human wave attacks of the first day of the Somme, Passchendaele was a battle of small units moving forwards to capture limited objectives.

The battle was hampered by unseasonal heavy rain which made combined-arms tactics difficult if not impossible. When your tanks can't move, your artillery's effectiveness is reduced, and your aircraft can't fly, there are two options; press on with the infantry or cancel. Cancelling could well have led to the collapse of the French Army, so pressing on was the better option.

So, Haig had not set unrealistic objectives but was nonetheless obliged to fight an attritional battle (much as Montgomery was at Alamein). The unseasonal heavy rain created a battlefield which made attacks more difficult and precluded the use of combined-arms.

Frankly, I find describing Haig as having the 'intelligence of a donkey' in such circumstances rather unfair. I would be interested to hear how you would have planned the battle, bob (without using hindsight, of course).

 
bobwilson
852243.  Sun Oct 02, 2011 9:25 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
I would be interested to hear how you would have planned the battle, bob (without using hindsight, of course).


That's a bit of a non-question really.

You say

Quote:
Passchendaele was, once again, a battle fought to relieve pressure on the French (this time during their mutiny). It was designed and planned from the start as a battle of attrition, to wear out the German Army which was thought to be on the verge of collapse through loss of manpower at the time.


Excuse my ignorance but ..... if the German Army was thought to be on the verge of collapse - surely all that was necessary was to push that agenda further? Since, at the time, the procedure was massive bombardment followed by an infantry push - a massive bombardment would suggest an infantry push. I don't see the need to actually use the suicidal infantry push.

And that's to ignore the reason behind the French mutiny (massive casualties).

As for how I would have planned the battle? Well, I wouldn't. I'd have told all of the participants to stop being so bloody childish and go home.

Haig was the ultimate donkey - his early mistakes can be put down to inexperience but his real failings came later in the war. Any sensible society would have chopped off his limbs as an example to others.

 
soup
852284.  Mon Oct 03, 2011 3:08 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
the other side are armed merely with grass skirts and tropical fruit.


Including sharpened Guava halves, and kiwi fruit?

 
Sadurian Mike
852288.  Mon Oct 03, 2011 4:10 am Reply with quote

bobwilson wrote:
Excuse my ignorance but ..... if the German Army was thought to be on the verge of collapse - surely all that was necessary was to push that agenda further?

Indeed, hence the offensive known as Third Ypres.

bobwilson wrote:
Since, at the time, the procedure was massive bombardment followed by an infantry push - a massive bombardment would suggest an infantry push. I don't see the need to actually use the suicidal infantry push.

Artillery cannot take ground. It cannot root people out from bunker, it cannot do plenty of things that infantry can do.

Artillery is certainly a killer (and a big one), but it is not, by itself, enough. It is a supporting arm. Artillery by this stage was primarily used to keep the enemy heads down and restrict their movement. It was accepted that the deep German bunkers and other fortifications made artillery less effective, and so its use was changed to play to its strengths - disruption and pinning down.

Another point to remember is that artillery bombardments need ammunition. The usual massive bombardments required enormous quantities of ammunition to be manufactured, transported, stored, and fired, and this made the long bombardments seen at the 1916 Somme battles an exercise in logistics that ultimately saw disappointing results.

Just like air power, artillery is best used in cooperation with other arms. In this case (and most other), it takes infantry to deal the final blow and take the positions. This is important when you are talking about knocking out entire formations and not just the poor buggers sat in the front trenches.

bobwilson wrote:
And that's to ignore the reason behind the French mutiny (massive casualties).

That's not to ignore it at all. Haig sought to minimise casulaties by planning limited offensives rather than a huge push. It ought to noted that he was also under political pressure to attack, from Lloyd George of all people, the very man who later criticised him and formed the basis of the anti-Haig literature.

bobwilson wrote:
As for how I would have planned the battle? Well, I wouldn't. I'd have told all of the participants to stop being so bloody childish and go home.

I think that's we are lucky that someone else was in charge. The French and Belgians would have been rather upset if Britain had simply told them that their land was lost and to get used to it. "Sorry chaps, we have decided that we don't want to play after all. Hope you'll still trade with us and all that."

bobwilson wrote:
Haig was the ultimate donkey - his early mistakes can be put down to inexperience but his real failings came later in the war. Any sensible society would have chopped off his limbs as an example to others.

That is said from a position of huge ignorance, bob. Haig oversaw the biggest revolution in the British Army since we converted to firearms.


Last edited by Sadurian Mike on Mon Oct 03, 2011 4:32 am; edited 1 time in total

 
T J Alex
891054.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 5:32 am Reply with quote

Sadurian Mike wrote:
[quote="bobwilson"The plan to cut the enemy barbed wire with artillery was sound in theory. An 18pdr (the standard British field piece) HE shell was easily capable of uprooting and cutting wire, and the heavier guns would obviously have an even better chance. Unfortunately, many shells supplied to the artillery were duds (a huge increase in production by semi-skilled workers meant an almost inevitable loss of quality), and so the wire was not cut as planned.



While I agree with your other points, as an avid documentary watcher, I must disagree with the above.

I can't remember the programme (might have been Weaponology, but I'm not sure), they actually physically tested the effects of WW1 artillery on barbed wire, and found that it had virtually no effect.

Yes duds were a factor in the overall picture, but were not the primary cause of failure for the lack of effect on the entanglements.

 
mckeonj
891121.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 8:54 am Reply with quote

I understood from my dad, who was an artillery man in WWI, in Singapore, not Flanders; that artillery shells come in different flavours for different tasks.
HE (high explosive) for demolishing buildings and ships superstructure.
AP (armour piercing) for making holes in armor and incinerating what's behind.
Shrapnel for killing men and aeroplanes.
Shrapnel was generally lead or steel balls, and would be ineffective against wire entanglements, yet this was the chosen ammunition for the barrage which preceded massed advances.
Incidentally, the worst 'donkey' ever was the British General who surrendered Singapore to the Japanese, after masterminding a totally ineffective defence.

 
soup
891142.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:13 am Reply with quote

mckeonj wrote:

Incidentally, the worst 'donkey' ever was the British General who surrendered Singapore to the Japanese, after masterminding a totally ineffective defence.


Wasn't the defense totally ineffective, due at least in part to the fact that the big guns pointed out to sea rather than in towards the peninsula?

 
mckeonj
891143.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:26 am Reply with quote

Indeed, the big guns (affectionately known as 'pop bottles') did point out to sea and commanded the Malacca Straits, whence the invasion was expected. The Japanese, being wily oriental gentlemen, cheated by coming overland through impenetrable jungle.
The big guns could not be traversed inland; there was one smaller support piece which could be moved, but the ammunition was designed to damage or sink ships, and was ineffective against ground troops.
General Donkey did not set a defensive perimeter around the city, he said that it would damage the morale of the civilian population to see such defences.

 
T J Alex
891172.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 11:30 am Reply with quote

There are a lot of myths about the fall of Singapore.


The coastal batteries could traverse, and fire at the Japanese, and actually did so.

The weakness was that they were mostly supplied with AP ammunition rather then shrapnel and H.E.

If they'd had more of the latter then they could have inflicted huge casualties on the enemy, though this did not mean that, that factor alone would have ensured defeat.

Far from being taken by surprise at the Japanese coming down the peninsula, it was an excercise scenario practiced virtually yearly by the British ground troops.

Though in some quarters it was believed that moving through jungle was impossible and that the Japanese were physically stunted and suffered myopia from a poor diet

However the surrender was even more shameful then is generally known because when he communicated to the Japanese that he wished to discuss surrender terms, they genuinlly thought that he was asking THEM to surrender, as they had taken very heavy casualties and were close to running out of ammunition.

He said he surrendered to prevent further unnecessary loss of life, though personally I think that he lost his nerve.

If only he'd known the death and suffering he was bringing onto his men under Japanese captivity.

 
Sadurian Mike
891188.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 12:24 pm Reply with quote

One of my early essays dealt with the fall of Singapore.

The surrender was inevitable at the stage it was decided, because the Japanese had overrun the fresh water tanks. This meant that further resistance was pointless because they would have died from dehydration had even a few more days passed.

Why the Japanese had managed to get down the Malay peninsula so quickly was down to several factors:

1. The Japanese use of tanks in terrain where it was considered tanks could not operate. There were no Allied tanks in the theatre, Allied anti-tank provision was very limited and further compromised by point 2...

2. The speed of the Japanese through the jungle was down to their ability and willingness to outflank. Because they were an infantry army and not reliant on motor transport they could pass virgin jungle and were not tied to tracks. The outflanking of defence lines also meant that the few Allied anti-tank guns were overrun before they were in a position to tackle the tanks. Some. indeed, were destroyed still hooked up to their tows.

3. The British and Commonwealth troops were mainly new. Experienced units were broken up to form cadres around which the reinforcements were built. The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and the 8th Australian Division had practiced jungle warfare and were the most effective units, but most of the others had been co-opted to help build defence lines. This meant that they barely had time to learn basic infantry skills, let alone jungle fighting.

4. A lack of investment pre-war meant that the 'fortress Singapore' was nothing of the sort. Money was tight all round, and priority was naturally given to European forces. Naval forces could have destroyed the Japanese invasion fleet, but were not present. Force Z had been despatched at the last minute, but a single aging battleship and a heavy cruiser (plus a few destroyer escorts) were never going to beat off concerted Japanese air attack and naval superiority.

5. Air cover was virtually non-existant by the time of Singapore's surrender. The aging Brewster Buffalo fighter and Hudson bombers stood little chance against the highly trained Japanese Naval Air Force with their Zero fighters. Gallant though the RAF were, they were unable to provide sufficient air cover. This was exacerbated by a lack of forward airfields in Malaya, something that the lack of funds had contributed to.

6. By the time General Percival arrived, there was little he could have done to improve matters. The Australian commanders were inexperienced and a mixed bunch, ranging from decent to outright dangerously incompetant (that'll be the appropriately named Gen. Gordon Bennett). British commanders were also mainly inexperienced and tragically did not train their units for the conditions.

7. The Japanese were bloody good troops. They were veterans of many years fighting in China, had practiced in jungle warfare, were well supported with tanks and aircraft, and had almost fanatical morale.


Last edited by Sadurian Mike on Sat Mar 03, 2012 12:55 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
Sadurian Mike
891193.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 12:36 pm Reply with quote

T J Alex wrote:
While I agree with your other points, as an avid documentary watcher, I must disagree with the above.

I can't remember the programme (might have been Weaponology, but I'm not sure), they actually physically tested the effects of WW1 artillery on barbed wire, and found that it had virtually no effect.

Yes duds were a factor in the overall picture, but were not the primary cause of failure for the lack of effect on the entanglements.

We obviously watched different documentaries. The one I saw had the Royal Artillery set an 18pdr charge (equivalent to an 18pdr HE shell) near to a barbed wire post. The result uprooted the post and scattered the wire, destroying it as a serious impediment.

The theory of the duds (mainly down to bad fuses) being majorly responsible for the failure to cut the wire, by the way, has been reinforced by subsequent study. Nobody would pretend that using artillery was the perfect tool for the job, but it was all that was available at the time (tanks were not yet tested in action), and the weight of shell that fell in the initital bombardment should have seriously disrupted the wire lines if all the shells had worked properly.

 
Sadurian Mike
891202.  Sat Mar 03, 2012 1:32 pm Reply with quote

mckeonj wrote:
I understood from my dad, who was an artillery man in WWI, in Singapore, not Flanders; that artillery shells come in different flavours for different tasks.

I assume you mean WWII rather than WWI. I have no idea how old you are, but if your father served in WWI you would be about 82 by now!

mckeonj wrote:
Shrapnel was generally lead or steel balls, and would be ineffective against wire entanglements, yet this was the chosen ammunition for the barrage which preceded massed advances.

Not really 'chosen' so much as 'forced upon them'.

The British Army (and most other European nations) were geared up towards battles where they could see the enemy formations in the open. Shrapnel in this case was ideal. Remember that the technique of indirect fire (firing up to have the shells fall on the enemy who were out of sight) was very much in its infancy at this time. It takes a lot more calculating and specialised sights to hit something you can't see. The British had experimented with indirect fire during the Boer War but had dismissed it as not really suitable for mobile warfare (which most battles were at that time).

When Britain went to war in 1914, therefore, it mainly had stocks of Shrapnel for its 18 and 13 pounder field guns. This was not only no good for trench warfare, but also held in far too small a quantity for the expenditure required on the Western Front, having only 1000 rounds per 18pdr and 300 more held in reserve in the UK. Not only that, but even by 1915 there were no point-detonation fuses (which HE shells require to work properly).

That is why the huge increase in high explosive shell production had to take place, and why so many were badly made (inexperienced labour and time pressures).

 

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