Haig On The Western Front
Exploding The Myth
The single most controversial general in WW1 is Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. To many he is the archetypical 'donkey', an unthinking, callous butcher who learned little or nothing from the terrible experiences of the Western Front. But there is another view – that Haig played a major role in turning the British Army into a war-winning machine, ground down the German army in a series of unavoidable 'attritional' battles and then led his army to victory in the decisive battles of 1918.
This tour examines Haig and the British High Command in action on the Western Front, from the desperate defensive fight First Battle of Ypres, the fumblingly unsuccessful search for a breakthrough at Neuve Chapelle and Loos in 1915, the grim attrition of the Somme and Passchendaele to the victorious battles of 1918. The tour looks at some familiar battlefields from a different perspective, with views from High Command linked to the soldier in the front line trench. It poses some challenging questions, such as: Was Haig right to place such faith in cavalry? Could the battle of the Somme have resulted in a British victory on 1 July 1916? Was Haig really the victor in 1918, or was he irrelevant to his army's success?
The tour will be accompanied by guest speaker Professor Gary Sheffield, Director of Military History at the University of Birmingham. He is one of the world's leading authorities on Douglas Haig and the British army of the First World War, the author of The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army, co-editor of Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters, Somme and Forgotten Victory. He is also convenor of the renowned MA in British First World War Studies at Birmingham University. During the tour, Gary will give several talks, covering such topics as doctrine and strategy, the role of air power, and the evolution of tactics. Gary will be supported by Major-General Ashley Truluck CB CBE who will lend his wealth of military expertise and soldier's appreciation to provide a unique interpretation of events. A tour led by 'brains and brawn'!
"If there are some who would question Haig's right to rank with Wellington, there are none who will deny that his character & conduct as a soldier & subject will long serve as an example to all".
Depart London St Pancras by Eurostar to Lille. On arriving on the Western Front we examine Haig's command of I Corps at the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914, visiting sites such as the Menin Road and Gheluveldt, before going on to look at the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).
On this day we explore Haig's battles in 1915 as commander of First Army, including Neuve Chapelle, which was hugely important in shaping Haig's views on how to conduct operations on the Western Front; Aubers Ridge and Festubert fought over virtually the same ground; and Loos, the battle which led to Haig becoming Commander-in-Chief in France. We will also visit the new Pheasant Wood cemetery at Fromelles, created as the result of the recent discovery of a mass grave of fatalities from an attack in 1916.
We move south to examine the Battle of the Somme, 1916. This includes an assessment of the Haig/Rawlinson dispute over strategy, command problems at Thiepval on 1 July, Gough, Birdwood and the Australians at Pozières, command and the tank attack of 15 September.
We reach the climax of our tour by exploring the Hundred Days of Allied Victory in 1918. Among the sites we shall visit are Hamel, the small-scale battle that gave the blueprint for victory; Amiens, the Black Day of the German Army; and the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. Topics for examination include the relationship between Haig and his Army commanders; the problems of fighting in coalition with the French and Americans; and whether Haig's vision of warfare was finally realised on the battlefields of the Hundred Days. Return to Lille for our Eurostar to London St Pancras.
"His was the only army of the great nations at war which did not break".
Maj Gen Sir John Kennedy