We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Haig’s greatest mistake

On 15 September 1916 tanks made their debut at Flers-Courcelette, one of the many engagements which took place during the Battle of the Somme.

The battle marked the beginning of a sorry chapter in British military history because the truth – a truth that to this day few seem prepared to acknowledge – is that the First World War tank was useless.

The list of its failings is lengthy. It was slow, it was unreliable, it had no suspension and it was horrible to operate. The temperature inside was typically over 100°F and as exhaust gases built up so crew effectiveness collapsed. It was also highly vulnerable. Field artillery could take it out easily. Even rifle ammunition could be effective against it. While normal bullets might not be able to penetrate the armour they could knock off small pieces of metal from the inside – known as spall – which then whizzed round the interior wounding all and sundry.

That the tank was the brainchild of Winston Churchill from his days as head of the Admiralty should have alerted senior commanders to the possibility that it was yet another of his crackpot schemes. But they persisted. For his part, Haig being a technophile put a huge amount of faith in the new invention. His diary is littered with references to the tank and he seems to have made great efforts to secure ever more of them. In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end when it would have been far better spent on guns, shells and fuzes.

Not that such efforts were ever likely to satisfy the snake-oil salesmen who made up the ranks of the tank enthusiasts. In the face of tank failure after tank failure they simply claimed that their beloved weapon just wasn’t being used properly.

Of course, like all good conmen they liked to take credit for other people’s successes. So, when a huge number of tanks were used at Cambrai in 1917 and the initial phases went reasonably well they were happy to put it all down to the tank. The fact that within 3 days an initial tank force in the hundreds had been whittled down to single figures by mechanical failures and withering German artillery fire was glossed over.

The credit should really have gone to the “predicted barrage”. As with so much to do with artillery this needs a little explaining. If your artillery barrage is to be effective you need to know where your shells are going to land. Although manufacturers attempt to build guns with uniform characteristics this is an extremely difficult thing to do. Worse still every time a gun is fired the barrel experiences wear and its characteristics change. Before Cambrai the answer had been “registration”. Guns would fire shells at the enemy and observers would spot where they landed. The drawback was that the enemy could tell that an attack was on its way. In a predicted barrage the gunners worked out in advance where the shells would land so the first the enemy would know about an attack was when he was hit by a full-scale barrage. This meant that for the first time since the beginning of the war surprise could be re-introduced to the battlefield.

Cheaper than a Great War tank and about as useful.

Cheaper than a Great War tank and about as useful.

48 comments to Haig’s greatest mistake

  • In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end

    Seriously? The WW1 tank was far from useless, it was just not the wonder weapon some thought it would be, at least not yet. And I say ‘yet’ because it was not a technological dead end, which is why tanks are still in use today.

  • Alsadius

    The thing about WW1 tanks is that they had a massive element of surprise the first time they were used, which got squandered. If Cambrai(or an occasion like it) had been the first time tanks got used, and they’d combined the predicted barrage/creeping barrage artillery tactics with serious tank usage for the first time, then they may actually have managed a genuine breakthrough, which is something that never really happened once during the bulk of the war. It’d sure have been a successful attack, even if it didn’t(which Cambrai was, of course).

    Also, an invention that lowered bloodshed in WW1 seems like a good thing, even if it cost a fair bit.

  • Frederick Davies

    In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end…

    That is like saying the airplanes of the age were dead ends because they were not supersonic.


  • thefrollickingmole

    The Germans introduced an overpowered riflr cartridge that could sometimes penetrate the early tank armor.
    That said I think you overlook how (limited) useful they were when used in an early form of “blitzkreig”, where they were concentrated and supported rather than dropped in by bits and pieces.

    Im reading another interesting book on Panzer Battalion 503 in WW2, one of the all tiger units. What it brings home is how seriously crap and limited the tiger, and German doctrine was. Transmissions made of glass, massively resource sucking and easy enough to go around once the enemy knew where they were. Good book, lowered my respect for them as a weapon and all put together by the ex members of the unit.

  • Jacob

    Tanks did play a big role in WW2.
    The question is if they (and the aircraft carrier) are still useful today and in the future.

  • The Pedant-General

    Agreed – I think you are being unfair. Very few – if anyone – realised what could be done with the tank and how to capitalise upon it. The first mass assault made huge gains, but the infantry weren’t expecting such huge gains to be made and were not therefore geared up to advance into and hold the breach in the line. That’s not a failure of the tank – it’s a failure of imagination/optimism that the new tech might be a game changer. 🙂

  • The question is if they (and the aircraft carrier) are still useful today and in the future.

    They are clearly useful today, which is why they are being used today.

    Tales of the Merkava’s “vulnerability” are vastly overblown and predicated on the IDF’s extreme aversion to casualties. But based on “mission success” criteria, it is hard to see how the IDF’s tank arm is anything less that spectacularly effective even in the face of effective enemy weapons such as the Kornet. Merkava IV + Trophy system is quite impressive (albeit nothing is perfect).

    In the future? Tanks, probably yes. Carriers? Depends on who you are fighting & where, and how certain ideas work out in practice. There are technologies emerging with real potential to make anti-ship missiles largely ineffective, which once again means the only real threat to carriers goes back to being submarines.

  • llamas

    Some observations may illuminate why I feel this dismal assessment of the first tanks is not very – realistic.

    Hot? Have you ever been inside a modern tank? Certainly the major tanks of WW2 were uniformly fearsomely hot inside when closed up – or as cold as a well-digger’s ass, depending on the climate. I think I’m right in saying that the first mass-produced tank with air-conditioning was the Israeli Merkava of the 1970s, and that had as much to do with NBC protection as it did crew comfort. Tankers have always had to deal with dreadful conditions, and not just heat and cold.

    Poor protection? As compared to – what? Advancing in open order across the beaten zone? I’ll bet every single Tommy who had a Mark 1 to walk behind thought it was just freaking AWESOME in terms of protection. Sure, an artillery round could easily knock it out – but that is just as true today. And internal spall from relatively-minor insults was in issue in tanks for another 50 years – both US and German tanks in WW2 were notorious for it.

    Slow? Well, they went at 4 miles per hour – a fast walk on flat ground. Faster than infantry could cross no-man’s-land.

    Unreliable? Well, yes – it’s 1916. The technology of tracked vehicles was barely 10 years old. The technology of gasoline-vapour engines was barely 20 years old. What the hell did you expect?

    Suggesting that a ‘predicted barrage’ would have been more effective is – optimistic. Lots of experience, before and since, has shown that, with proper preparation and fieldcraft, well-trained troops can survive the most amazing barrages and emerge largely-effective. This was proven time-and-gain even in WWI – why would this time have been different?

    Were the first tanks perfect? Not by a long shot. The idea of mounting field guns in sponsons didn’t make a lot of sense, and they could have used a lot better protection against small-arms like grenades and mortars. A rolling machine-gun nest with better protection for a squad of infantry in company might have done a lot better. But they were a revolutionary breakthrough, and the Brits were quick to learn and adapt from field experience. I think this uniformly-negative assessment of the early tanks in favour of an artillery barrage is – unrealistic.



  • Tankers have always had to deal with dreadful conditions, and not just heat and cold.

    I remember talking to some Royal Marines about Tankers. They envied them because:

    “They’re warm and dry.”

    Yes, I said, but it’s stuffy, cramped and smelly.

    “Yes, but they’re warm and dry.”

    Okay, I said, but you can easily get burned to death in there.

    “Yes, but they’re warm and dry.”

    It could have gone on all night.

  • Laird

    I second the objection others have raised to the comment that the WWI tank was a “technological dead end”. It was merely the beginning of the technology-development process, hardly a “dead end”. I think llamas’ points are well taken.

    As to whether the aircraft carrier is still useful, obviously it is because it’s in regular use. But that begs the question of whether they are an appropriate tool for modern militaries (meaning, primarily, the US). They are used, and very effectively, to project force anywhere in the world on relatively short notice. But that ignores the underlying question of whether the US (or any other nation) should be presuming to project force around the globe. This isn’t a thread on that topic, so I will refrain from discussing the issue now, but I think that’s an important question to address whenever the subject of carrier utility is raised.

  • Fraser Orr

    As to whether the aircraft carrier is still useful, obviously it is because it’s in regular use.

    Modern warfare seems very focused on regular armies fighting irregular forces. Carriers are really quite useful for this. AFter all, do we expect ISIS to procure an effective submarine or anti ship missile? And clearly it gives a movable airfield that provides excellent logistical support.

    As to whether it is effective against, for example, China? Well that is a whole other story. It isn’t clear what is effective in a war between super powers who are equipped with nuclear weapons. It isn’t even clear what war means between such adversaries, to me anyway.

    Two questions sit in my mind about carriers in the future though. First, it isn’t clear to me why carriers are vulnerable to submarines (even thought the evidence is that they are.) Carriers are big and noisy and readily detectable by satellite, observer aircraft and radar. So they can’t really be stealthy. In that case it isn’t clear why they could not, in future, just have a picket of drone boats pumping active sonar into the water to detect any subs.

    Second, in a future with primarily remote piloted aircraft, it seems clear to me that we could fly aircraft into the area from any airfield by using a set of bridge tankers. It would certainly be kind of expensive, but aircraft carriers are extremely expensive. I suppose it would be hard to maintain that for an extended war like the middle east, but flying out of Diego Garcia would not likely reduce reaction time by much (since you can launch a drone before you decide what it’s target is, something way harder to do with a piloted aircraft.)

    Anyway, I look at big behemoths like the Gerald Ford class, at $13 billion, and wonder if there isn’t a better way.

  • Chris

    The early WWI tanks should just be considered prototypes “tested” in the field. The early versions were completely useless, but by 1918 there were much better models which had effect. If the war had continued until 1919, the new French and British tanks (and the American tanks built to copy them) would likely have been very effective. So while they did not have a decisive impact during the war, they were just outside the window. If the Germans and Austrians had properly made sure their populations were fed, the war could have easily lasted until that year.

    New weapons that are untested and troops using them that do not have proper doctrine, will almost always fail in battle. Nevertheless, that needs to happen otherwise those weapons will never become tested or doctrines using them developed.

    So while it is important to remember the limitations WWI tanks had (and does anyone really question that?), I think it is a bit too much to call them a crackpot idea that was a dead end.

  • AKM

    The reason for putting the weapons in sponsons is pretty simple; the basic hull design is optimized for climbing shell craters with steep sides and crossing trenches. If you can’t get across no-man’s land the vehicle is useless. If you put a turret on the top of an already very high hull, that turret will need to be huge to allow enough gun depression to shoot into nearby trenches. This will raise the center of gravity, reduce stability and restrict the vital ability to cross uneven terrain. Turrets were considered on the technology demonstrator “little willie” but, obviously, dispensed with when they went to the rhomboid design.

    The first turreted tank was the superlative French Renault FT. It was a great little tank for 1918 but it is unlikely that it could have competed with the big British tanks when it comes to crossing shell-blasted no-man’s land of 1916 and 1917.

  • llamas

    @ AKM – I’m sorry, I was not clear.

    I wasn’t quibbling with the idea of sponsons – I understand the reasons for them and they are good reasons. My quibble was with the idea of mounting 6-pounder naval guns in them, as they did in the ‘Male’ variants. These single-shot weapons were a waste of space and, with their ammunition and crews, added a lot of weight and complexity to the vehicle.

    They had the right idea with the ‘Female’ variant, but not nearly enough. What they should have mounted was 4, 6, even 8 machine guns per side, maybe in pairs, firing in overlapping arcs to cover the 180° field. Such an armament would have made for a devastating weapon on the Western Front, and especially considering the German skill at emplacing machine guns in the defilade.

    They could have also explored the use of other, lighter AP weapons, such as grenade launchers and mortars.

    But the whole program started out with a naval flavor – remember they were originally known as ‘H.M Landships’ – and so they fixated on a naval-type configuration that really wasn’t suited for the fight they were going into.



  • NickM

    I think Patrick is right. It was a dead end. OK it lit the path but in so many ways later effective tanks are completely different in almost every aspect of design, tactical use, engineering and indeed concept.

    It is also true that the element of surprise was squandered at Flers-Courcelette by unleashing a very small force ASAP rather than building-up and then unleashing Hell. Haig was like a kid who couldn’t wait ’till Christmas morning to sally under the tree.

    As to the mobile armoured machine gun nest I suggest you look-up “female tank”.

    As to carriers. Very important but they need escorts and the RN with it’s 6(!) Type-45s (and they are bowdlerized anyway) er… no. USN on the other hand… The main threat to carriers is a massive, overwhelming, assault with long-range maneuvering supersonic (hypersonic?) missiles – things the Chinese and Russians have put a fair chunk of effort into. Not subs if you have adequate anti-sub frigates etc.

    The real drawbacks with modern tanks is (as they always have been) unreliability (lots of moving bits) and the difficulty of shifting them by air. I tink a C-5 is the only airlifter in the West that can ship an Abrams or similar and then only one at a time. That is a problem.

    That is a problem for the same reason carriers matter. Force projection matters. And rapid force projection at that.

  • Laird

    “Force projection matters. And rapid force projection at that.”

    Agreed, once you’ve made the decision to involve yourself in the fight. Which brings us back to my original point: that is precisely the question which needs to be asked (and answered) before determining whether carriers are “useful”.

    If the US were to become embroiled in a real, shooting war with Russia or China (its only serious potential adversaries), it wouldn’t involve conventional armies; it would be fought with missiles (and, to a lesser extent, drones). Carriers (and large conventional armies) make sense only in smaller regional wars and what is sometimes euphemistically referred to as “police actions.” And it is precisely those which, in my opinion, the US is far too involved. We are something between a global bully and a global busybody. The presence of carrier groups facilitates such actions, enabling politicians and deskbound generals to easily enter into conflicts in which we have no real interest. Perhaps eliminating carriers would minimize our propensity to meddle.

  • Lee Moore

    Laird’s mention of missiles raises a parallel between the WW1 tank “dead end” and the WW2 V2 missile “dead end.” The better developed tanks of WW2 proved to be quite useful – just as the better developed post WW2 missiles were the core of the post WW2 superpowers power.

    In the context of WW2, German investment in V2s turned out to be a staggering waste of resources – the military pay off from the huge investment was too little, far too late, to help the Germans win – so it accrued to the folk who beat the Germans.

    In war, as in peace, resources are scarce. Don’t overinvest in R&D.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    AN-124 Ruslan two M1 Abrams or two Leopard 2A6
    C-5 Galaxy two M1 Abrams or two Leopard 2A6
    C-17 Globemaster III one M1 Abrams or ono Leopard 2A


  • NickM

    I take your point but wars are not always a matter of choice.

    As to R&D… Lead times are so enormous these days that if we start on, say, a new fighter jet it’s gonna be decades until FOC and God knows what the geopolitics will be then. Flexibility is key.

    Yes, but those two are seriously stripped and it’s still not great to shift a battalion.

  • AKM

    “The main threat to carriers is a massive, overwhelming, assault with long-range maneuvering supersonic (hypersonic?) missiles…”

    That’s only the last stage of the game. The first stage is “find the carrier”, which is more difficult that it might seem, and has to be followed up by “track the carrier” while you prepare your attack. Low flying cruise missiles have a very small radar horizon. This makes them difficult to spot but also means they can’t see very far so you need a very accurate position and track on the target carrier when you launch them.

  • Laird

    NickM, true, wars aren’t always a matter of choice (although every war the US has been involved in since 1945 has been), but the means of fighting certainly is. And if your means of fighting is largely limited to thermonuclear missiles you would become very circumspect about which wars you engage in (and your adversaries would be just as circumspect about provoking you).

  • Patrick Crozier

    OK, I accept “technological dead end” is not entirely accurate. Temporary technological dead end would have been better.

    If there is one thing that this comment thread demonstrates the persistence of First World War myths. In particular, Tank Corps propaganda has assumed the status of holy writ. Here are some examples:

    The British squandered the surprise
    Tank officers knew exactly how to use the tank right from the get-go
    Tanks should have been used in large numbers
    The tanks of 1919 would have been just super
    The tanks of 1919 would have won the war pretty much on their own

    Each of these statements are highly dubious. But let’s deal with the first one. I am not aware of any military technologies – with the possible exception of the atom bomb – that have worked perfectly straight out of the box. It takes a while for even the most brilliant minds to get to grips with precisely how they should be used. Also, almost all new technologies have kinks that need to be ironed out. Therefore, the correct thing to do was to try tanks out in combat and see what happened. In the event plenty of lessons were learnt as Haig’s diary illustrates. More to the point a mass attack – even if had been a good idea – could not have been attempted in September 1916 because IIRC the British only had 49 machines available.

    In the First World War if you wanted to succeed you had to get the artillery right. I can think of many successful attacks that involved artillery but no (or very few) tanks e.g. Storming of the Hindenburg Line, Menin Road, Messines. However, I can think of no successful attacks that involved tanks but no artillery. I am not even sure there are examples of the latter from the Second World War – perhaps someone could enlighten me.

    While it is true that artillery could not eliminate all defenders it did not have to. All it had to do was to neutralise them for long enough to allow the attackers to cross No Man’s Land. This was why the British infantry tended to cling to the creeping barrage. It was said that if you weren’t taking casualties from your own barrage you weren’t following it closely enough.

    Aircraft. Aircraft proved their worth right from the beginning of the war as reconnaissance. As the war progressed they expanded their role to include: eliminating enemy reconnaissance patrols; strafing; bombing; artillery spotting and infantry re-supply.

    It occurs to me I was a little too kind in my description of the First World War tank. In addition to the long list of its shortcomings I should have added that it wasn’t even particularly good at crossing No Man’s Land. It would often ditch and – as the war went on – get trapped in the Germans’ ever-wider trenches. It was even known for tanks to get caught up in barbed wire.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Temporary dead end is better. I’m sure the same could have been said of gunpowder muskets at the start because of long they look to load, vulnerability to damp, etc.

    I think you’re being unduly harsh on Churchill for advocating the tank (he had a fascination with tech). The war of attrition on the Western Front was hardly a great advert for cautious thinking, was it?

  • Patrick Crozier

    Er, actually it was. Plumer was an extremely cautious – as well as methodical – general and highly successful. Gough, on the other hand was known for his flair and élan and failures.

  • Hang Dong

    Lee Moore
    September 16, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Laird’s mention of missiles raises a parallel between the WW1 tank “dead end” and the WW2 V2 missile “dead end.” […]

    In the context of WW2, German investment in V2s turned out to be a staggering waste of resources – the military pay off from the huge investment was too little, far too late, to help the Germans win – so it accrued to the folk who beat the Germans.

    In war, as in peace, resources are scarce. Don’t overinvest in R&D.


    It’s human nature though, innit? You can’t help but convince yourself that some shiny new thing is going to make all the difference. Doesn’t matter whether it’s some CEO thinking that a bold new product/website/marketing strategy is going to turn the company around, or a regular joe who thinks that, finally, this latest smartphone is going to solve all his phone-related problems and usher in a new era of phone-related happiness.

    It’s probably the same instinct that drives people to gamble with money. Everybody wants to believe there’s a quicker or easier way to succeed than by just grinding it out, generals included.

  • NickM

    Montgomery was a cautious general. The one point he was very bold was Market Garden and we all know how that turned out. Also as far as I recall El Alamein did involve a massive artillery barrage.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The point is that until tanks the received wisdom was artillery barrages + infantry assaults. With trenches and machine guns, we had a bloody stalemate. The “cautious” approached seemed to be a repeat.

    NickM, bear in mind that Monty st El Alamein had total air superiority and Rommel’s forces were low on fuel. No scenario is exactly alike.

    Tanks were worth a try in WW1, surely.

  • Patrick, it is no myth that WWI tanks were very useful in breaking into WWI defences. The myths you list in your comment above do indeed deserve some criticism. “Squandering the surprise’ is normal with new untested weapons. Tank officers, like others, were prone to exaggerate how perfectly they could have done things if no generalshad ordered otherwise. What the planned 1919 tank would have achieved is speculation; no doubt Fuller’s plan would not have worked out as perfectly in real life as in his papers.

    None of that alters the fact that having a WWI tank when attacking a WWI western front trench system was much better than not having one. No infantry officer on the eve of a big push would have rejected tanks – or swapped a tank for yet another artillery piece, unless tank numbers had been well above what was achieved in WWI, or artillery numbers less than what they were by the time tanks were used.

  • jsallison

    “Yes, but they’re warm and dry.” In 20yrs active service I never once, never, had hatch seals that actually sealed. So, dry as long as it isn’t raining. Warm? As long as the heater works. It isn’t considered a mission critical part. So, yes and no. The one unalloyed advantage? It carries my stuff, including my snacks. 😉

  • NickM

    I take both points. We ruled the skies and the Axis was critically low on fuel and perhaps more to the point we knew it. But… There was a massive artillery barrage and it was an extremely complicated battle plan from Monty involving every tactic from the book and some. Jeeps disguised as tanks, tanks disguised as trucks. Stunning complexity and we won!

  • bloke in spain

    Talk of Alamein & Rommel’s handicap illustrates the central problem with the tank. The enormous amount of logistics needed to keep them in the field. It’s alright talking about moving the odd tank by air. Moving the thousands of tons of fuel, lubricants, parts, workshops & the associated personel’s another matter. Essentially you need access to a major port, so in a hostile part of the world you have to start by either capturing one or building one.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    The Strathconas shipped Leopard 2A6s to and from Kandahar via AN-124. Stripped? Perhaps, but for transport safety reasons. They were not ‘lightened’.



  • Paul Marks

    Patrick the tank was not “useless” in the First World War – although tank tactics took time to develop.

    As for the “greatest mistake” of Douglas Haig – one is spoilt for choice.

    Was it taking the credit for General Broadwood’s order in the Sudan? And then punishing Broadwood (“men always hate those they injure” – they hate them because the very sight of a man one has wronged is a blow of shame, that is why men like to GET RID OF other men they wrong) by keeping him down during the First World War – Broadwood was eventually killed at Passchendaele – one of Haig’s many grand follies.

    Was it writing disloyal letters to the Royal court (violating the Chain-of-Command) to get the job of his Commanding Officer in 1915? Men have been executed for less than that in time of war.

    Was it the first day of the Battle of Loos (1915) where Haig gassed his own men – by firing off gas shells and then launching an attack into the gas?

    How about the second day of the Battle of Loos – where Haig told the commanders of two Reserve Divisions that they were going to chase a fleeing enemy -and then sent the two divisions in a suicide attack against prepared German defences?

    Of the ten thousand men sent on that attack eight thousand (80%) were killed or wounded Patrick – and there were no German deaths at all NONE. The Germans were entrenched behind barbed wire many feet high and many feet thick. It was not a country fence and a ditch Patrick.

    What did Haig do after ordering this suicide attack? When what had happened became clear?

    Did he kill himself Patrick?

    No he did not.

    Did he at least resign Patrick?

    No he did not – he just conspired to get PROMOTED like the “office warrior” he was he whole life.

    Let us go on to the Somme on July 1st 1916.

    Was this Haig’s “greatest mistake” Patrick?

    Douglas Haig got thirty thousand British soldiers wounded and TWENTY THOUSAND BRITISH SOLDIERS KILLED IN ONE DAY.

    What did he do then Patrick?

    Again did he kill himself?

    No he did not.

    Again did he at least resign?

    No he did not.

    What he actually did do is send home, in disgrace, the only commanders on that day (July 1st 1916) who did NOT throw away the lives of their men in a mass suicide attack.

    Supposedly these commanders (by not throwing away the lives of their men) had not shown “fighting spirit”.

    Where was Douglas Haig’s “fighting spirit” Patrick? Even I have scars from violence on my body – and I have never served a day in the army, Douglas Haig spent his life in the army. How many scars from violence did Douglas Haig actually have? Genuine question – as I do not know.

    What “fighting” had Douglas Haig actually done? How many men had he killed with his own hands? What gave him the right to condemn the “fighting spirit” of combat officers who had risked their own deaths in previous battles?

    Why were they sent home “in disgrace” – while Haig was NOT sent home “in disgrace”, indeed kept his command after July 1st 1916. For all the months of slaughter after that.

    Then Passchendaele – Haig’s pet project in Flanders in 1917. He had been pressing for an attack in Flanders for a long time – and promised the Moon and Stars (that he would break through and capture ports – and on and on…).

    Are you going to repeat your previous claim that Douglas Haig did not know (was not warned) that if he shelled this reclaimed land he would turn it into a quagmire that would drown his soldiers? Are your going to claim that Douglas Haig did not KNOW that in advance Patrick?

    How about putting General Gough (one of the worst commanders of infantry in the British Army – and there was very stiff competition for the title of “worst”, a cavalryman who knew nothing about infantry) in command of key stages of this offensive in 1917 – was that Haig “greatest mistake”?

    Hubert Gough was not dismissed from the army after his 1917 mess – he is back in 1918 messing up the defence against the German “Operation Michael”. I wonder who appointed Gough to this position – surely it could not have been Douglas Haig could it?

    Strong points – of whatever name you want to use (you attacked me for using the wrong term in the past) – whatever one calls them, the point is that the POLICY was wrong.

    When the Germans punched through the lines and got behind the …… (whatever you want to call the strong points) the men in the ….. surrendered. The British Army lost vast numbers of men
    killed or taken prisoner.

    Did Haig finally kill himself?

    No he did not.

    Did Haig finally at least resign?

    No he did not – he used his old crony Hubert Gough as a “scapegoat” (Haig’s word – he actually uses the word, “there is a need for a scapegoat – it can either be you or me, and it is not going to be me”).

    Then in late 1918 – thanks to the ever increasing numbers of Americans, and the overall command of the French General Foch, and the British General Plumber (even Geoffrey Powell, an establishment man to his fingertips, writes. that Plumer “ignored” many of Haig’s instructions in late 1918) the allies finally start to WIN.

    Finally, due to overwhelming advantages in numbers of men and aircraft (and TANKS Patrick) the allies in late 1918 actually start to win – the German Army finally starts to fall apart, after four years of siege

    What does Haig do then Patrick?

    He supports a compromise peace.

    Yes he did NOT invent the idea – but he supported it.

    The French and American Generals did not – but Haig did.

    Was that Haig’s “greatest mistake” Patrick.

    Because it meant that millions of allied soldiers, and almost ONE MILLION BRITISH SOLDIERS were killed for NOTHING.

    Germany was not destroyed and the war would have to be fought again – the Second World War, as German aims were essentially unchanged. The domination of Europe as a stepping stone to domination of the world.

    The Austrian born lance corporal Adolf Hitler did not invent that idea – it was the corner stone of German academic (university) thinking in the First World War (indeed before the First World War) – and the academic and political elite were closer in Germany than in any other nation.

    Had the allied military had a united front against this compromise peace it might not have happened – what Foch called (in despair) “a 20 year truce” leading to Germany being stronger than before – might not have happened.

    But the British commander on the Western Front supported peace in late 1918 – what was his name? Oh yes – Douglas Haig. Thank you for Second World War Douglas Haig.

    “But Paul – the Germans promised all sorts of concessions, and they admitted they were responsible for war in 1914 and promised never to do it again”.

    Yes and they would have turned cartwheels and said anything (anything at all).


    The power that was responsible for the pack-of-lies (really a “Declaration of War upon the very idea of universal principles of reason and justice” as the French President, a philosopher, put it – for he know that fashionable philosophy in Germany denied that such principles existed) that is the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 was not going to change – and getting rid of the Emperor was a side issue.

    The real matter of concern was the basic ideology of the German political and academic elite (including some of he military elite such as General Lundendorff).

    It did not matter if they were “on the right” or “on the left” – BOTH denied there were universal rules of just conduct, both were “historicists” claiming that “race” or “class” trumped morality, and that morality was dependent on the “historical stage”.

    Did Douglas Haig really understand what he was fighting?

    Perhaps he did – but I doubt it.

  • Paul Marks

    For those who do not know…..

    The Germany of 1914 was a recent (1871) artificial creation – the result of a series of unjust wars (such as that of 1866 and 1870) created by the crafty manipulations of Otto Von Bismark (the person who had destroyed responsible government in Prussia in 1861 – by increasing taxation without the consent of the Prussian Parliament).

    However, after the tragically early death of the brief Emperor Frederick in 1888, Bismark lost control of the monster he has created – lost control to forces much darker than himself (who used the new Emperor as their front man), Bismark being dismissed in 1890.

    The crimes of Bismark were great. As well as the crimes already mentioned, he also secretly subsidised the socialists (to scale business owners into supporting him), plundered the personal property of such people as the deposed King of Hanover, fought a “war” of religious persecution against the Roman Catholics, destroyed the liberals in the 1870s by a disgraceful campaign claiming they were a “Party of Jews” (stirring up dark forces that had been asleep in Germany), and then tried to break the socialists (the very people he had secretly subsidised a few years before) with a campaign of persecution – which he bungled (he hit them hard enough to make them look like victims – but not hard enough to cause them serous harm).


    Welfare Statism from the end of the 1870s onwards (harking back to Frederic “the Great”), Protectionism in trade, loss making colonies, and a navy to provoke Britain with.

    True Bismark did NOT actually want to do some of these things (he was not a moron) – but the dark forces he had woken up proved impossible for him to control.

    Bismark was a man who had got a tiger out of cage and went for a ride on it – and the tiger ate him, and then tried to eat Europe and the world.

    By 1918 there was one solution – the independence of Bavaria, Hanover and so on had to be restored. The artificial creation that was “Germany” had to be destroyed.

    Otherwise the war would have to be fought again.

  • Paul Marks

    That British (and American) education taught that both Frederick the Great and (a century later) Bismark were wonderful, noble, types shows hoe far intellectual corruption had spread in the Western World.

    Although some people were not deceived – back in the 1700s Edmund Burke (and his Annual Register) understood Frederick “the Great” for the monster he actually was.

    And some people understood what “Prussianism” was in the late 19th and early 20th century also.

    Sadly too many people were deceived – both Conservatives and Liberals.

    “National Liberation” (the folly of German and Italian “unification” – with its higher taxes, more government spending, conscription in Sicily, language persecution…. and on and on) was a popular Liberal cause in the 19th century.

    And Woodrow Wilson was worse than Haig in his attitude to Germany (indeed virtually every political idea in the muddlehead of academic Woodrow Wilson came from Germany) – Keynes was (as always) wrong, when he said the peace terms were “too harsh” – there should, of course, have been no peace terms.

    Germany never really intended to pay “reparations”, and leaving Germany (basically) still “united” was insane.

    “But Paul – Rothbard says that Woodrow Wilson was a warmonger and went to war unjustly against Germany and then treated them too harshly”.

    And then went for a ride on a unicorn over the nearest rainbow.

    If we go on to Murray Rothbard, Patrick Buchanan, Paul Gottfried and the rest the “Alt Right” I am going to end up thinking kindly of Douglas Haig.

    Douglas Haig was “just” a useless General and an office warrior (an actor always playing the role of being a soldier – and playing the role very well, he LOOKED every inch the perfect soldier, and his manner was perfect for the role straight-from-Central-Casting).

    But Douglas Haig was NOT a traitor. The Rothbardians and the “Alt Right” (created by Rothbard’s pal Paul Gottried) are traitors – they side with the enemy.

    In relation to both World Wars (not “just” the First World War) and the Cold War.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way Patrick – what do you mean by Winston Churchill’s “crackpot schemes”?

    And, please, do not cite Gallipoli. Winston Churchill was not in charge of the landings – nor did he pick the Generals who were in charge.

    The disgusting lack of basic military knowledge by all the British Generals at, for example, the Sulva Bay landing (described, in horrified despair, in the works of Colonel Barker) was nothing to do with Winston Churchill.

    The objective was good – sail to Constantinople, thus knocking the Ottomans out of the war, and link up with the Russians.

    It was the correct move to make – and could be done. However, the operation (the operation to take a small area of land overlooking the route the allied naval forces would take) was handed over to British commanders who were a pack of clowns.

    Some of them even made Douglas Haig look competent.

    I have no doubt that Douglas Haig would have won at Sulva Bay.

    It is difficult to lose when you have ten thousand men landing (essentially unopposed) and then face a few hundred (yes – hundred) Turkish militia.

    Even Douglas Haig would not have pissed about (no apology for bad language) for days – while the Turks rushed in reinforcements and built defences.

  • Patrick Crozier

    One day Paul will provide evidence for his claims. Sadly, today is not that day.

    Not that it matters. Haig must be assessed on the basis of his performance as Commander-in-Chief. To do so it is worth bearing in mind the dictum that “Generals study battles and field marshals study logistics.” To which one should probably add strategy.

    So, how did Haig do on strategy? He got the basics right. While the feather heads in Whitehall were looking every which way Haig saw that the only way to win the was was to defeat the German army and the only place that could be done was on the Western Front.

    So how did he do on logistics? To answer that we have to remind ourselves where the British army stood in 1914. It was small. That meant it had only a small number of trained officers. You cannot train officers quickly. War, like any other activity, needs experience. The British army was not going to get good quickly.

    But it did get good, or good enough, in the end. In the Hundred Days offensive it reduced the German army to little more than a rabble.

    How did it do this? Better tactics for sure. But it would have been nothing without the logistic support behind it.

    During the course of the war the British army introduced a vast array of new equipment. This included the grenade, the Lewis gun, the rifle grenade, the steel helmet, the 106 fuze, the Livens projector and the gas shell. As well as many more. Not all were introduced by Haig but many were.

    Haig also concentrated on getting supply right. While having Eric Geddes of the Great Northern Railway reorganise the railways may not have been Haig’s idea he enthusiastically backed him. Likewise when a civilian was brought in to sort out the ports.

    As well as his Commander-in-Chief duties, Haig also had to deal with the French. He understood the realities of coalition warfare better than anyone. This meant that when Verdun threatened the French army, Haig understood that the British army was going to have to attack at the Somme, ready or not.

    The real acid test, however, is a simple one. If you think Haig was no good then fine but you have to address the question: what would you have done in his shoes? Haig’s detractors never have an answer for this.

    Haig was only peripherally involved in the Armistice negotiations and not at all at Versailles so I think he gets a pass. That’s assuming there was some magic alternative that would have avoided the second world war – an assumption which ought to be questioned rather more than it is.

  • NickM

    I have been to Gallipoli. What struck me most was that while the landing beaches looked ideal a scant few metres and it’s sort of “sand cliffs” and short of scaling these were narrow rivulets cutting through them meaning the allies had to go through almost perfect ambush alleys and add that to the advantages of home turf and a very competent general in Mustafa Kemal and the rest is history.

    My point is that whilst knocking the Ottoman’s outta the game and hooking up with Russia might have been desirable (I say “might” because both empires were on their last legs in so many ways) so the conception of the Darenelles campaign might have been worthwhile it was not just tactically botched but not strategically achievable. Certainly not at the cost both in blood and treasure it would have taken to win. And not just that but in opportunity cost.

    The real issue was to take down Germany. Churchill had an almost a form of OCD over military “side-shows”. He repeated this with Norway in round two.

    As to Patrick’s point about Haig and coalition warfare… My understanding was that after the enormous French sacrifice at Verdun The Somme Offensive was seen as Britain’s turn to “take one for the team” in a perverse bragging match as to casualties suffered.

    I shall leave the final word to General George S Patton…

    “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

  • lucklucky

    Renault FT the first modern tank was born in WW1 and participated in it albeit in last stages.


  • NickM, September 19, 2016 at 11:52 am: “Churchill had an almost a form of OCD over military “side-shows”. He repeated this with Norway in round two.”

    A case can be made for Churchill’s interest in Norway in WWII. Northern Norway offered a chance to engage the Germans at the periphery of their empire, where the terrain did not favour mobile warfare and the number of troops they could deploy would not swamp what Britain could deploy, and where the impact (loss of Swedish ore) would be serious. Between the fall of France and Germany’s becoming pinned down in Russia, it was the only such prospect in Europe, given how overwhelming the wermacht was anywhere it could deploy. That the Germans kept significant forces in Norway, and frequently worried about a possible attack, shows they did not think it absurd. Even after the US joined the war. the western allies fought side-shows (North Africa, Sicily, Italy) till they had enough force to invade France. Churchill accepted his military advisers’ view that Norway always looked less promising – in part because the danger was obvious to the Germans so they garrisoned it adequately – but there was nothing silly in thinking about it.

    As for Gallipoli, if the Royal Navy had realised that the mines they struck were just from a single line that their parallel sweepers had missed, not some strange weapon being floated down from Istanbul (or if the commander had had the nerve to keep trying anyway) the initial naval attack might well have succeeded. (The Turks thought it had – and were astonished the Royal Navy did not persist.) And if his unpopularity with the politicians had not condemned the competent soldier Kemal to that supposedly-dull area a year later, the army assault might have worked. And, as Paul Marks (September 18, 2016 at 10:48 pm) hints, had the Sulva Bay commander not determinedly ignored his very specific orders, that final attempt might still have won it for them anyway.

  • AKM

    lucklucky: “Renault FT the first modern tank…”

    While I hold the Renault FT in high regard, I have to disagree that it is the first modern tank. The modern tank was born in WWII, the FT lacks a lot of features that were later found to be important such as a coaxial main gun & MG and a three-man turret. It IS the first turreted tank and the first mass-produced tank, which should be enough laurels.

    The first real modern tank (depending on exactly how you define the term, obviously) is probably the Panzer IVF2 with the long 75mm which became available in 1942 after development started very late in 1941. Alternatively you could say that the first modern tank is the M4 Sherman, which arrived on the battlefield later than the Panzer IVF2, but entered production five months earlier.

  • NickM

    I am amazed nobody has mentioned Christie or Horstmann.

  • Christie’s design was sold to Russia and ended up as the T-34, while being passed over in the US, right? Definitely an exception to the usual rules. (I have wondered if it’s being obtained from abroad gave it more prestige – or the agency that obtained it passed it off as superb espionage and that gave it kudos. Of course, it could be that all the Russian tank designers who might have been rivals got purged.)

  • Paul Marks

    “Redoubts” – I keep forgetting what Gough’s Fifth Army called his policy of strong points.

    A terrible policy – as the German Storm Troops by passed them, and then the British soldiers in the “Redoubts” surrendered when they understood the Germans were behind them, and German follow on forces were upon them.

    Of course discipline broke down in the German army – with many men spending more time looting houses and farms than pressing home the offensive. Discipline was one thing the British army did well – but then Britain was in a different situation in 1918, less starved of resources (the Germans were close to starvation – siege warfare on a vast scale). Still even 1914 the German Army had behaved in a vile fashion towards French and Belgium civilians (the stories were not British propaganda) – the difference between 1914 and 1918 is that in 1914 the German soldiers waited for orders, in 1918 they did vile stuff without orders to do so.

    As for the lack of British soldiers in 1918 – Haig should have got fewer killed over the previous four years.

    However, that does NOT let David Lloyd-George off the hook.

    If one does not have confidence in a commander (and Lloyd-George was right to have no confidence in men such as Haig and Gough) then one replaces him – one does not restrict the resources available to a commander because one is too gutless to sack them. And so what if other people had resigned in protest – that was not David Lloyd-George’s real concern, he was concerned about political plots against him “if I move against Haig other people will move against ME” was how David Lloyd George really thought.

    Which makes him just as guilty as Haig – both men were basically concerned about their own backsides. Nether man (not Haig – and Lloyd-George either) really cared about the ordinary soldiers. Although Lloyd-George pretended to do so – lots of crocodile tears, but he left Haig in place – FOR YEARS.

    As for the specific subject of the post.

    NO tanks were NOT useless in World War One – by 1918 they were very useful.

    So the “chocolate teapot” post is wrong.

  • Paul Marks

    “One day Paul will provide evidence for his clams – but that day is not today”.

    You know perfectly well I am telling the truth Patrick Crozier – God damn you Sir, God damn you to Hell.

  • Magical Dismembered Albino Finger

    You know perfectly well I am telling the truth Patrick Crozier – God damn you Sir, God damn you to Hell.

    Oh shit!


  • JoeP

    Some would have thought that the Somme and Paeschendale, where after preparatory barrages hundreds of thousands of men stood up and marched slowly toward machine gun infested redoubts, resulted in the highest casualty events of the war, almost exclusively on the British side, were Haig’s greatest failure.

    But no. We think it’s some new technology that Haig fielded that didn’t quite pan out in a couple sideshow battles.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I think you have a rather shaky grasp of the tactics used both at the Somme and Passchendaele. But never mind, if you think Haig got it wrong what would you have done differently?