Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Lions led by Donkeys

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Mahross, Nov 18, 2003.

  1. Mahross

    Mahross Ace

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2003
    Messages:
    1,613
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    London, UK
    What do you people think of this comment on British generalsip in the Great War?

    Personally i don't think it hold much weight. It is to me an excuse for the politicians to attempt to lay the blame at someone elses door.
     
  2. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2002
    Messages:
    13,578
    Likes Received:
    1,487
    Location:
    London, England.
    It's a very long time since I read about WW1 in depth. ( Incidentally, I think the 'Lions & Donkeys' originated with Alan Clark in the early 60s...? )

    Personally, I'm left with a residual impression that the soldiers deserved rather better than the leadership they got, especially on the Western Front.

    The generals were confronted with a new phenomenon which was outside their teaching and experience ; overall they seem a pretty unimaginative bunch but typical of their class at that time.

    An exception seemed to be, bizarrely, Plumer who looked like the typical 'Blimp' but tried to deal with conditions at Ypres as best he could. There has been much controversy about Haig and in the end, as one historian put it, 'It is difficult to warm to him' ( a bit like Browning in WWII...).

    They squandered men's lives with their lack of imagination - which is why Churchill ( and Monty )knew they wouldn't get away with doing the same thing twenty years later.

    For me, the Naval leaders ( Tyrwhitt, Beatty, etc ) were of a higher calibre.

    Purely my opinion....

    [ 18. November 2003, 09:36 AM: Message edited by: Martin Bull ]
     
  3. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    6,548
    Likes Received:
    52
    WWI was full of the generals' stupidity. It was relatively rare that officers led attacks or even visit the trenches - there are, of course, many exceptions - and who only insisted in sending more troops and troops for useless attacks. And the perfect example of that is Sir Douglas Haig, who, even if an intelligent officer was too optimistic and unrealistic some times and didn't accept advices. At the Somme and Passendæle his unfounmded optimism condemned many, many men. The same goes for Von Falkenhayn, Brusílov, Joffre and Nivelle. The were only few exceptions like Sir Herbert Plumer, a man intelligent enough to understand what the soldier needed to fight and to achiev the objectives. It was Plumer's tactics the best way to fight trench warfare, meticulous planning and plenty of reserves and material. Montgomery was raised in this school. [​IMG]

    But even if Haig, French, Joffre and some others were intelligent, nice men and good generals, they were too egotistical to accept that their decisions - taken from a Louis XV chair, drinking wine at a château - killed thousands of young, innocent soldiers... [​IMG]
     
  4. KnightMove

    KnightMove Ace

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2003
    Messages:
    1,187
    Likes Received:
    7
    Indeed this quote is restricted neither to WW1, nor to the British in there. The first time I know it to be used was by German observers about the Austrian army in the Battle of Solferino 1859, but probably it's much older.

    However it DOES apply a great deal for some British actions in WW1, especially the failed Gallipoli invasion. It would have succeeded, if not the leaders had been that incompetent. [​IMG]
     
  5. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    6,548
    Likes Received:
    52
    That's right, Knight. The problem there was that everything that could have been wrong at Gallipolli, DID! They chose the worst leaders for the job, then the leaders themselves chose the worst spots for command posts and then chose the worst tactical plans... [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Brave men's lives WASTED... :mad: [​IMG]

    [ 18. November 2003, 01:59 PM: Message edited by: General der Infanterie Friedrich H ]
     
  6. No.9

    No.9 Ace

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2002
    Messages:
    1,398
    Likes Received:
    2
    Odd you query the sentiment Mahross? At field level most officers one can study were first class. At the top however, unfortunately at a time when front line feedback and opinion was valued very little if acknowledged at all, the obsolete dickheads in command felt no more compassion about the losses than annoying statistics. Haig was just a grade A murdering bastard.
    [​IMG]

    No.9
     
  7. Mahross

    Mahross Ace

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2003
    Messages:
    1,613
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    London, UK
    Haig is an enigma of military history. It was churchill who said of him that while he may not ahve been the best there was certainly no one better than him. To criticise him is hard. He did win the war. Given the state of technolgy of the day he reason for 'sitting' 40 miles behind the lines is understandable. For him to lead from the front, as Freddy states, would have been laughable. We are talking about a man who controlled an army group of apporximatly 2milion men. this is more than any british field commander in ww2 commands. the only person to come close to this number in NW Europe is ike and now he certainly didn't serve from the front. Given the state of communications techonlogy he was probably in the best place.

    In terms of other generals there are many notable example of corps and army generals who were very good at there trade. The most notable of these are Generals Maxse and Monashe both of whom were very competant. Field Marshal Lord Allenby is again a notable example of a commander who was very successful especially when given the freedom to do.

    The problem with the comment is its very polemic nature. Alan Clark, who martin quite rightly points out brought the term into popular use, was seeking to apportion blame for the western front. he tries to move the blame away from politician both from during the war and pre-war. The problem with this is that there analysis typically ends on the first day of the somme. This is only half of the picture.

    Just as a note of interest to claim haig is a butcher is unfair because as a comparison the british during the normandy campaign in 1944 suffer as many casualties per day as the 3rd battle of ypres but yet we do not call monty a butcher.
     
    rkline56 likes this.
  8. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    6,548
    Likes Received:
    52
    Good posts, everyone!

    But there were several men much better than Haig, but they didn't have the rank to be supreme commander of the BEF. First of all, Joffre or Haig could NOT be at the front for very important reasons; they had under their command millions of men; the planning had to be made in a centralised headquarters in the rear and they were aged men whose health could have been severely affected by being in the trenches - not to mention the tremendous risk. The problem with Haig was not whether or not he commanded from the front or not, but that he took NO advices from his subordinate officers. In 1917 Haig's personnal adjutant or chief of staff visited the trenches at Ypres and he burst into tears. "It's a crime to make soldiers fight HERE!" he said and Haig just didn't care. Haig planned offensives on maps, ignoring the lack of artillery, the rains, the floods, the inhumane conditions of his men or the advices of frontline officers. Lost from reality he felt optimistic and was persistent on attacks and attacks against small sectors of the front because in his fairy tale mind he thought he could reached Brussels, the Rhine and win the war, taking all the glory himself.

    General Plumer [​IMG] would have been a much better option for the soldiers - if not for the politicians who wanted things done quickly. [​IMG]

    He did win the war.

    He did, but at what cost? Haig's unfounded optimism bleed the BEF to death during 1916 and 1917 as did Nivelle in 1917. If those two would have bleeded their armies only a BIT more, Ludendorff would have taken Paris in 1918. [​IMG]

    I don't think it's true. 250.000 casualties in Normandy? I don't think so. And at least at Normandy they destroyed the German forces and retook Paris, didn't they? [​IMG] :rolleyes:
     
  9. KnightMove

    KnightMove Ace

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2003
    Messages:
    1,187
    Likes Received:
    7
    This is the point. However, I don't think you can blame one side of the Western front more than another - Germans, as well as British, as well as French wasted millions of lives in senseless battles.
     
  10. Friedrich

    Friedrich Expert

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2002
    Messages:
    6,548
    Likes Received:
    52
    Indeed, we were not blaming any side. I was just referring to the specific case of Haig. But as the British had Haig to bleed them, the French had Nivelle and the Germans had someone as incompetent and despicable as Von Falkenhayn... [​IMG] :mad:
     
  11. No.9

    No.9 Ace

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2002
    Messages:
    1,398
    Likes Received:
    2
    The wonderful term ‘casualties’ again. Everyone who was injured or just those who were killed or killed/missing? I believe the total Allied figure for killed/wounded/missing for the whole of Normandy (6th June – end August) was around 235’000? D-Day itself, about 10 to 10.5 K, with the heaviest incident on Omaha, about 3 K.

    I find the actions between the trenches in W.W.I and the Normandy invasion very different. For one thing, the invasion of the Normandy beaches took place once. The assaults on the trenches took place again and again and again and…….

    Freddy you’ve saved me a lot of typing time. I say what you say. ;)

    No.9
     
  12. Mahross

    Mahross Ace

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2003
    Messages:
    1,613
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    London, UK
    No.9 - Average casualties i.e. killed and wounded in normandy for the anglo canadian armies in normandy are approx 3500 per day. That is the same as the 3rd battle of Ypres. I have the exact numbers somewhere so i will check.

    As for the point that the allies took paris at the end of it. well in the 'Hundred days' of 1918 the british army made a much more rapid advance than the armies in the italian campaign of ww2. They averaged about 28 miles a day. which for an army that did not have the motorisation that the allies had in ww2 is quite a good job.
     
  13. sommecourt

    sommecourt Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2002
    Messages:
    682
    Likes Received:
    59
    Mahros is quite right that British infantry battle casualties in Normandy were as high, often higher, than British infantry casualties during Third Ypres - and often not just in percentage terms. How tought Normandy was for the PBI in the British Army is something quite underrated.
     
  14. No.9

    No.9 Ace

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2002
    Messages:
    1,398
    Likes Received:
    2
    “Average casualties i.e. killed and wounded in normandy for the anglo canadian armies in normandy are approx 3500 per day. That is the same as the 3rd battle of Ypres.”

    ??? British losses on the first day of the Somme were in the order of 58’000 ??? 750’000 men attacking on a 48 mile front.

    “in the 'Hundred days' of 1918 the british army made a much more rapid advance than the armies in the italian campaign of ww2. They averaged about 28 miles a day.”

    2’800 Miles – impressive! ??? It’s only about 1’400 miles from Ypres to Moscow :eek: – now if they were going to St. John, Canada? ;) How can you possibly compare 100 days in the summer of that terrain with 2 years in Italy, mostly mountain terrain, which includes two winters, one of which being one of the worst on record ??? How far did the Allies advance between 1st July and 18th November 1916 ??? Could it be 12 kilometres for 420,000 estimated British casualties and a further 200,000 French ??? [​IMG]

    No.9
     
  15. Mahross

    Mahross Ace

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2003
    Messages:
    1,613
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    London, UK
    Obviously given the time of there advance it does not work out that far but the point is that given the state of technology the british army was able to make substantial advances.

    Unfortuanatly we seem to have gotten stuck on the persona Haig. As freddy commented he was just one of several other generals who made unfortuanate decisions. Falkanhayn, having realised that the war could not be won on the western front, sought to bleed the french white. if that is not a bad strategy then i don't know what is.

    What is most important who is culpable for the western front is it the generals or the politicians. The question is did Haldanes pre war reforms go far enough. No they didn't while he set in motion the BEF, it was designed to be an imperial reserve for service in the empire not a continental war, although that was looming on the horizon. is this miscalculation not just as important. there is also the support given for the western front during the war. The old westerner Vs easterners debate draws a similar line as the traditionalist Vs revisionists. It has been shown that when support was given by the government the generals could fight well. A noticible example of this is Allenbys campaign in Palestine. He was given the resources he needed to fight because it fell in with lloyd georges startegic beliefs. because of this he fought a brilliant campiagn which eventually led to the downfall of the ottoman empire.

    As to the casualties at the somme. these were terrible but as Paddy Griffith has commented tactics did were changing from the 2nd day of the somme. The main reason the battle goes on for so long is its attempt to relieve pressure on the french at verdun. Much the same reason 3rd ypres was launched in an attempt to hide the french mutinies from the germans.
     
  16. No.9

    No.9 Ace

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2002
    Messages:
    1,398
    Likes Received:
    2
    Irrespective of to what degree politicians have interfered in battles, it is down to the general to do the best with what he has. If a general believes he doesn’t have the right quality of officer under him, he can replace them. This of course begs the question of who appointed them in the first place? If the general believes his men are not up to the task at hand, he should at least be prepared for the worst case scenario if, for some reason, he can’t alter the plan.

    Generals always have the option to abort, even if it will cost them their job! I personally have no regard for a man who is retired to a mansion with a fat pension who has no greater claim than he killed 58’000 men in one day.

    No.9
     
  17. Anthony EJW

    Anthony EJW Member

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    The victory gained by the armies of Britain and her colonial troops in 1918 was the greatest ever won in the army's history. Never before or since has the British army defeated the main body of the main enemy in a continental war. Nothing in WW2 came near to it, not even the collosal enterprise of operation Overlord. Haig, as commander in chief, had something to do with it.
     
  18. No.9

    No.9 Ace

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2002
    Messages:
    1,398
    Likes Received:
    2
    ??? So the ends justifies the means??? Victory at any cost and medals for the good ‘ole boys who, after all, were the ones who made real scarifies as we all know. :rolleyes:

    Who’s your hero, Uncle Joe Stalin???

    No.9
     
  19. reddog2k

    reddog2k Member

    Joined:
    May 2, 2003
    Messages:
    231
    Likes Received:
    0
    The victory gained by the armies of Britain and her colonial troops in 1918 was the greatest ever won in the army's history. Never before or since has the British army defeated the main body of the main enemy in a continental war. Nothing in WW2 came near to it, not even the collosal enterprise of operation Overlord. Haig, as commander in chief, had something to do with it. </font>[/QUOTE]IMHO the U.S. entry into the war had more to do with the defeat of the Central Powers than General Haig's command abilities.
     
  20. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2002
    Messages:
    13,578
    Likes Received:
    1,487
    Location:
    London, England.
    Hmmm - I hesitate to get too deeply into a subject which I'm far from knowledgeable about, but the victory of 1918 cannot in all fairness be claimed in toto by the British Army. The German forces were depressed by the increasing numbers of American troops arriving in France and Haig was relying heavily in 1918 on the relatively fresh Dominion ( not Colonial ! ) Candian and Australian formations. The September 26 Offensive was undertaken by 123 British, French, American and Belgian divisions with Haig now mainly remembered for his earlier 'Backs To The Wall' order.

    This in no way is meant to minimise the suffering endured by the British Army, but I don't believe that Haig's overall performance marks him as a great commander.
     

Share This Page