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Was Haig the butcher of The Somme?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/6/2014 Category: People
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,844 times Debate No: 48537
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I do not believe that General Haig was to be called the butcher of the Somme, but the debate will start by you posting accept. I look forward to an interesting debate!


I accept, looking forward to it.
Debate Round No. 1


Honeyhoney forfeited this round.


uh.... ok? I hope my opponent posts an argument in the last round.
Debate Round No. 2


Firstly I should like to start with my profound apologies, I have been away so was not able to be online, so my debate was automatically forfeited.

Douglas Haig was Britain"s commander-in-chief during the Somme battle and took much criticism for the sheer loss of life in this battle which I believe to be unfair. He was describes as 'a butcher' and I believe this to be unfair because of many reasons:

1- Nobody else tried to stop him- Haig's tactics were old fashioned at the time and many people believed that they would not work, however nobody told him and nobody bothered to stop him. Surely other people could have said something to him, or advised him carefully rather than sit back and watch him make mistakes that cost millions of lives. Was nobody able to give any useful help to stop hundreds of thousands of men to loose their lives? Right from the moment Haig announced his battle plans people were said to have thought that it would not work...and yet nobody bothered to inform him of their concerns, nobody bothered to have another input, nobody bothered to stop it.

3- General Haig was not the only general in charge- Haig did not lead the battle of the Somme alone he was accompanied by many generals in charge and it is just Haig who is remembered most clearly and criticised. For example General Henry Rawlinson had a large part to play in the Somme; He was one of the leading generals too. He was not alone in his dislike and suspicion of tanks as many other senior generals were not keen on the tank and backed him enthusiastically in not using it and sticking to old tactics.

4- Haig had not dealt with British soldiers before- He had led the French to victory in many battles, but was put in charge of an army that he was not familiar with. He was with soldiers he didn't know, as soldiers can be very individual he struggled to grasp their new techniques and weapons, so could not lead them to be their best that they could be. It is the job of the more important members of the army to either help him or move in a different general.

In conclusion I think that a variety of factors added up and they were all stacked against Haig. He was described in later accounts to be a great leader and one of the reasons the British did win. Despite the horrific deaths of around 600,00 men on his side he did win the war. Half of the French army were in other places that he didn't have the authority to call them back from and he was with an army he did not know. I believe that at the end of the battle people looked for someone to blame, they needed a reason why so many men had died and it happened to be Haig, I believe that he put his all into leading the army and could not help it it hat nobody thought to stop him, teach him new tactics or even help him lead these soldiers and I believe that it is sorely unfair that people blamed him solely for this as it was also not just him who led the army. He did nothing intentionally and I would also like to stress that NOBODY thought to teach him different and in fact EVERYBODY was looking to blame somebody for this, and they could not take it for themselves they couldn't just accept things, and I know it's not okay that that number of people died, but was it Haig's fault that Germany were prepared, was it Haig's fault that nobody helped him and was it Haig's fault that we all blamed him.

I would like to apologise for missing the first round and I am genuinely extremely interested to hear your point. Thank you for what I am sure will be a thought provoking and interesting answer. Good luck in future debates!


Thank you.


No worries to Con, life happens sometimes.

I will divide my arguments into two categories: historical and logical.


The historical evidence does not support my opponent’s argument in any way.

1. “Nobody else tried to stop him . . . nobody bothered to have another input” Contrary to my opponent’s claim, Haig was advised by other generals against his plan for the Somme. GEN Rawlinson, commander of the British 4th Army, proposed an alternate battle plan called the Montgomery Plan. This strategy called for a much less aggressive attack along a narrow front, designed to distract the Germans while avoiding heavy British casualties. Rawlinson wrote to Haig that the Montgomery Plan was designed to “kill as many Germans as possible with the least loss to ourselves.” [1] GEN Rawlinson also warned Haig that his planned artillery bombardments could not support the advance and that Haig’s proposed objectives were much too ambitious to be realistic. Haig dismissed all these warnings [2].

2. “Haig was not the only general in charge.” True. As with any operation, there were hundreds of other officers involved from the corps down to the platoon level. However, what makes Haig’s position (and thus, portion of the blame) unique is that he was THE officer in charge. He was Commander in Chief of the battle. As such, he holds ultimate responsibility for the battle’s outcome. If Haig deserves credit for "winning the war" as Con claims, despite the contributions of his other officers, then surely he also deserves credit for the butchery of the Somme despite the contributions of his other officers.

3. “Haig had not dealt with British soldiers before . . . he struggled to grasp their new techniques and weapons.” This is hardly the case. Haig was very familiar with British soldiers. Aside from an entire career in the British army, he commanded the British I Corps in 1914 and was promoted to Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915 [3]. Certainly he had plenty of familiarity with British soldiers. Haig also demonstrated a sound understating of modern weapons and tactics. He planned to use gas and smoke screens, creeping artillery barrages, wire cutting shrapnel shells, night raids to collect intelligence, and he even used the war’s most cutting edge technology - allocating 20 airplanes to scout German positions before the assault [4]. These are hardly the actions of a commander unfamiliar with the latest weaponry.

What earned Haig the nickname of “Butcher of the Somme” was his willingness to sacrifice massive numbers of soldiers in order to achieve meager territorial gains. When reports of astronomical casualties began coming in on July 1st, he coldly replied, “on a sixteen mile front of attack, varying fortune must be expected.” [5]. This willingness to sustain disproportionate casualties for slim gains is demonstrated in a relatively small engagement during Somme Offensive around Trones Wood. During this engagement, Haig ordered the British XIII Corps to assault the Wood eight times between 8-14 July. Every assault except the last failed. Although the British did eventually take the ground, they did so at the cost of 25,000 casualties [6].


In order for Con’s argument to work, we must accept that military commanders are not responsible for their actions under certain circumstances. Let us apply these circumstances to another commander and see if Con’s argument holds true:

After WWII people were just looking for someone to blame, and it happened to be Hitler. He put his all into leading the German army and doing what he thought was right and could not help it that nobody thought to stop him, teach him new tactics, or even help him lead his soldiers. It is unfair that people blame him because it was not just him that led the army. His generals could have advised him carefully rather than sitting back and watching him make mistakes that cost millions of lives.

When we use Con’s own words and replace Haig’s name with Hitler’s, we see the flaws in this chain of reasoning. There are some differences between the comparisons of course. Hitler’s close advisors are blamed by history much more than Haig’s are, but this does nothing to dilute the fault Hitler still holds for what happened. The reason for this is that people in a leadership position by nature assume responsibility for whatever happens on their watch. If Haig could beg Con’s points in his own defense, we would consider him a coward for attempting to pass the blame off on his subordinates and his environment. If Haig’s advisors were truly a detriment to his decision making, then the ultimate blame still falls on Haig for not firing them and picking better advisors. As we can see with the Hitler example, it is unacceptable to excuse a bad leader simply because they tried their hardest despite being let down by everyone around them.

To conclude, Douglas Haig did not earn his infamous nickname due to mission failure, because in the end he was victorious. He earned his nickname because of the WAY in which he achieved victory. During command of the operation Haig displayed a cold indifference to the casualty reports and ordered the continued assault of German positions despite obvious evidence that they remained largely intact. Due to his record setting Pyrrhic victory, he deserves his legacy as “Butcher of the Somme.”


[2] Ibid.



[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Debate Round No. 3
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