26 March 2008

1918 90

A visitor to this blog, Charles, draws my attention to this article that appeared in The Times, written by Field Marshal Lord Bramall, even before I wrote my entry on Gough.

The article can be placed in the "John Terraine School" of Western Front history, which is kind of what I grew up with. Terraine challenged the predominant view of Haig from when I was a boy which is basically that the British commander, and most of his colleagues, verged on being stupid, if they weren't actually idiots.

Journalist John Terraine made himself into an historian (a suitable role model for me!), largely on the strength of his interest in the First World War. His biography of Haig came out in 1963, some years after the memoirs of people who actually knew the Scottish field marshal (eg, politicians Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George) put the boot into the victorious commander. The battle to rescue Haig's reputation raged throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but I think the Terraine School could more or less proclaim a tactical victory by the middle of the latter decade. (We then moved on to Montgomery.)

For me, I don't have a dog in this fight at the moment. I could argue that Haig was too slow to learn from his mistakes. I could argue that Haig did as well as anyone could have done at The Somme in 1916 and during the German offensives toward Amiens and in Flanders in 1918. However, the case of Passchendaele weighs heavily on those who wish to rehabilitate the man. This mismanaged offensive may be a model of military incompetence, but at least gave Canada's Arthur Currie a chance to show he knew his business.

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