Sir Douglas Haig's statue near his former headquarters in Montreuil-sur-Mer, France (Photo: Centenary News)

100 Years Ago Today: Sir Douglas Haig takes over British command on the Western Front

Posted on on 19 December 2015
Share |

General Sir Douglas Haig succeeded Field Marshal Sir John French as commander-in-chief of British forces on the Western Front on December 19th 1915.

Haig remained in charge for the rest of the First World War, earning a controversial reputation for his conduct of Britain's biggest battles.

Sent as an army commander to France in the early days of the war, Haig arrived in the top job at the end of 1915 after leading the spring offensives at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge, and the so-called 'Big Push' at the Battle of Loos in September.

There was tension between Haig and Sir John French, who had a reputation for volatility as chief of the British Expeditionary Force.

The pair became embroiled in a row over blame for the failed attack at Loos, including a dispute over the deployment of reserves.

It culminated in the British Government replacing French with Sir Douglas Haig.

Reporting Haig's appointment, The Daily Telegraph newspaper noted that 'the new Commander-in-Chief is good linguist, has been a profound student of military science, and is the author of a book on cavalry tactics'.

100 years later, opinion over Haig's command is sharply divided.

His critics point to the huge casualties suffered by the British Army at the Battles of the Somme and Passchendaele and repeated failures to satisfy expectations of a decisive breakthrough.

Defenders point to the lessons learned and Haig's role in leading the 'Hundred Days Offensive' that pushed the German Army back into Belgium in August-November 1918 and forced the Armistice.

Before the change in Allied fortunes, Sir Douglas Haig is also remembered for his order to hold the line in April 1918 as the Germans mounted their last major offensives of the Great War:

"With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end."

Haig, promoted to Field Marshal during the war and awarded an earldom afterwards, was a co-founder of the British Legion veterans' charity in 1921 (now the Royal British Legion).

Sources: Wikipedia/Daily Telegraph/various

Images: Centenary News

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News