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The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army [Paperback]

Gary Sheffield
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2012

‘Well written and persuasive …objective and well-rounded….this scholarly rehabilitation should be the standard biography’ **** Andrew Roberts, Mail on Sunday

‘A true judgment of him must lie somewhere between hero and zero, and in this detailed biography Gary Sheffield shows himself well qualified to make it … a balanced portrait’ Sunday Times

‘Solid scholarship and admirable advocacy’ Sunday Telegraph

Douglas Haig is the single most controversial general in British history. In 1918, after his armies had won the First World War, he was feted as a saviour. But within twenty years his reputation was in ruins, and it has never recovered. In this fascinating biography, Professor Gary Sheffield reassesses Haig’s reputation, assessing his critical role in preparing the army for war.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd; Reprint edition (1 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845137698
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845137694
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 12.7 x 19.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 130,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Well written and persuasive . . . objective and well-rounded. . . . This scholarly rehabilitation should be the standard biography." --"Mail on Sunday"

About the Author

One of Britain’s leading military historians, Gary Sheffield is Professor of War Studies at the University of Birmingham. He has written a number of critically acclaimed books on the First World War, including Forgotten Victory: The First World War - Myths and Realities. He is the co-editor of Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918. A fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he is also Vice-President of the Western Front Association.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class 6 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well written, superbly researched - Gary Sheffield's balanced view on Douglas Haig is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Great War. This is not a revisionist whitewash of Douglas Haig, and Gary Sheffield looks in depth at Haig's strengths and weaknesses before arriving at the conclusion that Haig played a pivitol role in bringing about Allied victory in WWI. Many of the myths about Haig that have become commonplace are countered and shown to be incorrect, and Haig's earlier reputation as the man who led the BEF to victory is reaffirmed. Professor Sheffield also looks in depth at the work of Haig before and after the War, and his role in working for ex-servicemen as they struggled to re-adapt. Is this book worth 5 stars - without a shadow of a doubt and Gary Sheffield's position as the leading authority on the Great War is sustained.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent revisionist account 4 Jan 2014
A popular misconception of the First World War is that thousands of British soldiers were killed in futile frontal attacks because of the ineptitude of the British Army's Commander in Chief Douglas Haig.

The argument goes that Haig conducted operations from the safety of a château 40 miles behind the front line and, according to Blackadder, he was not a man to change his mind despite everyone being slaughtered in the first ten seconds.

Gary Sheffield's account goes a long way in dispelling the aforementioned misconception and is a must read for anyone interested in the First World War. Drawing from a plethora of private papers and previously untapped archival evidence Sheffield has produced an almost definitive account of Haig's career.

Haig's early career was spent serving in the Sudan and South Africa. However, his reputation was forged in the attritional struggles astride the Somme and in the mud of Flanders after taking command of the British Expeditionary Force in December 1915.

Sheffield argues that fighting on the Western Front was a learning process. It is difficult to see how else the war could have been fought. And it certainly could not have been won in any other theatre. Germany, Britain's main enemy, could only be defeated through attrition i.e. by inflicting more casualties on Germany than Britain sustained and eroding German manpower and morale quicker than Britain's manpower and morale were eroded.

Fundamentally, Haig was successful in waging this war of attrition. By 1918 Germany's manpower was running out and their moral smashed. Battles such as the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele went a long way towards achieving this end.

However, Sheffield does not completely vindicate Haig.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awakening 7 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With so many anniversaries of the Great War soon to be upon us, this book is not before time. Haig deserves a better press than he has had since the Thirties and onward.

Haig won for us the Great War - that is what Generals are meant to do. Merely to understand more completely what Haig and the High Command had to deal with in this industrial war puts to bed the somewhat hackneyed 'Lions led by Donkeys' mantra. Some Donkey.

Gary Sheffield's book should be compulsory reading at all levels from school to Government - particularly this Government whose watchword for the coming anniversaries seems to be 'we don't want to upset the Germans nor make it too warlike'. They are missing the whole point. This book does not shirk the point that we won the Great War.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Case not proved 18 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sheffield seeks to give a balanced account of Haig's career as a soldier and CinC of British forces on the Western Front in WW1. He takes aim at several myths - Haig was stupid, he rejected technology, he did not care about the losses - and relies on a forensic analysis of sources to support his case that Haig was a highly competent general working in impossible conditions. It's not hard to rebut the caricature exemplified by the Oh What a Lovely War school, but that is an aunt Sally. Sheffield is not uncritical, but his criticisms are measured and take account of the circumstances in which Haig had to make his decisions. The boundless optimism, the repetition of failed tactics costing tens of thousands of lives, the failure to keep a grip on wayward subordinates - these are charges that Sheffield can't answer on Haig's behalf. This is a classic military historian's book, rich in the language of campaign histories and staff college analysis of battles and strategy. Death, mutilation, mud, terror, bayonets, PTSD don't figure much. The more one reads the terse, official reports of the slaughter, the more delusional they appear. The tone of the book veers into a breeziness that matches Haig's own detachment. In describing the opening of the 3rd Ypres operation in July 1917, Sheffield uses the phrase 'the campaign exploded into life' (p332). Hard to imagine a less appropriate and more bizarre description of a WW1 battle than that.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating life brought to life 31 Mar 2012
Having read a couple of Gary Sheffield's books I was given "The Chief" for Christmas. Despite the lack of any maps (I understand the cartographer was given three days to do them!) the book is well-balanced and researched, portraying Haig as arguably the only man up to the job of leading an army from small beginnings in 1914 to one that was ultimately victorious in 1918, able to withstand the German Spring Offensive of that year. What sets Gary Sheffield's book apart from other books on Haig, is the way he has dealt with the criticisms of Haig (tanks, gas, cavalry, casualty figures) that have become entrenched over the years. This book should be read by any historian that blithely warbles on about the 'Blackadderesque' perception of the Great War. Haig had a difficult job to do and was probably the ONLY General who seized the moment in 1918 - effectively by not telling the politicians until he had won the war. His post war involvement in the poppy appeal showed how much he understood the sacrifices made by the troops, and the fact he refused to write his memoirs while Lloyd George attempted to vilify Haig only adds to the stature of the former and detracts from that of the latter.

Like Churchill in WW2, Haig was the man of the moment. As Gary Sheffield accepts, he made mistakes but as with the Army, Haig learnt from these mistakes. The book has been written in a way that whether new to the subject or not, the reader will come away from it with an incite to a very private man that has not previously been available. Thoroughly recommended
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
We'll balanced and redresses the multitude of less researched accounts that follow Clark's Donkeys approach. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Le grand jeffinois
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
Haig commited his life to God, country and family. In an age of media savy David Patraeus style generals, whose convictions are revealed in their personal lives, it is... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Adrian Clark
3.0 out of 5 stars Overrall a very Interesting book - recommended
I'm glad I read this book and recommend it. I am not a fan of military history but was prompted to read it by the current debates around the teaching of the history of First World... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Neil Maxwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Objective & Well Balanced
This is a comprehensive and well researched account of Haig's performance as a general. Sheffield ensures that the context of Haig's generalship is set before attempting to... Read more
Published 7 months ago by The Claw
3.0 out of 5 stars Reference Book
I use this book for reference purposes. It is very well written and easy to use as a reference book
Published 10 months ago by Richard Fennell
5.0 out of 5 stars A new standard biography
This book should be the new standard work on Haig. It uses solid basic research to present an superb analysis of Haig the General and Haig the man to a 21st Century readership. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Nick Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars BUY ME - This will not disappoint
I had never read any of Gary Sheffield's books before, however, I read a review in the BBC History Magazine and decided I must buy this. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Phil Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-balanced assessment of a controversial figure
If all you know of Haig is the caricature (as it was for me) this book is an eye-opener. Not because it white-washes Haig (Gary Sheffield is assiduous in pointing out Haig's... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Will Strange
4.0 out of 5 stars A well balanced biography
It's as difficult for a reader to approach a biography of Douglas Haig in an even handed manner, as it is for the biographer themselves. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Chris Tomlinson
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit disappointing.
Not enough about the man himself. Too much like an overview. I did enjoy it though but it would not be one of my 'best reads'!
Published 18 months ago by Michael Blain
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