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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent revisionist account
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...
Published 11 months ago by mark mckay

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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Case not proved
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...
Published 20 months ago by F. Fitzgibbon


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent revisionist account, 4 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (Paperback)
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. He was "frequently too optimistic" and the enormous casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme were largely his responsibility. That is not to argue the battle should have been called off after the first day. Political imperatives and the constraints of coalition warfare necessitated the battle continued in order to relieve German pressure off the French at Verdun.

Haig has been accused of being a technophobe unwilling to exploit the advantages of modern technology. Sheffield demonstrates how this was simply not true. Haig was the first British general to use gas, at the Battle of Loos in 1915, and tanks on the Somme the following year. Albeit both had limited immediate impact, again demonstrating how Haig could be over optimistic, failing to grasp the limitations of the equipment and men under his command.

Nonetheless, by the summer of 1918 the British Army under Haig had developed an "all weapons system" incorporating tanks, gas, aerial support, cavalry and close artillery and infantry co-operation. It was this system deployed by Haig in the last 100 days of the war that defeated Germany. While politicians in London estimated the war would continue into 1919 or even 1920, Haig, ever the optimist, deserves credit for recognising Germany could be defeated in 1918.

Haig may not have been the "Great Captain" of the British Army as the late John Terrain claimed. Instead, he should be remembered for what he accomplished; being the soldier who orchestrated the greatest set of victories the British Army has ever achieved.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class, 6 Oct 2011
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K. C. Wood "KW" (Cambs, England) - See all my reviews
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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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you read one bio on haig let it be this one, 27 Mar 2012
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Mr. Pj Williams (cardiff uk) - See all my reviews
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this is probably the most balanced bio I have ever read. Sheffield goes out of his way to remain objective throughout this work. He also strives to include oposing veiwpoints from those who disagree with him and the reasons. It seems to have been written by possibly the most reasonable man in the country. It is a brilliant book exposing alot of the misconceptions that still exist pertaining to the war, and haig and the overall strategy. As someone who works in a military museum and constantly have to correct the sweeping generalisations people come up with I found a very useful tool. afterall we do live in a blame culture populated by people who use soundbites as teh truth . it felt more like a explanation than a rehabilitation, like someone setting you straight on some points after they have done all the hard work of investigating the matter, and doing so without ego or agenda.

well balanced, excellently assembled research, and with an excellent pace throughout ( in otherwords It didnt get dry and stuffy) all in all its how a military bio should be written and I look forward to reading more from Mr Sheffield
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Case not proved, 18 April 2013
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F. Fitzgibbon "Pheidippides" (London UK) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well balanced biography, 29 Jan 2013
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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. So in a spirit of full disclosure, I come from a left-wing family, in which my paternal Grandfather had fought in the Great War and survived. So I can tick all those boxes that revisionist historians hate - Oh What a Lovely War!, the War Poets and Blackadder. But I've also read a good number of revisionist books on the war, and can appreciate the scholarship that has greatly broadened our understanding of the conflict.
I procrastinated for a long time before buying this book, even having enjoyed Gary Sheffield's 'Forgotten Victory.' After all it is clear that he is not an unbiased biographer, having edited Haig's diaries, and clearly admiring much about the man. The book is however even-handed, and it is possible to finish it with a dimmer view of the subject than the authors.
Is it well written? Possibly not in a classically scholarly way, but it cracks along at a good pace and is eminently readable. Perhaps it is slightly superficial in some areas - Haig replacing French flashes by with little discussion, but is a very good introduction to the subject, and thankfully focuses mainly on the war itself.
In summary, a good introduction to Douglas Haig, with a balanced approach to its subject.
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12 of 15 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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4.0 out of 5 stars A Fair Portrait of A Controversial Figure, 1 Nov 2014
Sheffield takes on the stereotype of Haig as the bungling butcher. He shows him to be a thoughtful, visionary commander. Although far from being blind to his faults he also seeks to demonstrate that he was often let down by his subordinates and hamstrung by the political realities of the time both in England and France. The book would have been improved if Sheffield had taken more pains to detail those who offer alternative interpretations rather than paint them with a broad brush. That small complaint aside a good read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awakening, 7 May 2013
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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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new standard biography, 25 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (Paperback)
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. It exposes the lies, misconceptions and manipulations perpetrated by politicians, 'historians' and latter day journalism in the assassination of Haig's abilities and character. 'The Chief' reveals Field Marshal Haig as man who, whilst not without fault, fought the Western Front battles under conditions of extreme difficulty given the contradictory requirements of his political masters, the oft fraught alliance with France and an array of previously unthought-of military circumstances. Yet who, at the end of the war, had created an 'all arms' force that defeated the Germans on the field of battle.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timely contribution, 28 Aug 2012
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Donald (Hastings, East Sussex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (Paperback)
Professor Sheffield's latest contribution to the ever escalating number of books on the Great War, "The Chief; Douglas Haig and the British Army", is a timely appraisal of one of its most successful military leaders. In the light of the approaching anniversaries of that conflict, it is right that a leading authority, such as Prof. Sheffield, produces a readable and balanced account of the life of one of the major figures in the history of the British Army. This highly recommended work stresses the facts , which should be repeatedy emphasised, that Haig twice saved the Allies from a "Dunkirk" situation in that war, was one of the few who believed the war was winnable before the end of 1918 and presided over a team which brought about the "Hundred Days", the longest period of continued successful advance ever experienced by any British Army. Prof. Sheffield reminds us also that, in the years immediately after the defeat of Imperial Germany, Haig was rightly hailed as a conquering hero and then worked himself into an early grave in the cause of the welfare of the former soldiers in the great armies he commanded. This fine work will go a long way towards setting the record straight.
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The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army
The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army by Gary Sheffield (Paperback - 1 May 2012)
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