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on 19 May 2014
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 heartwarming, and encouraging, to read of real men like Haig. The man Haig is seen in the fruits of his life faithfully recorded in this book. This is a story of a wise man. Determined, with an agile mind, open to exploiting technoligical advances to defeat the foe. Noble, dignified and reserved.

I don't know much of Lloyd-George, save he was reputedly a adulterer. We learn in the book that Lloyd George made unfavourable comments regarding Haig's generalship in his memoirs but not until Haig had died. In another era that would be seen as cowardice. Lloyd George and his socialist politcal classmates were content to sacrifice Haig on the alter of their political ideology and the liberal intelligencia have been in their employ ever since. Having now read the book I am struck by the heartlessness of the popular caricatures of Haig.

Every life that was lost on the fields of Flanders is a terrible loss and we have reason to believe that Haig was grieved by these losses. He was a soldier, he had led men into battle, he knew his men. This book allows one to get to know the persona and character of Haig. And now I know the Chief I really don't think that he would allow his detractors to trouble him. He was a humble man, not one to be troubled by the political machinations of man.
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on 23 December 2013
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 critique it. He does not make the mistake of judging Haig by modern day standards. The book provides a balanced assessment of Haig's strengths and weaknesses while considering the social, political and military contexts in which he operated. This is a very readable overview of Haig's generalship which takes an objective, rather than emotional, view of his performance.

I used it as part of my research for a university course on WW1 history. I found it to be an invaluable review of Haig's performance.
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on 4 January 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. 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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on 29 January 2014
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 War. I would have liked to hear more of the politics of the time, e.g. the ways in which the German threat was perceived weighed and measured, leading to Haig's pre-war conclusion that war was coming. The consensus that we cannot judge the standards of one time using the morality of another seems to pass unchallenged in the book, and that may come up for further debate as the anniversaries of 1914 are marked - in their passing - later this year. The book is critical but sympathetic towards Haig, who was and is a hero of the British establishment. The book is valuable for its consideration of the military establishment at a time when its (Victorian) values were being shredded and celebrated on the battlefield. Haig's reputation appears to rest on how effective you believe the British army was in bringing military solutions to contemporary problems, some of which were to resurface again and again (and again) during the twentieth century.
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on 6 October 2011
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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on 29 April 2016
Like many of my generation I was taught that Haig was a blinkered fool who wantonly butchered every army he commanded.

After reading Professor Sheffield's admirably objective account of Haig's career I now know better. Haig made mistakes and because of his responsibilities his mistakes had more terrible outcomes than would have otherwise been the case. Professor Sheffield is cleared eyed on Haig's faults but equally clear about his virtues.

Two areas explored by the author real gave me pause for thought. The terrible oversight of the military by the politicians and the latter's propensity to re-write history has a familiar topical flavor. But more importantly as we get closer to remembering the infamous first day of the Somme Professor Sheffield prompts us to remember not only the British army's terrible casualties but also the continuing destruction of the German army's capability and capacity to fight.

It may be unfashionable and difficult for us today to accept that a war of the scale and nature of the fight on the Western Front meant that the butcher's bill would always have been high.

Was the price too high? After reading this book I don't think that's a question that can be answered usefully by any modern person. Haig's contemporaries thought so and thought he performed his duties as well as circumstances allowed.

He did his best. For good and bad.
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on 9 March 2015
great read
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on 21 November 2015
Again, this was purchased at the request of my son for background to a MA course. I am sure it is excellent.
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on 16 April 2015
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on 18 April 2013
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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