This Day In History: General Douglas Haig Is Appointed Chief of Staff Of The British Army (1915)

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On this day in 1915, the British government appointed Douglas Haig as commander-in-chief of the British and Empire forces in France and Belgium. His appointment was welcomed at the time but he was soon to proved to be a controversial figure. General Douglas Haig was appointed Chief-of-Staff of the British army in the wake of the German victory at Loos in the autumn of 1915. This defeat had been the last straw for the British government and they were forced to ask Sir John French to step down as commander-in-chief of the British army on the western front. French had been commander of the British Expeditionary Force since August 1914. He was credited with helping to stave off a French defeat in 1914 but he was strongly criticized for not being able to drive back the Germans.  The British government decided that they needed a new perspective and a more aggressive commander and they selected Haig.

Douglas Haig
Douglas Haig in 1918

Douglas Haig had commanded the 1st Army at Loos and his forces had spearheaded the offensive. However, French was disorganized and he failed to support Haig’s army with reserves in time. This resulted in the defeat of the British offensive. Douglas Haig had connections with the British monarch and George V was known to be in favor of his appointment as Chief of Staff.

Haig was to remain as Chief of Staff until the end of the war. He was one of the main architects of the Somme offensive. Despite the lack of success of this offensive and the massive loss of life, Haig was able to keep his command. Haig’s connections with George V may have helped him. Haig was also criticized for the British army’s failures in 1917 at Ypres. There were many in the British army who believed that Haig was too willing to sacrifice the lives of his soldiers for very little. Haig’s strategy was very simple he believed in massed attacks and that they would eventually prevail. Despite his reputation as an unimaginative commander, he did encourage the introductions of new technologies such as the tank in order to break the deadlock on the western front.

Somme one
Tanks on the western front

Haig was also the chief of staff during the German offensives of the Spring of 1918. Perhaps his greatest moment was in the Allied offensives of 1918 that led to the Germans seeking an armistice. Haig was disliked by many politicians such as the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Many politicians blamed Haig and his strategies for the heavy casualties suffered by the British and Empire forces during the war.

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