Douglas Haig

Douglas Haig was a British field marshal during the Great War and was in charge of the British Expeditionary Force from 1915 to the end of the war in 1918. He especially commanded the British forces during the Battle of the Somme and a series of victories which led to the German surrender.

Douglas Haig was born in Edinburgh in 1861, to John Haig, who was the owner of a successful whisky distilling company. After obtaining a degree at Brasenose College, Oxford University, he went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, despite being color-blind. He was then granted a special nomination to the British Military Staff College, a common practice in the day for promising candidates. The following year he was commissioned into the 7th Hussars and promoted to lieutenant shortly afterwards.

Douglas Haig was then sent to India with his regiment in 1886. There worked his way through the ranks. Haig experienced active service in the Sudan (1898) and the Boer War of 1899-1902, where he served under Major-General Sir John French. Haig returned to India with the rank of colonel. There he served in a variety of administrative posts under Lord Kitchener. In 1901, he became the commanding officer of the 17th Lancers, which he commanded until 1903. Douglas Haig became the youngest major-general in the British Army when he was promoted to that rank in 1904.

In 1906 Haig took up the important post at the War Office as Director of Military Training. He worked closely with R. B. Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, to establish a general staff and a territorial army. It was also Haig’s responsibility to organize a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to be deployed in time of war.

In 1914 Douglas Haig attained the rank of Lieutenant General and was given command over the 1st Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France and Belgium. He commanded his forces at Battle of Mons and was praised for his Ypres campaign in 1914. Haig was promoted to full general by the end of 1914 as he was given command of the recently enlarged British Expeditionary Force, under the supreme command of General Sir John French.

In December 1915, Douglas Haig replaced John French as commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force. The next year, Haig became under great pressure from the French to produce a diversion from Verdun. From 1 July to 18 November 1916, he directed the British offensive at the Somme. In that time Allied forces advanced 12km and suffered 420,000 British and 200,000 French casualties.

In 1918, after the German Spring Offensive had ground to a halt, Douglas Haig commanded the successful British advances on the Western Front, storming the Hindenburg Line in October and advancing into Belgium, almost as far as Brussels. This led to an Allied victory later that year. After the war Haig’s management of the major campaigns, notably on the Somme in 1916, and at Passchendaele in 1917, was criticized by David Lloyd George, the British prime minister. Some military historians have claimed that Haig tactics were deeply flawed. Others, however, have defended his actions and claimed that his approach was determined by French demands for continuous action at that part of the Western Front.

After the war Haig was posted as commander in chief of home forces until his retirement in 1921. Haig, who was granted £100,000 by the British government, devoted the rest of his life to the welfare of ex-servicemen via the Royal British Legion. He was made Earl Haig in 1919 and then Baron Haig of Bemersyde in 1921. Douglas Haig died on January 29, 1928, at the age of 66 and was given a state funeral.

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