When he was writing his account of the war, “The World Crisis”, Churchill asked Haig, then living in retirement in Kingston Upon Thames, if he would comment on the drafts of the chapter dealing with the events of 1917-18. Look at Churchill’s account of Haig’s response to his request (Document E), and compare it with Haig’s actual letter (Document F).
Document E: Churchill’s “Great Contemporaries” (Odhams Press Limited, London, 1949 p.179)
“I asked him (Haig)whether he would like to read and comment upon the chapters dealing with his operations, adding that if so I must show him what was critical as well as what was appreciative. He accepted the suggestion readily, saying “Never mind the criticisms. Let us get the facts right, and then people will be able to judge for themselves.””
—Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Ltd, London on behalf of Winston S Churchill. Copyright © Winston S. Churchill.
Document F: Haig to Churchill 1st December 1926
“My dear Mr. Churchill
Your letter of 20th Nov. with some proof sheets of your 3rd Vol. reached me as I was leaving Scotland – Hence the delay in replying.
“As regards what you say re your criticisms on Loos, Somme & Passchendaele, I am only concerned in having the true facts given to our countrymen, and then let whoever chooses criticise! – So I am so bold as to send you herewith some Notes, or extracts from the Diary which I used to keep during the war, so that at any rate, before you start to criticise, you may have what we thought were the actual facts at the time, before you.”
- How accurate is Churchill’s version of Haig’s response?
- How important are the changes Churchill has made?
Below is part of Churchill’s account of the German 1918 Spring Offensive which he sent to Haig in proof form. Some of the words have been left blank. See if you can anticipate the words Churchill originally wrote, using looking the multiple choice options below.
Document G: Proof from Churchill’s “The World Crisis”, 1926.
Document G: with gaps to be filled in from the multiple choice section:
If notwithstanding (1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., the War Cabinet (the small group of senior Ministers and military chiefs responsible for overall strategy and policy in time of war) had reinforced him (Haig) as they (2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . have done, the (3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The responsibility for the causes which led to the British inadequacy of numbers is shared between (4) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . In theory the greatest responsibility unquestionably rests upon the (5) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., who failed to make their Commander conform to their convictions on a question which far transcended the military or technical sphere, and who also failed to do full justice to the (6) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . because of their disagreement with the Commander-in-Chief. In practice, however, it is not impossible that had the Prime Minister (Lloyd George) and the majority of the War Cabinet (7) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sir Douglas Haig and (8) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . the Passchendaele offensive at the end of September, and if the Commander-in-Chief and probably the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (General Robertson) had both resigned, the unavoidable (9) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of public opinion would have supported (10) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., the Prime Minister and the Cabinet would have (11) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., and would have been succeeded by a (12) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. While therefore, according to (13) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ., the onus rests upon the Cabinet, in fact at least a very considerable burden must be borne by the (14) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Reference: Churchill Papers, CHAR 8/167/13. Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Ltd, London on behalf of Winston S Churchill. Copyright © Winston S. Churchill.
- a) the Press
b) public opinion
d) their own reservations
- a) should
- a) Germans could still have broken through on March 21
b) front could still have been held on March 21
c) battle would have been much closer on March 21
- a) the Prime Minister and the Commander-in-Chief
b) the “easterners” and the “westerners”
c) General Headquarters and the War Cabinet
d) the popular press and the Prime Minister
- a) Prime Minister
b) War Cabinet
c) General Headquarters
- a) the Army
b) the British people
c) the situation
- a) given in to
b) not supported
c) enforced their will upon
d) listened to
- a) suspended
c) persisted with
- a) pressure
- a) the soldiers against the politicians
b) the politicians against the soldiers
c) the ordinary soldiers against the generals
d) neither side
- a) resigned
b) given in
d) ignored the press
- a) form of military dictatorship
b) a stronger government
c) a far less vigorous and instructed regime
d) the Conservatives
- a) Constitutional Doctrine
b) Field Marshal Haig
c) Mr Lloyd George
d) public opinion
e) Army General Headquarters
- a) Press
b) British Headquarters
c) short-sightedness of the Prime Minister
d) record of the Commander-in-Chief
Haig’s comments on Churchill’s draft are preserved in the Archives. Before you look at some of them (documents H and I), which of these do you think you would be most likely to find in them?:
- that Haig blames the French for the German breakthrough in 1918
- that Haig accepts some of the blame himself
- that Haig blames Lloyd George
- that Haig blames his subordinate, General Gough (commander of the British Fifth Army, which held the sector the Germans broke through)
Document H: Haig’s hand-written comments on Winston Churchill’s “The World Crisis” (transcript)
“Read the orders issued to Gough in Feb! .. The Péronne position was assigned to him to hold: and he was directed to fall back from his extended front in case of attack in force, to that position.
“Plans for counter attack were also worked out by Gen. Hamilton Gordon for the British and Gen. Humbert for the French. Troops were also ear-marked for the task & placed in suitable billets.
“Petain did not use these troops though they were at hand, because he expected to be attacked in Champagne!! The British Div[is]ions were drawn into the Battle in direct support.
Document I: Haig’s further comments on Document G. Notes on Churchill’s “The World Crisis”, 1926
“Note C page 030
Note on situation on Sunday Evening 24th March 1918
My Intelligence reported to me that 62 German Div[is]ions had already been identified in the Battle – Of these 48 are fresh from Reserve – Enemy has still 25 in Reserve – at least 12 of these latter are on the front of the British Third and Fifth Armies.
Yet, Petain still maintained that the German main blow was yet to fall, and that it w[oul]d fall on his troops in Champagne.
But, he promised to give Fayolle (.. French Reserves then collecting about Montdidier) all available troops. But he added that he had seen Fayolle that day, and had ordered him to withdraw on Beauvais in the event of the German advance continuing on Amiens. Petain’s main care how was he .. (in accordance with his Gov[ernment]’s orders) to cover Paris.
Here was a complete change in the basic principles of French strategy . . . No longer was the aim to be “keep united at all costs”, but it is now “cover the French capital, Paris” and “never mind about the British Army”.
I at once motored to G.H.Q. (General Headquarters) to request the S.of S. (Secretary of State for War, Lord Milner) and C.I.G.S. (Chief of Imperial General Staff, General Wilson) to come to France to bring the French back to sound strategical principles and find a French General who was prepared to fight. Petain struck me as unbalanced and quite done up as the result of these anxious nights and days.
My orders from the British Gov[ernmen]t (given me personally by Lord Kitchener) were, put shortly, to “keep united with the French Army at all costs”.