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Ordeal of victory

af John Terraine

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602335,963 (3.8)1
The history of the Western Front and the First World War is one of battles of attrition against an entrenched enemy, with terrible casualties suffered by both sides in some of the worst fighting ever. In this history the picture has emerged of British generals remote and detached from the reality of the trenches who repeatedly sent their men to die in pointless attacks against the enemy. This book, by the renowned historian of the First World War John Terraine, scrupulously researched and brilliantly written, takes a more objective and accurate approach to the figure of Haig - the supreme commander of the British Army - and to the history of the War.… (mere)

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This book was first published in 1963, and therefore might be regarded by some as being out of touch with modern
WWI scholarship?

Every time I read a biography of one of these 'donkeys' ('Lions led by donkeys.'), I'm struck by the fact that even in
'supportive' or 'sympathetic' biographies, these WWI commanders come off as more than a little stupid, incompetent,
arrogant, etc. Even sympathetic authors seem unable to come up with anything other than a half-hearted approval of
the decisions taken by their subject.

This book (strictly, an account of Haig's career in WWI, rather than a biography) is no exception, though like all such
books, it's fascinating (if you are interested in WWI in the first place, of course). It is however (as far as I am concerned),
a 'white-wash'.

Considering one battle - the Somme:

One sentence jumped off the page at me as I read this section of the book: "It is perfectly clear from Haigs Diary that
he had no sense whatever, on June 1st, of the catastrophe that had befallen his army." (p.207). For me, that says it
all - donkeys indeed - not only has this clown got thousands of men killed and injured unnecessarily, he doesn't
seem to realise it!

Another example: "At the end of the next day, on the strength of such returns as the Adjutant-General had been able
to compose out of the chaos, Haig stlll believed that his losses had been 40,000 in two days, instead of nearly 60,000
in one day, and more on the next." (p. 208). He still doesn't know what has happened one full day later...

Finally, it wasn't only the English (British, if you prefer) commanders who were blood-thirsty, cretinous idiots. Von
Below (one of the German commanders), says: "I forbid the voluntary evacuation of trenches. The will to stand
firm must be impressed on every man in the Army. I hold Commanding Officers responsible for this. The enemy
should have to carve his way over heaps of corpses... (pp. 208-9).

Conscientious objectors (not dealt with in this book) were imprisoned for cowardice in WWI and treated brutally.
I wonder if incompetent commanders who sacrificed the lives of many tens of thousands of men in pointless battles
might have behaved a little differently if they had been held responsible for their actions and treated the same way
as the 'conchies'? This is a question which I personally have not seen addressed in books about WWI.

Blackadder afficionados will be familiar with 'Captain Cook', an episode in which General Haig is portrayed as
being keen on an assault because it would allow him to 'Move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin'.
Very funny, but very, very sad... ( )
  captbirdseye | May 19, 2018 |
2003 Ordeal of Victory, by John Terraine (read 16 May 1986) I have read a great many books on the First World War, I have in reading this book read one of the best: an account of the military history of Field Marshall Douglas Haig. I found it exceptionally compelling reading. It was published in 1963 (in England the title was: Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier). This book makes as good a case as can be made for Haig's military ideas, and I at least found the case convincing. World War I is a dismal war until mid-1918, but it is surely ever-fascinating. This is a masterful work. I wish I could get my brother Vern to read it: I suppose he'd reject its thesis outright: that the foundations of victory were laid on the Somme in 1916 and in Flanders in 1917. ( )
  Schmerguls | Aug 10, 2008 |
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The history of the Western Front and the First World War is one of battles of attrition against an entrenched enemy, with terrible casualties suffered by both sides in some of the worst fighting ever. In this history the picture has emerged of British generals remote and detached from the reality of the trenches who repeatedly sent their men to die in pointless attacks against the enemy. This book, by the renowned historian of the First World War John Terraine, scrupulously researched and brilliantly written, takes a more objective and accurate approach to the figure of Haig - the supreme commander of the British Army - and to the history of the War.

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