Douglas Haig

The British general Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig (1861-1928), commanded British forces on the Western front in Europe during World War I. He is credited with the final British victories over the German armies in 1918.

Douglas Haig was born on June 19, 1861, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. His first army duty was in India. He later attended the staff college and then went to join H.H. Kitchener for his campaign in the Sudan in 1898, where he was an outstanding officer. The following year, after having been assigned to duty in England, Haig was sent to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. He proved to be an excellent officer in action, and as a result Kitchener took him to India as inspector general of cavalry in 1903.

In 1906 R.B. Haldane, the war secretary, brought Haig back to England to serve on the general staff, which was implementing reforms in the War Office. In 1909 Haig was back in India as chief of staff to Kitchener, helping him in the completion of the reform of the Indian army. He was given a command in England in 1911 which included the leadership of the 1st Army Corps if and when it might be needed in a war on the Continent.

In August 1914, when England went to war, Haig took his 1st Army Corps to France. He was one of the few generals who saw the probability of a long war, and he urged that plans be made with that in mind. Haig won high praise for his leadership as a subordinate commander. When the government decided to replace Sir John French as commander in chief after the Battle of Loos in the fall of 1915, Haig was selected and took command on December 19. After 2 1/2 years of trench warfare and a crisis in cooperation among the Allies, the Germans were pushed toward defeat. Haig was among the first to sense the approaching victory. Just as he had foreseen a long war at the beginning, he saw the end before most of his colleagues, and he is given much of the credit for bringing the war to a conclusion before the end of 1918.

Haig was given the title of earl among other honors when he returned to England in 1919. He turned most of his attention to providing aid for the veterans of his armies. He was married and had one son. Haig died on Jan. 30, 1928.

Further Reading on Douglas Haig

The Private Papers of Douglas Haig, 1914-1919, edited by Robert Blake (1952), gives a firsthand view of Haig at the height of his career. The best full biography is Duff Cooper, Haig (2 vols., 1935-1936). Other studies are Sir George Arthur, Lord Haig (1928); John Charteris, Field-Marshall Earl Haig (1929); and Sir John Humphrey Davidson, Haig:Master of the Field (1953). More recent but less comprehensive are John Terraine, Ordeal of Victory (1963), and G.S. Duncan, Douglas Haig as I Knew Him (1966). Winston S. Churchill's sketch of Haig in Great Contemporaries (1937), reprinted in Barrett Parker, ed., Famous British Generals (1951), is the best brief study.

Additional Biography Sources

Sixsmith, E. K. G. (Eric Keir Gilborne), Douglas Haig, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.

Smith, Gene, The ends of greatness:Haig, Petain, Rathenau, and Eden:victims of history, New York:Crown Publishers, 1990.

Terraine, John, Douglas Haig:the educated soldier, London:L. Cooper, 1990.

Warner, Philip, Field Marshal Earl Haig, London:Bodley Head, 1991.

Winter, Denis, Haig's command:a reassessment, London, England; New York, N.Y., USA:Viking, 1991.