First World War Sources Questions

The sources 8,9 and 10 can all be used as evidence about the role of generals in the First World War. However, the reliability of the sources can be questioned. Source 8 is in the form of a novel. This could mean, as the source is not entirely genuine, that some of the information is exaggerated. Another reason why this source may not be correct is the date that it was written. By 1989 many of the memories and much of the information has become distorted or ‘hazy’. This could mean that, again, the information in the source is not wholly correct. Source 9 is a soldiers song from the war.
This kind of song is usually extremely biased, as it often shows the true feelings of the soldiers who wrote and sang it. Also it maybe exaggerated and may not indicate actual information, affecting how reliable it is as evidence. However, songs and poems can give us an accurate representation of soldiers feelings about the subject. This is due to the fact that, although letters and the like are censored for content considered to be delicate or critical, songs and poems are not usually censored. This is strengthened by the fact that it agrees with sources 2 and 3, which are soldiers views of Haig. In addition, this song is primary information and the views will not have been changed over time.
However, it does not agree with source 12, by Marshall Foch, who worked with Haig, and says he was “wise, loyal and energetic”, contradicting evidence from the song about how Haig did not actually contribute to the war effort. Source 10 is written as a poem. It was written during the war by a soldier who fought in the war, and therefore would be accurate and unchanged. However the soldier, Siegfried Sassoon, was injured in the Battle of Arras, and therefore would have bitter feelings, and would possibly even feel vengeful of the leadership of the army.

Sassoon also protested against the war after speaking to two pacifists and was sent to a wartime mental institute to recover from shellshock, to cover up the protest, instead of the usual punishment for that kind of thing. This source was also written after the major battles of 1916 and 1917, when the attitude towards General Haig had changed somewhat, because of the mass fatalities and casualty numbers.
Source 9 says that Haig “boasts and skites”. This indicates that Haig is arrogant and boastful, a suggestion which is mirrored in sources 2 and 3 which criticise Haig’s leadership, and source 8, when the clearing of the dead from the battlefield at night is likened to “clearing the table ready for the Generals next game of soldiers”. This is seen as an everyday thing which does not require much thought. This also suggests that Haig was childish and incompetent, as a game of soldiers is associated with childhood games. The suggestion of incompetence is confirmed by source 10: “he did for them both by his plan of attack”.
This agrees with sources 2 and 3 where Haig is called a “butcher”. However, this is again disputed by source 12, but also by source 13, which shows Haig to be thoughtful and wise. Source 11, also, says that it was due to Haig’s “grim determination” and “organisational ability” that the war was won. Source 4 agrees with this by saying he felt “quite sad” about the deaths of the men. However, this suggests that he is unfit to lead the army as he cannot plan an efficient attack which minimises the numbers of casualties. As these sources tend to agree on these subjects, it suggests that the sources are more reliable.
Source 9 says that Haig was “safely in the rear”, which is consolidated by source 3, which says that he lived “50 kilometres behind the line”. This also suggests that the source is more reliable as it is backed up by other sources.
6. (a)
Sources 11, 12 and 13 all complement Haig as being a very worthy leader of the British army. Source 11 begins by saying how David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister did not have a lot of faith in Haig’s ability, and that he removed the Generals command. This shows that other people did not believe that Haig was a good general. However, source 11 goes on to say that Haig worked with the Allied commander, Foch. The source says that it was due to Haig’s “organisational ability” and “grim determination” that the German army was eventually defeated. This shows that Haig had the skills required to be a good general, and that he had the ability to lead the British army.
Source 12 describes Haig’s policy as being “wise, loyal and energetic”. This means that the Allied Commander believed fully in the General. This shows that Haig was intelligent and that he was devoted to his country.
Source 13, by Haig himself, highlights qualities in Haig. He says “I think this is a mistake, because it is merely laying up trouble for the future”. This shows that he is looking to the future, and using foresight. This agrees with the previous source, which said that Haig was “wise”. He also demonstrates intelligence by saying he doubts whether Germany are “sufficiently low yet”. He is also demonstrating humanitarianism by saying that he thinks that punishing Germany is a “mistake”. This evidence all shows that Haig is a wise, worthy leader.
6. (b)
There is an important reason why the views expressed in sources 11, 12 and 13 are different to those expressed in sources 8, 9 and 10. This is because the writers of these sources have entirely different perspectives of the war. In sources 8, 9 and 10, the writers all have very narrow perspectives of the war. Source 8 is written from a soldiers point of view. This means all the soldier would see and think about would be his own trench, the bad conditions, and the amount of people dying around him. He would also see horrific diseases, such as trench foot, knee deep mud and rats. Therefore, from this, the soldier may blame the commanders, as they are seen as living “50 kilometres behind the line”, (source 3), in relative luxury. Sources 9 and 10 would also have this attitude as they are also written by, or about soldiers.
Sources 11, 12 and 13 are all written by socially higher, higher ranking people, or, in the case of source 11, an historian with a wider perspective and hindsight. These people have a different view to that of the soldiers in that they weigh up land gained against the number of casualties. From this point of view, the General would not seem as bad as from the perspective of the soldiers, who only see terrible conditions and men being killed around them, as in, for example, the battle of the Somme, where conditions were terrible, and huge amounts of men were dying. The General also had a political agenda, and had other things to think about other than conditions of trenches and the things that concerned the men. All the writers of these sources are from similar social classes, and would probably ‘stick together’. This may provide another explanation for the attitude taken.
In source 11, it mentions that David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister at the time, did not have as much faith in Haig as, for example, Foch. Lloyd George did not bestow this confidence on Haig because of the heavy losses at Passchendaele. Therefore, it could be said that Lloyd George is agreeing with the like of the writers of sources 8, 9 and 10, and supporting their ideas. This is also suggesting that Haig executed wrong decisions, and his leadership should be questioned, in accordance with the soldiers views.
There are a number of factors which could make it seem that the allied victories of 1918 were gained “against overwhelming odds”. To begin with, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia meant that Russia left the war, causing an influx of German soldiers leaving the Russian front line, and arriving at the Western front. This would mean, that if the battles were won, they would have been won against overwhelming odds due to the sheer numbers of troops on the Western front line. In addition to this, Turkey was also repelling troops away from its fronts, adding to the problems and odds of British victory.
The Battle of the Somme was seen as one of the worst battles during World War One. Thousands of men were killed on the first day alone. However, there was very little land gained from the battle. The reason that the offensive was such a failure was that the artillery fire which was supposed to destroy all German forces and bunkers failed. As this failed, as soon as the artillery barrage ceased, the Allied troops went to the German strongholds where they expected there to be little or no resistance.
However, the German machine gun posts had been set up, and the men were killed by the hundred. Also, the barbed wire, which was supposedly cut very well, was cut in scarce places, so that the machine gunners merely had to point at a single place and fire. This meant that casualty numbers were enormous. However, the British army learnt many lessons from this battle and were, it is said, transformed into professionals from this battle. Thus, battles such as the Battle of Cambrai, in 1918, were won easily and effectively with low numbers of casualties. Therefore, the battles could be seen to have been won against overwhelming odds.
However, there was a bad effect on morale due to the losses of the Battle of the Somme, and also due to battles such as Ypres and Passchendaele. This can be seen from sources 2,3,8 and 9. Source 2 says that Haig was known as the “butcher” around 1917, which would be just after the major battles. Source 3 “I don’t think he knew what a trench was like”, while source 8 says the General was playing a “game of soldiers, and source 9- “the men who really did the job are dead and in their grave…”. The soldiers are all are very bitter and angry towards Haig and the leadership. This was because weapons were not integrated into tactics properly (like the tank at the Battle of the Somme), the tactics were poor, and bad decisions were made on the part of the Generals, such as where to fire the artillery at the Somme. Therefore this shows that the battles that were won in 1918 were won against overwhelming odds due to low morale, bad tactics, and badly integrated weapons.
There were other problems with British tactics. One was that the British leader’s mentality was that of offensive warfare, they had an ‘attacking mentality’. This meant that they did not believe in defence, and because the Germans used the machine gun so effectively, there were huge odds against the British troops gaining any ground at all. Also, the British did not properly utilise the machine gun to its full capacity, and therefore were not as defensively capable as the Germans. As a result of this, the German Ludendorff offensive, operation Michael, very nearly succeeded, with the allies only just managing to hold their line. The allies learnt important lessons from this, and were much more defensive. Tanks were also a failure in their trial run, as sources 6 and 7 support. Source 6 says that “twenty-eight broke down… and the remaining thirty-two scurried into the mud”. Overall, much of the new British weaponry was not properly blended with the tactics. This meant that it was very unlikely that any land could be gained.
There are, however, reasons which make it seem that the battles were not so difficult, and that the odds were easy. One important factor which supports this is that America joined the war. By doing this they brought with them money, expertise, and overall, more troops. This boosted morale, and the numbers of troops on all fronts was increased.
There were other major factors which possibly helped the allies to win victories. The German troops were hit by Spanish Influenza, causing them to lose many men before they even got to the fronts. This reduced the numbers of opposing troops, and so allowed the allies easier victories.
In addition to this, Italy left Germany’s side, and, as a result, Germany had less troops, and the allies had more. This hindered Germany, and coupled with the loss of troops through Spanish ‘Flu, caused a large problem.
Another problem for the German’s was the submarine blockade by the allies, which meant that they were running low on supplies, and were struggling to keep going on the supplies they had.
Although the Tank was used poorly in the Somme, it was greatly improved, and used to it’s full potential in the Battle of Cambrai in 1918. This gave the allies a huge advantage, and weakened the odds against victory. This is backed by historian Gary Sheffield- “the British army is an effective fighting machine”. In source 7, it justifies Haig’s use of Tanks because of the need to break the stalemate on the western front. In addition there is the need for an actual trial run to test the tanks on the battlefield. –
John Terraine also says that the Allied leaders deserve more credit than they were given. This can be justified and refuted by a number of points.
Firstly, the allied leaders were criticised for using bad tactics, and for not caring about men’s lives. However, if the leadership was so terrible, why were the generals not replaced? Also, the generals were given rewards at the end of the war, and this may not have happened if the leaders were as bad as is said. The leaders were seen as terrible because of the nature of the job they did. Whatever they did, men would die, and Haig saw this. Also, the Generals were under tight scrutiny, and what they did was being seen for the first time, so naturally people were shocked. However, Haig could not have been sacked due to the huge amount of public scrutiny. If he was sacked, there would be an outcry that the army was being led by an incapable leader, and this would lead to lower morale, and men would stop joining up. Haig was also good friends with the King and was in a high up social position.
Therefore it would be hard to sack him. There was also no-one to replace him that was seen to be well enough qualified. However, if Haig just took for granted that whatever he did, men would die, then possibly he would not try to prevent this. Haig’s plan was “to kill more Germans than they could kill British”. These are terrible tactics to employ, but that was the way he was taught to look at it. Also, there was no evidence that British losses were any higher than those of the other countries. Therefore there is evidence for and against the argument of whether the generals have been given enough credit.
One of the major criticisms displayed in the sources written by soldiers is that Haig lived so far behind the line. Source 3 says “he lived almost 50 kilometres behind the line”. However, there was no need for him to live close to the line. He was required to have a wide perspective of all the fronts and living close to the front line would not allow this. He also thought that he needed to distance himself from his officers, so as to inspire confidence. However, the criticism against this is that as a result of this, he had “no idea of what he was sending men into”, says Laffin, a reliable historian.
This would affect his judgement, and it could be said that he did not care about his men if he did not even know where he was sending them. This is backed by source 3 which says “I don’t think he knew what a trench was like”. It is also backed by source 4, which says I feel quite sad at times when I see them march past me”, and source 10: “When we met him last week on our way to the line”. This shows that he is not very sad about the fact that these men will probably die. Also, it agrees with the fact that he lives a long way behind the line.
A point which backs Haig’s tactics is that Haig was taught to lead the way he lead. At school, Haig was taught to attack, and not defend, thus it can be understood why he did not properly know how to use weapons like the machine gun. Also, he was using the 1900 cavalry training manual, considered to be standard military doctrine, which concentrates a lot on horses and cavalry, rather than new, more modern techniques. This is strengthened by sources 6 and 7, which say that he hoped to use the tanks he had to “give him the edge”. However, he should possibly have made the effort to change the ways he commanded the army, in line with the modern advances in weaponry. Also, although Haig was taught to always attack, and that defence was cowardly, tactics change, and he possibly should have adapted to counter the changes.
Haig was taught to compare the land gained to the men lost. He was also taught to not be bothered by large numbers of deaths so long as it was justifiable. A possible reason for this is that he believed very strongly in the presence of God at his side. Although rather optimistic, he believed that God would see him through and help him to win the battle. He also believed that men that died on the battlefield for their country went merely to “a different room”, and that because they had died patriotically that they would be greatly honoured in death.
Haig was seen to be a good commander who motivated his officers, although one of his main failings was that he did not correct mistakes, he merely stood back and let them continue, a failing that is very significant when training officers. Haig said that it was not his job to direct the army, that that was the job of his subordinates, and that he just trains and prepares the army. However, if he does not correct mistakes, then he cannot be training the army very well.
Haig was heavily criticised for the mass fatalities at the battle of Passchendaele. Many men died there, and Haig lost a lot of credibility from the failure. Objectives were not met either, although there could be an explanation for Haig’s failure here and at the Somme and Ypres. Haig’s Chief of Intelligence continued to tell him that the German’s were on the brink of defeat, and that one more wave of men would finish them. This was not always entirely true, although Haig had no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Therefore, the fact that tactics were repeatedly bad, and that many men lost their lives could be explained. However, Haig repeatedly went against the advice of his second-in-command, and the government, especially about the Somme. He was advised about which areas of the Somme to bomb, and he also was advised to call off the Somme offensive. It was said that it was not even realistically possible to gain any land from the Somme campaign anyway. This could, however, be explained by the feed of wrong intelligence mentioned earlier.
There was a wide perception that the war would be “over by Christmas”. The Generals had to try and make this a reality, if not by Christmas, then as soon as possible after. This is shown in source 7, “I shall use what I have got, as I cannot wait any longer for them”. Therefore another reason can be offered to justify why the Generals sent in as many men as possible and bad tactics were repeated.
Haig was removed temporarily and replaced by the French commander, Foch, who Haig collaborated well with. Haig was removed by Lloyd George, the British prime minister, who had very little experience of the war and had only visited the front line once, to see the son of a fellow politician in a field hospital. Therefore he could not really have made the decision of whether Haig should have been removed of not. Foch said Haig was “wise, loyal, and energetic”. Therefore the commander who Haig was replaced by says that he was a worthy commander, meaning that surely he is.
There are many arguments for and against whether the victories of 1918 were won against overwhelming odds. However, from all the evidence, and the sources, the verdict can be reached that they were not. This conclusion is reached mainly because of all the hindrances upon the German army, coupled with the changing of sides by Italy, and the joining of the United States of America. All these things added together meant that although the battles of 1918 were difficult, they were not gained against “overwhelming odds”. The British army had had time to prepare, and was ready for the battles.
There are also discussions about whether the Allied leaders really deserve more credit than they have already had. Again, from all the sources and evidence, the conclusion can be made that they do not deserve more credit. This is due to the fact that Haig’s tactics were dated, he did not integrate new weaponry he was given, and he did not care enough for the men’s lives that he sent into battle. Although he was given exaggerated information, and he could not have been sacked for various reasons, as Laffin said, “Haig did not win, he was there at the finish”.

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