The following address was delivered by Dr Correlli Barnett, Haig Fellow 2004,
at the Tenth Annual Luncheon on 29 January 2004
Friends, I am going to talk about what was at the time, and has been ever since, the central strategic debate of the Great War - that is to say, the debate between 'Westerners' like Douglas Haig and Wully Robertson, and 'Easterners' like Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, and that vain, glib, ass Basil Liddell-Hart. Now, this debate has been usually conducted in classic strategic terms - what I call 'arrows on the map' thinking. Today I want to look at the logistic implications, and consequences, of the 'Western' and 'Eastern' options. Because the foundation of successful campaigning, that is, cost-effective campaigning, does NOT lie in arrows on the map but in adequate supply, and in well-organized bases and Lines of Communication. Factors virtually ignored by Messrs Lloyd George, Churchill and Liddell-Hart in their books.
I will begin by summarizing the logistics of the British armies in France. For a start, we are talking about a total ration strength by late 1918 of nearly 3 million men and half a million animals. In other words, the British military presence in France was the equivalent of a conurbation six times more populous than the Birmingham of the time, and only a third less populous than London, then the largest city in Europe. To feed these huge numbers required every month some 32 thousand tons of meat, 44 thousand tons of bread, over 14 thousand tons of forage, and 13 million gallons of POL (petrol, oil, lubricant). When I say 'the equivalent of a major conurbation', I mean: complete with elaborate infrastructure and transport systems, plus comprehensive medical facilities. But I also mean, on top of all that, the purely military supplies, depots, and services needed to keep a great army in the field, and, what is more, an army on the offensive every year.
I should point out that this logistical development had always kept pace with the BEF's growth in numbers, so at no time had there been a breakdown either in supply or in LOCs (lines of communication). The one exception lay in the so-called 'shell scandal' in 1915, and that was caused by industrial shortcomings back at home. To my mind, the construction of this huge military conurbation in France was a feat every bit as creditable as the 'learning curve' in all-arms tactics and kit now rightly being documented by the Gary Sheffields of this world. Not merely every bit as creditable, but every bit as essential to the ultimate victory.
Let's follow the logistical chain from Britain to the Western Front. We start with the short-sea Channel crossings from Southampton, Folkestone, and Dover to Le Havre, Rouen, Boulogne, and Calais, all large and well-equipped ports. Now here is a measure of just how economical these short-sea routes were in terms of shipping: from June to October 1918 the daily average of cross-channel troop movements was over 11,000 men, and the grand total came to nearly 900,000. But all these soldiers were moved in just 14 ferries based on Southampton, and 12 based on Folkestone and Dover (plus 12 hospital ships, mostly based at Dover). We are not talking ocean-liners here, but cross-Channel passenger packets of not more than about 2,000 tons.
This is not all. Because of the short crossings, the interiors of the vessels could be stripped out in order to give maximum carrying capacity. No need for bunk space, galleys, or a full complement of 'heads' - 'loos' to you landlubbers - such as would be needed for trooping to the Mediterranean. So each Channel-packet could carry the equivalent of two passenger train-loads of troops. By comparison, it took no fewer than 242 transports, many of them much larger ships, even liners, to carry just 330,000 soldiers to the Mediterranean theatre in 1915. And much the same comparative arithmetic would apply to the shipment of stores.
As we know, by 1916 vast main bases had been constructed round the French entry ports, hospitals, vetinerary hospitals, reinforcement camps each for 40,000 men; ammunition depots; general base depots for the infantry, artillery, the Royal Engineers, the Cavalry, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps - and not forgetting the Army Vetinerary Corps, so vital to an operationally still largely hippomobile army. And, oh yes, depots too for the Canadians and the Anzacs, no doubt full of canned mooseburgers, and tinnies of the amber nectar.
Because the land LOCs to the Front were so short, there was no need for advanced ordnance depots. Instead the armies could be directly supplied from the immense ordnance stores at the French base ports. Just the same, extra ammunition depots had to be created from which to fill the forward dumps for the Somme bombardments. Rouen for instance increased its issues of ammo from a normal 200 tons a day to 3500 tons. We all know that famous quote from Edmonds about the immense quantities and varieties of personal kit issued from Calais alone during the first ten months of 1916.
To these huge main bases, we have to add the infrastructure in the zone of operations: engineer or MT workshops and depots; 45 field butcheries and 48 bakeries; remount depots and animal reserve parks. Since this was industrialized warfare on an unprecedented scale, the workshops played an absolutely key role. So each army had an Ordnance Heavy Repair Shop, both for repair and manufacture; and each corps had two mobile gun workshops for light calibres and one for medium. Through these workshops passed a constant stream of guns by day and night and it was only thanks to them that the prolonged bombardments were kept going. I know it is a pretty obvious thing to say to this audience, but transport became the vital, but absolutely vital, link between the main bases and the armies in the field. No wonder, then, that in 1918 the strength of the ASC in France, at over 160 thousand, was 25 times larger than the entire establishment of the ASC in 1914.
By the time of the Somme offensive, you had behind the armies on the Western Front a complex transport system on the grand scale. All credit then to Douglas Haig's Transportation staff. But we must remember that they did start with the advantage of an allied country already well-furnished with railways and roads, so there was no need to construct major new trunk supply routes. What WAS needed was to design a functionally efficient system of operation. In short, a wiring-diagram that worked.
So the main rail routes from ports to armies were grouped in two pairs: northern lines running from Calais and Boulogne, southern from Dieppe, Rouen, and Le Havre. The chain of food supply to the front ran via advanced supply depots, where the daily 'section pack' grocery trains were made up for each division, and then on to the division railheads. From the railhead, the 'section pack' was carried by motor truck to the division 'refilling point'. Here, the rations were transferred to horse-drawn vehicles of the divisional train for distribution to each brigade; then onwards again on regimental transport to convenient issue points near communication trenches; and thence finally to the hungry Tommies. And do not forget the Army Postal Service, so vital for morale. In one week in December 1916, BFPOs would handle more than 10 million letters.
As I say, this complex LOC organization was up and running by the time of the Somme offensive. Nevertheless, certain problems remained, such as traffic muddles on the Chemin du Fer du Nord. That's why in autumn 1916 Douglas Haig appointed Sir Eric Geddes, a top railway manager, as his Director-General of Transportation, and gave him the task of sorting out the glitches, and integrating into one cohesive system the main-line railways, light railways, and roads. A really imaginative appointment.
Let me here remind you of the obvious: the basic purpose of all the BEF's elaborately organized logistics was to enable it to fight battles, and go on fighting them. And so now I would like to talk about the repair service for the Army's most vital equipment of all - its soldiers. In other words, the care and cure of the wounded. And by 1916 that service too had reached its full elaboration. Firstly, it was by now well understood that the key to successful treatment lay in the speedy evacuation of casualties from the forward edge of battle. Since 1914 the number of stretcher bearers per battalion had doubled from 18 to 32. There were special communication trenches reserved for the wounded, leading back to vastly improved regimental aid posts. From these posts, serious casualties were carried to advanced dressing stations on carts, wheeled stretchers, or by horse-drawn and motor ambulances; and thence to the casualty clearing stations - again by motor transport, or by light railway and main railway. Urgent surgical cases went straight back to advanced operating centres about 7 miles behind the front. The final stage in the processing of wounded lay in evacuation by ambulance-train to a base hospital. By July 1916 the BEF was equipped with 28 such trains; with 58 general hospitals and two isolation hospitals; with 7 convalescent depots; and a mobile path-lab. Here was the best organized and most comprehensive medical system so far seen in the history of war.
And what was the pay-off? Answer: a remarkable record of successful treatment. In that one year of 1916, half a million wounded men were admitted to hospitals in France, but over a third of them were later returned to duty. What's more, the record of treatment of sickness in the BEF was by historic standards - or the standards of other Great-War theatres - no less remarkable. Of the 640,000 sick admitted to hospital in
1916, fewer than 6000 died, while 365,000 returned to duty, the remainder being evacuated to UK.
To sum up the BEF's logistics as a whole: they constitute 20th-century industrialized warfare at its most sophisticated. In terms of grand strategy, these logistics enabled Britain to maintain an army of 50-60 divisions in the field year after year against the main body of the enemy, and ultimately to win a war-ending victory. And surely, a major share of the credit for this colossal logistic achievement must go to the man who today would be called the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) - Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.
But now let us compare all this with a couple of the fringe campaigns in the Mediterranean and Middle East. For a start, we are talking about maritime Lines of Communication with round voyages from the UK of up to six thousand miles, as against 45 to 200 miles across the Channel. This meant an enormous commitment of shipping and protective naval forces just when shipping resources were being stretched to breaking-point by the U-boat. For instance, Wully Robertson reckoned that Lloyd George's bright idea in 1917 of deploying six divisions to Alexandretta in Turkish Anatolia would demand about a million tons of shipping - at a time of a looming food crisis in Britain, and with American soldiers stalled in the US for want of ships to bring them to Europe.
In any case, at the far end of any maritime LOC you need ports to unload troops and supplies and through which to build up the logistics infrastructure on land to support a campaign. At this point, we really go back in time from highly organized 20th century industrial war in France to a pre-industrial pattern of shambolic improvisation. Take the Dardanelles for a start. Let me quote you Robert Rhodes James on the main base and port at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos:
Rear-Admiral Wemyss was despatched without any staff or means, to establish a base on an arid, thinly-populated island nearly 3,000 miles from Britain, 700 from Malta and 575 from Alexandria…He found that that there were no facilities for loading and unloading ships; that there was only one tiny pier, no depot ship or supplies of any kind, no accommodation on shore for the Army when it arrived, and wholly insufficient water resources.
By the time the campaign had come to a stalemate in midsummer 1915, so Rhodes James tell us:
The Lines of Communication Organisation arrangements [at Mudros] were a shambles; relations between the naval officers of the Naval Transport Branch and the merchant masters were strained to breaking-point; the process of loading and unloading the depot ships was slow, and, in the blazing sun, exhausting for the men; the very small staff were either incompetent or grossly overworked; the hospitals were in a lamentable condition; undisciplined troops were to be found slouching around; there was a general atmosphere of apathy, bad temper and surliness.
When the Deputy Director of Medical Services was sent by GHQ to take charge of the temporary hospital ships; the medivac ferries between Mudros and Gallipoli; the return of recovered casulties to their units; the despatch of medical supplies to the Peninsula; AND the shore hospitals on Lemnos, his total staff consisted of one staff sergeant.
After Hamilton at long last agreed to a drastic re-organisation of the LOC, General Sir Edward Altham was sent out to do the job. What he found at Mudros was, in his own words, 'appalling confusion.' One of his staff described the 'miscellaneous, half-organised camps, foul, undisciplined and disorderly.' Not the least aspect of this chaos in terms of the morale of the expeditionary force was that, in the words of one general, the postal service was 'beneath contempt', with letters delayed for weeks and parcels for months.
I do not need to say much about the forward logistics in the cramped landing areas on Gallipoli itself, except that the standard ration in the blazing heat of summer was bully-beef, and that this was coupled with a chronic shortage of water. Care of the wounded in the fly-blown dressing-stations takes us right back to the Crimea before Florence Nightingale. Wrote Aubrey Herbert after the battle of Sari Bair in August 1915:
The condition of the wounded is indescribable. They lie in the sand in rows upon rows, their face caked with sand and blood; one murmur for water; no shelter from the sun....There is hardly any possibility of moving them.'
As for the base hospital on Lemnos, this consisted of a collection of stinking tents with a capacity for 400 wounded, but which actually received 1,000 in a single 24 hours after the Suvla battles.
What an unutterable across-the-board logistic mess! But how much of it could be blamed on Hamilton himself, a classic empire-style soldier who for months resisted all recommendations to set up a modern logistics system under strong management? Or how much was simply due to the intrinsic problems of a hastily cobbled campaign in a backward region 3000 miles from home?
Now let me turn to the Mesopotamian campaign. Take Basra, the single main port that could serve as a main base and sustain a long campaign. The whole area round Basra was - is - a maze of creeks and tidal waters, so that communications between the primitive base facilities erected on patches of dry land had to be by boat. But the problem was that the supply of small boats, let alone motor boats, was virtually non-existent. What about Basra itself as a port? Well, ocean-going vessels had to moor in a deep-water channel far from any jetty. So to begin with, these ships had to be unloaded by the few available Arab port lighters, and these only accustomed to dealing with about two ships every three weeks. Soon this deep-water channel became jammed with shipping waiting to be unloaded. Yet for nearly two years there was no proper planning, no major construction programme - just small-scale improvisation of elementary jetties. Why was this?
Answer: the whole Mesopotamian adventure was run from, and by, India - an empire militarily still in the early nineteenth century despite Kitchener's reforms. And so at Basra, as A. J. Barker, an historian of the campaign, tells us:
Engineer officers with inadequate resources sweated far into the night to erect contrivances more suited to a small-scale expedition in Upper Burma than a war against a first-class enemy which would necessitate the deployment of a huge army. Nobody grappled with the problems of Basra: Nobody grappled with the problems of river craft even when the troops started to press forward.
So much for the hopelessly inadequate main base. Not until the end of 1916 did improvements to the port and a speeding-up of the turn-round of ships mean that Basra ceased to be a bottleneck. But what about the Lines of Communication forward in the field? Unlike Gallipoli, where the distance from the beaches to the frontlines varied between half a mile and two miles, the LOC from Basra gradually lengthened to some 200 miles at Kut, and nearly 400 at Baghdad. This compares with about sixty miles between the Channel ports and the Western Front or, at the most, 200 miles from Le Havre. But in Mesopotamia there was no dense road and rail net as there was in France - merely two rivers plus desert camel-trails. Up to Ctesiphon there were just enough river-craft, camels, and mules to nourish Townshend's advance. With the loss of barges and steamers during the retreat to Kut, the logistic situation in regard to Aylmer's relief force became dicey in the extreme. It's just a matter of mathematical calculation - number of men and beasts to be fed; therefore the needed carrying capacity for food, forage, and ammo; therefore the necessary quantity of barges and steamers. But when the motley fleet of paddle-steamers, stern-wheelers, tugs, and barges is added up, and allowing for ten-day round trip between Basra and the front, the answer is stark - this fleet was, so Barker tells us, 'lamentably inadequate' to support even the three divisions of the relief force, let alone the extra one besieged in Kut, should that be relieved. Which of course it never was. Townshend's surrender along with 13,000 men really marked not so much a military defeat as the pay-off for logistical bankruptcy.
I should mention that Nixon, then the GOC-in-C in Mesopotamia, had asked the Indian government to sanction the building of a railway line up from Basra. This was turned down on the advice of the Finance Member of the Viceroy's Council, on the grounds that such a line would not pay commercially after the war; and anyway, the expenditure could not be sanctioned at a time when spending on India's own railways had been cut back. So it was only after the War Office took over responsibility for the campaign that construction of a railway began; and not until August 1917 that the first train from Basra rolled into Baghdad - covering in 12 hours what would have taken days by steamer. Yet even after the logistics in Mesopotamia had been at last sorted out, and the advance rolled victoriously on, a British-imperial commitment of half a million men in the theatre was only engaging a Turkish-German force of some 50,000. Hardly a cost-effective strategic investment, was it?
When we turn to care of the wounded, and general health and hygiene in Mesopotamia, the years 1915 and 1916 witnessed a hideous nightmare - far worse even than the Dardanelles. Dysentery, cholera, scurvy, and typhus were rife. Wounded men lay with
untreated, gangrenous wounds amid their own excreta on the decks of vessels making their slow way down river in blazing heat to the primitive base hospital at Basra.
So it's no wonder that, while in France the proportion of soldiers dying of wounds and disease during the War came to about 12 per cent of the total dead, the proportion in the fringe theatres of the Med and Middle East came to nearly 30 per cent. I reckon those figures are in themselves a good enough indicator of comparative logistical cost-efficiency, especially when we also recall that none of these fringe campaigns - including Palestine and Salonica - did any damage to the one enemy force in the Great War that really mattered – I mean, of course, the German Army.
At the Annual Luncheon on 29th January 2004, Earl Haig, Patron of the Douglas Haig Fellowship paid the following tribute to two historians who contributed greatly to the study of the life and career of Field Marshal Haig.
“We are deeply sorry to meet for the first time without John Terraine who was our Founder. His death is a loss to members of the Haig Fellowship. We offer our sympathy to Kathy who gave to John devoted support over the years. His many books about the First World War have made an important contribution to its history. Thank goodness when he read Robert Blake’s publication of my father’s Papers he found enlightenment. They gave him an insight into the magnitude of the difficulties which my father faced. He examined the papers when they were kept at Bemersyde and continued to study them throughout his life after their removal to Edinburgh. Recent months have also seen the passing of Robert Blake whose work helped my father’s reputation as Commander-in-Chief in the face of criticism from Liddell Hart, Alan Clark, Joan Littlewood and many others. After the war Robert joined me as a trustee of the Papers. It was with his help that I managed to hold up the publication of The Donkeys for several months to allow corrections to inaccurate statements in the draft to be made. I will always be grateful both to Robert and John for their advice and support over many years. I always felt safe in their hands and when one or another hostile book appeared they were always ready to help.
We know that John Terraine’s life ended with a lot of suffering which was endured with great courage. Robert also suffered during his last years when amputations caused him to use a wheelchair. Robert’s views are well set out in the Preface to his edition of my father’s Papers. The selection of extracts gave a little more space to political than military aspects. I know he was looking forward to their republication with more extracts which focused on the military. Strangely, of the two historians, Robert, the political expert, was the one who had served, as an artillery officer. He was taken prisoner in Italy. After the Italian armistice he escaped, roughed it the mountains during an Italian winter and, I believe, got home. John failed to pass the medical examination needed for him to serve in the forces. His great interest and knowledge of tactics and strategy and weaponry gave him the authority to write as he did and I think it is these matters which are of particular interest to this Fellowship.
To both men, John Terraine and Robert Blake, I offer these few inadequate words in tribute to their work.”
In Memoriam John Terraine
John Terraine died on 28th December 2003. A large number of tributes, obituaries and appreciations appeared in the national press and professional journals. Records is grateful to the authors for permission to re-publish the following articles which well convey John’s contribution to military history, especially of course First World War and Haig studies, and his character as a man and friend.
The following Address was given at John Terraine’s funeral by his friend Correlli Barnett, Haig Fellow 2004.
Friends, we are here to say farewell to an outstanding military historian who was also our much-loved colleague and chum. But John would not wish us to be too solemn. As I speak, I can hear that favourite sardonic chuckle of his whenever he was relishing the absurdities of pompous human behaviour. So I must beware.
I first met John - over lunch, where else? - in 1963 when Haig: the Educated Soldier was in production and I was writing The Swordbearers. At that time I was still a Liddell-Hart man, completely believing in the legend of British military incompetence on the Western Front. It is a legend which some writers still believe even today. At that first meeting, John was a bit stiff, as well he might have been in view of my ignorance and prejudice. Just the same, with patient argument and a mastery of the facts he showed me where I was wrong. I will always be truly grateful for that decisive lesson in the political and military realities of the Great War.
That first lunch was only the precursor of many more lunches in the years to come, some solid, but mostly liquid or semi-liquid. It was thanks to John recommending me to Tony Essex and Gordon Watkins that I joined him as a principal script-writer to The Great War television series, even though I only wrote about a third as many programmes as he did. Just last Saturday I watched John's programme on the Battle of Amiens, the Second Somme, on August the 8th, 1918, and the allied counter-offensives that followed. After four decades that script remains as clear, sharp, and strong as ever. Anyway, for more than a year John and I were the closest of colleagues, sometimes going into battle together against Tony Essex's desire to bend history to make good television, but sometimes arguing the toss between us. We never did agree about the soundness of Haig's Third-Ypres strategy, for instance. Needless to say, passionate argument spilled out from script conferences to our TAC HQ in the Uxbridge Arms.
And here was John's other side - to his friends, wonderful company; a convivial and challenging conversationalist with a tremendous sense of humour; full of shrewd if unfashionable opinions on the personalities and events of the day. But to people who
were NOT his friends, he could sometimes appear aloof, even hostile; positively abrasive in his style of arguing. But to my mind, this was really a shell protecting a man
who was actually highly emotional, and sensitive to a slight, whether intended or not. I think that perhaps women understood this better than men.
We must remember that for many years John was almost the sole challenger of the cherished national myth that the Great War had been mere 'futile slaughter', and conducted by callous fools of the British high command. In consequence, he attracted many dismissive attacks, sometimes hurtfully personal. Yet, like his hero Douglas Haig, he never gave up, but fought on in book after book for over twenty years. I would particularly single out for praise The Road to Passchendaele; To Win a War: 1918 The Year of Victory; The Smoke and the Fire; and White Heat: the New Warfare 1914-18.
John's reward was to witness the rise of a younger generation of academic military historians exploring in depth various issues first pioneered by him, and all broadly bearing out his contentions that Haig was a highly competent commander-in-chief, and that the transformation of the raw levies of 1915-16 into the war-winning instrument of 1918 was an achievement unmatched by any other army. If you like, the very fact that there is now a thriving school of Great War historiography in Britain is John's true monument.
I must tell you that some five years ago John's name was put forward, via the Royal United Services Institute, for an honour from the Queen. He did not know this. The recommendation was backed by distinguished military historians and also 4- and 5-star retired officers of all three armed services, navy-blue, khaki, and light blue. Remember that John was also the author of the standard history of the Royal Air Force in the Second World War, as well as of a penetrating study of two maritime wars against the U-boat.
But, to our deep regret, we were not successful. In view of the recent Whitehall leaks about how people to be honoured are chosen, we can now guess why our recommendation failed. For John was no 'Establishment' creep, but a 'politically INcorrect' maverick, and, above all, a man of unbending professional integrity. And that is how we will all remember him.
The following article appeared in the April 2004 edition of the Royal United Services Institute Journal and is reproduced by kind permission of the Editor, Dr Terence McNamee.
John Terraine as a Military Historian
Dr Gary Sheffield
John Terraine, who died in December 2003 at the age of 82, was one of the most significant British military historians of the twentieth century. He played a primary role in reshaping the debate on British generalship in the First World War. Terraine’s views, although contested and even reviled, have never been definitively refuted, and indeed have entered the mainstream of historical debate. What follows is a brief, personal assessment view of John’s work as a military historian. He certainly he deserves a full-scale study.
John Alfred Terraine was born in London in 1921. He thus grew up in that period when Britain was struggling to come to terms with the shock of the First World War. His father, badly wounded in the First World War, died when John was only six. Contrary to popular myth, the entire country was not swept up in a wave of pacifism in the interwar period. Alongside the idea that the war had been a futile waste, there was another strand of thinking; a patriotic view of the war. In an extreme form, this gave birth to The Crown of Honour: Being Stories of Heroism, Gallantry, Magnanimity and Devotion from the Great War of 1914-18, a book that John Terraine was awarded as a school prize in 1933. ‘Unfortunately,’ Terraine was, much later, to write, ‘the act of sweeping away this sort of rubbish led to the opposite extravagances’ – the disenchanted, ‘lions led by donkeys’ school of thought. ‘Weaned on such soft diet as The Crown of Honour’, Terraine continued, ‘then appetized afresh by the sharper-flavoured victuals of the Disenchanted, I spent a long time with myths’. By the late 1950s Terraine had come to believe that if the First World War was to be understood, myths ‘no matter how seemingly authoritative’ had be swept aside. He was to devote his career as an historian to attacking myths of various sorts.
Terraine argued that the conditions on the Western Front meant that there were no short cuts to victory. Industrialized warfare, the toughness of the Germany army, and the lack of flanks to turn made an attritional strategy inevitable.
The British army
laboured under a number of handicaps; they were the junior partners in a coalition dominated by the French, the army of 1914 was, by continental standards, small, focused on colonial warfare and ill-equipped for the battles to come. In Terraine’s words ‘The British Army, from Commander-in-Chief to drummer-boy had to be formed and trained in the field, in the face of a powerful, skilful well-equipped and determined enemy – it is asking a lot’. Yet in 1918 this army took the lead in defeating the Germans, under the command of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. Terraine argued that the victories of the Hundred Days could not be separated from the attritional campaigns of 1916-17 that wore down the German army and made victory possible. For Terraine, there is no doubt about Haig’s status as a ‘Great Captain’.
Terraine’s ideas on the First World War first appeared in print in the late 1950s, in a series of articles eventually published as The Western Front (1964). His first book, Mons: The Retreat to Victory, was published in 1960. In many ways, Mons was an old fashioned piece of operational military history; well written, generally dependable, solidly based on official histories and published memoirs and diaries. Had it appeared a few years earlier it would have been unlikely to have excited much attention. But it appeared at what Terraine described as ‘the beginning of probably the most disrespectful decade in British history’.
The 1960s – a period of social change, of the questioning of traditional values and mores – saw the appearance of a series of books such as Leon Wolff’s In Flanders Fields and Alan Clarke’s The Donkeys, as well as the musical play and later film Oh What a Lovely War. These presented the First World War as futile, and the generalship as disastrous. While they said little that had not been said in the 1930s, these arguments were presented to a new audience. Dan Todman has recently argued persuasively that the ‘donkeys’ view did not become dominant until the 1970s or even later, but it is clear that the 1960s was a critical period.
Such books – damningly described by Terraine as ‘instant history’ did not have it all their own way. Cyril Falls’s The First World War, a well-balanced and accessible book written by a distinguished military historian and veteran of the war, appeared in 1960. But Falls’s moderation and good sense did not have the same impact as the shriller tones of Clark et al; neither was Falls prepared to enter the lists. John Terraine, by contrast, emerged as the principal enemy of the instant historians.
Terraine felt deep anger at books that he did not hesitate to denounce as ‘rubbish’, mercilessly pointing out their factual errors, dubious interpretations and suspect sources. Described as early as 1962 by Alan Clark as ‘the official custodian of Haig’s reputation’, he continued to confront and correct those with whom he disagreed for over thirty years, into the 1990s. Terraine’s decision to take on the instant historians on their own ground, in popular and widely read books, in newspaper articles and letters, and in television scripts, rather than in the obscurity of academic journals or university seminars, was of very great significance. Although he was by no means the only popular historian of the 1960s to take a ‘revisionist’ line on the Western Front (his friend and admirer Correlli Barnett did so too), Terraine was the most important, and ensured that those who visited bookshops or public libraries had access to books that took a very different line from those of A.J.P. Taylor or Alan Clark.
In 1981, Hew Strachan accused Terraine of fighting old battles, while the historiographical debate - ‘if we put aside the popular media’ had moved on. Terraine’s response was that the notion that the interpretations to which he was opposed had been ‘laid to rest’ did not ‘square with my own constant experience’. In fact, both men were right. The academic debate had indeed moved on. The years 1978-81 can be seen as the beginning of a productive period in which views on the subject were transformed through patient, archival-based scholarship. But in the popular mind, and in the media, the ‘donkeys’ interpretation was more firmly entrenched than ever. The tone and arguments of books that appeared subsequently, such as Denis Winter’s Haig’s Command (1991) and John Mosier’s The Myth of the Great War, (2001), not to mention the television series Blackadder Goes Forth, suggests that it remains influential in the early years of the 21st century. Terraine was not fighting ‘toothless tigers’.
Terraine was essentially an outsider, and was never part of the university-and Sandhurst based military history establishment, although he became an Honorary Fellow of his alma mater, Keble College, Oxford. His long association with the RUSI was in some respects a substitute. He was a Council member from 1976 to 1984, and in 1982, Terraine was awarded the Chesney Gold Medal. Terraine rather uneasily straddled the divide between ‘academic’ and ‘popular’ history. He was, for example, often criticised for over reliance on published sources and neglecting archival research. There is some truth in this, but in Douglas Haig, he made extensive use of Haig’s papers, which contain official and demi-official documents in addition to Haig’s diaries and personal correspondence. Over the years he also used his ‘author’s papers’, which contained ‘letters, diary excerpts and documents from other sources which I have gathered over a period of some thirty years’. He also consulted Cabinet Papers held in the National Archives for The Road to Passchendaele (1977).
There is no doubt that Terraine’s work would have been enriched by greater use of primary source material. However, it is important to remember that from 1964 onwards Terraine earned a living from his pen, and simply lacked time for leisurely exploitation of archives. His early work was also criticised for lack of scholarly apparatus. He seems to have taken this criticism on board, as his later books did make use of source notes. Those provided for The Right of the Line (1985) are very full indeed.
John Terraine was not short on resilience and moral courage. He was sensitive to hostile reviews and personal criticism; in short, he was a man who bruised easily. At various times, not perhaps without reason, it was suggested that Terraine was guilty of repeating himself; that he suffered from ‘obsession’; ; that his criticism of a biography of Haig was ‘emotionally driven and very exaggerated’; even that his defence of Haig was motivated by his need for a father figure. In spite of this, Terraine continued his revisionist campaign, but it is not surprising that the relative moderation of the tone of early works such as Mons and even Douglas Haig, was replaced in later years by a approach that was more trenchant and overtly polemical.
John Keegan’s review of Terraine’s To Win a War, published under the heading of ‘Whole Stunt Napoo’, was one that Terraine found deeply hurtful. Keegan parodied Terraine as the archetypal Tommy: ‘Here he comes now, swinging down the duckboards… tin hat slung, cap comforter over his ears’. Keegan recognised the personal cost of Terraine’s crusade.: ‘There is emotion in the voice. And there are wound stripes on the cuff. The old warrior has suffered for his loyalties…’ Keegan perceptively identified Terraine as ‘the Enoch Powell of British military historians’. Like Powell, Terraine doggedly stuck, year in, year out, to what he believed to be true, despite the unfashionability of his cause, and the hostility he aroused. It is testimony to the strong feelings the First World War still arouses in the interwar generation that Keegan’s language, referring for instance to the British generals as ‘hideously unattractive… whose diaries reveal hearts as flintlike as the textures of their faces’ and indeed his later writings reveal a response that is no less emotional than Terraine’s.
For this is the measure of his achievement: John Terraine’s influence has endured despite his many critics. His books are still being read (indeed, are being republished). Douglas Haig The Educated Soldier remains, in my view, superior to its rivals, although it needs to be supplemented by the up-to-date research in Brian Bond and Nigel Cave’s 1999 collection of essays. Terraine’s work, for all its faults, is more influential than Keegan’s book on the First World War among revisionist
Any serious historian of the Western Front has to engage with his arguments. Alex Danchev’s words, written in 1991, long after the initial shock of Terraine’s theses had died away, represent a mature reflection on Terraine’s significance as an historian: ‘Terraine’s viewpoint, stripped of its rhetorical excess and forfeit of its emotional charge, served to reorient the historian’s mental map of the war’. Twelve years later, Hew Strachan conveyed a similar sentiment: ‘Few historians would now accept Terraine in his entirety, but he undoubtedly set an agenda which has influenced a whole generation of writers…’
Many of Terraine’s views on the First World War, formulated in the 1950s and early 1960s largely by reading published primary sources and memoirs, and secondary material, have stood the test of time remarkably well. Since many of the historians who from the late 1960s onwards have exploited the archives have, in Peter Simkins’s words, reached ‘roughly the same general position as he had long occupied, it would appear that John Terraine was blessed with a rare combination of instinctive historical insight, intellectual integrity and profound common sense’. The debate is moving beyond the parameters set by Terraine, but historians working in the field are standing upon his shoulders.
The most controversial part of Terraine’s work remains his treatment of Douglas Haig. Without doubt, he did an enormous service in rescuing Haig’s reputation. Terraine restored Haig to the position of a serious commander, rather than a pantomime villain. However, two criticisms remain. First, Terraine followed Haig too closely in arguing (in his Haig’s Final Despatch, a skilfully crafted defence of his tenure as CinC ) that the ‘wearing out’ battles of 1915-18 made the victory of 1918 possible. To a very large degree this is correct, but in 1916 and 1917 Haig expected the operations to be of a much more decisive character, and the Final Despatch (and Terraine's thesis) smacks of ex post facto rationalisation.
Second, Terraine over-reacted against the accusations that Haig was a military dunce. Few recent historians, no matter how pro-Haig they might be, would fully subscribe to Terraine’s claim that Haig was a ‘Great Captain’. It is possible that Terraine was, for once, simply asking the wrong questions. Haig’s task was more complex than that of pre-20th century commander, and given the size of his army, the nature of his job, and the type of warfare on the Western Front, he was above all a war manager rather than a field commander. Terraine quite rightly identified coping with coalition warfare as an enduring theme in British generalship down the centuries; but otherwise, matching Haig against someone like Marlborough was not really comparing like with like. Perhaps declaring Haig to be a ‘Great Captain’ has got in the way of assessing Haig’s true significance, and achievement. Today many (although not all) historians follow Terraine in seeing Haig as a highly competent commander, a man who, like his army, underwent a learning curve, a man who had to
shoulder a huge burden, greater than that of any other British soldier in history, and above all, a man deserves a sizeable share of the credit for victory.
Arguably, Terraine’s most important role as an historian was to ask awkward questions, and to carry on asking them over a period of three decades. His influence certainly inspired other historians. Sometimes this influence was negative, at least in part: Tim Travers framed part of the Killing Ground as a response to Terraine’s work. But very often it was positive, in getting scholars started in the first place. Having undertaken a small and decidedly unscientific straw poll of academic military historians, it is striking how many refer to his books as (to quote one of my correspondents) a very ‘seminal early influence’. In some cases, including my own, his works acted as a springboard for research, which led to broadly similar, but not identical conclusions. I can still recall the shock when, as an undergraduate, I read the phrase, ‘the victory won by Haig’s army on the Somme in 1916’. Twenty or so years on from my initial scepticism, and after much research, my conclusions are largely comparable, but subtly different. The Somme was not a victory (I deliberately eschewed this term because of the emotional baggage attached to it) but it was a British strategic success with highly significant consequences for the eventual outcome of the war.
Terraine has also been influential at a directly personal level. Although he could appear prickly, in fact there are many examples of his kindness to young historians. One, having been ‘primed to expect an argumentative ogre’, instead found a man who was ‘extremely kind, moderate and informative’. His leading and very active role as President of the Western Front Association, an organisation with thousands of members, further spread his influence through lectures, seminars, and participation in battlefield tours. Terraine’s role as an historian working in broadcasting is a major story in itself. At the BBC, he had worked as a recorded programmes assistant, and later for the BBC World Service as a programmes organiser. Not surprisingly, given this long apprenticeship, Terraine, proved to be a skilled scriptwriter who understood both radio and television. He was one of the principal scriptwriters for the epic BBC series The Great War and as such gave some of the episodes (notably the ones covering the Somme and Third Ypres) a distinctly ‘revisionist’ tone, although his success in shifting public opinion by this means seems to have been fairly limited. Although now overshadowed by The Great War, Terraine was also heavily involved in other major historical series, notably The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten (1968) and The Mighty Continent (1974-5).
Although Terraine’s main efforts were devoted to the First World War, he wrote books on other topics including Trafalgar (1976) and the books of the TV series on Lord Mountbatten (1968) and The Mighty Continent (1974).
Perhaps his most
satisfying book is his study of the RAF in the Second World War, The Right of the Line. This book is regarded as a standard work, and gained Terraine something of a cult following among airmen. Solidly based on the RAF’s in-house Staff Histories, which in turn were based on primary sources, this book is the work of man who deeply admired the RAF. However The Right of the Line lacked the emotional commitment of his work on the Western Front and is better for it. Some saw this book as an attempt to carry on the debate on Haig and the Western Front by other means and Terraine made telling comparisons between the two world wars. Surprisingly, Terraine was critical of the area bombing campaign, although Haig’s strategy had a similar logic to Harris’s.
For his last book, Terraine turned to a subject that underpinned Allied success in both world wars. Naval history is notoriously difficult for non-naval specialists to get right, yet Business in Great Waters, the U-Boat Wars 1916-45, was well received. Terraine’s mastery of all three military environments is impressive. A leading naval historian, Andrew Lambert, praised the book, declared that it was ‘the most effective study of the subject yet published…Terraine has provided an example of that is best in popular history, well written, well informed… [offering] an opening for further study’.
These remarks are applicable to Terraine’s work as a whole. He was one of the finest popular military historians of the 20th century. It is a mark of Terraine’s importance that the academic historians could not simply dismiss his oeuvre, but rather have engaged with it, and his work helped to shape a major historiographical debate. His legacy consists of 16 wonderfully readable books, including several standard works; a host of articles, reviews and lectures, and a leading role in the rehabilitation of reputations of Douglas Haig and the British Expeditionary Force. That is a substantial achievement by any standards. British military history is much the poorer for his passing.
John Terraine : A Personal Appreciation
Professor Peter Simkins
I first met John Terraine almost exactly forty years ago in 1964, when, as a newly-appointed member of the staff of the Imperial War Museum, I was involved in the preparation of the BBC’s Great War television series. The previous year, when John’s Haig: The Educated Soldier was published, I had been working as archivist and research assistant to Basil Liddell Hart – scarcely Haig’s greatest admirer. I had therefore been totally exposed to Liddell Hart’s criticisms of John’s book and I have to admit that - since I was then a wholehearted, if naïve, supporter of Liddell Hart – I had been preconditioned to challenge the Terraine interpretation of the First World War. This, it should be remembered, was at a time when popular perceptions of the Great War were heavily influenced by the writings of Liddell Hart, the stage version of Oh, What a Lovely War and Alan Clark’s The Donkeys, so I was by no means alone in judging John’s intense commitment to Haig’s cause as being misguided and foolhardy rather than brave. In hindsight, I fully deserved the dismissive snorts with which my own ill-formed views were greeted by John Terraine and Correlli Barnett whenever I offered some half-baked comment on their scripts for the BBC series.
My next meaningful succession of contacts with John came in the late 1960s during the making of another television series, The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten. Though Noble Frankland, the Director of the IWM from 1960 to 1982 – and himself an historian of considerable stature – subsequently paid tribute to Terraine’s script for providing ‘a scholarly input which I could not fault’, Mountbatten’s inevitable influence on the finished programmes made it all the harder for anyone – including John – to present a wholly objective visual historical biography. At my own relatively junior level, I personally found Mountbatten a difficult and demanding taskmaster and, looking back, many historians other than John might well have buckled under the pressure. The fact that, in Frankland’s view, the series was ‘not a hagiography, but a serious historical study’ was greatly to John’s credit but I remain far from convinced that this was John’s finest hour as an historian.
My respect for John, however, grew almost daily during the late 1970s and early 1980s as I began to concentrate more and more on First World War studies and to undertake the research for my book Kitchener’s Army. It was in this period that John published several of his key works on the Great War, such as The Road to Passchendaele (1977), To Win a War: 1918, The Year of Victory (1978), The Smoke and the Fire (1980) and White Heat: The New Warfare, 1914-1918 (1982). Together with Gregory Blaxland’s Amiens 1918, which appeared in 1968, To Win a War provided a salutary reminder of the very real achievements of the BEF under Haig in 1918 and was a timely corrective to the almost universal obsession with the Somme and Passchendaele. The Smoke and the Fire exploded many of the long-established myths of the Great War while White Heat contained a host of interesting and thought-provoking ideas on the impact of technology on the course and conduct of that conflict. It was probably a good thing that these books were published at least ten years after Haig: The Educated Soldier as the overheated debate which that earlier work had generated had now largely cooled and we were all able to examine
Terraine’s arguments in a more dispassionate way.
There can be little doubt that John’s work in the 1970s and 1980s inflicted mortal wounds upon the Churchill-Lloyd George-Liddell Hart interpretation of the war. As Alex Danchev observed in his brilliant essay ‘ “Bunking” and Debunking: The Controversies of the 1960s’ (in Brian Bond (ed.), The Great War and British Military History, Clarendon Press, 1991), Terraine’s viewpoint, when stripped of its earlier ‘rhetorical excess and forfeit of its emotional charge, served to reorientate the historian’s mental map of the war’ and ‘progressively influenced military historians for three decades, and perhaps beyond’.
It could not have been easy for John to stick unflinchingly to his historical guns in the face of so many counter-bombardments during the 1960s and 1970s. The recent obituary of John, written, I understand, by his staunch friend Correlli Barnett – which appeared in The Times on 31 December 2003 – rightly claimed that Terraine’s writings were ‘instrumental in shifting the balance of historical opinion from facile condemnation of the British High Command’ to an understanding of the more complex political and military dilemmas posed by the German occupation of northern France and Belgium after 1914. In Barnett’s judgement, John Terraine was similarly successful in helping to demonstrate how the poorly-trained and ‘deskilled’ BEF of 1915 became the war-winning force of the Hundred Days in 1918. But, in defending his position against wounding personal attacks, John could sometimes, not surprisingly, seem remote, curmudgeonly and abrasive to those who did not know him well. Even Correlli Barnett admits that John’s intellectual integrity occasionally made it hard for him ‘to compromise when part of a team effort’.
I am sure that John would not mind me suggesting that his works on the First World War were not predominantly the product of lengthy archive-based research. A glance at the footnotes and source references in, for example, To Win a War or The Smoke and the Fire reveals the extent to which he relied upon official histories, memoirs and other published secondary sources. However, it must be conceded that subsequent generations of ‘revisionist’ Great War historians (including myself) – after two decades of assiduous archival research into the mass of after-battle reports and unpublished official and private papers now accessible - have found themselves in broad, if not unquestioning, agreement with many of John’s conclusions regarding the conduct of the Great War. Given that many of us spent twenty years or so in reaching roughly the same general position as he had long occupied, it would appear that John Terraine was blessed with a rare combination of instinctive historical insight, intellectual integrity and profound common sense – all invaluable assets to any historian.
One of John’s most important, and possibly most underrated, contributions to military history was to stimulate and foster interest in war studies through regular and informed discussion. Along with Correlli Barnett, Brian Bond and Tony Trythall, he achieved this first as a member of the Council of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies and later as President and Patron of the Western Front Association. His role in the successful development of the WFA as a forum for discussion and education in our field has been immense. But John also knew when enough was enough and, thankfully, was never a man to allow debates to take up too much drinking time. Some of my fondest memories of John centre upon lengthy chats about jazz or other shared tastes over a well-kept pint or a bottle or three of good red wine. Indeed, our own friendship was firmly cemented at the big First World War conference in Leeds in September 1994 when I helped to introduce him to the ornate Victorian splendours and decent beer of the Victoria Hotel in Great George Street. I will greatly miss his sharp and penetrating comments and his Meldrewish distaste for intellectual poseurs and I am proud to have been his friend.
Peter Simkins, MBE BA FR Hist S is Honorary Professor of Modern History at the University of Birmingham. Until his retirement in 1999 he was Senior Historian and Head of the Research and Information Office at the Imperial War Museum. His many publications include Kitchener’s Army: The Raising of the New Armies 1914-16. He was Haig Fellow in 2000.
This appreciation first appeared on the web-site of the Centre for First World War Studies of the University of Birmingham. This excellent internet resource includes the e-journal First World War Studies and is located at:
The following paper was delivered at the British Cartographic Society Annual Symposium at the University of Durham on Saturday 11th September 2004. It has not been possible to reproduce the illustrations which accompanied the original lecture.
Haig’s Relief Maps
Dr John Peaty
Let me say at the outset that this paper is in the nature of a two-fold appeal. It is an appeal for information and it is an appeal for support.
The Haig Relief Map Collection is now held in the Faraday Hall of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Previously it was held by the Imperial War Museum. The collection consists of over a hundred wooden-framed relief maps in the large cabinet in which they were originally stored. The maps are built up in cardboard layers using the standard British Army 1:20,000 trench maps of France and Belgium printed during the Great War. It is believed that they were used by Field Marshal the Earl Haig (1861-1928), Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front from December 1915, for planning and briefing purposes.
They demonstrate a greater concern with the lie of the land than popular depictions of British generalship on the Western Front such as “Blackadder Goes Forth” would give one to believe.
For those not familiar with the cultural reference. In his HQ General Melchett unrolls a map. “God, it’s a barren, featureless desert out there, isn’t it” he exclaims. Captain Darling, his ADC, replies: “The other side, Sir!” On another occasion, Melchett shows George a relief model. “Look, this is the amount of land we’ve recaptured since yesterday”. “Oh, excellent” George replies. Melchett: “Erm, what is the actual scale of this map, Darling?” “Erm, 1 to 1, Sir” Darling replies. Melchett: “Come again?” Darling: “Er, the map is actually life-size, Sir. It’s superbly detailed. Look, look, there’s a little worm”. Melchett: “Oh, yes. So the actual amount of land retaken is?” Darling whips out a tape measure and measures the table. “Excuse me, Sir. Seventeen square feet, Sir”. Melchett: “Excellent”.
What we know authoritatively about relief maps during the Great War is what is contained in the “Report on Survey on the Western Front”. I quote in full: “A consequence of the settled conditions of trench warfare was the production of relief or model maps of various kinds. To meet the demand the WO [War Office] undertook the production in quantity of plaster models of 1/20,000 sheets. The work was entrusted to an agent, who organised a staff for the purpose. These models were made with the vertical scale to the horizontal as 4 to 1. The map, printed on special extensible paper, was pasted in position on the plaster. Models of this nature were issued to the higher commands, and proved very useful for the study of the ground. The plaster models were reproduced from an original, the basis of which was a series
of cardboard layers of suitable thickness, each cut to the shape of a contour.
This basis was covered with wax, moulded to shape, and a plaster matrix was taken from it. An experiment was tried with cardboard layers only, the map being previously mounted or printed on each layer. The result was a model which represented the ground as a series of ledges or steps, the proportion of the vertical to the horizontal scale being as 4.5 to 1 (or for exceptionally flat areas, 9 to 1). Though they were to some degree a false representation, these cardboard models proved to be very popular. They had several advantages. They were light, they did not break if dropped, or, if damaged, were easily repaired, and it was possible to stick pins into them and draw on them. A disadvantage was that each model had to be made independently, so that they were expensive. The Ordnance Survey organised the supply of these cardboard models, and produced one thousand of them. They were issued in sets, to cover the front of the formation, down to Infantry Brigade Commanders. The value of these models has often been questioned. There is no doubt that they were of real use to some commanders, but it is also certain that many were never used at all, or were mishandled, lost, or taken away as mementoes. On the whole, considering their cost and the fact that they cannot be kept up to date, it is questionable whether they are worth making and whether the money would not be better expended on layered maps” (P46).
In essence the Haig maps are ordinary trench maps of the Western Front which have been raised to emphasise the relief. The trench maps belong to the standard 1:20,000 scale series: GSGS 2742. The base maps were Belgian or French. Each map covers a ground distance of 10km north to south by 16km east to west. For the purpose of easily identifying features, the map face is overlaid by a grid of 500 yard squares. The grid comprises 22 rows and 35 columns of these squares, which are numbered alphanumerically. Trench information is overprinted on the map face. Enemy trenches are depicted in detail and are coloured red. Allied trenches are depicted in much less detail (in case of capture) and are coloured blue. In the middle of 1918 the colours were reversed. The trench overprints were regularly updated using aerial photography. Edition 6A of sheet 28NW (which covers Ypres and Poperinghe), for example, is dated 30th June 1917. The contour interval is 5 metres. Because of the small interval, the Haig maps –which are of the cardboard type – are not cut and built up along every contour but along every other one. Depending on the nature of the terrain, the vertical exaggeration is either 4.5 or 9 to 1.
The Haig Relief Map Collection was catalogued by Anne Ferguson and Michael Orr at Sandhurst on 14th April 2003. The serial number (A1 through to C108) is the number found on the map tiles (apart from 6 smaller maps) and relates to rack locations within the cabinet. (The letter indicates the cupboard section and the number the shelf on which the map was originally stored). It is most likely that this numbering was done by the IWM while the collection was in their care. Some maps have other numbers inscribed on them, but this alphanumeric-sequence is the only complete and consistent marking found on the maps. The map sheet number is that used by the BEF during the war e.g. serial B47 is sheet 36SE. Of the maps, 42 are dated, the date referring to the trench overprint. The other 66 maps, however, carry no overprint and are thus undated. Outside of these 108 maps, there are 6 unclassified maps, small and
not so well made, relating to the area beyond the Ypres salient and identified by the main town or other feature on the map.
The collection provides unbroken coverage of the Western Front from Ostend on the Belgian coast to Laon in France. This graphic, which I have adapted from an original produced by Nicholas Hutchings (DGIA), shows the coverage.
With one exception (serial B50 dated 22nd June 1918), all the trench overprints are dated 1917. There are a large number of duplicate maps. One of the maps is missing (serial B71), although fortunately it is a duplicate.
Some of the maps of the Belgian coast, such as 12NE (serial A4) and 12SW (serial A5), show underwater contours. We were very interested in the Belgian coast in 1917 because we planned and prepared an amphibious landing there.
Because of warping over time, the relief of some maps does not accurately link with that of their neighbours. For example, 13NW (serial A11) does not properly join with 13SW (serial A12).
How were the maps used by Haig?
In my researches thus far I have found only two entries in Haig’s diaries which specifically refer to these maps.
The first entry is dated Monday 3rd July 1916, the third day of the Battle of the Somme. I quote in full: “By request, I received Generals Joffre and Foch about 3pm today. The object of the visit was to ‘discuss future arrangements’. Joffre began by pointing out the importance of our getting Thiepval Hill. To this I said that, in view of the progress made on my right near Montauban, and the demoralised nature of the enemy’s troops in that area, I was considering the desirability of pressing my attack on Longueval. I was therefore anxious to know whether in that event the French would attack Guillemont. At this General Joffre exploded in a fit of rage. ‘He could not approve of it’. He ‘ordered me to attack Thiepval and Pozieres’. ‘If I attacked Longueval, I would be beaten’, etc., etc. I waited calmly till he had finished. His breast heaved and his face flushed! The truth is the poor man cannot argue, nor can he easily read a map. But today I had a raised model of the ground before us. There were also present at the meeting Generals Kiggell and Foch and Renouard (from GQG) and Foch’s Chief Staff Officer (Weygand). Only Joffre, Foch and I spoke. When Joffre got out of breath, I quietly explained what my position is as regards him as the “Generalissimo”. I am solely responsible to the British Government for the action of the British Army; and I had approved the plan, and must modify it to suit the changing situation as the fight progresses. I was most polite. Joffre saw he had made a mistake, and next tried to cajole me. He said that this was the “English battle” and “France expected great things from me”. I thanked him but said I had only one object, viz., to beat Germany. France and England marched together, and it would give me equal pleasure to see the French troops exploiting victory as my own. After this, there was a more friendly discussion between Foch and me...I soothed old Joffre down. He seemed ashamed of his outburst and I sent him and Foch off to Amiens…Still, Joffre has his merits. I admire the old man’s pluck under difficulties and am very fond of him. However, I have gained an advantage through keeping calm. My views have been accepted by the French Staffs and Davidson is to go to lunch with Foch tomorrow at Dury to discuss how they (the French) can cooperate in our operations
(that is the capture of Longueval).” (Quoted in General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, “Haig as Military Commander”, PP195-6)
The second entry is dated Tuesday 2nd August 1917, the third day of the Third Battle of Ypres. I again quote in full: “Owing to heavy rain the front seems quieter, but yesterday the enemy launched 2 big counter attacks. One was made with a whole division. Luckily it fell on the 15th Division, which stoutly held its ground and beat the enemy back with very heavy loss. At 10pm I saw Gough and Malcolm (his MGGS) with Kiggell. I showed him on my relief map the importance of the Broodseinde-Passchendaele ridge and gave it as my opinion that his main effort must be devoted to capturing it, not until it was in our possession could he hope to advance his centre. He quite agreed. I also told him to be patient and not put in his infantry attack until after 2 or 3 days of fine weather, to enable our guns to get the upper hand, and the ground to dry out. Prisoners taken by the First Army near Armentieres state that they have been told that a big offensive with Lille as the objective was in preparation and believed that French troops were opposed to them. The enemy also bombarded Ploegsteert Wood and the roads in the area. All this proves the advantage of spreading false reports in War!....this last action of 31 July compares most favourably with the preceding ones. I returned to the train for lunch and left immediately after for Cassel where I saw General Plumer at his HQ. His army has done well misleading the enemy. We spoke about the relief of divisions now holding the line; it is necessary to be as economical as possible on his front, but this bad weather takes so much out of the men in the trenches that more frequent reliefs are necessary”.
On the limited evidence of these diary entries, I conclude that Haig used his raised maps in two ways: to convince brave but none too bright (as well as domineering) Allied commanders of the logic of his chosen course of action; to impress upon brave but none too bright subordinate commanders the importance of taking and holding certain features.
The Haig map of Flesquieres Ridge (sheet 57c NE) is very interesting in that, not having a trench overprint, the trenches have been roughly marked in red and blue crayon and there are also some pencil marks. The most important of these are the circled numbers 51 and 62 which are drawn on the objectives of these two divisions (of IV Corps) on 20th November 1917. So it would seem that this map preserves a phase in the actual planning or briefing process for the Battle of Cambrai. A battle which, we should not forget, saw both the first completely predicted artillery barrage and the first massed tank attack in history.
The post-war history of the Haig maps is extremely unclear and what we do know is very tentative. It is believed that they were passed to the Imperial War Museum in 1920 or 1921. They were stored at Lambeth until 1977 or thereabouts. They were then placed in store in Crayford. They were then placed in store in Duxford, being moved around the site from one store to another over the years.
After 80 years of indifference
and neglect, the IWM decided about three and a half years ago to offer to loan them to Sandhurst, which readily accepted the offer. It is not thought that they have ever been properly displayed, which would account for the absence of authoritative references to them in the standard literature on Great War mapping.
In his magnum opus “Artillery’s Astrologers”, Peter Chasseaud makes two brief mentions of relief maps. Firstly (P158), he quotes a diary entry by Captain Romer of 1st Field Survey Company (who, incidentally, invented “romers” - which we still use today). On 6th April 1916 Romer wrote caustically and cryptically: “Wilson commanding the IV Corps, again to the fore - stories of golf - incidents of his relief maps, why doesn’t the fool look at the ground itself?” Chasseaud conjectures that this may have been when relief maps were introduced into the BEF and then briefly quotes from what the “Report on Survey on the Western Front” says. Secondly (P223), he quotes from the “Report on the Ordnance Survey as Affected by the War” for 1916-17 which says that a new sub-division was created on 11th December 1916 specifically to make relief maps and that this supplied 565 to the BEF by the spring of 1917, averaging 36 per week.
What is the state of the Haig maps today?
While on the whole their condition is remarkably good, being stable and apparently not subject to deterioration, all are in need of cleaning and some are in need of conservation because of tears or other minor defects. The cabinet also needs some attention and needs to be made more secure. Ideally, this should have preceded the conservation of the maps.
In view of their historical importance, an exploratory examination and then a programme of conservation have been undertaken on a goodwill basis by DGIA at the initiative of Pete Jones, to whom everyone interested in Great War mapping should be grateful.
An examination carried out on 10th July 2003 by Derrick Chivers (DGIA) of four examples chosen at random from the collection has revealed the following information regarding construction and condition.
Three of the maps examined (sheets 28 SW Messines and Kemmel, 51b NW Arras and Oppy, 51b SW Bullecourt and Boisleux) are of identical construction and are in identical condition. The maps are each mounted on a board, size 49.5cm x 79.5cm, which is supported by a wooden frame 1.5cm thick. The cardboard layers appear well secured except for loose areas around the edges, which are vulnerable to abrasion. Higher layers have been damaged or completely lost. The removal of dirt revealed brown “foxing” blemishes on the paper surface. This may be the result of impurities within the paper, or material used in the production of the cardboard on which it is mounted. The paper requires cleaning to remove surface and ingrained dirt. This can be achieved using a latex sponge followed by the application of a soft rubber. The absorbent finish of the paper prevents the use of water to remove ingrained dirt and stains. Any loose/detached paper is reattachable with wheat starch paste. Missing areas could be replaced with photocopies of the original maps in the National Archives (WO297).
One of the maps examined (sheet 21 SW Iseghem) is secured with rusty, iron tacks to a three ply-board, size 40cm x 50cm, which is supported by a strip of wood nailed down to the two length sides. It was originally composed in some parts of over 20 layers of strawboard to illustrate the relief, but some of the top layers have been damaged or lost. Surface dirt was severe having accumulated in the narrow reliefs. Liquid has also dried on the surface in certain areas. The cardboard base layer is not secured flat to the rough base board due to warping caused by the uneven distribution of the layers and adhesive or the strawboard has become detached from the metal tacks. Conservation procedures are the same as for the standard maps. However, with this example the paper surface has a gloss finish which enables the removal of ingrained dirt by aqueous procedures. Consideration should be given to replacing the method of securing the relief to its baseboard. The rusty tacks should either be replaced with steel tacks or secured with adhesive to ensure it lies flat on the baseboard.
I believe strongly that the Haig maps should be conserved and then displayed, for three reasons.
Firstly, there is their intrinsic value. Although the maps are ordinary trench maps (that is, French and Belgian maps with a grid and with trenches overprinted), the use to which these maps have been put (i.e. cutting them along contour lines and building them up in layers to emphasise the relief) is extraordinary. They undeniably possess the “Wow!” factor. The military and military historians, in particular, just cannot resist crouching down and imagining themselves on the Western Front - or at least on the planning staff! Even the most cursory look at the maps impresses upon one certain things, far more powerfully than any book could do. The fact that, although low-lying, Flanders is not uniformly flat (the existence of the Flanders Plain notwithstanding). There is high ground - but not a lot. Hence the crucial importance of features such as Mount Kemmel (521 feet), Messines Ridge (just under 270 feet), the Gheluvelt Plateau (200 feet) and Passchendaele Ridge (150 feet, with the village itself at 167 feet). Gradients on these ridges are almost imperceptible and the slightest elevation or variation in ground vital to artillery observation. The fact that Flanders is criss-crossed with rivers, canals and small culverts running into streams (the local name is a “beek”). The fact that the Germans are usually to be found holding the high ground. As a consequence, usually they enjoy excellent fields of vision and fire over the surrounding countryside and they are able to keep relatively dry while the Allies are condemned to attack uphill from their water-logged positions below.
Secondly, there is their place in the history of operational model making. Extending from the French Plans et Reliefs of the 17th and 18th centuries (1:600 models of fortresses and fortified towns), through these Haig maps, the 30” square Plasticine briefing model of Zeebrugge made for the raid in April 1918 and now on display at the IWM, the UK and US model making activities in the Second World War (some of the more famous of which are at Duxford) such as the 1:50,000 model of Berchtesgarten, the relief versions of standard topographic mapping produced by AMS immediately after the war (e.g. relief versions of the 1:250,000 maps of Britain), the models of topographic mapping currently produced by Turkey, Hungary, Russia and Italy to the 3-D fly-throughs, Digital Elevation/Terrain Models and data draping that are what cartographers do now. Unlike modern computer applications, however, the Haig maps do not have a tendency to crash on a regular basis!
Thirdly, these maps have found their way to the officer training establishment of the British Army at Sandhurst, where following cleaning and conservation they could be used as training aids and to support lectures, conferences etc. Certainly worth a mention in a future book entitled "Little-known stashes of geographic data and how stuff gets to units/establishments etc. which no one would expect geographic data to be in". Unfortunately, their future at Sandhurst is not certain. Sandhurst, like DGIA and the rest of the MOD, is a bit strapped for cash at the moment. It is also pushed for space. Moreover, the enthusiasm to have them appears to have diminished somewhat. Sandhurst did mount a Haig conference on 29th November 2003 and did display two of the maps but as an afterthought without prominence, explanation or discussion.
Before finishing I would like to thank Pete Jones, Nicholas Hutchings, Dave Watt and Derek Chivers of the DGIA; Anne Ferguson of Sandhurst; Chris McCarthy of the IWM; and above all Michael Orr formerly of Sandhurst for their advice and assistance with this paper.
Let me end with a quote. Haig rarely gave press interviews and when he did the resulting pieces written by journalists were uniformly unrevealing. Indeed, Charteris (Haig’s Chief of Intelligence) dismissed them thus: ‘…. “Union Jack over the door, cow grazing in the meadow, strong silent man, blue eyes, white moustache, raised maps”, and such-like drivel’ (John Charteris, “At GHQ”, P193). Well, ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely hope that what you have heard this afternoon about Haig’s raised maps could not be accurately described as drivel!
“At GHQ” by Brigadier-General John Charteris, Cassell, 1931
“Artillery’s Astrologers” by Peter Chasseaud, Mapbooks, 1999
“Trench Maps: A Collector’s Guide” by Peter Chasseaud, Mapbooks, 1986
“Geology and Warfare” edited by Edward Rose & Paul Nathanail, Geological Society, 2000
“Battlegrounds” edited by Michael Stephenson, National Geographic Society, 2003
“Haig: A Reappraisal 70 Years On” edited by Brian Bond & Nigel Cave, Pen & Sword, 1999
“Haig as Military Commander” by General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, Batsford, 1973
“Army Battlefield Guide: Belgium and Northern France” by Richard Holmes, HMSO, 1995
“Report on Survey on the Western Front”, HMSO, 1920
“The Private Papers of Douglas Haig” edited by Robert Blake, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952
“Report on the Ordnance Survey as Affected by the War”, Ordnance Survey, 1915-19
John Peaty is a Research Analyst at the Defence Geographic and Imagery Intelligence Agency. He previously worked at the Public Records Office and in the Army Historical Branch. He obtained a Ph. D. from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, for his thesis on Manpower Policies and Problems of the British Army in the Second World War. His publications include contributions to Haig: A Reappraisal Seventy Years On and Look to Your Front, both dealing with military discipline in the BEF. He is International Secretary of the British Commission for Military History. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the UK Ministry of Defence.
Contributions to Records are welcomed. It is helpful if material for publication is submitted by e-mail attachment or on a 3½ inch floppy disc or CD, preferably in MS Word, with single spacing and minimal formatting. The deadline for submissions for publication in the 2005 issue of Records is 1st October.
The Haig Diaries
John Bourne & Gary Sheffield
Publication Date - March 2005
The year’s most important literary event for members of the Douglas Haig Fellowship will be the publication of the new edition of the Haig Diaries edited by former Haig Fellows, John Bourne and Gary Sheffield. Publication price will be £25 but members of the Fellowship can order copies at the special price of £20. (Post and packing free within the UK; overseas postage £1-50 extra). To order copies, call 01903 828503 and quote Ref. No. JAHD. Our thanks to Dr Sheffield for arranging this discount.