Haig was British commander on the Western Front for most of World War One. The huge casualties that his military strategy produced has made him a controversial figure.
Douglas Haig was born in Edinburgh on 19 June 1861 into a wealthy family who owned a whisky business. He studied at Oxford University and in 1884 went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He then served as a cavalry officer for nine years, mainly in India. He later took part in the Sudan campaign (1897 - 1898) and the Boer War (1899 - 1902). In 1906, Haig went to the War Office as director of military training. His responsibilities included the organisation of a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) for deployment in the event of war with Germany. On the outbreak of war in 1914, Haig was commanding the BEF's 1st Army Corps, whose overall commander was Sir John French. By the end of 1915, it was clear that French was ill-suited to the role, and in December Haig was appointed commander in chief in his place.
In an attempt to break the stalemate on the Western Front and relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, Haig ordered the Somme offensive, which began on 1 July 1916. The British army suffered 60,000 casualties (just under 20,000 of whom were killed) on the first day, the highest in its history, and Haig's conduct of the battle made him one of the most controversial figures of the war. In July 1917, a new offensive - the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) resulted in further heavy casualties, but did succeed in weakening the German army and helped prepare the way for its defeat in 1918.
Haig believed that the war could only be won on the Western Front. This caused friction with Lloyd George, secretary of state for war and prime minister from December 1916 who disagreed with this strategy, supported alternative schemes and intrigued against Haig. The great German attacks of the spring of 1918 almost broke the British army, but inspired the creation of a single command of allied forces on the Western Front under the French commander Ferdinand Foch, strongly supported by Haig. Between August and November 1918 the Allied forces under Haig's command achieved a series of victories against the German army which resulted in the end of the war.
Haig served as commander in chief of British Home Forces from 1918 until his retirement in 1921. He also helped establish the Royal British Legion and worked hard to raise funds for it. He was created an earl in 1919 and died on 28 January 1928.
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