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11-08-2015, 16:23


The driving force behind the attack at the Somme in the summer of 1916 was General Sir Douglas Haig. A friend to the royal family and a scion of the Scottish aristocracy, Haig was a supremely confident commander whose resolute conduct of the war was buttressed by a deep religious faith. Wedded to offensive operations at almost any cost, Haig's philosophy of war had been formed in the pre- 19 14 environment of the army's Staff College. The goal of operations was to defeat the enemy decisively on the battlefield, with infantry as the key to success. Then the victorious general was to exploit that success with cavalry operations. As historian Tim Travers has put it, Haig considered the role of modern fire power but believed that "it was ultimately simple solutions such as morale, discipline and leadership that decided battles." Haig applied this nineteenth-century view of war, "still Napoleonic, still pre-industrial," at the Somme. The British leader's enthusiasm was bolstered by the policy of his government—namely, to take the war to the enemy. Moreover, the great recruitment drive of the first two years of the war had produced literally the "New Army." Composed of volunteers who had answered the call of Lord Kitchener, these new divisions had seen little combat in 1915. They constituted a tool that seemed both powerful and available. When the Germans assaulted the French lines at Verdun, the pressure grew for a British force to launch a large-scale offensive.