Far From Suitable?
Haig, Gough and Passchendaele: a Reappraisal
Imprint: Helion and Company
360 Pages, 6.75 x 9.75 in, 6 photos, 7 maps/sketches
- October 2023
The frightfulness has never been doubted. The first month, failing to achieve, or come near, the objectives set for the first day, and the last month, struggling to reach what was originally delineated as the first stage, took place in shocking conditions of rain and mud, sufficient to render difficult existence and movement, let alone fighting. Nor has the attempt by the Official Historian to claim the battle as largely successful engaged much traction or dented the impression of futility.
It is therefore unsurprising that historical writing on the subject gravitates toward the issue of responsibility: responsibility for fighting the battle at the time and in the place chosen, responsibility for the failure of the first month and responsibility for continuing the battle into November when it became clear that the original object of clearing the Belgian coast could not be achieved. This book is about responsibility for the failure of the first month and the relationship between the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, and the man who bears the brunt of modern criticism, Sir Hubert Gough, the Commander of Fifth Army at Passchendaele.
This book is not a narrative history: it is a detailed examination of how and by whom the plans for the opening of the battle were made; whether they were deficient, negligent or, as often alleged, reckless; and whether they caused needless loss. It further considers the conduct of the battle for the remainder of the first month’s fighting, up to the point where the primary role in the battle was transferred to General Sir Herbert Plumer at the end of August 1917.
This book challenges the account given in the Official History and questions the assumptions behind the current consensus built on that account, and the interpretation of the evidence on which it is based. While skeptical of the uniform tendency to blame Gough, almost to the exclusion of Haig, for the planning of the battle and for its execution in the first month, it does not attempt to replace Gough with Haig as the lightning rod for failure and loss or to suggest that Gough was without responsibility. It is an attempt fairly to consider what happened, and why. It suggests that the oft-repeated story of Gough’s errors and failings owes more to tradition than to the evidence, which in fact reveals a much more complicated and different reality.